Yesterday evening we paid a visit to the first distillery in the South Okanagan, Maple Leaf Spirits. This was not strictly on my list of places to visit for this blog; however I had tried some of their products at this year’s Okanagan Feast of Fields and was highly impressed so thought I’d check them out. Maple Leaf Spirits is a relatively small operation in Penticton, run by Jorg Engel and his wife Anette and can be visited by appointment. In addition to distilling for their own products, they do some work with valley wineries, producing alcohol for their own purposes. Maple Leaf Spirits makes brandies, grappas and liqueurs, using locally-sourced fruits, and grape pomace from local wineries. The Pear Williams is a classic pear brandy made with Bartlett pears. It has a delicate pear aroma and flavour and is extremely smooth. The Aged Italian Prune has been aged in French oak for three months, giving it a bit of a nutty vanilla flavour. It has a beautifully tart plum nose and smooth plum flavour. The Apricot brandy was fermented with the pits and distilled without them, giving the brandy a hint of almond flavour. As Grappa is a proprietary term, such as Champagne or Port, Maple Leaf Spirits has called them “Skinnies” as they’re made from the grape pomace – the skins and seeds left after the grapes have been pressed to provide juice for wines. The Skinny Pinot Noir won ‘Spirit of the Year’ at the Destillata Spirit Competition in Austria, the most prestigious international spirit competition. It has a light fruity aroma and flavours of raisin on the back palate. The Skinny Gewürztraminer won a silver medal at Destillata, despite being bottled only one day before shipping to the competition! Despite the distillation process, it has retained that lovely lychee aroma and offers lychee and rose petal on the palate. The Aged Skinny Syrah came from Syrah grapes that had been frozen on the vine for Icewine. After the winery pressed the grapes for the Icewine, instead of doing a second pressing for a late harvest wine, they passed the grapes on to Maple Leaf Spirits, providing a moister pomace than usual which made things a bit easier for the fermentation process. The Skinny Syrah was aged in French oak for 3 months, lending it some vanilla notes and hints of smokiness. This almost has a similar flavour profile to a Scotch whiskey, but is much lighter on the palate; quite delicious! Moving on to liqueurs, we start with the Cherry. This was started with the Kirsch (cherry brandy) as a base and then tart cherry juice was added to it to reduce the alcohol to 25%. It has a lovey sweet cherry flavour but is not at all syrupy; this would be fabulous over ice cream or served in little chocolate Icewine cups! The Pear uses the Pear Williams brandy as a base and then has Bartlett pear juice added. It is like biting into a fresh juicy pear, with a bit of a boozy kick. The Maple Liqueur is something that Maple Leaf Spirits came up with specifically with the export market in mind. The base is the Kirsch, with the addition of organic maple syrup. This liqueur won a gold medal at the Destillata competition, and came in 3rd place for the Spirit of the Year. It has a fresh clean nose and is very fresh on the palate. It is not syrupy in the least and the maple flavour appears mainly on the finish. As I am not generally a huge fan of anything syrupy sweet, this liqueur was a pleasant surprise to me. The new Apricot liqueur, being released for the Fall Wine Festival next week, and being poured on the Casabella Princess dinner cruises during the festival, has a rich full apricot flavour, with a hint of tartness to it – fabulous! I highly recommend making an appointment at Maple Leaf Spirits. Jorg is lovely to talk to and is full of great information, plus his products are wonderful!