By Barbara Campbell, Managing Editor of DK Canada
On a recent trip to Vancouver Island, I made the happy discovery that Wayward Distillation House, whose Unruly Vodka is featured in our Craft Spirits book, is situated not far from where I was staying. Head distiller Dave Brimacombe graciously offered up a tour of his facility.
Wayward Distillery was founded in late 2014 by husband-and-wife team Dave and Andrea Brimacombe. Initially, opening a distillery had been a long-term plan, intended for when Dave retired from his military career, but changes to the restrictive BC liquor laws in 2013 made the dream become a reality much sooner than they had hoped. Wayward produces about 1000 bottles per month, which puts it well below the 50,000 litres per year limit to be designated as a craft distiller. And the fact that they source their ingredients locally, partnering up with farmers, apiaries, and coffee roasters on the island and the BC mainland, means that they can take advantage of tax benefits provided by the new laws.
The distillery is housed in a garage-type space, with a large rolling door leading into a sizeable room where all the action happens—the fermenting barrels are here, along with the stills, bottling machine, labelling and packing area, and the “R&D” area, which consists of a shelving unit crammed with mason jars of vodka infusing with various locally sourced additives, such as rhubarb, rose petals, or lavender. There’s no automation here; instead, the small staff bustles about, checking the fermenting barrels, labelling bottles, and packing up boxes for shipment.
Mason jars filled with vodka are infused with local additives, such as rhubarb, rose petals, or lavender.
What’s unusual about Wayward is that all of their spirits use honey as the base ingredient. The honey is combined with Comox glacier water and yeast and left to ferment into a honey wine, or mead. Wayward goes through about 640 pounds of honey every five days, sourced from an apiary on the BC mainland.
A barrel full of raw honey, ready for fermenting.
The mead is then put through two different stills: the first distillation process makes a spirit with 40% alcohol, and the second distillation through a column-style still refines the flavours and creates a vodka with 95% alcohol. All their other spirits are created from this base; for example, the vodka is put through the still again and the vapour is infused through a selection of botanicals including locally sourced juniper, coriander, lavender, and cedar tips to create gin.
Dave stands next to his column still, where the final, refined spirits are made.
Nothing illustrates the point that Wayward is a hands-on operation more than the system for applying the wax seal over the cork. An inexpensive pot sits on a hot plate and heats the wax to the melting point, and the corked neck of each bottle is carefully hand-dipped into the wax, rolled to smooth out the drips, and then left to harden. It’s a laborious process, but well worth it—the bronze-coloured wax seal beautifully compliments the gorgeous, steampunk-style and bee-themed label artwork.
Wayward’s method of applying a wax seal is as low-tech as it gets!
After the tour, we head into the attractive tasting room just off of the main work area. Dave pours samples of all of Wayward’s current offerings—Unruly Vodka, Unruly Gin, and Depth Charge (an espresso and cacao bean liqueur)—and some sneak peeks of a few upcoming releases and experiments, in particular their Drunken Hive Rum (now available) and a currently unnamed strawberry-and-basil-infused spirit.
I’m particularly interested in the Unruly Vodka, which is featured in DK’s Craft Spirits. It’s unfiltered, which is unusual in the vodka world: most vodkas are filtered to remove the oils, creating a neutral-tasting spirit. Unruly Vodka is anything but neutral—it’s smooth and flavourful with a slightly oily mouthfeel, similar to a gin.
The spicy notes in the vodka made me think it would work well in a Moscow Mule. This cocktail features vodka, stirred up with crushed ice, some lime juice and ginger beer, and served up in a copper mug. Copper mugs were in short supply, so I made do with a double old fashioned glass. The ginger beer enhanced the spice flavours in the vodka nicely, and the vodka and lime juice cut the sweetness of the ginger beer, making it a wonderfully refreshing drink for a warm, sunny day.
Thanks to Dave, Andrea, and the whole team at Wayward Distillation House for such an informative and enthusiastic tour! I highly recommend dropping in for a tour and tasting if you’re in the area. For more information and to order their spirits, visit their website at www.waywarddistillationhouse.com.
Barbara Campbell is the Managing Editor of DK Canada. She is responsible for DK titles that need to be adapted for Canada such as The Canadian Encyclopedia of Gardening, Pocket Birds of Canada and the Pregnancy Encyclopedia. Barbara also tries to ensure that as many books in DK's global publishing program as possible have some Canadian content. Craft Spirits features nine Canadian distilleries thanks to her efforts.