Sidney to get its spirits up

Marker Group’s acquisition of Victoria Spirits a boost to Sidney.

Sidney is poised to become the home to Vancouver Island’s first waterfront distillery as Victoria Spirits, the makers of the popular ‘Vic Gin’, have finalized a deal to transfer their ownership of the distillery to Sidney’s Marker Group. The move comes with the retirement of Victoria Spirits’ original owners, Bryan and Valerie Murray.

Marker, in a statement, said it believes that the spirits maker is on the cusp of a period of significant growth as the public has become fascinated with a return to small-batch distilling.

It was that growing fascination that in 2008 first led Victoria Spirits to “re-invent gin.” The product was hand crafted in small batches in a gleaming copper pot still imported from Germany expressly for the purpose. The man behind the creation of Victoria Spirits’ flagship product, Victoria Gin, was master distiller and general manager, Peter Hunt.

According to Hunt, the move to small batch distilling was a natural evolution.

“If you look at what has happened in the brewing world and the wine industry there was a move to smaller batches of more interesting product,” Hunt said.

“Consumers want to have interesting products made nearby.”

That wasn’t the case some 20 years ago for most alcohol products.

“When people used to go to a liquor store to buy beer, for example, they had a very small selection made by the major brewers. Now, with the advent of craft beers, the selection is enormous. More and more, a person going to buy beer heads directly toward the craft beer sections of the store, anxious to try a new and exciting product. The same has been true of wines for even longer as local wineries have captured the imagination and the loyalty of the consumer.”

Hunt said that the consumer has become increasingly aware that there can be significant and exciting differences in distilled spirits as well.

“The cocktail culture is changing,” he said. “Of course people can still appreciate a gin and tonic or a cocktail where bitters and other add-ons disguise the taste of the spirits in the cocktail, but people are realizing that there are options.”

He said that people are realizing that their cocktails can reflect their individual taste preferences and their own regions.

Hunt will be staying on with the Marker Group to ensure the continuation of all of the company’s high quality spirits. He will be working with an expanded team at the new Sidney location — Seaport Place east, between the Port Sidney Marina and the Pier Hotel — where the injection of new energy and capital investment will allow for an increased creation and distribution of the distillery’s products.

“Marker Group has thoughts on an expansion into aged spirits such as whiskey as well,” said Hunt. “We (Victoria Spirits) introduced Craigdarroch Whisky last year to rave reviews and Marker has expressed a desire to expand on new products of that kind.”

Victoria Spirits’ distillery will be moved from Old West Saanich Road in Saanich to Sidney’s waterfront.

“It’s a move that is going to allow the whole community, residents and visitors alike, to become part of the experience of creating artisan spirits,” said Hunt.

He said that there will be a “good sized tasting room” and that the company will offer tours of the manufacturing floor to demonstrate just how their unique product is crafted. The project will create a regional focus and do it all at a location that is unequalled anywhere in British Columbia.

“This location is beautiful, an amazing natural setting and we’re committed to respecting that setting with practices that are environmentally sustainable,” he said.

“We have some very exciting ideas on how we’re going to make it one of the most sustainable distilleries anywhere in the world … an example for others to follow.”

The Town of Sidney was instrumental in supporting the vision for the new distillery operation. Earlier this year, the Town changed some of its commercial zoning designations to include distilleries as an acceptable use. According to Mayor Steve Price, it was a matter of “securing the right tenant for this key property.”

Price added he was certain that the new waterfront business would be a “boost to the entire community” and utilize the property that would boost tourism and act as an economic driver to the entire community. He said that it would all happen while keeping the beautiful waterfront open and “accessible for the public to enjoy.”

Marker Group has a large presence in Sidney. It’s owned by Grant Rogers and specializes in mixed use developments. Marker owns the Pier Hotel and  former McLarty building on 3rd Street, which it’s currently re-developing into a mixed commercial-residential building

Seaport Place east itself has been searching for a tenant. It’s last was a production company for the U.S. TV series Gracepoint.

— Tim Collins/News contributor … with files from the PNR