Although the business hasn’t officially opened yet, Antidote Distilling Co. in Port Alberni is already winning awards.
The distillery plans to open in a new building at the corner of Johnston Road and Adelaide Street this summer. In the meantime, Antidote has been distilling gins in a smaller private location in the Alberni Valley, building their brand and entering competitions.
Antidote’s Black Gin was recently awarded a bronze medal at the 2022 International Wine and Spirits Competition in England. The IWSC describes the gin as “earthy and herbal, with an attractive savoury quality, bold lemon citrus and bright juniper.”
“We entered the awards to actually see where we sit among the competition and get honest feedback,” said owner Nilo Du Plessis. “We didn’t expect to win bronze.”
Antidote also won a pair of awards at the San Francisco International Spirits Competition in April, which is the largest spirits competition in the world. The company’s London Dry Style gin won a Double Gold medal (one of only 51 awarded in their class) and the Black Gin walked away with a silver medal.
Du Plessis has been distilling for almost three years, and the process of creating the black gin took almost two years.
“We went through more than 100 different botanicals to find the right combination,” said Du Plessis.
The recipe uses mushrooms to give the gin a sweet and earthy flavour. Black truffles, morel, shiitake and chanterelles are hand-foraged by local wildcrafting company Forest to Dinner, while blue oyster mushrooms are produced at the Port Alberni Shelter Farm.
Other botanicals include juniper, rooibos and spruce tip, along with Nootka rose petals from the Tofino area, home-grown lavender and honey harvested from the Du Plessis’ home hives.
“We tried to find locally sourced materials where we could,” said Du Plessis. Even the glass bottle is made from 100 percent recycled glass.
Sustainably foraged salal berries also add a bit of sweetness and contribute to the gin’s black colour, which changes to a vibrant violet when tonic water is added.
“We didn’t want something that just stayed black,” said Du Plessis. “It was a science experiment for the last few years.”
Du Plessis has a background in wine and spirits, from working in the restaurant business back in South Africa. He and his wife moved to Port Alberni around five years ago, and in the time that they have moved to the city, they have seen two more breweries and “some amazing restaurants” open. Port Alberni, he said, is becoming a bit of a destination.
“We loved Port Alberni from the day we moved in,” he said. “In the last three years, it’s changed so much. We want to be part of this evolution. We are proud to be establishing a business here.”
Antidote currently has two gins—the Black Gin and a London Dry style. Du Plessis says he also has plans for a few more products, including whisky options. Antidote gins are currently available at 35 different liquor stores on Vancouver Island, from Campbell River to Victoria. In the next few months, Du Plessis says he hopes to begin distributing on the mainland. He calls the gin bottle “a postcard” for Port Alberni.
“We wanted to create something you can take home,” he said. “We want to spread the word of this community through a product you can ship and sell in B.C.”
The new location on Johnston and Adelaide will be a gastro-lounge with a tasting area, cocktail bar and gourmet food. Du Plessis said the plan is to open in summer 2022.
“We know that once we open, it’s going to be busy,” he said. “We wanted to get a product out and get it into liquor stores and build a brand.”