By Tess van Straaten
It’s a blustery Saturday afternoon and I’m in Sidney to escape the hectic hustle and bustle of the holiday season downtown. With a surprising array of unique shops, mouth-watering eateries and interesting attractions, it’s the perfect place for some retail therapy — and relaxation.
“All of the one-of-a-kind stores in Sidney, many of which are owner-operated, make shopping a pleasure,” says Natalie King, general manager of the Sidney Pier Hotel. “Creative window displays, ample parking, great coffee shops and bakeries all contribute to a different kind of shopping experience and there are lots of holiday touches too, like horse-drawn carriage rides, Christmas carollers and a gingerbread house scavenger hunt.”
I’ve checked into a waterfront room at the Sidney Pier Hotel and it would be easy to just put my feet up and be entranced by the stormy sea but I’ve booked a tour and tasting at Victoria Distillers, which is right next door. King says it’s a “must-do” in Sidney and she’s absolutely right. The sleek and inviting distillery, complete with a cocktail lounge, is right on the water.
Our guide, Jason Odnse, takes us through the entire distillation process from selecting the botanicals to bottling. After the tour, we get a chance to taste five different premium spirits including the original Victoria Gin, the Sidney Spiced — which tastes like a spiced rum with caramel overtones and is perfect for rum and eggnog — and an absolutely delicious chocolate liquor.
“It’s great with coffee in the morning if you’re having a really bad day!” quips Odnse.
But the distillery’s most popular creation, by far, is the famous Empress 1908 gin, which is made with tea from Victoria’s iconic Empress Hotel.
“We started making it in May and it’s already outshot the rest,” Odnse explains. “It’s more a London dry-style gin, perfect for gin and tonics because of the spice and tartness, and it also makes a great party trick because it changes colour!”
Odnse then shows us how the gin, which is an indigo blue from the butterfly-pea flower that’s in the tea, turns a sparkling pink when tonic is added because of changes in the PH level.
“Gin is my favourite drink and now they have a gin that turns pink — it’s perfect!” says Ceila Guilford, who is on the tour with me. She relocated to Sidney from Winnipeg and is eager to share some insider tips.
“The Latch is great for brunch and it’s kind of a hidden secret,” Guilford says. “It’s in a historical log house off the beaten path on Harbour Road and it’s under new ownership. There’s also live music three nights a week in Sidney so there’s lots going on.”
After a brisk walk along the waterfront, I pop into Haro’s at the Sidney Pier Hotel for happy hour. Sipping a ‘girl next door’, made with gin from Victoria Distillers, I’m totally in the holiday spirit.
Shopping tips from Sidney Pier Hotel general manager Natalie King:
Tatum & Olivia is a fabulous boutique featuring an incredible in-house line of gorgeous fashion , Waterlily Shoes is a shoeaholic’s paradise, Lilaberry has fabulous home décor and gifts, Lolly Gobble Sweet Shop is a fun stop for candy and treats and Buddies Toys is the go-to place for the best kids’ gifts.