Some the Sheringham Distillery’s world-class gins, created in Sooke. Facebook

TESS VAN STRAATEN: Sipping and savouring Sooke

From Sheringham Distillery to Shirley Delicious, the area has plenty to tempt your taste buds

It may not look like much from the outside, but inside an unimposing building just off the main drag in Sooke is some of the best gin in the world – and Sheringham Distillery has the awards to prove it.

“Our Seaside Gin won world’s best contemporary-style gin in London last year,” Sheringham’s Jenn Montagano says. “I’d say we were pretty darn popular before that and that just escalated things. It was just gin, gin, gin!”

Tess van Straaten

Sheringham’s distinctive Kazuki Gin, infused with Japanese cherry blossoms and green tea, just won Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year for 2020 — not bad for a distillery that was only started in 2015 by Jason and Alayne MacIsaac in the garage of their carriage house in nearby Shirley.

“Seaside Gin was essentially born on French Beach,” Montagano explains. “Jason and Alayne would walk the beach all the time and when they created the gin they wanted to get that experience of walking along the seaside, with the Nootka roses, the lavender, the sea breeze and the smell of the forest.”

As I sip and savour a sample in the complimentary tasting room, rose, lavender, citrus and coriander wash over my palette and there’s a hint of winged kelp — harvested from Juan de Fuca Strait — that it’s also infused with. We then try their delicious coffee liquor and Akvavit, a traditional Scandinavian spirit with star anise, that has a distinctive flavour.

“It’s like black licorice with a rye bread finish,” my boyfriend, Shane, comments.

No visit to Sooke and the surrounding area is complete without a stop at Shirley Delicious, a cozy down-home style eatery which has put its namesake community on the map.

By now we’ve worked up an appetite, so we head to one of the most famous food spots on this stretch of the wild West Coast. Shirley Delicious has put Shirley, an unincorporated community of just 560 people just west of Sooke, on the map.

“Tourists come here from all over the world and people hear about us in the weirdest ways,” says owner Sheena Mercer. “They’ll say, ‘Oh I met someone in Korea and they told me to come here.’”

It’s a rainy weekday afternoon in early March, well past the lunch rush, and there’s a lineup of locals and visitors crammed into the cute, quirky and inviting space, waiting to buy one of their massive muffins, tempting deserts or delicious breakfast and lunch offerings.

“This is a slow day!” Mercer says with a laugh. “Normally it’s lined up out the door. A lot of times we have lineups right down to the parking lot and people (who are) happy to dance in line and wait. This is a very energetic place and everyone that walks in the door is a long-lost friend.”

A sampling of just some of the fresh baked goods at Shirley Delicious, just outside Sooke.

The food – everything is house-made, as is the bread baked fresh from scratch every day – lives up to the name. My favourite is the Breakfast Burrito, one of the Shirley Delicious’ three most popular items (along with the Breakfast Bun and Sgarabotolo Sandwich).

“The beaches — Sandcut Beach, Sombrio Beach and Mystic Beach — and the hikes and surfing are big draws out here,” Mercer says. “And Sheringham Point Lighthouse is a must-see.”

We decided to stop at the century-old lighthouse on our way home. This area icon was slated to be torn down before the Sheringham Lighthouse Restoration Society saved it. Watching the waves crash into the rocks, we look out at the lively ocean and soak it all in.

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Sheringham Lighthouse, a scenic point of interest on a trip to Sooke and area.

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