Walking tours delights the senses

Smoke fills the table as the server lifts the glass from our cocktails. We each reach in for the Korean specialty, a glass of soju. Consumed neat, the clear drink results from fermenting sweet potatoes, and the “aahs” around the table that began at the smoke merge into smiles with each sip. 

Stronger than beer or wine, soju packs a weaker punch than virtually all vodkas, with its 24 per cent alcohol. 

We’ve gathered at Gather Restaurant in downtown Kelowna, and the soju is a perfect pairing for the fried tofu fried in sweet chilli gochujang sauce and crusted with crispy quinoa and sesame seeds.

But let’s start at the beginning of our journey, at the historic Laurel Packinghouse in the heart of Kelowna’s cultural district. Our group is led by Andrew Deans from A Taste of Kelowna Food Tours, and we’re about to step into history, all while sipping and munching the late afternoon away. 

Dean’s enthusiasm and easy banter makes the stories of the city’s past come to life, but he knows the day is long, so he fortifies us with some sweets at Bliss Bakery and Bistro—such a blissful start to this foodie walking tour. 

From the coffee shop, we head next door to the tea shop Chaibaba. As we enter the small shop, spices, herbs, and the scents of tea leaves flood the senses. Since 2014, owner Crystal Russell has been sourcing her organic supplies from across the world (and locally when she can) to create her custom blends.

The air is chilly on this winter tour, and the warm, rich liquid in our cups is welcome as we head out toward the lake. 

We reach Bernard Avenue, where the buildings with their local red brick facade still showcase the early masonry building in the original Kelowna townsite.

It’s now time for some serious sippin’.

The tasting flight at Okanagan Spirits offers three samples. Some in the group oft for the fruit liqueurs and brandies with their enticing flavours of raspberry, cherry and haskup, some choose vodka, gins and whiskeys spirits, and some try the once forbidden taste of Absinthe.  

Photo contributed.
Just in time for Easter, Okanagan Spirits offers up Cottontail’s Cocktail: fill your glass with crushed ice, fill 2/3 with Fentimans Victorian Lemonade and top with 2 oz of Evolve Gin. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

Knowing I am in the hands of a master distiller, I begin to get down to the business of gin tasting.

While my tasting glass is small, I’m presented with mini cocktails. The first mix is a Fentiman’s tonic of Valencian oranges infused with lemongrass and the Okanagan Spirits Barrel-Aged Family Reserve Gin ($47.50 750ml.) The golden libation is sweet but with deep layers of complexity. Made from 100 per cent Okanagan apples, this local gin is aged for six months in custom white oak barrels.

Magic happens the next moment as the blue-hued Okanagan Spirits Evolve Gin ($47.50 750ml) is served. Distilled from a blend of botanicals and infused with local wildflowers, the blue changes to a pale pink as the elderflower tonic water is poured into the glass. A garden in a glass, and like all gardens holding its own secrets.

The purity of Okanagan Spirits shines in my final and top pick. I’m a purist. I opt for a classic gin and tonic, letting the authentic flavours of this handcrafted liquor shine through. The ultra-premium Family Reserve Okanagan Gin ($47.50 750ml) is BC’s first apple-based gin. 

The family-owned and operated distillery has two locations: one in Kelowna and one in Vernon. Both offer tours and tastings and a chance to witness first hand craft distilling at its best. 

Named Distillery of the Year at the 2020 World-Spirits Awards, Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery is Western Canada’s original craft distillery, dating back to 2004. Last year, they won four gold and four silver at the Canadian Artisan Spirits Awards.

Our taste of Kelowna food tour is still underway, and the stops are many. Next, we’re off to the marina for a hot chocolate by the outdoor fireplace at The Galley Lakeside Café at the Kelowna Yacht Club, then double back to Ellis Street to The Curious Café for a pizza of hand-sliced prosciutto and arugula drizzled with lemon aioli. Their forno pizza oven was brought in from Napoli, Italy, and built on site brick by brick. The added touch? They shaped it like an apple. The sips: an Alicante-Garnacha from Spain. 

We return to where we began at the heart of Kelowna’s cultural district and head to the tasting room at BNA. The Asian-inspired luncheon menu of the Boxcar Kitchen offers salads with hoisin grilled chicken thigh and shanghai noodles. Our glass of craft beer is served with boxcar fries, loaded with sesame, garlic, nacho cheese and boxcar sauce. 

Satiated, we take a short tour of the brewery and eatery, with its bocce ball court, arcade and bowling alley. 

Delight in the sights, scents and tastes by booking your walking tour ($89) at atasteofkelownafoodtours.com

Photo by Yvonne Turgeon

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