Spring is all about anticipation, and there’s plenty to look forward to in Vernon – cycling, hiking, and of course good food and drink. This spring, visitors can introduce their palates to some exciting new tastes along Vernon’s Tasting Trail.


On March 30th, Okanagan Spirits will release its BRBN Bourbon-style BC Corn Whiskey. This is only the second year for BRBN. Last year’s release sold out in under a week.

Producing a bourbon-style whiskey has not been simple. Tyler Dyke, CEO of Okanagan Spirits says they first had to figure out how to grow grain corn in BC. But four years ago, they produced their first crop in the Coldstream Valley. From each ton of grain, they get one barrel of bourbon-style whiskey, which matures for three years before it’s ready for bottling.
Dyke says his whiskies have a taste unique to the Okanagan. They tend to be more fruity – maybe because of the proximity of his grain crops to local orchards or the amount of fruit production in the distillery. As he says, “It’s not an exact science.” He also finds his whiskies tend to age a bit more quickly “so they taste older when they’re younger.” The cellar room is not climate controlled and Dyke believes the hot/dry, cool/dry environment in which they’re aged puts more stress on the whiskies than if they were aged in a neutral environment.
So how does his bourbon-style whiskey differ from other styles? Dyke describes BRBN as lighter and more delicate by nature with honey tones compared to the dark chocolate tones of other whiskies.
While there is great excitement around the release of this year’s BRBN, whisky is not the only spirit produced by the distillery. They distil a range of fruit liqueurs and brandies as well as the favourite drink of 19th century poets and painters, Absinthe. Visitors can also choose between traditional grain-based or gluten-free gin and vodka. Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery is located at 5204-24th Street in Vernon. Tours and tastings are available Monday through Saturday 10am to 6pm and Sundays 11am – 5pm.

At the Marten Brewpub, Owners, Stephan and Pearl Marten are excited about starting a full canning line this spring. They debated over bottles or cans but chose cans for their portability – a necessity for the active lifestyle so many people pursue in the Okanagan. The new canning line will allow Brewpub products to be available in local liquor stores, which is a huge step for the brewery. The Martens hope to be set up by March, with the cans available first in house, then in liquor stores in April or May. As well as cans, the Brewpub will be producing a limited number of 650 ml bottles for specialty brews.
Stephan Marten is enthusiastic about working with other local businesses. He is aging one of his beers in casks used previously by Okanagan Spirits. The result? A sherry/porter. He says, “We are trying to work with our friends who are local and see what kind of neat stuff we can come up with.”
When starting the business, Stephan and Pearl knew they wanted to showcase how their beer is made. They built the pub and the private function rooms around the brewery. At any one time, the Brewpub has eight of their own beers, five Flagship beers and three or four revolving seasonal beers. Visitors can indulge their taste buds with some great food and fine craft beer all the while seeing how things work.
Martens Brewpub is located at 2933a-30th Street in Vernon and is open Monday through Friday from 3 pm and Saturday and Sunday from noon.
Visitors will have to wait until the May long weekend before they can sample the ciders from The BX Press Cidery and Orchard, but the new releases in both the Storytelling and Botanical series won’t disappoint. New for this spring in the Storytelling series is the Wrangler, a single varietal cider made from a heritage variety of Golden Russet apples.
Each cider in this series is named after a character from the stagecoach era, when the land now farmed by Dave and Missy Dobernigg was owned by Bernard’s Express and Stage Line. While enjoying flights of ciders on the orchard site patio, visitors are entertained with stories of the Prospector, the Hostler, the Bandit, the Crackwhip, the Dufferin, Ginny and now, the Wrangler.
The second set of ciders – the Botanical Series – are made from the farm’s apples infused with other BC fruits and a botanical. The new addition to the Botanical Series this spring is a Cardamom Blackcurrent.
Both these spring releases were on the experimental list last year – only available locally – and were such a success they now have their own labels.
Also new this spring is a self-guided walking tour through a part of the orchard. While waiting for a tasting, guests can enjoy an afternoon walk in the beautiful Okanagan and, at the same time, learn a little about apple growing.
Missy believes educating people about the apples they grow is important. “People are distanced from where their food comes from. When you can buy apples year round in the grocery store, you lose touch with when they are actually ripe.”
BX Press grows nearly thirty varieties of cider apples. They make eleven ciders in total, seven in the Storytelling series and four in the Botanical series.
Tastings take about thirty minutes and visitors should remember that true cider – fermented  through the fall – is  alcoholic. BX Press is located at 4667 East Vernon Road in Vernon.
For a non-alcoholic tasting treat, Tea Desire in the Village Green Mall offers a range of loose teas sold by weight. The staff can help create a blend of black, green and fruit teas perfect for those iced tea afternoons in the hot Okanagan sun. Tea Desire buys only the highest quality teas with no artificial flavours or artificial preservatives.
The Friday indoor Farmers’s Market will close March 24th and move outdoors starting April 20th.  Whether the market is indoors or outdoors, Terroir Cheese will be there. Their GMO-free cheeses are produced from their own French Montbéliarde cows and are made using traditional European ways. For spring, Terroir Cheese is featuring their Mount Ida, pasteurized, Brie-style cheese and its flavoured version made with marinated cherries from Okanagan Spirits. Yet another marriage between two local Okanagan products. You will also find Terroir’s best selling French Gruyere, two semi-hard cheeses, Jurassic and Cascadia, alongside a raw milk blue cheese, Continental Blue. Owner Leonard Marriot says the Continental Blue has a very smooth finish without the bite of some other Blue cheeses.
Two other cheese vendors are Bella Stella Cheese, producing certified organic cheeses inspired by traditional recipes from the Ticino (the Italian part of Switzerland) and Triple Island Cheese which specializes in Gouda and Maasdammer cheeses.
The Vernon Farmers’ Market is a perfect spot to find the many tempting tastes of the Okanagan. Locally grown produce, jams and preserves, honey and French-style crêpes, the market offers something for everyone. Set aside a Monday or Thursday from 8am to 1pm to visit the market at 3445-43 Ave in the Kal Tire Place parking lot.

~ Sue Harper