Mercury is in retrograde: my laptop died on Easter weekend, work’s been a bit crazy, and my left rotator cuff is telling me it needs a little more love. Aside from that, it’s been a pretty good week. But I’m definitely ready to put my my feet up and have a glass of something lovely.
I love tea. I particularly love having tea with friends. I’ve mentioned the Blog Pod that I belong to a few times; these ladies have become a lovely group to get together with, and some of us recently had the opportunity to spend a hygge afternoon enjoying Secret Garden Tea Company‘s High Tea together. One day, all ten of us will be in the same room, but for this day we had me, Karlie, Emily, Po On, Melissa, and Orla.
It’s already past the midway point of February! What the what?
I had (what I had originally thought were) fairly realistic plans to get some Date Night blog posts done to coincide with Valentine’s day; but in the way of things, work and life got busy, and I need to sleep. But I realized that posting after what I know some call a ‘Hallmark holiday’ works better.
Winter in Vancouver is down to your bones cold. I’m in the middle of some Sunshine Coast drafts but the windy, rainy weather and the cooking shows I’ve been watching on Netflix have my thoughts straying to the dry heat of Barcelona. As close to a tropical vacation as I’ve had a while, June in this Spanish city was perfect for the girls and me after the unexpected and pelting rain in Paris.
Vancouver is a hub for many industries, including tech, film, and mining. But a more relatable ‘industry’ is the craft beer scene – no, craft beer isn’t just a ‘hipster’ thing. (Are hipsters even a thing anymore? I’m not a ‘hipster’, and Brit most certainly isn’t one.) In a city and province where ‘big beer’ has strong roots, craft beer has taken over with creative spins on classics, focus on flavour, and top-notch tasting rooms.
The Brit and I have been exploring these tasting rooms, on the hunt for the perfect IPA (for him) and stout or porter (for me). If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve likely seen me documenting this as a #pintandaflight. I love the brewery tasting rooms because they are usually on the smaller side and you immediately feel at home when you sit down. There’s a community feel – which I touched on in my guest post with Townsite Brewing – and they can be quite cozy during any season. Perfect for a date or an outing with a few friends. (We experienced another couple’s first date at a place called Brassneck last weekend (as they were sitting across from us at the long table), and it was fairly entertaining and very sweet. 🙂 )
When we moved to New Westminster, we had a stroke of luck that not only did we move to a beautiful area, but said area is a five minute walk from what is currently the city’s only brewery and tasting room: Steel & Oak (1319 3rd Ave, New Westminster). There’s also a winery nearby, but that’s an entire post of its own!
Until recently, Steel & Oak did not have an IPA or a porter on tap, but both our hop dreams came true a couple weeks ago with their seasonal releases of the Eleven Boroughs IPA and Windrose Porter. They also have a seasonal brew called a Smoked Honey Doppelbock, which gave the Brit a me moment when he tasted it and said: “this tastes hygge” (which he always pronounces “higgy” to make me laugh). He was serious, though, and absolutely right. It absolutely tastes hygge.
The Steel & Oak team very kindly let my friend Jessica and I take over their tasting room for a mini photo shoot (part of an upcoming blog refresh!) before they opened last weekend, and Jessica made me look very glam while having a flight and some snacks and listening to Amy Winehouse and Carole King on the record player. I also found A Charlie Brown Christmas in their record collection and that made me especially happy.
I like to get a flight for two reasons. One is that I occasionally have a hard time choosing just one thing from a menu, and the other being that I like the variety and trying new things. My flight that day consisted of (L-R):
Royal City Ale*
Eleven Boroughs IPA
*Need a Refill? – Steel & Oak has partnered with Monarch Place for the month of December and is donating $1 from every growler refill of Royal City Ale to the organization. Monarch Place provides safe environments and alternatives for women and children in need in the community – especially important at this time of year.
Steel & Oak has clearly been added to my tasting room favourites list. My other favourites in the Metro Vancouver area are:
Faculty Brewing Co.(1830 Ontario St.) – A newer brewery, I really like their tasting room. Also, try the Oddity Kombucha that they have on tap.
Brassneck Brewery(2148 Main St.) This place can get quite crowded with lineups down the sidewalk, but when you’re in, it’s golden. Dog friendly.
Off the Rail Brewing Co.(1351 Adanac St.) – Hidden up a set of stairs, I consider this place a bit of a gem (and very hygge! and not just because they always have some darker beers all year round.
Luppolo(1123 Venables St.) – Italian for ‘hop’, Luppolo has a varied selection on tap and really nice bread rolls. Dog friendly.
Green Leaf Brewing Co.(Lonsdale Quay Market, North Vancouver) – Located inside Lonsdale Quay Market, the beer is good, but my favourite part is that you can bring your meal in with you, or order it market vendor and they will deliver it to you at the tasting room.
Parallel 49 (1950 Triumph St, Vancouver) – Check out their new tasting room and street kitchen!
Alibi Room(157 Alexander St, Vancouver) and Craft Beer Market(Salt Building, 85 W. 1 Ave, Vancouver) aren’t tasting rooms, but their beer selections are on point and the food is very good. Reservations recommended.
Do you have a favourite tasting room in Vancouver or where you live? Tell me all about it in the comments below! Cheers!
This post was created partly in partnership with Steel & Oak. A big thank you to them for letting us use the tasting room for our photo session! As always, all opinions are my own.
P.S. I love my glasses! They are the Derek Lam 10 Crosby (551 TTBLU Tortoise Blue) from Clearly.ca. They are currently SOLD OUT, but Clearly.ca has similar pairs here.
“In a study, scientists report that drinking beer can be good for the liver. I’m sorry, did I say ‘scientists’? I meant Irish people.”
Candles are… Practical. Sensory. Fanciful. Romantic. Celebratory. Cozy. The perfect lighting for a photograph. A major player in making a space feel hygge.
As Buddha once said:
“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the single candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”
Cocktails are… Practical (they are, I promise). Sensory. Fanciful. Romantic. Celebratory. Tasty. Fun to photograph in the perfect lighting. And, in my view, another player in creating some hygge – because cocktails are best enjoyed in good company.
When I stumbled upon Vancouver based French Seventy Six, a dream I hadn’t realized I’d had came true: locally made soy wax luxury candles that are inspired by their champagne cocktail namesakes. Who doesn’t want a little champagne inspired living?? The candles are the French 76, Blackberry Fizz, and the Bees Knees; all of which make you want to smell the candles with their respective cocktails in your hand! They are also beautifully packaged and come with the recipes for said drinks.
I couldn’t make it to their debut at a recent Vancity Business Babes event, but got in touch with co-owners and sisters-in-law Britt and Keirstin Feltan a) to purchase a Bees Knees candle (it smells fab and looks so pretty on our mantle!); and b) to do a City Girl Connects interview as I love what they are doing, not just as #westcoastcitygirl entrepreneurs, but because I love hearing about people following their passions. There’s also a Bees Knees cocktail recipe at the end of this post!
WCCG: We will start with the difficult question: do you each have a favourite of the candles, or is it just too hard to choose? (Mine is the Bees Knees!)
F76: It’s definitely tough to choose a favourite! Each of our candles are inspired by some of our favourite Champagne cocktails and too be honest they are equally as delicious cocktails as they they are fragrant candles. BUT if we had to choose…Keirstin’s fave would be The French 76 and Britt’s the Blackberry Fizz.
WCCG: What sparked the idea for French Seventy Six?
F76: We love to be surrounded by beautiful fragrances, luxe details and chic packaging. One girl’s night (while sipping on French 76’s) we casually played around with the idea of combining our two favourites things, candles and cocktails. Fast forward almost two years, French Seventy Six is now a brand and product we are proud to share! Our passion for fine details and delicious cocktails definitely inspired our vision for it.
WCCG: As entrepreneurs in Vancouver, how has the journey been so far with a start-up company and what advice would you give someone looking to make a go of their side hustle?
F76: To go from an idea to a product takes a lot of blood, sweat and (many tears!) While it’s been an amazing journey with lots of learning along the way, it can be challenging to find the balance of entrepreneurship and the full-time 9-5 (Keirstin is a court reporter and Britt is a recruiter.) Both of us were missing the creative aspect in our 9-5, so we love being able to put our creative energy into French Seventy Six. I think that’s our advice for budding entrepreneurs, finding things you’re passionate about because it definitely makes the challenging times easier…and more enjoyable. Also, don’t be afraid to take risks!
WCCG: The French Seventy Six hashtag of #champagneinspiredliving is one that resonates with me both in my life and as a consumer. What influenced this tag and what does it mean to you?
F76: Again, we are obsessed with fine details and love to surround ourselves with beautiful pieces. The hashtag #champagneinspiredliving evolved from the idea that we want French Seventy Six to encompass more than candles, we want it to be a lifestyle that resonates with people. #champagneinspiredliving means you appreciate fine details, enjoy life’s little luxuries and surround yourself with people and things that make you feel special and happy. Champagne is also associated with celebration and we believe that everyday tasks and moments can feel celebratory.
WCCG: This sounds a lot like hygge, a Danish concept that I’ve been exploring, which is essentially about being cozy and living well. Candles a huge part of hygge as they provide ideal lighting for relaxing by yourself or in good company (and in my opinion for gorgeous photos). How important to do you feel candles are to atmosphere in a home or restaurant?
F76: We definitely agree with you! Candles and scents play a huge part in creating a luxurious, warm and inviting atmosphere. We love that French Seventy Six candles are soy wax based, because they burn cleaner and longer than other candles on the market. The warm glow of a our candle creates a warm, inviting space and the luxurious scents and packaging adds a touch of elegance to a home.
‘Tis the Season Tip – Keirstin and Britt recommend cutting a candle wick to 1/4″ before each burn. This will allow the candle to burn evenly and prevent tunneling.
WCCG: Speaking of hygge and coziness, what makes you feel cozy wherever you are?
F76: Both of us often get cold so we love curling up with a cozy blanket or if we’re travelling, a blanket scarf! Having a soft and warm item immediately makes you feel cozy regardless of where you are.
WCCG: What is your favourite cocktail?
F76: We both love tart cocktails, so we’re huge fans of French 76’s! We appreciate Gin based cocktails and love when they have some type of fresh herb.
WCCG: All you want for Christmas is…?
F76: Champagne? Who doesn’t love a good bottle of bubbly!
‘Tis the Season Tip – Candles make an excellent hostess/host gift for all those holiday parties and dinners you are attending!
French Seventy Six’s luxurious candles can be purchased in the Lower Mainland by visiting FrenchSeventySix.com or emailing here, or you can buy them at Bella & Wren in Fort Langley. They often do pop up shops and more info on those can be found here.
1 oz. Honey Simple Syrup (Easy how-to can be found here!)
2 oz. Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Fresh or dried lavender
A bottle of your favourite bubbly
Method: Pour over ice in a cocktail shaker, shake well and strain into a cocktail glass. Top with your favourite bubbly and garnish with lavender.
(I pulled my cocktail set out of the glass cabinet last night and shook up a couple of post-dinner Bees Knees for the Brit and I. They were incredibly tasty, but in my enjoyment of the lavender scented honey-lemon-bubbly goodness, I forgot to take a photo! Epic fail. Making these again tonight to remedy the lack of photo. Oh, the hardship. 😂 But the F76 gals saved me with the beautiful photo shown below.)
A big thank you to Britt and Keirstin for sharing their story and time with me!
“A cocktail done right can really show your guests that you care.”
Hot chocolate or hot cocoa. However you call it, it’s the perfect winter treat when you’re out and about, or when you’re having an evening in. It is a very hygge beverage in my humble opinion.
I used to be indifferent to this marvelous hot beverage. Likely because I’d only ever had it as the powdered version that gets mixed boiled water. But then I had a an espresso cup sized serving in Naples back in 2011. It was essentially just melted dark chocolate, and it was heaven. I asked the barrista if there was milk in it, and he said “No latte. signorina. No latte.”
Since then, hot chocolate has been my jam, and every now and then, I like to make it from scratch on the stove. I add almond ‘latte’ to mine otherwise I would be incredibly hyper, but every time I make it, I smile thinking of that little cup of melted chocolate.
The first time I made my own cocoa, I was staying in a beautiful house by the beach on Salt Spring Island. I’ll get around to writing about SSI at some point, but I digress. Hot chocolate is actually quite simple to make on the stove. After a couple of years, I think I’ve finally found an ingredients combination that is exactly to my liking and similar to my favourite Blenz almond milk dark hot chocolate!) Click here to jump to the recipe.
Making myself a hot chocolate obviously isn’t always possible, so when I am out and about, these are my Vancouver go-to’s for a tasty cocoa to-go (or enjoy in the cafe):
Blenz Coffee (Various Locations)
When I came back from my aforementioned trip to Naples I was obsessed with finding a good hot chocolate in Vancouver. It didn’t need to be solely melted dark chocolate, but it needed to have actual chocolate in it. I honestly wouldn’t have expected a chain to have my favourite hot chocolate, but Blenz does, indeed. And they are consistent. My extra almond milk dark hot chocolate is a mood balancer, treat, something to keep me warm, or all of the above. I also love that the baristas do a little bit of latte art to finish it of and that Blenz is a local chain.
Mink’s hot chocolates are very gourmet, and very tasty. I love going there because they have a variety of options, as well as their own brand of chocolates (also available online for purchase). They aren’t in my immediate vicinity of home or work, so it’s always a nice treat to go here.
Address: 863 W. Hastings Street, Vancouver (in the little courtyard on Howe Street)
And if you really want to get your hot chocolate on in Vancouver, Hot Chocolate Fest is coming back in January! More details on participating merchants can be found here. I like to go to at least one new merchant shop every year to try their delicious creations!
Stove-Top Almond Milk Hot Chocolate
If you’re feeling homey, or want to inject a little hygge into your day, here is my Almond Milk Hot Chocolate recipe!
This is a slightly decadent treat for those winter nights where you want to just snuggle up with your partner to watch a movie or to settle in with a good book.
3 cups almond milk
3 tbsp cocoa powder
4 tbsp semisweet chocolate chips
Sweetener of choice (I use 2 tbsp of maple syrup or honey)
1 tsp vanilla, peppermint or almond extract (optional)
Heat the almond milk in a small sauce pan on Medium-High heat for approximately 5 minutes
When milk is hot and starting to steam, remove pan from heat
Whisk in your cocoa powder, chocolate chips, sweetener, and optional extract
Continue to whisk until the chocolate chips are fully melted, and everything looks frothy and smooth
Pour into mugs and enjoy!
Serves 2 in large mugs or 4 in regular mugs. Cut recipe in half for 2 regular size mug servings.
Like my tea, I take my hot chocolate ‘black’, but cocoa does look a bit prettier and taste fabulous with a whipped cream (like these great almond milk options, or this coconut milk option by one of my favourite recipe mavens, Angela Liddon from Oh She Glows!)
I haven’t tried this recipe with dairy milk or coconut milk yet, but that will be a Christmas holidays adventure so I can find an option that the Brit enjoys. The almond milk was met with some indifference. 😉
“Love is like swallowing hot chocolate before it has cooled off. It takes you by surprise at first, but keeps you warm for a long time.”
The British are famous for their stereotypical love of a ‘cuppa’. Naturally, my Brit doesn’t like tea. Ha. Anyway, I’m obviously not British, but like Oprah LOVES bread, I REALLY love tea. I have at least one cup, every morning. It’s comforting, it’s warm, and tea always smells lovely.
So for Day 2 of the #12DaysofHygge, it’s all about tea. I’m sharing why my favourite Edinburgh tea shop makes the best cup of tea, my favourite places in Vancouver to grab a tea-to-go, and because everyone needs to have some tea joy… I’m giving away a box of Starbucks Teavana Joy Tea! (Contest details at the end of this post!)
The Perfect Cup of Tea
Aside from my own house, my favourite place in the world to go have tea is Pekoe Tea (20 Leven St, Edinburgh) in Edinburgh. Whenever I go, I always have an Earl Grey or green tea variant, and I usually end up buying a fair amount to take back to Canada as presents for people and to replenish my own stock at home. I have a lot of tea…
The reason Pekoe Tea makes the best pot of tea is that they are savvy about the steep time. Depending on the kind of tea, it’s 3, 4, or 5 minutes, and they have mini hourglasses for each time. It’s a test of patience that is well worth the wait. Particularly if you’re having one of the teas made from the pickings from their own garden just outside of Edinburgh. Add a baked treat from the counter and the world is bliss.
We are all on the go, and while I’m still searching for the perfect (and more environmentally friendly and money-saving) go-cup for my loose leaf tea, there are some great options in Vancouver for a tea-to-go.
The TEAJA Lab in Yaletown is Vancouver based and award-winning TEAJA’s flagship TeaBar. They have over 50 ethically sourced organic loose leaf teas and they use this nifty Teaze infusing machine to prep your beverage. So you don’t have to worry about your tea getting too strong because you forgot to take your tea bag out.
I really like their Lady Grey tea, as well as their Ginger Immunity wellness tea. They also have some lovely holiday teas out right now, with the Mulled Berry being my current favourite. My work is a two minute walk from this shop, so you can imagine my willpower is basically nil. Ha.
Great Wall Tea Co.
Address: River Market – 810 Quayside Dr, New Westminster
When we moved to New West last month, I was so excited when I saw this shop was still open (because you never know!). Like its name says, the shop is literally a wall of tea with the containers all staying as they are due to magnetic magic. You can sit down at the little bar or take a tea to wander around the shop’s home, New West’s River Market on the quay. They have some cute Christmas teas that I need to try, I guess I’ll be at the market a lot this month!
Allegro Coffee Bar at Whole Foods
Whole Foods’ Allegro Coffee Bars apparently have excellent coffee, but I quite like their peppermint tea. They have a great #GetThrifty coffee/tea and a muffin deal that comes to $3-ish plus tax. I love their Power muffins, so this is a win-win all around in my books.
Starbucks sells Teavana teas, and the price-point is quite good. I don’t care what anyone says about them being a big-box business. The tea is good. Particularly their seasonal tea (my absolute favourite!): Joy. Check out the below for how to win a box of it!
I went a little nuts last week and bought a few boxes of Joy tea. Tea is my shopping vice… But I wanted to share the joy (see what I did there? 😉 ) and give a box to a lucky Vancouver reader!
How to enter: Share your favourite Christmas tradition in the below comments section. (That’s it!) The winner will be randomly chosen on Wednesday, December 7 at 5pm PST.
*This contest is only open to residents of British Columbia. This contest is not sponsored by Starbucks Canada. The prize was purchased by WestCoastCityGirl.com and is valued at $14.95 CAD. Must be 13+ to enter.
Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world ~ T’ien Yiheng
Having travelled solo a fair amount, I am comfortable being in my own company; but there are many times when I’ve been away and wanted to share a moment, or just have someone (that I know) to talk to. Be that partner or friend. That’s why I loved being on the recent trip with my girlfriends, particularly when we were in London. It was really wonderful to share a city that I’ve become quite fond of with some of my favourite people.
I’m currently exploring the Danish concept of hygge (hue-guh or hoo-guh) and a big aspect of this is togetherness. London is a city that inspires going out for a pint or a bite to eat with friends and is a great place to be with your tribe. We had three proper girls’ nights in London and I definitely recommend them as yours as well! These are also great outings – in any city – to celebrate the holiday season with friends or with work colleagues. 🙂
Dinner and a Show
Seeing a show isn’t the most social of activities, but you go for a pre-show dinner or drinks and talk about the show over more drinks and food afterward. It’s a really nice girls’ night out (like my recent Jersey Boys outing in Vancouver with my mum!) or date night option. Broadway is amazing, but the architecture of London’s West End theatres tips its end of the scale more so in my favour.
A prime example of this architecture is the recently restored Dominion Theatre, currently home to the fabulous musical An American in Paris*. The girls and I had the opportunity to go and see the show while we were in London and it was STUNNING. Gene Kelly would have been so proud.
One of the best feelings in the world is when your heart fills up with so much joy that all you can do is smile a stupid smile. That is how I feel when I’m at a wedding, when I think of my guy, and when I watch live theatre or a ballet. I never really enjoyed performing but I have so much appreciation for those who do it well and for all the behind-the-scenes work. This was genuinely the best stage musical I have seen in a long time – I couldn’t stop smiling. The set and technology, choreography, acting, and all that lovely Gershwin Music… All framed by the Dominion’s flame red and gold interior in all its art deco glory.
I was really looking forward to seeing the exterior of Dominion, the but with old buildings comes the need for restoration, so the exterior looked like this:
It now looks like this:
If you’re in London this winter, make sure you go see An American in Paris before it ends its West End engagement on January 6, 2018! More info on the show and how to buy tickets can be found here.
‘Tis the Season Tip – Theatre tickets are the perfect stocking stuffer for the musical lover or the kids in your life!
(*This girls’ night out to see An American in Paris was made possible by The Corner Shop PR. As always, opinions are my own.)
We didn’t have time for a pre-show dinner, but stumbled upon a cute little Italian place in Soho called Il Cucciolo (8 Old Compton St, London) after the show. Cheap, cheerful, and sizeable pasta portions – my kind of place. I’m so happy we found this little gem!
#GetThrifty and Fancy! – If we’d had time before the show, I would have suggested having a treat dinner at L’Atelier Joel Robuchon (13-15 West St., London) in Soho. They have a great pre-show prix fixe menu for £35, which is an amazing #GetThrifty price considering it’s a Michelin star restaurant. (I ate there a couple years ago at the suggestion of a family friend, and it was good value for money, delicious, and their wait staff is wonderful.) Reservations are highly recommenced!
We ended the evening going back to food tour favourite, La Bodega Negra (16 Moor Street, London) for some margaritas. It was a fantastic evening out!
Our Twilight Soho Food and Cocktail Tour with Eating Europe was one of my favourite excursions from this trip. I don’t think we really knew what we were getting into, but it surpassed expectations! We ended up staying at one of my the establishments they brought us to (Basement Sate), because it made us feel like we were Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda – and the G&T’s were superb. Check out my review of the tour and the list of restaurants and bars they took us to.
‘Tis the Season Tip – They will be having a Cyber Monday Sale, so make sure to sign up for their newsletter so you can get a sweet deal for the next time you’re in the city or are a local wanting to have a fun date night!
Gordon’s is one of my favourite London spots. It’s considered the oldest wine bar in London and is in a cave by the Thames and is one of the best bars in the city. The wine list is varied and lovely, the charcuterie and cheese are excellent, but they don’t take table reservations. They are also open for lunch. All of these factors make it quite popular.
Thursday seems to be the new Friday in big cities, so I was worried we wouldn’t get in. But there was an ‘important’ football (soccer) match on TV that night. And Gordon’s doesn’t have a single screen. So grazie mille to Juventus for making it so we could get a prime cave table on a summer Thursday at 8pm!
#GetThrifty – If you’re in a group of four like we were, it’s much more cost effective to order by the bottle. It also makes for fun photos because the lighting is very moody with candles in old bottles.
In the summer they also have what they call their ‘Terrace’ (which is really an alley-way, but the safest alley-way you will ever be in) open just outside, with a special grill menu. (Brave the Terrace in the rain, if you must – some people do!) They serve their charcuterie and cheese boards all year round, and apparently have a Sunday Roast for £10.95, which is a pretty great deal.
They do take group bookings for 8-10 people for what they call ‘The Cage‘. The name of the room intrigues me enough to makes me wish I was there now so I could book my work team in for a Christmas lunch!
Something important to keep in mind is that Gordon’s Closes at 11pm, but it’s a great spot for a girls’ night, and if you’re going on a date, you’ll likely get bonus points if you get a good table! 😉 (When we were there, there was a first date a table over from us, and it was going very well…)
Because it was fab in Glasgow…
I talked a bit about Wetherspoon’s in my Glasgow bus tour post and the fact that it’s an excellent #GetThrifty option. While we didn’t go to one in London, I’m positive that we would have had just as amazing of a time as we did at their Counting House in Glasgow. (They also have a great G&T.)
The service is good, the food and beverage are good and very decently priced, and the buildings they choose for their establishments are always interesting as they are restored old buildings (cinemas, banks, etc). They also have an order/pay app, which is great if you’re not wanting to leave a good conversation to wait at the bar to order drinks.
Ardbeg Long Table Dinner at Shebeen Whisk(e)y House
I love a dinner party. But the ones I’ve hosted or attended have been maybe eight people, maximum. So I was intrigued when I attended The Irish Heather and Shebeen Whisk(e)y House‘s ‘long table dinner’ for Ardbeg Distillery a couple weeks ago. It was me, the Brit, and about 30-ish other people. Long table = a MUST!
We were all there to eat a tasty porchetta dinner and have Ardbeg National Brand Ambassador, Ruaraidh (pronounced Rory) MacIntyre, walk us through our Islay whisky flight and introduce us to Ardbeg’s new release: An Oa.
Fun Fact: Ruaraidh’s father is Ardbeg’s longest-serving member of staff.
Islay whisky is the kind of Scotch that made me actually LIKE it. After trying different (and for me) nose wrinkle inducing Scotches over the years, my first trip to Edinburgh (2010) led me – well, I was basically dragged – to a shop on the Royal Mile where a staff member was determined to help me find my gateway whisky. Turns out I like smoky, peaty Islay whisky; which perplexed everyone in the shop. While my gateway whisky wasn’t an Ardbeg – it was another kind that I’ll talk about another day! – it was fun to find something that I liked.
Shebeen is the Ardbeg Embassy for Canada, which makes them privy to some special releases, so I was excited that we were getting to try the easiest to pronounce, but most difficult to obtain: Kelpie. One of my colleagues is Scottish and he has been raving about it. More on that in a moment.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the food. Dinner was a scrumptious porchetta and mash dish that melted in my mouth (I’ll never be able to be a vegetarian…). Dessert was a rich chocolate mousse with whipping cream topped with orange zest – because the original topping was strawberries that I am very allergic to! – and what I believe were elderflowers. One word: delicious.
Back to the Scotch. Thirty-plus people make inevitable amount noise, especially when (at least) one whisky cocktail in (recipe is below!), so it was difficult to hear Ruaraidh at times (I possibly went “shhh” one or two times, but as politely as I could…), but I learned a couple things, including how to at least passably pronounce the tongue twister name of whisky #3…
10 Years Old – The one with the easiest name. Unexpectedly, but pleasantly leathery in smell. Very smooth in taste – likely due to being barreled in French oak.
Kelpie – Named for the mythical shape-shifting water spirit of Scottish lore (the lesson: beware of handsome horses or handsome strangers with hooves!), this limited release is a hot commodity, not readily available in Canada. Aged in eastern European oak, it has a sweet-ish taste with a bit of pepper, which I could only faintly taste.
Uigeadail – Pronounced oo-gah-del, this was more smoky than the first two and is named after a loch (lake) in Islay. With a nice mix of smoke and sweet, it comes in at a cask strength of 54.2% alcohol. This was my favourite of the flight.
Corryvreckan – The name is pronounced essentially how it is written looks, but sounds better when a Scots person says it. Also smoky and sweet, it’s alcohol content comes in at a whopping (to me) 57%. The angels’ share was a bit less for this one… 😉
Fun Fact: The angels’ share is (per Whisky Magazine) the amount of alcohol which evaporates from the casks during maturation. This can be around 2% per year but much higher in hotter countries such as America. Personally, I like the image of a cheeky cherub doing a taste test.
An Oa – Not included in the flight, but served with dessert, this is another limited release. I’m a touch embarrassed to say that my chocolate mousse distracted me sufficiently enough that I didn’t fully hear the tasting notes. I CAN tell you that the smoke taste paired nicely with my dessert and that I enjoyed it very much
Ruaraidh’s first bit of advice for tasting was to warm up the whisky by cupping the rim and bowl of the glass. He then suggested we dip a finger in the whisky and then rub the drop between our hands like you would do with perfume on your wrists. These were both eye (or nose) opening exercises because the scent was much stronger than in the glass. The rest is the same: tilt to the light, swirl, sniff, taste and enjoy!
The Ardbeg Old Fashioned
When guests arrived for the dinner, they were given an Ardbeg Old Fashioned, a nice play on the original Old Fashioned which is traditionally made with bourbon or rye. It was lovely, so I made sure to make note of the ingredients they announced so I could share the recipe in their approximate quantities and the method from watching intently as the bartender made ours.
THE ARDBEG OLD FASHIONED (from Shebeen Whisk(e)y House)