#12DaysofHygge Day 2: The perfect cup of tea in Edinburgh + Tea-to-Go in Vancouver + Joy Tea Giveaway!

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.

Continue reading “#12DaysofHygge Day 2: The perfect cup of tea in Edinburgh + Tea-to-Go in Vancouver + Joy Tea Giveaway!”

City Girl Whisky Diary: Vancouver Ardbeg Long Table Dinner and The Ardbeg Old Fashioned

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.

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The Ardbeg Isaly whisky flight

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.

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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
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Uga-what? Corry-who?

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!

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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)

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS*:

  • One large ice cube or 2-3 small ice cubes
  • 2 oz Ardbeg 10 Year (or an Islay whisky of your choice)
  • 1 tsp simple syrup
  • 3-4 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • 1-2 wide strips of orange peel

METHOD:

  • Put ice cube(s) in the glass
  • In a pint glass or martini shaker, muddle the bitters, simple syrup, and orange peel
  • Add some ice to the pint glass or shaker
  • Pour whisky over the ice and stir everything around for a few seconds
  • Remove the rind and set aside
  • Strain the liquid into the glass, over the ice cube(s)
  • Use the orange rind to ‘salt’ the glass rims with the orange peel oil; add the rind to the liquid as garnish
  • Enjoy!

*For more than one cocktail, multiply ingredients accordingly.

Cheers! Slainte mhath! Have a wonderful and safe weekend!

My ticket for this event was provided by Shebeen Whisk(e)y House. A big thank you to them for including me in this dinner and for planning a great event! As always, opinions are my own. 

“I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis.” (Humphrey Bogart)

Townsite is where hygge is at – my guest post at TownsiteBrewing.com!

I recently had the opportunity to interview Townsite Breweing’s co-owner, Michelle Zutz, as well as write a guest blog post on the Townsite Brewing website. This was an exciting opportunity and I’m so happy to share it here: 

And now a word from our (non) sponsor…. last week Powell River played host to Yasmine Hardcastle, a woman on a search for the perfect hygge experience. Here you can read of her adventures chez nous:

It’s officially autumn – brisker weather and that BC rain… All you want to do is stay inside, curled up with a book and a blanket. And if you go out, it’s always good to be going somewhere equally cozy; or equally hygge.

Hygge (hoo-guh or hue-guh) – the Danish concept of getting cozy.

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Hygge is something I’ve decided to immerse myself in as a way to bring more focus into my busy mind and life. My guy and I recently stayed in Powell River for the Thanksgiving long weekend and it was really the best place to be for some hygge. To start, our Airbnb was basically the real-life equivalent of the Weasley house from Harry Potter, which delighted me to no end. We genuinely could have holed ourselves up in that cottage for the entire weekend. We had Townsite beer, a fireplace, and takeout from this fab place across the street called Little Hut Curry. Sorted.

But we had another hyggelig place to be the next day: the Townsite Brewing Tasting Room. After wandering along the Willingdon Beach Trail to Townsite’s beautiful brick building, we settled in for a quick beer before a private brewery tour with the amazing Cédric (Belgian brewmaster extraordinaire). We naturally ended up back in the tasting room, again with Cédric, and a wonderful dinner ordered from McKinney’s Pub.

We have been to a lot of tasting rooms in the last year, and this was honestly the best experience we have had. And we’ve had some great ones. The moment you walk in, you feel the friendliness and community. The lighting isn’t too bright and colours of the brick wall and wood tables give off welcoming warmth. The cushions on the benches give a pop of colour and complete the hygge picture. It is a hub; very fitting as the building was once the post office – always a central place in a community. Particularly that of a smaller town.

Unlike most of Vancouver’s tasting rooms, the Townsite tasting room isn’t demographic specific. The town IS the demographic. And that is what makes it almost like an episode of Cheers when Norm walks in. The staff knows everyone’s names. People of all ages were sitting down for flights and pints, and there are arcade games for the little ones that accompany their parents. There was a girls’ night out in one corner. A date in another. A group of friends sitting nearby. People picking up their Thanksgiving growler refills. And us, the city folk, welcomed right in, sitting at the bar with the truly fantastic Cédric. It was all truly hyggelig.

I am so happy we went to Powell River and Townsite Brewing for our weekend getaway. We highly recommend you do the same!

About the Author: Yasmine Hardcastle is a Vancouver executive assistant, yoga teacher, and blogger. With a love of local and international travel, she is proudly Canadian and documents her adventures via her blog and Instagram. Her obsession with hygge makes her think that she was possibly born in the wrong country, but that just means there’s a pilgrimage in store! Yasmine and her partner – her occasional blog photographer, also known as The Brit – have been exploring the tasting rooms of the Greater Vancouver area and beyond, all in search of the perfect stout (for her) and IPA (for The Brit).

This post originally appeared on the Townsite Brewing website and lives here. Thank you to Townsite Brewing for the opportunity to write for their blog and Instagram takeover!

Townsite Brewing is located at 5824 Ash Ave. in Powell River’s Townsite Heritage District. They have a Cask Night on Thursdays and brewery tours on Saturdays at 3pm. Check them out online here.

I love those connections that make this big old world feel like a little village.

~ Gina Bellman

City Girl Whisky Diary: Tasting Irish at Shebeen Whisk(e)y House

Ireland is a place that has long been on my ‘to visit’ list. But every time I cross the Atlantic, it just doesn’t work out with the timing of everything else. Something that I hope to remedy soon. Until that happy day comes, I recently decided I should do some research and expand my whisky palate by learning about whiskey with an ‘e’.

And where else would I go do that other than the award-winning Shebeen Whisk(e)y House in Vancouver’s historic Gastown district? Tucked away behind its sister pub, The Irish Heather, Shebeen is a cozy pub room that is perfect for drinks or dinner with friends. I’ve planned a few corporate events in this space, as well as attended friends’ birthdays, and it’s a really great spot. More than likely modeled after pubs in owner Seán Heather’s native Ireland, The Irish Heather and Shebeen are basically Vancouver’s only truly authentic Irish pub experience. There is a reason they recently won best Best Irish Whiskey Experience in North America at the 2017 Irish Pubs Global Awards. (This is a thing – who knew??) Quality of customer experience and product have been evident every time I’ve ever been there, and I always hear great things, so a well deserved accolade!

Speaking of product… Let’s get to the whisk(e)y.

TO ‘E’ OR NOT TO ‘E’?

To start, you might wonder why am I spelling it with the weird parenthesis ‘(e)’… Isn’t it just whisky? Or whiskey? Well, my friends, it’s both. When I sat down with Heather Hospitality’s Director of Operations, a charming Irishman named Darren Pierce, he briefly walked me and the Brit through the history of this spirit. As with many things in history, it started with someone getting their nose out of joint; with the ‘e’ being added to the Irish version in the early 1900’s to differentiate from the blended approach that the Scots had recently developed at the time. The Irish just weren’t down with it. The Americans seem to have taken their cue for the spelling from them, but the Scots and rest of the world stayed with the original spelling.

The dust eventually settled and I’m told the way you spell it is a personal choice; neither is incorrect. The Irish Heather and Shebeen spell it as whisk(e)y to be inclusive, which is a very Canadian thing to do! Personally, I like the quirkiness of it. But when I talk about the Irish version, I will spell it as ‘whiskey’.

TAKING FLIGHT

To start my Irish whiskey education, Darren installed me at a table in Shebeen with a tasting flight named ‘Ireland’s Call’ and a charcuterie and cheese board for the Brit and I to share. (More on that later.)

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Having not properly tasted Irish whiskey before (a shot at a bar when I was 20 absolutely does not count), I was pleasantly surprised to find that three of the four tasters were quite smooth, with a bit of sweetness. Even the one with a little more kick to it was fairly smooth. Irish varieties tend to be lighter on the palate while Scotch tends to have more kick. (Which is why you don’t just knock this stuff back.) The whiskeys in the flight were:

  • Jameson ‘Black Barrel’ (Apparently Jameson is underappreciated in its homeland. Give this one a chance, it’s lovely!)
  • Midleton ‘Green Spot’ (My favourite of the lot!)
  • Powers ‘Signature Release’
  • Teeling ‘Small Batch Rum Cask’

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This Irish flight runs at $25 CAD, with the other three available options (Regional, Seasonal, and distillery specific) costing between $25-50 CAD. They can do a custom flight upon request and cost would be based on what you order.

As I’ve likely mentioned a few times before, in my opinion, and if given the option, flights and tasting menus are the way to go. Particularly if you like variety, or if you’re like me and have a hard time choosing one option. Flights are also the most #GetThrifty option in terms of value for money – especially if you’re brand new to whatever you are trying and have no idea where to begin. Who wants to spend (at least) $12 CAD on 1 oz of liquid that turns out to taste like rocket fuel for their palate? No one.

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Shebeen rotates their flights on a monthly basis, and there is no shortage of anything to choose from. Their whisk(e)y menu is beyond extensive, with an incredible Scotch selection (including some lovely Tomatin!) that is complemented by the Irish, Canadian, American, and other international varieties.

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THE TASTING PROCESS

Like wine, and even beer, there is ‘proper’ tasting process for whisk(e)y. I used to think this was all a bit pretentious, but when you start doing it, you can 100% tell the difference. It’s also fun – which is good because that takes away a bit of the intimidation factor that whisk(e)y seems to present.

Here is my interpretation of how we do for this particular spirit:

COLOUR – Lift your first glass (always by the stem!) to the light at a slightly tilted angle. What colour is the liquid? Is it clear, cloudy, somewhere in between?

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NOSE – Bring the glass up to your nose and inhale deeply. What do you smell?

SWIRL – With your glass on a flat surface, firmly hold the lower part of the stem between your thumb and index fingers. Briskly move the glass around in quick clockwise or counter-clockwise circles to get the liquid swirling in a lovely vortex. This opens up the bouquet of what your are drinking in both smell and taste.

NOSE – Once again bring the glass up to your nose and inhale deeply. What do you smell now? (There are no wrong answers!)

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TASTE –  Bring the glass to your mouth and let the liquid touch your lips or take a very minute sip.

(Darren views this step is important because, when you think about it, alcohol is actually a poison. So if you’re not accustomed to what you’re trying, your brain automatically thinks ‘Danger!’. Again, this isn’t something to just knock back.)

Take a bigger sip. How does it taste? Lovely? Strong? Smooth? Does it have vanilla notes? Does it taste like rocket fuel? There are no wrong answers. Adding a bit of water is always a nice option to soften the bite.

ENJOY & BE CURIOUS – The most important part! The Irish Heather and Shebeen staff are all thoroughly trained on the whisk(e)ys, so if you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask! If you like to take notes about these things, you might want a whisk(e)y passport to keep track of what you taste! (See below for how you can get a free one!)

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WHISK(E)Y & FOOD

Also like wine and beer, whisk(e)y pairs wonderfully with food – particularly with chocolate. But I had never had whisk(e)y with charcuterie and cheese. Verdict: You need to try it. Especially at Shebeen or at The Irish Heather because they make some of their own cured meats!

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The Heather is labeled as gastropub, and the food is top notch comfort fare. Their kitchen also feeds Shebeen which makes the experience very fulfilling. If you’ve never had a Spice Bag, you’re missing out!

Seán Heather’s Heather Hospitality Group also owns Salty Tongue Café (sandwich shop) right next door, as well as the very popular Salt Tasting Room down the way in Blood Alley.

ISLAY WHISKY EVENT

Winding into Scotch for a moment, The Brit and I are attending Shebeen’s Ardbeg Whisky Dinner event on Friday, November 3. Their Canadian brand manager will be hosting to guide the group through their single malt Islay whisky range – including one that is a new release! Tickets are $60 including tax and gratuity and include a whisky welcome drink, flight, and dinner and dessert via The Irish Heather. It’s a limited seating event, so if you like Islay (smoky, peaty – my favourite!) Scotch, or are just curious, click here to get your tickets!

BONUS – If you purchase a ticket, make sure to email Shebeen that you heard about the event from this blog and they will give you a free tasting passport from their shop.

Shebeen and the Irish Heather are located at 210 Carall Street in Vancouver’s historic Gastown district. Visit them on the web at http://irishheather.com and http://Shebeen.ca.

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This tasting adventure was made possible by the Heather Hospitality Group. Thank you to Seán Heather for the opportunity and to Darren Pierce for taking time with me (and for giving me excellent reference materials!) As always, opinions are my own.

I wish to live to 150 years old, but the day I die, I wish it to be with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of whiskey in the other.

~ Ava Gardner

Photography: Most by The Brit, and some by me.

City Girl Connects: Interview with Townsite Brewing’s Michelle Zutz

The Brit and I spent Thanksgiving long weekend on BC’s Sunshine Coast. While there, we had the opportunity to visit Powell River’s award-winning Townsite Brewing, and I was given the reins of their Instagram account. The opportunity for that and this interview came from me taking a chance to reach out and Townsite coming back to me with an open mind to try something new. It’s very similar to the Townsite Brewing story. I sat down with Michelle Zutz (Townsite Brewing Co-Founder, Boss Lady, Director of Sales, Working Mum, and all-around Great Gal), both in person and electronically, to talk about how a perfect storm of events became a Sunshine Coast success story and what it’s like being female in a mostly male-dominated industry. Also, a fun giveaway for one lucky Vancouver beer lover!

WCCG: Let’s get the most obvious question out of the way. What is your favourite Townsite beer?

MZ: Gah!! That’s like asking which of my three children is my favourite!  Well from our flagship lineup – I love our Tinhat IPA.  But from our specialty lineup – the Assemblage Wild Blend. A mixture of vintages turns this lovely creation into a dry, effervescent wild ale with mineral-like qualities.

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WCCG: How did Townsite Brewing come to be?

MZ: It was the “Perfect Storm”! People from all over and with all different backgrounds, strengths, and attitude coming together.  From, truthfully, in the beginning calling a “for lease” number that was on our historic building about what the owner thought about starting a Craft Brewery.  His response “Sounds like a great idea, do you need some seed capital, and help with a business plan?”…..UMMM YES! We, fortunately (hallelujah!) then found Cedric (Brewmaster) and Chloe (General Manager) to add to our team.

They came with a brewing business background and were attempting to start their own place in Saskatoon. They married up with our plan, which had the building and the capital – and of course, we all had the attitude! BAM.  The Perfect Storm. Cedric then brewed an amazing Stout by the same name – which I understand you were quite fond of!

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WCCG: Having met you in person, first of all, you have become a new role model for me; and second, you have a really positive “let’s do this!” energy and attitude. Do you find that energy is one of the keys to your success as a not only a female leader but an overall leader in a mostly male-dominated industry?

MZ: A role model – wow, thank you! That’s a humbling statement. For me, with so many balls in the air – the business, my family, the constant and chaotic lifestyle of my children and their activities – I would say my energy level is part magician, part circus act and part “we can do this” attitude, with a huge influx of caffeine driven stamina! You can look at a wall that is in front of you, and decide whether you should climb it, go around, turn around – or break it down!  All but one is getting you to the other side and your goal. I am fortunate enough to be part of a business that allows my strengths to be appreciated and often exploited!

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WCCG: What is your favourite part about running a business?

MZ: Constantly changing, and having no choice but to think on your feet and run with that ball when it gets dropped – or handed off.  I have an amazing team that keeps evolving right along with our business. The perks of having a business in a small town where you live, play and spend your dollars is that you are just like Norm from Cheers: everywhere you go, everyone knows your name!

WCCG: What learning opportunities have you encountered since Townsite’s inception that have helped make positive strides at the brewery, and have helped you grow as a businesswoman?

MZ: Everything has been a learning curve for me with this endeavor.  Early on when I would be asked for “budget” – I truly had no idea what was being asked of me.  I would smile, and say “well, we don’t have much of one, but you have me! And maybe some coasters one day”.  Many would keep asking for budget, and some would straight out ask me what the kickbacks would be for them bringing my beer on. To say that I was shocked is an understatement! Kickbacks??  I was offering them a superior craft product delivered to their door and created by a Belgian-born Brewing Engineer! Being the Director of Sales, but also an owner gave me the unique position of actually understanding both sides. The fact that kickbacks are illegal in our industry didn’t make it shocking that folks were asking; I was just surprised that they expected me to follow big beer’s awful tradition of paying for taps! So I have to say, naiveté of the industry at the beginning and fully learning from the ground up allowed me to be stronger in both my position of sales as well as a businesswoman. 

I have created relationships with my customers that go far beyond my business. I am not only an ambassador of Townsite Brewingbut also to fellow BC craft breweries that share our philosophy of business, and to our region of the Sunshine Coast, with all that it brings.  When folks say they don’t want to share another piece of the proverbial pie, we say loud and proud: “JUST MAKE THE PIE BIGGER!”  There is definitely room for all of us.


WCCG: After spending time in the tasting room, the main vibe I got was community and comfort. The Brit and I didn’t want to leave! Everyone knew everyone and it was a really cozy space to be in. As you and I have chatted about, I’ve been digging into the Danish concept of hygge. To paraphrase your tagline, the tasting room seems to be where it’s at for being hyggelig. How did Townsite approach the design and feel when expanding the tasting room?

MZ: We absolutely felt that expanding the tasting room was going to give our regular patrons more elbow room (previously, there was only room for 10!) We didn’t envision it changing the patrons to our space as much– but it did! We always had tourists making their way in, and the local superfans,but the expansion created a space for more of Powell River to hang out. From various games and cards (and crib tourneys!) available, to retro video games, (Ms. Pacman anyone?) to locals sharing stories of what makes our region so magical with locals. All things that make people want to keep coming back!  Townsite IS where it’s at, and we are excited to be a part of the resurgence of the area as a popular destination for people of all life experiences.

It’s a place to come as a group to make some memories and visit with our friendly and knowledgeable staff. You might want to just kick back on your own with a book and a creamy stout, or a bright and tart sour ale, or perhaps a rich Belgian Dubbel… Or if you aren’t a beer drinker, we have local Kombucha on tap from our community partner, Raincoast Kombucha.

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WCCG: Thank you, again, for the opportunity to take over the Townsite Instagram account! It was a lot of fun and it was a great way to bridge our followers. Do you feel that social media has impacted the way craft brewers do business? Has it made everything more ‘local’ in your view?

MZ: I would not say it has impacted the way we do business, as our “head down, boots on” attitude is how we keep moving forward.  However, social media was our one and only mode of advertising in the early years, and it worked. Now we need to utilize its strengths – but also use our own creativity to step outside the bounds of what is considered “the norm.” Which is why we were excited to have the Townsite Instagram takeover with your blog!

WCCG: You may have noticed that I like to end my blog posts with quotes. Do you have a favourite quote?

MZ: Better to be the one who smiled than the one who didn’t smile back!

WCCG: Thank you for taking time with me!

MZ: Thank you, thank you for your fabulous insight, your great photos, and your inspirational attitude!

WCCG: And I’m blushing.

~

Thanks so much to Michelle for taking time with me and to the Townsite Brewing family for making the Brit and I feel most welcome! Be sure to check out my guest post on the Townsite Brewing blog about their tasting room. Also, as promised…

GROWLER GIVEAWAY!

As part of our recent collaboration, Michelle and Townsite have offered up a great giveaway prize for me to give to one lucky Vancouver beer lover: one of their stainless steel, double-walled growlers! Perfect for a refill of your craft beer or even as a thermos for soup. (I am very practical!) How to enter: *THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED*

Better to be the one who smiled than the one who didn’t smile back!

~ Unknown

The Seven Best Places to Hop Off the Bus in Glasgow

In continuing with the cheap, cheerful, and efficient theme of my recent May/June trip with the girls, how does one best explore a city with just a couple days to spare? And without breaking the bank? Like I mentioned in my post about finding Nessie, sometimes you need to hop on a bus. In this case, hopping on and off in the beautiful city of Glasgow.


Small tangent: Scotland was recently announced by RoughGuides.com as the most beautiful country in the world. Glasgow is definitely an urban reason for this accolade with its intricate architecture, green spaces, and dedication to culture. I’ve been rabbiting on about Scotland for years, so I’m so happy that it’s getting this kind of recognition. Canada came in a not too shabby second, but back to Glasgow…

I feel like Glasgow was meant to be a bus tour city because the way it is laid out showcases its’ crown jewels – like the Kelvin Grove Museum and the Necropolis – very proudly and well. On my first visit in 2014, my friend, Heather (a fellow West Coast City Girl, who has been living ex-pat life in Glasgow since university; she fell in love with a Scot, and is now happily settled down with two incredibly adorable children), took me on the City Sightseeing hop-on-hop-off tour. And it was awesome. So when the city offered me the opportunity of taking the tour, I jumped at the chance to do it again.

Aside from Glasgow, I’ve been on hop-on-hop-off bus tours in New York City, Paris, San Diego, and Munich. I’m a fan because they are cheap and cheerful, incredibly informative, and offer the chance to see everything a city has to offer in just a couple hours. I look at it as scratching the surface in order to figure out/confirm where I want to dig deeper. And who doesn’t want to go on a double decker bus with an open top? (This usually makes for better in-transit photos than from a car or a coach tour bus. Glasgow is a mostly rainy city, so the front of the upper level is the best place in that scenario.)

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The Trongate Clock Tower

If you get a tour done first thing in the morning, then you have 24 or 48 hours (depending on your ticket) for hopping off and on to ‘dig’ to your heart’s desire. Most importantly, the #GetThrifty part is that these tours are incredible value for money. The Glasgow tour is only £15.00 ($20.00-ish) for the two-day ticket. The one-day is £14.00, so you might as well pay the extra pound.

WHERE TO HOP OFF – MY SEVEN FAVOURITE GLASGOW STOPS

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Me and the girls at George Square

George Square (Stop 1 or 7)

This beautiful square is where the tour starts and ends, and is the starting point to many highlights that are just a short walk away:

  • The Equestrian Statue of the Duke of Wellington – He has a traffic cone on his head and it’s amazing. The people of Glasgow are a very friendly and cheeky bunch.
  • The Gallery of Modern Art – The backdrop for the Duke of Wellington in his traffic cone glory, this is still on my list of places to visit, but I’m told it’s amazing.
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Equestrian Statue of the Duke of Wellington (Photo from my 2014 trip.)
  • The Counting House – Owned by the Wetherspoon’s restaurant group, this used to be a bank; hence, the name. We had an excellent girls’ night here, but it’s also a good spot to fuel-up before or after your tour. I hear they also serve a top notch Sunday brunch.  (Yes, Wetherspoon’s is a chain, but their venues are always unique and they have nailed down the trifecta of how to make their food and beverage affordable, of quality, and with good service.)
  • Shopping on Buchanan Street – From cheap and cheerful to high end, you’ll find what you want/need here.
  • The Lighthouse – My new favourite museum. This very cool spot used to be the Glasgow Herald office and was designed by a favourite son of the city: Charles Rennie Mackintosh . Tucked away in an alley off of Buchanan Street, it is now the architecture and design centre, and offers a spectacular view of the city once you’ve climbed the many, many stairs of the spiral staircase. End your visit with a tea and pastry in the Doocot Cafe.
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View from the top of The Lighthouse
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So many stairs……

Glasgow Cathedral / Glasgow Necropolis (Stop 2)

Glasgow Cathedral is incredibly beautiful. I am not a religious person by any means, but I really love the majesty and artistry of cathedrals. This one is no exception. The stained glass panels are beautiful and it’s really just a peaceful place to be in. Entrance is free and they offer guided tours. Oh, and if you’re an Outlander fan, this is where they filmed the Hôpital des Anges scenes for Season 2. (Going back to George Square, that is where they filmed Frank proposing to Claire for Season 1. I’m a fan. Can you tell?)

The Necropolis is the Victorian garden cemetery attached to the cathedral. The offer walking tours and the headstones and such are quite impressive. If you are interested in WWI history, there is a heritage trail (also researchable online) that honours those who fought bravely in battle.

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Stained glass at Glasgow Cathedral
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Admiring the tiles in Glasgow Cathedral
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The Glasgow Necropolis

The People’s Palace and Doulton Fountain on Glasgow Green (Stop 5)

Glasgow Green is the oldest park in Glasgow. It is BEAUTIFUL and incredibly impressive. I would have loved to just go sit and have a picnic, but we didn’t have time. The People’s Palace gets more of an honourable mention because we, of course, got off the bus just after it closed. Sigh. But it’s supposed to quite a good museum and is on the list for next time.

What we did get to see was the spectacular Doulton Fountain out front of the museum building.  I could have taken pictures of that thing all day; there is so much detail! And a little piece of Canada. And if you end your tour there, you can take a short walk to the WEST Brewery for a flight or a pint and some tasty German inspired food.

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The late 19th-century depiction of Canada is still pretty accurate today. except now we would add a hockey stick!
3. Doulton Fountain in Glasgow Green
Photo op goal (Image courtesy of the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau)

Riverside Museum (Stop 12)

This is the museum of transport and not only focuses on the history and displays its impressive collection of planes, trains, and automobiles (and bikes); it also shines a spotlight on the maritime activities of the city. Aptly so, as the museum is a showstopper in itself with its location on the River Clyde. On your way here, you will see some modern architectural additions to the city, including the Squinty Bridge and the SEC Armadillo.

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The Clutha Bar mural en route to the Riverside Museum
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The Clyde Arc Bridge (or as the locals call it, the Squinty Bridge)
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The SEC Armadillo Auditorium
8. Riverside Museum. Credit Culture and Sport Glasgow (Museums)
The Riverside Museum (Image: The Glasgow City Marketing Bureau)

Kelvin Grove Art Gallery and Museum (Stop 13 or 16)

This is one of my favourite museums in the world. There’s a little bit of everything for everyone in this beautiful building. The building in itself very impressive, but my favourite exhibits are the Charles Rennie Mackintosh showcase, the natural history area (where there is a beautiful BC Coast Salish totem pole), the Floating Heads installation (which should be creepy, but it’s very oddly not), and the very impressive collection of Scottish, French Impressionist and Old Dutch Master paintings. They also have the incredible showpiece that is Dali’s Christ of Saint John of the Cross.

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Floating Heads by Sophy Cave
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The Coast Salish totem pole at Kelvin Grove Art Gallery and Museum. I love seeing little pieces of home around the world!

Ashton Lane (Stop 14 or 15)

Located right near the University of Glasgow (and its really stunning campus) in the West End of the city, Ashton Lane is an excellent place to end up for post-tour dinner and drinks. I suggest hopping off the bus at Stop 14 and taking the time to enjoy a stroll through the campus to get there – rain or shine. It’s a really pretty spot, particularly in the autumn – I wish I could see the leaves turning red this year!

The Ashton Lane cobblestone walkway is lined with fairy lights guiding the way to your eating or drinking establishment of choice. It reminds me of a foodie Diagon Alley. Price point varies depending on the place you choose,  but, likely due to proximity to the university, there are quite a few reasonable options. My current favourite, Ubiquitous Chip (or ‘the Chip) is a bit more on the pricey end, but they have a solid prix fixe menu (always an excellent #GetThrifty option) and some lovely, lovely cocktails.

Ashton Lane can get a bit crowded and busy, but there are plenty of nearby options if you want to just visit the lane for a pre-dinner drink. My picks are the Hillhead Book Club with its ‘good honest food at good honest prices’ menu (that features some excellent vegetarian options) and the glowing moose head on the wall; and Òran Mór with its variety and great venue (which I believe used to be a church).

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Ashton Lane and the Ubiquitous Chip

Glasgow Botanic Gardens (Stop 15)

Also located in the West End of Glasgow, the Botanic Gardens are a lovely way to chill out and have a wander. It’s free to walk about, even in the glasshouses, and there is a tearoom should you wish to have afternoon tea. They also do free guided tours in the summer, but you can also take a virtual tour here. With both the location of our hotel being right around the corner and the weather being blessedly nice, I spent a peaceful early morning on my yoga mat surrounded by all the greenery. It was fabulous and I made a new friend.

20. Botanic Gardens
The Glasgow Botanic Gardens (Image courtesy of the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau)
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Made a new friend during meditation on the bench!

Prior to my first visit to Glasgow, the only things I had heard were that it was a blue collar college party town and that the Glaswegian accent was virtually impossible to understand. All true, with the latter depending on how late in the evening it is. But as you can see, it’s way more than that. It’s ornate architecture, beautiful parks, world-class museums and galleries, and fab restaurants. All things that I found out from research and visiting, but the stereotypes definitely undersell the city.

The Glasgow City Sightseeing hop-on-hop-off tour starts at George Square and has 21 stops. It takes a couple hours to do a full loop without any hop-offs, but I do suggest doing this first so you can see everything this fabulous city has to offer.

#GetThrifty Tips:

  • Most of the galleries and museums in Glasgow are FREE. (Special exhibits are the exclusions for the free spots.)
  • The one-day ticket is £14.00, but the two-day is only £1 more, so unless you’re truly just there for the day, snag that two-day option!
  • Your bus tour ticket also entitles you to a discount on the subway system, as well as a 20% discount at the Glasgow Science Centre.
  • Prix fixe menus are your friend!
  • Students get a discount on their bus tour tickets.

 

Have you been to Glasgow? What are your favourite parts of the city?

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A big thank you to the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau for making this post possible. Some images are courtesy of the city and are credited accordingly. As always, all opinions are my own.

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Glasgow’s really friendly, with this impressive mix of real solidarity and identity that’s very personal.

~ George MacKay ~

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City Girl Whisky Diary: Getting Thrifty with ‘Friends of the Classic Malts’

Travelling in Scotland is one of my favourite things to do. It’s one of my happy places. But the exchange rate isn’t really ever in my favour, so I’m always on the hunt for ways to #GetThrifty – without sacrificing fun – when I’m away.

During the research phase of my recent trip with the girls, I was very excited when the marketing coordinator from one of the distilleries emailed me back with an amazing tip for our Highlands road trip path. It’s called the ‘Friends of the Classic Malts’ and it was almost like getting a golden ticket because it equals… free whisky! And who doesn’t want that? We all immediately signed up.

What Is Friends of the Classic Malts?

‘Friends of the Classic Malts’ is an initiative from the Diageo Group, who own several single malt distilleries in Scotland (along with other well-known alcohol brands). When you sign-up, you get a certificate that entitles you to free tours at the listed distilleries, and a free dram anytime you visit any and all of said distilleries, for the REST OF YOUR LIFE. (Because you will want to go back to Scotland. I promise.)

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How Does It Work?

At your first distillery, you get a cute ‘Friends of the Classic Malts’ passport that every distillery stamps. Get all the stamps (an ambitious feat – I still have 11 more to go!) and they will send you a quaich, which is a two-handled whisky sharing cup. Distilleries include Talisker, Oban, and Blair Athol – coincidentally, the distillery whose marketing coordinator sent me the link. It is also the distillery that we ended up stopping at on our way up to Aviemore.

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Blair Athol

Blair Athol is in the very picturesque town of Pitlochry, which I also recommend visiting. As our visit wasn’t planned, we, naturally, ended up at Blair Athol 15 minutes before closing. Seeing our distraught faces when informed that we had missed the last tour, the very kind and charming Ian took pity on us with a Cole’s Notes tour and by providing us with our passports and complimentary drams.

Moral of the Story?

If you’re going to Scotland, perhaps sign up to be a ‘Friend of the Single Malts’; just in case you end up at some of their listed distilleries. It will be worth the two minutes it takes to tap at your smartphone. In addition to the free distillery admission and drams, you can also choose to not receive the marketing emails – which is a nice bonus if trying to keep a streamlined inbox.

See Scotland. Taste the ‘water of life’ (for free!) for the rest of your life. Save money (so you can buy a nice bottle from a distillery or a nice cashmere scarf). You’re welcome.

(This is not a sponsored post. Opinions are, as always, my own.)

The water was not fit to drink. To make it palatable, we had to add whisky. By diligent effort, I learned to like it.

~ Winston Churchill ~