Date Night In

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.

Continue reading “Date Night In”

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.

Feeling Posh in Edinburgh

I love Edinburgh. If you know me personally, you have heard this a million times. (Sorry, not sorry.) Why do I love it so much? That’s an entire other post, but the short version is that the first time I went there, I felt so at home. The city spoke to my soul and it’s the same every time I visit. Given the opportunity – and if nothing was in my way financially or visa wise – I would happily live half the year there and half the year in Vancouver. I love it that much.

I also have some really lovely friends in Edinburgh, and staying with them each time has made me feel very local. So while I have done touristy things in Edinburgh, I usually just ‘live’ there and explore while my friends are at work. My Canadian girlfriends didn’t join me in until the second week of this recent trip, so while I had some time to myself during the day, I decided to switch it up and get properly touristy for a few days. But with a bit of a posh and royal spin. I hopped on a royal yacht, toured a fancy townhouse, and had Afternoon Tea with Champagne. Not too shabby.

Here are three places to feel posh in Edinburgh without breaking your budget. (Click to jump to your selection.)

The Royal Yacht Britannia

The Royal Yacht Britannia is your gateway to seeing how the British Royal Family used to travel. Because my friends live right near where the yacht is permanently moored, I have passed by this tourist attraction many times. I’ve even gone into the gift shop in Ocean Terminal (where the ticket office is) to buy postcards. But I’d never taken the time to get a ticket and explore it even though it’s been on my list for years. Shame on me because it’s worth the time to tour the boat and take in the view!

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The Royal Yacht has been rated Scotland’s Best Visitor Attraction for the last decade and there’s no wonder why; quality always shines through. And as magnificent as everything on the deck is (Sun Lounge, State Dining Room, HM the Queen’s Room) below deck is an organized maze that reminds you that it wasn’t just the Royal Family travelling on the boat; there was A LOT of crew and staff living on board. Hence the many bunks, extensive kitchen, many crew rooms, infirmary, and the OG laundry facility. (Which impressed me just as much as the Rolls Royce Phantom 5 on the upper deck.) There’s also a bit of fun sprinkled around the boat with cleverly placed stuffed Yottie bears. Oh, and a beautiful grand piano that made me want to sit down and plunk out the notes to ‘Rule Britannia’ on the sheet music. (I restrained myself.)

The multi-lingual audio tour is included with admission – use it. It is super informative and will prevent you from getting lost.

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The grand-daddy of laundry rooms. Can you spot the Yottie bear?
The Scottish built vessel wasn’t just for official royal travel, but a place for family vacations. Life on the boat was well documented and the photos show even the Queen at her most relaxed.

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HM the Queen with her trusty camera around her neck.
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Royals play board games, too!
Colony Connection: The Royal Yacht visited Canada nine times. There are Canadian artifacts on the Britannia and in the Royal Collection that were gifts from its past visits to my country’s coasts. At the entrance to the exhibit, there is also a very large picture of Princess Diana with her arms wide open while her sons run to her. I was reminded that this photo was taken in Toronto on a visit in 1991. It’s always been one of my favourite royal photos because of the sheer joy on her face at seeing her kids, and I love it, even more, knowing it was snapped in Canada. 

This is now a tick mark on my ‘things to see’ list, but if I were to do this again, I would a) buy some fudge from the shop (I regret not doing this!); and b) go earlier two hours earlier for the first tour of the day. I ended up with a gigantic tour group and it was a bit trying in a confined space. But it was also kind of fun to see how snap-happy they all were. Even more so than me!

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Kiss the Corgie!
My Granny was born in Jamaica when it was still a British colony and she was all about the Royals. She passed away twelve years ago, but I wish I could have shared the experience with her; she would have loved it. And we would have either gone for post-tour tea in Royal Deck Tea Room or taken a stroll back up along the water to Loch Fyne – one of my favourite restaurants in the city.

The Royal Yacht Britannia is located at Ocean Terminal in Edinburgh. It is a stop on Edinburgh Bus Tour’s Majestic Tour, as well as on the Lothian Buses 11, 22 or 35 routes. Pricing varies, but if you’re a student, make sure you show your valid student card for a #GetThrifty discount! Hours, pricing and other information can be found at  http://www.royalyachtbritannia.co.uk/.

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The Georgian House

If you lived in 1790, Edinburgh’s New Town is where you wanted to live, and you probably had major house envy of the Lamont Family in their luxurious masterpiece of a townhouse.

Finery, silver, fabrics; no expense was spared when it was first bought and decorated by Scottish laird John Lamont. It boasts beautiful architecture and all the muted colours and tasteful features of its era. If you want to feel like a well-to-do heroine from a Jane Austen novel (I did), and even if you don’t, it’s absolutely worth a visit. Particularly at a #GetThrifty price of £7.50.

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I do like a chandelier!
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The first stereo system?
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Georgian House chairs have prickly leaves on them to deter anyone sitting on the antiques.
My favourite part of Georgian House was the kitchen with its copper pots and amazing fire spit. I do like a nice kitchen. I can only imagine what the cook had to go through, though, to make dinner for a fancy Georgian dinner party…

Georgian House kitchen - copper pots
Pots for days
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Georgian dinner party setup
After passing through many hands of ownership, the townhouse is now maintained by the National Tust for Scotland. This was one of my three excursions with them and it was quite lovely. It was a rainy day when I went and all I wanted to do was sit by the window and channel my inner Elizabeth Bennett.

The Georgian House is located in Edinburgh’s New Town at 7 Charlotte Square. More information can be found at http://www.nts.org.uk/Visit/Georgian-House/.

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The Dome

My friend Karen was one of the three girls that I was meeting up with for the later weeks of my trip. She moved from Canada to Scotland a couple years ago and we ticked off one of the things on her own ‘things to do’ list by getting posh and having Champagne Afternoon Tea in the Georgian Tea Room at The Dome. If I were an event planner in Edinburgh, I would probably plan many an event in this place. It is spectacular, both inside and out – especially at Christmas time when their electric bill probably skyrockets! I love walking by this building.

Edinburgh used to be known as the ‘Athens of the North’, which The Dome, Calton Hill’s Acropolis, and the Scottish National Gallery all exemplify with their Grecian columns. With The Dome, you’re still marveling at the exterior when the grandeur of the interior taps you on the shoulder and snaps you to attention. It is truly beautiful inside, and this is even before you get into the tea room!

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The Georgian Tea Room is everything you would expect a posh tea room to be: elegant and tasteful with an opulence that only a place like this can get away with. The wait staff is friendly and discreet and the tea selection is varied for all tastes. And then there’s the food. Afternoon Tea is very much a meal, and I will never say no to a scone!

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Afternoon Tea is a bit dear in price in any country, but I’ve always considered it a treat worth splurging on. There is an option to not have any bubbly, which makes things a bit cheaper, but you might as well go for the whole experience. Champagne bubbles are also something I won’t say no to. 😉

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The Dome is a popular venue year round with its four dining areas, so I highly recommend making a reservation. It’s worth the two minutes it will take you to click and get it done, especially if you are going to be there during the holiday season. Christmas in Edinburgh anyone?

The Dome is located at 14 George Street in New Town, Edinburgh. Menus and more information can be found at http://www.thedomeedinburgh.com/.

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What places around the world have you been to where you’ve felt royal or posh? Post in the comments below!

Thank you to the Royal Yacht Britannia and the National Trust for Scotland for hosting me at their respective venues. As always, opinions stated are solely my own.

I always feel that when I come to Edinburgh, in many ways I am coming home.

~ Alan Rickman ~