Eric and Allura Fergie, the convivial owners of Vancouver’s Fets Bar & Grill, have been after me for some time now to drop by and check out their new bar—which is certainly impressive. After all, with some 360 whiskies on offer, how could it not be—except, perhaps, when viewed from the sliding library ladder after a flight of single cask single malts? I survived…
(It’s also dutifully sustainable, being fashioned from trees downed in the great Stanley Park storm of 2006, as well as salvaged pieces from a Fraser River mill.)
However, I’m glad I waited for the chance to attend a West Coast Single Malt Society tasting, co-hosted by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society—named by Whisky Magazine as “The 2012 Independent Bottler of the Year.”
My friends know it doesn’t take much to get me to try a single single malt, let alone six at a single sitting. However, to put it mildly, I was blown away by this tasting and what the society has to offer. No, I didn’t embrace every individual one poured, although I did appreciate the range that the organisers chose to show. One even had me thinking of Oloroso sherry. There were some very intriguing tastes here. And I’ll admit, I don’t consider myself a sufficiently experienced taster to score them, so I haven’t.
Sometimes it’s tough to be objective. I just happen to be partial to Islay malts and this probably explains why I gravitated to those drams. Although the “Welsh” was a real revelation.
No, these are not cheap drops by any means. But I love the idea that each release is unique. And I’m still getting a serious chuckle out of the deliciously irreverent tasting notes.
SMWS Ambassador Georgie Bell is a fun and knowledgeable presenter, who knows how to get the heart of the matter with a splash of humour. I hope she makes it back this way again soon.
I the meantime, there may need to be more research conducted at Fets!
Here’s our take on things as it appears in this weekend’s North Shore News…
Single Malt Whisky is the Star of Recent Event
The Hired Belly confesses a weakness for the occasional single malt, so when an invite showed up to attend a tasting of single malts at Fets Bar & Grill (arguably Vancouver’s most well stocked whisky bar) there was little hesitation in accepting.
The occasion was a West Coast Whisky Society tasting, featuring six single cask ,single malt whiskies, presented by ambassador Georgie Bell from The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.
The SMWS (which arrived in Canada only a couple of years ago) is the largest of its kind in the world—and (perhaps no surprise) is also the largest independent bottler of single cask single malts in the world. The distinction of ‘single cask, single malts’ is important, as each (numbered) release is unique, a single cask selected from one specific distiller (also numbered) among 129 from whom the society buys.
The Canadian effort, kick-started by Calgarians Rob and Kelly Carpenter a couple of years ago, is gathering considerable steam, as evidenced by the full house of enthusiastic sniffers and sippers on hand for this event.
Much of its success, I suspect, is due to the dynamic Ms. Bell, who wrangled the nights’s events (and kept a fair degree of on hand testosterone in check) with admirable ease. In short, she’s more than just a pretty face.
“I represent international branches all over the globe, help carry the society’s spirit and ignite single cask culture,” she says.
So how do you get a job like that?
Bell became interested in single malt when she was bartending her way through university—including a tour at Edinburgh’s much heralded Tigerlilly.
A passion for spirits (“I wanted to like every single spirit on my back bar”, she proclaims) she soon found a way to overlap her studies and new-found fascination for malts.
“I started to wean myself onto whisky because—let’s face it, whisky is not something you’re born to like. It takes time, effort, hard work and perseverance!”
A geography major, she wrote her dissertation on whisky, its regional identity and creation of place and image, focusing on Islay, and the evolution of the culture and commercial market over generations.
Based on the malts Bell chose for this event—which traversed the stylistic spectrum—if you’re interested in truly serious single malts, I wouldn’t hesitate to investigate a membership. First stop: a chat with Crystal Coverdale, general manager of Edgemont Fine Spirits (604-984-9463).
But it’s not all serious. Indeed, much of the society’s appeal lies in the tongue in cheek packaging and often hilarious tasting notes, which suggests the last thing these folk do is take themselves too seriously. After all, who wouldn’t be intrigued by a bottle emblazoned with the invitation to “Dab it behind your ears”—though (sadly, one can assume—not poured at this event).
We’re also reassured by the Society’s motto, “To leave no nose upturned.”
One of our faves turned out to be quite the surprise: 128.3 (“Chestnut purée & new hiking boots”) was a pale yellow-gold, (not overt) vanilla toned, surprisingly smooth five year old from Penderyn (Welsh! From that country’s sole distillery; along with a couple of killer Islays (3.193 “A baby faced arsonist”) and 53.168—”elastoplast on a roasted tongue”— to wrap things up. **
Too bad they’re likely all gone now. But that’s precisely what makes it all so appealing, isn’t it?
Indeed it does!
** Actually, I’ve been advised these Islays are still available, and were just released on Friday. Two good reasons to join…