One of the greatest and most appealing aspects of being a member of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is the Members’ Rooms in the UK. With two venues in Edinburgh and one in London, the Members’ Rooms are both havens and heaven. They’re the whisky equivalent of entering one of the First Class airline lounges at an airport: Cosy lounges, brilliant food, a comfy fire during winter, knowledgeable and friendly staff, meeting facilities, and – of course – a sensational whisky bar. New and old SMWS whiskies adorn the shelves and they’re great venues to try the latest releases first without necessarily having to buy a whole bottle for yourself.
Of course, whilst that sounds great on paper, the reality is that for members who don’t live near either Edinburgh or London – and particularly for members who live in other countries (not to mention other continents!) – a visit to one of the Members’ Rooms isn’t exactly a stroll around the corner.
The Society started to address this many years ago with the introduction of “Partner Bars”. These were existing third party venues, initially the bars inside high-end hotels, but over the years they’ve branched out to include some very formidable whisky bars, dive bars, restaurants and pubs. Quite simply, the Partner Bars are venues that stock SMWS bottlings which can then be purchased over the bar by the dram. No, you don’t have to be a Society member to be able to buy a dram but, depending on which country/venue you’re in, many Partner Bars offer the drams at discounted prices for Society members. (You simply need to flash your Membership Card).
Fets Whisky Kitchen in Vancouver, Canada, is arguably the most well-stocked and extensive whisky bar in Canada. And whilst whisky-loving folks will obviously focus on the bar, Fets is actually a mighty good restaurant, serving absolutely delicious food. Operating for over 30 years now, the venue is located just outside and east of the CBD. The food menu is “southern inspired” and the whisky menu is…well, it’s huge. The whisky range expanded further in October 2013 when the venue became an SMWS Partner Bar. There are over 800 different whiskies available by the dram, including an unbelievable 180 different SMWS single cask bottlings! And for those whose whisk(e)y flavour preferences sit outside Scotland, there is also a huge range of American whiskies (over four pages’ worth of bourbons, ryes, and craft whiskies on the menu), plus impressive selections from Canada, Japan, Ireland, India, Australia, and more. The bar is also home and host to a large number of whisky tastings, events and product launches that are held throughout the year.
Fets Whisky Kitchen is owned and operated by the husband and wife team of Eric and Allura Fergie – two of the most friendly and hospitable people you’ll meet in Vancouver. The art of true restaurant or bar hospitality is a dying skill. It’s the ability to be warm and welcoming; to make your guests feel at home; and to strike up an engaging conversation – not just banter, (which is increasingly the domain of mixologists and cocktail makers), but genuine dialogue. If you sit down with Eric over a dram, you’ll also encounter one of the most passionate and knowledgeable whisky enthusiasts in Canada.
The whisky menu is (obviously) extensive, but what makes it truly brilliant is how it’s been laid out, categorised and presented. And the leather-bound “bible” (the separate book with all the SMWS bottlings available) is so well managed and presented, it should be the template for every Partner Bar around the world. With so much information available and a brilliantly arranged catalogue, the only challenge is choosing which whisky to try first!
The food menu is comprehensive, and for each dish on the menu, there is a suggested whisky pairing. On the night of our visit, we tried the charcuterie board, the creole wings, the Saltspring Island mussels, the 40 Creek whisky ribs, and the southern-fried chicken. All were delicious, and the service was fast and friendly, despite being a busy Saturday night with a packed house. Those with families and kids in tow needn’t worry – the venue is very child-friendly. The prices are very reasonable; the quality and flavour is spectacular. And for those who prefer a beer with their meal, there is a fantastic range of local Canadian brews on draft. The wine and cocktails list will also keep all other palates happy, too.
The restaurant has been beautifully decorated with oak stave-clad walls framing large photographs taken on Islay by Eric himself. And the lamp shades on the ceiling lights might look familiar – they’re a particular branded green bottle! Regardless of whether you’re a Society member or not, if you’re in Vancouver on business or passing through en route to Whistler or other nearby attractions, Fets Whisky Kitchen deserves your attention and you should plan your itinerary accordingly! 1230 Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC. Phone 604-255-7771. Website: www.whiskykitchen.ca
To find your nearest SMWS Partner Bar, visit the Society’s main landing page (www.smws.com) and select your country. The Society is active in 19 countries around the world, and the landing page will then link you to the local website for those 19 countries. From there, each country’s local website lists its own Partner Bar network. For readers in Australia, the Society’s Australian Partner Bars are listed here.