Mar 2013 15

Top Whiskey Bars in Vancouver

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Whisky by Kyle May
Fancy a glass?

Vancouver has had a long-lasting relationship with whisky. It has been shipped up and down the Fraser River since the early 19th century. Thanks to the variety of Canadian society, we had easy access to the Irish and Scottish brands, and a lot of Vancouverites fancy a glass of these old-timey traditional brands even today. Most Canadian whiskies are a bit different from the traditional European varieties. Our traditional home brands are blended, multi-grain liquors containing a large percentage of corn spirits, and they’re typically lighter and smoother than other whisky varieties. Let’s visit the best of the local places that serve whisky in Vancouver together and enjoy this unique spirit.

Sunset Grill Tap House & Whisky Bar (Map)

The Sunset Grill has a certain Irishness into it, and not only because of its massive whisky list and very pleasant draught Guinness. This is something hardly definable, but everyone who’s ever been to an Irish place will feel it the minute they walk in. It’s also an ideal place to go and watch a game, mainly thanks to a large number of high-resolution televisions. You can enjoy a very nice meal (we highly recommend their Swiss beef dip and house-cut prime rib with a bit of onions, bell peppers, and Swiss cheese) and a pint of Guinness, and later stay and talk a bit more over a nice glass of whisky. One of the drawbacks: if you’re vegan, you won’t find much to please you at Sunset Grill — except for drinks.

Sunset Grill Vancouver3 Enter the World of Excellent Whiskies

Rick Eunson, the marketing director from Sunset Grill, told us about their bestseller:

Definitely our range of Jameson’s Whiskey would top the best seller list. We offer Jameson’s, Jameson Select Reserve, and Jameson Gold Reserve.

Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of Jameson’s; however, it’s not really the bar’s choice, and what the clientele demands has to be served. Rick revealed his personal preference for us, and it sounds much better than Jameson’s:

Everyone’s preference is unique — especially to a discerning whisky drinker. Personally I am a Scotch fan (Lowland to be exact). My drink of choice is Auchentoshan 3 wood. It is well rounded, dark, and fruity, with hints of vanilla and honey. We do have a large selection of rare and unique whiskies as well, which are very popular, for example the Edradour “1997 Chateau Neuf du Pape” Finished Cask Strength.
Sunset Grill Vancouver What They Can Get You?

The bar also focuses on some locally brewed beers, which generally go nicely with the rest of the fare; however, you can come across some that are quite unfortunate. We would stick to the classics. Sunset Grill really knows how to deliver a nice pint of Guinness, and that’s not very common in Vancouver.

Sunset Grill currently offers 50 different whisky selections. Don’t be shy about asking them about something that’s not on the menu. Since they have quite freshly re-entered the business, they are still modelling their selection and aren’t as stubborn about their whisky menu as some more established places. They do serve cocktails, but as Rick told us a bit boastfully,

Depends on the whisky. We do make some of the best cocktails Kitsilano has ever seen, ranging from Whiskey Sours and Irish Old Fashioned to our signature Chocolate Manhattan. That being said, some whiskeys should just be poured straight into a glass and left alone for your enjoyment.

The cocktails offered in the Sunset Grill are not the best Kitsilano has ever seen; however, they are very decent, and you don’t have to be afraid to try them out. Rick was not afraid to defend Canadian production in the face of Irish and Scotch whiskies when we asked him if Canadian whisky can compete with Scotch or Irish brands.

Absolutely Canada has some top-rated distillers, with Forty Creek and Lot no. 40 being some great options that we offer on our menu.

Phone: 604-732-3733

Johnnie Fox’s Irish Snug (Map)

Johnnie Fox’s is truly a piece of Ireland in the middle of Vancouver. I know a lot of people who would freak out if they heard this, because they would instantly think of those quasi-Irish bars that reek of strained effort to create Irish flare in Canada, but the minute you enter those bars you know it’s a cosy impostor of The Temple Bar at best. This is in no way Johnnie Fox’s approach. It has as genuine an Irish atmosphere as it gets. It’s truly snug, warm, and comfortable, with loads of whisky, Guinness, and Harp and Magners(!) on tap. As Fox’s says,

We’re proud to be the first establishment in Vancouver to have Magners Irish Cider on draught!
Johnnie Foxs Irish Snug Magners There is Nothing Like Magners!

Sports events and occasional live music complete the genuine feeling of a traditional Irish pub. Live gigs usually kick off at 7:00 P.M. It’s advisable to get in at least forty minutes before the band starts to play, otherwise it’s very likely you’re not going to get a place.

Most of the time, the majority of guests eventually join the singing, led by quite a few 100 per cent genuine Irish people sitting at the bar, chatting up a bartender or a server. As they say at Johnnie Fox’s, it’s easy to combat Vancouver weather with the artillery of an Irish bar:

I can’t think of anything better to combat this Vancouver weather… pour me another Guinness, please. Guinness is the perfect remedy for a dark, rainy evening… Oh, and yorkies wouldn’t hurt either.
Johnnie Foxs Irish Snug car Johnnie Fox´s Mini

The service is very attentive, although most of the time it’s just one server for the whole place, which is really too few — especially when they have to distribute both drinks and food. The place looks small, but I was surprised by how many people were able to fit, making it super demanding on the single server to keep everyone satisfied. I have to say, the Fox’s servers manage perfectly. The only drawback with such a lack of waitstaff is that if you order something to eat, you will wait for quite a while if you chose a busier night to enjoy the Snug.

Johnnie Foxs Irish Snug1 Waiting for Customers

As far as the whisky’s concerned, you’ve got a few options to go for, but in general, they only offer Scotch and Irish brands. Our pick for the Snug is definitely Bushmills 16-year and Bushmills Black Bush — both of them very good value. This is a bar that screams “Bushmills” from the first moment you open the door until the last empty glass you leave at the bar.

Phone: 604-685-4946

Shebeen Whisky House (Map)

The Shebeen Whisky House is a place where you can try a variety of whiskies that you may not ever have had the chance to try before or even have heard of. With its unique location in Gastown, lodged between the Irish Heather and other typically Irish establishments, this wood-and-brick decorated whisky house has an upper hand over its competitors. The whole neighbourhood feels like somebody cut it out of Dublin and teleported it to Vancouver.

Beer Heaven

To our knowledge, Shebeen currently offers the largest selection of whisky in Vancouver, very comprehensively divided into the regions they originated from. The staff is very knowledgeable, and even if you come as an amateur whisky drinker, they’re able to guide you through Shebeen’s vast offer, so you’ll taste a lot of different whiskies and have great fun.

Shebeen’s drawback and advantage at the same time is that it can hold 60 people, which on Friday and Saturday night makes it quite challenging to get a table. On the other hand, it’s an ideal place for private parties. If you don’t know where to finish your teambuilding day, you can take your colleagues for a very pleasurable whisky tasting at Shebeen. If your group doesn’t fancy whisky that much, Shebeen also keeps a nice offer of wine in stock! Parking is also not a problem here. You can park on the street (the meters run until 10:00 seven nights a week) or at the EasyPark on Water Street (a secure, patrolled lot with 600 spaces just a block away from Shebeen’s door).

Flight Board in Sheeben
"Old" New Flights!

Spring is coming, and we’re expecting new flights introduced by Shebeen.

There have been glimmers of light in this rainy city, which suggests that we’re in for some sunnier weather soon. Well, hopefully, anyways. But either way — the little flickers of sun we’ve had have inspired a lighter and brighter springtime-themed flight.

Last year, it was Auchentoshan Classic, Tomintoul 14 year, anCnoc 12 year, and Singleton 12 year — in our opinion fantastic choices, so we’ll be awaiting the new spring flight eagerly.

As to our very favourite whisky from Shebeen’s menu, it’s North Port 24 Year Duncan Taylor, with great value at $29, and a taste that is just heavenly.

Phone: 604-688-9779

One Response to “Top Whiskey Bars in Vancouver”

  1. Eric Fergie

    I just stumbled upon your article and wanted to share a little something with you, Fets Whisky Kitchen is home to Vancouver’s largest whisky selection.
    Fets re-branded and renovated this past spring, we’ve had Vancouver’s largest selection, we now have in excess of 430 different whiskies! The Scotch Malt Whisky Society has asked The Whisky Kitchen to be their Vancouver partner bar. This is an incredible honour for us and we will be launching our association with The Society on October 2, love to see you there.
    Eric Fergie, proprietor

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