Crystal Coverdale, Manager SMWS Vaults

Manager of SMWS Vaults Members Room, Whisky Woman and Fundraiser, talks about the #BattleForBailey

Crystal at work
Crystal at work

Hi Crystal, for people that may not know you yet, tell us a little more about yourself?

I’m a Canadian who grew up on the West Coast and discovered a passion for whisky that triggered a move to Scotland last year.

Have you always wanted to work within the whisky industry?

Actually, no. Throughout studying for my business degree in university I discovered the desire to work in an industry I would enjoy instead of following a path because of the money.  I thought either the non profit sector, the wine, golf or tourism industry.

After my degree I worked at a winery in Australia and upon my return to Vancouver got a job as a Sales Clerk at Edgemont Fine Wines, Spirits & Ales.  The Manager at the time was very passionate about whisky and had set the path of the store to be a boutique specialty liquor shop with a focus on whisky. I learned from him and after trying a few single malt scotch whiskies discovered that I really enjoyed the flavours.

A natural peat-head apparently as Ardbeg 10 year old quickly became my favourite.  Six months later he moved on and I became the General Manager.  Over my 6 years managing the store this interest in whisky grew into a passion.

As the buyer for the store, I immersed myself in the whisky industry both professionally and personally. I found that I immensely enjoyed the whisky side of the business and dreamed about pursuing it further through a move to Scotland.

It must have been a very big risk, leaving Canada behind to chase the whisky dream?

What, quitting ones job to move to a new country to pursue whisky?  I guess some might look at it that way.  I did receive many compliments about having the guts to make such a big change, which I somehow didn’t expect because I didn’t think of it that way.

I had nothing holding me down, it was time for a change to continue learning and growing and as young Canadian I could still get a visa to work in the UK for 2 years.

Taking this step was a big effort and adjustment, but I never thought of it as a big risk.  I arranged enough experiences in the first few months which I learned so much from that there was never much of a risk beyond potentially draining my bank account.

What was working as a tour guide for Edradour like?

It was a lot of fun and a great experience.  To get to walk through a dunnage warehouse full of all kinds of amazing whisky aging away multiple times a day and share that with the huge diversity of guests that would visit the distillery was quite the experience and something I will never forget.

It was also a job that pushed my comfort level.  I went from dreading public speaking to easily taking groups of up to 45 people around the distillery for an hour or more.  The team of guides I got to work with were great and like an immediate family. Although small and quite touristy, Pitlochry also was the perfect base to explore Scotland. It was a summer that will be tough to beat!

How do Canadian Whisky and Scotch differ?

A huge article could be written about this!  Keeping it simple, Canadian whisky must be mashed, distilled and aged at least three years in Canada, while Scotch requires the same but in Scotland.  Beyond this they both have varying rules and regulations.

I highly recommend anyone wanting to learn more about Canadian Whisky to learn from the Canadian Whisky guru, Davin de Kergommeaux (view Davin’s website here) and of course check out his Whisky Corner interview here.

Having managed a liquor retail store for years in British Columbia, I thought I knew most of the Canadian whiskies out there. That was until I met Davin one year at the Victoria Whisky Festival!! His passion and knowledge of Canadian whisky blew my mind.

What was the last whisky you had?

The last whisky I had was an independent bottling by Royal Mile Whiskies of Port Charlotte.  Kirsty, you know the one! It was aged in a rum barrel for 12 years.  A stunning whisky. (This really is an amazing whisky and very happy we still have a bottle).

I feel it shows a different side of Port Charlotte. It’s certainly not as intense as some of them are, as it is bottled at 46%. The rum cask has really mellowed it, but also gave it such a lovely body and creamy mouthfeel.  I could nose it for hours! Sadly I am down to a wee heel left, which I am donating to Battle for Bailey.

Now you’re manager at The Vaults, is this the role you’ve been looking for? 

Five green bottles..
Five green bottles..

Having worked with The Scotch Malt Whisky Society Canada, working at The Vaults was certainly a dream I never would have thought could come true. The home branch of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society who bottle single cask, cask strength whisky for their members from over 130 different distilleries.

The spiritual home of The Society, the history, the mystique and the stories I’d hear from members about The Vaults.  The building is on every label!  Yes, I do still have to pinch myself every once in a while.

What do you enjoy the most about your role?

That I am constantly learning. Also, lately I have really enjoyed leading the launch of a variety of new regular events for members at The Vaults.  As the oldest building in Scotland with the same continual purpose, The Vaults site has been home to fine drink, food specialists and pleasurable pursuits since the 1300s.

So we’re continuing this in full force in our Cask Room.  Tucked away in the back makes the Cask Room the perfect place to not only host a private function, but it is also a great space for us to do something just a little different from our Members Room.

Like a space to bring out from our vaults some extra special malts for regular drop-in whisky theme nights and to host entertainment nights featuring live music, poker and even comedy with our first Whisky Guffaw Comedy Night being held on April Fools. Oh and also when it comes to my role, given that SMWS regularly release new outturns on First Friday of on average 20 new single cask bottlings, being exposed to so many single cask whiskies is never a bad thing!

Tell us about Bailey and why the #BattleForBailey has been launched? 

Battle For Bailey Ribbon
Battle For Bailey Ribbon

Bailey is my dear cousin – a once healthy, energetic and loving 15 year old girl who has been reduced to a shell of her vibrant self through an extremely rare and very aggressive form of cancer – Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma.

After being admitted to the hospital with flu like symptoms, Bailey was diagnosed in November after dozens of agonising tests in a month long search for the cause. A group of my cousins back home got together and hosted the first #BattleForBailey event back in Canada.

Although it is just me here, why not host something and spread the love back to Bailey all the way from Scotland. So much love and support has been pouring in.

Can you tell us a little about the disease itself?

Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL) is a blood cancer; a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  Bailey has had to endure numerous rounds of aggressive chemotherapy treatment and radiation treatment. Luckily her brother was a bone marrow match making a transplant possible.

Bailey’s courage is humbling and awe inspiring, how is Bailey and the family?

It truly is.  She is a fighter and her courage has humbled much of her family.  When given the option between the bone marrow transplant that the doctors said would be a miracle or an option that no 15 year old should ever be told, she firmly told them what a stupid plan the other option was and that she was going to transplant, unless they came up with a better alternative option.

She’s at Day 13 after the transplant and it is not an easy battle right now.  It will also be a long one as they say her immune system will be weak for at least a year with the first 100 days being the most crucial.

It must be very hard for you to be overseas whilst this is happening?

Of course, but thank goodness for technology.

Tell us about the event on Wednesday? 

A teaser for the tasting
A teaser for the tasting

It’s Wednesday March 25, 2015, 7pm at The Vaults in Leith.  The Scotch Malt Whisky Society has generously donated 5 fabulously old single cask, cask strength whiskies for us to taste and explore their “Old & Dignified” flavour profile.

Available only to Society members, SMWS single cask whiskies are completely unique and offer an ever-changing variety of flavours and taste sensations.  Being that this is a private event I am hosting at SMWS, everyone is welcome so it is a great opportunity for guests to discover the joys of SMWS if they have not already.

Not only that but the lovely Annabel Meikle, The Whisky Belle and Society Ambassador, will be there to guide us through the whiskies!  Often referred to as a sensory expert, Annabel works closely with The Scotch Malt Whisky Society as an ambassador and regularly chairs the panel.  Annabel has worked for twelve years in the whisky industry and has now established her own consultancy to train and entertain as a whisky advisor.

Guests will also enjoy a Society supper. There will be door prizes and various fundraising activities revolving around more fabulous whiskies and spirits.

100% of all proceeds go directly to Bailey’s family to help cover her medical expenses.  Tickets are £55 and available here.

 As we will be exploring what make whiskies Old & Dignified, I’ve suggested guests come dressed however they interpret “Old & Dignified”, if they wish.

 What are you looking forward to the most about the event?

Clans Old and Dignified
Clans Old and Dignified

Seeing the many smiling faces behind so much of the support of this event.  Attendees have been so amazing at sharing, retweeting and recommending this event to friends along with so many others in whisky.  I’m also looking forward to seeing how everyone comes dressed and how they interpret “Old & Dignified”!

If people haven’t bought their ticket yet, are there any left, and tell them why they can’t afford to miss this event?

Yes, there are still tickets left!  You can’t miss it because 5 old single cask, cask strength SMWS whiskies will be presented in a masterclass-style by Annabel Meikle, with a tasty supper and all proceeds are going to a good cause!!

There’s an auction too, what lots are there to bid on?

Yes, there will be a fabulous auction filled with some lovely old SMWS whiskies of course and a voucher for two for SMWS’s The Dining Room taster menu which includes an indulgent 5 courses paired with a choice of whisky or wine!

Also, print #1 of Mortlach Distillery an image photographed and signed by Mark Gillespie of Whisky Cast, a signed copy of The Whisky Kitchen with an opportunity to have it personalized during a meet and greet with one of the authors, Graham Harvey, at Battle for Bailey, a private tour for two with James Robertson at Tullibardine Distillery, Bottled History hardcover book with Bruichladdich hat signed by Jim McEwan, a Dufftown Distilleries walking tour & getaway with Speyside Tours and much more.  Oh and of course last, but not least a WHISKY TASTING for up to four people with WHISKY CORNER! Thank you again Kirsty and Stewart for all your support! (It is a genuine pleasure to be able to help in a small way).

Excitingly you also have a virtual event on Twitter, tell us about it?

John McCheyne, SMWS Ambassador, will be hosting the virtual tasting online on Wednesday March 25, 2105 starting at 7:45pm. A small group of virtual tasting ticket holders around the UK will be tasting and chatting about the whiskies.  If you missed out on getting a ticket, of course anyone can follow along and join in the conversation by using the hashtag #BattleForBailey on Twitter.

Are there other ways people can help?

By spreading the word about the event to anyone who may want to attend or to anyone that may wish to make a donation. Tickets and donations are available here or by contacting me directly.

Crystal thank you so much for speaking so candidly about, what must be, a very hard subject.  This event will make such a difference, and our thoughts are with you and Bailey. This promises to be an amazing event, and the auction lots are fantastic, please give generously and support this event anyway you can!  Come on people let’s make this event a sell out and do all we can to help!

You can follow Crystal on Twitter @EdgyLassie and follow the #BattleForBailey.

@Kirstyclarke29

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