Heather McBriarty

Drinker of Whisky, Sailor of the Seas and keeper of three boys

Heather McBriarty

So Heather, tell me a little bit about yourself?

I am a 49 year old (eek!) wife, mother of three sons, x-ray/ultrasound technologist, runner, sailor, and equestrian. Oh, and a drinker of whisky!

I live by the sea and that, I think, influences my taste in whiskies – give me peat and salt and iodine and smoke! I come from a bit of a tea-totaling family of Scottish descent, so this journey has been an interesting one. I live with a couple of IT geeks – husband and #2 son – a teenager (#3 son), a chocolate Labrador retriever named Clancy (for the locally made beer – is it just a Maritime thing to call beer bottles brown puppies?) and a cat named Cappuccino. I am owned by a very large, half-Percheron named Xcaliper on whom I inflict dressage. I miss dreadfully my #1 son who has moved 4500km away to pursue his new career as a police officer in the wild west of Canada.

How did your whisky journey begin?

I was on a two and a half day white water canoe trip – me and 11 guys, my husband included! – on the beautiful Southwest Mirimichi River in the province of New Brunswick. Once on the river, there is no civilization until you haul out two days after launching, no cell phone reception, no bathrooms, nothing. All supplies, food, tents, clothing, and most importantly “beverages” are carried with you in the canoes. Camping is primitive, but the scenery and river are spectacularly beautiful – high rolling hills, covered in dense spruce forest; wide, shallow river which you can see running downhill to eventually meet the sea, sometimes smooth and flat, sometimes rolling and roaring over and between big rocks; deer, moose, eagles, ducks and other wild life; rarely another human but for our group. It was May, when the water is high enough from the snow melt to travel this part of the river, but warm enough – just! – to make canoeing and camping fun (although we have woken to frosty tents and seen snow in the hollows of the hillsides). The first night, we made camp at our usual spot, pitched tents, made up beds, cooked suppers over camp stoves and lit a fire against the evening chill. And as usual – being good Canadians – out came the beer! A good friend also hauled out a bottle. As the descendant of Scots, he insisted, I should join him in a dram. Reluctantly, I held out my steel camp cup and into this he poured a generous serving of Glenmorangie (I have no ideas of exactly what kind however). Working up my courage, I took a sip…then another! This was GOOD! He had brought civilization with him! We managed to empty that bottle between that night and the next. J  I haven’t looked back since!

What was your first whisky?

Again, I am a good Canadian girl. My first whisky (although I had no real idea at the time it was whisky) was Canadian Club, I was 15 years old and it was not a good experience! I had it mixed with Coke, drank most of a pint in one evening, and had my first – and worst hangover –  ever! I swore off liquor at that point. It would be nearly 25 years until whisky passed my lips again, at the above mentioned canoe trip. You can understand my reluctance!

Do you have many friends (particularly other women) that you enjoy whisky with?

I don’t really, @whiskylassie was the first woman I had met who admitted to drink whisky!  Through her, I have met a few more, although none of my close friends drink whisky. Recently, however, my sister has developed a bit of a taste for a dram. My good influence, maybe? 😀

You live in Canada, are there many clubs etc to do with whisky?

There is a whisky tasting society in my city. I am not a member, however, as I am a creature of mood: I find cannot drink a particular whisky “on command” and prefer to savour what strikes me in the moment. Therefore, I don’t always do well at planned tastings. There is quite a vibrant whisky community in New Brunswick, as evidenced by the hugely successful Spirits Festival in Fredericton and there is a large one in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I went to this year’s 18th annual NB Spirits Festival, and really enjoyed the master class I attended. I would definitely do more of those next year!

What’s your favourite whisky?

Oh my! That is like asking who my favourite son is! It depends on the day, the phase of the moon, what colour socks I am wearing, I think! LOL I do know what I like and don’t like. First, I have to say I am an Islay girl. Laphroiag 10 was my first BIG whisky and it was love at first taste. Quarter cask and Cardeas joined my collection. It was followed shortly after by Lagavulin. My first taste of Caol Ila was like the heavens opening up and angels singing. Bowmore 12, Tempest and Darkest are staples in my cupboard. I wasn’t blown away by my first Ardbeg, but then I tasted the Uigeadail and was smitten!

That said, I am willing to sample from other regions: love my Talisker! I have also moved beyond my “scotch snobbery” and because of @whiskylassie have found a world of amazing whiskies, especially some fantastic ones being made right here in Canada, particularly Forty Creek.

Have you travelled to the UK, visited any distilleries? If not would you like to? Is there one in particular that you would really like to visit?

My UK travels unfortunately predated my real interest in whisky, and were confined to the south of England and Wales. If only I had have known about Penderyn Distillery, I would have loved to visit there! It is a bucket list item to visit Scotland and in particular, to go to Islay. People tell me the most “bang for the buck” in visiting distilleries is to go to the Speyside region, but Islay is where I long to go.

You sail, I know nothing about this other than you require at least two things, a vessel and water, tell me a bit more about it.

I am a sailor from almost day one. My first “voyages”…okay, sails on Lake Ontario, one of Canada’s Great lakes, were at six months of age. I grew up in and around boats. The smell of spring to me is the smell of the fibreglass resin my Dad used to repair our boat before launch! After years of sailing a little wooden catspaw dinghy and a Laser, my husband and I started racing at our local yacht club. A few years later, we bought our own “real” sailboat, a Canadian made C&C 35’ which we race. We also crew for friends on their boat, with the lovely lady who would become my whisky guru and dear friend, @whiskylassie!

Sailing is my passion; the boat is like a living creature; the water, the wind rejuvenates me. We have here a choice of an utterly fantastic river system on which you can travel for days, weeks, and easy access to the sea in the form of the mighty Bay of Fundy, where you will find the world’s highest tides, and the beautiful coasts of Nova Scotia and the New England states of the USA.

 I particularly love racing sailboats.  Racing is like a chess game on crack, all strategy, thinking three moves ahead of your opponent, but fast paced and exciting. There is an element of danger and being on the hairy edge of control! Then you get to come in, debrief and have a cold beer – or a good dram!

Do you use your twitter account much for whisky? Have you met any of the #whiskyfabric. 

I follow whisky using my handle, @Xcaliper (and horse stuff, and running stuff, and my #2 son) more than anything. I am fairly new to Twitter, so I am still learning the ropes, for sure! I have met a few of the #whiskyfabric…although I haven’t entirely figured out who is who. 😀

Its almost a new year, do you have anything special planned for 2014?

I am thinking of doing my first half-marathon. There, I have said it publicly. Now I HAVE to train for it! I have taken up barefoot running, so it’s in the back of my mind to do it that way…

If you could own any bottle in the world, which would you pick and why?

Oh, there are so many, but I have to say I am positively lusting after the Kavalan Solist!

Just for fun……

Stairs or lift?

Stairs, I like to keep in shape!

Dressed up or dressed down?

I am a jeans, tee shirt and flip flops kind of girl, but I do love putting on a dress, heels and some bling once in a while!

Travel or homebody?

I do love travel. Egypt is another bucket list item.

Any phobias?

Not true phobias. Not much fazes me, including, to my eternal surprise, heights. I was positive that was an issue. I am not a great flyer, but I can fake it well.

Beach holiday or city break?

Give me a beach – the more secluded the better – preferably on the island of St. Croix, USVI, a bottle of Cruzan rum (it is the Caribbean!) and some lemonade, a good book and a sailboat anchored off shore waiting for me, any day!

That’s it Heather, thank you so much for a really fun, interesting article, I really enjoyed the interview.

Kirsty Clarke (@kirstypryde1)

Addendum: It has come to our attention that Heather has been very modest and failed to tell us that she also won “Female Sailor of the Year” not just once, but twice! Well done Heather!

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