Behind the Styles: Jonathan Bray

Behind the Styles: Jonathan Bray

Let us introduce to you Jonathan. Just as all wines imported into Alberta are represented by an agency, so too are spirits. Enter Jonathan and his wife, Cindy. Together they run Secret Spirits. A company dedicated to sourcing the finest spirits: rum, gin and whiskey from around the globe and bringing them to the market. Read on for his advice for anyone wanting to dive into the wonderful world of whiskey, how he selects whiskey for the Scotch Whiskey Advent Calendar and why he loves working with his wife.

VS: You’re a native Australian, do you miss anything about living there?

JB: Absolutely, Summer for a start and all my family but one of the things I miss most is the birdlife listening to Magpie’s (Aussie variety) warbling and Kookaburra’s.

VS: How did you get your start in the liquor business?

JB: I worked for a company in Australia that specialised in wine as an investment and so learnt a lot about wines from around the world which is unusual in Australia as there tends to be a big focus on local wines. When my wife Cindy and I moved to Canada an opportunity to work with a fledgling wine importer developed into becoming a partner in a successful Import company where I first began my passion for whisky and which eventually spawned our own company Secret Spirits.

VS: Whisky is quite clearly your passion, how did it all begin?

JB: Sullivans Cove from Tasmania Distillery was the first whisky I ever sold and I am happy to say that I still do however it was really taking on A.D. Rattray single cask bottlings that exposed me to how diverse the landscape of Scotch Whisky is. Once I started down that road I was focused on trying absolutely every expression of whisky or whiskey I could from anywhere as I really love all styles as long as they are made well.

VS: You’re now the proud purveyor of the fantastic, Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar. What inspired you to create it?

JB: I was actually at Urban Fare in downtown Vancouver after a whisky event buying my wife a lovely dark chocolate gourmet Advent Calendar which had stunning packaging and was well and truly a cut above every other Advent Calendar I had ever seen. I guess because I had just been at a whisky event the thought occurred to me that with all the incredible independently bottled single cask whisky I loved and sold that a Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar would be an amazing way to expand peoples experience and knowledge in a really fun way. Like a lot of these ideas I ended up not really doing anything about it until I saw the first edition of the Beer Advent Calendar in Alberta. I berated myself a little for not acting on it sooner and got straight into working on creating the 1st edition along with my wife Cindy.

VS: Did you ever envision the calendar to be as sought after as it is?

JB: Of course we hoped that people would appreciate 25 unique whiskies and certainly had enough initial enthusiasm to give us the belief to go through all the challenges to create it but it has really been amazing how much positive feedback we have had over the past few years. It is now becoming a collectable which is something very special for a product only in it’s third year.

VS: There are hundreds of whiskies to choose from, how do you narrow it down to just 25?

JB: That is a great question and part of it is a bit of a formula we have developed to include a diverse range of Scotch Whisky regions, styles i.e. Single Malt, Single Grain etc. along with different casks and age statements all coming from a varied range of excellent independent bottlers that all have their unique take on what makes a single cask of whisky amazing. We have really been able to nail it so far and actually more whisky is becoming available to us rather than less so I don’t see us not being able to continue to find an exceptional array of whiskies for each new edition.

VS: From the Scotch Calendar, spawned Rum’s Revenge (a chest filled with twelve, 50 ml bottles of unique rums). Can you tell us more about it?

JB: The Rum’s Revenge was something that my wife and I talked about shortly after the successful launch of the 1st edition Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar. It took over a year to develop the packaging and concept. Rum is a fast growing category and Pirates are back in favor big time so for us we thought it would be a good change to have a bit more fun with a product and have something in a more accessible price range that was not as dependent on any particular time of year. The Rum’s Revenge is the name of a fictitious pirate ship that Cindy and I created. Everything from the wax sealed treasure map to the mini Rum’s Revenge ship in a bottle has made this a really fun product to develop. We are excited about the launch later this year and hope that people love it as much as we do. Believe it or not but rum is a big part of Scottish independent bottling so we are actually accessing a vast array of rums from all over the world from our suppliers there and are able to give consumers the same expansive experience that we do with the SWAC.

VS: How many trips have you made to Scotland? What do you enjoy most about the country?

JB: 5 so far and now that I am making it across the pond twice a year it is going to become a second home for me. I love the people and the history and when the sun is shining (yeah it does happen) it is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Everything from cozy little pubs with hand pulled real ales to the grandeur of Edinburgh which is a truly amazing place to visit.

VS: What do you find most rewarding about being an entrepreneur?

JB: Cindy and I absolutely love our life. The challenges that get thrown our way are at times overwhelming, frustrating and scary but we wouldn’t miss it for the world because we love what we do and the appreciation we have received from so many people is a huge reward. The entrepreneur package certainly comes with struggles (a lot of them) but it also brings so much fulfillment and purpose I’m surprised more people don’t take the risk and follow their dreams.

VS: Your wife, Cindy, is also your business partner. What do you enjoy most about working with your spouse?

JB: Cindy and I work so well together and really complement each other in a fantastic relationship. Our marriage is now in its 28th year and I couldn’t have a better wife and business partner. Cindy is the creative one who does the design work and brings together the myriad of components and logistics to make it all happen. I just get to pick the whisky and rum and work to sell everything. It is truly special to be able to work with my best friend.

VS: So far this year, can you pick a favourite whisky you’ve had?

JB: I was lucky enough on my recent trip to Scotland to visit the Glenfarclas Distillery in Elgin. I was ushered into the Family Cask warehouse where I was presented with a dram of the 1953. At 63 years of age it is easily the oldest whisky I have tried and I was really impressed with the amount of soft fruit and balance and almost could not believe how gentle the cask had been after all those years. An absolute treat thanks to Callum who jokingly took the glass back after the first sniff, dumped it back in the barrel and told us that was as close as we were allowed to get. Thankfully he re-filled it and gave me easily my ‘whisky of the year’ experience.

VS: When you’re temporarily clocked out of the world of whisky, what do you enjoy doing?

JB: I still play cricket which I have been doing my entire life the highlight of which is a tour to Vancouver and Victoria each summer with guys from my club. A delicious cigar or pipe on the deck during the Summer with a good mate is a must. I love travelling with Cindy and we are so grateful that we get the chance to visit some amazing places. For me that is especially so if snorkeling and beaches are involved. The other budding activity is golf and I’m slowly but surely getting better, definitely the hardest sport I have ever played.

VS: Where is your favourite place to dine in the city?

JB: I have always been a big fan of Hapa Izakaya in Vancouver with all my trips to BC over the years and I was overjoyed to learn that they were opening a location in Calgary. The most amazing Sushi, Sashimi and Asian fusion to be found here. I have already dragged many friends downtown and always make a point to get my fix at least every 3 months or so. If you get a chance to go make sure you have the Sock Eye Salmon Sashimi and the Temari if it is on the daily fresh sheet. A delicious Korean inspired Ishi Yaki hot stone bowl should also be must washed down with a triple bamboo jug of chilled Sake.

VS: If you could give people starting their journey into whisky appreciation any advice, what would it be?

JB: To try as many different expressions of whisky as you can and don’t stop. It can take quite a while for a palate to change and the more you expose it to different flavors the more you tend to appreciate. Get out to whisky events at your local whisky store and try to attend some of the whisky festivals in and around Calgary every year. If attending a festival pick out 5 or 6 whiskies that you have never tried and do those first. After that it becomes hard for your palate to keep up to a point that you can really pick out the nuances.

Apart from field research (my favorite) I would also suggest following along on a few whisky blogs as long as you keep in mind that your tastes and opinions could be very different. Some fantastic bloggers that I follow are Curt Robinson from Allthingswhisky.com, Johanne McInnis from Whiskylassie.blogspot.ca and Joshua Hatton from jewmalt.com.

For more information on the Scotch Whiskey Advent Calendar and the other products in the Secret Spirits portfolio, please click here.

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Crisp

Whites with snappy acidity and vibrant flavours that will awaken your senses

Our crisp whites offer lovely refreshing acidity and a nice citrus punch; these wines will revive you and make you feel like you’re enjoying fresh fruit in an orchard in the middle of July. Think about of the last time you were out somewhere in the heat of the summer; one of those days when the pavement was melting, the paint was peeling off buildings and all you could think about was how badly you wanted something to quench your thirst. When you stumbled onto a lemonade stand and took that first sip, you were cured.

We can’t say our wines will cure dehydration but they are a great option while you’re enjoying patio weather.

 

Varietals

You’ll find varietals like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Riesling and Vinho Verde and more!

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Mellow

Loved for their understated qualities these whites are beautiful and exotic

Talking about mellow wine is like talking about a classic film star. She’s a lady with international acclaim and classic appeal. Mellow wines don’t jump up and down screaming for attention; instead they prefer to lure you in with their quiet charm and feminine wiles. Swirling a nice Viognier or Pinot Gris is all about soft, intricate and attractive flavours that might make you think about your favourite perfume, stepping into a flower shop or leaving a patisserie where they’ve just taken almond pastries out of the oven. This is Sophia Loren in a glass.

 

Varietals

If you enjoy varietals like Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer or Chenin Blanc you’ll love this style!

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Lush

Whites that ask to be a muse. This is Claude Monet’s water lilies’ in a wine glass.

Lavish and luxurious wines with all the razzle-dazzle. Think about the things in life that make you feel like you’re living large. Imagine yourself wearing layers of pearl necklaces, leading a ticker tape parade, eating popcorn laced with truffle oil and lounging on the king bed of the Ritz Carlton penthouse all at the same time. Lush wines are what we drink when we’re feeling on top of the world and when we want to celebrate life. This is 4th of July fireworks and the clock striking midnight on New Year’s Eve all rolled into one beautiful gold package. Bottoms up!

 

Varietals

Varietals like Chardonnay, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier are found here.

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Elegant

Ruby reds with a timeless style and appeal; wines that will never go out of fashion.

Elegant reds ask you to dig a bit deeper. Some people enjoy them for the romantic ideas they conjure while others enjoy the subtle nuances that each bottle possesses. We can’t think of a better way to describe elegant reds than talking about Coco Chanel. Think about No. 5, the little black dress or the most importantly the iconic Chanel suit, a true couture item that is well lined, carefully crafted and something that will always be in vogue. An elegant wine is like a nice stroll along the promenade in the seaside town of Biarritz or a day at the ballet in red maillot.

 

Varietals

Here you’ll find Pinot Noirs, Gamays, Chiantis and more!

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Smooth

Reds that are pleasant from start to finish

Supple and velvety, smooth reds are a real crowd pleaser; something that everyone loves. Like a popular jazz standard, the best way to sum up these wines is to think about hearing Miles Davis on vinyl. Everyone has heard those tunes and when the horns come in on the track you can’t help but connect over the sheer universal joy in hearing something so incredibly smooth and pleasing to the senses. Miles Davis was one cool dude and that’s how we feel about the wines in this section. You’ll feel like you’re slipping on a new pair of driving gloves every time you pour yourself one.

 

Varietals

Varietals such as Grenache, Merlot and mouth-watering blends can be found here.

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Bold

Our deepest most complex reds; these wines make a statement

Full and flavourful with an intense fruit core, these reds are the talk of the town. Bold wines have an intensity about them that not only commands your presence but also asks you to stay a while. Pretend for a minute that Clint Eastwood has just walked into a bar, stared at you for a long hard second and proceeded to put out a cigar out on his forearm before challenging you to an arm wrestle. You’re heart might skip a beat but you’ll be happy that you tried it. That arm wrestle might be one of the best things you ever do in your life. That’s how we describe a bold wine.

 

Varietals

Food friendly varietals like Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel are right at home here.

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Bubbly

There’s nothing quite like hearing that cork pop!

Call us crazy but the sound of a cork being popped just makes everything better. Headaches dull, clouds seem to part and even the sound of crying children can be drowned out by the wonderful thought that you’ll soon have a stem in hand and an effervescent treat to tickle the end of your nose. A glass of bubbly just spells a plain good time. It might be a celebratory drink with friends, an excuse to get all gussied up for a fabulous night out or it might just be a date with the couch to watch Sex and the City re-runs solo.

 

Varietals

Here you’ll find everything from Champagne to Cava, Prosecco, Lambrusco and everything in between!

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Rich

Wines made with a little extra TLC

What are you going to find in this section? You’re going to find late harvest nectar, ice wines, delectably sweet Rieslings and 5 puttonyos worth of sweetness. And why are you going to love these wines? The grape juice that you’ll find in our Rich section took a lot of extra TLC to make the transition from vine to glass and can be used to make some of the most magnificent food and wine pairings known to man. We just have 3 words for you: Oysters and Sauternes.

 

Varietals

This style houses dessert wines like Sauternes, Ice Wine and Tokaji.

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Clean

Simple and Straightforward

When you think of simple and uncomplicated you can’t help but think of a guy in his college freshmen year. The beers that we’ve categorized as Clean are straightforward and unassuming with bright flavours and not too much complexity. You’ll enjoy these beers more than a keg stand and find them to be about as fresh as a 19 year-old guy at an all girl frat party. Big time!

 

Examples

Light and easy, simple Lagers, Pilsners & Blonde Ales.

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Balanced

Find your zen on our beer wall

Life Coaches and self-help books will tell you that balance is the key to a happy life. That may true but when we’re talking about a balanced style of beer we’re talking about the merits of a good pale ale with well integrated hop and malt flavours. Balanced beers won’t help you understand the deeper meaning of life but they’re still worth sampling for their easy-drinking quality. Take that Deepak Chopra!

 

Examples

Brews such as Brown Ales, Red Ales, Cream Ales, Black Lagers & Dunkels.

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Fruity

For your fun side, beers not meant to be taken too seriously

There is fruity like the Village People and there is fruity like wonderfully citrus kissed Hefeweizen, warm kirsch Belgians and bubbly orchard fruit ciders. While there is no denying the fun of disco and flamboyant cowboys, our Fruity section will give you options to keep you singing and dancing all year long. This is an amiable selection to accompany garden time, dinner parties and of course they pair wonderfully with dessert.

 

Examples

If you’re after a Cider, Radler or any fruit infused brew, you’ll find it here alongside Wheat beers.

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Intense

The safe way to have an intense experience…

Here’s a short list of things that are truly intense: squirrel suit jumping, big wave surfing and the insane ramblings of Gary Busey. While our Intense selection of beers could be described as big and loud, they certainly won’t lead to death on impact, shark attacks or being verbally abused on Celebrity Apprentice. You’ll love the IPAs and scrumptious Trapist ales. Gary agrees.

 

Examples

Some like it hopped! Here you’ll find IPAs, DIPAs, Trappist brews, Sours & Barleywines.

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Robust

Beer that leaves an impression

Powerful, sturdy and strapping are all great words to describe the Robust section. Everything you find here possesses strong brawny flavours that leave a lasting impression. Just think back to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s version of Conan the Barbarian; despite the horrifically bad acting that comes with those 80s classics we just can’t help but love the brute force and thick accent. Conan would call you an infidel for drinking anything else.

 

Examples

Home to heartier brews like Stouts and Porters & some Barrel Aged offerings.

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Examples

We have many amazing wines in our online shop.

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Rosé

Effortless and exhilarating in any season

It’s undeniable, Rosé is in vogue. It’s enjoying a renaissance following the White Zinfandel craze that swept North America in the 70’s. Today, Rosé is the queen bee. Rosé is your ever fashionable friend. It’s the timeless accessory you can turn to in any season. In the spring it’s like wearing peeptoe shoes on a warm day. In the summer, a breezy dress. In the fall it’s the perfect boots and in the winter, a cozy knit scarf.

 

Varietals

Rosés are the product of a myriad of varietals, some of the most common are: Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Cinsault.

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