An Adventure with the Whiskymeister

March 30, 2010:  Fullerton, CA

Maybe it was the fluttering Union Jack against a darkening sea-blue sky. Maybe it was that a pub called The Olde Ship was located on a street called Harbor. Or maybe it was just the idea of fish and chips with a single malt that made me drop anchor.

The Olde Ship’s interior was one that beckoned “come in – you’ll only be a stranger here but once” – and meant it. Dark woods, dart boards, copper bar top and cozy wing-back booths said it all – this is a true local’s pub. But, the aroma of the place –  a comfortable embrace of ale, curry, and roast beef. Delectable.

Annie Black was Johnnie on the spot to take my drink order and seemed pleased that I ordered a Lagavulin – a robust malt from Islay. More about that later. The idea of fish and chips started to blur as I navigated the bill of fare – two dozen entrees, each accompanied with a naval history tidbit – each like a dingy behind a sailboat. I learned that the Whitby Platter was a combination of Icelandic cod and prawns and that Whitby, one of England’s most famous fishing villages, was where Captain James Cook embarked on his epic voyages of discovery to the New World. But, as good as the Whitby Platter sounded, I stuck to my original plan and ordered The Olde Ship’s Fish and Chips. The dingy described the term “ship”, various sails, and different kinds of masts.

Annie was faster at tending to the table than I was at reading. She apologized for rearranging the water glass and bread basket, explaining “I wear tri-focals and don’t want to tip anything.” As regular as the incoming tide, Annie delivered the food. “We” decided to go with a lighter single malt with the meal, and I chose The Glenrothes. Annie approved.

The food, no surprise, was first cabin, with the cod dipped in a light beer batter and deep fried to perfection. Traditional thick cut chips came with five dipping sauces: red cocktail, lemon dill, garlic mayonnaise, curried mayonnaise and salad cream. The Glenrothes snuggled up to the fish and made the taste even richer and fuller – at least for a single malt addict.

I had steered clear of choosing an appetizer, soup or salad (dozens to choose from), but was now wavering on dessert and maybe a leisurely third Scotch. After all, I wanted to stretch my stay a little longer to absorb more of the atmosphere. A live soccer game on the telly cinched the decision.

I ordered the Sticky toffee pudding, paired with a 12 year old Bunnahabhain. Annie perked up.

“So, you like Islay whiskies”.

“I do”.

“I’m an Ileach”

“Really? You were born on Islay?”

“Aye, I was, and lived there for more than thirty years. And I’ve worked here for the whole l6 years we’ve been open.”

“And I suppose you have a favorite Islay whisky …”

“Oh no, I don’t drink”.

In addition to more than a dozen single malts, covering most of the distilling regions of Scotland, the Olde Ship also has a great selection of harder to find British bottled beers. The menu disclaimer: “…limited amounts to ensure they remain as fresh as can be. As with the draughts, we invite you to ‘set sail and explore’ the different flavours and styles British beer has to offer.” Among the selection are Black Sheep Special Ale, St. Peter’s Cream Stout, Meantime London Porter, and two I will try because of the names alone – Wychwood Fiddler’s Elbow and Wychwood Organic Scarecrow.

On my next visit (I’m no longer a stranger), I plan on sitting at the bar and enjoying “pub grub”. Maggie and Fiona, two of the bartenders, both enjoy single malts, but have very different opinions about how to enjoy them, what to pair with them, and which one (gasp!) is “best”.    There may be rough seas ahead!

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