“When you are raised in an environment like this, it does become a part of you,” says James Buchanan, of Buchanans Chophouse.
Photo by Ingrid Kuenzel
It was his first job, working as a busser and dishwasher at fourteen, then serving and bartending when he turned eighteen. “I’m turning thirty this year and I’ve already been here for sixteen years now, so I’m one of the senior guys here at a very young age,” he laughs.
It wasn’t always the case. “My parents were extremely supportive,” he says, “they’ve said a number of times, to try to find something else and have a life.” And so for years Buchanan played rugby professionally, spending time in England, Australia and New Zealand, and a couple of years training on the west coast with the Canadian national team. “Even though they’re taking a bit of a step back, they’re still involved,” he continues, “and the boss man and boss lady are still the best resources to ever have to continue to make this place successful. I don’t want to blow it; I want to make them proud. I really do feel that people like to come in to a family restaurant and know that there is a Buchanan stillat Buchanans.”
Like his father, Buchanan finds the world of whisky fascinating, and loves exploring his passion for single malt. “I get to pick my old man’s brain, and all it comes down to is to sit down and chat,” he says.
So what special bottle is Buchanan saving?
In 2005, Companions of the Quaich Ontario partnered with the Hudson Bay Company and approached Orkney distillery, Highland Park, to produce a special bottling in honour of their 350th anniversary. It was a perfect connection as in the 1700s, 416 of the 530-man Hudson’s Bay Company workforce in Canada were from Orkney.
The stars aligned and Highland Park released a single cask of 15-year aged, 100% refill Sherry cask, bottled by Milroy’s of Soho. But the problem came when they attempted to ship it over, and the LCBO informed them that they didn’t have a liquor licence, and so could not sell it in Ontario.
“Highland Park only do distillery bottlings and that’s it, they don’t work with anyone else,” Buchanan explains. ”This just happened to be such a historical connection, and to get the distillery, the bottler, Hudson’s Bay, the importer, and the Companions on board – and then the liquor board says ‘No. You can’t do anything with it in Ontario, you can just give it away!’”
Milroy connected with a distributor who called Buchanan and offered him a six-pack of the special bottling. “We opened it, and lo and behold we got bottle #1 out of 1,600!” he grins. “That never happens when you order limited release whisky, because the whisky maker always, always takes bottle number one.”
And when will Buchanan open the bottle?
“Not in the foreseeable future,” he says, “I did get to try bottle number two, so at least I have been in the fortunate position to sample the whisky, and it is spectacular.” “There’s occasions for everything,” he adds, “and I’ll open it with the old man, that’s for certain. I wouldn’t be opening it without him around to enjoy it. We have 390 other whiskies people can try, but I’m afraid this one is for private Buchanan consumption.”