What's In Your Fridge: James Lester of Sons of Vancouver Distillery
What’s In Your Fridge is where the Straight asks interesting Vancouverites about their life-changing concerts, favourite albums, and, most importantly, what’s sitting beside the Heinz ketchup in their custom-made Big Chill Retropolitan 20.6-cubic-foot refrigerators.
On the grill
James Lester of Sons of Vancouver Distillery.
Who are you
Oh please, can we start with something easier? Firstly, I’m a very average boyfriend. I have a pair of “Average Boyfriend” socks to prove it! I suspect the reason why I’m being interviewed is because I own a distillery. Way back in like 2011, when Adele was constantly playing within earshot globally, I figured I could reduce my bar tab if I opened a distillery. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Sons of Vancouver Distillery has been open for eight full years now and everyone who works here is living and breathing our 2022 Whisky Advent Calendar this second. It came out November 1 and its 12 different cask strength whiskies and 12 whisky liqueurs. It’s a huge project we take on every year to show off a few things we are working on. It’s one thing to pick up a $100 bottle but this way people get to try a tun of different stuff.
What a great memory, I was like 16 and Quiet Riot was in Grande Prairie, Alberta. We lived a few hours away and I asked my mom to drive me. The venue was like a rec-hall or conference room where wedding receptions were normally held. I remember it was a weeknight and I had papers I was marking for extra credit so I brought a backpack with a bunch of tests from the grade lower than me I needed to mark on the drive home. I also had like five or six records for them to sign. All I remember is I had Mental Health and Condition Critical on LP and these guys used to play with Randy Rhoads. Well, long story short, someone poured a beer into my backpack all over the tests and my mom went home with Kevin DuBrow.
Probably around 2007 I bought tickets to see Ozzy Osbourne and Rob Zombie at Rexall Stadium in Edmonton. I had been in Edmonton for trade school at the time and my final exam was the next day. Like 75 per cent of my mark was riding on this exam (but that hadn’t been on the docket when the tickets went on sale!). I was particularly worried about this exam, and in a moral dilemma between seeing The Prince of Darkness and achieving whatever educational certificate I was chasing at the time—thinking I’d just go and pop my head in. Like maybe see Ozzy and Zakk Wylde play “Crazy Train”, then peace out with lots of time to study.
This part takes some explaining. The whole concert was in an oval, so only about 75 per cent of the stadium was sold, with the stage on the ground floor facing the crowd and nothing behind the stage. I think, because I wasn’t intending to stay, we decided to try and get a better view standing in the empty section beside the stage. We found ourselves behind the stage—not backstage but behind the stage—and looking down on the rigging crew. Nothing special—anyone who didn’t want to see the show could walk back there.
Anyway, we pulled an empty beer keg over and used it as a step to jump the security fence onto the stairs leading up to the catwalk. So here we are on that giant oval walkway above the show, standing on grating, looking straight down on Ozzy and the band, their hair blowing in the wind. It was wild. We locked ourselves inside the Channel 7 press booth and closed the sliding glass door behind us. The Oilers press backdrop hid us in there really well and we watched the whole show looking straight down on the stage. On the way out we stole the Channel 7 news backdrop.
Top three records
I just can’t. Let’s play “Top Three Right Now”. What I’ve kept disclosed until now is that I love country music, but more than country music I really like this sub-genre that is something along the lines of “hopeless country music”—its much more depressing than one might expect and reminds you how drug use transcends genres.
Lost Dog Street Band Rage and Tragedy This is a sound I had been looking for, for a few years. It’s a folk street-band which plays country music and sings about addiction and suicide.
Townes Van Zandt Townes Van Zandt The epitome of the “hopeless country” sound. I actually came across a lot of Townes covers before I heard this album. They were all depressing as hell. He’s like the Leonard Cohen of sad country music—the poetry always comes before instruments.
Colter Wall Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs I don’t like Johnny Cash—I’m yet to understand what’s so great, but always optimistic I might figure it out one day. When I heard Colter Wall, to me, it was that Johnny Cash sound, but set over ballads and great country songs. This kid is rebranding Saskatchewan like its Kentucky. There is an amazing opportunity for the Canadian Prairies to pump out great whisky, and carve themselves out as a really badass part of Canada. But instead they seem to be leaning into the diesel trucks with Canadian flags.
All-time favourite video
Eminem “Stan” The early 2000s was when my household got cable, and thus MuchMusic (and, unfortunately, MuchMoreMusic), and this song was constantly playing for an entire year. I remember people phoning into The Fox requesting it back to back-to-back. I traded some stainless ball bearings (no idea?) to a kid in my elementary school who gave me a burned cassette with “Stan” recorded off the radio edit version and looped. Each side had like eight or nine loops of the same song and I’d listen to it on my Sony Walkman. That was the shit back then. Just watching it now—still great.
What’s in your fridge
Kewpie Mayo. At this moment I’m reminded of the line in Fight Club: “How embarrassing, a house full of condiments and no food”. This is a secret weapon—think Japanese mayo. What I love about cooking is the distinct lack of rules (like Fight Club). So when something calls for mayonnaise, like a coleslaw or burger, I like to whip this little secret out and sub it in.
Potatoes. I couldn’t think of a more beautiful thing. I quite enjoy creating dishes with ingredients that rhyme. My Potato, Tomato, Alfredo is a favorite in our house. I’ve been working on it for years and I’d say it’s still only 60 percent of the way there. As you can imagine my girlfriend is thrilled. Thus the socks mentioned above. Sometimes I try to rebrand the dish (clearly the name’s not the problem) as a “rose sauce”. That goes over well every time...
Frank’s. This is seriously the best hot sauce out there. It is just three ingredients of perfection married together. Good ingredients standing on each other’s shoulders. I have a theory that there isn’t a single food that wouldn’t benefit from the addition of either Frank’s Hot Sauce or cinnamon. I gather this is a bold statement, and many chefs at restaurants that I frequent are lining up to fight me right now, so I’m gonna end this right there and apologize to everyone I’ve offended. Most importantly the Georgia Straight who was kind enough to interview me and will most likely not make that mistake again.
Dive into the every amazing world of Sons of Vancouver Distillery (and get your 2022 Whisky Advent Calendar) by going here.