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Behind the Dream: The Bothy Wine and Whisky Bar in Edmonton

Bothy flight

Since 2004, Yelp has worked to connect millions of people to the best in local business. In that time we’ve met thousands of passionate small business owners, a group as hardworking and diverse as any you’ll find. In this series, we share stories of just some of the people who, through their commitment to building great local businesses, are sustaining the vibrant local communities we call home.

Doug Townshend has always been an adventurer, perhaps because of a move from the Scottish Orkney Islands to mainland Scotland at a young age, leading to more travel in his adult life and ultimately a fantastic gamble on starting a wine and whisky bar in Edmonton, Canada.

A very modest man, Doug came to Canada in 1975 to visit his brother. When he overstayed his welcome, his brother drove him to Edmonton, gave him $100 and said, ‘you should be able to get a job here, bye’. Doug was a machinist by trade, working in Edmonton and traveling Europe. He soon realized he belonged in Canada and made a more permanent move to Edmonton.

As a wine connoisseur and member of the Opimian Society for many years, owning a wine bar was Doug’s dream. “For thirty years I’ve been eating out in Edmonton and it was always the cheapest plonk being served, then I heard about the Enomatic.” Opportunity knocked — the Enomatic is a device that keeps wine from spoiling once opened, meaning serving a higher caliber of wine by the glass is completely possible. Doug purchased the machine and The Bothy was born in Dec 2009!

They chose the name from that passing comment by a close friend, who said, “I hear you are opening a wee bothy.” Doug and his wife looked at each other, “That’s it!”, and they dropped the ‘wee’.

Storefront

By definition, a bothy is a small unlocked hut used for shelter for hillwalkers and shepherds most commonly found in the Scottish Highlands. ‘The name is a talking point as most Canadians have never heard of it, it gives us a bit of mystery.” The whole idea is that it’s a cosy place to stand at the bar.

Whisky came after the wine, but because of his heritage and knowledge it was easy to fit into the business plan.

“I’m Scottish so I may as well do whisky as well,” Doug joked. “Starting with only 50 bottles I had no idea the whisky world would take off on its own.” Now The Bothy boasts 200 bottles and serves as Edmonton’s own Ardbeg Ambassador.

Food, however, was not something that was in the cards initially. Except haggis. Doug imagined The Bothy to only serve haggis, he thought it would be funny and he wanted people to try it but it became another talking point, “People actually come for the haggis! And, It’s really good. I drive all the way to Calgary for it.”

Haggis

Nine years on, Doug does most of the operations and calls himself the ‘gopher’ while, his nephew Chris can be found behind the bar in The Bothy sharing that same passion for wine and whisky his uncle has. They are proud to have a number of awards for food and whisky displayed on the walls, from the Four Quaichs award two years in a row, to local awards for their steak pie. The major successes are community based, proud of the longevity of the business and becoming well loved by the Edmonton Community from hosting weddings, to offering romantic dining options for two in the cool -14℃ wine cellar.

Doug and Chris
The Bothy is the product of Doug’s passions and adventures. It’s a risk that paid off. With an air of authenticity and knowledgeability, a good sense of humour, and an emphasis on quality, The Bothy has a character all of its own. Thanks, Doug, for bringing Edmonton a taste (or maybe, rather, a sip) of Scotland!

Want to know more? Check out The Bothy Wine and Whisky Bar on Yelp or go visit them the next time you’re in Alberta.