THE WHISKEYS WE SHOULD BE DRINKING, AS TOLD BY SOME OF THE SAVVIEST GIRLS IN THE GAME. BY LISA MISCHIANTI
We women like whiskey. It’s hardly a news flash. Ladies have long been imbibing this earthy, amber-hued liquor, despite the occasional raised eyebrow when we don’t default to a fruity cocktail—although we dig those, too. Whiskey lovers tend to be passionate about their spirit of choice, all the way down to its spelling (bringing that “e” anywhere near the word when referring to Scotch is considered blasphemous by its most loyal disciples). And right now, the drink scene at large seems especially excited about whiskey, with barkeeps and patrons showing fresh enthusiasm for time-honored classics and newer entrants in the distilling craft alike. But whether you’re an occasional sipper or a die-hard devotee, we all could appreciate some sage advice about this tradition-steeped liquor, which continues to evolve. Here, a few drink-slingers from some of the best whiskey bars around the country offer their top recommendations. So read up, because as Mark Twain famously put it: “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”
SUNTORY YAMAZAKI 18 YEAR SINGLE MALT WHISKY
Place of origin: Osaka, Japan.
Availability: It’s fairly rare, but most specialty whiskey bars and liquor stores will have it.
Distilled from: Barley—it’s made just like a single malt Scotch, but it can’t legally be called a Scotch since it’s from Japan.
Flavor notes: The nose has notes of raisin, apricot, oak, and crème brûlée; the palate has notes of cherry, chocolate, and oak. The finish is unbelievable—it has elements of ginger and cinnamon, and lingers for, like, a minute and a half.
If it were a song, it would be: “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars.
If it were a person, it would be wearing: A low-cut scarlet ball gown with an epic train and six-inch Christian Louboutins.
Patron saint: Jessica Rabbit.
Perfect for when you’re feeling: Successful.
The best scenario in which to enjoy it: Surrounded by boxes on the first night in your brand-new penthouse apartment with an amazing view of your favorite city’s skyline.
Fun fact: It’s Suntory time, baby! This is the brand featured in Lost in Translation.
Craziest behavior it's been known to induce: The overwhelming feeling that just maybe Bill Murray will show up, sip drinks with you all evening, and then whisper, “no one will ever believe you,” before disappearing into the darkness.
Monica Olive, mixologist and whiskey specialist, The Thirsty Crow, Los Angeles
PAPPY VAN WINKLE'S FAMILY RESERVE 20 YEAR BOURBON
Place of origin: Kentucky.
Availability: It’s super rare. The few liquor stores and bars that can actually get access to it can only get two bottles a year, if that!
Distilled from: Bourbons, by law, have at least 51 percent corn. And the Van Winkle distillery is proud of the fact that their bourbon is “wheated,” so we know that the mash bill [the different grains used in the recipe] also has a lot of wheat.
Flavor notes: The nose has vanilla and floral notes, and a nice citrus zest. The palate is rich, buttery, and sweet, with allspice and sherry notes that transition to a peppery taste like cinnamon and nutmeg.
You will like it if you like: Wizards and unicorns.
If it were a song, it would be: Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah.”
If it were a person, it would be wearing: Absolutely nothing.
While sipping it, you should be reading: Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins.
Patron saint: Daenerys Targaryen, the mother of dragons.
Perfect for when you’re feeling: Magical.
Best way to drink it: Since it’s such a sweet and balanced bourbon, straight into a beautiful crystal tumbler is the way to go.
Fun fact: 65 cases of Pappy 20 and Pappy rye, worth over $25,000, were stolen from the distillery last year. They still haven’t found the culprit.
Most important thing to remember about it: Sip it slowly. Its high price point and rarity make it unlikely you'll be drinking it often!
Craziest behavior it's been known to induce: I'm going to go ahead and go with a grand theft felony.
LAPHROAIG QUARTER CASK SINGLE MALT SCOTCH
Place of origin: Islay, Scotland.
Availability: It’s pretty easy to find at a nice spirits shop, probably on the top shelf.
Aging process: It’s first aged in a standard ex-bourbon barrel, and then in a quarter cask. The latter allows more contact with the oak, which speeds the maturation process.
Flavor notes: Oily, grassy, sherry, oaky, soft, velvety, peaty, sweet, and smoky.
Drinking it is like: Eating Lucky Charms and enjoying a cigar at the same time.
You will like it if you like: The smell of a campfire.
If it were a song, it would be: A collaboration between Barry White and Led Zeppelin.
If it were a person, it would be wearing: Something velvet, or maybe nothing but a bearskin rug.
While sipping it, you should be reading: Playboy...for the articles.
Food it pairs best with: A strong, bold cheese, a gamey meat, or a dark chocolate dessert.
Cocktail it’s best in: A Penicillin, or any other blended Scotch cocktail with some citrus.
Best way to drink it: With one or two drops of water, or maybe one rock.
Fun fact: The age is unspecified. Many believe it’s aged in the ex-bourbon barrels for at least five years, maybe up to 10 or 11, then the quarter cask for seven months.
Most important thing to remember about it: The smell will definitely stick with you! It's not for the faint of heart, but I suggest everyone try it at least once.
Samantha Battle, manager and bartender, Lloyd Whiskey Bar, Philadelphia
AMRUT FUSION SINGLE MALT WHISKY
Place of origin: India.
Availability: It can be hard to find, even in a major city.
Distilled from: 100 percent malted barley.
Flavor notes: The gentle peat complements the subtle tropical fruit flavor, with a finish of dark chocolate and baking spices.
Drinking this is like: Buying candied nuts on a Southeast Asian train.
If it were a song, it would be: Tacocat’s “Bridge to Hawaii.”
If it were a person, it would be wearing: Linen.
While sipping it, you should be reading: Vonnegut.
Perfect for when you’re feeling: Stoked.
Food it pairs best with: Sunomono salad.
Cocktail it’s best in: A riff on a Cat’s Pajamas.
Best way to drink it: Neat at first, then toward the end a little water.
Most important thing to remember about it: It is a true fusion; it’s been distilled from barley that is sourced from both India and Scotland.
Craziest behavior it's been known to induce: Ending up with an empty wallet, on a bathroom floor.
Alise Michele Moffatt, bartender, Multnomah Whisk(e)y Library, Portland, Oregon
ELIJAH CRAIG BARREL PROOF BOURBON
Place of origin: Kentucky.
Flavor notes: Right off the bat you get rich toffee and molasses, then a little butterscotch and a ton of heat, followed by allspice, nutmeg, and black pepper.
Drinking it is like: Jumping on the back of a motorcycle without knowing where you’re off to.
You will like it if you like: Bold flavors and Arthur Miller.
If it were a song, it would be: Red Sparowes’ "Alone and Unaware, the Landscape Was Transformed in Front of Our Eyes."
If it were a person, it would be wearing: A leather jacket, white T-shirt, and Doc Martens.
While sipping it, you should be reading: Hermann Hesse or George R.R. Martin.
Patron saint: He who shall not be named.
Perfect for when you’re feeling: Tough.
Food it pairs best with: Tartare.
Cocktail it’s best in: An Old-Fashioned.
Fun fact: It changes every batch.
Most important thing to remember about it: It’s hot and will change color.
Alise Michele Moffatt
FOUR ROSES SINGLE BARREL BOURBON
Place of origin: It's distilled in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, and aged about an hour away in Cox’s Creek, in single-story warehouses. This is unique since most bourbons are aged in multistory warehouses; it provides a more controlled environment due to less temperature variance.
Availability: It’s readily available in the United States and many other countries around the world.
Distilled from: Four Roses bourbons have the potential for 10 different recipes. They have two mash bills and five different yeast strains that create a variety of flavors.
Flavor notes: On the nose, woody spice, rich fruit, and cocoa; on the palate, nice spice and dark fruit notes, cinnamon, and toasted wood.
You will like it if you like: Drinking spirits neat. It’s elegant and impeccable.
If it were a song, it would be: Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood.”
If it were a person, it would be wearing: A Canadian tuxedo—not really. Whatever you wear, you should be drinking this.
While sipping it, you should be reading: The Economist (or watching a TED Talk).
Food it pairs best with: It makes a great after-dinner drink.
Cocktail it’s best in: An Old-Fashioned or Mint Julep.
Fun fact: The story goes that this bourbon was named after its founder Paul Jones, Jr.’s proposal to his Southern belle love interest. She replied that she would wear a corsage of four red roses at the upcoming grand gala if she wanted to accept. She did.
Susie Hoyt, beverage director, The Silver Dollar, Louisville, Kentucky
TOWN BRANCH RYE
Place of origin: This whiskey is made at Alltech’s Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co. in Lexington, Kentucky, and is aged in warehouses near Bardstown.
Availability: It’s relatively accessible, but likely easier to find in Kentucky, southern Ohio, and Indiana.
Distillation process: Town Branch Rye is made in copper pot stills, which is unique as most are made in column stills.
Flavor notes: On the nose, light spice, floral notes, tobacco notes, vanilla, and wood, with a dry finish. On the palate, sweet tobacco, a hint of ginger, and solid spice notes that stay with you on the finish.
You will like it if you like: High rye bourbons.
If it were a song, it would be: Waylon Jennings’s version of “Me and Bobby McGee.”
Perfect for when you’re feeling: In the mood to try something new.
Cocktail it’s best in: A Sazerac, Old-Fashioned, or Kentucky Mule.
Best way to drink it: I like it neat.
Fun fact: Alltech does a lot of charity—they sell coffee, and the proceeds go toward teachers and girls in schools. Also, the company’s owner, Pearse Lyons, has a PhD in Yeast Fermentation, so they have their fermentation down to a science.
HIGH WEST A MIDWINTER NIGHTS DRAM RYE
Place of origin: Old Town Park City, Utah.
Availability: It debuted Valentine's Day of 2014 and is a limited release. You likely won't be able to find it at your everyday liquor store, but that doesn't mean it's not out there.
Aging process: AMND is actually one of High West's staple whiskeys, the Rendezvous Rye, but finished in French oak and port barrels.
Flavor notes: The nose gives off a fruity vibe—not summertime sweetness but a mild tartness like cherries. Hold it in your mouth for a few seconds and the flavor becomes increasingly bold with a rich caramel/spice essence.
Drinking it is like: Meeting a new friend who you feel like you've known forever.
You will like it if you like: Being ahead of the curve.
If it were a person, it would be wearing: Mittens, a scarf, and a hat. It’ll keep you nice and toasty on a cold, dreary day.
While sipping it, you should be reading: A classic novel that you like to reread every Christmas season.
The best scenario in which to enjoy it: On a wintry night at Chicago’s punk rock whiskey bar Delilah’s, where there are candles on all of the tables and string lights everywhere.
Food it pairs best with: A hearty dessert, maybe some bread pudding.
Best way to drink it: Neat. Neat. Neat.
Fun fact: High West Distillery opened in 2007 as the first distillery in Utah since Prohibition.
Most important thing to remember about it: It’s a wintertime whiskey, but you can enjoy it year-round.
Mary Kate Zerbe, director of operations, Delilah’s, Chicago
BOWMORE 15 YEAR "DARKEST" SINGLE MALT SCOTCH
Place of origin: Islay, Scotland.
Availability: It can be found in many bars and spirit shops.
Distilled from: Malted barley and aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry barrels.
Flavor notes: Warm toffee, campfire smoke, coffee grounds, raisins, and oak.
Drinking it is like: Staying in a gorgeous hotel suite that was comped because your flight was canceled.
You will like it if you like: Drinking a bottle of wine next to a crackling fire while watching a Twin Peaks marathon on Netflix.
If it were a song, it would be: Cowboy Junkies’ “Sweet Jane.”
While sipping it, you should be reading: An old murder mystery.
Patron saint: Anjelica Huston (I don't know why, but I picture her drinking this Scotch for breakfast).
Perfect for when you’re feeling: Wicked or frisky or both.
The best scenario in which to enjoy it: The second date, when you’ve decided you don't want to wait any longer to seal the deal.
Food it pairs best with: Fresh pear, soft mild cheeses, French bread.
Best way to drink it: There’s no wrong way to drink this mama.
Most important thing to remember about it: It goes down easy, so pace yourself!
Craziest behavior it's been known to induce: Love at first sight.
Kirsten Wagner, bartender, Noorman’s Kil, Brooklyn
A BROWN DERBY WITH A DASH OF SAGE
2 oz. Bourbon or Tennessee whiskey (you can use Jack Daniel's)
1 oz. grapefruit juice
.75 oz. honey syrup
1 fresh sage leaf
Shake all ingredients and double strain into a chilled martini glass or coupe.
1 part Scotch (you can use Johnnie Walker)
2 parts ginger beer
A squeeze of lime
Mix and enjoy.
-Mary Kate Zerbe
A KENTUCKY SUNSET, AS SEEN AT NOORMAN'S KIL IN BROOKLYN
1.5 oz. Bourbon (you can use Maker's Mark)
.25 oz. açai berry liquor
Fresh lemon juice
Splash of soda water
Combine all ingredients and garnish with a lemon.