Wednesday, January 5, 2011

On the Whiskey Shelf

The Whiskey Ward, New York City
Photo: Neil Friedman

“What’ll you have?”  The bartender at the Whiskey Ward takes position at the bar, hands pressed against the wood, arms flexed and his face patient.  Behind him, the wall is covered with lovely bottles of whiskey—Bourbon, rye, Scotch, Irish, Japanese.  Like little soldiers, they sit under long menus that list single barrels and malts and batch.  The bartender is probably used to it but I’m taking my time, enjoying the sheer breadth of the options.  There are over 100 bottles alongside the usual lineup of libations.

Whiskey can be a hard sell for women.  The heat and rush of this spirit can overwhelm the senses.  In 2011, people have their choice of drink.  Fruity drinks with crushed ice.  Sparkling drinks in tall flutes.  Dark beers crafted by Belgian monks.  Wines from vineyards centuries old.  So why should anyone consider this distilled delight?

Woodford Reserve, Kentucky Bourbon Trail
Photo: Neil Friedman

Let’s talk Bourbon.  Regulated by law and location, sour mash is made from corn and aged in charred oak barrels that can only be used once.

Bourbon Barrels, Kentucky Bourbon Trail
Photo: Neil Friedman

At the risk of being called vain, I also like whiskey because it's weight friendly: 40 calories. 

It mingles well with others.  Makers and ginger ale is a year round favorite.  Mint Juleps are nice too, extra mint please.  During winter, hot toddies are perfect with lemon and a shot of Blantons.  The citrus tickles my nose.  The tea feathers across my eyelashes.  And the whiskey takes all the warmth straight to my toes.

Maker's Mark, Kentucky Bourbon Trail

It’s indigenous.  Bourbon is American.  Scottish distillers immigrated to America in search of the Great Dream.  They moved to Kentucky for good water to make their libations and bad roads to keep authorities out.
Aging Process, Bourbon Distillery
Photo: Neil Friedman

Kentucky summers make Bourbon unique.  Stored in warehouses, the barrels expand and pull the liquor into its charred staves.  As winter comes, the wood contracts and squeezes the whiskey back into the cask.  The years pass and the process continues until the Bourbon is ready with its caramel spicy flavors and smooth finish. 

So when the bartender asks what I’ll have the first thought is everything.  My answer: How about a flight?

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