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Enjoying Scotch Whisky and a few other things

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Restaurants and Bars

Prohibition Party at Jack Rose Dining Saloon 2012

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On December 5, 2012, hundreds of Washingtonians crowded the dark paneled walls of the best whisky bar in America, Jack Rose Dining Saloon, for a celebration of sensibility. Rare, these days are words like “sense” and “obvious” in the seat of American government these days (have you heard of the “cliff”?) but on December 5, 1933 the United States Constitution was amended with the Twenty-first Amendment also known as the Repeal of Prohibition. The repeal was of the Eighteenth Amendment which was passed due to the conventional wisdom, and considerable political and religious pressure, to ban the manufacture of whiskey in the U.S. in order to reduce crime, improve the health and mental wellness of the American citizenry, and reduce healthcare costs (that sounds familiar). What the 18th Amendment did was the exact opposite of this and to the dismay of Senator Rockefeller and all the groups who rejoiced over their victory they could not wait to “un-do” the bad law that they had created and stop the bleeding.

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So, it is only fitting that such a grand bar could throw a Prohibition party in the year 2012. Why? Because I think we need to reflect on what we have, as citizens, let government do in our lives. As altruistic as man can be, often, he/she does the wrong thing. And in the case of Government, it usually is not corrected without a revolution or take-over. Life is hard enough, to take away the few things that unites and provides enjoyment for a large segment of a society is detrimental. So raise a glass my fellow Americans and never forget!

Now, that I’m off of my pedestal, I’d like to talk about this Saloon called Jack Rose. At the heart of this bar is Bill Thomas, proprietor of Jack Rose Dining Saloon as well as Bourbon in Georgetown. On this night, Bill really wanted a celebration of this date and a true theme running through the night to give it a Prohibition era feel. It started with a wonderfully cooked three course meal that I wisely took my server’s advise on and chose the Prime Rib. I had a three course meal for $20 USD. You can see the picture, the Prime Rib was ridiculously huge! I told Bill, you can’t be making money on this! He smiled and said, I really don’t care. He wanted people to enjoy this day, it wasn’t just another excuse to open the doors and pour drink specials. Bill loves whiskey and enjoys the company of those who do also. So, when you can have an intimate party in a bar that has a ridiculous amount of whisk(e)y in it. Why Not!

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As usual,the meal was wonderful, the appetizers unique and special. But what came afterwards really trumped it all.

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When Bill opened the Dining Saloon there was a basement area that in most people’s minds would be a great cellar/storage area. What Bill saw was an intimate setting where whisky aficionados could sit in relative quiet away from the main crowd and truly enjoy some spirits. I joined Bill downstairs and the bar truly carries the “speakeasy” feel. The door to the bar is recessed into the wall, and slides. There is a back door, no sign on the outside, with a buzzer. You get the picture. In this area, one can assembly 40 people and it feels like you’re in a New York City bar on Saturday night, only with a Washington vibe, not a New York one. Tonight, Bill was personally pouring a few unique scotch and bourbon offerings.

20121215-090626.jpgThe room was alive and the setting was perfect. Bill had brought in some Pre-Prohibition era American whiskey that he has in his personal collection and displayed it in a case (I’ve placed a few in this post). For entertainment, two lovely young ladies provided us with a 1920’s flapper themed performance that even silenced, even mesmerized the contingent and even produced a few ghasts from the women folk. It was at that moment I knew that nowhere else in this city was anyone having this good of a time. My iPhone doesn’t do justice in the picture of one of the ladies, but trust me, it was a show.

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To finish off a near perfect night, Bill pulled out a pre-prohibition bottle of American whiskey. Though the label and history had worn off, Bill knew it was distilled somewhere between 1915 to 1930. The magic was not in its nosing or tasting, but in just knowing that  you were able to imbibe in a whiskey that old and surrounded by so much controversy. I really do thank Jack Rose for bringing attention to a historic date and doing its best to help reconnect our generations with those back then. I cannot wait til next year!

Cheers!

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West Village, bar hopping in New York City

On my recent visit to New York City I had the pleasure of being taken on a bar/restaurant tour by my friend Michelle who lives in the city. Like a lot of cities, its hard to know where the people go who “live” in that city. Typically a traveler ends up in a touristy area or an area that caters to business parks so if you are lucky you get a Chili’s or something similar to chill at.

Michelle decided to head towards her regular “go to” area and maybe try out a few new bars she had heard about but not been to. I’m always up for experimental bar hopping, why not! The area we first went into is referred to the meatpacking district which I have always heard about but never been. This is much like many areas in old cities that have been re-purposed from their historical industrial ways to a new trendy area for those seeking unique environments and expertly made drinks.

So the first bar we went to had only been open a couple of weeks but it had already created quite a buzz. Its on Gansevoort Street at 9th Ave and is called The Vinatta Project. They have an interesting wine bar set up that looks to be an elegant, grown up version of a do-it yourself bar. We were told this would eventually end up with whiskey in it! We sat at the bar and the bartender asked us what we’d like. What he meant was what kind of fresh fruit/herbs do you like and what is your favorite spirit. Well, I told him I don’t like mixed drinks but have had The Balvenie make me a drink that was delicious so if he could work out something with a Balvenie I’d give it a go. It was delicious! Tasted like dessert and I had a couple. Michelle had something with Gin and cucumbers, she said it was good but not as tasty as mine. So, two drinks, ready to hop!

I’m at a loss at what we were going to go to but she brought up a dive bar that she likes to go to. She wasn’t sure if I wanted to go but when she told me it was the real Coyote Ugly that inspired the movie, the real name is Hogs and Heifers, I was in! I love dive bars and surprisingly on a Wednesday night, plenty of NYC dwellers do also. The place was expectantly in overdrive with wall to wall people and shirtless bartenders who loved screaming through amplified megaphones. We had a ball! If you can’t have fun in a dive bar, you can’t have fun! Its at Washington Street and West 13th Street.

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After that we went to 675 bar. All I can remember is that is underground. Like the basement of Batman’s cave, dark, funky, I can’t remember too much……

The next night we kicked it off with two of her friends and headed to a Mexican bar, Tortilla Flats for margaritas and some food. This was a great neighborhood type bar that reminds you of college. It’s off Washington Street in the same area but at the corner of 12th (not little 12th, that is where the Biergarten is).

From there we went on a walk, somewhere in the West Village but I could not tell you where. We popped in and out of some cool places and ended up at a place called Whitehall (which is new). We had some good drinks there and by then I was wanting anything BUT a mixed drink. We had been talking about wine so I said we should find a good wine bar. We found a place called Vin Sur Vingt, this place is awesome! Not only did the waitress, who I assumed was French, help us through the wine list she genuinely wanted to help us find something we would enjoy and kept us from haphazardly ordering. I also was hungry, and it was about 1 am or so, I do not think we had actually ate a meal so I ordered some meat and cheese appetizers and a sandwich. The food was awesome, the wine was awesome, I did not eat all the food but had a few glasses. This was probably the best find of the whole two night “bar hop” and I will plan to go there again on my return. If foursquare is accurate it is at 201 West 11th Street 7th Avenue.

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So, if you find yourself in NYC but with no friends who know the city, feel free to jump in on these places, you will be entertained and most likely find something you want to drink.

Cheers!

Some Drams at Jack Rose Dining Saloon

Recently I met up with a couple of Whiskey enthusiasts at Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington D.C. and as usual, tried a few single malt scotch whisky’s that I haven’t had before. Before I forget, the food, as usual was awesome! I had the Duck Breast, awesome, and a delicious appetizer the Chef whipped up for me special, many thanks!!

So, the first dram was a Glen Garioch 21 year that was very reminiscent of the 12 year I have in my cabinet yet smoother and more refined. I thought the Garioch would go great with Duck and I proved this out to my liking. The most surprising aspect of this dram was that at 43% ABV it still had a nice little initial alcohol burn on the nosing. It of course went away as I kept my nose firmly implanted in it. A very nice fruity dram.

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Second up was the Prime Malt bottling I spied that turned out to be an aged Macallan which always interests me. As a rule, scotch that I can find almost anywhere on God’s green earth tends to not please me but The Macallan has yet to disappoint. This dram was no exception and the 30 years of aging proved in-line with other aged Macallan’s I have had. It’s just a hard offering  to beat, regardless of the bottler!

imageAt the urging of the bartender I tried his favorite single malt, which is saying A LOT, when you are at Jack Rose! So the Rosebank is famous and unfortunately rare since the distillery was closed in 1993. Chieftain’s offering from them was a 20-year-old (aged) and I can’t say it is my favorite dram at JR’s but it offers a very interesting experience. The flavors impact you first at the tip of the tongue and on the finish the flavors rush to the rear of your palate. Quite different, and I have experienced this before but it is not typical in my experience. I quite enjoyed it and it was probably the best dram of the three that night.

So if you are reading this and find yourself in the Washington D.C. area, you also can find these fine drams (though drams like this are limited!) so get down there and imbibe!

Cheers!

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P.S.! If you were not aware, Jack Rose has a VERY nice humidor from Draper’s cigars and it is filled with Premium Cigars! All for $10! And between you and me, some are worth a LOT more than that! Smoking is allowed upstairs.

New Section Added to theScotchlife.com! Events!

I have added a new section or page to theScotchlife blog. Notice the tab up top labeled Cigar and Whisky events. I will be adding the events that I intend on going to as well as ones I learn about that I think you would enjoy. The events will be primarily events held in the USA for now. Also, most of the local events will be located in Washington DC/Virginia area as that is where I live.

If you have any events please let me know. There is such a large community of Cigar and Whisky lovers and it would be a shame to not know of great events happening in your own backyard!

Please notice the 2012 Nth event. This is upcoming in March in Las Vegas, NV and is the single greatest scotch tasting event in the States available, not to mention it’s in our favorite city! The same organizers of this are having several city events and you will be able to taste scotch that is ONLY available through these events!

Also, make sure you are subscribed to my twitter feed which will also alert you to things going on. @theScotchlife

Cheers!

The Balvenie Roadshow tasting in DC at Poste

As October ushered itself into Washington D.C. so did the fall-esque weather complete with 50f temperatures and cool rain. It was only fitting to have a Scotch tasting that was originally planned for outdoors at the Poste restaurant in the heart of the city. After arriving soon enough to see the Morgan off-loaded from the truck and driven through the portal which takes you to Poste, I was in no way deterred by the mist and was genuinely happy to see this fine hand-made car take its place in the outdoor dining area that it would have to ultimately spend alone.

Though the weather was gloomy the crowd and especially the host of the evening Andrew Weir was not. Andrew has one of the best jobs in the world (excluding constant travel) and that is to be the Balvenie Ambassador for the Eastern Coast of the U.S. Unlike some reps that I have met in the whisky or cigar industry Andrew is genuinely welcoming and eager to share his knowledge of his product. I also appreciate Andrews’ unwillingness to talk bad about any competing product (which I’ve heard numerous times) and his attitude towards “you enjoy scotch how you like it, because you paid for it!”

Due to the rain the tasting was moved inside to what equates to a bar/entry to the restaurant. The noise from the main dining area was an incredibly unwelcome obstacle for any speaker but everyone there tolerated it and though Andrew merely fakes a Scottish accent we could at least understand some of what he said. Just kidding Andrew. The drams that were to be had were Balvenie’s current offerings of Doublewood 12 year, Single Barrel 15 year, and Portwood 21 year. They are three very different offerings but all very Balvenie. The Doublewood is the perfect scotch to start drinking when you are just starting your journey into scotch. I believe Andrew called it the “gateway” scotch into Balvenie. I would call it the gateway into seriously good scotch! Reportedly this is one of David Stewart’s favorite products which says a lot for a Master of 50 years. The Doublewood has spent most of its life in an American Bourbon barrel and finished up in an European Sherry cask. It is a delightful dram and one I would consider a “go-to” scotch.

The Single Cask 15 is a very different taste because it does carry the kick of a single cask. The ethanol alcohol level is a bit higher and if you like that you will like this offering. I really prefer this to the Doublewood because I do enjoy the kick. It is also different from Doublewood because it only matures in American Oak. No Sherry. So you are going to get more vanilla upfront whereas it is a bit hidden by the Sherry Oak in the Doublewood.

The Portwood 21 is good. Period. It has won several awards and in my mind is a first-rate contender with anything on the market in the premium category. It has spent time in rare Port casks that impart a deliciousness that comes across as honeyed raisins. This is the scotch you have with the Duck and Creme Brûlée. It is a bit pricey but you should experience this scotch, it can be found by the dram in your better bars.

The evening went well despite the din of the restaurant and aside from the whisky nerds (myself and one other gentleman) I believe some whisky novices were very pleased to have discovered this tasting.

As an aside, the appetizers from Poste were extremely well prepared and after the tasting I did enjoy a grass-fed cheeseburger that was actually cooked the way I ordered it, medium. It was delightful! I have found that if a nice restaurant can produce a great burger then you can be assured their other offerings are great as well. If you were wondering if you should try this restaurant out I would encourage you to do so. They also have a great selection and variety in scotch.

The evening was great and as Andrew was leaving he slipped me a gift. It really took me by surprise and was totally unexpected. Let’s just say it has something to do with a future offering and I will be tasting it this week. I have also embedded the video from Balvenie about the roadshow, it’s a great video and I hope you enjoy it, preferably with a Balvenie!

Cheers!

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Jack Rose Dining Saloon visit

You’ve heard it all before, “this is the best bar ever!” Well, I kept hearing hype from friends via Facebook that there was an incredible new bar opening in Washington DC. The funny thing is that they live in Chicago. Now if this was two old drinking buddies or acquaintances from a miserable trade show I would have discounted it but they are not that. They are well-known scotch aficionados and their words were well counted.

I came to Jack Rose on a mission of sorts, to find out if this place “lived up to the hype.” I picked a Friday afternoon to venture down Connecticut Avenue and hit a liquor store that had the last remaining (and only) bottle of 21 year Fine Oak Macallan. This was already a good start, if you can call dropping $200 on a bottle of scotch bliss. So Jack Rose had to deliver.

When you walk into the aged structure it just feels like a place you belong. Unpretentious yet structured and cleanly laid out. And then it happens, your eye gaze is taken up into a dizzying array of over 1000 bottles of whiskey. What was most complexing and almost unbelievable was the true amount of scotch. No, not airplane scotch or scotch you had at the bar last night. Rare scotch, unknown scotch and if you are a connoisseur of the single malt a smile fights its way up to erase the thought that you have walked into “another bar” that will disappoint. And yes, there is a heaping variety of Bourbon also and very fine select micro-brews on tap. Truth is, this place is growing daily in spirits. I believe they have surpassed the 1400 bottle mark.

I was quickly helped at the bar by polite and polished servers. I walked up and down the walls two, three times before I settled on a 17 year Bowmore. It was incredibly good. Fact is, I have found a bar that I could go to constantly and always get something new to drink. How many places are there like that? I’ve never seen one.

The food menu is well done also. I ended up there for quite a while talking with the owner and other scotch enthusiasts and ordered pretty much the whole “starter” menu. It was all outstanding.

If the downstairs isn’t enough, there is a wonderful upper level that has another bar and a grill that will serve you freshly cooked bar foods while you watch and mingle. This level also is going to sport a cigar humidor and because it is open air even the DC government will allow it. My conversation with the owner Bill Thomas was long and entertaining. Bill showed me the place and the “private” bar that will be used for those who want some privacy to drink their favorite drams while the rest of the place is caught up in the din of a busy night of revelry. Bill was kind enough to share several rare drams with me and a few others and we spent a substantial amount of time with his good friend Harvey Fry who is nothing less than a sage of scotch. I do think this man has forgotten more, if that is possible, about scotch that I will probably ever know.

So really, for me, it’s hard to get excited about a bar anymore. Jack Rose has changed that, permanently. I have to say, this is the best bar ever! And you will find me there on occasion, you can count on it.

Jack Rose Dining Saloon
2007 18th Street Northwest, Washington D.C., District of Columbia 20009 (202) 588-7388 ‎

 

Here are a few of the whisky’s I had.

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