Current Trends In American Whiskey At Bars And Restaurants

Old Fashioneds Rule

The Old Fashioned—whether rye or bourbon based—continues to outpace other classic whiskey libations. At Reserve 101, for instance, Raymond says that it’s far and away the most popular cocktail. The bar’s Old Fashioned ($9) mixes Knob Creek bourbon or rye whiskey with orange, cherry, simple syrup and bitters. Reserve 101 sells 10 times more Old Fashioneds than any other drink on its list.

The Old Fashioned gets the same love at Seven Grand. “Since we first opened in 2007, it has been the core of our program, and a cocktail that we are very proud to be known for,” says Abrahamson. “Between both venues we are currently selling over 125,000 annually.”

Seven Grand’s regular version ($11) stirs Maker’s Mark bourbon with Angostura bitters and demerara sugar, served on the rocks with an orange and lemon twist. An elevated Old Fashioned menu of seven additional options ($13-$25) with choices like Forged Oak 15 Year bourbon, Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit and Woodford Reserve Double Oaked bourbon.

American Whiskey Pairings

With all those enticing aromas and flavors gleaned from barrel aging, from vanilla and caramel to black pepper and baking spices, what’s the best strategy for pairing American whiskey with food? Taylor suggests looking for similar volatile components in each.

“I really enjoy a Sazerac with Dan Dan Noodles, which both contain a large amount of anethole, the main volatile compound in anise,” he says.

Likewise, bourbons such as Noah’s Mill or Smooth Ambler’s Contradiction, which are a blend of rye and wheat, have a spicy undertone that works with red-wine-sauce based dishes. Since both are aged in oak, they also have high levels of eugenol, the same compound that gives cloves their distinct flavor, Taylor says.

Raymond of Reserve 101 keeps things a little more straightforward. He pairs American whiskey with sweet and savory foods such as chocolate, cured meats, bacon and barbecue.

And sometimes, less is more. Says Abrahamson of 213 Hospitality Single Spirit Bar Group: “Whiskey stimulates me so much, it needs no pairing—a glass is enough.”

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American whiskey drinkers can be placed into two camps, according to Mike Raymond, cofounder/co-owner of Reserve 101 in Houston, TX: whiskey purists who want older, cask strength and served neat, and craft cocktail geeks looking for bottled-in-bond bourbons or ryes along with vintage expressions.

Happy Campers

Beyond the expected drinks, operators say that cocktail promotions and limited-edition or seasonal menus can attract both whiskey aficionados and those whose palates are intrigued by something a little bit different.

Southern Efficiency’s “Camp Iwannawhiskey” is themed around a fictional adult whiskey camp, and includes nine whiskey cocktails, each priced at $12. The Wet Hot American Sazerac stirs Rittenhouse Rye whiskey with Pineau des Charente, Plantation dark rum, pineapple gomme syup, Peychaud’s bitters and absinthe; Parents Weekend (pictured atop) has Belle Meade Sour Mash Bourbon, Strega, Don Ciccio & Figli Concerto, lemon, cane sugar and egg white.

With so many American whiskeys on the market, it’s a good time to branch out from your comfort zone. Village Whiskey’s Gabr advises to “pick out a reasonably priced bottle or a brand you’ve never heard of before; chances are you will like it.”

He also suggests purchasing some bitters (whether aromatic, orange, mole or another flavor) and experimenting by mixing them with an American bourbon or rye, and some freshly squeezed fruit juice. This Sour/Old Fashioned mash-up can be a great litmus test for a whiskey.

Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area.

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