Whiskey is whiskey
Reflections and recommendations
“Sleep late, have fun, get wild, drink whiskey, and drive fast on empty streets with nothing in mind but falling in love and not getting arrested.”
—Hunter S. Thompson
Pop! The sound is usually accompanied by the squeak of a cork twisted from the glass neck of a bottle. It’s a sound ordinarily heard at a celebration, even if that’s only surviving the day. But this time, the sound came not from a delicious bottle of hedonism, no, it came from my engine eating itself during harvest, right before the biggest sales trip of the year.
After limping my car to the home of my closest relative, my mother, I sat sulking in my childhood dining room. In true Western New York fashion, I was within an arm’s reach of a stocked bar. My mom isn’t a cocktail person, per se, but she always has whiskey and fruit, so an Old Fashioned is a trusty standby. As I reach for that faithful UAW-hall-sized bottle of Seagrams, my mom shouted from the other room “There’s better whiskey in the bar!” I paused in wonder: “Do I deserve good whiskey?” The finer flavors have been lost on me these last few hungry years, but I’m not one to turn down earthly pleasures. Deciding to rummage through the bar wasn’t hard. Joy quickly devolved into mere appreciation, as I saw the familiar red screw cap poking its Irish neck out of the thin brown paper bag. But, by my third cocktail, my internal dialogue shifted from pretentiousness to self-awareness. How did a Niagara kid become so bougie? Too good for old standards? There is a time and place for slumming, but it’s not wrong to want for better things.
We live in a privileged era for food and drink in Western New York. We have gems like Marble + Rye and Lucky Day with whiskey lists pushing the page count of a novella, and meticulously curated lists knocking out the heat at Billy Club and Toutant. Cheap whiskey has taken an ironic back seat these days. What do Buffalo’s best whiskey heads get jazzed about drinking? What whiskey would they go for after grenading their car?
“Some things on our list at Lucky Day (which as you know is ever changing and f*cking huge): I’ll start with an Irish, Teeling small batch, aged in ex-rum barrels from a craft distillery in Dublin. Exactly what Irish whiskey should be. Four Roses small batch select came out earlier this year, I think it has a really unique flavor profile from the rest of the Four Roses line. I have really enjoyed their Starward Nova from Australia, a single malt aged in red wine barrels.”
“Right now, I’ve really been enjoying Johnny Drum in an Old Fashioned. As the weather starts to get cooler, I think it’s one of the best whiskeys to drink in that cocktail.”
“Well, I got a bottle of the Wild Turkey Master’s Keep: Cornerstone Rye in recently and it really impressed me. I had been let down a bit by the Revival edition that was an earlier Master’s Keep release. I’ll always go back to the Masterson’s ten-year rye, as well, which is pretty easy to come by for someone not looking to drop a lot of money. On a little different note, I’ve been into the Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey, which is a scotch-style whiskey made by Sante Fe Spirits. The Brenne Single Malt stuff is pretty wild; a French whiskey aged in cognac barrels. It’s really floral and totally unlike anything I’ve ever had before.”
“When you think of Ballyhoo, most people associate it with awesome sausages, mac and cheese, and jam session cocktails. Surprisingly, we have a neat (pun intended) whiskey selection that ranges from Whistle Pig to the Pappy’s. I’m more inclined to drink Japanese Whiskey. I’m really enjoying Nikka Coffey Whiskey for its vanilla and caramel notes that almost resemble eating dark chocolate with a citrus zest finish. Sip it on the rocks or mix it with freshly made ginger beer.”
“Toutant has a number of great whiskeys, but maybe my favorite, and the most interesting, is our selection of Four Roses private selections. Single barrel, single recipe picks of different ages. It’s really neat to see the difference between the mashbill and yeast strain combinations of Four Roses. You’d think they weren’t even the same brand. Some creamy and vanilla forward, some spicy and aromatic, some real floral with a minty finish, all naturally occurring in a combo of their two mashbills and five yeast strains, marked on the side of the bottle.”