By Wini Moranville
I’ve often said that I never understood Riesling until I went to Alsace. In that same vein, I never understood whiskey until my recent trip to Tennessee and Kentucky.
What I learned first and foremost, sipping an Old-Fashioned in the plush, historic lobby of the Brown Hotel in Louisville, was that I’d been drinking whiskey the wrong way: either as a quick “bump” with college friends (when the 3.2 beer wasn’t doing anything for us), or mixed with other things—7-Up, soda or really bad sour mix straight from the soda-gun nozzle. No wonder I never saw its appeal.
But when I savored it in a sipping kind of cocktail, I reveled in the depth, richness and spark of fiery brightness it brought to the drink. I became so taken by the spirit that I enjoyed one classic rye or bourbon cocktail every night of the trip.
Imagine, then, how thrilled I was to find that three classic whiskey cocktails are being handcrafted locally:
• The Scofflaw at Baru 66: While this drink originated in Paris, it calls on good-old American rye, along with dry vermouth, lemon juice, grenadine, Luxardo cherries and orange bitters. (P.S.: Of all the whiskey cocktails I tried while traveling, this was my favorite—there’s something about whiskey, citrus and cherries that’s pretty amazing.) (6587 University Ave., Windsor Heights; 515-277-6627; baru66.com)
• Old-Fashioned at Bubba: Back when I was a cocktail waitress, this classic was always watered down with soda and made murky with a muddled orange slice. The bracing, glinting beauty I tasted at Louisville’s Brown Hotel was muddle- and soda-free—just bourbon, orange peel, simple syrup, bitters and a Luxardo cherry. Bubba makes theirs exactly the same way (no muddling involved!), though without the cherry. (200 10th St.; 515-257-4744; bubbadsm.com)
• The Sazerac at RōCA: Said to be created by a Frenchman in 1930s New Orleans, this storied New Orleans cocktail originally called for Cognac, absinthe and bitters. Soon after, rye or bourbon became the base spirit of choice. RōCA uses Bulleit Rye, which has emerged as a personal favorite. (208 Court Ave., 515-282-3663;rocadsm.com)
Wini Moranville writes about food, wine and dining for dsm magazine and dsmWeekly. Follow her on Facebook at All Things Food–DSM.