Today I’m either turning 33 or 37, depending on whether you believe my birth certificate or my girlfriend’s mathematical skills.
I’ve been in the service industry since I was 16, been bartending since I was 20, and have been a “craft bartender” and bar manager since I was 25. In a lot of ways my experience behind the bar has shaped me as a person, helped define my personality, and at times threatened to completely consume my life. And it all happened by accident.
While I was out manning an NBC desk the bar world had changed. The Cocktail Revolution was well underway.
It’s easy to look back on that stretch of years and see it as an inevitable progression but it never felt that way. I started waiting tables as a way to make easy cash in high school. From the moment I started taking drink orders I knew I’d rather be taking those orders from behind the bar and making the drinks; bartenders were just inherently cooler. I completely blame early viewing of Roadhouse and Cocktail for this gross misconception, but even when I started doing my best Tom Cruise impression it wasn’t a career. I was just finding a way to pay my bills in college while I figured out what I was really going to do when I grew up.
Skip ahead a few years and my Brian Flannagan impression had been traded for a blend of Aaron Sorkin and Kenneth from 30 Rock. Needless to say that wasn’t a combination that seemed to be working out so when I found myself between jobs I decided to start bartending again until I found what came next. Turned out what came next was bartending.
While I was out manning an NBC desk the bar world had changed. The Cocktail Revolution was well underway and suddenly there was a wealth of information, spirits, techniques, and books that transformed slinging drinks from a job into a profession. Similarly, some health issues transformed my youthful sense of invulnerability into an inevitable sense of my own mortality.
This profession and vulnerability coalesced into the first major purchase of my soon to be overwhelming liquor collection: The Rittenhouse 25 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey.
I was still reeling from the debt that having a “Real Job” had bestowed but I was alive, financially stable and wanted a bottle of spirit that was older than I was so that I could raise a glass in celebration for hopefully years to come. I had no idea what I was doing when I walked into that BevMo, but thankfully my naiveté was matched by the fact that Pappy Mania hadn’t yet transformed the whiskey world into a wasteland of unattainable whales and unicorns. This perfect confluence meant that a bottle that now goes for north of $1000 had multiples sitting on the shelf at a Santa Monica BevMo for less than $150 each. It was such a crazy time that I turned down buying a bottle for the bar because it was “too expensive” and “would never sell.” I wish I had a time machine to go back and snap up a 6-pack.
As I begin my inevitable transformation into Doug Coughlin I’m going to sit with another dram.
The third release of a series, the 25 Year Old, was preceded by a 21 and 23 year old Single Barrel release. All three releases come from rye distilled in October of 1984, aged on the lowest floors of Rickhouse OO, and were all bottled as 100 proof, non-chill filtered single barrels.
NOSE: There’s a touch of spice but it’s mostly a candied walnut, dried fruits and a waft of cedar mixed with the oak.
PALETTE: On the tongue there is a deep nougat, a sense of brûléed fruit, and a massive bag of baking spices. It is surprisingly sweet for a rye but carries a sophistication and stateliness. This is one of those old whiskies that rather than tasting old and oaky, tastes mature and aged.
FINISH: The finish is long and warm. The spice finally finds it’s footing as the rest of the flavors evaporate and evolve.
This is quite simply one of the best bottles of rye I’ve ever had. And what’s amazing is that as my palette, experience, and collection has grown I return to this bottle for a simple pour every year and still feel the same way.
Though to be fair it’s not really about what’s in the glass. This is the prime example of my philosophy that whiskey is meant for drinking. The experiences the led to buying the bottle and the accumulation of everyday until the next pour adds to the poetry in the glass.
As I begin my inevitable transformation into Doug Coughlin I’m going to sit with another dram and share it with those that I can. I may have started this journey by accident but the feeling of growth and community is what’s kept me here.
That and the booze.
And the tips.
But mostly the booze.