I sat down and did this almost exactly a year ago and it’s time again for the annual arrival of a privately selected Elijah Craig Barrel. This one, like all of them, is special because it is a 100% unique bottling but it’s also the culmination of an insane year.
Elijah Craig is the whiskey I’ve probably written about the most so I’ll skip the folklore and brand history, you can read about those here. Instead I want to get personal and talk about the time since the last barrel rolled into my hands.
I started buying single barrels of whiskey years ago. Elijah Craig was the first barrel I bought and it lit a fever in me. It was pretty easy to track where I had been working using this as a metric. As time went on as the list of “House Single Barrels” would balloon seemingly overnight. Last year was full of first for me. This year has been about constant change.
When the last barrel of Elijah Craig showed up to Faith & Flower I already new that in a few months I would be leaving it behind and traveling blocks away to the corner of 7th and Olive as one of the opening bar managers for NoMad Los Angeles. What I didn’t know was what that really meant.
I knew that I was joining a well-established,well-regarded, restaurant and bar team. I knew Leo Robitschek mostly by reputation and I knew the program; Pietro Collina, Nathan O’Neil and the rest of the team in NYC had built one of the most impressive bar programs not just in the country but the world. I knew it was going to be a lot of pressure and an immeasurable amount of work. What I didn’t know was how I fit into the equation.
My partner-in-bar Dave Purcell had already been a part of the team for months before I was brought on and given my crash course in everything NoMad. Three weeks after I started training I had pivoted learning to teaching. We were now training a barstaff that was 55 people large on an opening cocktail menu that was nearly 60+ drinks (not counting house specs on classic drinks) spread across four bars and not enough back bar space.
Every single member of that opening team was a goddamn rockstar and every member of our team, nearly a year later, is a member of that opening squad. It speaks to their professionalism and skill that they have risen above and beyond as the restaurant has constantly changed around them. Constant Reinvention is one of our guiding principles after all.
Our Head Bartenders, who moved across the country from to be a part of this project, are some of the hardest working, most dedicated hospitality professionals I have ever met and I couldn’t imagine a better crew to get this beast off the ground with.
But even after opening I still didn’t know where I fit in. I wasn’t behind the bar and the Head Bartenders embodied the program and the culture so much more deeply than I felt that I did. They had simply been living with it for longer then I had. As far as I could tell I was here to herd a pack of wild bartenders and to help make the NoMad more LA. The first inkling of what that might actually mean happened when the team at Heaven Hill approached me about buying another barrel this year.
I immediately leapt at the idea and pitched it to Dave and Leo. After some debate, and extended tasting sessions, we settled on this bottle that now sits before me. An Eight Year Old Elijah Craig Single Barrel aged on the 6th Floor of Rickhouse “S” outside the Heaven Hill bottling plant in Bardstown, KY.
It has a heavy caramel nose and an upfront sweetness yet also a delightful earthiness and tannic finish that allows it to be sipped on it’s own but also to be built into cocktails which are surely the lifeblood of any NoMad bar.
Elijah Craig has been an integral part of the history of NoMad. The only drink to have never left the menu at NoMad is the Start Me Up, a Whiskey Sour variation with ginger, honey, Strega, rum and of course Elijah Craig. Using this barrel really drives home those whiskey notes in this drink. Here was something that I could contribute to the NoMad lexicon that was still wholly the NoMad and also intrinsically me.
This year also had it’s fair amount of travel, back to Pennsylvania for my Grandmother’s 90th birthday, a trip to the Cook Island’s (look it up it’s a real place) and a chance to return to France with my always more intelligent than me girlfriend.
There were less competitions, opening four bars in less than three months eats up a lot of free time, but I now have a rotovap as part of my tool set and know more about working with sherry than I could have ever imagined. As I sit here sipping this whiskey I am incredibly proud to see the NoMad symbol on its label.
Last year I declared I hate change and this year I find myself wondering if the new norm is constant change. I don’t have an answer to the question but I do look forward to what next year’s barrel of Elijah Craig brings.