The first Saturday in May may be all about big hats and horses, but the third Saturday in May gives us yet another reason to celebrate Kentucky: World Whiskey Day. It’s said that the spirit made its way to Louisiana from the heartland and got it rich color and flavors as it aged in barrels along the journey. Today, the tipple’s ripple is felt all over the world — most recently in exclusive Japanese blends — and there are flavors and flights of fancy for everyone from the novice drinker to the expert. Here’s where to get your 1- or 2-ounce pours, specialty cocktail, or an eye-popping $50 pop to toast this dram fine day.
GreenRiver, Chicago, Illinois
GreenRiver’s name and extensive Irish whiskey list may celebrate Chicago’s connection to the Emerald Isle, but head bartender Julia Momose is putting a unique spin on it by mixing flavors that are an homage to her Japanese heritage. Growing up in Kobe, she was inspired by both her mother’s passion for hospitality and an adventure through the city’s winding streets that led to a small bar, where the magician behind the counter was hand-chipping spheres of ice for cocktails. Today, the Ivy League design grad makes cocktails her own art, especially using Japanese whiskey. Two of her favorites are the Gray Wolf, her take on the Old-Fashioned, in which 12-year single malt Yamazaki replaces the traditional bourbon and is paired with Benedictine, Demerara, Plum Vinegar, and Angostura Bitters, and the Cullerton Street, with Nikka Coffey Grain Japanese Whisky, Pineau des Charentes, Curry, Barley, Verjus Blanc, and Fukujinzuke. Make a reservation at GreenRiver.
Tremont 647, Boston, Massachusetts
Bostonians cooking for a little comfort food in the tony South End have looked no further than chef-owner Andy Husbands’s approachable cooking at Tremont 647 for years, but neighboring Cambridge is about to share in the wealth with his brand-new BBQ joint, Smoke Shop. Whiskey is just one of the ways he’s seen what used to be considered “jug-swilling stuff turned into this object of desire, with maple, caramel, oak, cherry, and vanilla flavors,” Husbands said of Tremont 647’s extensive bar menu. “When we think about refinement, we think about wine, but we’re seeing it so much with craft now — beer, craft (whiskey) bourbon, and now barbecue. People are really fascinated by how things are made local or small-batch.” That includes Bully Boy, a subtly sweet Boston brand that many diners have been asking for. Husbands turns the tables with his new venture and the James Beard semifinalist is putting an upscale spin on an American staple with seasonal specials like beer-poached shrimp and award-winning recipes for ribs and brisket. Make a reservation at Tremont 647.
Capo’s Chicago Pizza & Fine Italian Dinners, San Francisco, California
The whiskey menu may be global at Capo’s, but it’s strictly the California mindset that puts it on the map. “We have a large community of adventurous drinkers here, and they’re craving something more than your average Jack and Coke,” says bar manager Elmer Mejicanos. With more than 100 varieties, there’s plenty to choose from: local Anchor Distilling Company’s 25-year-old Old Hirsch Rye, Chicago-based Koval White, and Nikka Single-Malt Yoichi from Japan. New offerings are helping draw new imbibers, Mejicanos says, but there will always be a core legion of fans. “Whiskey is part of U.S. history. It’s one of the spirits that, regardless of the new trends, it has always been around. In the last five years, craft cocktails bars have started focusing on getting cocktails back to what they used to be in the thirties and forties, so it’s a no-brainer that whiskey is be one of the main spirits people focus on.” Got an Old-Fashioned state of mind? Capo’s lets you select your own spirits, bitters, garnishes, and sweeteners. Or, try a whiskey flight or interpretations of classic cocktails like Fools Gold, made with Templeton Rye whiskey, green chartreuse, fresh lemon, artisan root beer, and absinthe, or the Friendly Fire with bourbon, pineapple gum syrup, celery seeds, agave nectar, fresh lemon, and dry curacao. Make a reservation at Capo’s Chicago Pizza & Fine Italian Dinners.
Jimmy’s An American Restaurant & Bar, Aspen, Colorado
There’s nothing like a little whiskey to warm up ski bunnies or take a nip out of the mountain air on a summer’s night, and Jimmy’s (and Jimmy’s Bodega) have spirits for all seasons. Among the most popular is Woody Creek Distillers’ Rye Whiskey, which is made from local Colorado rye and aged in American white oak barrels and is popular in the Goldenrye, mixed from La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry, Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur, and lemon. Or, order the Jimmy Mac, a high-end mix of Scotch and Irish whiskeys, like 18-year-old Glenfiddich and 15-year-old Tullamore, with Averna Amaro, Benedictine liqueur, and orange bitters. Owner and spirit aficionado Jimmy Yeager is so passionate about whiskey (his “first love”) that he recently took his entire bar staff on one of several field trips to get first-hand tastes and tours in Ireland and Scotland at Hendricks, Kininvie, Balvenie, and other distillers. Yeager also enjoys making his own ice cubes with two-inch-square crystalline cubes or spheres. “Personally, I like serving whiskey over a Macallan ice ball — it creates a nice ‘wow’ factor, and it’s also elegant,” Yeager says. Looking for an excuse to book an Aspen getaway? Whiskey may be your answer since Jimmy’s has a few bottles of one-of-a-kind Four Roses Bourbon, courtesy of Kentucky distiller Jim Rutledge, who helped to create the recipes and hand-pick the barrels. Make a reservation at Jimmy’s.