Dram It! 8 Restaurants for World Whiskey Day

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.

Restaurants for World Whiskey Day

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.

Restaurants for World Whiskey Day

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.

Restaurants for World Whiskey Day

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.

Restaurants for World Whiskey Day

Bourbon House, New Orleans, Louisiana
Call it the most fun homework you’ll ever have — Bourbon House’s study hall, craft cocktail lessons, and whiskey tastings are all part of the 3,500-member New Orleans Bourbon Society, dedicated to the appreciation of what they call “America’s Spirit.” Of course, like any school, there’s a bit of a history lesson in there, too: Louisiana’s connection to Kentucky, as the liquor metamorphosed as it was shipped down the Mississippi River on a five-month journey. This barreling led to an aging process that inspires varieties such as Jim Beam and Jack Daniel’s, to Woodford Reserve, Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey, Maker’s Mark, and Bulleit, whose master distillers have hosted dinners at Bourbon House with such menu hits as bourbon BBQ shrimp. Seasonal drink standouts include Strawberry Fields, with Basil Hayden’s bourbon, homemade strawberry jam, and ginger beer. The House’s bourbon milk punch — featuring milk, ice cream, and Old Forester bourbon — has been crowned one of New Orleans’ best. Make a reservation at Bourbon House.

Restaurants for World Whiskey Day

Miro, Los Angeles, California
Unicorns do exist — at least if you visit Miro, where the Whiskey Room’s “bible” boasts 400 bottles, including some of the rarest Japanese varietals, as they are whimsically referred to in the 100-page tome. The book features tasting notes and details on some of the world’s most admired producers in Taiwan, Europe, India, Australia, and the States, and Miro has a locker service for those who want to store a bottle and sip and savor in the intimate space of Don Draper’s dreams: seats for just 16-20 with exposed brick walls and overstuffed leather chairs. It’s not just what’s in the glass here, though, that makes the difference, it’s the glass; crystal is de rigueur, and hand-cut ice is available for those who prefer to be served on the rocks. Pours vary from 1 to 2 ounces for a true flight of fancy. Make a reservation at Miro.

Restaurants for World Whiskey Day

Maysville, New York, New York
While New York may be considered the epicenter of the country’s cultural melting pot, the whiskey list at this Flatiron bar is all-American. Featuring 150-200 domestic labels, Maysville’s menu of grilled, charred, and smoked items pair well with bourbons; even the name is an ode to the Kentucky town where whiskey was first shipped out of state on its way to what became known as Bourbon Street. Beverage manager Kevin Brodeur says he’s passionate about the breadth of the spirit. “Tequila and gin and rum have their places in popularity, but (like wine) whiskey has this whole range of complexity … there are so many different flavor profiles with aging and styles and ingredients,” he said. While the 1- and 2-ounce pours are popular for sampling, the straight-up customer favorite is the Old Fashioned. “It’s THE whiskey cocktail,” says Brodeur. “It can be entry-level, it’s sweet, sugary, easy to drink and fun to watch being made at the bar. Everybody makes it slightly differently, and it’s a true classic — people latch onto that.” Maysville has also seen increased interest in clear, un-aged whiskey known as white dog varieties, some of which sippers can learn about at occasional Whiskey 101 classes. Make a reservation at Maysville.

Restaurants for World Whiskey Day

La Dolce Vita, Beverly Hills, California
Each cocktail on the menu at La Dolce Vita is presented with a story that would make a Hollywood scriptwriter proud, including the spring addition of a White Manhattan. Made with Koval White whiskey and Carpano Bianco vermouth infused in-house with lavender and cherry bark bitters, its cinnamon-tinged flavor is both subtle and sexy—right in line with La Dolce Vita’s original co-owner Frank Sinatra. Another seasonal special gives a nod to the crooner with an Old Fashioned made with Jack Daniel’s rare Sinatra Select at $50 by request only. The Sinatra barrels’ deep grooves are credited with giving the whiskey a richer color, character and smokiness, due to added exposure to oak. For another exclusive but slightly more affordable tipple, La Dolce Vita has teamed up with Westland Distillery to get a couple of only 200 bottles of the brand’s rare capsule collaboration with contemporary artist Michael Kalish. Make a reservation at La Dolce Vita.

Restaurants for World Whiskey Day

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Carley Thornell is a travel writer whose experiences eating street food in Japan, English peas in the UK, free-range steak in Argentina, and Brussels sprouts at Estragon tapas in her hometown of Boston have provided unforgettable culinary inspiration. Shout out at carleythornell@gmail.com.