New York City, NY

New York City's Whiskey Tasting Spot

Michael Loren

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I joined a group of friends for an evening of whiskey tasting at a fantastic New York restaurant called Fine & Rare. Now, I lived in Kentucky for a spell, so I know a little about bourbon, but my knowledge is fairly limited on the subject of whiskey on the whole, so I was glad to be sitting across from my friend, Paul, who knew enough to serve as the entire table’s veritable brown booze aficionado.

Prior to my arrival, I made it clear to Paul that I don’t go all the way out to the east side for just anything, so this restaurant had better be well worth my while. And interesting enough to write an article about. Well, it absolutely was. Here’s the skinny.

My first impression of the restaurant was that it was warm and reminded me of days past. The décor was nostalgic, but homey, with the towering wall of alcohol behind the bar as the main focus. Before we sat at our table, we sidled up to the imposing bar and chatted up Jeff, the bartender (who, incidentally, looked like he should be working in the information section of Barnes and Noble).

Jeff told us that the collection of whiskey displayed behind the bar was his passion. I looked at the wall of brown bottles. The wall was literally lined with whiskey. And the amazing thing is that not one bottle was duplicated. There bottles with names I’d never even heard of or seen before. And some I couldn’t even read.

It was an impressive collection of whiskey. I had no idea how to choose one. Luckily, Paul helped me pick. Fine & Rare serves spirits that are carefully curated and . . . fine and rare (duh). They have a few interesting mixed drinks and a fairly impressive wine list, but drinking from the collection on the wall is strongly encouraged. And ice is strongly discouraged.

I looked at the menu and realized why. The choices of whiskey were diverse and super valuable. Yeah. If you’re paying $100 for one ounce of 75 year old whiskey, don’t add a chunk of ice. Just saying.

For those of you that are wondering how much variation there can be in one kind of alcohol, let me give you a little info on the art of the brown liquor. If I’m insulting your intelligence, skip to the next paragraph. Whiskey is distilled from fermented grain mash; the grains are usually either barley, rye, wheat, or corn. Most whiskey is then aged in wooden barrels or casks and actually gets more than half of its flavor from the type of cask that’s used to age it (and the color). Some corn whiskeys are not aged and are, thus, clear). Scotch whiskey is from (obviously) Scotland and Bourbon is made in Kentucky.

I started with Paul’s recommendation – a little High West whiskey that was created from two exotic straight rye whiskies: a 6-year-old 95% rye and a 16-year-old 80% rye. It was interestingly earthy tasting. Then, I bravely looked at the wall.

“What’s that pretty yellow one”, I asked Jeff, exposing my lack of whiskey tasting prowess. He seemed not to be bothered by my ignorance. “American Honey”, he answered, “it’s a blend of Wild Turkey bourbon and real honey“. I tried an ounce. It was literally like drinking a glass of liquid alcoholic honey. Yum!

I had a Woodford Reserve bourbon that was aged (Jeff said for at least a year) in a barrel that had just been emptied of Sonoma Cutrer. You could literally taste the white wine at the front of it and the whiskey at the back. Then, I tried a 6 year Suntory Japanese whiskey (anybody seen Lost in Translation?).

The star of the evening was a Charbay hop flavored whiskey. It was, honestly, the most favorably complex-tasting thing I had ever put in my mouth. My friend and I both ordered it and tasted different things after sipping it. “Do you get the mint at the end?” “Ooh! I get vanilla.”

I have written a lot about the whiskey, but a quick note about the food: it was equally as fabulous. My friend and I had the seared scallops with sweet corn spoonbread that would make a southern woman swoon. This was definitely a place I would come back to. Even if it was all the way on the east side.

The great thing about Fine & Rare is that you don’t have to know much to enjoy the different things it has to offer. The staff is friendly, patient, and knowledgeable, and I’ve got to say that it’s always fun to try and learn about new things. I guess that’s what this whole article is about. Hmm . . . wow, full circle. Love it.

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Professional writer and journalist with concentration in data analysis. I specialize in interpreting data to give you unbiased, understandable information related to the state of California.

Los Angeles, CA
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