Would an established restaurant consider extending their bar beyond the latest craze in cocktails? Now I do love-me some cocktails, but hard to find whisky pulled from the back end of a connoisseur/enthusiast’s collection. Bring it on, baby! Last night was a first for me and for a pop-up whisky bar in the Boston-Cambridge nightlife scene. The brainchild of my buddy Nate, a true whisky connoisseur; and heartily endorsed by restaurateurs Tse-Wei Lim and Diana Kudayarova. This pop-up night would take place at the Ames Street Deli, Improper Bostonian’s 2015 BEST for sandwiches. Although this was a run-through before the official launch sometime in August at Study in Kendall Square, Cambridge (MA not UK), the whiskies served were exquisite, rare, unusual and stimulating. The quietly advertised event drew in local whisky enthusiasts and bloggers – awesome meeting you @TheWhiskyBitch (Twitter handle)- , the right combination of hipsters and friends. The kinks were minor and most likely not observed by the imbibers leading me to know that the launch will be a real kick.
As the early evening was getting into motion a flight of Grand Ten Distilling South Boston Irish Whiskey, Glenfiddich 12 YO, and Nikka 12 YO Pure Malt was offered. Nate spent a few minutes on Whisky 101 and the vision of his Pop-Up Whisky Bar. Then as the group gathered closely around the modern ‘n sleek bar table the real excitement began…the specialty whisky list and bottles made their appearance. American, Canadian, Indian, Japanese, blend and single malts adorned the table. Could I, should I drink them all? Restraint won out, the logic being I wanted my palate to actually know what it was tasting and enjoying. Plus, oh yeah, there was an earlier stop to see my pal Joe at Federal Wine and Spirits, and a wee dram of Gordon & MacPhail’s Benromach 2003 Cask Strength at 58.2%. This one had a sweet start followed by a mellowing of flavors and for such a high alcohol content there was no burn nor alcohol on the nose. I give it a 3- out of a top of 4.
Knowing that NAS is the new mantra of Nikka, I ordered a glass of the Nikka 12 YO blend to start while I got settled in for the evening. There is some malt and cinnamon on the nose, a spicy palate and smooth finish, a 3, I think – yes there is a bit of wavering on this one.
The BEST sandwiches award led me to delve into a cheese plate followed by their signature foie gras sandwich. My senses are still dancing…that was some delectable sandwich. After touching and feeling all the bottles, taking pictures and being totally obnoxious about getting up close and personal with the selection, with bated breath I ordered my first glass: Ballantine’s 17 YO, 86 proof.
Ian Buxton has this whisky in his 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die book. Yet I do believe he is not talking about the treasure that was before me. This Ballantine’s was bottled between 1952 and mid-1960s. Never opened and kept in a cool, dark basement. Thank you Nate’s Grandpa. While the date was missing on the worn label, the bottle itself had the markings “Federal law forbids sale or re-use of this bottle”, a moniker that was removed by 1968. Look at the rich color in the decanter – why did they hide this in a green bottle?! The nose was a rich vanilla and the palate brought me back to playing in the dirt as a child – a good memory. Grandpa gets a 3+.
The Japanese Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu On The Way 2013 was intriguing. Ichiro Akuto, the grandson of the founder of Hanyu Distillery, is producing what may be the closest I ever get to a rare Hanyu whisky. I went all in. Hot chili peppers covered for the high, 58.5% alcohol on the mouth, somewhere there was a taste of Asian fruit, yet no burn on the finish. I went back to it several times. Do I insist on rating it a 4-?
Conversations loosened up as the pours continued, obviously. Across from me was Sam – a man of great knowledge of all that is cigars. Perfect. Whisky. Cigars. Must be a pairing to be organized. Yes, indeed. Stay tuned on this one! Wait, Sam, what are you tasting? I sensed the peat waifing across the table and perking up my Islay crush. Fautline Bowmore Palm Tree 1997, 60.1% alcohol. The Whisky Bitch said it best in full exclamation, “Peat on the mouth, then guava and passion fruit. Try this, nose it, then finish the glass.” I did, and yes, the peat was really upfront and center, but then bowed gracefully to the guava and passion fruit. A thrill to tipple. Indeed, a 3+.
My last choice was the Canadian Schenley O.F.C., an 8 YO, a blend bottled in 1965. I was amazed to see this bottle as I had discussed it in the blog I wrote a few weeks ago titled “Are Blenders People?” Had to try it, for sure. I wasn’t expecting much but found it light with a sweet and spicy delicacy rolling around my mouth before it gave way to no finish at all. It is not a strong 3-, but does not deserve a lesser score. Call me sentimental. Nate surprised the table just before the 8PM closing down of the Pop-Up with a St. Magdalene, a Lowland 32 YO which is one of the Lost Distilleries shuttered in 1983. My palate was compromised at this point and all I could muster for was light and non-descript. Someone said a hint of peat. Where? I can only give this a 2+. Pop-Up Whisky Bar by Nate. Yes. I raise a glass – an empty one ready to try the next pourings? Thank you Nate. Your brilliance is unparalleled in our region.