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For the last few years it has seemed like new breweries or bottle shops have opened weekly, and Raleigh was waging war against Asheville for the title of Beer City, USA. But this fall whiskey is taking center stage with bars and restaurants popping up solely devoted to pouring the age-old amber drink.
The owners of The Blind Barbour, Dram & Draught and Whiskey Kitchen are among those who are whiskey focused. Yes, you can get a beer, cocktail, even a glass of wine but these spots are all about pouring bourbon, rye and scotch.
“It (whiskey) is the best of all the liquors out there. Although gin is a great cocktail liquor and tequila and Mezcal are infinitely fun to sip and mix, whiskey is the one you can drink neat, on the rocks, in a cocktail, out of the bottle, pour it in your hands and drink it like that,” says Kevin Barrett Owner of Dram & Draught, a new bar on Hillsborough St. with an emphasis on whiskey.
The trend is even extending to restaurant bars. “More and more patrons are requesting hard-to-find whiskies,” says Joseph Butler, Managing Partner at The Capital Grille. One regular customer asked the restaurant to start carrying Hibiki, a sought-after Japanese whiskey, and so thanks to him you can now request a glass at the bar.
Traditionally, whiskey drinks were reserved for old men making deals in back rooms. Now, brands like Makers Mark, Jack Daniels, and Fireball are becoming the go-to spirit for the youngest generation of legal drinkers. Typically the flavored whiskeys are a first entrée to the drink but as palettes develop and become more refined, they want to experience rarer and smoother options.
According to research conducted by BAV Consulting, Millennials associate whiskey with brands like Polaroid, BBC and AMC, revealing a sense of nostalgia for older, more retro brands. One of greatest drivers of whiskey consumption is the overall story of the industry. Some of the most popular distillers today have hardly changed their packaging and branding in decades, instead focusing on living their stories through the ages.
“It’s America’s drink. You can only make [bourbon] in the U.S.,” says Glenn Shriver, Bar Manager at the Oak and bourbon aficionado. “We fought a rebellion over whiskey, that’s how important it is to our heritage.”
Born from Appalachian Mountain farmers distilling excess grain, it seems only fitting that North Carolina is seeing a revival of the spirit. And today more and more local distilleries are popping up, many of which you’ll be able to try soon at these whiskey bars.
Blind Barbour Joey Barbour
80+ Whiskeys 3055 Medlin Drive; 5 p.m. – 12 a.m. blindbarbour.com
Personal Favorite: Evan Williams Single Barrel produced by Heaven Hill distilleries. For the price point, it is an outstanding bourbon. Aged at least 8 years, there is plenty of flavor and caramel notes without being too oaky.
Recommends: Booker’s Rye produced by Beam Suntory. This was a one time limited release with fewer than 10,000 bottles produced and extremely difficult to find. At 13 years old, there is a very robust flavor with lots of oak, toffee, and vanilla characteristics. Being a rye, it does bring more heat but is not overpowering. Leaves you with a nice mid palate linger. Blade & Bow: This bourbon is aged at the legendary Stizel Weller Distillery. The nose gives a very light characteristic. A smooth, easy pour with hints of vanilla and soft oak.
Whiskey Kitchen Jeff Mickel
200+ Whiskeys 201 W. Martin St.; 11 a.m. – 2 a.m. whiskey.kitchen
Personal Favorite: Bullet 10 year
Recommends: Jim Beam Bonded & Aberlour 12 year
Dram & Draught Kevin Barrett
140+ Whiskeys 623 Hillsborough St.; 5 p.m. – 2 a.m. dramanddraught.com
Personal Favorite: Noah’s Mill, it is a delicious, well balanced bourbon that is high proof and high flavor. The alcohol, barrel flavor and structure all come together to make a complete experience. Whether you’re celebrating or commiserating
Recommends: WhistlePig 10 year rye. Expensive but exquisite and hard to find. Balvenie 14 year Caribbean Cask Scotch. It’s finished in rum barrels. It’s an interesting scotch experience.
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