The Sipping News
As Americans’ thirst for fine brandies, single malts and other spirits grows, restaurants are expanding their offerings. Here are five oases where you can find those rare and wonderful bottles.
Here’s a brain teaser for you: Why would restaurant patrons plunk down $25 for a two-ounce serving of Cognac, Scotch or Armagnac? After all, that is as much as they pay for a bottle of wine.
In fact, there’s a good reason—more and more restaurants across the country now boast a separate menu of premium and super-premium spirits. Spirits lists usually offer individual selections by the glass because most diners restrict themselves to a single serving of high-end spirits as an appetite stimulant or to top off of a multicourse meal. Some of the more creative restaurants even offer “flights” of three to four, one-half to one-ounce tasting servings of small-batch Bourbon, single-malt Scotch, single-vineyard Cognac, grappa or vintage Armagnac to educate the customer and to stimulate sales of these top-end spirits.
And therein lies the answer to the question. People will pay $25 for samples of one or more fine spirits not only for enjoyment, but for education: so they can learn to appreciate the realm of premium and super-premium distilled spirits. Many wine lovers find that learning about the subtle nuances of higher-end brandies, whiskeys, liqueurs and white spirits is just as alluring as wine education. And restaurants are ideal arenas for experimentation. You can sample a number of different fine spirits in small quantities, and thus zero in on the varieties that suit your palate without having to purchase whole bottles.
The sheer number of fine spirits available from around the world is astounding; many restaurants are eager to carry them. Here’s where American spirits fanatics are dining when they want a top-notch dram with dinner.
Bern’s Steak House
This relaxed, classic steak-and-seafood restaurant is located in the heart of Tampa’s SoHo
district. In addition to an exceptional wine cellar, says Sommelier Eric Renaud, “we currently offer 184 Armagnacs dating back to the 1830s, 196 Cognacs dating back to 1785, 111 different eaux-de-vie and 206 selections of Scotch.” Bern’s also has other kinds of spirits from 17 countries. It is, in my opinion, America’s most extraordinary fine spirits list.
Good-value, by-the-glass picks: Mortlach 22 Year Old Single Malt Scotch, $20; Domaine Boingneres 1970 Reserve Bas Armagnac, $18.50.
Bern’s Steak House, 1208 South Howard Avenue, Tampa, FL; Tel.: 813/251-2421
Mansion on Turtle Creek
Chef Dean Fearing presents his Southwestern cuisine in an elegant 1920s mansion-turned-luxury hotel. The restaurant’s spirits menu features approximately 65 selections, with emphasis on single malt Scotch and Cognac. Food and Beverage Director Bradley Reynolds says the motivation for creating a fine spirits list was that “guests who visit the Mansion should have every amenity available to them. Our selections are always changing as we respond to guest feedback and consumer demand.”
Good-value, by-the-glass picks: Balvenie 12 Year Old “Doublewood” Single Malt Scotch, $9; Pierre Ferrand “Sélection des Anges” Grande Champagne Cognac, $12.
Mansion on Turtle Creek, 2821 Turtle Creek Boulevard, Dallas, TX; Tel.: 214/559-2100
Mark Joseph Steakhouse
This two-year-old steakhouse is located adjacent to Fulton Fish Market in lower Manhattan, and offers fabulous porterhouse steaks and fresh seafood. Head bartender Bob Grant says that the restaurant expanded its spirits list as it came to better understand customers’ preferences. “We also educated some less knowledgeable ones and brought them into the circle,” he adds. Their list, comprising 61 fine spirits, focuses on single malt Scotch whiskies, American whiskeys, Cognacs and Armagnacs.
Good-value, by-the glass picks: Macallan 15 Year Old Single Malt Scotch, $16; Delamain XO, $12.
Mark Joseph Steakhouse, 261 Water Street, New York, NY; Tel.: 212/277-0020
Good-value, by-the-flight picks: Bourbon Player’s Club (A.H. Hirsch 20-Year-Old, Elijah Craig 18-Year-Old, Classic Cask 17-Year-Old), $15; East vs. West chilled vodka, (Stolichnaya Gold, Chopin, Wyborova, Jewel of Russia), $8.
mc2, 470 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco, CA; Tel.: 415/956-0666
The Morrison House
Inside this 18th-century, Federal-style boutique hotel are two dining rooms. The casual and club-like Grille Room features organic and free-range meats and wild game fish. The Elysium dining room features the innovative “A Chef of Your Own” program—instead of offering a traditional written menu, Executive Chef Gian Piero Mazzi consults with guests tableside, and together chef and patrons create a unique meal. A vigorous spirits program, 55 items strong, complements the cuisine. “Lovely Ports, brandies and others can really enhance the overall experience for the fine dining guest,” says owner Peter Greenberg.
Good-value by-the-glass picks: Baker’s 7 Year Old Small Batch Bourbon, $7.50; Johnnie Walker Gold 18 Year Old Blended Scotch, $10.75.
The Morrison House, 116 South Alfred Street, Alexandria, VA; Tel.: 703/838-2802
Morton’s of Chicago
This critically acclaimed U.S. steakhouse chain is renowned for its aged beef, fresh fish, lobster, veal and chicken selections. “The driving force of our concept is to offer the best products available in the world for our guests,” says Tylor Field III, Morton’s beverage director. “Our spirits list—about 70 items—offers diners a great ending to a meal: Cognacs, Scotches, Bourbons and other sipping spirits.”
Good-value, by-the-glass picks: Wild Turkey Straight Bourbon 101 Proof, $7.25; Appleton Estate VX Rum, $8.75.
Visit www.mortons.com for locations.
Parkers Blue Ash Grill
This steak-and-seafood, equestrian-themed restaurant is now in its 22nd year. The restaurant consists of five separate dining rooms and a 65-seat bar-lounge. Parkers offers more than 70 fine spirits, primarily focusing on small-batch and single-barrel Bourbons and single malt Scotches. “I believe spirits choices should reflect your customer base,” says Al Lederle, the restau- rant’s general manager. “People are becoming more sophisticated in their tastes in alcoholic beverages as well as food.”
Good-value, by-the-glass picks: Maker’s Mark, $4.50; Grand Marnier Cuvée Spéciale Cent Cinquantenaire, $19.95.
Parkers Blue Ash Grill, 4200 Cooper Road, Cincinnati, OH; Tel.: 513/891-8300
Chef Takashi Yagihashi’s innovative fusion of nouveau French cuisine with Asian accents is echoed by the restaurant’s dazzling décor. Tribute’s 85-item spirits list is predominately comprised of single-malt Scotch, but there is also a strong accent on Cognac and grappa. At the bar, but not on the list, are blended Scotches, Bourbons, Tequilas, vodkas, oak-aged rums and Canadian and Irish whiskies. “Tribute’s spirits list was created solely to serve the tastes of the clientele. Our broad selection of spirits allows us to match them with our chef’s tasting menus, such as different vodkas with his caviar tasting,” says Kevin Mazziotta, Tribute’s bar manager.
Good-value, by-the-glass picks: Longmorn 15-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch, $16; Hennessy Private Reserve Grande Champagne Cognac, $16.
Tribute, 31425 West Twelve Mile Road, Farmington Hills, MI; Tel.: 248/848-9393.