While the shelves of any self-respecting drinking establishment will undoubtedly include bottles of Jack Daniel’s, Jameson and Jim Beam, fewer are the ones that feature the flavors of Booker’s 25th Anniversary, The Macallan 18 or Maker’s Mark 46.
Here are a few places in my travels throughout Lancaster County that take the art of the whiskey drink to its desired (and delectable) destination.
These are, of course, just three selections out of the many bars and restaurants serving the fruit of the barrel. Comment below and tell us where you go for an expertly crafted Manhattan, Sazerac or rare single malt Scotch.
The Old School
Walking up the stairway of the Horse Inn (540 E. Fulton St., Lancaster) gives you the feeling of passing through a time portal to when bathtub gin flowed like water and the piano belted out jazz. It should, considering the spot was one of the many speakeasies that dotted Lancaster during Prohibition.
Standing behind the bar constructed from the original doors of Old Main of Franklin & Marshall College is bartender Ben Hash, who has been manning the shakers since the restaurant reopened in May. A self-proclaimed history buff, Hash has taken his passion for classic turn-of-the-last-century cocktails into a visible history lesson, mixing everything from whiskey sours (with egg whites to soften the drink and cut the acidity) to the Fourth Regiment (a choice of whiskey with sweet vermouth and Peychauds, celery and orange bitters).
To test his mixology skills, I order Hash’s version of the Sazerac – a classic New Orleans whiskey cocktail. Based on a historical recipe, Hash makes his with Wigle Rye (a craft rye whiskey made in Pittsburgh), Peychauds bitters, Vieux Carre absinthe, sugar and lemon zest.
Hash prepares the glass by chilling it with stirred ice cubes and a thermometer to monitor the temperature. He dumps the ice, sprays the glass with absinthe and rims the glass with a lemon rind, releasing its natural oils. The result is a drink that instantly transports me to the banks of the Mississippi – the bite of the lemon zest mixing perfectly with the anise flavor while never overpowering the rye.
“Standing behind this bar makes me want to build speakeasy cocktails,” Hash says. “It makes me want to showcase what this bar used to be, but to also give a great experience.”
The New School
Warmed from my Sazerac, I head to my next stop, which is actually known more for its wine selection than its whiskey. However, I’ve been told its whiskey game was taken up a notch in November.
POUR’s (114 N. Prince St., Lancaster) modern-yet-classical interior with exposed brick walls and lacquered wood-top bar welcomes me as I walk through the door. Also welcoming is the friendly face of bar manager (and former Fly Bar Czar) Lee Noble.
I ask Noble for a few suggestions for a whiskey drink. As a taste comparison, I’m tempted to try POUR’s version of the Sazerac (made with High West Rendezvous Rye, Lucid absinthe, Peychaud bitters and brûléed lemon peel). The Barrow’s Autumn Mule (made with Barrow’s Intense Ginger, Four Roses Bourbon, fresh lime sours, seltzer and whiskey barrel bitters) is also an enticing selection.
However, I decide to go somewhat conservative and see what Noble can do with the traditional Old Fashioned (with raw sugar, simple syrup, Angostura bitters, filtered water, orange slice and Luxardo cherry liqueur). He suggests using Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye – another up-and-coming craft distillery located in Bristol, just north of Philadelphia.
I’m curious to know Noble’s technique as I sip on the drink, which brings out the bite of the whiskey while being well balanced with the sweetness.
“I don’t want to say too much and give away my trade secrets,” Noble laughs.
I’m also curious about the wall of high-end whiskey that sits beside me at the bar. Featuring 53 different whiskeys on hand-made wooden shelves, the collection includes everything from the Jefferson’s Ocean (aged six months at sea in a container ship) to the Hibiki 12 Japanese whiskey. A particularly interesting (and rare) offering is the Berkshire Mountain Distillers’ Cask Finished Bourbon Whiskey – aged for three months in barrels that formerly contained Tröegs Troegenator double bock.
Brendee’s Irish Pub
The smoky air of the corner bar is usually reserved for a shot of Jack and a PBR. But at Brendee’s Irish Pub (449 W. Lemon St., Lancaster), a conscious effort has been made to go beyond the American standards, offering more than 40 of some of the best Irish whiskeys and Scotches that can be found.
I happen to come on the perfect night, too, as a special Irish whiskey tasting is taking place in the jam-packed back room. The featured drinks include five selections from the historic Kilbeggan Distilling Co. of County Westmeath in Ireland.
Rob Mullane, the brand ambassador for Kilbeggan, passes out shots of Greenore Single Grain Irish Whiskey (featuring hints of lemon, vanilla and honey) and Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey (with a flavor profile more reminiscent of a Scotch than Irish whiskey).
In his heavy Irish accent, Mullane points out the history and flavors of each of the whiskeys. Particularly interesting is the Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey, which was named after a 100-to-1 racehorse that won the famous National Produce Stakes (the Kentucky Derby of Ireland) in the 1800s. Its flavors include everything from oranges and lemons to honey and a strong malt presence. Mullane also hands out 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey, a blended whiskey that’s quickly gaining popularity in the U.S.
After finishing my drinks and eating a hefty helping of shepherd’s pie, I make my way out to the bar where one of my favorite bartenders, Marla Sadosky, is pouring out shots.
“What’ll you have, Newspaper?” says Sadosky (“Newspaper” is her long-time nickname for me).
Since I started the evening with a rye whiskey, I decide the best thing I could do is finish with one. I look at the shelf and find the Knob Creek Rye sitting there. It’s the perfect nightcap and will keep me plenty warm for my short walk home.
Where do you go for your whiskey fix? Tell us below.