“The whisky got struck in traffic – it will be here soon,” promised Mike Neff, one of the owners of Ward III and the Rum House and leader of our whisky culinary tour.
I wasn’t worried. Plenty of whisky was behind the bar at Ward III, which at 1 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon was mellow and quiet as the other tour guests trickled in. The event was part of the Manhattan Cocktails Classic, and it drew a mix of friends, couples, and singles, ready to taste some fine Scotch and wander around Tribeca.
“Ah!” said Mike and stopped his pacing to run outside for the goods.
Three Scotch tastings were set up along the bar to get us started – Oban, Talisker, and Lagavulin. Oban was the light, easy-to-drink starter – very good for early Saturday afternoon. Talisker was a bit more spicy, a bit peaty, and a good middle ground. Lagavulin had the real smoky strength.
We headed outside behind Mike, who pointed out the local Tribeca sites, such as the Freedom Tower and the fire station from Ghost Busters.
Our first stop was South’s. I sat at a table of ladies who were big fans of Scotch. Our table was set with whisky glasses that tilted on their bases – Talisker. Our whisky expert, Peter, told us that Talisker is on the West Coast of Scotland on the Isle of Skye, where there is only one distillery. It’s a rugged place, mirrored in the taste maritime taste of Talisker – a little salty.
They served it with oysters. Peter told us to pour some whisky on our oysters – “It’s better than any hot sauce.” That was actually debatable at my table – where most preferred lemon – but I kind of liked the briny whisky with the salty oysters.
Oban set up to get us started.
We walked through the rain up the street to Café Americana, where Lagavulin was oddly served in a cocktail with Lillet Blanc, aperol, yellow chartreuse, and Creole bitters. It was good cocktail, but not my favorite way to feature Lagavulin. I preferred the scene that Peter described – a cold winter’s night, the smell of fire, rain outside. Lagavulin straight.
“Warms up every part of your body,” said Peter. The cocktail played down the peatiness and brought out the taste of dried fruit. And it was mismatched with empanadas and Cuban sandwiches, which begged for a nice margarita or sweeter rum drink.
Bartender with Lagavulin mouth spray!
We finished up at Macoa Trading Co. where we paired Oban and sweetened ginger root. Oban went down easy – very light. It is – according to Peter – the oldest single malt distillery in Scotland, from 1791, and sits in the fishing town of Oban. Peter said the whisky is best experienced straight out of the bottle, sitting on the dock with some fish and chips. “The cops won’t bother you if it is Oban,” he said.
It’s aged 14 years in American Oak casks and has a citrusy orange flavor that was heightened by the ginger root. Tastings normally end with the peatiest whisky, but this one ended on the lightest one. We added just a tad bit of water to open it up.
“It’s great all year, every day,” said Peter. Which made us laugh. But I could see that being true.
I left around 3 p.m. with that happy feeling of having accomplished and learned so much by just early afternoon.