There’s something that seems right about drinking Scotch next to a huge fireplace with a deer head looking down on you. I feel like Ron Swanson would approve. This is about as close to a Scotch hunting lodge as I am going to get. And actually, it’s not too bad of a setting for bourbon, either.
I don’t do a ton of day drinking, especially on a Thursday, so it felt unusual to be drinking with the sun streaming through the windows of a ski lodge. But then I would look outside at the cowboy strumming guitar for people sitting around a fire pit in wooden rocking chairs and think, well, it kind of fits.
It’s becoming harder to find whiskies I haven’t tried for my New Year’s Challenge to taste 33 new whiskies in less than 30 days, especially at a typical bar that doesn’t have 100 kinds of American whisky on the shelf or an immense collection of Scotches. We’ve left Brooklyn for sure, Toto, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good whiskies to find in Colorado – even if the pairings are a little less calculated and a little more “what can I try from this menu that I haven’t tried yet.”
Today, that took me to a couple of interesting options – a High West bourbon called American Prairie Reserve and a Scotch from Campbeltown – Springbank 15 year old.
Without intending to, I set up the rough versus the gentle whiskies today. Seriously, Tonintoul calls itself “the gentle dram.” Colonel E.H. Taylor doesn’t declare itself rough, but I will.
The colonel, though, he’s like a challenging conversation. I stick around because I think I feel like I will learn something. I like that. And then I go to Tomintoul for a hug. Because I like hugs, too.
When in Vail, it seems only proper to have a locally-made dram. I’m always surprised at the amount of new whiskies that have popped up in Colorado every time I stop by. It only makes sense, though. What do you want at the summit of a climb? A sip of whiskey. After a long hike? Whiskey. Day at the slopes? Ya know.
I made it to the whiskey before I made it to the slopes, getting a local taste my first night of 10th Mountain Whiskey. At the bartender’s suggestion, I went for the rye. Mountain air and a little whiskey hit the spot. Emphasis on little because altitude and drinking can really do a number on you…so I hear. I won’t be skiing with a flask today, but every time I fall in the snow, I like to imagine a fluffy St. Bernard bounding over the snow with a barrel around his neck to warm me up.
A little dram of 10th Mountain Whiskey? He might bark. Or say, because the likelihood of this happening is roughly the likelihood of a dog talking. And I will nod and smile and think how friendly Colorado can be.
After enough evenings sitting at a bar doing tastings on my own, I got a nice reminder how social whisky can – and should – be by sharing a couple of bottles of Scotch with my coworkers. It is not unusual on a Wednesday for an ice bucket and glasses to appear in one of our conference rooms with a bowl of popcorn. And for people to wander in after their day and help themselves to a pour.
You know people enjoyed a Wednesday when you come in Thursday to your office – a little bleary-eyed – and find two almost empty bottles of Scotch, a very empty bowl of popcorn, and tasting notes from fellow drinkers who scribbled things like “I feel like I’m falling down a hole when I drink it.”
This week, we sized up two blends of single malt Scotches. One I was quite familiar with – Monkey Shoulder. Adorable bottle with three monkeys on it, representing the three distilleries from the Speyside region that make the single malt Scotches inside. I can’t technically count this toward my challenge to taste 33 new whiskies in less than 30 days because it’s already such a good friend. I will say I enjoy it, though. Very drinkable.
The other one – Sheep Dip – I had tried once, but long ago, so it counts. This was a favorite of my gun-in-his-boot grandpa who enjoyed a Scotch on the rocks regularly. The name came from trying to get the bottles past the tax man back in the day when they taxed more for the stuff that got people soused than they did for the stuff that got sheep de-loused (which I assume is what Sheep Dip was).
Drinks at the Flatiron Room is a production. This is not a place to wander in and sidle up to the bar. They stopped me immediately on my way in on a Tuesday after work and asked if I had a reservation. Uh, no. Just want some whiskey. They weren’t sure if there was a seat at the bar. Would I mind a table? Sure, I guess. So I got a little table with my own small lamp facing a stage with a red velvet curtain where I could imagine the can can dancers jumping out at any moment.
One thing to be said: they go for the full image and they pull it off. It's like slipping back in time. The place is lined with whiskey cabinets surrounding small, intimate tables. There is a nice hum of music and cocktail shakers and conversation.
I was mildly off-put by the waiter, though. He told me not to be “intimidated” by the extensive whiskey menu. Intimidated? How about excited. The thing is like a novel, and if I didn’t feel the need to make a reservation, I would come back just to read it. The first page is full of limited editions and new releases, and the last page was staff picks. In between were rows of Scottish names, some familiar, some I had never seen. Some ridiculously expensive ($3,500 bottle of Macallan 25 anyone?).
After drooling over some of the more unusual Scotch names, I went for a couple of basics for my New Year's Challenge tastings: Glendronach 12 years and Macallan 10 years fine oak.