New York City. It’s a hell of a town. And if you’re a Scotch fan your journey is not complete until you go downtown. Down to Tribeca, where you’ll find yourself in a candy land of whisky wonder, full of great bars and great drinks – from rarities to well-served classics. This is where it’s at.
For some reason it took me until my last trip to NYC, this past weekend, to visit Brandy Library. I don’t know why, it just did. But damn, fine folks, I was lit up by brilliant lights shining off hundreds and hundreds of bottles of Scotch and bourbon, whiskey and more. And, I’d venture to say that like an old friend in an old hometown, I don’t know how I’ll ever manage to go back to New York without going back for more.
Located in the heart of Tribeca, at Varick and Moore, the Brandy Library is a classic – the classic – drinking lounge, dripping with class and polish, surrounded by library bookshelves stocked with bottles of spirit. It is mellow, relaxed and to a whisky lover, a dreamland of booze. The high class feel and their stiff house rules may come off a bit much, but the staff was friendly and the environs were warm. Their book of spirits is inches thick and contains hundreds of whiskey options – many classics, many rare and hard to find. For this wonderland and for these options, however, there is a price. Drams do not come cheap with the average price of a glass well above the norm. But, for this kind of selection in this kind of location, the passionate make exceptions.
I looked through the book of booze numerous times. I scrolled pages of Scotch and bourbon. My eyes danced about the room at shelves upon shelves of whiskey bottles. I savored the selection, and eventually had to come to a decision. With my self-set price ceiling at $25 a glass my options were limited. Most of the 18+ year and limited release bottles run well over that amount, with many selections upward of $100 per glass. I decided on the Bowmore Tempest – a limited release 10-year Scotch that I have been itching to try since it was first bottled in 2010.
Tempest is a tale of two roads – one sweet and one smokey. It is earthy forest and cocoa decadence. The whisky oozes honeyed vanilla and orange citrus, pairs Islay sea salt and peat smoke and is deliciously complex, wise beyond its years. Tempest is chewy and spicy with a long hot finish that is peppery all the way down. I was quite fond of this dram. Bottled at over 55% its power is potent, but its flavors and notes hit a wonderful balance. 89+ points, and I’d venture to say a good value considering the options.
One dram was unfortunately all that time allowed at Brandy Library. I had places to go, people to meet. But, there was another stop in Tribeca, just around the corner at Ward III. A friend and fellow whisky-lover had recommended that I stop by this spot for their super cool retro style, solid drink selection and terrific mixologists. Perhaps you are familiar with one of said mixologists/Ward III proprietor, Michael Neff, who frequents the digital pages of Serious Drinks?
Off the street, dark, heavy curtains open into a boozy lounge – minimalistic and vintage in style. Dim candlelight casts flickers onto a tall brick wall and a dapper wooden bar that sits tightly against the red brick – prominently creating a centerpiece for the room. The bartenders are well-versed, creative and friendly. They make a hell of a drink. A rapid departure from the great tomed spectacle of Brandy Library, but suave and stylish all the way.
I picked off another unique whisky – this time the Auchentoshan 1999 – an eleven-year Bordeaux Cask limited edition release. This Scotch is a sunset amber with red wine hues. Its Bordeaux upbringing is abundantly apparent in the sweet red wine, oak-spiced and orange citrus nose. In the mouth, the whisky is smooth and spicy, with intense caramel and red wine grapes. This spirit is not subtle in its approach and is, one could say, somewhat flawed by its intensity. The caramel and Cabernet is syrupy sweet at points and if not for its cask strength would completely overtake the heat and spice. But, it ends on a nice note, somehow balancing itself out, and making for a unique and tasty whisky. One, I may add, which was complimented quite well by the downtown swagger of Ward III. 87 points.
So, one Bowmore and one Auchentoshan down, two cool drink joints and thousands more to go. I tip my cap to Ward III and Brandy Library – two unique spots doing whiskey well in their own styles, with their own swagger. Get yourself here. Way downtown. And enjoy a few drinks already.