Winner, Winner, Whiskey Dinner

I have a confession. Until last night, I had never been to a “whiskey dinner.” Heck, I’ve rarely ever had whiskey with my dinner. Cocktails? Sure. Wine or beer? Most definitely. But whiskey? Neat? At my house, the whiskey typically comes either before or after dinner, not during dinner. (However, “whiskey breakfast” is an altogether different story… )

Well, I must now confess that whiskey can work wonderfully well with dinner. The right whiskey. With the right food. Ideally, in the right restaurant so I don’t have to do all the thinking about what dish goes well with what whiskey myself. And it does require thinking. Whiskey pairing across multiple courses is not as easy as wine or beer pairing, so a thoughtful chef can make a big difference.

I don’t often drink whiskey with my dinner, but when I do, I prefer to be at Empire State South drinking High West whiskey. Yeah, that’s how I roll.

So what about this particular whiskey dinner made it work? First, High West happens to distill (and bottle) some simply wonderful whiskies. Second, the range of their whiskies, from the clarity and slightly yeasty tropical fruit of the Silver Western Oat, to the deep caramel spice of the 21 year old rye, really allows for some intriguing pairings across multiple courses – from light seafood to hearty wabbit (yes, wabbit) to rich dessert. There really aren’t many American distilleries that could provide that type of range at such a high level. Third, we were in the very capable hands of a kitchen and (sous) chef who really dig whiskey and food as happy partners. The real mark of a successful pairing dinner is in how well the dishes and the drinks complement each other and reach a sum greater than their individual parts, and course after course in this meal hit that mark.

I won’t bore you with the details (but, really, the braised rabbit shoulder and ricotta cavatelli with the Double Rye was brilliant, as was the 21 year old rye with the muscovado flan, and…), but this meal showed me that whiskey dinners can be every bit as good as great wine or beer pairing dinners. And if you happen to see another pairing of High West and Empire State South? Winner, winner, whiskey dinner.

Random scenes from the dinner follow, including a few entertaining moments from High West head honcho David Perkins, who presented “10 Things You Really Should Know About Whiskey.”

Thing #10… on the origin of whiskey, or something about men in frocks huddling together closely on a boat…

Thing #7…. I have no idea what this was about, but seeing a squirrel drinking beer will always get the crowd hyped.

Thing #6… this had something to do with High West’s new OMG Pure Rye, but all I could think about was how that guy on the pole could really use a few rounds of rye himself.

Image at top: “The Vicious Circle” – a lovely riff by bartender Kelly Thorn on an Algonquin, with a bit of rye in the background behind some Dolin blanc vermouth, blanc de blancs sparkling wine, pineapple juice, and a touch of caraway.

Full Disclosure: I was at this event as a guest of the distillery.

4 Replies to “Winner, Winner, Whiskey Dinner”

  1. Nice recap. Wish I had known about this, sure sounds like a good time.
    ESS never disappoints.
    Recently picked up a bottle of the Silver Western Oat on a whim.
    Need to try it soon.

    1. Thanks, ESS has been great the past few times I’ve been. If you see the OMG Pure Rye, pick up a bottle of that as well to compare vs. the Oat. Among the most interesting white whiskies out there.

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