Friday, February 10, 2017

Whiskey Me Up, Up and Away

Today was that rare day that began and ended with whiskey.

Just as I was psyching myself up to head out into the 25 mph-winds and brave temperatures that felt like mid-30s, I got an email from a friend.

I know it is cold, but I may have to walk over there for a free toddler scoop.

"There" was the new Gelati Celesti on Boulevard and don't let the informational tone of her message fool you, she was testing the water to see if I was game. And why not? Today's weather stood in sharp contrast to the past two days of blissful warmth and a little incentive to head out was much appreciated.

Except that nothing could've prepared me for walking due west into hard gusting winds that felt like an enormous ghost hand pushing me back every step of the way. It seemed to take forever, but eventually I spotted bobbing balloons tied to a mint green stool and a steady flow of people into the new space.

Following that distinctly sweet smell of waffle cones baking on the iron, I walked into a typical long, deep Richmond space that managed to convey "ice cream parlor" and "updated industrial" simultaneously.

On the far back wall was a grid of colorful ice cream scoopers of various ages, a fascinating history lesson of a basic culinary tool. Old quart glass milk bottles housed the lighting hung from the ceiling while tables and counters with stools of various shades provided plenty of space for people to linger with their gelato.

Mac and I got in line to consider flavors and that, of course, was the challenging part. It's so easy for me to default to their chocolate decadence as I've done for decades, but, hold on, there were Scott's Addition collaborations to consider.

Of course there were.

We tasted the Buskey Cider hard cider sorbet, finding it a bit more bracingly alcoholic than we were ready for. On the other hand, Reservoir Distillery's "Whiskey Me Away" gelato had a more subtle kick mitigated by obscenely rich cream to keep the booze taste in check.

My first thought was that it reminded me of really good whiskey-based eggnog, a flavor profile of which I'm exceedingly fond.

In the end, we shared mango sorbetto and the uber-rich whiskey gelato while sitting on stools facing Boulevard and watching people stream in for free gelato on opening day despite the frigid temps.

But without a doubt, my whiskey curiosity had been aroused.

Not content to start the day with local whiskey without learning more about it, come time to swap emails about tonight's plans, I suggested beginning a friendly evening with a trip to the source, Reservoir Distillery, for a tasting.

As a devotee of tequila, my whiskey knowledge is admittedly lacking, so our server's in-depth explanations about grains - wheat for whiskey, corn for bourbon and rye for rye whiskey - aging and size of barrels were a boon for me, providing a decent primer on spirits being entirely crafted in Scott's Addition.

Unlike, say, certain West Virginia distilleries who buy spirits and then doctor/age them and call them hand-crafted, each Reservoir bottle comes with a handwritten label showing the batch and date - catnip, no doubt, to brown liquor small batch geeks, of which I happen to know several.

I know it was cold out tonight, but my friend was kicking off a long weekend away and how better to shift his mindset than with whiskey?

The way I see it, that he had to be up at 5 a.m. to hit the road was completely irrelevant at 6 p.m. tonight.

Midway through the tasting, I heard my name called and turned to see a familiar face and avid bike polo player I hadn't seen in eons, looking as cheerful and easy-going as ever, maybe in part due to working at a distillery.

When he came through a second time smiling with ear buds embedded, I couldn't help but ask what he was listening to out of sheer nosiness curiosity. Talib Kewli, it turns out, is fine accompaniment for distilling work.

This not being my first rodeo, I'd made sure to allow a full hour for us to taste through Reservoir's offerings - "It's not a race," my friend insisted though his first whiskey was long gone and I still had half a glass - but not so the couple who arrived ten minutes before closing for a full tasting, having come on the suggestion of a nearby brewery (probably to get rid of them).

Let's just say that their pours were not accompanied by the same raft of information or Q & A period after each tasting as ours had been. When you're there to learn, kids, you allow sufficient time for a full lesson.

Hanging on the wall in front of us was a scrawled chalkboard message reading, "The Most Dangerous Bar in the World," an acknowledgement of the abundance of metal electrical boxes, exposed cords and nasty-looking switches that made up the back bar, something along the lines of "Young Frankenstein."

You gotta love a distillery with a sense of humor.

Rye always reminds me of that line in "The Big Sleep" where Bogart works his magic on the book shop girl by saying, "I got a bottle of pretty good rye in my pocket," and before you know it, she's pulling down the "Closed" shade on the shop door and smiling.

Such is the power of rye, our final tasting of the 100 proof evening. Pretty good would be faint praise.

We powered through the wind for a few blocks to Supper, which was mobbed with a wait list, deciding instead to drive to My Noodle in search of sustenance to soak up three rounds of local brown liquid.

All the treehouse booths were occupied so we didn't hesitate to accept the hostess' offer of the highest perch, a tiny table next to the DJ set-up (playing Real Estate, Tame Impala), affording us an uncommon birds-eye view of booth tops, lanterns and parasols strung from the ceiling and a straight shot to the bartender whom we recognized as having served us at Sabai two nights ago.

Bless your heart, Richmond, you're just so stinkin' small sometimes.

Not so our appetites, especially after a distilled start to the evening, nor the conversational range which reliably covers a wide range of randomness - tonight from Foals to clothing labels to small victories at work - and occasional reminders about how people communicate.

We're both fans of the here and now and when that's not possible, the written word is everything as far as I'm concerned. And if it's laced with a strong dose of humor and a little rye on a day that began with whiskey gelato, even better.

Basically, it was a night devoted to nothing more than saying hi to a friend in February at the most dangerous bar in the world. Not a big deal.

Because what are friends for if not for talking?

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