Sunday, September 14, 2014

Jack Rose Dining Saloon (Washington, DC)

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A wall of spirits

Well, heaven exists, and it is on 18th St. NW in Washington, D.C.  Who knew?  With (according to a bartender I overheard talking to some patrons next to us) approximately 1800 different bottles of a variety of spirits, Jack Rose Dining Saloon is a whisk(e)y centric bar, containing hundreds of different bourbons, Scotches, ryes, and every other varietal you can think of.  These range from the tremendously low end (one guy ordered Fireball...ugh) to whiskeys that will run you over $120 per ounce.  The walls of the place contain six shelves of bottles, and there is well over 100 feet of horizontal wall space just in the downstairs.  Whether you like whiskey, vodka, tequila, or rum, or anything else for that matter, they should be able to satisfy your needs.

The bar is dimly lit, but not dark; it is quite easy to read labels and the menus without the addition of any extra light.  This leads to a good atmosphere, making the place feel both classy and approachable.  Good staff helps as well, with friendly, incredibly knowledgeable bartenders.  My roommate and I each ordered a pair of 2oz drinks (they are served as either 1oz or 2oz only) and an order of the Jalapeño Hushpuppies.
Sazerac 18 Year Old Rye

My first drink was Sazerac 18 Year Old Rye, a top of the line offering from one of the premier whiskey makers in the country.  Sazerac now owns several other companies, including personal favorites Buffalo Trace and Old Rip Van Winkle, the maker of Pappy van Winkle, but they are still well known for their own high end  ryes.  This particular version has won dozens of awards since its reintroduction after 110 years of not being produced, and it is easy to see why.  Rye's typical difference from non-rye whiskeys is the little bit of "spice" you get from it, and the Sazerac 18 is no exception; those notes are actually quite pronounced.  Smooth, but with some bite to the finish, it has a lovely, almost floral aroma, that the addition of a small amount of water does wonders for.  The aging has left a strong, but not overwhelming oaky flavor.  This is one of the best I have tasted.

After the Sazerac (which I nursed for quite some time) came an Islay Scotch that I have been meaning to try since seeing a few reviews of it online, in particular the review from Ralfy, a Scotsman who has an overwhelming knowledge of, and spectacular palate for, whisk(e)ys of all types.  Caol Ila 12 Year Old is, like all Islays, heavily peated, but without the overwhelming smokiness of, say, Laphroiag.  Again, a little water opened this whisky up well, with that peat aroma coming out in spades.  While it is not quite so smooth or so flavorful as its cousin Lagavulin 16 (owned by the same company), that makes a great deal of sense, seeing as it has four years less aging.  There is a vanilla flavor I have come to associate with Islays almost as much as the peat smoke, and the American oak barrels used for the aging process have imparted a vital flavor and aroma as well.  While this is certainly not the best Scotch I have had, it is a really good example of a 12 year old Islay, and I recommend it.  

The hushpuppies were ordered despite a rather filling meal earlier in the evening, and were quite tasty.  Fried a deep brown, they were soft and slightly chewy inside, with a few visible pieces of jalapeño.  They were served with an Old Bay dipping sauce that was good, but no better than any other mayonnaise-like sauce.  My one complaint is there was little to no spice in most bites; on occasion, there were hints of it, but mostly the peppers seemed lost; still delicious, but not spicy.  

So, what can I say that wasn't expressed in the first sentence?  Well, the place is not cheap if you are drinking really well, but there are a handful of options that are reasonably priced, as is the food.  It is not an everyday bar for most of us, but it is absolutely one of the best places I have ever been, and I will be going back, just not as often as I would prefer.

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