A skeptic takes a shot at whiskey, this summer’s drink trend

04/30/2014 7:06 PM

05/20/2014 6:53 PM

I’ve never liked whiskey.

My motto for what fills my glass: If it’s brown, it doesn’t go down. I gravitate toward rum, vodka and copious amounts of pineapple juice when I choose my cocktails. But it seems this is going to be a whiskey summer in Kansas City.

Already, we’ve seen big selections at Manifesto, scotch tastings at the Cellar and Loft, a whiskey club at Cellar Rat, wide acclaim for Dark Horse Distillery and more. And with the recent openings of Barrel 31 and Julep, just a month apart, I think we can solidly say Jack Daniel and his friends are the official party starters.

Since I’m not one to miss a party, I headed over to Martini Corner’s

Barrel 31

, 400 E. 31st St., to take the training wheels off of my taste buds and get to know whiskey a little better. The Hubby is well-versed in cognac and whiskey. He fit right into the industrial-chic atmosphere at the bar that was once Velvet Dog, with exposed brick, leather bar and the Black Keys’ “Tighten Up” playing at the perfect level in the background.

The waiter suggested I try the Appalachian Sangria. The mix of straight rye whiskey, fresh citrus and red Zinfandel is fruity, he said. I took a big sip. Let me tell you, just because your drink has an orange slice and cherry doesn’t make it sugary fun. I wanted to give up.

I concentrated on the Chokes Cheese, a pumpernickel bread bowl filled with artichoke cheese dip. Forget drinks, I thought. Happy hour is stocked with lots of good grub for under $7. There’s even a meal: PB (a pint, a burger and a shot of Jameson) for $14.

The Hubby redirected my attention to the whiskey.

“You need to redefine your palate,” my husband said. “Open your mind to what sweetness can be. Think about the whiskey. It’s an art, like wine. It can be many things. It can be smoky. It can be sweet. This is not an episode of ‘Ray Donovan.’ You can’t just drink it down like tea. Take baby steps. Give it a chance.”

There he was, fedora on, with a glass of Gentleman Jack in his hand, convincing me that the problem wasn’t the whiskey. It was me.

He swirled his glass around and told me to notice the glossy brown color. I had to admit, it was pretty. He handed me the glass and walked me through it:

Take a breath. Hold it in. Bring the glass up to your lips and just taste it. Exhale.

Honey. Vanilla. Sweet. I couldn’t believe it. For the first time ever, I could stomach whiskey. I could actually taste the drink rather than be tortured by the husky, hot burn. Just so we're clear: He says the smell of whiskey is important and should be appreciated. But since it hurts my nose and I'm a beginner, this is my amateur approach until the training wheels come off.

I tried my sangria again. Slowly, I took a sip instead of the big gulp I’d take if it were pineapple and vodka. My waiter was right. It was sweet and warm.

As we noshed on the duck confit chicken wings (go with the BBQ bourbon because the spicy Habaracha will set fire to your tongue), I found myself enjoying my cocktail. I didn’t have to brace myself for every sip. Around 6:35, the waiters started asking everyone if we wanted a shot of Jack Daniel’s for $3. Happy hour is 3 to 6:47 p.m. at Barrel 31. And it always ends with a toast.

I thought I had done well to finish off the one cocktail along with my deconstructed apple cobbler (it’s an actual apple filled with cobbler). Nope, I was now facing an entire shot.

A party vibe began to stir. No one knew why we were toasting at such a peculiar time — 6:47. The staff only built the intrigue by not answering any questions. I wasn’t sure if I could handle Jack Daniel’s straight up. I stared at the glass.

I remembered my beginner’s mantra: Deep breath. Hold it. Drink it down. At 6:47 we were inducted into the Jack Daniel’s club. I could tell you what that means, but that would take the fun out of the tradition. See for yourself. In the meantime, cheers to you, Jack.

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