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Le Bailliage du Greater Washington, DC Chapter

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Discovering Whiskey at a DC Speakeasy

February 3, 2018

By Dame de la Chaîne Whitney Babash

"Being in a speakeasy is cool."
– Participant at the Tasting Class at Chicken + Whiskey

The Société Mondiale du Vin of the Bailliage of Greater Washington, D. C., hosted a whiskey tasting class at Chicken + Whiskey in Washington, DC., on February 3, 2018. The front of Chicken + Whiskey is a popular, informal South American chicken restaurant, serving some of the best rotisserie chicken and Latin American sides in the area. The "Whiskey" part of the name becomes clear as one steps through the walk-in freezer door at the back and into a speakeasy that features more than 100 whiskies from all over the world, served up by friendly, well-informed bartenders eager to share their passion for whiskey.

The afternoon was a fun and educational exploration of three "expressions" or versions of Angel's Envy whiskies – two bourbons and one rye – with lots of questions, discussion, and conviviality. The group ranged from folks who were not big whiskey drinkers and had never been to a tasting class, to some whiskey aficionados who had been to many tastings. But regardless of experience level, everyone learned something new and gained a deeper appreciation for this quintessential American spirit.

Bar manager Tony Burke, who is also a brand ambassador for Angel's Envy, led the exploration, taking the attendees through the history and tasting method of the national drink. The group learned that bourbon is the only alcohol regulated by US law and, contrary to common myth, does not have to be made in Bourbon County, Kentucky. It must, however, meet eight strict criteria, including the five most critical, which Tony explained: Bourbon must be made using at least 51% corn mash; be aged in new charred American oak barrels; be made in the United States (anywhere); have no artificial colors or added flavors; and be at least 80-proof (i.e., 40% alcohol).

The afternoon began with a welcome cocktail to introduce the bourbon – an Old Fashioned using the classic recipe – bourbon, simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water), and Angostura bitters. It was the perfect opener to put the group in a whiskey mood and feed curiosity about this remarkable beverage. An early question concerned the origin of the distillery’s name. Tony explained that the amount of alcohol that evaporates during the barrel aging is traditionally called the angel’s share. Distillery founder and whiskey expert Lincoln Henderson maintained that what was left behind was better, to the angels’ envy.

Tony then stepped the group through the three "expressions," as Angel’s Envy calls its varieties:

Tony explained and demonstrated the recommended whiskey tasting technique: First, smell the whiskey, but using a different method than for wine. Hold the spirit approximately six inches from your nose and sniff while keeping your mouth open; this keeps the alcohol from burning your nose. Contemplate what you smell, knowing that everyone will smell something different. Next take a sip and roll it all over your palate, "chewing" as you do so; Tony called this the "Kentucky Chew", which garnered chuckles. Next was another sip, focusing on what you now discern. This changes with each subsequent sip, as new flavors continuously reveal themselves. Tony also noted that where you put the spirit on your tongue changes what you taste: He recommended avoiding the tip of the tongue, as the middle and back will emphasize a bit of sweetness and more of the nuances.

At each stage, Tony asked the attendees to call out the flavors they detected; the words included maple, sugar, caramel, smoke, tobacco, and vanilla. He emphasized that all were "correct" answers as everyone appreciates bourbon’s nuances in their own way. In a few short minutes, Tony had given the assembled the technique to fully discover and appreciate the complexity and variety of whiskey.

Chicken + Whiskey's Executive Chef, Maître Rôtisseur Enrique Limardo, created a special menu of bar bites for the occasion. Maître Rôtisseur Limardo is well known to the Bailliage as the Executive Chef at Alma Cocina Latina in Baltimore, where the Bailliage was thrilled by his refined Venezuelan cuisine at a joint event with the Bailliage of Baltimore in 2017. Between each whiskey, Chef Manuel Perez expertly prepared and presented the treats, deliciously satisfying any hunger with sophisticated and perfectly crafted tastes of Venezuela – flavors and textures that were wonderful complements to the libations.

The group departed with a much deeper appreciation of bourbon, rye, and whiskey as well as some flavors of Venezuela. The bailliage next looks forward to a virtual trip to Switzerland at Stable on H Street in DC on February 22. Swiss natives Chef David Fritsche and Restaurateur Silvan Kramer are guaranteed to delight diners with a relaxed evening of sophisticated Swiss cuisine accompanied by Swiss beer, wine, and spirits. Following that, on March 15, we take a gastronomic journey to Viet Nam for what promises to be a fantastic evening of refined Asian cuisine at Rice Paper in Falls Church, Virginia.

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