So long as you’ve got the funds and the storage capacity, it’s not hard to build a massive selection of spirits, beer, or wine. The tricky part is attracting experts with the knowledge to supervise it, the skills to showcase it and the personality to present it to the public. At Robert Thompson’s new Uptown gastropub Argyll Whisky Beer, that’s exactly where cicerone and “whisky ambassador” Ryan Conklin comes in. Along with his team, including bar manager Kamuran Mataraci, Conklin has developed a beverage program that’s at once sweeping and finely tuned. The overview we gave in our opening report is just the beginning. Here are some more exciting details you should know.
1) Flights are coming soon. “We want to give people an opportunity to understand that bourbon isn’t just bourbon,” says Conklin. And the same goes for other types of whisky. To that end, he plans to introduce flights based on a range of themes. Some will highlight the differences among mashbills (essentially a distillation's grain ratio). Others will offer geographical lessons: comparing Scotch-producing regions or the single malts of Japan versus those of India. Each flight will come with a printed card that displays basic information about what you’re drinking on the front and tasting notes on the back. Conklin sees the collectible cards as a take-home study guide for aspiring geeks.
2) Intimate pairing dinners are also on the horizon. The prospect of working closely with chef John Broening to organize beer and spirits dinners that “fundamentally change the way people see food and beverages arriving at the table together” was “a big part of me taking this job,” Conklin claims. He’s picturing get-togethers of just a few guests at a time to allow for one-on-one discussions on “what pairing’s all about — a third element. It’s not about the marriage but the child they create.” Having once attended a dinner at which Conklin, then working for Euclid Hall, blew our minds by pairing a dish of tagliatelle in veal ragu with German hefeweizen, we can attest to the revelations in store..
3) No drink is an afterthought. Though “people probably weren’t expecting that we were going to do anything but whisky and beer,” Argyll is committed to a program that complements U.K. drinking traditions. For instance, the rum selection features products from former British colonies, American and French ciders supplement those from England and even the four mezcals on offer “speak to the smoke and terroir you find in Scotch,” Conklin explains. And then there are the punches for two (remember, Thompson also owns Punch Bowl Social): “It doesn’t necessarily fit the concept, but it’s still quite a fun conversation starter. We serve them in small flower vases and there’s one on the brunch menu that comes in a teapot.”
4) Ice matters. Granted, like most connoisseurs, Conklin recommends drinking straight spirits neat, since “flavors bloom as they come up to room temperature.” But for cocktails like the Tuck & Roll (pictured above on the right) made with 1792 Ridgemont Reserve Bourbon, raspberry, lemon and mint, the bar is bringing in 300-pound blocks of ice to break down into two-inch cubes. Says Mataraci of the libations they're pouring, “It’s all about putting a smile on someone’s face.”
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