Thankfully, we discovered upon reaching the door that the line was for the rooftop bar, and that there was no line for the main bar downstairs. Later we learned that the ground floor bar had only just opened for service a couple days prior, and there was a general feeling of being unfinished around the edges. However, the description of the place as a "library of whiskey" is not far from the truth, and not just any library. The Library of Congress and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault come to mind, any available wall space in the rather large room was covered in shelves stocking whisk(e)y. Purportedly, there were close to 500 bottles of rye and bourbon, and twice that of scotch. We were lucky to snag a nice booth in the far corner with a semicircular banquette, and we had arrived just in time as the bar soon began to fill with those people outside who decided that having a drink inside beat waiting in line.
Many whiskies adorn the walls of Jack Rose
There did not seem to be service at our table, so we went over to the bar to order drinks. One difficulty with such a large selection of whiskey is curating it and presenting the list in some comprehensible form. In this department, Jack Rose needed work as there was no list. Thus, ordering a dram depended on what labels one could read and what labels one can remember offhand. For my first drink, I wanted something to ease into as I had not had much scotch in some time. I ended up getting the Glenkinchie 12, as the distillery is one that I had heard of, but never tried before. This whisky came across with a lot of heather, honey and nuts; it was good, but nothing fantastic.
As some in my group had been before, they caught the attention of Rachel, the beverage director, and Bill, the proprietor. Both of them were rather amiable despite the increasingly hectic atmosphere as more patrons filled the bar. After being introduced, Bill asked what my pleasure was, and I joked that being a Tennessean, born and raised, I had to have certain loyalties. This quip turned out to be quite fortuitous as he mentioned that he was about to open and try a bottle of George Dickel 10 year old special barrel reserve with another patron and that he would pour me a taste as well. In addition to notes of corn, oak and straw that I expect from George Dickel, there was also strong hints of sugarcane and banana. It ended up being a particularly special treat as I have since learned that this expression of George Dickel is no longer bottled.
My next dram was Abelour A'bunadh, another whisky that I had heard of before, but which I have never tried. This one also came with both Carlos' and Rachel's recommendations. Despite being a whisky that is certainly on the sweeter side, it definitely had far more depth and intensity than the Glenkinchie. Full of caramel, chocolate sauce, dates, raisins, PX sherry, but put into frame with strong spice on the tongue. Unfortunately, I did not catch which bottling of the A'bunadh it was, as bottlings can vary in taste quite distinctly.
In the mean time, Arthur and Casie started with Yamazaki 12, but then moved into cocktail territory. Clare also stuck with cocktails, including the namesake Jack Rose. Of what I tasted of the cocktails, I would personally stick to the whiskies. Whereas the quality of cocktail served was not bad, it was nothing extraordinary, unlike the multitude of whiskies from which to choose. Carlos, on the other hand, drank only scotches, like me. However, his tastes led him to the smokier end of the spectrum, getting the Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist 1990 first and the Ardbeg Corryvreckan second. The Airigh Nam Beist was simply superb, one of the best whiskies I think I have thus far tasted. At first, the nose brought iodine, peat and the idea of a Norse funeral. However, the taste was quite balanced for an Islay. Smokey peat was there, but subsumed by the symphony of other flavors: velvety cashew butter, tart apples, salted toffee, coffee, lavender and black pepper. On the other hand, the Corryvreckan struck me as tasting exactly like burnt toast, maybe spread with a bit of Nutella, but thoroughly burnt nonetheless.
By the end of the night, as the bar was clearing out, Carlos and I both got half pours of the Bunnahabhain 12 and the Bunnahabhain Heavily Peated Unchillfiltered Signatory 1997. Trying the 12 first, I was struck by how extremely slight the presence of peat is, despite Bunnahabhain being an Islay distillery. Instead, I tasted a lot of dried grass, papaya and other tropical fruit. The contrast was even more notable after sipping the Heavily Peated, which tasted more similar to what I have come to expect from Islay whiskies. The latter was characterized by roasted nuts, seaside driftwood, throwing wet hay on a campfire, burnt toffee.
Bunnahabhain Heavily Peated Unchillfiltered Signatory 1997
Bill was a great host, and it was truly wonderful to try some of these delicious and rare whiskies. Of the ones we tried, I believe the Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist, the George Dickel 10 year Special Reserve and the Bunnahabhain Heavily Peated Signatory are no longer bottled expressions. There were a few snags in service, slowness and bartenders who are not thoroughly educated on the offerings, the latter problem exacerbated by the lack of a menu or list. The slowness seemed to be caused by unfamiliarity on the one hand and only one cashier terminal with which to do all the monetary transactions. Hopefully, both issues will be resolved soon as I would love to return next time I am in DC.
Credit goes to Carlos for the first picture!
PS. Here is a great read about the people behind Jack Rose.