Looking for a great way to spend the evening that isn’t just the usual dinner and a movie? In this heat, we’re kind of crossing most outdoorsy options off the list, but what makes for a great night out that is more than just the usual “wanna grab a drink?” Johnny’s, the latest from restaurateurs Tony Foreman and Cindy Wolf, has the answer. Every other Wednesday at Johnny’s, you can attend Whiskey Wednesday—an event sure to excite anyone who’s already a fan of fine whiskeys, and to convert anyone who isn’t (yet).
Every Whiskey Wednesday features a flight of four different high-end whiskeys, and each flight has its own theme. On the evening we attended, the theme was Jim Beam style bourbons—we weren’t even sure what that meant going in, but soon, all was explained. Our host for the evening was the affable and uber-knowledgable Sam Massa of Bin 604 Wine Sellers. There are a few different hosts who rotate week to week, but Sam told us he’s pretty much there for every event, just because he loves tasting the whiskeys. He also gave us plenty of fun facts about each whiskey we tasted—not just the usual “hints of citrus, port undertones” kind of thing, but actual whiskey history and trivia, which gave the evening an extra sense of fun—this wasn’t just about tasting a nine year-old beverage, this was American history!
As we tasted the first bourbon of the night, the Knob Creek 9 Year (a “cowboy bourbon,” Sam called it), we learned that the name comes from the actual Knob Creek, which ran behind the original Beam distillery and behind Abe Lincoln’s childhood home. Seeing as how we’re not cowboys, this first one was a little too intense for our delicate palate—it’s definitely got some heat to it, and a long finish that kept the flavor lingering even after some sips of water and a handful of the popcorn that’s set out for just that purpose. Sam told us that this particular bourbon was created to try to emulate pre-prohibition spirits. During prohibition, many families that had owned distilleries lost their livelihoods and had to take up other professions, so by the time alcohol was legal again, much of the skill and tradition had been lost, and whiskeys in particular became weaker and more simple-tasting. If this Knob Creek 9 Year was a throwback to those original recipes, we probably wouldn’t have fared too well ourselves in bars of the early 1900s.
The next in the flight was Basil Hayden’s 8 Year, which, coming in at only 80 proof, is a much lighter bourbon, and quite a bit more drinkable. If we wanted a shining example of how different two bourbons can really be—this was it. Whereas the first was some of the most powerful stuff we’ve ever subjected our tastebuds to, this second was delicate and easy to imagine enjoying on a porch on a hot summer evening. Right around this second tasting, we received our first snack of the night (oh yes, there are two snacks served at each event). Executive Chef Kiko Wilson cooks up the perfect small bites for the occasion. Whereas the whiskeys are intense with complex flavors, the snacks that came with them were significantly mellower, acting as tasty but simple compliments to the spice coming at us from the bourbon. First we enjoyed perfectly crispy zucchini tempura with chipotle aioli, followed by delicious mini chicken tacos for latter two tastings.
Throughout the evening, Sam continued to tell us fun facts about the history of distilling in the US, and in Maryland specifically. For example, Jim Beam himself began distilling rye in Maryland before moving inland to Kentucky and bringing his flair for rye with him. If you’ve ever wanted a place to safely ask all of your spirits-related questions without being laughed out of the bar (you mean you didn’t know that it has to be 51% corn and aged in charred white oak barrels in order to be called bourbon?), this is the place. And with the intimacy of your own booth, you can taste and discuss each of your four blends with your date in between visits and chats with your host. The atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming, but discussing the nuances of such high quality spirits can give anyone the feeling of “aficionado for a day.”
And they’re not worried about running out of whiskeys either. So far, Johnny’s has never had to repeat a flight, as there are so many fantastic small batch whiskeys out there today that you can keep coming back without worrying about repeats. And for those true whisky super-fans, Johnny’s has plans to offer a series of “Whiskey Dinners”—invitation-only dinners built around particularly special, high-end and hard-to-come-by blends. How to snag an invitation? Attend a Whiskey Wednesday! After all, it shows you’re a true appreciator. Want the skinny on the upcoming Whiskey Wednesday and the plans for the theme? Bin 604 Wine Sellers offers a weekly mailer that will fill you in ahead of time. Not that you need to make a reservation for Whiskey Wednesday—you can just show up. So yeah, maybe you planned to just go out for dinner, but why not make it that more exciting and special with a fancy whiskey tasting? It’s guaranteed to spark lively conversation and you’ll leave just that much more informed, satisfied, and with the memory of that charred white oak barrel on your tongue.
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