Bar Review: NICO, Mt. Pleasant, SC

The upscale bedroom community of Mount Pleasant is just a few minutes and a big bridge away from Charleston, South Carolina, and a decade ago no one would have thought to put a high-end French bistro in these parts. Things have changed, though, as Mt. Pleasant has continued to vault its way upmarket.

NICO, which opened here five months ago, isn’t just a restaurant and bar, it’s also a man: Nico Romo, who is one of the world’s youngest French Master Chefs. The man clearly has a passion for seafood, and his and general manager Cal Goodell have even extended that to the drinks menu with the Scotch Oyster.

Put simply, the Scotch Oyster is a raw oyster with a small shot of Scotch served on the side. You drink the brine, pour a little whisky on the bivalve, gobble the combination up, then pour the rest of the Scotch into the shell to finish it off. NICO used to use Bowmore in the menu item, but at $12 it was a little ritzy. At $6 with a shot of blended whisky John Barr, it’s something you can probably have by the tray instead of just a single. The combination works well, too: I’ve had the oyster-whisky mix in the past, and I think it works better with a milder blend than with a stout Islay spirit. This one’s a great little combo.

NICO’s cocktail menu is heavy on the classics, though most have a bit of a Charleston spin to them. The French Martini takes Dixie vodka and mixes in house-made creme de cassis and pineapple juice to make for a fruit-heavy crowd pleaser. Also quite summery is the Absinthe Swizzle, which is not made with absinthe but rather Absentroux, an anise-flavored vermouth-like wine, plus Green Chartreuse, lemon and lime, Angostura bitters, and house-made ginger beer. Refreshing and fun, it’s served on a mountain of crushed ice — but I’d have loved to see it with even more Chartreuse… and served with a straw to help keep the ice off my face.

My favorite cocktail of the evening was the least “spun” of them all, the Coleman Boulevardier, which is made with Rittenhouse Rye, Campari, and Dolin Rouge vermouth. The garnish is a cool-looking wood-fired orange that adds a bit of creme brulee character to the mix, though not so much to really change the structure of the drink. All told, it’s a solid conclusion to a nice roundup of beverages — and next time I’m going for a plate of fresh, raw oysters to pair with it all!

A Visit to Taft’s Ale House, Cincinnati

You’ll find Taft’s Ale House in the Over-the-Rhine District of Cincinnati, Ohio, a region still grappling with its rapid gentrification, a place where burned-out buildings will dominate one block, chick boutiques the next. Taft’s occupies the remains of a church here, rebuilt and converted into a working microbrewery/taproom, with long picnic style tables replacing the traditional pews.

Taft’s — named for the last president to come from this town — produces 10 or so beers at any given time, drawn from a rotating collection of recipes in its cookbooks. In our visit to Taft’s, we shot the breeze with GM Keith Maloy and bar manager Kiri Crawford, sampling the brewery’s full lineup as of late February 2018, and later visiting the smaller downstairs bar, where more traditional cocktails are whipped up. Thoughts on all of the beers tasted follow.

Taft’s Gustav – A nicely malty Vienna-style lager, some apple and pear notes; quite chew. 5.5% abv. A-

Taft’s Panic! Do Nothing – Juicy with bold grapefruit character, a classic hazy IPA. 7.2% abv. A-

Taft’s Nellie’s Key Lime Caribbean Ale – A wacky American ale brewed with key lime juice and coriander; you can certainly taste the lime, which gives it a particularly spicy finish. 4.8% abv. B+

Taft’s 27 Lager – A (very) German lager, burly with malt but crisp on the finish. 5.3% abv. B+

Taft’s Gavel Banger – A classic IPA, piney and very bitter, with a bit of a smoky bacon edge to it; chewy orange peel and pine hit hard on the back end. 7% abv. A-

Taft’s Cherrywood Amber – An amber ale brewed with cherrywood smoked malt. The smoke is light, but the cherry notes are bolder, lasting on the finish. 6% abv. B+

Taft’s Maverick Chocolate Porter – An evenhanded rendition of a brown porter, brewed with cacao nibs and husks from a local chocolatier; a lovely interpretation of this style, lightly raisiny at times and surprisingly engaging from start to finish. 5.5% abv. A

Taft’s Skronk Juice – Taft’s session IPA, simplistic and style and gently bitter, slightly green. 5% abv. B

Taft’s Kettle Sour #1 – Bold apple notes hit first on this big sour, along with lemon juice notes; after the first rush of sourness fades, elderflower notes emerge on the finish. 3.5% abv. B+

Taft’s Big Billy Goat – A Helles Bock — a big pretzel beer, through and through. A bit over-malted (or over-alcohol) though, and quite sweet at times. 6.8% abv. B

Bar Review: Reserve 101, Houston

You’ll find Reserve 101 across the street from the House of Blues in downtown Houston, right on the corner, where the HoB’s enormous neon sign blares through the window. It might be enough to distract you from the place you’ve stepped into, a small bar that just so happens to have the largest whiskey collection in the city, if not the state.

With 350 whiskeys on the menu, there’s a little something here for any taste, and owner Mike Raymond took a few hours out of his evening to show us just that. I’d arrived with my sister and brother-in-law, the latter of whom wanted to learn about whiskey. The deep dive Raymond took him down, from Scotch to Irish to American styles, probably did the poor guy in. Our final sample, a barrel pick of Balcones Single Malt, commemorating Reserve 101’s 10th anniversary, was of particular interest (if, as with most Balcones releases, still an acquired taste).

In the snug of the Reserve, Raymond gave an impromptu class in the differences between single malts and blends, what single grain whiskey was, and how peat and wood got into the act. After sipping plenty of whiskey, we tried a few impromptu cocktails — and I’m happy to announce that Reserve’s jumbo-sized old fashioned, made with mole bitters (this is Texas, after all) and the bar’s barrel pick of Maker’s Mark, was one of the best I’ve ever had.

While Reserve 101 is downtown location makes it difficult to be a true “local,” it still has the feeling of an intimate bar with a friendly staff and a bar book worth a deep dive. I know I’ll be back.

A Visit to Alameda Island Brewing Co.

Established in 2015, Alameda Island Brewing Company is the third brewery in this small suburb of Oakland, California, where a naval base moved out and legions of hipsters moved in. Here you’ll find one of the most richly cross-cultural communities in the U.S. (want Lithuanian food, you got it!), despite a tiny population of well under 100,000 residents.

You’ll also find some incredible beer here: Our pop-in to Alameda Island, which brews some 19-plus beers at any given time, all sold on premise in its taproom and at select establishments around the Bay Area, turned up some really impressive beers. Turns out that in less than three years, Alameda Island and owner Matthew Fox have learned an awful lot. We tasted 10 of the brewery’s offerings and took a short tour around the facility. Thoughts on all brews, and a few pictures, follow.

Alameda Island Rapid Pils – A Czech pilsner, wholly appropriate in style with a nice chew to it. 5% abv. A-

Alameda Island Uncommon Common – A pre-Prohibition dark cream ale, toasty and rustic, with a touch of smoke to it. 5.7% abv. B+

Alameda Island Island City IPA – West coast style, straightforward with a boldly piney bitterness. 7.3% abv. B+

Alameda Island Sea Haggis – A massive Scotch ale, barleywine in style with big fig notes and a hefty malt profile. 8% abv. A-

Alameda Island Control, ALT, Delete – A German ALT bier, bready and malty, with pretzel notes. 5.5% abv. B+

Alameda Island Cavanaugh Kolsch – Probably the most boring beer that Alameda makes, a straightforward brew with a bit of fruit, otherwise quite mild. 5% abv. B

Alameda Island Island Haze – An unfiltered IPA with a pineapple bomb that absolutely explodes on the tongue. The haze gives it a silkiness on the palate that only enhances the experience. Utterly beautiful. 6.1% abv. A

Alameda Island El-Ager – A dry-hopped lager with notes of citrus, lemongrass, and apricots; an entertaining hybrid. 8% abv. B+

Alameda Island Nacht – Schwarzbier, black as night, chewy and dank, with a touch of smoke and mushroom notes. 5.4% abv. B+

Alameda Island Mt. Olympus – A classic double IPA, with ample tropical notes and a massive bitterness that punches hard on the finish. A beautiful bruiser. 9.5% abv. A

Bar Review: White Cap, San Francisco

In San Francisco’s Outer Parkside district, one often gets the feeling that one has reached the literal end of the line. This is a beach community, but the water is so cold and the wind so brisk that spending much time on the beach is reserved only for die-hard surfers and masochists. (It’s so cold that it’s one of few beaches you’ll find these days that allow campfires.) Abutting the sand dunes you’ll find little more than rundown beach houses (San Francisco style, of course, all jammed on top of one another), the occasional diner, and any number of dim dive bars.

In other words: This is not a part of town where hipsters and tourists come to visit and enjoy craft cocktails.

Until now?

White Cap is a brand now operation just blocks from the Pacific, a watering hole looking to bring a little bit of class to this otherwise unremarkable area. It’s a tiny place, with room for about 24 people seated, another dozen or so standing. The menu, which will be updated roughly quarterly, adheres close to the classics for now — usually with a little spin in the form of a unique house-made syrup or an unexpected ingredient.

Case in point is the Cold Chisel (all the drinks are named after tools), a Casino-like cocktail made with Tanqueray Rangpur Gin, grapefruit, lime, and Maraschino. The grapefruit is hefty here, giving it a bit of a bitter finish. I enjoyed it, but a touch of sweetness would have added balance.

The San Angelo, with applejack, St-Germain, allspice dram, cardamom, and lemon was more successful, appropriately wintry with its flood of spices and almond notes. It’s a bit of Christmas in a glass, so pop in for one before the holiday.

As we’re technically by the beach, White Cap’s Mai Tai was a must-try — and was arguably the most popular drink being ordered during our time there. Lots of lime plus ample hogo from its use of pot still rum make it a bold drink — but aside from the lack of a paper umbrella, it’s a stalwart example of tiki. The Cat’s Paw, with tequila, quince, coffee casacara (the flower of the coffee plant), and lemon, was also an unexpectedly beachy drink, with earthy and lightly tropical notes blending into an exotic and seductive whole.

Easily my favorite drink of the night was the Maple Hammer, a simple rendition of the Manhattan with Dickel Rye, bitters, and a maple-walnut reduction. Seductively sweet but incredibly nutty and with just the right amount of maple notes, it’s an example of three ingredients working together perfectly. My only complaint: The drink was served too warm, perhaps an indication that the extremely speedy bartending staff might need to slow things down a tick.

Pop in when you get a chance… but remember to bring your parka, not your swim trunks.

Bar Review: The Silver Dollar, Louisville

While you’ll find The Silver Dollar on many lists of the best whiskey bars in the country, the impressive brown water offerings at this funky and casual spot are not even mentioned in the “About” section of their website. The bar is a take on a 1950s Bakersfield, California honky-tonk, complete with rustic décor (exposed brick, metal chairs and barstools), quirky touches like multicolored Christmas lights behind the bar, and, of course, plenty of “Bakersfield sound” playing in the background. Even with such a unique setting, their whiskey list remains the primary reason many tourists and locals alike seek out this bar in the Clifton Heights neighborhood outside of downtown Louisville, Kentucky.

The first thing I received when I saddled up to the bar at The Silver Dollar was, unsurprisingly, a whiskey list. While many whiskey bars provide something akin to a road atlas, the menu here was thankfully much smaller – in size but not in contents. There were hundreds of whiskeys to choose from, all organized by distillery and including most of the coveted and rare bourbons made across the state. While priced not quite as stratospherically as other whiskey bars in cities like New York and San Francisco, there’s clearly a tourist mark-up on familiar names like Van Winkle and Weller.

The smart money, however, is on one of The Silver Dollar’s many amazing personally selected barrels, which, at the end of the day, are actually more rare than almost anything else behind the bar (yet are priced considerably lower). There were at least 15 on my menu, including multiple barrels of the same brands like Four Roses, Old Weller Antique, and Henry McKenna, all at different ages and proofs. I dutifully digested the options but asked for mercy from the bartender who told me, without any hesitation, to try the second of their three barrels of Old Weller Antique 107 proof. I ordered it neat, and it arrived in what looked like a tall shot glass (since no respectable honky tonk would serve whiskey in a Glencairn, I guess). The choice of glassware aside, my pour of Weller 107 was simply fantastic, full of baking spice and wonderfully balanced. I’d easily have put it up against a bottle of the William Larue Weller at four times the price.

The cocktail list takes up only one page (the first) of the 20 or so page drink menu, but that doesn’t mean cocktails get less attention behind the bar. Again, I put myself at the mercy of the bartender, and he produced in short order an excellent Old Fashioned made with standard Old Weller Antique 107. It was served without any fruit (not even a cherry!), but the flavors were all there and in perfect proportion.

After a surprisingly good dinner of grilled chicken thighs and fried okra, I decided to round out my evening with one last pour. Again, I resisted the temptation to empty my wallet on a 20 year Pappy or rare Wild Turkey, and instead perused the menu for less familiar names. I settled on Old Charter 10 year, a bourbon that is well into the “dusty” category in most places now but can still be found and purchased in Kentucky at a reasonable price. My drink cost $11, but I would have easily paid three times that in DC or New York. It was a mellow bourbon, light on the palate with subtle rye spice and a little bottom-shelf, grassy funk to it. It was the perfect end to my whiskey-focused evening.

This was my third visit to The Silver Dollar, and it was just as enjoyable as every time before. While whiskey bars have exploded in popularity across the country in recent years, most are overstuffed, uncomfortably highbrow, or painfully inauthentic. And all have plenty of whiskeys on their oversized, leather-bound menus not worth drinking, especially for the asking price. I guess the world needs more honky-tonks like The Silver Dollar.

A /

Bar Review: Tyge & Sessil, Stockholm

Looking for a good glass of wine in Stockholm? Chances are the local around the corner stocks a few french numbers, maybe a Portuguese and a few Italian bottles, and that’s about it. Those seeking something more adventurous need only venture to Tyge & Sessil, a new wine bar with one of the city’s most enticing wine lists.

Under the management of Maximilian Melfors, who is also the sommelier for Ekstedt, one of the city’s most exciting restaurants, conveniently located around the corner, this small spot (with a few benches for outside seating) specializes heavily in natural and unusual wines. During our visit and a lengthy chat with Melfors, we sipped on orange wine from Italy’s Friuli region, while poring over the lengthy selection of bottlings from Eastern Europe and “it” wines like a number of Pet-Nat bottlings.

Tyge & Sessil — named after Tycho Brahe’s children, who in turn is whom the street on which the bar is located in named — has dozens of wines available by the glass, but Melfors says they’ll open up just about anything for by-the-glass pours if customers ask nicely. “Unless,” he says, “we just can’t.” Of course!

Open 7 days a week, year-round. Drop in for an aperitif or a small bite — a tiny kitchen churns out appropriate food pairings, too.

Bar Review: Teleféric Barcelona Restaurant, Walnut Creek, California

Teleféric Barcelona
Teleféric has three bars/restaurants in Spain. The one we visited in Walnut Creek, California is their first venture in the United States, having opened in January 2017. Their menu is filled with dishes from Barcelona, created by chefs from Spain. The pricing is a bit high, but worth it for a special luxury meal such as an anniversary or birthday dinner. What first drew our attention to this restaurant is a peek at their signature sangrias. They graciously gave us a recipe to share with you.

Everything done at Teleféric Barcelona is done with flair, from the friendly and talkative staff to elaborate garnishes on food and drink abound. First we were offered appetizers from a cart. In Spain they are called pinchos, meaning ‘little bites.’ The best of these was a chorizo bite. It was sweet and paired with a nice crema-like cheese and a pepper which we expected to be hot but was pleasant instead.

Pisco cart

To go with our pinchos, drinks were in order. First up was a cocktail called a Cortez, Teleféric’s version of a Manhattan. It was surprising to find mezcal in it because we typically think of that with more Mexican dishes. The signature smokiness was there but not overwhelming. Other ingredients included Carpano Antica, maraschino liqueur, and flaming sweet orange. Very nice.

We also had a cocktail served alongside dessert called In Spanish Fashion. Its ingredients include Bulleit Rye whiskey, brandy, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, bitters, lemon, and hand cut ice. This was a pleasant combination of ingredients and a great end to a wonderful evening.

But sangria is really the main event here: Our host explained how every region of Spain has their own signature style of sangria. We decided to try Teleféric’s three sangrias with our meal. They were kind enough to bring us small tastes so we could try them all.

First was the white sangria called Sangria Ibiza. Its light bubbly and mild dry taste came from Verdejo Wine and Pisco from Peru. The slight sweetness is from the addition of elderflower liqueur, Licor 43, peaches, and pineapples.

Next up: A pink sangria called Barceloneta. Among its ingredients are prickly pear juice, lemonade, and a jumble of fresh fruits such as orange, blueberry, and raspberry. It came garnished with a small sprig of rosemary. Its taste was reminiscent of a Grenache wine.

The third, and our favorite, sangria was the Sangria Teleféric. Right off the mint from the garnish tickles the nose. This sangria was also garnished with a cinnamon stick, blueberries, and raspberries. The cinnamon gave the drink a nice spiciness to it.

We wanted to make it ourselves — here’s the recipe:Signature Sangrias

Sangria Teleféric
Spanish red wine
orange juice
apple juice
4 oranges (chunks)
4 ripe pears (chunks)
4 big cinnamon sticks
Brandy de Jerez “Solera”
Nolet’s gin

There aren’t measurements because you can make these in large or small batches and mix everything to taste. Mix all these ingredients , except the red wine. Then cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. The purpose is to obtain a balanced and unique flavor so neither the gin nor brandy will be overpowering. Throughout these 24 hours the pears and oranges release their flavors enhancing the fruity, but not too sweet flavors. Once the mix is ready, combine it with red wine. Let it rest for another 24 hours so the wine can absorb the sweetness and flavor of the fruits. Garnish with a cinnamon stick, berries, and fresh mint sprig.

Bar Review: P.C.H., San Francisco

The Pacific Cocktail Haven, or P.C.H. as the sign reads out front, is a drinking establishment unlike many you’re likely to find in San Francisco. The operation has been serving drinks for nearly a year, operating near Union Square, out of the old Cantina space, but this was my first visit to what’s clearly home to one of the most enigmatic drinks menus in town.

On a recent visit, barkeep Francis Stansky led us through an in-depth tasting of 10 cocktails (some old, some new) from the bar’s lineup, in between explanations of P.C.H.’s inspiration — “an intrigue with the culinary world” and unusual (but not obtuse) flavors. Deconstructed tiki is a big theme here, but you’ll find few ceramic mugs or umbrellas and, frankly, very little in the way of rum. Typical drinks are $12 or $13, with some large format punches also available.

Starting off with less alcohol-forward cocktails, we began with the Oh Snap!, a blend of Junipero gin, manzanilla sherry, absinthe, citrus, and tonic. The secret sauce is muddled sugar snap peas, which are strained out of the final (but nonetheless very green) cocktail. The pea flavor is intense and can initially be off-putting if you aren’t prepared for it, much in the way cilantro in a cocktail can be. I warmed up to it in time, and the anise hints and herbal, sherry-heavy finish give it more complexity.

Lime in da Coconut looks like a frappe but drinks entirely differently, blending Reyka vodka infused with salted pistachio, coconut-lychee milk, and citrus, all build on tons of crushed ice. It would come across like a tiki dessert if it were sweeter; instead, it’s a bit on the sour side, with lots of lime influence. I was a bigger fan of Kung Fu Pandan, a new drink moving to the main menu shortly, a bizarre mix of Kikori rice whisky, sake, salted pandan, and citrus — topped with dried candy cap mushroom dust. The dust gives the drink a heavy mushroom nose, segueing as you sip it into an earthy, nutty body with lemon highlights. Sake keeps the drink light and lively.

A duo of whiskey drinks started with the Thrilla in Manila, made with Evan Williams bourbon, shiso, calamansi, coconut, absinthe, and li-hing mui. Calamansi is a sort of Filipino lemonado, and li-hing mui is a dried plum candy, and both are put to interesting effect here as the balance the coconut presence, ample citrus, and sweet-and-sour finish. A favorite of the night. Another study in contrasts can be found in Tuk Tuk Tea, a blend of Dewar’s 12 year old Scotch, Hine cognac, Laphroaig, honey, Thai tea, and cream. This spin on Thai iced tea offers the classic sweet tea attack, refreshing but different, with a bit of a chocolate bent… before, whoosh, the smoky Laphroaig kicks in, taking the drink in a whole new direction. Like the Oh Snap!, this can be confusing and unexpected, but as you acclimate to it, it becomes quite delightful.

Ninth Ward was my least favorite drink of the night, blending Espolon reposado tequila, palo cortado sherry, banana, and bitters in an up drink served with a little flask of extra cocktail on the side, much like a classic martini. The sherry overwhelmed the tequila for me on this one, and I didn’t get much banana flavor, either. I preferred the Naked Mai Tai, a blend of Appleton Estate rum, Combier, orgeat, and bitters, though again, this was super spirit-forward, and the amount of rum overwhelmed the other elements. Maybe a bit too naked?

P.C.H. has a number of low-alcohol cocktails, including the Salaryman (sake, Dolin blanc vermouth, maraschino, and bitters), served in a classic shot glass and wooden sake box. Sake fans will dig it, but I thought the Sherry Cobbler, a classic blend of three sherries, creme de noyaux, orange marmalade, bitters, and fresh fruit, was the more refreshing option.

Did you save room for dessert? Check out the Barley and Me, a blend of Bernheim wheat whiskey, Avua cachaca, Lazzaroni amaro, dark-roast chocolate barley, cinnamon, and bitters. This is a rich dessert of a drink in a glass, with strong cocoa notes, vanilla, and almond notes. A huge crowd pleaser, it was the perfect way to end the evening and start planning our return.

Bar Review: Mezcalito, San Francisco

You needn’t think too hard to figure out what the spiritual focus of San Francisco’s Mezcalito, a bar and restaurant which opened seven months ago. It’s right there in the name.

At a recent tasting, bar manager Adam Mangold walked us through a good chunk of the extensive cocktail list here, almost all of which involves healthy doses of mezcal.

Mangold welcomed us with a small pour of Union Uno, the house mezcal, served with chili-spiced pineapple and orange slices. This is a fresh and clean starter mezcal, light on the smoke and earthy notes, with a restrained body. It was an excellent entry to the broader list, when things get more exciting.

Straight out of the gate, Mangold hit a home run by crafting the establishment’s Maracuya Sour, which blends Siete Misterios mezcal, passion fruit, vanilla agave, lime, and egg whites. Peychaud’s bitters are spritzed across the top of the frothy drink, using a stencil to leave a big red M across the drink. Tropical, with a big lime kick, it’s a fresh and fun drink with a subtle smokiness, growing in power as the volume of liquid left in the glass drops.

The Fresita de San Felipe was originally made with gin, but the bar recently swapped it for reposado tequila, which pairs with a strawberry jalapeno shrub, ginger, and lime. It’s a solid drink, but I found the herbal notes a little hefty, overwhelming the strawberry notes, which I’d love to see more of.

The Tequila Pimm’s Cup is exactly what it says, a Latin spin on a classic Pimm’s, with cucumber-infused blanco tequila, Pimm’s No. 1, mint, lime, ginger, and ginger beer to finish it off. The presentation of the drink is gorgeous, and the character is akin to a spiked iced tea, punchy with an herbal kick on the back end. Summery but bold, it’s both curious and refreshing.

Jonathan’s Gin & Tonic (that’s the official name) is just now debuting on the cocktail list, and it’s a Barcelona-style G&T, spiked with mezcal (of course). Gin, mezcal, and Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic Water are the core of the drink, but it’s the addition of dried hibiscus that takes this to another level. Bold and bitter at first, the hibiscus slowly infuses into the drink over 10 to 15 minutes to give it a fresh, floral character — and coloring the initially clear cocktail a lovely shade of pink. Your patience is rewarded on this one with a complex and vibrant cocktail.

Closing off the night after a dinner of traditional and not-so-traditional Mexican dishes, ranging from fresh oysters with smoked mignonette (a killer combo with mezcal) to a lobster role with chili butter on the side, Mangold brought by the Xoco-Mil, a dessert cocktail made with mezcal, Aperol, creme de cacao, yellow Chartreuse, and cream soda. A very grown-up milkshake, it’s a sultry, spicy chocolate kick that is fun and filling. Pro tip: Ditch the straw and drink it from the top to get bits of the cocoa garnish with every sip.

None of these sound like they’re to your liking? Check out one of the dozens of mezcals, many of which are incredibly hard to find, on the mezcal list.

Bar Review: The 404 Nashville

Though barely three years old, The 404 has made a name for itself as one of the pre-eminent dining and drinking spots in Nashville, Tennessee. While you’ll find a real feast for the gourmet on the food menu, it’s the small bar space that Drinkhacker readers will definitely want to check out. Small? Yeah, it has to be small: The whole place is built out of an old metal shipping container, so space is at a premium.

That hasn’t stopped bar manager Damien Breaw from putting together a vast collection of spirits, with a heavy focus on American whiskeys. How heavy? How about seven different bottles of High West’s A Midwinter Nights Dram? At least six Stagg Jr. variations? Every Orphan Barrel out there, and plenty, plenty more. Breaw says the bar has over 370 unique whiskeys on its shelves — by far the most comprehensive in the city of Nashville.

But Breaw, a Bay Area transplant who moved here to get The 404 up and running, is an accomplished mixologist, and the cocktails we tasted — all quite booze-forward, so rest up — are some of the best I’ve ever had.

Breaw started things off with The Mad Hattler, a deceptively simple combination of St. George gin, Kina L’aero D’or (a wormwood-flavored aperitif), and Sauternes. A drink that flows from fresh and herbal to bitter to nutty, earthy, and peppery on the finish, it’s a rare pre-dinner drink that offers incredible depth.

The Georgian Victory is a cocktail that immediately caught my eye, because everything in the ingredient list sounded good. Breaw puts these together with aplomb, counterbalancing a complex mix of Rittenhouse rye, Cynar, Yellow Chartreuse, peach syrup, house-made pecan bitters, and Angostura to produce one of the most beautiful whiskey cocktails I’ve encountered in years. A delight to drink and hard to put down, it was matched only by a serving of 404’s delightful cornbread, made perfect thanks to a crispy and buttery “shell.”

We closed things out by sampling the Apothecary, which is an excellent night-ender, made with WhistlePig barrel aged maple syrup, Green Chartreuse, Underberg bitters, Fernet Branca, and lime juice. That’s a lot of bitters, but by toning them down with the sweetness of the syrup (which is actually made by WhistlePig) and the intense sourness of the lime, what’s left behind is a surprisingly balanced drink that will please both amaro fans and those looking for something a bit less intense.

Before we left, Breaw poured a few of his favorite whiskeys on the shelf, including Act 4.3 of Midwinter Nights and a sample of Woodford Reserve’s recent Brandy Cask Finished Master’s Collection bottling. Both are excellent whiskeys to drink straight, but I don’t think it’s wrong to have wished instead for another go-round with the Georgian Victory.

A Visit to “Traditionally Irreverent” Laughing Monk Brewery

Laughing Monk Flight

Laughing Monk Brewery, in San Francisco, California, celebrates its first anniversary this year on St. Patrick’s Day. Brewers Jeff Moakler and Andrew Casteel are both avid beer aficionados, having traveled in Belgium and starting out through home brewing. Jeff has several medals under his belt and worked as a Head Brewer for BJ’s Brewhouse. Their idea for Laughing Monk is to brew Californian and Belgian beers using local, in season, ingredients. For those versed in Trappist beers, a few of these will be recognizable styles.

Their building is in the Bayview area of San Francisco — an artistic place to visit. Every building is painted in vivid, bold murals. As expected of a new craft brewery, the room is small but offers a friendly atmosphere. They have a collaborative relationship with their next door neighbor, Seven Stills Distillery. A visit to one will get you $5 off at the other, so why not check out both?

During our visit to the tap room, we tasted all of the below. Thoughts follow.

Midnight Coffee Stout – This is supposed to be a medium body stout, but the body is a dark brown, brewed with Artis cold brew coffee. The ivory head darkens closer to surface. With a strong espresso scent, its heavy coffee taste carries through to the finish, with mild barley and chocolate flavors underneath and a slight acidity. 7.1% abv. A

Laughing Monk BreweryBook of Palms – When coconut and pineapple are first mentioned, many people automatically think “sweet.” However this Berliner Weisse is a sour beer. The pineapple in the scent is fresh, but tart upon taste. The coconut becomes pronounced on 2nd sip. This dry beer has a cloudy, bright yellow body and a light head—typical of a Berliner Weisse. 5.3% abv. B+

Evening Vespers – This is a Belgian Duppel with a reddish-brown body crowned by a white frothy head. The nice dried fruit flavors of plum/prune, raisins, and dates are not overpowering. The sweetness is light as well. 7.1% abv. A

Date With the Devil – The deep red body and thin, white head of this Belgian Quad are appealing. Its date flavor brings a natural sweetness that’s more pronounced than that in Evening Vespers but it’s not syrupy or overpowering. It is certainly not as bold as expected. 9.5 abv. B+

3rd Circle Tripel – Belgian Tripels are traditionally brewed with three times the malt as other beers. 3rd Circle has a nice golden yellow body, and a thick, white head, and slight dryness to it. You can taste a bit of tart hoppiness with acidity following. 8.7% abv. B

Mango Gose – Originally brewed in collaboration with the Pink Boots Society, this Gose won a Bronze medal at the California State Fair Beer competition for session beers. Its body has a bright yellow color and an effervescent head. Mango sweet-tartness fills the nose immediately and then follows through on the tongue. Its mild saltiness comes from sea salt. 4.8% abv. B

Karl the Fog – This is a Vermont (American) IPA. Right off, the grapefruit-like scent of the hops tickles the nose. If you like IPAs, then this golden yellow beer with a white frothy head will please you. It is heavy with Mosaic and El Dorado hops. 6.2% abv. A