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Bourbon and Scotch Dinners Are Now Widespread In Fine Dining Venues

April 18, 2014

With whiskey sales in the U.S. rising fast, Bourbon and Scotch dinners are suddenly in vogue. These events got started, naturally, in whiskey strongholds like Louisville, where the pioneering Bourbons Bistro began staging Bourbon dinners a decade ago. Today, high-toned Louisville venues like the Seelbach Hotel’s Oak Room, 610 Magnolia and the Holly Hill Inn are all pairing whiskies with light modern American fare.

The movement has now mushroomed around the country. Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C., and the Flatiron Room in New York are staging whisk(e)y dinners with regularity, as are the Four Seasons in St. Louis and the Holland House in Nashville. The Bourbon House in New Orleans recently hosted a Buffalo Trace dinner with four courses for $95. The French Laundry in Yountville, California, renowned for its award-winning wine list, held its first-ever Scotch dinner last summer featuring The Macallan, including the 1989 Fine and Rare that retails at $3,500 a 750-ml. And everywhere, it seems, chefs are incorporating whiskey into sauces, marinades and desserts.

In many places, cutting-edge mixologists are promoting the whisk(e)y-food liaison. Max Solano is beverage manager at Delmonico Steakhouse, an Emeril Lagasse property in the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas that offers 600 whiskies, about half of them Scotch. Solano started hosting whiskey dinners in 2010, mostly centered on Scotch, for 20 to 70 people at a time. Pairings have included scallops with a rare Craigellachie Vintage 1999 as well as a braised short rib Wellington with Laphroaig 15-year-old. Other dinner pairings have used Cragganmore Distiller’s Edition and Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or 12-year-old.

At the Four Seasons hotel in St. Louis, Cielo restaurant last year staged its first whiskey dinner, focused solely on The Glenlivet, for 50 people and priced at $50 a person. Main courses featured the Glenlivet 15- and 21-year-old, while dessert was paired with The Glenlivet Nadurra. Bar manager Cory Cuff is now expanding into whiskey and cigar dinners as well as a dinner featuring Italian Amaro. A rum-pairing dinner event is also being considered.

Amid all the success, some on-premise players worry about overdoing it. Jason Brauner, owner of Bourbons Bistro in Louisville, has reduced his schedule of monthly Bourbon dinners and is now offering just two or three a year. He’s also tilting toward more intimate, 15-person events instead of the 100-person dinners of previous years. “Everybody was getting a little fatigued,” Brauner says.

Still, whisk(e)y dinners are now a prominent feature in restaurant repertoires. “Just 10 years ago nobody would have cared about whiskey and food,” says Max Lipsky, bar manager at Luxbar in Chicago. “People were drinking syrupy drinks that didn’t pair with anything. Now we’re viewing beverages from a real culinary perspective. We’ve come a long way in a few short years.”

A full feature on whisk(e)y dinners appears in the April edition of Market Watch magazine.

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