Bar Hopping: Bainbridge Street Barrel House, Philadelphia, PA

I recently made my second visit to Bainbridge Street Barrel House (BSBH) at 6th & Bainbridge in Philadelphia's Queen Village neighborhood. This spacious corner bar opened about a year ago and has since become a popular spot for folks in the immediate neighborhood, if not a destination for the city at-large. So far, reviews of the Barrel House have been lukewarm, mostly because the gastro-pub scene has become so competitive. Given the somewhat inflated prices and my ho-hum experience with BSBH's cheeseburger, I would also recommend other nearby spots ahead of this one for food and maybe even beer (although with 25 taps and a family connection to Bella Vista Beer Distributors, the Barrel House can put together a great beer list when they want to). However, if you're looking for a low key neighborhood joint to enjoy a few fine whiskeys at fair prices, this is your spot.

I won't bore you with a long list of the bourbons, ryes, and Scotches they have on offer since they do the very kind favor of posting their list here, including prices! I will however point out a few gems that would stand out on a whiskey list anywhere, but are especially surprising to see here in Pennsylvania where the PLCB makes life oh so difficult. First, they have not one but two different George T. Stagg releases (2010 & 2011). They also have Bowman Brother's bourbon, aged in Virginia, and a $6 dram of W.L. Weller. These are just not things you expect to find in a neighborhood gastro-pub in Philly, and while bourbon is the obvious focus, there's also a nice balance of rye, Scotch, and Irish with rare (Ledaig 10 Year Sherry Cask) and bargain (Paddy's for $5) options alike.

Philly has a ton of awesome bars and can go toe-to-toe with any city for bar food and beer selection. Most of these bars however don't show the hand of a true whiskey aficionado at work when you look at their back-bar - Bainbridge Street Barrel House does, and it manages to do the beer and food thing well enough too. All without putting on airs or being anything more than a neighborhood pub where you can bring your friends, have a snack, drink a beer, watch a football game...and get a slug or two of Pappy Van Winkle or A.H. Hirsch if you're feeling so inclined.


Oh Taste & See: Glen Moray 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch

This is a bottle of Scotch that I came across up in Massachusetts and since I had never seen it before and it was priced right (around $39) I decided to pick it up. After a bit of research I discovered that it's apparently more popular in Australia than here in the U.S. I've always thought Aussies were pretty good at drinking, so maybe that's a good sign.

Glen Moray is a pretty straightforward, bourbon cask aged, Speyside single malt that doesn't hit you too hard with any particular flavor. It makes for a fair-priced crowd-pleaser or an easy stepping stone for someone looking to ease from blended Scotch into single malts.

Color: The color is right in the middle of the whiskey color range - not quite straw pale but not quite golden honey. The poet in me would say it looks like a wheat field at sunset in that it's light and grainy colored but with a splash of orange settling over it. Given that's it's only 12 years old I'm guessing this nice color is achieved by adding a bit of caramel coloring.

Nose: This Scotch has a pretty clean nose with just a hint of peat smoke as the first impression. The smokiness is like a clean backwoods creek in the morning - dew, damp earth, and just a hint of fish. There are also hints of honey, walnuts, caramel, and baked pie crusts tucked in here and they come out more when you add a bit of water.

Flavor: The Glen Moray 12 Year Old has a medium-rich body with flavors of honey, lemon candy, and something a bit grainy like raw sweet corn. After adding water it gets more buttery with butter cookie flavors similar to the pie crust aroma I picked up in the nose.

Finish: The finish of this 80 proof whisky is very smooth with no burn and a gentle fade from smoky to salty to earthy.

Overall, this is a straightforward, balanced, uncomplicated single malt that sips a lot like a good blended Scotch. It's not going to impress your peat-hound friends or anyone who likes a punch-in-the-mouth whisky, but if you want a nice single malt that will please a crowd it seems like a good way to go.


Oh Taste & See: Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond Bourbon

I have accumulated a few bottles recently that warrant review, so without further ado I'll jump right into the first one: Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond Bourbon. The Old Fitzgerald lineup of bourbons is made by Heaven Hill Distilleries, the maker of Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, Henry McKenna, etc. Old Fitz is an old name that's a fairly common bargain brand in some areas (I picked up this bottle in Chicago for about $15) and almost unheard of in others - I don't think I've ever seen it in PA, NJ, or DE for example.

The entire Old Fitz lineup, which includes at least four variants, is made with a 'whisper of wheat' instead of using rye as the secondary grain. As with most wheated bourbons you should expect a somewhat lighter, smoother-drinking bourbon as compared to bourbons made with rye. Other wheated bourbons include Maker's Mark, the Weller lineup from Buffalo Trace Distillery, and the much-hyped Pappy Van Winkle bourbons.