Stop me if you’ve heard this joke: Camper English walks into a bar . . . (more on this later)
This Spring semester, being the ever so busy third year students that we are, a good friend of mine and I have tried to grab drinks together every (or every other) Tuesday at a good bar we have been meaning to try. We both love whiskey and don’t have any classes together this semester, so its a good chance for us to catch up and try some great drinks. Also a thinly veiled excuse just to get (classy) drunk in the middle of the week.
This week we returned to an old favorite Seven Grand, which their website describes as “A swank Irish infused urban oasis in Downtown Los Angeles, Seven Grand serves up 271 premium whiskeys, rare ryes and small batch bourbons on a hand-carved black walnut bar under the stony gaze of freshly hunted Jackolopes.” If you live in LA and haven’t visited, shame on you. If you are visiting LA, make a point to stop by. The bartenders are fantastic, attentive, knowledgeable and creative. The atmosphere is dark, woodsy, and elegant without being pretentious. The best place in LA to have a whiskey neat, get recommendations on new whiskeys to try, and have some classic or cutting edge cocktails. If you’d like to really interact with the bartenders I recommend getting there close to opening (5pm Mon-Wed; 4pm Thur-Fri) and grab a seat at the bar. It can get crowded later in the evening and on weekends with a crowd not as interested in the artistry of the bartenders, and it kind of breaks my heart to hear someone order a vodka tonic at this bar.
Needless to say, my friend and I love it here. I started my evening with a Michters Small Batch Rye, neat of course. I had been wanting to try this rye for a while, but was a little underwhelmed. Not bad at all, but nothing special especially considering the price.
I was determined to make up for it on my second drink, so I started talking to the bartender about Bulleit Rye, and he seemed to be a big fan. One of the things I love about this place is they will take the bottles from the shelf and offer you a sniff. The bartender described the flavor, and all I can recall now is his emphasis on “the fennel flavor in the middle.” He mixed me a beautiful Bulleit Rye Manhattan (Bulleit Rye, Carpano Antica, bitters, lemon peel garnish) that really highlighted the rye. This was a perfectly balanced Manhattan, with the Carpano and Bulleit playing so well off of each other, and I loved putting my nose into the glass and getting that citrusy lemon smell before each sip. I’m really looking forward to getting a bottle of the Bulleit and trying this one at home, albeit most likely with Noilly Prat ($) rather than the heavenly Carpano ($$$$).
After finishing our round, my friend and I started discussing my new love for Negronis, as I tend to order one at every bar we’ve done together. I’ve been slowly introducing my friend to the idea of Campari as well, and I think he’s on board. It seemed like a waste though to order a gin drink at a fantastic whiskey bar, so I suggested a cocktail I had read about in Jason Wilson’s Boozehound: The Boulevardier. Essentially, the Boulevardier is just a Negroni with the whiskey substituted for the gin that (according to the bartender) predates the Negroni. Our bartender whipped us up two beautiful drinks (1 oz. Maker’s Mark, 1 oz. Dolin Sweet Vermouth, 1 oz. Campari, orange peel garnish) that tasted as good as they looked. The substitution of the whiskey, especially a sweet bourbon like Maker’s, make the drink much richer and fuller than its gin cousin. It still works perfectly with the vermouth and campari, but has a much bolder flavor. I really enjoyed this one.
At some point during our Boulevardiers, the bartender started making something flaming and complicated for the gentleman sitting next to me. I turned and asked him about the drink, and eventually we struck up a conversation. I immediately thought I recognized him as Camper English, famous spirits writer whose blog Alcademics I read regularly, but it wasn’t until he introduced himself that my suspicions were confirmed. I was lucky enough to be able to pick his brain about various cocktail related things, as well as just carry on a nice bar conversation. Some nuggets:
- When asked what his go to drink is: “Never the same thing twice.”
- After thanking him for offering me a sip of one of his drinks: “Of course, cocktails are meant to be shared.”
- After giving him a hard time about getting paid to travel the world drinking spirits: “Well, someone has to do it.”
Overall a very nice, genuine, and brilliant guy, and to the cocktail geek in me this was akin to a huge celebrity sighting.
For my final round I put myself at the mercy of our oh so talented bartender, and he delivered big time. To the best of my recollection, the cocktail began with lighting some White Dog Corn Whiskey on fire in the glass and letting it burn, is his words to “caramelize the sugars onto the interior of the glass.” He then mixed the Bulleit Rye, Cynar, and some sort of Luxardo Amaro. It was served with instructions: “Try it now, then try it again in a few minutes. The flavor will be completely different as the sugars break down into the drink.” My goodness was he right. On first taste the drink was delicious and complex, but a bit rough around the edges. However after a few minutes the flavors really rounded out into a much fuller, though very complex drink.
Hats off to our bartender for his fine work. Thanks to Camper English for making a special appearance. Not sure how we will top this next Tuesday.