2017 is a big year for Whisky Rover marking 7 years of when I first started my journey back through whiskies. Time flies and all that. Speaking of which, a recent trip to Las Vegas prompted a fearsome piece of inspiration about visiting 7 bars on the Strip and beyond.
The aim is to experience randomly selected bars and take in a different bourbon or whiskey each time that may or may not have been recommended by the bar staff. I’m always eager to broaden my experience with North American whiskies and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. A few hours each night on the tables and then an overpriced bourbon to end the evening. What could go wrong? Well apart from my wallet taking a hammering but isn’t that always the case with any trip to Vegas?
Lets kick off at the Yardbird Southern Table & Bar which you’ll find at the Venetian handily just off the casino floor. This ticked all the boxes for us offering American cuisine and an extensive whiskey and whisky list. I could have spent a great deal of time looking through all the ranks but left this one to our server with the only outline being a rye. As with most staff recommendations they shun the extravagantly priced options and select something a little more palatable. Our conversation also highlighted (to me anyway) the aspect of Proof i.e. alcohol strength that many clients must focus on. I’m not that fussed about the strength or a one-way ticket to casino oblivion; its about the experience and not the burn.
Angel’s Envy Rye – review
100% proof so 50% abv
A big daddy being 95% rye (much higher than legally necessary) and the remaining 5% malted barley. 6 years in newly charred oak barrels then 18 months in ex-rum casks.
Colour: a golden hue
On the nose: I know I’ll be saying vanilla a great deal in this piece and here’s its noticeably creamy. There’s butterscotch and caramelised sugar work, toffee and a spicy depth with cinnamon and nutmeg. A little rum at work here as well. Nicely balanced.
In the mouth: vanilla crème brulee with cream soda and a tinge of alcohol yet pretty rounded. A definite Caribbean influence with the rum, raisins and more toffee.
Overall: this is a small batch whiskey producer based in Louisville that is owned by Bacardi Limited. Fingers in every pie and all that. There’s a certain chic to the bottle design that’s for sure. Despite the high rye content in the mash and how enjoyable this one was. I felt that the casks had erased somewhat that rye chemistry on the palate when it came to the actual taste.
Now we’re sitting in Lago situated in the Bellagio and whilst this restaurant does have a small bar area to the front it’s Sunday morning. That means their stunning brunch is on offer and we’re sat overlooking the fountains. It’s a special setting and whilst sadly there was no Tormore on their bar list (I did almost choke at the price for a 25 year old Scotch), there was one obvious candidate. It comes from the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. This is the Bellagio single barrel for $14 a measure.
Four Roses Bellagio Single Barrel – review
Warehouse number NN, barrel number 78.2b, bottled at 50% vol
Colour: syrup syrup syrup
On the nose: ooh vanilla marshmallows with some popcorn thrown in. Aye there’s toffee and some resin but beneath a hint of cinnamon and a dash of beef stock. Toasted brown bread and more sweetness with caramel, fudge and a hint of rum.
In the mouth: a rush of vanilla and the bitterness of the wood that moves into the finish with some pink peppercorns. Hitting reverse for a moment we find oranges, cherries, almonds with a creamy milk chocolate. Spicy? Yes of course with cinnamon bark and nutmeg.
Overall: compared to the Angel’s envy this one felt just more au naturel. Not a rye I appreciate, but whoever selected this cask for the Bellagio has done a sterling job. A really enjoyable straight bourbon with just enough layers.
Now we’re moving off Strip and heading downtown which means Freemont Street. It’s a hive of activity and old Vegas and plenty of bars once you spill off the main street into the surrounding blocks. We ended up at the Container Park which is exactly what it says; I’ve never had a drink in a shipping container but there’s a first time for everything.
This friendly complex plays host to small local shops and would be a favourite with any foodie given the quality hot dog or Mexican food on offer. We were here to check out Oak & Ivy that has a great selection of whiskies; see the top photograph for half of the selection. What initially was meant to be a brief visit turned into a couple of hours sitting at the bar. Adam was keeping all the clientele enthused with his passion for cocktails and some wonderful creations that we all sampled prior to his competition the following week with Remy-Cointreau who of course own the consistently dull Bruichladdich.
Being off Strip the prices are slightly cheaper but not hugely. Instead you’re paying the obvious skill behind the bar and a mesmerising selection of whiskies. I’ll hold my hand up here and admit I had more than one. It was a surreal environment as we were surrounded by Santa’s thanks to the Santa Christmas walk held that morning and the sun was blazing. I felt as if I was starring in a warped version of Honeymoon in Vegas with all those Elvis costumes replaced by the glowing red of Santa; even the pets were dressed up!
Oak & Ivy is a very sociable bar as a group of us soon dominated the counter. Names aside we had a retired law enforcement officer, a Vegas native and a glamorous lawyer from LA. The banter was intoxicating as were those creations from the bar! I did try out a couple from the Westland distillery and I’ll review these separately as we’re on a 7 whisky vs 7 bar foundation here. So that left this double rye from Park City, Utah and High West distillery that has a very inspiring history.
High West Whiskey Double Rye – review
Batch number 16F07, bottled at 46% vol,
a blend of straight rye whiskies one at 2 years and another at 16 years of age
Price at the bar $12
On the nose: caramelised bananas and vanilla custard and that crunchy brulee topping. Then more syrup with nutmeg and all-spice.
In the mouth: stewed apples then golden syrup with the vanilla brulee again plus more bananas. Then a wave of spice that was missing in the Angel’s Envy with nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper. There’s dark chocolate and a tinge of alcohol moving into the finish.
Overall: a really enjoyable, engaging and flavoursome rye that won’t break the bank. Almost so good I nearly had another shot.
Moving onto our next bar we’re in the epic labyrinth that is the MGM Grand. It’s a bizarre setting as the Rodeo is in town and the casino floor is populated by regulars, tourists and cowboys and cowgirls. It’s easy to lose track of time in such a controlled environment. Bars and food options surround the casino floor; so much so that you never need leave to other than to retire for sleep.
In the centre of this carnival is Whiskey Down. A bar that offers a refuge from the hustle and bustle of gambling with a comfy leather chair. A sizeable selection of whiskies is available some you may need a big win to afford. Annoying prices are not listed apart from their specific single barrel bottlings that are actually reasonable. An impressive Scotch selection including a Rosebank that’ll set you back nearly $300 a nip is on offer. That’s beyond Edinburgh tourist prices and explains why most of the cowboys seemed content to have a beer. Lightweights.
Amidst some formidable names – and possible prices – I plump for a whiskey that’s relatively new to me from Kirby, Wyoming. This is an independent and family owned distillery, the son of the founders is the head distiller and visiting the official website it does seem like a real close knit team.
Wyoming Whiskey – review
Overall: there’s a cask strength version out there of the Wyoming whiskey so it’d be interesting to compare both. I left this one thinking there wasn’t much depth but looking back on my tasting notes its above average and certainly made with love.
Our hotel during this Vegas visit was the Vdara which suited our needs and lacks such a traditional inclusions like a casino or a real bar of note. An accessible location means that you can easily walk to the Bellagio, Cosmopolitan or the Strip itself within minutes. Just to the rear of the hotel is the Aria that offers a nightclub, restaurants, casino and various bars. One of note that soon established itself as a favourite haunt is Sage.
This is more a high-end restaurant with a bar area that is very comfortable with live music at weekends. Aaron behind the bar is very knowledgeable on all matters including Pokémon that kept my better half occupied whilst I scoured the drinks menu. The whiskey list is extensive and including a selection of Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottlings and rarely opened American whiskies. They’re also not afraid to display the price which is refreshing on our journey so far. Another first is serving your choice in a Glencairn. So all good and what about the whiskey Aaron suggested?
William Larue Weller 12 year old – review
a wheated Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
bottled at 45% strength