Thursday, September 18, 2008

Char No. 4, Take 1

Funny how things get exaggerated in cut time. I knew that Char No. 4, the new Smith Street bar, boasted more than 150 kinds of whiskey. In the past week, however, people have excitedly told me they have more than 200, more than 300!

Anyway, they have a lot. And most of them are displayed and backlit on a towering series of shelves behind the bar. They look to be arranged alphabetically, not by whiskey type. I must say, it's a soothing sight, all that white light flowing through all that amber liquid. One warms oneself in the glow. The joint, only a few days old, was only moderately busy, and no one was dining. I suspect people don't yet know that they serve food. (A lot of pork and such stuff, much of it sounding tasty.)

A small, hard-bound book lists all the whiskeys available. They're divided into various categories, including Bourbon, Rye, Corn Whiskey, Tennessee Whiskey, Scotch, Japanese Whiskey, etc. One can have a sample in 1 ounce and 2 once servings—a good thing, because some of these babies are expensive, and a 1 ouncer really cuts down on the cost. There are a goodly amount of liquors that can be had for $6 or less. (There's also beer and a compact wine list, for those who step into Char No. 4 and don't want whiskey, but I can't imagine who those dunderheads might be.)

I chose a George Dickel Barrel Select, at $6 on ounce. I like Dickel's stuff. Nice and smooth, and this proved to be in that tradition. They served it to me in a tumbler that looked a bit like a Riedel "O" series wine glass, with a glass of ice on the side, though, curiously, not with any water until I asked for it. After that, I was determined to try something I was totally unfamiliar with. I saw two whiskeys on the shelf that were in clay jugs, hillbilly style. I tried the Henry McKenna, which the waitress said the owner has just gotten in. A 150-year-old brand, I learned soon after. It was fruity and enjoyable. Lots of apricot in the nose (if I may say so without being pilloried as pretentious.)

This would be a good place for show-off Wall Street big-spenders (if there are any of those left after this week), because there are plenty of ways to throw money around here. You don't have to look far to find an aged, rare whiskey that costs $100 an ounce. Most of these are in the Bourbon category. (Single malt scotches, by comparison, are considerably less expensive, which doesn't seem right somehow. It's the American way to jack up prices to the ceiling, isn't it?) Celebrate local LeNell Smother's own Red Hook Rye is available at $75 a shot! They also have Dickel's No. 8, which is currently very hard to come by due to a production shortage. It goes for $25 a shot.

Char No. 4's off to a good start, but they still have some kinks to work out. That water thing, for instance. Most erudite whiskey lovers know to drop a bit of water in their liquor before drinking. It helps to fully elicit the whiskey's aromas and flavors. People don't have to do this, but the water should be there as an option. And the owner have the Dickels—a Tennessee whiskey—listed under the Bourbons. I pointed this out, and the waitress said they were aware of the error. If you're going to specialize in one kind of alcohol, you're going to attract a lot of wonks like me. So you better have your ducks in a row.

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