Grain Bar’s Lance Essihos talks American whiskey
Last year we caught up with Lance Essihos, the Assistant Bar Manager at Sydney’s award-winning Grain Bar, to pick his brain about American whiskey. His insights, first published in BARS&clubs magazine, are especially relevant during Whisky Month.
WHAT EXCITES YOU MOST ABOUT AMERICAN WHISKEY?
Lance Essihos: Well, the history of American whiskey and how it has become such a success around the globe is pretty exciting. I love it because it’s very versatile in mixing cocktails and very easy to sip on its own.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE AMERICAN WHISKIES AND WHY?
LE: Knob Creek Rye: I enjoy the spiciness of Knob Creek drank neat. And it holds up well in an old fashioned, and even better in a stronger drink like a Manhattan – it has some strong legs to stand on. My personal favourite American whiskey is Rittenhouse Rye. It’s my go-to in a Manhattan. It is a fruitier rye with banana, peaches and white pepper flavour. This makes for the perfect combo of fruit and spice. It’s a great rye for people who are used to drinking bourbon but want to make the step to rye. Lastly, Buffalo Trace is my favourite bourbon – I feel it’s an underrated product to be honest. It’s on the sweeter side yet has a bit of spice and some nice flavours of brown sugar, toffee and vanilla, and makes for an amazing Old Fashioned or Whiskey Smash!
A CUSTOMER HAS NEVER TRIED AMERICAN WHISKEY BEFORE – WHAT DO YOU SUGGEST THEY START WITH?
LE: If you’ve never tried American whiskey before, you can’t go wrong with Maker’s Mark. I was taught to make Old Fashioneds more than a decade ago with this bourbon. It’s very sweet and smooth with a strong vanilla flavour, so it’s a good start for someone who wants to try American whiskey or any other whisky for that matter.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE AMERICAN WHISKEY CLASSIC COCKTAIL, HOW WOULD YOU MAKE IT AND WHAT FOOD WOULD YOU PAIR IT WITH?
LE: My favourite American whisky cocktail is a Manhattan, stirred down with Rittenhouse Rye, Antica Formula sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters, served neat or on the rocks. It pairs nicely with rich foods like a charcuterie board with loads of cured meats, and helps bring out the flavours of both.
WHAT ABOUT A MODERN AMERICAN WHISKEY COCKTAIL CREATION – WHAT’S IN IT AND HOW DO YOU MAKE IT?
LE: My modern American whisky cocktail creation is called the Southern Belle. It’s made like a traditional sour, with Bulleit Rye, fresh pear juice, Demerara sugar, whisky bitters, egg white and lemon, served in a coupette. Then I spray a Laphroaig Scotch mist on top to add a smoky scent to the nose. It’s very fresh and flavourful yet simple, and is new to the menu here at Grain Bar.
HAVE YOU NOTICED ANY TRENDS, EITHER IN CONSUMPTION OR PRODUCTION, WITH AMERICAN WHISKEY OVER THE PAST COUPLE OF YEARS?
LE: The comeback of the Old Fashioned over the past three or four years has been remarkable. I’ve seen so many different methods and styles, from fat washes to infusions and barrel aging… it’s really become a staple to the modern drinker. We’ve also seen different classics surface again over the last few years like the Manhattan, the Sazerac, Juleps and even the Whiskey Smash. There’s so many twists to these amazing drinks that it’s created a very fun environment for people to explore. It also provides a fun history lesson and a unique story to how American whiskey has helped shape and create the cocktail scene that we know today.