Patience and Distraction

The bar at Keen's

The bar at Keen’s

Full disclosure: It’s December 7, and I haven’t opened my Whisky Advent Calendar yet.

Oh, I want to. But I’ve been showing admirable self-restraint.

My husband and partner in whisky tasting has been in New York on business, and I just didn’t feel it was fair to try new whiskies without him, so I’ve been patiently opening the doors of my other advent calendar, the pretty one with all the pictures from the Oxford Bodleian library, instead.

However, I had a bit of comfort while I was in New York City myself over the weekend. Together with a friend, I stepped back in time when we decided to go to the bar at Keen’s Steakhouse (on 36th St. near 6th Ave.), an unprepossessing location that offers no outer hint of the time travel that rests within. We didn’t go for the steaks, although next time I will. We went for the bar, which boasts 270 whiskies. One of them, picked at random by me at the bar, turned out to be Day 2 of the Whisky Advent Calendar. How do I know? My friend has the advent calendar as well, it was Dec. 2, and she’d already opened that day although she hadn’t yet tried the bottle because she was out with me.

Before I get to the whiskies, let me just say that if you like whisky and you are not a vegetarian (or you are a vegetarian who doesn’t mind the insinuating scent of cooking meat), you might try stopping in at Keen’s. I had the feeling the last major change allowed at the place, besides basic modern technology, was the admission of women to the deeply masculine cove back in 1905. And perhaps a wider array of whisky than was locally available back then. We had a couple of small plates of bar food – a small kale salad and crab cakes – both delicious. So I can attest that the non-beef food is good.

The bartenders were relaxed, friendly and knowledgeable, the atmosphere unpretentious, with people very dressed up for a special meal mixed in with people like us, who were having a couple of whiskies before heading out to a late movie.

Now, the whiskies we had were 1) a 12-year-old Auchentoshan and 2) a 12-year-old Glenrothes. Both neat, although I did finally try adding a few drops of water to the Glenrothes at the suggestion of the bartender.

The Auchentoshan was the advent calendar whisky. It’s from the west of Scotland, a Lowland single-malt aged in old bourbon and sherry barrels, as well as being triple distilled. Smooth, honey taste with a bit of a tangy note, I really enjoyed this delicate whisky. It was easy and warm to drink neat. Both my friend and I liked it a lot.

The Glenrothes was another story. Apparently the Speyside single-malt is bottled according to vintage rather than age. I assume this means anything in a given bottle is from one specific vintage rather than a mix of differently-aged casks, but I’m very open to clarification on this point. The whisky was more pungent than the Auchentoshan, and had a distinct peppery, spicy edge that my friend didn’t like at all. I thought it was interesting, and as we let it sit in the glass a bit, it rounded out. Then the barkeep suggested a couple of drops of water, and that did the trick – the spiciness mellowed into the rest of the flavors rather than overwhelming them. I would try this again, just for kicks.

And I will go back to Keen’s when I get back to New York City, and have more than the whisky and the crab cakes.


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