Jack Rose Dining Saloon's Tips On How To Navigate A Whiskey List Like A Pro

Jack Rose Dining Saloon's tips on how to navigate a whiskey list like a pro

It's Spirits Month! Get in on all the booze-filled fun.

Within Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C., proprietor Bill Thomas oversees a whiskey list—more like a voluminous catalog—of nearly 2,000 bottles. The "book," as he calls it, is updated on a near-constant basis.

It's one of the country's largest whiskey selections and a playground for connoisseurs. But it can also be headache-inducing if you don't know where to start. How can you drink smarter and take home some street cred all at the same time? We asked Thomas for his advice.

Try Cask Strength

To make the most out of a single glass, Thomas loves cask-strength whiskey, which retains the strong 55 to 65 percent ABV it was aged with (most regular whiskeys are diluted to 40 to 45 percent during bottling). "You're getting double the value," Thomas explains, because a single glass of cask whiskey will taste totally different when you sip it neat versus sipping it with a drop of water mixed in. Water helps to open up a whiskey's nose and typically changes its palate as well (each table at Jack Rose comes equipped with a water dropper for just that purpose). So you're really trying two different drams for the price of one.

Find the Scotch Sweet Spot

It's no secret that age plays a large role in determining the price of Scotch. But how do you find the sweet spot where quality and value intersect? "Any Scotch over 18 years old has gone up astronomically in price," Thomas says. "The 10's and 12's, or even 15 -year-olds, are more reasonable." So instead of opting for Macallan 18, whose price tag has skyrocketed 45 percent in the past year alone, Thomas suggests seeking out Glendronach 15 or even Aberlour A'Bunadh, a no-age statement bottling, both of which are more affordable Scotches with a similar sherry-influenced flavor profile.

Photo: Veronica Sequeira

What About Pappy's?

While the mere mention of Pappy Van Winkle sends many a whiskey fan into a spending spree, there are more cost-effective alternatives. Thomas recommends looking back to the time before the Pappy Van Winkle lineup was produced by Buffalo Trace. The eponymous Pappy Van Winkle helmed the Stitzel-Weller Distillery, which opened in 1935 and produced brands such as Rebel Yell and Old Fitzgerald. The distillery was sold in 1972, at which point his son, Julian Van Winkle Jr., created the Old Rip Van Winkle brand with whiskey made during the Stitzel-Weller days.

Today, you can find vintage Stitzel-Weller offerings on the shelves of Jack Rose and other bars for a fraction of the price of the Pappy lineup. You'll be trying excellent whiskey while keeping your budget in check, and also bringing home some knowledge to share the next time "Pappy's" inevitably comes up.

Find Your Own Go-To

Your average watering hole won't have 2,000 whiskeys available, or even 200. That's why everybody needs an accessible go-to they can rely on in any given bar. Even Thomas. "Talisker 10, which pretty much everybody has. Wild Turkey Rare Breed on the bourbon side. They're good whiskeys, and good values," Thomas says. "I'll be in here recommending Talisker 10 all day."

Take It Home

Many people who come to Jack Rose want to try something they'll not only love, but that they can then go purchase at the liquor store and take home. Thomas has a few recommendations: "Springbank 12 Cask Strength, Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength and Lagavulin 12 Cask Strength—those are three in my back pocket," Thomas says. "If they're not in your liquor store today, they might be in a few months [when the next annual release comes out]. When you find one of those, go for it—they're fantastic."