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GREAT SPIRITS

The 5 best whiskey bars in Sacramento

WRITTEN & PHOTOGRAPHED BY GARY AND PAMELA BAKER

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Matt “T” Trathen prepares a Bobby Burns cocktail

Whiskey has long been a part of American drinking culture, but lately we’ve noticed a growing interest in authentic, nostalgic craft whiskeys. Even whiskey cocktails — the iconic Manhattan, the sweet old fashioned, and the delightful Sazerac, born in the bars of New Orleans — have made a big comeback, showing up on bar menus just about everywhere. What’s driving this trend?

Distilled Spirits Council Senior Vice President of Economic and Strategic Analysis David Ozgo says, “Adult consumers, particularly millennials, continue to gravitate toward high-end and super premium spirits products.”

This, he says, expands its share of the alcohol market significantly. American whiskey, a key driver, is even gaining popularity among international consumers.

Bold Business says it’s not just the millennial generation. More women of all ages are becoming whiskey connoisseurs, making cocktails such as the Vieux Carre and the boulevardier fashionable again.

Locally, whiskey-centric bars, both new and established, are experiencing a comeback. As whiskey lovers ourselves, we set out to find the five best whiskey bars in Sacramento. Based on firsthand research and lots of recommendations, here are five places we loved, and you will too:

Block Butcher Bar

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The industrial décor, with a meat locker in the background, adds to Block Butcher Bar’s charm

This oddly titled boutique bar offers some of the most comprehensive whiskey choices in town. A carefully curated collection of amazing whiskeys — four shelves of bottles stacked along the brick wall behind the chest-high cement bar — give the distinct impression that whiskey is taken seriously here. Yet the meat-locker atmosphere, with soft jazz playing in the background, is surprisingly comfortable and quiet.

Matt “T” Trathen, vice president of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, Sacramento chapter, and bar manager at the Block Butcher, loves to share his knowledge from 23 years of bartending experience. He joyfully introduces whiskey to newcomers and recommends extraordinary whiskeys to seasoned veterans. Trathen ages his own whiskey cocktails in wood barrels, including an old fashioned, a boulevardier, Bobby Burns, and Vieux Carre.

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WhistlePig The Black Prince rye whiskey at Block Butcher Bar

 The bar features four whiskey flights. Single-malt whiskey, from six different regions of Scotland, is available in one-ounce pours. Rare and allocated whiskeys include various aged Pappys, Wellers, and a Joseph Magnus.

1050 20th St., Sacramento
916-476-6306 • Blockbutcherbar.com
Open 4 p.m. – 1 a.m. Tues. – Sun.

 

Ten Ten Room

The Ten Ten Room, a suave mid-century-inspired cocktail bar, features classic American cuisine of the 1950s era (think deviled eggs and garlic steak sandwiches). It also offers more than 100 whiskeys, including five Japanese, 22 Scotch, five Irish, and three Canadian, as well as 49 bourbons and 25 Tennessee and American ryes and whiskeys.

The bar’s extensive collection includes rare and allocated whiskeys, all delightfully displayed in three separate sections, five mirrored shelves high, behind the rich mahogany bar. A hardware-store-style wooden ladder hangs from the top shelf, providing easy access for bartenders to reach those lovely gems on the highest shelves, including Yamazaki, Macallan, and peaty Laphroaig.

The Ten Ten isn’t a big place. But its low lighting and retro atmosphere create an intimate, friendly lounge in which to share conversations and good whiskey.

1010 10th St., Sacramento
916-272-2888 • Tentenroom.com
Open 11:30 a.m. – 2 a.m. Mon – Fri., 4 p.m. – 2 a.m. Sat. – Sun.

 

The Porch Restaurant and Bar

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The Porch Restaurant and Bar offers an extensive collection of whiskeys

The Porch has true Southern charm and something out of the ordinary with its authentic craft whiskey cocktails and extensive whiskey library. In its seventh year as an evolving whiskey bar, The Porch now offers 28 different whiskey flights representing seven different U.S. states. You can sample 10 different flights of Kentucky bourbon alone.

Its inventory, stoutly displayed behind the bar in dark cherry-wood-framed shelving, contains eight California whiskeys, six Japanese, 12 Irish, 11 Canadian, and 53 American, along with 24 blended Scotches, 23 ryes, and 67 American bourbons. Comfortable bar stools and a high-energy, user-friendly, expert bartender will keep you here as long as you can manage.

Try a Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve, Macallan Rare Cask, or Weller Antique 107. In keeping with its Southern hospitality, The Porch offers client membership in its Social Club, which hosts special bourbon/whiskey events such as the Derby Day food-and-drink competition in a smaller, more intimate atmosphere for people to relax and enjoy good whiskeys.

1815 K St., Sacramento
916-444-2423 • Theporchrestaurantandbar.com
Open 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. Tues. – Thurs., 9 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. Fri. – Sat., 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. Sun.

 

De Vere’s Irish Pub

Don’t be fooled by the Irish pub mystique of this place. In this long-established Downtown bar celebrating its 10-year anniversary, whiskey is a cherished tradition. Two bar rooms serve customers here, and both stock an extensive allotment of whiskeys (240 to 250) for just about everyone’s taste.

There’s more Irish hospitality on Wednesday night when de Vere’s offers 50 percent off the price of any of its one-ounce whiskey pours from 7 p.m. until closing. Try a Yamazaki 18-year or a Jefferson’s Ocean Bourbon, or an Amrut single malt from India. Better yet, join the Whiskey Society for free, which gives customers access to discounts and specials.

1521 L St., Sacramento
916-231-9947 • Deverespub.com
Open 11 a.m. – midnight Mon. – Tues., 11 a.m. – 2 a.m. Wed., 10 a.m. – 2 a.m. Sat., 10 a.m. – midnight Sun.

 

Ella Dining Room and Bar

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A corner display of whiskeys at Ella’s Dining Room and Bar

A popular happy hour spot, Ella Dining Room and Bar is what you might call an elegant and upscale whiskey bar, professionally staffed with bartenders who know their spirits and boasting an extensive collection of rare and unusual whiskeys.

Prominently featured on one corner of the Downtown Sacramento bar, a collection of more than 30 Scotch whiskeys and 100 bourbons and other whiskeys face the entry. Sample a Kilkerran Sherry Wood, a Hakushu 18-year-old Japanese whiskey, or a 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle. The menu also features several WhistlePigs for rye-loving patrons.

1131 K St., Sacramento
916-443-3772 • Elladiningroomandbar.com
Open 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. Mon. – Thurs., 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m. Fri., 5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. Sat.

Pamela and Gary Baker are freelance food, spirits, wine, and travel writers based in Sacramento. They’ve written for regional, national, and international publications, including Via, Porthole Cruise, and Australia & New Zealand magazines. Read more of their work at Pamandgarybaker.com.

 

Spiced Pear Boulevardier

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A spiced pear boulevardier cocktail at The Porch Restaurant and Bar

 

 

(courtesy of Daniel Martin, bartender, The Porch Restaurant and Bar in Sacramento. Serves 1)

1 ounce Elijah Craig Single Barrel 12-year bourbon

½ ounce St. George Bruto Americano

½ ounce St. George Spiced Pear Liqueur

1 dash Bar Keep Chinese 5-spice bitters

Stir all ingredients with ice and single strain into a small cocktail coupe glass. Garnish with orange twist.

 

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