Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Whisky Tourism

You know that stand-up comic who says: "You might be a redneck if..."? Well, if you take a vacation just to drink at a bar with a legendary whisky collection? You might be a serious whisky fan.

I found such a place in Mendocino County, about 120 miles from San Francisco. It's the Albion River Inn. This is the view from my cabin (note: skies are not blue at this time of year!):

Near as I can tell, this is the best time of the year to visit. I'm guessing they don't get many visitors in the rainy season, so the room rates were discounted. Don't worry, you'll spend the savings in the world class bar. That's a joke: The prices in the bar are excellent, so you'd be hard pressed to drink that much.

I have been here since Sunday (2-Mar-2014). I've had:

  • Talisker - 175th Anniversary bottling
    • Recommended by our waiter, David -- great choice!
  • Port Ellen, 8th release
    • 55.3% ABV
    • Distilled in 1978, bottled in 2008 (29 years old)
  • Inchmurrin 28
    • 43% ABV
    • The only expression I didn't care for
      • I always say you have to try new things...especially at $19.50/serving!
    • I had never heard of this distillery, so I did some research (on my own blog...)
  • Bruichladdich Black Art 1989
    • Edition 03.1; 48.7% ABV
    • 22 years old; amazing bronze color; sherry notes prominent on nose; really smooth
      • If you know me, you know I'm a huge fan of Bruichladdich and so I had to try this nearly-extinct expression. Had to! :-)
Tonight I'm going to have:
  • Oban 21
    • It just arrived in the bar yesterday; really looking forward to trying this rare dram
The staff is super knowledgeable, enthusiastic and friendly (another member of the waitstaff, Janet, was very helpful for my wife when she needed to pick a cognac0. Other than the whisky collection, I think staff attributes are the most important metrics in evaluating whisky bars. Also: How Mark Bowery, the hotel's sommelier, finds sources for these whiskies in this county is fairly mysterious. I'm sure some magic is involved. Sadly they don't have their ever-changing whisky (and spirits) list online.

The Albion River Inn restaurant is one of the best whisky bars I've ever been to, and I've been to the Dundee Dell in Omaha, NE (much more whisky but lacks atmosphere and quality food; also, no ocean views). The bar manager, Laura, is amazingly knowledgeable -- there are over 150 Scotch whiskies and she knows a lot about what's available behind the bar. It was her recommendation that made me choose the Bruichladdich, and it was an excellent choice. We had some great conversations about Scotch and I learned a lot.

From what I know, the Albion River Inn has one of the largest retail whisky collections in North America -- and it's right here in California. It's truly worth a visit. This is a place to relax and unwind. Selling point: No cell phone service.

p.s. They also have an impressive wine list, but I don't know wine.
p.p.s. Great food, too.
p.p.p.s. Thanks to Chelsea, the general manager, for the introduction to Oban 21.

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