I know, this is a blog all about beer, but sometimes I gotta get me a good cocktail. Case in point – this week I set out on the town to celebrate another journey around the sun whilst chasing down great whiskey-based creations in Sacramento.
Our first stop after a quick lunch at Tuli Bistro was the much-celebrated Shady Lady, a place I’ve mentioned in a piece published in Beer West this past summer. Shady has the know-how and ingredients necessary to create top-notch cocktails, but the quirky staff can be cold at times, ignoring bar-customers for long periods of time and opting to mix a patron’s drink in front of more familiar faces (a minor pet peeve of mine). What the barkeeps do best at Shady Lady is create an attractive elixir – each and every drink they served across the bar was eye-catching.
We ordered a small selection of drinks (three) and were most impressed with the Horse’s Neck, a whiskey-based creation accented with housemade ginger syrup and garnished with a thoughtfully over-sized lemon zest – an incredible drink, among the best I’ve had in the region, to be certain. The Old Fashioned was attractive enough, but was heavy-handed on the booze. The final drink of this stop was a rosemary-infused treat, which I neglected to get the name of. No matter, it was sexy to look at, but incredibly acidic. I’m certain had I mentioned this to the staff it could have been easily fixed, but as it were I knew the day was just getting started. So, upon paying our tab we wandered to our next stop.
De Vere’s Irish Pub is one of my absolute favorite stops when I’m in the mood for a great whiskey, it never disappoints when it comes to selection and a friendly atmosphere. I ordered up a Highland Park 15 and let the worries of the world fade away. We also ordered up a Basil Hayden Old Fashioned, which was good enough to imbibe. As far as mixologists go, De Vere’s is more about the neat drams than the pure cocktails – and this is not a dig on them at all. They play up to their strengths well and are incredibly knowledgeable about the vast library of whiskeys they boast in the back bar area. While I longed for a Pappy Van Winkle, I opted to settle up and get some fresh air with a quick walk through the Capitol Mall – just down the block.
Next up on the list was The Grange, one of my favorite food destinations in the region. Here I trusted the judgement of the barkeep and he impressed me immensely with his Grange Manhattan – a lovely blend of Woodford Reserve (a batch made just for the restaurant), sweet vermouth, house-made bitters and garnished with fresh pomegranate. This drink had it all! Lovely color, great body and oh-so-drinkable! I nursed this beauty for some time and made several mental notes to be sure to get back here for more. Yes, we also ordered an Old Fashioned here, which was quite lovely (despite the use of an orange wedge). For us, however, Grange’s go-to drink must be their house Manhattan.
To finish our cocktail tour of Sacramento we sidled up to the hard-to-find bar stools at The Waterboy. OK, to be clear, we stopped here for oysters and sweetbreads, but while at the bar you can’t help but imbibe on what the barkeep is creating. This understated bartender was easily the most efficient barkeep of the day, putting out drinks for 30+ diners and eight more at the bar, each with deliberate care and attention to detail. His Old Fashioned wasn’t the best in town, but it was great. Moreover, just watching him in his element instilled great confidence in me that the guy could create just about anything a customer threw his way – great use of syrups, bitters, fresh fruit juices and each drink went out with eye-catching appeal.
I know Sacramento’s a great place for beer, has been for some time, but it’s nice every now and then to be reminded of the other treats our fair city has to offer up. It’s hard to explain how far the city has come in the decade or so, but one day spend exploring the city’s better food and drink scene will surely not disappoint.