As co-owner Mike Raymond puts it, Reserve 101, the eight-year-old downtown whiskey bar he owns with Steve Long, doesn’t “adhere to the idea of what a whiskey bar is, where the bar smells like rich mahogany and leather-bound books.” A modern aesthetic and comfy couches may be a welcome twist on your grandfather’s fusty watering hole, but that’s not why you should brave downtown’s long-standing roadwork and parking pains to get here. The real attraction is of the bottled and barreled variety.
Raymond has spent years cultivating relationships with distillers around the world, and his friendships have resulted in a unique inventory of tipples. Of the current roster of some 340 whiskeys representing 14 countries, many are special placarded bottles from top distillers, which aren’t available anywhere else.
None of these exclusives is quite as exciting as the one that debuted last month: a Scotch whisky crafted to Raymond’s specifications by William Grant & Sons, the 129-year-old parent to brands including Glenfiddich, Balvenie and triple-malt Monkey Shoulder, among many others. The company has never tailored a whisky to another bar or restaurant.
Reserve 101’s owners traveled to Scotland to taste the whiskies that would be included in their blend. The youngest Scotch in the mix is 25 years old, but Raymond says most are 40 years or older. For patrons who follow the conventional wisdom that one should hold a sip of whiskey in one’s mouth for one second to match each year it was aged, the Grant will be a slow burn, indeed.
But with age comes subtlety, so the smooth bloom of dark fruits and sherry only begins a journey that transforms to a whiff of tobacco, then a leather finish. While other exclusive blends from friends of Raymond—including Wild Turkey founder Jimmy Russell, the makers of Blanton’s bourbon, and the folks behind the spelt whiskey from Koval Distillery—have retailed for as much as $750 a shot, the Grant goes for a mere $35.
It’s a relatively small price to pay for a spirit that no one else in the world will ever carry. And when Reserve 101 runs out, that moment in whiskey history will have disappeared down customers’ gullets for good.