Reserve 101 is approaching its 10th anniversary in January, and the bar has some special surprises planned as part of an ongoing celebration to ring in the anniversary. The bar has always had selections beyond whiskey, but they’re expanding even further with a custom seasonal cocktail list. We got to sit down with owner Mike Raymond, sample a few of the new cocktail menus, and discuss the process behind creating them.
Raymond mentioned that this cocktail menu was one of the most hands-off things he’s done at Reserve 101, largely leaving the curation of the menu to bartenders Ryan Holcomb and Leslie Krockenberger. The result is a list rich in variety and unusual flavor combinations, with a wide range of appeal.
We started with the lightest cocktail, the Shut Up Becky, made with tequila, a bit of mezcal, coconut cucumber water and white wine. (The name and ingredients suggest a certain target audience.) It’s a sweeter, refreshing drink; you can opt to “make it spicy” with the addition of habanero bitters, which for my money resulted in a better-rounded cocktail. It would make a nice brunch companion, or perhaps something to sip in the afternoon on Reserve 101’s new patio. Also on the lighter side, the Jaguar Honey combines a number of sweeter flavors, including Canadian whisky and vanilla-coffee syrup, to balance out the acidity of the grapefruit juice that provides the cocktail’s forward flavor.
The Rosemary’s Baby is a variant on the Prohibition-era classic New York Sour—a whiskey sour topped with dry red wine—that is extremely well-balanced. The Old Forester 1870 bourbon has a big flavor and substantial feel, which balances the sweetness in the red wine (they use a pinot noir, fruitier and less dry than the classic New York Sour) and lemon juice, while the rosemary gives the drink a dry finish that really rounds it off well. Similarly well-balanced is For Peat’s Sake, with a spicy sage nose giving way to the moderate peatiness of the Isle of Jura Scotch, before the sweeter ingredients combine to give it a smooth, well-rounded finish.
The quirkiest cocktail on the list is Part of a Balanced Breakfast. It’s a variation on a drink Raymond came up with a few years back, a whiskey sour with Monkey Shoulder Scotch and banana pureé (the “Monkey Banana Sour”). This version is topped with something I’ve never seen before anywhere outside of a children’s cereal bowl (or the Cereal Killer dessert at Ka Sushi): Crunch-Berries-infused milk. That gives the cocktail an original, unique sweetness up front that gives way to the flavor and mouthfeel of the Scotch and the banana liqueur (replacing the pureé). I’ve never seen anything like it, and it’s worth trying at least once, not just for the novelty but because it’s quite good.
That said, my favorite cocktail I sampled was one of Raymond’s own, the King’s Reward. Raymond describes it as a marriage of ideologies, combining both the trend for room-temperature cocktails with the big flavor of Dalmore’s sherry-aged Scotches (Raymond counts Richard Paterson, Dalmore’s master distiller, as a mentor). The cocktail combines Dalmore’s 12-year with Cynar artichoke bitters and blackstrap bitters, served neat at room temperature in a stemmed tasting glass—and in the most unique twist, with a dropper bottle of sea salt brine on the side.
Trying the cocktail without the sea salt brine, the sherry is sweet on the nose before giving way to the Cynar’s bitterness, and throughout the sip the two flavors alternate with each other in an intriguing mix. But the sea salt brine functions to balance out the bitterness and highlight the sweetness, and the flavor of the cocktail changes depending on how much you add to it. After my first addition of the sea salt brine, the sweetness was much more pronounced, especially on the front. After adding more, the cocktail began to be even heavier on the sherry-cask flavor of the Scotch, even pushing into the savory territory (similarly to how peated Scotches aged in sherry can gain savory flavors). The King’s Reward is a complex and rewarding experience.
The cocktail menu contains 11 original creations in total and seven classics; they’re all half-price at happy hour (2-6 p.m. Monday-Friday). Raymond mentioned that they probably would only rotate the cocktail menu twice a year; he cited Houston’s two seasons—“hot and hotter”—as a major reason. The “summer” menu came out at the beginning of May; the “winter” menu is expected to take over sometime in October.
Beyond the cocktail menu, Reserve 101 continues to get unique single-barrel whiskeys selected by Raymond himself, and will continue to do as part of the 10th anniversary celebration. When we stopped by, the single barrel was a single malt from Stranahan’s in Colorado. Aged three years and served at 94-proof, it’s a big whiskey with a malt-heavy flavor profile. .
Two more barrels of Stranahan’s will arrive at Reserve 101; they’re currently scheduled for September and October. If you try it and like it, Reserve has a partnership with Tony K’s, where the liquor store sells bottles of the Reserve 101 hand-selected single barrel whiskey.
Among other future upcoming single barrel projects will be a W.L. Weller Bourbon aged nearly seven years and bottled at 107 proof; this may be your best chance to try a one-off whiskey that carries a similar body and flavor to the heralded Pappy Van Winkle. Reserve 101 will continue to offer unique whiskey offerings throughout the year, both with their hand-selected single barrel program and other special events. Check out their whiskey list or cocktail menu, and you won’t be disappointed.