Ashen-faced and runny-nosed is no way to be when considering the organoleptic evaluation of the vinous spirit, or “winetasting” for y’all in the cheap seats. Wine’s charm lies in subtle scents, wafts of wood smoke, high notes softly sung from the spice rack. When the nasal cavity (disquietingly morbid, to call by name) is advertising no vacancy on a Monday evening in the offseason, wines good and lesser are reduced to unflatteringly astringent grape juice.Reminds me of one long winter in Oregon, when a freak flu laid me very low. When I at last untangled myself from the death-grip of that peculiar bug and cautiously renewed ties with old friends and solid foods, I found that the experience had, oddly enough, left me with a temporary inability to enjoy beer. Confused and distraught, I turned to the spirit world for answers. My roommate introduced me to a friend named Jim, who would proffer me great solace in the dark, rainy nights. Mr. Beam, thank you for being my angel.
Since then, of course, I haven’t touched the stuff (that’s a lie, but forgive me, I’m a bit under the weather). What say a few drams of whiskey to put me back in shape?
With the rough-and-ready denomination “whiskey bar,” Santa Rosa’s Jack and Tony’s is already one year old this week. Taking the former Ristorante Capri space and adding the adjacent shop as the bar, the exposed-brick walled ensemble is a suitably atmospheric “old town” watering hole with stamped-tin-type ceiling. Otherwise, the decor is utilitarian/modern in browns and olive green, but most importantly, it’s a straightforward and classy enough bar that it seems in no imminent danger of alienating everyone over 25 with a DJ dance party anytime soon. The choice spot is one upholstered booth, in the very back.
Jack and Tony’s offers tasting flights, to get better acquainted with a few of their quickening selection of 170 bourbons and whiskeys. The bourbon flight ($14) arrived with its own placemat, helpfully labeled with three hooch selections. First up, the Woodford Reserve had an intense, vaporous sherry aroma that didn’t hint at the gunpowder-like finish; thanks to a woozy weekend of Netflix, the final scene of Fight Club provided the perfect image.
While the Eagle Rare 10-year benefited from warm caramel and ligneous love notes of sweet oak, the Blantons bested the bunch with a charred air of campfire pit the morning after, offering the kind of smooth, sweet finish that makes the bones sing.
The Irish whiskey flight ($15) featured a Tyrconnell with the most unusual distinctive aroma of bay leaf, oak and citrus; a smooth Powers; and a Bushmill’s Black Bush, which was a charcoal-scented, stout dram that reputedly paired well with the generous baked brie appetizer ($7).
Done with fire water, coughing already into my elbow, I moved to a house cocktail, mint julep. Where else can I get a real mint julep—served in a pewter cup—without a roll of the eyes, a consultation of a dusty bartender’s guide? Should one have a thirst for wine and the sound health to enjoy it, the list contains a really appealing selection at fair prices—about double of winery retail, with a special local sparkling only plus-$15. Alas, there are always 160 more whiskeys and bourbons to sample, should my taste for wine take another turn for the worse—although I do not hope to turn again.
Jack and Tony’s Restaurant and Whiskey Bar, 115 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 707.526.4347.