Behind the Bar Snap Shot

Barrel-Aging Goes to the Next Level

Teenagers are famous for toying with all sorts of illicit materials.

Brian Bevilacqua’s youthful experiment? Reading Paul Harrington’s Cocktail while underage. That formative book sent the bourbon master behind Philadelphia’s new Bank & Bourbon on a two-decade journey of bar shifts, at a mix of airport bars, dive bars and Cantonese bars. To this day, Bevilacqua is still impressed that “one, tiny little cocktail made with less than five ingredients can produce a sincere smile on a customer’s face.” At Bank & Bourbon, Bevilacqua is putting that insight to use as he celebrates American whiskey in the heart of the City of Brotherly Love.

The Backstory

Bank & Bourbon opened in April of 2014 in the historic Philadelphia Savings Fund Society building in downtown Philadelphia. The Center City building was commissioned in the late 1920s and is estimated to have cost approximately $8 million to construct—a sizable chunk of change when the building opened during the Great Depression. The building was transformed into a 581-room Loews Hotel in 2000, but retains classic features such as bank safes and Cartier clocks.

Whiskey World

Bank & Bourbon prides itself on having one of the most diverse whiskey lists in the country. It also features a barrel-aging program focused on straight whiskey rather than the more common cocktail treatment. “We help guests explore how whiskey changes with wood,” notes Bevilacqua.

Customers see firsthand how the spirit evolves and then experience it throughout the aging process. They then enjoy it both neat and featured in cocktails. One prime example: A client aged a white whiskey in a barrel that had contained a Boulevardier, so it would take on the characteristics of the cocktail.

Barrel Fever

Customers receive one new, three-liter, charred American Oak barrel for a year, which is placed in private lockers. Membership fees currently range from $600 to $800 a year, depending on the type of spirits used for the first fill and however many visits it lasts. New barrels are provided on a complimentary basis for guests, who only pay the cost of the spirits they age in them.

Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about drinks for two decades. She is the principal of the San Francisco–based Liza the Wine Chick consulting firm and regularly contributes to publications such as Wine Business Monthly, DrinkUpNY and the SOMM Journal.

Photos courtesy Bank & Bourbon