March is one of those annoying months that can’t make up its mind. Will it rain, will it snow, will you get blasted by an out-of-nowhere heat wave while sweating through three layers of fleece? Who knows? What we do know is that there’s only one spirit to lean on in such unpredictable times: whiskey. Bourbon, rye, scotch—the full whisk(e)y color wheel comes spinning to life this month as bartenders showcase their favorite spirit in cocktails around the country. These are the 9 whiskey drinks to try now.
Can't make it to any of the bars serving these great whiskey drinks? Try mixing a Three Dots & a Dash from this list at home.
Three Dots & a Dash (The Limbo, Louisville, Ky.)
The Limbo is a communal gathering place and perpetual party thanks to San Francisco transplant and hat-maker Olivia Griffin. She opened Louisville’s first Tiki bar, a relaxed multiroom space with outdoor patio and vintage furniture. Here, the Tiki drinks come with bourbon in place of rum, as with the great Three Dots & a Dash. This WWII-era Tiki classic (created by the famed Donn Beach of Don the Beachcomber) features Coopers’ Craft bourbon, St. Elizabeth allspice dram, The Bitter Truth golden falernum, Angostura bitters, fresh lime and orange juices, and a touch of honey.
Old Fashioned Breakfast (Cold Drinks at China Live, San Francisco)
Hidden upstairs at China Live, Cold Drinks is one of the country’s great scotch bars, pouring rare whisky and cocktails mostly featuring scotch with wide-ranging ingredients from coconut to curry. Bartender Yong Zhu (who worked in both Shanghai and Tokyo) crafts whisky beauties, including the savory, spiced, silky and smoky Old Fashioned Breakfast. It’s made with curry spices and green-onion-washed Speyburn scotch are balanced by Avión tequila, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, gum syrup and Angostura bitters.
Sun Also Rises (Bar Arbolada, Oklahoma City)
Opened spring 2018 by Edmond, Okla., native Riley Marshall, Bar Arbolada offers OKC a sophisticated yet relaxed bar, with great food from chef Tehra Thorp. During Marshall’s Los Angeles years in the music industry, he met bartender Dustin Lancaster (who opened Bar Covell in 2010 and eight other L.A. bars, restaurants, a brewery and hotel). They discovered they were both native Oklahomans who had even lived on the same street. When they moved back to Oklahoma, they decided to open a bar together. The airy space lined with picture windows and tan booths is timeless and welcoming. The rosy deep red of the Sun Also Rises cocktail comes from cherry juice, while a base of scotch, brandy and sherry sings with tart cherry and herbaceous sage.
Finial Ward (Proof on Main at 21c Museum Hotel, Louisville, Ky.)
Proof on Main in the original 21c Museum Hotel has been a Louisville cocktail pioneer since 2006. The bar remains strong under current beverage director Jeff Swoboda and a bar team that collaborates on the evolving cocktail menu. The Finial Ward (the winner of the 2018 Bourbon Classic best classic cocktail) goes down easy. A house bottling of 21c’s 1792 Bottled in Bond bourbon plays nicely with Yellow Chartreuse and milk-fat-washed Camomilla di Sibona grappa. A clarified acid base imparts tart citrus silkiness to the spirituous drink.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
Winfield & Vega (Orchard City Kitchen, Campbell, Calif.)
Though the strip mall setting in suburban Campbell, Calif., belies the offerings, Orchard City Kitchen (OCK) delivers in the ’burbs with Michelin Bib Gourmand–awarded casual food (think Dungeness crab and bay shrimp Louie salads or tempura fish ssam) and a Silicon Valley–worthy selection of rare, pricey spirits. In a county where top-notch cocktails aren’t around every corner, OCK can deliver delights like the Winfield & Vega cocktail. Rye whiskey is balanced by cognac infused with roasted peanuts for a nutty, creamy texture that’s contrasted by the sweet-tart of crème de noisette, medjool dates, huckleberries and a grape juice kick from MD 20/20 red grape wine and fresh Concord grape juice. It’s an amped-up, boozy peanut butter and jelly.
Sleepy Monkey (Gunther & Co., Baltimore)
Taking over the historic, lofty Gunther Brewery in 2016, Gunther & Co. is a Baltimore destination for seasonal dishes ranging from a Thai seafood hot pot to hanger steak and frites. Pull up to the massive bar for collaborative cocktails from bar manager Andy Chandler and team. The Sleepy Monkey is anything but sleepy. Monkey Shoulder scotch stands out but doesn’t overpower sister ingredients of local Baltimore Spirit Co.’s Fumus Pumila apple brandy and Bènèdictine, vibrantly kicked up with a house apple-cardamom shrub and lemon juice.
Pink Lady & Jeff (Bon Voyage!, San Francisco)
Trick Dog owners opened Bon Voyage! late 2018, an old-school journey across Southeast Asia and Africa contrasted by disco balls and bowls of chow fun fried noodles. The Pink Lady & Jeff is playfully served in a black ceramic glass with a Japanese Kit Kat (in flavors like wasabi or matcha tea). The drinks mixes Suntory Toki whisky with Dubonnet, Luxardo apricot liqueur and strawberry, given acidic balance by red vinegar and lime.
Island Radio (Butchertown Grocery and Lola, Louisville, Ky.)
Housed in a 19th-century brick building, Butchertown Grocery offers chef and owner Bobby Benjamin’s pitch-perfect rotisserie chicken over bourbon-barrel-smoked grits or cauliflower with spicy carrot hummus. This upscale comfort food calls for beverage director Nic Christiansen’s cocktails, whether dining downstairs in the restaurant or upstairs in the seductive Lola bar. The Island Radio partners Coopers’ Craft bourbon with oloroso sherry and Grand Marnier, given a breezy island boost from lime, orgeat and house bitters. It’s one sunny whiskey cocktail to brighten up a winter’s night.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
Say It with Your Chest (Pinewood Social, Nashville)
A bowling alley, restaurant, bar, lounge, coffee shop and general hangout in one, Pinewood Social has also been one of Nashville’s pioneering cocktail bars since 2013. Matt Tocco and team continue to ensure easy-drinking but never dumbed-down drinks. Bartender Chris Visic created the Say It with Your Chest, an Irish whiskey crusher that is essentially a Thai-inspired Buck or Mule. Calvados adds an elegant hint of funk, brightly balanced by lemon and ginger and tart with tamarind juice and an intriguing umami, saline element from five dashes of soy sauce.