The seasons are changing and as we turn over our closets to warmer weather, that doesn't mean our bar carts have to change! Whisky, whiskey and scotch are beverages that we gravitate towards during colder temperatures, its the perfect spirit to enjoy in the summer as well! Just think about such classics as Mint Juleps for the Kentucky Derby! We hung out with Joey Vargas, Beverage Director at midtown's American Whiskey to get a one-on-one session to make some classic cocktails and then we sat down to find out the hard questions - what is the difference between these spirits, what his job entails and what drinks we need to include for our rooftop get togethers.
ATHLEISURE MAG: We enjoyed your mixology class recently. Tell us about how you became a beverage director, and what your day to day looks like when you're at American Whiskey?
JOEY VARGAS: Most of my days start pretty early. I arrive at American Whiskey at 10 a.m. to open the bar. I usually have 3 or 4 tastings scheduled with my distributors to taste new spirits and (more often than not) we discuss what's been popular in the bar, as well as figure out new expressions or upcoming whiskeys to add to our ever-growing list. I also still like to schedule myself, quite a bit, to work behind the bar. I don't like to feel rusty or that I can't keep up with
our other bartenders.
AM: What is the difference between whisky, whiskey, and scotch?
JV: Traditionally, "whisky" referred to the forefathers of whisky produced in Scotland and Ireland. When the whiskey boom first hit the states in the 1700s, the Irish immigrants brought over whiskey and we adopted the "e" in whiskey. Usually, today if the "e" is in the word whiskey, it's used to discuss American whiskeys. There are a few examples of American brands honoring their European heritage and not using the "e" in the label, such as Makers
A Scotch is simply a whisky that has been made in Scotland. Scotch can only come from Scotland, as bourbon can only be made in the United States.
AM: What are your top 3 favorite whiskey cocktails that are available at American Whiskey?
JV: Our ever popular "Strike Me Dead" would certainly be one. It's an everchanging sweet take on an old fashioned. Its current incarnation includes rye whiskey, house made pecan bitters
and a house made vanilla peppercorn syrup.
The "Game Over Man," is named after a line the late great Bill Paxton repeatedly said in the classic "Aliens." It’s is a fun warm-weather whiskey cocktail made with rye whiskey, freshly-juiced prickly pear, peach liqueur, pineapple and sugar. Every time one hits the floor, we get
asked what its contents are due to its bright color.
Lastly, "The Oak," named after beloved former NY Knick Charles Oakley, is quite popular. We use a very interesting scotch named Highland Park, which comes from way up north in Scotland, Drambuie, a house made lavender Demerara syrup, and lemon. It's not your usual scotch cocktail, as it's quite approachable and won't have you smelling like your grandfather. Ha.
AM: What are your 3 favorite whiskeys, and when drinking them on the rocks, how should they be consumed?
JV: Oh man, this a tough one. It's like asking me what three records I'd bring on a deserted island...I love so many. Ha. Ok, I'll choose one of three different styles of whiskey.
For Bourbon, I'd say Elijah Craig. I think it's just a great representation of Bourbon: full-bodied, rich, sweet, corn, and vanilla from aging in the barrel. It's a definite go-to for me. I recently helped select a single barrel of Elijah Craig that we exclusively serve at American Whiskey. I'm pretty obsessed with it.
In terms of Rye Whiskey, I'm a big fan of WhistlePig. All of their expressions are delicious, and it's by a former Makers distiller Dave Pickerell with a huge history in the whiskey business. WhistlePig is just fantastic. Dry, spicy, hot; just what I want from a Rye.
For Scotch, I've been pretty obsessed with the Lagavulin 8 year, a special release to celebrate the 200th year of Lagavulin. It's a bit under-aged, as the normal Lagavulin is 16 years old. So,
it's really light in body, but with all that awesome peat smoke. It's really interesting and quite different.
AM: Whiskey really is a drink for all seasons. What is your go-to drink for the summer including this spirit, and can you share the recipe with us?
JV: My summer go-to is American Whiskey's "Take Me Swiftly" cocktail (Yes, it's named after Taylor Swift. I'm a big fan). It's a nice, bright, warm-weather whiskey drink that I'm quite fond of.
TAKE ME SWIFTLY COCKTAIL
1.5 Rye Whiskey (lower proof preferred)
.5 oz apricot liqueur
.75 oz lime
.75 oz honey syrup (I use a 2-1 ratio. 2 parts honey to 1 part hot water to make the syrup.)
Shaken, strain into a glass over ice and top with sparkling wine
AM: Can you share a drink that has whiskey in it, but one wouldn't usually think that this spirit is in it?
JV: “The Expat” cocktail is a new American classic, very bright and refreshing. It reminds me of the classic daiquiri or gimlet recipe with a little twist.
THE EXPAT COCKTAIL
1 oz Lime
.75 oz simple syrup
2 oz bourbon
2 dashes angostura bitters (I like the extra dash)
Shaken with fresh mint, strained into a coupe
AM: What are some events coming up at American Whiskey that we should mark our calendars for during the summer season?
JV: Our calendar is always changing. The best way to keep up-to-date on everything going on here is to check our Instagram account @americanwhiskeynyc.