BEER CLINIC :: The Best Little Whisky Bar in Texas

by Dr. Carol Westbrook on April 5, 2013

Reserve 101 Bar

Reserve 101 Bar

If you have time to visit only one bar in Houston, skip the beer and go directly to Reserve 101. This is the best whisky bar in Texas, and among the best in the world, as rated “Gold” by Whisky Magazine.

This unpretentious venue, in downtown Houston, has over 200 bottles of great whisky, with a continuously rotating stock. The knowledgeable bartenders are happy to assist you in selecting something that suits your tastes, from Irish & Scotch whisky, to bourbon, rye, and other spirits.  Unlike the custom and practice at a beer bar, you won’t be offered a taste at a whisky bar, but at Reserve 101 you will have the opportunity to sniff the angel’s share (the aroma) to help make your selection.

Mike Miller at Delilah's

Mike Miller at Delilah’s

We were lucky to sit at the bar and meet one of the owners, Mike Raymond, who has a clear vision of what a good whiskey bar should be, inspired in part by our own favorite Chicago haunt, Delilah’s. The adjacent photo shows Mike Miller, the owner of Delilah’s, picking out a selection of his favorites for me and Rick to taste.  Miller has over 500 bottles at Delilah’s, whereas Raymond has about half that many at Reserve 101. Both have the same funky-punk but serious ambiance that I have grown to associate with high-end spirits bars.

On to the drink. Rick stuck to Scotch and I worked on American bourbons, with assistance from my daughter.  I didn’t take notes, but among the great spirits we tasted:

Scotch:

Lagavulin 21 year (this was an OMG!!  both in taste and in dollars per shot)

Yamizaki 12 and 18 year  (12 is much better value)

Bourbon:

Again, I didn’t take notes, but the memorable ones included:

Cyrus Noble, a Kentucky bourbon mixed in San Francisco

High West Double Rye

Angels’ Envy, a special blend, mixed by Mike Raymond

Mike Raymond and Angel's Envy

Mike Raymond and Angel’s Envy

Angel’s Envy is a unique Kentucky style bourbon that is finished in port. Raymond created his own blend by producing his own private bottling through Angel’s Envy, creating a blend of three different barrels. 60% is Angels Envy with no port finish, 30% Angels Envy fully matured in port (8 months), and 10% Angels Envy roughly 4 months in port. The result is sublime. This one is worth a trip to Houston to try.

So make a point of visiting this bar if you are in Houston. And for that matter, if  you visit only one rodeo this year–get to Houston. It’s the best. We spent a day there watching cattle roping, mutton busting, and bronco riding, trying on cowboy gear,  eating barbecue and corn dogs and drinking awful beer.

The Good Doctor, Herself!

The Good Doctor, Herself!

Which brings me to the subject of beer. Houston is not what I would call a beer town. For its size, it has only a few well-established microbrews, with Karbach being the new kid on the block.  Admittedly, I did not have time to explore Houston beers, but my overall impression is that these folks are lager lovers.  That’s possibly because the big three of Houston cooking–Tex-Mex, barbecue and Gulf seafood–go well with lagers, especially the usual Mexican imports. Shiner Bock is the local beer staple, and it’s good.  I found two ales on draft — Real Ale’s Firehouse #4, and St. Arnolds Pale Ale, and they were both good, pairing well with food.  They were under-hopped to my palate, tasting rather like lagers, without the citrus punch I prefer.  Karbach’s lineup seems to be leaning toward hoppier beers, and perhaps next time I’ll find some to try. I’d love to hear readers’ opinions on Texas beers.

*Ed. Carol was certainly privileged to drink some Lagavulin 21. This is a cask strength 21 year old with just 6,642 bottles released, distilled in 1985 and bottled in 2007. No longer available by way of normal retail sales.

The Yamizaki she tasted is something we’ve also tried. Lagavulin is from Islay and very peaty, leaning towards a strong alcohol presence, even as smoothed out in the 21. The Yamizaki, the 12 quite affordable ($50+), the 18, a little high ($140+), but still not an unheard of pricing, is in the Highland /Speyside style, very sweet, smooth… very Japanese in imaging, like sipping tinkling bells by a sparkling brook. A great contrast of Scotch Whiskies.

As for Texas breweries, they’re popping up with greater and greater frequency. Texas is so big, though, a regional brewery might as well be in a different state, depending on where you’re sitting. Real Ale, one Carol refers to above, out of Plano, is a terrific brewery, making at least one of our best lists. Shiner has a tremendously diverse and eclectic menu of brews for such a large operation. We’ve also tried an IPA from Thirsty Planet, in Austin, one plenty hoppy and thirst quenching beverage.

Dr. Westbrook’s invaluable book, Ask an Oncologist is available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Richard April 6, 2013 at 3:48 am

Golly gee Mizz Carol ! You sure look purty in that 1.75 Liter Cowgirl hat. I enjoyed reading about your posse drinking up all that Cowboy Kool-aid down in the Bayou City of H-town. I reckon I’ll be back again to read more of your future adventures later. I wish I knew how to quit you.

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