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Water of Life - Buffalo Trace

It has been a few moons between visits to the Big Apple – visits that will never run danger of losing their appeal that comes with plugging into the electrical current that keeps the city pumping and ultimately makes it one of the most exciting places on this earthround.

Every time I hold court in NYC, there are new discoveries when it comes to bars and restaurants that set benchmarks when it comes to their offerings, service and infusing traditional approaches to hospitality with their own idiosyncratic spin on things.

One that has established itself firmly on my radar is Employees Only, which not only replicated tried and tested speakeasy aesthetics but managed to create an DNA of its own by creating a refined hybrid of a cocktail bar mixed offerings sustenance that brings a bit more to the table than the bar food one finds elsewhere, i.e. hearty bistro inspired fare drawing on the French background of the head chefs, including the brand’s signature “staff special” at a discounted price. The fact that it is opened until the wee hours only contributed to the allure.

Needless to say that I was excited and intrigued to explore when it came my attention that a branch had opened on terra australis – a quite timely endeavour given the prohibition theme and Sydney’s current antics when it comes night life.

Upon tumbling down the stairs of the heritage listed building, subdued lighting and an ambience amplified by the dark timber fitout eased on into the stylish haunt that is Employees Only Sydney, with the beautiful brass-topped bar being the centrepiece of the operation and a tarot reading by the resident Tarot Reader thrown in for good measure. Given that Employees Only’s co-founder Dushan Zaric and partner-in-crime Robert Krueger made sure that the Australian branch is in line with the original idea that informed the establishment of the NYC staple, it is not further wondrous that attention to detail had been given priority.

Now, as if Employees Only did not have enough to offer for itself, tonight saw the descent of Dan Ritchie – a gentleman wearing many hats as part of his involvement with SouthTrade Int, with tonight’s one pertaining to his Buffalo Trace brand ambassadorship.

After a general induction into the world of bourbon, how it is classified and what determines its components and production process, the eclectic group of individuals comprising tonight’s group was guided through a tasting that started with the classic Buffalo Trace, which is fabled to be batched from no more than 50 barrels at a time and is aged on the middle floors of BT’s various warehouses where it experiences the most temperature changes.

What hit the nostrils was proved hard to resist – think notes of caramel and vanilla that is pervaded with an intriguing hint of spice.

What materializes on the palate continues the journey and adds some more prominent spice and coffee notes as well as nuances of oak. Given that Employees Food was to be served, the fact that the finish was full-flavoured helped evoke a Pavlovian response. A solid example of what an affordable Bourbon can be.

Things were taken up a notch and a half with the Eagle Rare expression, i.e. one that proved to be dangerously moreish, as the other attendants of the tasting could attest to.

Fruity notes tickle the nose – there’s citrussy nuances blending in with orangey bits that rest on a bed of caramel and sweet oak. Now, the palate experience is something else: Peppery spice, leathery walnuts and more oak, which transitions nicely to the culmination of and spicy oak finish.

Brand ambassador Dan ‘s comparing the Eagle Rare to a “Chardonnay bourbon” instantly made sense.

Blanton's was next, the only one that I was familiar with as some of its expressions take a liquor shelf space in my humble abode.

Sweet and spicy on the nose with caramel-ey and vanilla notes, it hits the palate with what I would compare to the top end taste notes of a dark chocolate caramel milkshake with burnt fruity brown sugar topping and hints of leather in background. Sounds confusing? Trust me, makes perfect sense once it passes your lips.

The finish is elongated and rides on waves that of what was hinted at the palatal stage.

Dark, rich, very enjoyable indeed and I am tempted to compare it to the excellent 1792 line.

Now, just when one thought we had peaked, Dan pulled out another bottle from under his chair and much to the delight of the group, a highly sought-after bottle of Colonel E.H. Taylor found its way to the table.

It was my first exposure to the Colonel and claiming that I was delighted to make his acquaintance would be an understatement par excellence.

On the nose, a complex smorgasbord of goodness unfolds – there is honey, cinnamon, vanilla and lots of oak, the latter of which transcend over to the palate, where it is married with pepper and more of the components in an amplified manner.

The finish is elongated, warm and brings the best parts together again for a revival.

Summa summarum, a complex, finely calibrated bourbon that will make my list of go-tos and one that concluded a wonderful evening in the surrounds of Employees Only, which I hope will host similar tastings going forward.


Photo by T

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