Bourbon and I have a bit of a history together. Alcoholically speaking you could say that the great American spirit was kind of my first love. Standard operating procedure for misbehaving in my high school years was to find one of my other delinquent mates to split a bottle of Cougar bourbon with, mix it in to a 1.25L bottle of coke and boom! You got yourself a party son! Yet like so many first loves it’s not til years down the line that I’ve been able to see what an abusive relationship it really was. Sure it was strong, intoxicatingly sweet and always had me coming back for more, but ultimately it left a lingering bad taste of regret that put me off seeing it again for a long, long time. Even when the more sophisticated mistress of Scotch whiskey lured me back into the world of spirits I still retained a sense of disdain for the predominately corn-based brew. Smart, sophisticated folks like myself indulged in real whiskey (be it Scotch, Irish or even Japanese), whereas bourbon was either mixed into coke by high-vis wearing buffoons or sipped from earthenware flagons by toothless bearded hicks in the deep south. Well, turns out that all this time I’ve been blind to the wondrous world of what bourbon can be, but praise the lord now I see the light! Can I get an amen brothers and sisters?! No? OK then, fair enough.
I was first introduced to real bourbon at a Wild Turkey tasting and degustation at The Classroom a couple of months ago and since then I haven’t been able to get enough of it. Unlike the cloying sweet nastiness of the cheap stuff, properly made bourbon has all the complexity and variation of whiskey with the added bonus of often being cheaper due to a less lengthy maturation process. Also, there is more to it than Jim Beam, Jack Daniels and Wild Turkey. A lot more. If you’re curious to find out exactly what that might entail then you are in luck my friend as Perth now has an awesome new small bar that takes great pride in stocking the largest range of fine bourbon whiskey this side of the Kentucky River; Varnish On King. Tucked away downstairs off the Wellington St end of King St, Varnish is the latest addition to the booming CBD nightlife scene, and what an addition it is!
A classy, intimate basement venue, at Varnish they’re dedicated to sourcing, as they put it, “the best food, the best wine and the best whiskey to share with our friends”. Well I don’t know about you lot, but good food, wine and whiskey is definitely reason enough to become the very best of friends in my book. Now while I’m not sure about the wine I can definitely attest to the food and whiskey part of the promise. Popping in for a visit last Wednesday evening I propped myself up at the bar and quickly discovered that it’s a place that one could easily spend large amounts of both time and money getting to know properly.
Bar manager Jamie Passmore got me started with an excellently made Rye Manhattan. Feistier than a broad from the Lower East Side yet smoother than a Washington Heights street hustler, it was choc full of spicy Rye character and slightly on the sweeter side just as requested. Definitely one of the better example I’ve had of what is fast becoming my new favourite cocktail.
Seeing as I was in the presence of such a mighty collection of that most manly of beverages I thought I’d better follow my fancy city slicker’s cocktail with a shot of straight sippin’ whiskey and some beef. On Jamie’s recommendation I went for a Rock Hill Farm Single Barrel Bourbon (from Kentucky) to accompany my slow braised beef cheek and smokey bone marrow. Both were amazing. The smooth-vet-fiery vanilla notes of the whiskey perfectly complimented the robust melt-in-the-mouth beef. Yes folks, I’ve come a long way from Cougar ‘n’ coke and meat pies. A very long way indeed.
So whether you’re an old-school aficionado or someone new to the bourbon whiskey game that’s keen to learn more I’d definitely recommend you head on down to Varnish real soon. Jamie and the lads behind the bar certainly know their stuff and can guide you through their extensive collection or whip you up a tasty cocktail depending on how you feel. Beyond that they also have a great menu of share type items and a good range of wine and other drinks, but if you’re like me you probably won’t pay them much attention with all that whiskey to get through. On a more personal note, it’s also helped me patch up my rocky relationship with bourbon. Sure we had some rough times in the past, but it seems that now we’ve both matured and grown a lot and I think I’m ready to give us another shot. That being said, me and Ms Cougar are definitely history. This time round I think I’m going to play the field a bit and see other bourbons, a lot of other bourbons…
For more photos of my trip to Varnish follow this link and check them out on the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.587879264601645.1073741838.345163112206596&type=1&l=cee6d130ca