The bartender at the new Central West End Pi
looks like a cross between Matthew McConaughey and a young Paul Newman. He is smiling at us. We are having trouble remembering why we are standing there. Oh, yes, whiskey. Pi's whiskey selection is not only broad; it is also given a place of prominence. Just inside the front door is the bar, which wraps around a huge blackboard, the top of which reads "Whiskey." This kind of suggestion works on us. We are so suggestible, in fact, that after placing our pizza order, we abandon our dining companion at the table to come have a look at the wall of whiskeys.
The list is broken down by region: Scotch, American (bourbon and rye) and Irish. We are partial to American whiskeys, but occasionally, on a very cold winter night like this one, Scotch sounds about right. We ask Cool Hand Luke for a suggestion -- something that will pair with food and isn't too peaty-smoky. He asks if there is a Scotch we particularly like. When we say, no, not really, he launches into a description of the country's regions and how their different climates and environments impact the Scotch they produce.
He puts two bottles in front of us. He offers us a whiff of The Balvenie Double Wood 12-year from the Speyside region and then the Edradour
10-year from the Central Highlands. Both are friendly to those among us who are not single-malt aficionados. We choose the Edradour, only because we have never heard of this distillery. He pours for us, commenting that while both are great, he personally likes The Balvenie. (Kick self.) He asks if we want water or ice in it; we reply that neat is fine. Still he gives us a little cold water and a cocktail straw and instructs us to add water a few drops at a time. He explains that Scotch doesn't continue to age in the bottle; a little water "wakes it back up." We thank him and ask his name (for the column, natch). He adorably replies, "I'm Patrick. I love whiskey."
We do, too, and Scotch is the first kind we ever had. (As far as we remember.) It's definitely the first liquor we drank straight. We started drinking in the '90s, in high school, so all of our formative drinking experiences involved vodka and some sort of sugary mixer to hide the taste. It's our present companion who taught us how to drink like a grown-up. He started us on blended Scotch on the rocks at BB's Jazz, Blues, and Soups
. We sat at that great old bar in front of the fireplace and tried not to make a face as we swallowed.
We turn and catch a glimpse of our companion sitting by himself, looking bored. It strikes us that we have been gone for a rather long time. We slink back to the table. The Edradour is caramelly, with a subtle indication of oak, and that lovely Scotch burn going down. This is where Scotch gets its reputation for being "warming." Actually, in this case, even just ordering the Scotch had a warming effect. We offer our companion a taste, but he's not interested. It's blended if he's drinking Scotch, and most of the time he's drinking beer. We love him for it. Single malt may be fun to sip every now and again, but it's not what we want every day.Alicia Lohmar is a south-city dweller and accomplished drinker, to which she credits her German ancestry and Catholic upbringing.