Bill Thomas, the owner of Jack Rose Dining Saloon, knows more than a thing or two about whiskey.
In fact, he knows at least 1,600 things – and counting.
That’s how many bottles of whiskey are at Jack Rose, making it the largest publicly available collection of whiskey in North America.
Tomorrow night, Thomas will be moderating the Whiskey Business panel and tasting at Sixth & I Synagogue. Though the event is long sold out, Thomas did let us in on some key whiskey tidbits, including what to try if – gasp! – you don’t like whiskey.
Q: How did you develop your interest in whiskey?
A:Like many other people: one dram at a time. I started with the more notable whiskey brands. Then I realized the differences in complexity between those and wondered, “Wow, what’s next?” The variance between different kinds of whiskeys like scotch, bourbon, Irish, and so on, and the complexities within those categories – it’s endless.
Q: How did you go about selecting which bottles would be available at Jack Rose?
A:We don’t select bottles; we take them all. We scour every wholesaler, distillery gift shop, and importer – and not just the U.S. but around the globe – looking for every single barrel and forgotten bottle in their inventory. I recently got a call from a distributor saying they found two cases of old whiskey in the warehouse and asked if we wanted them. Of course we do! We aim to provide the most extensive collection of whiskeys available, whether it is a lesser-known expression from a familiar distillery or a Prohibition-era bottle not available anywhere else in the country.
Q: What are some of the challenges of serving and educating patrons on whiskey now that it (and spirits in general) are more popular than they once were?
A:The average drinker is more knowledgeable than they once were. So, it’s actually more of an open dialogue when they come in than a learning experience. What thrills me the most is when I can actually learn from some of the patrons that come in.
Q: Let’s say someone didn’t like whiskey. In your opinion, what’s the best whiskey to change his or her mind?
A: First of all, if someone says they don’t drink or like whiskey, I offer them a well-balanced whiskey cocktail, where the whiskey shines through. If they’re a wine drinker, I love to find a single malt scotch finished in a wine cask – whether it’s Sauternes, Bordeaux, Cotes du Rhone. It’s almost always a hit. They’re excited when they see the subtle influence the wine has on the whiskey, and it puts them at ease with the familiarity of picking out that flavor profile. At that point, they’re sucked in, and you can go anywhere.
Q: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about whiskey over the years?
A: The most surprising thing I find out about whiskey every year is that, as big of a geek as I am about it, there are thousands more that are whiskey-obsessed. These people have so much to offer in terms of knowledge that I can’t wait to meet every one of them. When someone walks into Jack Rose or reaches out to me, it’s a great evening of drinking and conversation.
Q: What do you see as the future of whiskey in DC and beyond?
The future for whiskey in DC is me opening up something even bigger and better than Jack Rose, if that’s possible. We are currently putting together a museum-like collection of American whiskeys we hope will celebrate the history of whiskey drinking in America. We’d like to see the nation’s capital celebrating the national spirit. There are so many passionate bartenders and chefs opening up great whiskey bars in so many emerging neighborhoods, that DC will become the best whiskey town in America. I see the popularity of American whiskey continuing to rise, especially with the creativity taking place amongst both the established and the craft distilleries. Wood management, entry proofs, mashbills, and creative distillers will continue to drive the whiskey industry forward for the foreseeable future.
Jack Rose Dining Saloon is located at 2007 18th St NW in Adams Morgan.
Photo Credit: Businessweek