Passionate Pursuits: Beyond the Hot Toddy
Written by Amelia Jeffers
Growing up in an isolated region of the Appalachian mountains, a trip to the doctor was reserved for the most dire medical needs. Just about anything else, I was taught, could be treated with a bit of whiskey. And so I learned, with a little help from some honey and whatever fruit happened to be on hand, the value of the warm and comforting feeling of Kentucky’s less-than-finest. As an adult, I have always kept a bottle of something rather nice around (in recent years, thanks to their partnership with SL, it was Jefferson’s Reserve). After a career-topping opportunity to auction a small cache of pre-prohibition whiskey and gin, I took note of the rising interest in collecting aged whiskeys and endeavored to develop a more sophisticated appreciation. I am not alone. Major auction players like Sotheby’s and Christie’s have responded to enthusiasm among affluent bidders by curating specialty whiskey auctions, with the former setting a record price with the sale of a 1926 The Macallan Fine and Rare for $1.9 million in 2020. “Whiskies,” says Chris Munro of Christie’s auction house, “offer as rich and complex a landscape as fine wine.”
Central Ohio whiskey enthusiasts do not have to venture far to enjoy a premium selection. Nearly every fine dining option has incorporated a broad and impressive whiskey menu to their beverage program. However, a handful of distilleries and specialty lounges have fully embraced the whiskey culture, putting Columbus on the map for more than fashion and food. High Bank Distillery was founded by four friends who were interested in turning an avocation into a career. With several national awards under their belts, the passionate group serves up their esteemed spirits at their eponymous restaurant in Grandview (second location coming soon in Gahanna / New Albany) and in select retail locations. Most recently awarded Best Blended Whiskey and Best Whiskey in Ohio in blind taste tests by the American Craft Spirits Association at the annual Heartland Whiskey Competition, High Bank also offers $199 annual memberships to the “Whiskey Society,” a diverse group of individuals who gather over a shared love of brown spirits and the desire to learn and grow in knowledge. A fan-favorite among our team are the small-batch whiskeys from another national award-winning maker, Middle West Spirits. And don’t get us started on the offerings at their in-house restaurant, Service Bar Columbus (check online for updates about the long-awaited reopening this spring). In the Gay Street dining corridor, Buckeye Bourbon House offers over 150 bottles with many rare, hard-to-find examples.
For those interested in curating an at-home collection of whiskey, bourbon, and scotch, a number of websites can help to educate, inform, and inspire. One of the most comprehensive is RareWhisky101.com. With reviews, treasure-hunting tips, and annual indices, it is a front-runner for the best place to start. For a guide to the best whiskey bars in the country, alerts about bottle releases, and lifestyle tips, we like The Bourbon Review (gobourbon.com). And if you are ready to jump into the auction market and compete for the best and rarest bottles, check out the list of best whiskey auctions compiled by Whiskey Advocate (whiskyadvocate.com/where-to-buy-whisky-at-auction).