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Bar Talk: Seeing Brown

Posted on  | December 3, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Michael Ferrie, Caledonia Scottish Pub, New York

An authentic meat pie may certainly be enough incentive for New Yorkers to stake out a perch at cozy Caledonia Scottish Pub, but it’s the astounding whisky collection that has made this neighborhood joint a mecca for Scotch aficionados. Here, co-owner Michael Ferrie—a Dundee, Scotland, native who has worked at the likes of local bars Mustang Harry’s, Jack’s, Hi-Life and The Perfect Pint—talks about whisky’s great surge.

THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: Caledonia is at once an everyday pub and a Scotch destination. How do you achieve that balance?

MICHAEL FERRIE: I always wanted to open a bar that is first, extremely whisky-oriented—but without the pretentiousness that has surrounded the single malt category for far too long—and secondly, a place that a lot of our customers would call their second home. We have managed to cultivate a fantastic group of regulars at Caledonia, and I feel like that’s what has made the bar such a success.

TBN: How big is the collection?

MF: We are up to about 180 different kinds of whiskies now, mostly single malts and blends from Scotland, but also a good amount of Irish whiskies and bourbons, as well as a few from non-traditional whisky countries, such as Japan, India and Wales.

TBN: Many Scotch lovers already have their favorites. How do you invite guests to venture beyond their comfort zone?

MF: With all due respect to the giants of the Scottish distilleries, I do try to get people away from whiskies they can order at any other bar and encourage them to try some of the lesser-known gems from Scotland. My whole philosophy on single malts is that there aren’t really any bad ones, so customers should try to taste as many different ones as they can to find the 10 or 15 they really love.

TBN: How does education play a role in your approach to hospitality? MF: Whisky should be fun. I won’t lecture people on the ins and outs of whisky production or how you are supposed to drink it, but I’ll always answer any questions people have if they want to expand their knowledge.

TBN: Any new Scotch finds you’re especially passionate about?

MF: I fell in love with Glen Grant 10-year-old recently. It’s very under the radar in the States, which is right up my alley. It’s the first whisky I introduce to new single malt drinkers, too, and they also seem to love it. I would describe it as a very smooth, fruity, easy-drinking whisky. Another Scotch that was available for a short period of time last year and has just come back into stock is the Laphroaig Triple Wood. It’s extremely well balanced, and even those that cringe at the thought of drinking a smoky dram seem to enjoy it.

TBN: How do you think the Scotch demographic is changing? Are you seeing a younger clientele express interest? More women?

MF: Scotch is just exploding. Whereas it used to be the drink of choice for old, stuffy men, it seems like everyone is falling in love with Scotch these days. Certainly the amount of women who are drinking whisky at the bar is rapidly increasing. In my opinion, it’s women the industry should be targeting.

TBN: Whisky is, of course, always savored when served neat. But tell us about some of the cocktails you’ve come up with.

MF: I personally think whisky tastes best on its own—it has all the flavor it needs. Although, a whisky-based cocktail we put together called the Islay Old Fashioned has proven to be very popular. It’s our Scottish spin on an American classic. We use Bowmore instead of bourbon and this gives it a balance of both smoky and sweet flavors.

TBN: It seems like Caledonia is also having fun turning guests on to Scotch beers as well.

MF: Scottish beers are both underrated and unknown stateside, which is a shame. Hopefully we are doing our bit to change that. We are starting to get people coming from other parts of the city just for the beer. Belhaven, a cream ale, has become wildly popular for us. Also, Innis & Gunn is doing very well. It’s aged in Scotch casks for 77 days. Beer and whisky in one: what’s not to love?


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