Show Me the Way to the Next Whiskey Bar…
According to Barrel 44 owner Shawn Korn, there are two typical types of whiskey bar – the fat-leather-chair-and-cigar atmosphere and the dive. He and his business partner and head chef, Matthew Nickel, set out to fashion their own vision. Later this fall, they will expand that vision to a second location in the former Bexley’s Monk space on Main Street. At roughly four times the size of the original Barrel 44 on High Street, Korn and company plan to expand their menu, (taking advantage of the resident wood fire oven by offering flat bread pizzas, for instance) as well as their wine and Scotch selections.
When it comes to what kinds of foods go with the whiskey, the answer is complicated. “Whiskey, like a lot of alcohol, beats down your palette,” said Korn. “It’s hot. It’s going to dominate your mouth. So literally pairing foods with whiskey is hard. People will argue with me, but that’s been my experience.” The Barrel 44 concept, therefore, called for heartier foods like flat iron steak and blackened catfish, foods with strong flavors and large portions.
Growing up in Philadelphia, he got his first exposure to the drink by way of friends’ parents’ liquor cabinets. When I asked what about whiskey appealed to him, he said, “It’s just always gotten me where I want to be,” he said with a half-smile. Plus, he really likes that he can taste what he’s drinking. “Otherwise, it’s cheating. And if it turns out it hurts you, maybe you shouldn’t drink it.”
Korn knows an awful lot about whiskey. Talking about it, he manages to educate and inform without coming off as condescending, not an easy feat. When I asked what he would consider a good quality but inexpensive bourbon, he recommended Old Forester. “It’s the same distillery as Woodford Reserve. The Woodford reps won’t tell you that, but the Old Forester reps are more than happy to share that information,” he said with a laugh. I also learned that it is the oldest bottled bourbon in the United States and survived Prohibition by being designated medicinal, which meant it could be obtained with a prescription. He also takes credit for making Buffalo Trace popular in Columbus, calling it one of the most well-rounded whiskey’s he’s tried in a long time. “And it’s reasonably priced,” he said, “a good gateway for someone who wants to try bourbon.”
While Columbus is no Louisville in terms of access and enthusiasm for whiskey, Korn is hopeful. “People come in come here specifically to try whiskey, and we try to make that happen with the flights.” But he doesn’t want his guests to feel obligated if it’s just not their thing. On the other hand, if you’re turned on by the idea that you can get something in this town higher quality that a Maker’s Mark, Korn’s got a Colorado whiskey called Strannahan’s. It’s not inexpensive but will definitely get you where you want to be.
For more information about Barrel 44, including the opening of the new location in Bexley, visit www.barrel44.com.