Favorite

My booze heavens 

Capital Bar and Grill and Colonial Wines & Spirits are the twin pillars of local liquor culture.

Whiskey at Capital Bar and Grill image
  • Brian Chilson
  • Some of that 'brown liquor' at Capital Bar and Grill

Last week, I had a cocktail at the Capital Bar and Grill that, it's reasonably safe to say, no one else has ever had. Its ingredients were Benedictine, a sweet French liqueur that was supposedly first created by monks 500 years ago; St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, a rum distilled from fermented molasses that tastes strongly of clove and nutmeg; juice from yuzu, an East Asian fruit that with the tartness somewhere between that of a lemon or a grapefruit, and Grand Marnier. Stirred and strained and served with an orange peel, it was tart and sweet — though not cloyingly so — and delicious.

I am not a cultured drinker. I have Maker's Mark in my liquor cabinet and Budweiser longnecks in the fridge. I order house wines at restaurants, and I don't know a Gimlet from a Greyhound. Booze knowledge has always struck me as arcane and expensive — not worth the trouble. But after spending time recently at the Capital Bar and Colonial Wines and Spirits I'm starting to think maybe a fancy liquor savings account might be in order. Once you taste the good stuff, everything else is swill.

At the Capital, Spencer Jansen served as my guide. A runner-up for best bartender in this year's Toast of the Town and a past winner, the 28-year-old is a passionate liquor autodidact. The first thing he showed me was The Root, a liqueur that's only recently available in Arkansas. It's based in root tea, an herbal remedy made from sarsaparilla and sassafras and such that dates back to at least the 18th century, when colonial settlers first heard about it from Native Americans. Recipes were passed through generations, and at the height of the temperance movement, a Philadelphia pharmacist removed the alcohol and birthed root beer. Or at least that's the story Art in the Age, the Pennsylvania distillery that makes pre-temperance Root, tells. Jansen used it to make an ice cream float not long ago that "was incredible."

For perhaps more serious-minded drinkers, the Capital carries more than 60 varieties of scotch, including a Macallan 30-year single malt that's $120 a shot. It's the only place in town to find Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve, a line of bourbon that Jansen said the Capital endorses as the "best bourbon made" today. Breckenridge, another small batch bourbon, uses "snow-melt water" in production. On the bar's cocktail menu, "The Old Timer" uses Breckenridge in a sort of time-lapse Old Fashioned, where simple syrup and Angostura bitters are frozen in an ice cube; as the cube melts, the flavors emerge.

The Capital is mostly known as a "brown liquor bar," Jansen concedes, but that's ignoring a lot of good stuff. Like Hangar One Fraser River Raspberry Vodka, infused with raspberries grown in the Fraser River Valley in Washington State, a ruby-colored drink that tastes like raspberries, not raspberry flavoring. Or one of Del Maguey's mezcals — a cousin of tequila, made with water and the heart of the maguey (agave) — that come from individual family producers in remote villages in Mexico's Oaxaca state.

Colonial Wines & Spirits, the perennial Toast of the Town winner for best liquor store, carries Del Maguey (a "single village mezcal" costs $72.99 a bottle) and just about everything else The Capital stocks — and more. Pressed to name some of the unique inventory, store media coordinator Ben Bell thought for a minute and headed over to the beer aisles, where he pulled out a bottle of Lambrucha, a Belgian beer made with Kombucha, a fermented tea. It was one of 40 new beers — including a smoked beer Bell said reminded him of smoked sausage and a Swiss beer aged in oak — the store had recently begun to stock after its beer buyer provided a distributor with a wish list of his most coveted international brews.

Other highlights, according to Bell: Rogue Gin, aged in pinot noir barrels; several varieties of Signatory Vintage, a line that repackages small batch whiskeys from different, highly-sought-after micro-distilleries; Geniver, a Dutch-style gin that's not made to be mixed, and Punt e Mes, an Italian vermouth with a bitter flavor that Bell says he drinks straight when he really "wants to wake up" his palate.

Near the beer aisles in a relatively small shelf soon to be replaced with a much larger one is Bell's primary passion — sake. He'd just returned from New York, where he'd taken an examination to become Arkansas's first Certified Sake Professional. Sake "is probably the most misunderstood category in the U.S., but it's growing in popularity," he said. Colonial will have a "world-class" sake section by next year.

Education will be key to growing sake's popularity in Central Arkansas, Bell said. Lucky for him, he's got something rare or perhaps unique among liquor stores in town — a tasting bar, where customers can sample before they buy. It's open 1 p.m. until 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Jansen, at the Capital Bar, is always happy to impart his knowledge as well.

"People can come in and say, 'Create something.' We're going to try to push our limits. We want to have an interaction with our customers. I want them to have the experience of drinking and trying," he said.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Speaking of...

Related Locations

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Lindsey Millar

  • Tuesday line

    Here you go.
    • Apr 25, 2017
  • Supreme Court hears arguments in case that led to stays for two Arkansas death row inmates

    The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in an appeal yesterday that asks the court to rule that indigent criminal defendants are entitled to an independent expert witness. The case, McWilliams v. Dunn, goes back to the 1984 capital murder conviction of James McWilliams, who raped and murdered a woman in Tuscaloosa, Ala., during a robbery. But the high court's decision will also directly affect the fates of Don Davis and Bruce Ward, Arkansas death row prisoners who were slated to die this month, but given a reprieve by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which issued a stay in each execution, pending the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in McWilliams in June.
    • Apr 25, 2017
  • The Jack Jones, Marcel Williams execution thread

    The Arkansas Department of Correction is planning for the first double execution in the U.S. in 16 years tonight. Jack Jones, 52,  and Marcell Williams, 46, are scheduled to die by lethal injection. They would be the second and third prisoners put to death as part of a hurried schedule Governor Hutchinson set in advance of the state's supply of one of the three drugs used in the execution protocol expiring on April 30.
    • Apr 24, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

Most Shared

  • Former state board of education chair Sam Ledbetter weighs in on Little Rock millage vote

    Ledbetter, the former state Board of Education chair who cast the decisive vote in 2015 to take over the LRSD, writes that Education Commissioner Johnny Key "has shown time and again that he is out of touch with our community and the needs of the district." However, Ledbetter supports the May 9 vote as a positive for the district's students and staff.

Latest in Cover Stories

Visit Arkansas

Haralson, Smith named to Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame

Haralson, Smith named to Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame

Chuck Haralson and Ken Smith were inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame during the 43rd annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism

Event Calendar

« »

April

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30  

Most Recent Comments

 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation