The Phoenix bar has recently relocated to a new spot on Third Street from La Cienega’s Restaurant Row and is already being touted as having “the most extensive and rare collection of brown liquids in L.A.”
When I got done rolling my eyes, I double-checked with co-partner Ryan Sweeney who, almost embarrassed, wanted to state that that’s simply not the case. “We started out with 200. We’re going to keep adding,” he says. “For a good whiskey list, you can’t buy at the beginning. You have to collect over time. So to say that it’s the best list is a fallacy. You can’t be, unless you’re going around into people’s private collections and raiding them.”
So yeah, it may not be the largest, most awesome whiskey list in L.A. but it’s got a great start. And Sweeney, a hardcore whiskey lover, curated a well-thought-out whiskey selection that has something for everyone, from the amateur to the connoisseur.
But with 200 bottles to choose from it still can be a bit intimidating to anyone who isn’t Nick Offerman. So I asked Sweeney to pick out just five from the list that would be the best to start with. His picks vary from affordable and ubiquitous to high-end and super rare, and span the whiskey range with bourbon, Japanese, rye, and two scotches. He even included which bottle you should get for your Dear Old Dad on Father’s Day.
For the bourbon collector: Knob Creek 2001 Edition ($15 for 1 oz, $26 for 2 oz)
“A really cool whiskey that is just now finding its way into bars. A 100 proof Knob Creek that has been aged 14 years, a limited edition that is meant a tribute to the Beam family, the family who did the first small batch. It started when Booker who wanted to stop being in charge and handed the company off to his nephew. It’s a 1,200-bottle run and being 100 proof it’s a little bit overproofed. This is a limited edition and a collector’s item. You’re not going to find this anywhere. It’s way overaged for a Knob Creek. And because of the legacy of the family of Jim Beam handing down, handing down it’s kind of an internal tribute to the family and makes it special. If you want to nerd out and have something special that not many people are going to be able to get it.”
For those who want a Japanese whisky in a cocktail: Suntory Whisky Toki ($9 for 1 oz, $16 for 2 oz)
“The newest Whisky Release from powerhouse Suntory. It’s light and balanced, a great introduction to Japanese whisky. First of all Asian whiskies are on fire now. Everyone wants Asian whiskey. You can’t keep them in stock. Suntory has Yamazaki and the Yamazaki sherry cask won whiskey of the year not that long ago. They’re just winning whiskey of the year almost every year. There’s starting to be an influx of Japanese whisky. And they realize the problem that it’s all high priced so they need something that could be in a cocktail or more entry level. So they just released the Toki. And this thing is really smooth, delicate and really nice. But as a cocktail whiskey that you should be mixing drinks with, it’s really fun. And you’re getting the heritage of Suntory. Everyone’s that’s into whiskey they think about bourbon but they should be now trying Japanese and this is a good way to get in there because it’s so delicate and nice and well-balanced. It’s what you expect from that category of Japanese whiskey that’s now starting to emerge as its own.”
For those who hate spicy rye whiskey: Sazerac Rye ($7 for 1 oz, $13 for 2 oz)
“This rye was named after the famous New Orleans cocktail. It is a bit sweeter then other ryes, but still has the spicy rye bite you should expect. This is my personal favorite, and I have to include it because this is what I drink. Whenever I go to the bar I always order a Sazerac neat. I love the history and the story. This Thomas H. Handy which has a whiskey after him, he bought the Sazerac coffee company, which is also what the first cocktail is named after in New Orleans. And because of phylloxera, the blight that killed all the grapes in Cognac, France, they started using rye whiskey and this is the rye whiskey that he replaced the cognac in the cocktail with. It’s made by Buffalo Trace but what I like about it is that it’s got an orange kind of vanilla sweetness, so it’s not as aggressive as most ryes but you definitely get the rye flavor. Some ryes to me are just so peppery, just trying to be spicy. But this one is well balanced. Plus, this is a really dumb thing but the bottle’s really cool! It’s like a throwback bottle.”
For the Macallan Drinker who wants to try something else: Tamdhu 10 ($11 for 1 oz, $19 for 2 oz)
“A great single malt scotch for Macallan fans that are looking to try something new. A Speyside whiskey aged in sherry cask with a pretty awesome bottle. This one I got exposed to. This is not a whiskey you’d be drawn to at first. The bottle is a little bit different and it’s from a small distributor so it’s not on the store shelf. What I didn’t know is it’s owned by Macallan and it rivals Macallan. The thing with Macallan is they have been pushing fine oak and not pushing the sherry cask because they’re running out of casks. So they’re pushing this fine oak which doesn’t have the flavor of Speyside. Speyside has to have that sherry cask and that sweetness because it was made to replace cognac. I’m not going to say this is a dead ringer for Macallan because that’s not where I’m trying to go with it. But for a Macallan drinker, they need to try this because it’s a cool change to try from a sister company that they don’t know about. It might have gotten sold off recently but it’s was theirs for a long time. It’s a really nice whiskey and if you’re a Macallan drinker, which most scotch drinkers are, you’ll love it but you would never have seen it. It’s not rare, it’s from a small distillery and has been overshadowed by the big boys. The store could get it but most stores don’t know about it. It’s not expensive or exclusive, they just don’t know it exists.”
For those who fear peaty scotch: Laphroig Cairdeas ($13 for 1 oz, $23 for 2 oz)
“I don’t know how to pronounce the name but Cairdeas means ‘friendship’ in Gaelic. I wanted to throw a peated scotch on there especially because people’s idea of whiskey is the big peaty scotch. But this one is not overboard, this is not Octomore [a peat bomb], this is not some of the Ardbegs. But it is an Islay scotch and it has that big, smoked flavor you’re looking for but it’s also a little bit more temperate. But the nice thing is it’s to commemorate Laphroiag’s 200th year. This again goes back to the geeky, the collector’s item one-off. Next year they won’t have this one, it’ll be another one.”
For Dad: Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon
“Blanton’s is a great bottle. It’s not very exciting because you see it everywhere but once again a lot of people don’t know it. I love that it has running horses on the cork. And it’s so stupid but I collect all those. They have this pewter or metal horse at the top of the bottle and each one has a different letter, so you collect them and it spells out Blantons. And it shows the different steps of the horse running for the Kentucky Derby. Blanton’s is one of high-end whiskies from Sazerac and you should be able to get it in any liquor store. That’s one you should be able to go to BevMo for.”