“I’m a rye guy,” I said to the bartender at the Mud Hen Tavern on Highland last Wednesday night as he displayed a bottle of WhistlePig rye whiskey. He popped the cork off and held the bottle to my nose. After I nodded my approval, the bartender poured me the tiniest of nips in a shot glass and slid it towards me. I swirled, sniffed again, and sipped. Already buzzed from a Swami IPA (ABV 6.8%), I can’t recall the notes or images the rye elicited. I’d call apt the words WhistlePig uses to describe its product: Courage. Quality. Character. And a fair amount of courage I had to muster to down that whiskey.
Having survived my two-week alkaline stretch, I’m back in the saddle, as my bar boss would say, meaning, I am drinking again. Can’t say the rye went down easy. I think it burnt my throat a bit, but that’s likely a result of my ever-lowering spirits tolerance. Nonetheless, I sat and savored the entire atmosphere and not just the whiskey – the quiet bar on a slow-ish Wednesday night, the bartender rocking a Will Ferrell-esque ‘fro and a beige apron, the blackboard on the wall next to the bar, on which a server’d scrawled in chalk the night’s specials as well as the cocktail du jour, a cucumber jalapeño margarita.
The vibe of the Mud Hen Tavern lived up to what its website promised – “a casual neighborhood place that feels like your second home.” While I chomped on fried oysters, chicken and waffle croquettes, and pumpkin ravioli, I whet my lips with WhistlePig, and chased that with Drake’s Denogginizer DIPA, a massively imperial India Pale Ale, clocking in at 9.75% ABV. As the one-hundred-proof rye and ultra-hoppy ale surged through my bloodstream, the ‘tender reminded me more and more of a koala bear swinging from a vine, especially when he held the beer draft handle with one hand and a pint glass in the other while pouring pints for patrons, glancing over his shoulder at a regular and asking her, “What do you want?”