American whiskey has never been more popular. And here’s a prediction: Its popularity will only grow as more discover the joys of the juice. One Downtown bar is capitalizing on this craze in a big way, focusing on an array of 40-plus bourbons, ryes and more, as well as barrel-aged cocktails and innovative, whiskey-forward concoctions.
Downtown Container Park’s Oak & Ivy opened in late July, and offers 35 years of experience between its three experts—bar lead Chris Gutierrez, Alverrie Pinto and Keith Baker, all of whom are competition bartenders. The menu itself is impressive, featuring easy-to-find bourbons like Four Roses Yellow and hard-to-find ryes like Lock Stock & Barrel. But it’s in the cocktails that Oak & Ivy truly shines.
First, all the bar’s ingredients are made in-house, including ginger beer, syrups and Bloody Mary mix. And while the list of cocktails features something for every whiskey lover, Gutierrez and company are fond of tailoring your drink to your mood—or your sense of gamesmanship.
One favorite game involves creating cocktails on the fly inspired by a specific location. Though the whiskeys are all American, Pinto says ingredients behind the bar can be tied to other parts of the world.
I threw out Spain, and Pinto got wide-eyed, spinning around and assembling my own special cocktail in minutes. He started with Jefferson’s Ocean, a bourbon aged in barrels on seagoing vessels (“It had to have stopped in Spain,” Pinto says), adding Ancho Reyes Ancho Chile Liqueur, Aztec Chocolate Bitters and Botran Reserva Rum. After seeing my satisfied expression upon sampling it, Pinto dubbed our drink the “Ocean-Going Spaniard.” And I have to admit, I felt like a bit of an explorer at that moment.
Three great cocktails at Oak & Ivy
Blood & Clovers
Oak & Ivy’s barrel-aged version of the Blood & Sand features Jameson Black Barrel (aged in American oak, so they say it counts as American), Cherry Heering, Carpano Antica and fresh orange. It has a pleasant fruitiness, with plenty of cherry and a bitter finish. This is a perfect sipper for sitting down with a book or a friend you haven’t seen in a while. And because it’s in a barrel, this cocktail is always aging and absorbing more oak, so it will be different every time you have it.
Sunshine Whiskey Smash
The bar’s most popular item, this is a visually appealing drink made with Buffalo Trace bourbon with a citrus-y, almost tropical feeling. While sweet, it’s never cloying, a perfect drink for the summer heat—satisfying and oh so drinkable. “I feel everybody who wants to get into whiskey, this is the drink for them,” Pinto says.
Using Oak & Ivy’s house-made ginger beer, Sailor Jerry and ‘Elemakule Tiki Bitters, this cocktail is almost sensory overload. The drinking straw is placed right in the middle of sugar-dusted mint leaves, meaning your nose goes right into it while you drink. The Snowstorm’s allspice flavors had me thinking of Christmas. Not a bad state of mind when it’s 110 outside.
Oak & Ivy Downtown Container Park Monday-Thursday, 3-11 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. oakandivy.com.