There are only two ways to appreciate whiskey -- and we're talking bourbon here, folks, and its country cousin, Tennessee sippin' whiskey: neat, where the full burn of the libation's alcohol content can overtake the complex sweetness of the corn distillate, and on the rocks, after the ice has worked its magic a bit, cutting the sharp edge of alcohol and allowing the sipper to appreciate the full roll of taste the drink has to offer.
Frank Sinatra was the dean of good times and the ultimate arbiter of manly cool and verve. He liked his Savile Row suits in black and his whiskey poured over just the right amount of ice.
He also demanded Jack in the black: As in Jack Daniel's. As in charcoal-filtered Tennessee sippin' whiskey, different from bourbon only because of the location of its Lynchburg, Tennessee, distillery, located in a dry county some 35 miles south of Nashville and a mere 22 miles from Tennessee's other, lesser-known whiskey maker, George Dickel, also steamed up in a dry county.
Frank waited for the ice to die down a bit, cutting the proof some and reducing the impact of the alcohol so the flavor could come through. Too much ice meant too little taste to Frank. Just enough, rolled over the cut lip of an old-fashioned or rocks glass, for the fiery sweetness and complexity to reach perfection.
When the lights were low and the time reached the bad side of 4 a.m., Frank was usually alone, sitting at the bar. To experience a similar ambience, try the Delmar Restaurant & Lounge, just down the street from the Tivoli Theatre.
The lights are lounge-lizard low, and the bartenders -- in particular a chap named Brandon -- pour a smooth drink. If you're lucky, a combo is playing a bluesy tune. If not, don't worry -- this is a place where conversation gives you plenty of time to let your drink settle.
They pour Maker's Mark here -- a fine bourbon from Kentucky, best sipped over rocks. They also stock Jack Daniel's black-label offering, a rawer talent, heavier in firepower if not in proof. It's important to remember that by federal law, bourbon, America's only native spirit, must be 51 percent corn distillate. It's also supposed to be at least 80 proof -- the fire behind the sweetness.
This composition gives bourbon and Tennessee sippin' whiskey their distinctive sweetness -- a taste markedly different from those of single-malt scotches and more medicinal-tasting darker blends.
The key element here is how the spirit is aged -- in charred-oak casks that impart to the drink its distinct reddish-brown color, a hue that should flow around your cubes of ice and not be diminished by them.
Settle back and sip. Then take a drag off an unfiltered Lucky Strike -- just like the ones Frank used to puff on. Then another pull. Let the whiskey speak to you. If you're lucky, someone will play Sinatra. You'll be livin' the high life, then, pally.