When The Second Floor by Scott Gottlich opened in the Westin Galleria Dallas in 2008, Gina Gottlich, sommelier and beverage manager, wanted to get away from the typical hotel bar “and wanted something with a bit more personality,” she says.
Whiskey became the focus of the bar, both to inject something fun and exciting and not mainstream into the location, but also to offer something that is appealing more to women.
“Women are going away from fruity vodka drinks because they are very sweet and very one-dimensional,” Gottlich says. “With whiskey there’s more complexity and people’s palates are more refined.”
And women are becoming more interested in this spirit, both on its own and in cocktails. In fact, according to Fred Minnick, author of Whiskey Women, around 37% of US whiskey drinkers are women, a stark contrast to 20 years ago when that figure was closer to 15 percent. (The figures are based on Jim Beam domestic numbers for their entire whiskey portfolio.)
Whiskey is selling well with women, says Gottlich, who explains that they typically prefer the softer, gentler varieties, while men usually opt for stronger-flavored varieties like Scotches.
The bar offers more than 200 varieties of whiskey, under menu headings of various regions of Scotland, Texas, even Japan.
The Second Floor also offers 6 to 8 whiskey flights, each of which typically has a theme, such as geographical, or whiskeys with different oak finishes. It also offers staff picks in the flights. Flights cost $12 to $30, though one, The Big Spender, costs $100.
“The flights are a good entry point into whiskey,” Gottlich explains. You don’t have to commit to a full drink; it’s all about the experience and remembering what certain labels or styles are.” For the flights, the beverages are served one by one—or all at once if customers prefer—and servers discuss them in depth. “It’s really drawn out and like a craft almost, tailored to everyone,” she says.
Whiskey was a good thing to focus on, Gottlich says, “because the price people are willing to pay for a good whiskey is getting higher and higher. When we opened we had variety but it was cost-friendly. Now we have the demand for the higher end and people willing to spend $20 on a single serving of it.”
Overall, she explains, while the average price of the most popular whiskeys was in the $10 to $12 range when the restaurant opened, now they’re $14 to $20.
“People understand the craftsmanship and the aging,” she says. “It’s like the new wine revolution.” As for what’s most popular, “customers are chomping at the bit” for Texan whiskeys, she says, and a local brand, TX, is both the top seller and inexpensive. “It’s smooth, it’s soft, it’s approachable,” Gottlich says. But bigger names sell too, like Glenmorangie and Bulleit rye.
As well as its massive selection of whiskeys, The Second Floor also has a selection of cocktails featuring the spirit, with more featured in the fall and winter, when this spirit is more appealing. Two popular ones are the Hot Chai Toddy and the Kentucky Mule (recipes below).
Embers Ski Lodge in Nashville, TN, also has an extensive whiskey list, as well as cocktails containing whiskey.
“More women are drinking them,” says bar lead Zak Klapperich. There are two types of female drinker, he explains: The first doesn’t want to be outdone by men, buys good whiskeys and then develops a taste for it, and typically drinks it neat or on the rocks; the second is looking for whiskey in a high-end cocktail.
“We do a lot to try to bring people into it, even if it’s just teaching them about easier drinking whiskeys,” he says.
One of Embers’ cocktails getting a lot of hype is Crazian Louvre, which is a spin on a Manhattan. “We intentionally wanted to make a strong traditional cocktail that could also appeal to people who can’t drink a full liquor cocktail,” Klapperich says. The cocktail contains Kentucky bourbon, mixed with B&B (Benedictine), Hünerkopf Alt (a light German vermouth that nullifies the whisky flavor) and K&B Liquor 43.
“We’ve kept the same amounts of whiskey in it but masked the harsh bite and brought out the orange and the spice,” Klapperich explains. “A lot of people buy this and don’t realize it’s a strong whiskey drink. It brings out the more subtle flavors of whiskey that people often don’t realize are there.”
Masking the strong flavors of whiskey is a common theme in Embers’ cocktails. “Rather than masking them with something sweet it’s interesting to flavor them with something herbal or something with fruit to it, like our spiced orange liquor that takes away that harsh front end of whiskey,” he explains.
The venue’s menu changes every three months, with more whiskey cocktails in the fall (when half of the cocktails contain the spirit) and winter (when 75% of the cocktails are made with it).
These drinks appeal to bartenders as much as they do customers. “It’s much more fun to make these cocktails than ‘girly’ cocktails,” Klapperich says. “There’s less of a taboo around women drinking strong drinks.”
Hot Chai Toddy
- 1-1/2 oz. chai-infused Four Roses bourbon
- 1 mini jar honey
- 1 lemon wedge
- hot water
To a pre-heated glass mug, add bourbon and hot water. In front of the guest add honey and lemon squeeze and stir with spoon.
- 1-1/2 oz. Buffalo Trace bourbon
- 4 oz. ginger beer
- lime wedge
- fresh mint leaves
Fill a copper mug with crushed ice. Add bourbon, a squeeze of lime and mint. Top with ginger beer and lightly stir.