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Eater's Guide to Bars with High Spirits

Learn more about a particular spirit and put your palate (and liver) to the test.

China Chilcano
China Chilcano
R. Lopez

Most bars serve a broad swath of spirits to please a variety of drink preferences. There are some, however, that take pride in building a substantive collection representing a particular group of spirits.

Whether it's driven by passion, served to complement a cuisine or just seeing a need in the market, these are the places to go deep and learn more about the history and production of certain liquors.

D.C. has plenty of bars that specialize in basics like whiskey, gin, rum and vodka, as well as restaurants that specialize in a spirit tied to a country or region's culinary heritage, such as aquavit, pisco and rakia.

This guide looks at the best restaurants and bars for sampling a particular spirit, as well as plenty of honorable mentions that will allow imbibers to explore even further.

Whiskey

There are dozens of whiskey-centric bars in D.C. due to Washingtonians' profound love for brown liquor. Certain bars may be best depending on one's whiskey of choice.

Scotch

Jack Rose Dining Saloon

Chief among whiskey-centric bars is Jack Rose with nearly 2,400 different bottles. The vast majority is Scotch along with a significant selection of bourbon and rye.

Honorable mentions: Quarry House TavernCivil Cigar Lounge

Bourbon

Bourbon

With over 125 bourbons, one could expect no less from a bar named Bourbon. The bar starts with basics like Woodford Reserve and Maker's Mark (and unique expressions of them), all the way up to more obscure options like Willett and Colonel E.H. Taylor.

Honorable mentions: BarrelQuarry House Tavern

Rye

Rebellion

With nearly 50 different bottles, Rebellion is a treasure trove of rye, which was the primary spirit produced in the region before Prohibition. It's no slouch in other areas of the whiskey department, either. There's plenty of Scotch and Canadian, Irish, American and white whiskies.

Honorable mentions: Southern EfficiencyQuarry House Tavern, The Rye Bar, Boundary StoneSmoke & Barrel

Irish Whiskey

Irish Whiskey

This bar serves over 50 expressions of its namesake liquor, Irish whiskey. It also features an ice machine imported from Ireland. It's meant to produce the perfect ice cube to improve one's enjoyment of the brown spirit.

Honorable mentions: The Whiskey Room at Ri Ra GeorgetownRebellionBoundary Stone

Gin

Wisdom

Wisdom offers approximately 90 different gins. Work through all the different styles, including London dry, Plymouth, Old Tom, and genever. Start with a classic martini and select the proportion of gin to vermouth. Or choose a gin and tonic featuring one of four housemade tonic options.

Honorable mention: The Gin Joint in New Heights Restaurant

Rum

Cuba Libre

Cuba Libre has a menu of over 90 rums to accompany its Cuban cuisine. Categories of rum include dark, gold, white and flavored rums. There's also rhum agricole and a wide variety of aged options.

Honorable mention: Civil Cigar Lounge

Vodka

Russia House

Russia House boasts one of the largest collections of vodka in D.C. with over 200 different bottles. And these aren't just all flavor variations of Absolut. The vodkas hail from Russia, Moldova, Iceland, Poland, Ukraine, France, England, Italy, Israel, Slovakia, Canada, Estonia, Lithuania, The Netherlands and the U.S. There are also house-infused flavors available. Order the vodka as shots, in cocktails or in a six-shot vodka flight.

Honorable mentions: Mari Vanna

Tequila

El Centro

Though it might be more commonly associated with epic hangovers, tequila can be enjoyed in less nausea-inducing way. At El Centro, there are over 350 tequilas from blancos, reposados, anejo to extra anejo. Order them in a variety of tasting options like vertical (from a single distiller), horizontal (same style, from different distillers), microdistiller, premium, or house-infused with fruit.

Honorable mention: Oyamel

Mezcal

Oyamel

At Oyamel, find more than 70 mezcal options on the menu. Try options from the unaged joven, reposado aged less than a year or anejo aged one to two years. Many of the mezcal options come from small producers.

Honorable mention: El Centro

Absinthe

Libertine

Libertine serves over 20 different absinthes, including both Swiss and French-style absinthes. French-style absinthes are green due to the addition of a second maceration of herbs after distillation, while Swiss-style absinthes are clear. At Libertine, enjoy absinthe louched with water from a classic fountain.

Honorable mentions: Wisdom, Chinatown Coffee Company, Johnny's Half Shell

Pisco

China Chilcano

China Chilcano heavily features the grape-based spirit, which has its origins in South America. The menu splits Peruvian piscos into 16 puro (single grape variety), 10 acholado (multiple grape variety), and three mosto verde (fresh grape juice based). There are also four Chilean piscos. Find them served in various cocktails, as well as macerated with fruit.

Aquavit

Domku

Aquavit, the carraway-flavored Scandinavian spirit, is usually associated with the toast known as skål (cheers in Swedish). It requires looking a fellow toaster in the eye, saying "skåll!", drinking and then meeting their eye again. Practice with the ten options available at Domku.

Rakia

Ambar

This fermented fruit brandy is popular in the Balkans. Ambar offers more than 40 varieties in a wide variety of fruit flavors. There are number of options from different distillers that include fall fruits like plum, pear and quince. Try a horizontal tasting featuring the same fruit from different distillers, or a vertical tasting of different fruit flavors from a single distiller.

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