Whiskey 101: Where to learn about and sample whiskeys in Reno/Tahoe

Swirling a glorious, frequently golden-hued libation ‘round a glass can instantly induce relaxation during these cold months. Whiskey, your fair and foul weather friend. If unfamiliar, how do you begin forging a fellowship with the purportedly thousand-year-old spirit?

We spoke to some area experts on how and where to begin your whiskey exploration this winter.


Wonders of whiskey

First, don’t worry about the spelling, with or sans “e”; it’s a regional thing. While there are many informational rabbit holes to dive into with whiskey, we encourage you to do your own digging into the processes and multitude of types available. Typically you’ll encounter those distilled from a mash of fermented corn, rye or barley that’s occasionally malted — and sometimes a blend of several ingredients.

Each grain influences a whiskey’s flavor profile, as does the aging process and the barrel woods. Rye whiskeys have spicier notes, bourbons sweeter, scotches smokier. If you’re a novice, owner of Reno’s Chapel Tavern T. Duncan Mitchell suggests starting with a corn-based spirit like bourbon. Our palates naturally welcome sweeter flavors, so bourbon provides a good initial launch pad.

“If a customer has some idea of a [flavor] direction, that helps,” says Chapel Tavern Bartender Sean Stitt. “We start with, ‘What do you like?’ They need to have fun with it.”

The Midtown bar’s team urges people to keep an open mind when exploring whiskeys initially. Many newbies don’t want to go outside their comfort zone and ask questions, but it’s helpful to people when identifying their preferences.

With more than 100 types of craft and large-production whiskeys from around the globe, you can experiment with Chapel’s available half-ounce, half-price pours and whiskey flights.


A distiller’s view

Brandon Wright, head distiller and co-founder of The Depot in Reno, has crafted award-winning whiskeys since opening in January 2015.

“One of the obligations you have as a crafter is to experiment,” he shares. “Do the classics but use your creative chops too.”

Wright also suggests starting with sweeter, smoother bourbon, then experiment with rye, wheat and malted barley varieties. Whiskey novices can try their products made from 90-percent Nevada-grown grains, including the Biggest Little Bourbon which took home the gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

He explains that they’re all so different, you need to try several to see where your taste buds take you. To help, The Depot offers flights of four whiskeys for $14, plus tours of the distillery with advance reservation.


Educate yourself

In Tahoe, explore at the many casino resorts and bars offering a bounty of whiskeys. If you seek some serious delving into the art, head to one of the area distilleries.

Regional craft distillers Branded Hearts Distillery, Forsaken River Spirits, Frey Ranch Estate Distillery and Seven Troughs Distilling Co. offer tours, tastings and education. Verdi Local Distillery really gets creative, offering award-winning whiskeys, seasonal creations and several flavor-infused varieties like garlic, lemon and apple cinnamon.

Reno retailers Craft Wine and Beer and Whispering Vine on Mayberry Drive also have experts to assist your quest through their 100-plus whiskeys, with Whispering Vine serving up custom flights as well. craftreno.net

This winter, warm your bones and ease your seasonal stresses by wandering down the whiskey path and showing off some newfound knowledge.



Here are our top ten places to grab the good stuff:

Reno: Chapel Tavern chapeltavern.com, The Depot thedepotreno.com, Branded Hearts Distillery brandedheartsdistillery.com, Whispering Vine on Mayberry Drive whisperingvinewine.com

Tahoe: Edgewood Tahoe edgewoodtahoe.com, Lone Eagle Grille loneeaglegrille.com, Moody’s Bistro Bar & Beats moodysbistro.com

Surrounding Areas: Bently Heritagebentlyheritage.com, Frey Ranch Estate Distillery freyranch.com, Verdi Local Distillery verdilocaldistillery.com


By: Natasha Bourlin