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There are few places I’d rather be on a windy, rainy, cold, overcast October afternoon: The first is on my couch next to the front window, drinking coffee whilst wasting time on the Internet. The second is in a warm brick cellar tasting whiskey with a good friend who’s as knowledgeable as the peat is smokey.
That cellar specifically being that of Cellar & Loft in the River Market district just north of downtown Kansas City (Missouri). Opened in 2010—well, it was originally opened in the Brookside neighborhood in 2004—and owned by former Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Eddie Kennison, Cellar & Loft has been working on its identity and slowly becoming an up-and-coming hot spot for wine and whiskey.
My aforementioned friend, Dominic Petrucci, is the newly appointed store manager and has been at the helm of buying spirits. This guy knows his stuff. He’s also very generous with his knowledge and his pours. As I walk through the door on this particular day, Dominic greets me with a smile and a firm handshake and say: “Come on. I have something for you.”
We saunter into the actual cellar, complete with original-to-the-building wooden plank floors and brick walls. Dominic disappears into a locked back room. When he returns, he hands me a glass with about two fingers of something delicious, very delicious. This elixir is Masterson’s 10-Year-Old Straight Rye Whiskey (Batch #005, Bottle 20397). Crafted with 100% rye from the Pacific Northwest, this Sonoma, California, rye whiskey is hands-down the best I’ve ever tasted (smooth, with notes of vanilla and cinnamon). It’s not a surprise that Whiskey Advocate named Masterson’s 10 the #1 whiskey earlier this year.
Then Dominic hands me a glass of Aberlour A’bunadh single-malt scotch. I’m very green at tasting sipping whiskeys, but this one was simply beautiful. Here’s how the Aberlour website describes it:
“A’bunadh, Gaelic for ‘of the origin’, is matured exclusively in Oloroso ex-sherry butts. It is a natural cask-strength malt whisky produced without the use of modern-day chill filtering methods or the addition of water.”
I’m losing you, aren’t I? Anyway, all you need to know is that it’s a great whiskey. Thinking my tastings were over (as my only intention coming in that day was to say hello and to take photos for this post) he surprised me with one last pour: Laphroaig 10. What I’m trying to say here is that Dominic and the folks at Cellar stress hospitality to the utmost.
The atmosphere is warm and inviting, yet urban and cool. They have wooden lockers for members of their clubs (wine, whiskey, and/or beer) to store their personal caches of provisions whether it be liquor, beer, or cigars. They have giant plasma screens to watch your favorite game (ahem, 9-0 CHIEFS!). And they are currently in the process of finishing their upstairs pizza kitchen where they’ll make simple, traditional pizzas.
The bottom line is this: If you live in Kansas City, get thee to Cellar & Loft. If you’re visiting Kansas City, get thee to Cellar & Loft. And if you don’t have plans to visit Kansas City, you might want to reevaluate.
Remember that time when Boulevard was the only true stand-alone brewery in Kansas City? Sure, we have 75th Street, McCoy’s, Free State (Lawrence, KS), and 23rd Street (Lawrence, KS)—I’m not even going waste keystrokes speaking of Granite City and Gordon Biersch—but they are all brewpubs that focus on both beer and food. Furthermore, they’re always packed on weekends for brunch.
I’m talking about a place that only does beer—and does it well. I’m talking about a place where instead of smelling greasy friers you smell piney/citrusy hops, bubbling yeast, and milled malt and barley. Well, wait no longer my Midcoast beer-loving bretheren, Cinder Block Brewery is here!
Located at 110 E. 18th Ave., in the warehouse above-river district known as North Kansas City, the 15bbl CBB has become my newest favorite place to drink. The brewery opened on Friday, September 27, and they are already turning heads with their solid lineup.
• Weathered Wit: This one will be for all you lovers of Boulevard’s famed Unfiltered Wheat Beer.
• Pavers Porter: Pleasantly smokey, but definitely not overwhelming.
• Prime Extra Pale Ale: This one mostly resembled an English Bitter to me rather than an American Pale Ale; but I love English Bitters, and I really enjoyed it!
• Northtown Native (California Common): Yes! Finally a brewery in Kansas City makes a California Common (steam beer)! For those of you that aren’t privy, the California Common was created by the American craft beer stalwarts Anchor Brewing, in San Francisco. The pour is big and heady; the taste is crisp and light, yet malty; and at 5.0% it’s one-tenth of a percent stronger than it’s San Fran relative.
• Block India Pale Ale: It’s always great to see a brewery that has a 7.2% IPA on their tap list year round. It’s bitter and hoppy, and it’s what you want to cut through the sorrow of watching your favorite team lose (I’m looking at you Chicago). Coincidentally, it’s also pairs well with your (I should say my) new favorite team (8-0… HOLLER, KANSAS CITY!)
What’s more, they began their barrel-aging program prior to opening their doors to the public, and I was informed by owner/brewer Bryce Schaffter that we should be expecting a Barleywine and a Russian Imperial Stout within the next couple of months.
Now to my favorite part: Once a week, Bryce will allow home-brewers to come in a brew on his old home-brew system—wait for it—FOR FREE! And get this: If you’re confident with your beer’s turn out, he’ll even allow you to put in on tap so other patrons can sample and critique it. How effing cool is that?! Finally, catering even more to the home-brew society, he’ll have an entire library of beer and brewing books at the disposal of anyone who cares to read them. So not only do we have a brand-spanking-new brewery that makes solid beers, but we also have an incubator for home-brew/craft-beer enthusiasts.
I’ll be bragging about these guys for a long time, folks!
Find Chris (@thehydeparker) on Instagram or Twitter.
(Photos by Chris Ciesiel, with a surprise cameo by two of our college roommates. Hi, Zack! Hi, Zach!)
Chris Ciesiel. Better known (to some) as @thehydeparker, proprietor of The Campground, Kansas City’s own guerrilla cocktail service. We first met Mr. Ceisel, and his lovely wife, @owlandmouse, like you do these days…through Instagram. They built a backyard speakeasy with their own four hands, and as far as we’re concerned, it’s the best damn place to get a stiff drink in KCMO.
Chris and I connected over fine spirits, and he’s been a constant source of inspiration to me in my fledgling cocktail journey. That’s why we’re so excited that he’s agreed to share his knowledge with us—and you. So, first up from Mr. Ciesiel: how to get your own bar up and running.
Throughout every aspect of life there are essentials, or must-haves. For example: riding a bicycle and wearing a helmet (you do wear a helmet, don’t you?); eating a Chicago-style hotdog with neon-green relish, diced onions, two sport peppers, tomato wedges, Kosher pickle spear, celery salt, steamed poppy seed bun with mustard (absolutely no ketchup). Similarly, there are certain rules that apply to properly stocking your home bar.
Before I dive in and you get overwhelmed with how much all of this costs, I should reassure you that building the perfect home bar takes some time. Like any other skill on the way to manhood, it’s not something you knock out in one fell swoop. And that’s part of the fun, isn’t it? A bottle here, a cordial there. This is a journey. Savor it.
Let’s get into it.
- BOURBON: You’ll either find Bulleit or Buffalo Trace on my stick. They’re both aces and won’t break the bank ($25-30).
- VODKA: I don’t often drink vodka, but when I do it’s Tito’s Handmade Vodka ($18). That is all you need to know.
- GIN: This is where it gets a little tricky, as not all gins are created equal. Hayman’s Old Tom ($25) is my ideal mixing gin for everyday use. It’s botanically forward, while imparting a bit of sweetness. Ransom Old Tom ($35) is the “historically accurate” version, distilled with malted barely and neutral corn spirits. What’s more is that it is barrel-aged. This gin plays wonderfully in cocktails that are very gin-centered, i.e. Martinez. Finally, I’ll use a dry gin, such as Beefeater ($16), for my other cocktails that don’t typically include a citrus, as it is reasonably priced for every day consumption.
- VERMOUTH: You’ll need both sweet and dry. There are a number of different varieties/brands of vermouth out there, but I have come to love Carpano Antica Formula ($35) as the best for sweet (even as pricy as it is) and Dolin Dry ($12) for well, dry. You’ll find that there are many varieties of vermouth at different (read: cheaper) price points, so you should certainly experiment.
- AMARO: These Italian digestifs provide bitterness and a different yet pleasant dimension to cocktails. There’s several we usually stock: Cynar ($24, an artichoke liqueur), Fernet Branca ($26, peppermint, menthol), Ramazzotti Amaro ($22, orange peel, cardamom, cinnamon).
- SWEET: Make an easy, rich, no-cook syrup by combining sugar (turbinado) and water—at 2 parts sugar to 1 part water—in a large jar, and shake the hell out of it. It should dissolve after five minutes and be ready to incorporate into cocktails. Oh yeah, and get some sugar cubes too (ahem, Old Fashioneds?)
- SOUR: Get off your lazy ass and hand-press some fresh lemons, limes, and oranges!
- BITTERS: You’ll definitely need one… Angostura Aromatic Bitters. You can experiment with the other flavors at your own will.
- I love spicy, hot ginger beer! That’s why I use Cock ‘n’ Bull. Also because there’s no artificial sweetener.
- Jiggers: Exact measurement is key when crafting cocktails with pricey spirits. But if you want to add a little spill-over bourbon to my Old Fashioned, I won’t get mad at ‘cha.
- Boston Shaker: I typically use these whilst shaking cocktails containing egg, as the emulsification process builds up subtle pressure which is easier to expel by tapping the sides.
- Cobbler Shaker: I like these because they are easy to use, and they create a tight seal when in action. Added bonus: They have a built in strainer. If you have a couple extra bucks to spend this month, check out Cocktail Kingdom or Umami Mart.
- Bar Spoon(s): Because you’re going to want to stir your spirit-heavy cocktails. Word of advice: Get something with a tight coil. They’re easier to twirl.
- Mixing Glass: I like Pyrex beakers, because, well, they look cool.
- Channel Knife: This ensures you get those nice long twists.
- Y-Peeler: Quickly get that peel to garnish you drink.
- Paring Knife: Same concept as the Y-peeler, only you’ll get thicker peels, and you can easily trim down that bitter white pith.
- Cone Strainer: When you want to double strain to omit the mini ice chips formed by vigorous shaking.
- Hawthorne Strainer: These are used to strain shaken (or stirred cocktails) while keeping the ice in the tumbler. The wire coil helps prevents other debris from entering your drink, i.e., mint leaves, berries, etc.
- Julep Strainer: These are typically used to strain stirred cocktails.
- Muddler: My friend Dylan Sly over at Manifesto crafted me a Brazilian Walnut muddler. Chances are, it’s better than yours.
- Mallet & Lewis Bag: Oh yeah, Dylan also made me an Thor-sized American Oak Mallet. You could kill a man with this thing!
- Juicer: Either a handheld or a stand-up, any juicer will do (scour your local antique malls, as I picked up a really nice juicer from the 1950s).
In no way is this an exhaustive list, but it is a good, solid start. I began building my bar several years ago while obsessing over with one drink: the Aviation. The more I experimented with cocktails, the more equipment I amassed. Or, you could blow your rent/mortgage, and purchase everything in one outing. Finally, put up some nicknacks that give your bar space your own personal touch. For instance, we have a .22 caliber hollow point bullet; locust sheddings; a hen feather we found at Will Rogers’ home; and a really cool vintage postcard that sums up our love for all things booze.