The Pour House1075 North Hills Blvd.
Reno, NV 89506
There is no right or wrong answer, but perusing the Pour House’s menu of 133 whiskeys can be harrowing when you’re not sure what you like. Do you want a “whiskey” or a “whisky”? Kentucky or Canadian? The descriptions give some measure of what you’re in for but are still, ultimately, misleading.
Do I really want something with a “long hot finish” or, more perplexing, “unbelievably chewy”?
Once you’ve closed your eyes and pointed, there’s only one decision left: neat or on the rocks? If served neat (unmixed and unchilled) then God bless you. You win this round. On the rocks, by contrast, is the choice of a drinker looking for a mellower flavor experience over a longer period of time. Should this be your selection, the Pour House serves your shot over a single large cube of ice, introducing just enough water to accentuate flavor without swamping it, and giving you ample time to search out those notes of tobacco and spicy boot leather that prompted you to order it in the first place.
On a recent night, I walk into the back bar to find all the seats are occupied by large men with laptops, staring up at the row of flat-screen TVs—apparently, it has something to do with fantasy football.
The front of house is similarly populated. Beefy guys accompanied by well-heeled Brazilian blown-out dates circle like liquor-thirsty sharks, waiting for their turn at one of Pour House’s signature tables stocked with private taps. Normally, this is the sort of scene that makes you long for an earnest hipster, but the bar has Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA on tap, and one or two of these makes any crowd not just bearable, but totally enjoyable.
A train rattles by, and I duck to take cover as a small stampede of dudes herald the bartenders’ cry of “Train shots!”
Train shots, as it turns out, are the occasion that so many Pour Housers wait for: a sporadic $2 whiskey-shot special that’s enacted every time a train passes, teeth-rattlingly close. Seeing as it’s just Jack Daniel’s, it would be riotous to charge any more for it no matter what’s passed by, but this is not acknowledged.
I skip the frat-house shots and take my chances with a glass of Four Roses Bourbon described in the Whiskey Library menu as “delicate and complex,” with notes of “vanilla, honey, and spice.” The flavor is indeed complex, but seems more befitting the descriptor: “lady’s ultra-dry deodorant.” The bartender sees my obvious struggle as I sip and offers to make it into an old fashioned, saving the drink and by proxy, my reputation as a drinker.
With one last look through the extensive menu, I opt for a steamroller, a beer cocktail of Templeton Rye whiskey, St-Germaine, cherry liqueur, lemon juice, and Anchor Steam beer colorfully layered together in a tall, wide mason jar. It is a house specialty as sweet as it is sour and a tribute to the versatility of whiskey, no matter how you take it.