By Frank Sabatini Jr.
It is nearly certain that on Jan. 15, The Whiskey House will receive certification for possessing the largest commercial inventory of whiskey in the world.
That day is when reps from Guinness World Records are due to wrap up a meticulous count of the establishment’s vast bottle collection, which is displayed attractively on every interior wall, including those in a hallway leading to the restrooms.
Co-owner Alex Minaev estimates that him and business partner, Ryan King, have amassed about 2,800 labels of scotch, bourbon and whiskey from around the globe since opening four years ago. They’ve conveniently cataloged the options by distillery, age, and place of origin. The tome is so lengthy and comprehensive, it feels as though you’re flipping through the white pages of an old telephone book.
Unless the current contenders for this world title quickly beef up their commercial inventories and register them with the Guinness organization, The Whiskey House has it nailed. Those potential runners-up, according to Minaev, are Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, D.C., and a hotel in Sweden.
The establishment sits on a quiet block of Third Avenue just outside the Gaslamp Quarter. It adjoins the Lazy Hippo, a breakfast-lunch cafe also owned by Minaev.
Inside, copious bottles of whiskey sit on illuminated shelves. They steal the show in what is a stylish yet unpretentious space boasting a sizable bar and loungy seating for drinking and dining.
Before ordering food, my companion opted for a Kentucky mule using that state’s bourbon while I lubricated my senses with a five-glass tasting of Scotch whiskey from Scotland’s remote Highlands region. Each taster measured a half ounce.
There in the north, producers primarily use 100 percent malted barley in a non-complicated distilling process that results in bold, smoky and sometimes fruity flavors. I prefer it over the delicate versions of scotch made in the Lowlands region, where whiskeys are typically double or triple-distilled and come across as too understated for these drama-seeking taste buds.
In my lineup, the whiskeys ranged in age from 10 to 15 years — every one of them a thrill compared to the commercial brands I often settle for in neighborhood bars (with exception of The Aero Club in Middletown, which offers several hundred choices). But for seasoned connoisseurs with money to burn, the inventory flaunts Scotch whiskeys topping 50 years old.
“The demand is so huge now for small-allocation scotch that we can’t even keep them in stock,” Minaev said. “Some sell for $299 a shot. Others run as high as $1,000 a shot.”
Where there are whiskeys of this caliber, there are savory complements such as house-made sausages, charcuterie and artisan cheeses. Head chef Rene Miranda accommodates with such delectables, plus more, including the best scotch egg you’ll find outside of the United Kingdom.
Coated in finely crumbled sausage, the hard-boiled masterpiece gives way to a beautiful orange-yellow yolk that is glossy and slightly under-cooked—exactly like it should be. The whole thing sits on a bed of arugula and comes with Cajun mustard for good measure. It’s sinfully nourishing.
Also from the starter list is an impressive poblano pepper that is roasted and stuffed with fluffy quinoa along with black beans and pepper jack cheese. With chipotle cream sauce involved, its feisty flavors stacked up superbly to the quintet of robust Highlands Scotch gliding down my gullet.
The chef makes four different sausages: lamb, bratwurst, sweet Italian, and chorizo. I chose the latter three for a board that also accommodated house-made sauerkraut and beer-braised onions. Both accoutrements tasted straight out of a Bavarian cookbook, and the sausages were juicy and tender with the chorizo grabbing top honors for being the spiciest.
My companion reveled in a hefty lamb burger crowned with cheddar and oozing both Thousand Island and tzatziki sauces from its puffy bun. After trying a bite, we agreed the grassy flavor of the lamb was sneaky, delayed by tangy spices in the patty as well as the condiments. But a fine lamb burger it was — further proving the chef does magic with meats.
Other meal options include hand-cut rib eye, chicken picatta, salmon filet, and a scotch-marinated pork chop, which is surely next on my list.
As for the dazzling whiskey collection, Minaev recalls starting out at only 200 choices when The Whiskey House first opened in 2015. He assures it will continue growing and refuses to put on cap on its potential.
“We constantly add to it every week,” he noted with a tone of proud confidence that his establishment will seize the world record it duly deserves.
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.