5 Minutes with Tommy Tardie: Whiskey Lover and Owner of the Flatiron Room

Walking into the Flatiron Room in New York City is like taking a step back in time to old New York. It's a sophisticated place where intimate conversation trumps a packed elbow-to-elbow crowd, live music reigns superior over an automated playlist and great whiskey isn't just important – it's everything. 


Tommy Tardie, the owner of the Flatiron Room, believes whiskey should be drank less, and tasted more. He's also chock-full of whiskey knowledge, and loves passing it on to the more novice drinkers of us. I caught up with the whiskey guru who explained his love for the spirit, the differences between bourbon, rye and Scotch, and why he never has a whiskey with his dinner – seriously. 

 

Q: Where did your passion for whiskey come from?

A: Before I opened The Flatiron Room I merely consumed whiskey. It was my go-to drink whenever I went out or wanted to unwind. A nice glass of bourbon or Scotch “neat” or on the rocks and I was a happy camper. I would joke that it was my one-ingredient cocktail when friends asked what was in my glass.

My real love affair with the stuff started when I decided to open The Flatiron Room. I knew if I were to open a whiskey-centric venue, I should know everything there is to know about it. So off to Kentucky I went. Then to Scotland, then to pretty much every distillery I could get to. I was fascinated with the stories and the people behind the distilleries. Each whiskey had a heritage and culture of its own. Each whiskey had it’s own flavor profile that was unique to itself. This was impressive to me since the ingredients are often very similar yet the range in flavors was so vast.

 

Q: What inspired you to open Flatiron Room?

A: I wanted to open a place that I would enjoy going to. I knew I couldn’t be alone in wanting a classy and non-pretentious place to enjoy great food and drink and be entertained. Restaurants are fine, but there isn’t the engagement or entertainment that I wanted. The bar scene is loud, young and not conducive to conversation. I did a lot of research on the supper clubs of the 1930’s and 1940’s and I liked what I found. The Flatiron Room captures the sophistication and elegance of that era with a cool, New York City modern twist.

 

Q: What is whiskey, exactly?

A: The text book definition of whiskey is simply a spirit distilled from a cereal grain. BUT—I know you want more than the Wikipedia answer—so here is an abbreviated run down:

Whiskey is an umbrella term. Scotch, bourbon, rye, single malt, moonshine, white dog, single grain are ALL whiskey. The important things to remember are:

 Bourbon can be distilled anywhere in the United States (not just Kentucky!), it must contain 51% or more corn, be aged in brand new charred American oak barrels and be 40% ABV or more.

 Rye whiskey, on the other hand, must have 51% or more rye in the mash.

 Single Malts, regardless of where they are produced must be distilled from 100% malted barley.

 Scotch whiskey simply means it was produced in Scotland. Think Champagne being from the Champagne region of France or Cognac from the Cognac region.

 

Q: What is the most common misconception people have about ordering or drinking whiskey?

A: First off, there is no wrong way to drink whiskey. Don’t listen to what other people tell you about the do’s and don’ts of whiskey drinking. It’s your dollar so drink it the way you like it! But it’s still important to know (on a scientific level) what happens when you do certain things to your whiskey.

Adding water to whiskey can open it up (similar to what air does to wine). It can help you identify more aromatics and flavors. Some whiskey benefits from a bit of water, and others don’t. My general rule is: try it neat first. Then add a drop of distilled water (when I say a drop, I literally mean a drop). You can always add more, but you can’t take it out.

Adding ice to your whiskey has the opposite effect. The ice will “numb” your whiskey and contract some of the aromatics and flavors. Is this a bad thing? It’s personal preference. Personally I stay away from ice on higher-end marks where I really want to appreciate each and every subtle nuance it offers. On a hot summer day though, you’ll probably find an ice cube or two in my glass of bourbon. It’s just what I like.

If you want to combine your whiskey with soda or a mixer, I’d recommend using a less expensive bottle. With older and more expensive whiskies you’re paying for their incredible depth and layers of flavor. Don’t waste it by mixing it with anything else.

Fun Fact: “Whiskey on the rocks” originated back in the 17 or 1800’s when if you wanted a cold glass of whiskey you would simply go to the river bed and take one of the cool river rocks and place it in your glass.

 

Q: What is your favorite part about owning the Flatiron Room?

A: My favorite part of owning the place is that I actually enjoy hanging out there. The food is great, the entertainment is fun and I’ve got about 900 whiskies I still haven’t tried yet. That’s pretty cool.

 

Q: What is the best way for a newbie to get into ordering and drinking whiskey?

A: Experiment. Be promiscuous with your whiskey. Order bourbon and a rye at the same time. Taste them back-to-back and note their differences. Next, order Scotch. Try a classic Speyside then a peated whiskey from Islay. They’ll be remarkably different. What did you like or not like about the two? This is a benchmark to go on. Once you have a category (bourbon, rye, peated and un-peated Scotch), then go deeper in that category. If rye stood out as a favorite, then ask your bartenders for his personal recommendations on rye. Most importantly, have fun and don’t take it too seriously. It’s only a drink!

 

Q: What's your whiskey of choice (type, not brand)? And why?

A: In the summer months, I tend to go with lighter and sweeter whiskies. I sway towards Bourbon for the sweetness of the vanilla and candy corn notes. I also enjoy Japanese whiskies because they tend to be so refreshing. If I’m going to do Scotch I’ll stick with some nice Highland or Speyside marks. When it cools down I go for richer and heavier drams. I particularly like Islay malts that are heavily peated. There is nothing better on a cold winter night than sipping one of these “campfire-in-a-glass” whiskies.

 

Q: What is your favorite food pairing with whiskey? What do you like with rye? With bourbon? With Scotch?

A: When I’m eating a good meal I like to enjoy the flavors of the meal. When I drink a fine dram of whiskey I like to appreciate all the flavors it has to offer. So to answer the question, I don’t mix the two. For me, the flavors complicate each other. I drink my drink, then eat my meal. Then probably drink my drink again. Just me, but that’s how I do it.

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