EXPERIENCING THE COMFORTING AND PROFOUND MANHATTAN’S HOMAGE TO THE BIRTHPLACE OF BOURBON
This months’ Mixology Interview is with Sean Josephs, owner of Maysville, an American whiskey bar and restaurant with a menu of smoked & charred food and raw & chilled seafood. The restaurant’s namesake is the Kentucky port town that is the birthplace of Bourbon.
Coming from a former sommelier at one of NYC’s poshest French restaurants (Chanterelle) a conversation about the “soothing” nature of Bourbon is what you might call an eye opener, as much of an awakening as a straight shot of American whiskey. But passions are to be followed and Sean Josephs the seemingly easygoing (but not so obviously incredibly dedicated) owner of Maysville began his romance with Bourbon while earning his certificate of masters from the American Sommelier Association, a rarity as there are less than 100 master sommeliers in the U.S. Learning about wines, he found, was not isolated from learning about spirits – both offer intricacies of flavor and improve with age. Yet Bourbon keeps. Put the cork back in the bottle and years later it’s as good as the day it was opened. “A 10-12 year old Bourbon is I’d say ‘the sweet spot,” Sean explains, “there are many aged 5-7 years that are good but when you get to 20+ years, that’s five stars, rich, caramelized. Pappy Van Winkle is the best of that batch.”
Maysville is conceived as a Bourbon bar with easily 200 bottles of whiskey arrayed on glass shelves behind the bar. Some are fanciful like a colorful, vintage American Eagle bottle spreading its wings, roosting on the highest shelf (dating from the 1980s this, by function of scarcity, is poured for $100 a shot) and some are plain like the simply white labeled flask of white whiskey (aka Moonshine). There are elegant bottles too, cut glass cylinders topped with a small, sculpted metal horse (Blanton’s, gold medal-winning single barrel Bourbon from Virginia) or chunky decanters with Blue Grass imagery of stallions grazing in a meadow (Rock Hill Farms, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey also single barrel and graced with a taste that’s an extraordinary balance of fruit and grains.) Then there’s the familiar, brands like Old Grand-Dad recognized by its vermillion label found in every corner bar. Something for everyone is the idea at this down home spot with shot prices ranging from the highest $100 for a Hirsch Reserve 16 Year to the affordable $7 for Bulleit on down to $3 for Rebel Yell and even $2 for Georgia Moon Corn Liquor.
“Bourbon, “ Sean says, “has a level of complexity relative to price that is just amazing! It’s so accessible which is great, in terms of price and how its stored. We have bottles that aren’t even produced any more – but everything that you can find in the whiskey category is here. We sampled a lot of bottles to make our picks and I can tell you we never experienced a damaged Bourbon. Of course, pre-prohibition Bourbon is a novelty and some collectors do get fierce about their Bourbon. We heard of an online auction of a collection, the largest ever of American Whiskey, valued at nearly half a million dollars but here at Maysville we’re not about extremes. Just good Bourbon and good food that goes with it. ”
Maysville is a Bourbon bar not a cocktail lounge, it’s in essence a modern take on the saloons where Bourbon began – minus the dance hall girls and the gun fights – it’s a place, Sean wants everyone to realize, where American whiskey is accessible to all and for those who cherish the tradition, meant to be imbibed straight up. Of course, the Bourbon-based cocktails on the menu are darn hard to resist but for those who like their Bourbon “unpolluted” this is the place where every man or woman is welcome to, as they say in the Westerns, “belly up to the bar.”
Sean, a down to earth family guy (he speaks of his children, toddlers still, and his wife also in the restaurant business) is utterly American in his country kitchen-blue checked shirt, managing the busy restaurant with calm and charming determination. It’s his second, he opened Char No. 4 in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn in 2008, pursuing his childhood love of cooking and merging it with his adult fascination with Bourbon.
As a young man, Sean followed recipes with the studiousness that led him to eventually open Maysville, a study in American whiskies. Committed to “a path of self-study,” he thrived on experience, craving the energy and fast paced teamwork of a restaurant, an experience he equates to playing sports. Originally from Massachusetts, growing up outside Boston, he has been in New York 13 years. He opened Maysville in November 2012.
With 200 whiskies to chose from, Sean selects a personal favorite for me to try: Rock Hill Farms, traditional Mashbill Bourbon, a blend of corn, rye and barley that brings to mind bluegrass on a Summer breeze, surprisingly imparting a feeling of open air and white-fenced countryside – one sip (straight up – ice changes the flavor to something more earthy) and my eyes are truly opened to all that’s soothing about Bourbon. But for Sean Josephs, the experience of sitting on the porch at the end of the evening sipping Bourbon is transcendent, with a winsome grin and a wistful sigh, he shares “I can’t think of anything more comforting and profound.”
MAYSVILLE Bourbon Bar & Restaurant is located in Manhattan’s Flatiron District at 17 West 26th Street (West of 6th Ave heading towards Broadway. ) Call 646-690-8240 for reservations, suggested for the restaurant, but the bar is an entertaining dining destination with ceiling-high shelves shimmering with crystalline containers in shades from bright gold to burnt caramel. Bar menu served during all bar hours (there is an extensive and extraordinary wine list but that’s no wonder coming from the former sommelier for the famed Chanterelle.) Sunday to Thursday 4:30pm – Midnight, Friday to Saturday 4:30pm – 1 :00am. Lunch, Brunch (weekends) and Dinner are served. The space itself is spacious and modern decorated only with nearly life-size naturalistic images of horses rendered in large black brushstrokes on white by Sean’s mother in law, New Orleans portrait artist Nancy Dawes. The all American menu complements the taste of the whiskey: favorites being salty, sweet Chilled Salt Pond Oysters and Charcoal Grilled Rib-Eye Cap mimicking the charcoal filtration of true Kentucky Bourbon. But traditional Kentucky dishes like Crispy Grits, Pulled Pork and Johnny Cakes are available for brunch – recommend you follow with a Nor’Easter or a Smoked Chipotle Bourbon Bloody Mary. Save the Old Fashioned for date night.
MAYSVILLE COCKTAIL RECIPES
Bourbon take on a Dark’n Stormy. Originally created in Bermuda for Australian rugby players in its annual Classic Tournament the drink (typically a rum version) has become popular with sailing spots and harbor bars up and down the East Coast where it migrated after Bermuda visits. Sean Josephs, Bourbon Bar Maysville’s owner calls this drink “cheating,” describing it as the perfect combination of all the things that taste best with Bourbon. He suggests using Old Crow, Maysville’s house Bourbon, on the lighter side of American whiskies instead of a rare, older Bourbon which he says would not be a good use of taste buds.
2 oz. Old Crow Bourbon
½ oz. Fresh squeezed lime juice
½ oz. Vermont Maple Syrup
Shake above ingredients with ice. Strain and pour over fresh ice into highball glass. Top with Regatta Ginger Beer (available on amazon.com) and garnish with fresh lime.
Considered the manliest of cocktails, it’s no wonder it’s Don Draper’s go to libation.
Surely he thinks primal thoughts as he ponders his drink, eyeing a gorgeous woman (not his wife) on the adjacent bar stool. Though around in various incarnations since 1806 when cocktails were a morning drink and cowboys enjoyed it day or night at their neighborhood saloons, Old Fashioneds have enjoyed quite the comeback thanks to AMC TV’s “Mad Men” leaving modern men to ponder if imbibing one will make them into Don Draper, the ultimate man’s man – the one that every woman desires.
1 teaspoon Brown Sugar (mashed cube or granulated)
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters (available on amazon.com)
1 Orange – one slice of rind (for essence) and one with fruit for garnish
1 tablespoon Brandied Cherries (available on amazon.com)
2 oz. Old Crow Bourbon
In a rocks glass muddle (basically crush) brandied cherries and orange peel. Add bitters and Bourbon with brown sugar already dissolved. Add ice and stir until ice melts and all ingredients merge together. Garnish with orange slice.
By Lori Simmons Zelenko