What Are They Drinking? — Shane Smith

Our new column, “What Are They Drinking?”, features a Jersey City someone-or-other who gets a little (or a lot) of their business done sitting in one of The City’s many barstools.

This time around we’re having a little pow-wow with a guy who is Co-Publisher of NEW Magazine, Associate Editor of The Jersey City Independent, trusty barkeep at LITM, and a connoisseur of the finest in age-of-majority beverage.shane-smith-interior

Shane, we are big fans of your journalistic output. You and the JCI crew are ultra-prolific and offer a refreshing and novel take on the ribald, non-stop goings on about Jersey City. That’s got to take a toll on a fellow, so — The Bar Guide would like to know, “What Are You Drinking?”

Shane: Well, like most people I have different poisons for different occasions. The old standby when I’m out for just a couple drinks is Ketel on the rocks with a lime, although lately I’ve been doing Stoli O on the rocks with a splash of fresh juice sometimes (mango’s great!). Major benders tend to comprise Yuengling and shots of Jameson. If I’m somewhere fancy or I’m just feeling fancy, it’s a Negroni on the rocks or Campari and soda.

Then there are times I want to try something new. Lately I’ve become more of a beer nerd (not to be confused with beer snob) and also I’ve been enjoying learning more about whiskey.

JCBG: Why do you enjoy it so?

The way some people (‘foodies’) enjoy learning about and experiencing food, I like to learn about and try out different spirits. I guess that makes me a ‘boozie’? I like the way drinks can say something about a person. Do you like house gin with tonic and a lime, or are you a Beefeater straight-up, in-and-out with a twist? I like the fact that different variations on essentially two processes – fermentation and distillation – can create such a dizzying array of flavors and drinking experiences – and then those can be combined endlessly. I like the rituals that have grown up around drinking, everything from songs to glassware.

But since you are asking about a specific beverage, I’ll talk about whiskey. I like whiskey because it’s got a lot of intensity and variation from type to type. With vodka, you prize a lack of taste, and with whiskey it’s exactly the opposite. The ingredients, every stage in production, the time taken, the materials used, imparts some of the end result’s distinctive character. And all of the whiskey-making regions have very specific ideas about what whiskey should taste like – think of how different a sweet Kentucky bourbon is from an oaky Islay single malt – yet they’re all made with this idea of whiskey in mind. There’s always something new to learn about whiskey.

JCBG: How did you get introduced to whiskey in general?

After several years away from bartending, I’m back in that game part-time and it’s a great opportunity to explore new things. I’ve met some folks – co-workers and customers – at LITM (where I work) who are really into whiskey and it inspired me to learn more.

JCBG: Is your whiskey infatuation a fleeting fancy, something for the season, or is this velvelty distillate your tried and true favorite?

It’s a fairly new interest but I think it will stick around for a while.

JCBG: Where in town do you like to take in a sip?

Well I suppose I’m biased, but LITM has one of the better local selections of quality whiskeys beyond Jack and Johnnie. At the moment, along with our usual infused vodka selection, we are featuring a cherry-infused whiskey that is absolutely spectacular. We’ve come up with some fabulous cocktails for it and even people who swear they hate whiskey are asking for it. Other than LITM, Bar Majestic is another spot with a good selection – one of the few places that actually has a rusted nail on the menu. I’m still looking for a bar in JC that carries a rye I haven’t tried yet; a buddy and I are getting ready to start an ongoing tour of JC’s old-man bars, so I’m sure I’ll find it soon enough.

JCBG: That’s a good teal of whiskey talk. You must have some stories or something or other that you associate with the fiery water….

Hmm, I’m sure I don’t remember all of them. But I’ll share a couple recipes with you, how’s that?

3 parts Tennessee whiskey
1 part Southern Comfort
Build over ice in a rocks glass, serve with an orange wedge.

I created the seersucker when I wanted a rusted nail but had no Drambuie. The only other whiskey-based liqueur on hand was Southern Comfort – much more sugary than Drambuie so I cut the proportion. I like to think of it as a luxurious daytime cocktail for sipping on a veranda, hence the name.

3 parts cherry-infused whiskey
1 part limoncello
dash fresh lemon juice
Build over ice in a rocks glass, serve with a lemon twist and a cherry.

I wanted the bodice-ripper to be a lady’s answer to the seersucker. One of my fellow bartenders at LITM, Megan Gulick, said it tasted like a romance novel. Her husband suggested the name bodice-ripper.

JCBG: Sounds like you work with some very conservative, tightly-wound people, Shane. On a serious note, thanks much for taking the time out with us and we wish you the best of luck on all of your press related (and Bacchanalian) endeavors.