Yesterday, I had a chance to check out the newest in the recent string of whiskey-centric bars opening in Philadelphia. Bank & Bourbon (infuriatingly similar in name to the also-new Bourbon & Branch in Northern Liberties, sure to confuse me more than it should for the foreseeable future) is located at 1200 Market Street, attached to the lobby of the Lowes Hotel in the PSFS building, and is a lot more centrally located than most of its whiskey bar peers. Whether that will work for or against them is yet to be seen.
What they hope will help them to stand apart from those peers is their aging program. In a small room off the main dining room, accessible through an (admittedly cool) false-bookcase door, is a tasting room built for 10-12 people and a wall full of 10-gallon American white oak barrels. These barrels will be used to experiment with aging their own white dog, as well as cocktails, and anything else that might grab the interest of bourbon master Brian Bevilacqua. In addition, there are several 5-liter barrels for smaller-batch aged cocktails behind the bar.
A third set – 3-liter barrels – sit in lockers on either side of the bar and are available for 12-month customer lease as part of Bank & Bourbon’s barrel aging program. Under the guidance of the bourbon master, you’ll fill the barrel and have access to it as it matures. If you’re so inclined, you can have the bartenders make you a cocktail out of your own aged whiskey. All-in-all, it seems like an interesting program. The biggest drawback is that we are still in Pennsylvania, and all the draconic liquor laws that entails. Anything added to the barrels must come from a bottle of alcohol purchased in PA. Sadly, this rules out high-proof distillate sourced from your favorite smaller craft distiller. On the bright side, most whiskey producers have jumped on the white dog band-wagon, and for the first time I can fathom purchasing a bottle of un-aged whiskey. I’m still a bit unclear as to the difference between the Silver, Gold and Platinum levels, but Brian stressed repeatedly the flexibility of the program, and its experimental nature. After all, that’s how the distillers you all know and love had to approach their product in the beginning, too. You’re never going to create the next great American whiskey in a 3 liter barrel with 80-proof distillate, but you do get to taste it as it progresses until you’re happy, then sit down and drink something wholly unique to you.
Overall, it’s an interesting project. I’m curious to see how it turns out. Judging by the attendees of the preview, the vast majority of the patrons will think of all the barrels as part of the decor, but if they can keep the place afloat while the few that are interested have a chance to play around, it could turn out to be pretty neat.
Bank & Bourbon is located at 1200 Market Street, Philadelphia. It opens to the public tonight, Wednesday, April 9th.