On The Whiskey Trail
Tasting blends and single malts at Gateways Inn’s Bar with whiskey enthusiast/bartender Paula Boyajian.
Before pulling up a stool at the Gateways Inn’s Bar in Lenox, my short, happy life as a whiskey drinker had entailed trying a few different types, noticing slight differences, but neither preferring nor not preferring any. My inexperienced palate had included, well, not much: a young Glenlivit scotch; a smoky, but surprisingly smooth American bourbon called Knob Creek (easily confused with the once-popular TV show “Dawson’s Creek,” especially after a couple); a wimpy though very popular and affordable Irish whiskey; and, of course, the usual Canadian fare.
While there are many experienced scotch and whiskey drinkers who specifically seek out Gateways Inn because of its quiet reputation as a great whiskey bar, I am like most first-timers who wander in—curious, eager, but more than a bit intimidated by the shelves of shiny whiskey bottles in front of me.
Not to worry, Paula Boyajian is on hand. Yoga instructor by day and whiskey enthusiast/bartender by night, Boyajian, a Rhode Island native, arrived at the Gateways Inn by way of various bartending stops in and around the Berkshires. Her own whiskey-drinking
history, however, began before that, she says, when she took a trip to Scotland and discovered that she liked single malts—“the peatier ones, the smokier ones,” she explains—as opposed to more popular blended brands like Johnny Walker.
“I didn’t know enough to start exploring. But when Eiran and Michele [Gazit, the innkeepers who took over Gateways in 2012] hired me, I thought it would be fun on a creative and intellectual level.” Now a year-round resident of the Berkshires, Boyajian is of the opinion that whiskey is the perfect drink for our region.
While devoted whiskey drinkers will happily sip whiskey even on a humid, 90-degree summer day, Boyajian believes it’s best suited for the cool falls and seriously cold winters the Berkshires are known for. Or, she adds, “on one of those cool summer nights when you’re sitting by an outdoor fire. It’s like drinking a cashmere blanket; it really warms you up.”
My own whiskey warm-up includes a nice, entry-level, single-malt scotch, Macallan Fine Oak 8. (The “8” refers to the number of years the scotch has been sitting around marinating before it’s ready for prime time.) Boyajian then moves me up in class (and price) to a Macallan 12, and then upgrades me even further to a Glenlivit 21-year-old Archive with a Glenfiddich 21-year-old Grand Reserve ($54, for a single dram) chaser.
After a visit to the “Glens,” I finish up with a few other less remarkable American bourbons and Irish whiskeys. It should be noted that I am only tasting these whiskeys, not drinking a full serving of each. And so, after a bit of speed dating and still relatively sober, I am feeling ready for more of a commitment.
I settle into the bar’s lounge, the one-time music room for Mr. and Mrs. Procter of Procter & Gamble fame, with my two now-favorite companions—my wife, Amy, and a dram of the Glenfiddich 21-year-old whiskey, Speyside (named for a Highland region in Scotland with a cluster of distilleries), that is smooth and dry and much easier for me to swallow “neat” than the smokier, peatier whiskeys that Boyajian prefers, which send me into fits of coughing. To each his own, I guess. Or, perhaps, this initial preference of mine is simply one stop on a whiskey journey that may take me in a whole other direction.
Either way, it will certainly include future stops in Lenox for whiskey and a live music. After all, given the mere eight whiskeys I tasted at Gateways, there are still another 192 to try. Who wouldn’t drink to that?