Dry 85, the new Annapolis whiskey bar

This past weekend, I was in Annapolis, looking for a girls’ night with my sister and a friend.  My friend suggested we try “the new whiskey bar.” 

It’s almost like she knows me or something.

So try the new whiskey bar, we did. 

Dry 85, billed as a modern industrial speakeasy, opened a few months ago in downtown Annapolis.   The name refers to the 85 days that Washington, DC continued to suffer under the oppressive yoke of Prohibition after it was repealed in the rest of the United States. 

Photo by Greg Schmigal JustwhatIsee.com
Photo by Greg Schmigal / JustwhatIsee.com

Owned by Brian and Lisa Bolter, who also own the Red Red Wine Bar a few doors down, Dry 85’s details are impeccable.  The industrial décor is evocative without being cheesy or overly theme-y. It’s really a beautiful space, with just the right mix of cozy and edgy.  And whoever did the lighting really knew what they were creating.

But who cares about the décor.  OK, I do.  I actually love design, and the design at Dry 85 is fantastic.  But yeah, let’s talk about the whiskey.

In a word, I was impressed.

The whiskey list is long and varied, with over 100 whiskeys to choose from.  There is an emphasis on bourbon and other American choices, but a nice selection of Scotches and a small smattering of Japanese and other “world whiskeys.”  Each whiskey is listed with a bit of a description to help you choose.  And the list was deeper and more exciting than I had imagined. 

For example, they have Old Blowhard, the 26-year-aged bourbon that was unexpectedly “found” in an old warehouse at Stitzel-Weller distillery (where Pappy Van Winkle originated).  They have High West 21 year old rye, which is pretty much impossible to find.  They have Antique Collection offerings George T. Stagg and William Larue Weller. 

The aforementioned extremely rare whiskeys will set you back $40-50 per pour, which is actually sort of reasonable given their scarcity, but still a bit painful. Most of the rest are in the $10-15 range, and there are many delightful whiskeys in that range, probably plenty that the average person hasn’t tried, and even a handful that I hadn’t. 

Oh, and because people will be wondering, they have Pappy 15, but only available as a $100 flight with the Van Winkle 10 and 12 years.  They don’t have the older Pappy varieties available.

As I was already planning on footing the bill for the three of us, I decided to forego the Old Blowhard.  My taste buds cried a little bit, but I appeased them with a pour of Col. E.H. Taylor Rye, the only E.H. Taylor whiskey I had yet to taste.  It was delicious, as expected.  I ordered a High West Rendezvous Rye for my friend, who is now on the hunt for a bottle of her own and one for a gift, because that is just what Rendezvous Rye does to people.

Great local beer on draft
Great local beer on draft

My only complaint with the entire evening was that the whiskey was served in lowball/rocks glasses.  Yes, the same style of glass that didn’t even outperform the red party cup in terms of nose and flavor concentration in our recent whiskey glass comparison.  A bar serving whiskey this good should really have a tulip-shaped glass for neat pours.

Given the speakeasy vibe, the cocktails are probably good.  With that whiskey menu, though, I wasn’t going to waste my time or my liver’s time, so I don’t know.  They also had a very nice draft beer menu, with an emphasis on local and regional craft brews.  It’s not a beer bar, but even snootier beer drinkers will find something to please them.

The menu is small, but accessible, with upscale pub-style food.  The fried oyster po’ boy sliders were fantastic, as were the bacon wrapped scallops with maple bourbon reduction.  We also got the truffle fries and cheesy grits, both of which were exactly what I wanted them to be. 

The most noticeable thing about the food was how well it all blended with whiskey.  As much as I know about whiskey, and as much as I could help steer anyone through the extensive whiskey menu, whiskey-food pairings remain a mystery to me.  But the mix of seafood and saltiness, the sweetness of maple, pungence of truffle oil, the bit of smoke from the bacon… all of these qualities combined with whiskey to enhance the experience of both food and dram.  Someone clearly understands food-whiskey pairing very well.

Serious kudos for the whiskey-friendly menu.

A quick perusal of their website reveals the presence of a “Bacon Brunch” served from 10am-2pm on Sundays. Bacon and beer pairings.  Bacon-wrapped deviled eggs.  Texas toast with bacon, goat cheese, honey, and candied walnuts… This seems like something that needs to happen in my mouth. 

Although it would be beyond sad to go to Dry 85 and not get any whiskey.  Is 1pm too early for whiskey?  Is one allowed to order whiskey at a meal called “brunch?” 

These very important life questions aside, I highly recommend you check out Dry 85.  It’s an excellent place to try many of the whiskeys on the market before you buy a whole bottle, as well as a completely enjoyable place to spend an evening.