Lexington Bar Guide 2011: Whether beer, wine or bourbon, Lexington is a town of many tastes

Contributing Restaurant CriticAugust 19, 2011 

Like most medium-size cities, Lexington has bars — sometimes the best of which are in restaurants — to suit nearly every stripe and stratum, every orientation and aesthetic, every taste and tax bracket. This diversity makes the scene thrive, year after year.

There is most certainly an old guard, but it is evolution that keeps things exciting.

Perhaps the most notable trend of late has been the broadening of the term "tasting." Of course, bourbon tasting has been around a long time, given that bourbon belongs to the Bluegrass. A number of Lexington's premier restaurants and bars offer tasting flights for the reasonable price of $15 to $20, featuring popular premium and a few boutique bourbons. Try "small-batch" or "single-barrel" samples so you can compare the various tastes and complexities of America's only native spirit.

One of the largest bourbon selections can be found at The Horse and Barrel. It might have an Anglophile interior, but this is the place to go for serious experimentation of Kentucky's finest. For $15, you can pick three 1-ounce pours from 60 labels; their total "collection," for that is what it is, numbers about 90 bottles in all.

But the urge to tease the palate has carried over to other libations.

Wine tasting — an experience formerly restricted to retail shops and wineries — is moving to watering holes and gourmet dining venues.

Table Three Ten is a perfect example. This converted law office is loaded with urban post-modern style and a handsome bar that is its architectural focal point. Owner Krim Boughalem has developed a unique wine list — comprising choices compatible with the kitchen's brilliantly original small plates — from around the globe, with a strong emphasis on France. Wine service comes in four quantities: 3-ounce tasting, 6-ounce glass, a carafe that is a half-bottle and a full bottle.

If you're not in the mood for wine, though, don't overlook the cocktails superbly executed by bartenders Adam and Brandon. I intend to sample every gin drink they make. Stay tuned.

And here's a wonderful surprise: Have you thought about tasting sake?

Lexington has some outstanding Japanese cuisine, but you are usually on your own when it comes to pairing the wine and the food. Not at Yamaguchi's Sake and Tapas, an izakaya that shines in its commitment to fine food and rice wine. You can sample half a dozen good sakes at insanely inexpensive prices before deciding on your glassful that will be ceremoniously poured until it overflows into its carrier of a scented cedar box. Yamaguchi's "list" gives useful details about each sake, and the coasters are labeled so you can keep things straight.

This town remains an erudite beer community. The selection has been strong for more than 20 years, but recently, we have seen education and experimentation come into the picture at The Beer Trappe, a dignified environment with a wall of more than 400 brews from around the world and samples of eight fresh drafts each day. Manager Kevin Patterson, whose credits include being a nationally ranked beer judge with the Beer Judge Certification Program and being a Cicerone certified beer server, the beer equivalent of the wine world's sommelier, regularly offers "beer schools" that delight experts and ramp up the appreciation of novices with his informal discussions on the making, flavor and culture of beer.

But this is just a sampling of high points happening right now. The drinking culture of Lexington continues to evolve, and there are myriad wonderful places that deserve their own passionate followers.

Enjoy responsibly.

Wendy Miller is a Lexington-based food and spirits writer and critic.

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