This past January 16 marked the 100th anniversary of ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment. Next January 17 will mark the centennial of the start of Prohibition. So if I had gone to the bar at Landshark’s Pizza 100 years ago, they’d be clearing their shelves. Bourbon Heritage Month (September) would be Bourbon Memorial Month. As it is, Landshark’s bar menu boasts some 85 bourbons, ryes and Canadian whiskeys, 15 scotches and 10 Irish whiskeys. They have plenty of other spirits, beers and wines, too, but I went for the whiskey.
Landshark’s is right on U.S. 98 in the “old” part of Destin. There’s parking on the side and benches out front. Just inside the restaurant door is a counter where you can place orders to go (they do a good takeout pizza business), and the pizza ovens are just behind. A left turn will put you at the bar, a horseshoe-shaped seating area with a shelf of bottles in the middle, and strategically positioned beer taps. In the back is “Bourbon Street,” a veritable Wall of Whiskey.
The bartender that night was Clay, a smiling young man with a clean-shaven head and full beard. He greeted me and gave me a food menu and whiskey list, both of which can also be viewed online on Landshark’s website. The emphasis is on bourbon, but there are a good number of ryes and Canadian whiskeys. Prices range from $7 up through $30. You get about a two-ounce pour, a respectable slug of whiskey.
There’s lots of inexpensive whiskey on the market—some of it very good—but there’s also a lot priced well above the $50 mark for a fifth. Just because it’s expensive doesn’t mean you’re going to like it. Landshark’s extensive menu gives you a chance to try before you buy. Clay gave me all the time I needed to make up my mind.
The place started to fill up—Monday Night Football, Jets versus Cleveland. Landshark’s has a sports bar vibe, with TVs and team memorabilia (somebody is a Green Bay fan), and the bar patrons—a mix of old and young, most of whom looked like locals—were affable and enjoying each other’s company. Clay kept everybody served with a smile and a friendly word.
In honor of the month, I stuck with bourbon. In honor of Wild Turkey Master Distiller Jimmy Russell’s 65th anniversary as a whiskey-maker, I started with Wild Turkey’s Kentucky Spirit ($8.50), which I’ve never tasted. I had it straight, water on the side.
It had been a while since I just sat at a bar and overheard conversations among patrons. A good bar should be like a college library, each seat a carrel, where a person can sit and pursue his or her own course of study. Mine was experimenting with adding drops of water to my whiskey. No one said a word.
Landshark’s offers $15 tasting flights, each a trio of bourbons from Jack Daniel’s, Old Forester or Woodford Reserve. The menu notes: “We won’t bat an eye if you break out your notebook to jot down the various notes and flavors you’re able to discover for yourself.”
For round two, I ordered Blanton’s ($14.50), a bourbon I haven’t seen on a liquor store shelf in years. I also ordered a draft Props Flying Coffin IPA, which added up to a Boilermaker. In addition to whiskeys, Landshark’s offers a large selection of bottled, canned and on-draft beers including domestic, imported and local micro brews, with their own menu.
Blanton’s was a pioneer in the rise of “single barrel” bourbons, so it has buckets of street credibility. It’s about the best-smelling bourbon I’ve ever met, too, and a great match for the fruity/herbal IPA. By this time, the bar was full, Cleveland was moving toward its victory over New York, and pizza-loving diners were everywhere.
As I enjoyed my drink, I eavesdropped on a conversation among three young guys a few seats away. They came to eat, but by way of an aperitif, one ordered a Deep Eddy Sweet Tea. At first I thought he meant sweet tea spiked with Deep Eddy vodka, but no, there’s a sweet tea flavored Deep Eddy. Next, he and his pals wondered aloud about what sounded like “S’mores vodka.”
Deep Eddy doesn’t make S’mores vodka, but Three Olives does. Clay smoothly talked them out of it. They ordered some food and switched to beer. Crisis averted, Clay.