Most people traveling in the Caribbean would expect that rum is the go-to spirit when looking for an adult beverage. For those of us that prefer bourbon and are used to a diverse selection, this can make for a somewhat trying vacation in the islands.
Things may be changing, however.
Patti and I visit Aruba once a year, in October. We went there for our honeymoon in 2001 and have been back yearly for our anniversary. For years, the bourbon selection on Aruba was dismal, to say the least. Pretty much Jim Beam, mostly with Makers Mark at a few high-end restaurants. Jack Daniels if you would like some Tennessee Whiskey. Since Aruba was a Dutch Colony and still has close ties to the Netherlands, scotch has always been the prevalent whiskey around the island.
Things began changing in 2014 when the Hollywood Smokehouse and its manager AJ Tromp started stocking some bourbons, including Blanton’s, Buffalo Trace, and Bookers. While in Aruba that year, my wife and I visited with AJ several times. He told me recently that he built his stock one bottle at a time, between gifts from friends and visits to the States. Unfortunately, Hollywood Smokehouse has closed, but AJ’s presence in Aruba with his company Private Bartending Aruba continues.
Late in 2014, Sidebar Bistro Aruba opened in the main city of Oranjestad. My first article that appeared in Bourbon and Banter last February was about Sidebar Bistro. Sidebar Bistro is a welcome spot for bourbon lovers in Aruba.
However, Our most recent trip indicated that bourbon is sweeping the island.
This past trip, last October, high-end restaurants, night spots, the country club resort, and a few high-end all-inclusive resorts in Aruba carried Buffalo Trace. It seemed like there were more places in Aruba carrying Buffalo Trace than where I live in Virginia. It was probably an exaggeration, but it seemed everywhere – bars, restaurants, and stores. Buffalo Trace is my favorite everyday bourbon, so this was a welcome sight. Smooth Ambler and Jefferson Bourbons also were spotted at several places.
While in Aruba this year, I saw an ad in a coupon book about Bourbon Express Aruba. They are an importer of spirits on the island, mainly bourbon and rye. They appear to be leading the bourbon charge. Aruba, to a large extent, caters to the American tourist. No need to change your money when you enter the country; they take dollars. Bourbon Express has seized on the world bourbon boom and is now leading the bourbon increase in Aruba.
A year later, Sidebar Bistro is still the top bourbon bar in Aruba. They still have a large selection of bourbon and ryes. One that would rival most American bars, except for the top tier. Over 60 different types on the shelves. This year, Smooth Ambler Old Scout was very prevalent with four different types, including Old Scout seven and ten-year bourbons and Old Scout 7 year and Single Barrel Rye. My selection for this trip was the Single Barrel Rye, 121 proof. An excellent pour. Patti had her favorite, Willett Pot Still. I finished up our Sidebar visit with a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel. Something I will be looking for in our local ABC store. Sidebar has great burgers as well and features Abita Beer from Louisiana. The only negative is the staff is still not well educated on what a treasure trove of bourbons they have at this restaurant.
Our final stop on our vacation was The Screaming Eagle Restaurant. Very upscale, with a diverse menu and a great selection of wine. They have also upped their bourbon game with several nice selections, including Blanton’s, Buffalo Trace, Angel’s Envy, and Elijah Craig 12 Year, among others. Their pricing, for the most part, is about the same as an upscale restaurant in the United States. I had a Parkers Heritage Wheat Whiskey 127 Proof to round out our vacation. Very nice. Something I have not been able to taste here in the States.
If you look into the Screaming Eagle, you will find they do have a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 20-year-old bottled in 2011. I could see it sitting on the bar. I looked it up on the menu, and it was $449 a pour. That is way beyond what I will pay for a pour of bourbon. Before you judge, however, please consider. I had the opportunity to talk to the manager about the Pappy. She said it cost about $1800 to buy the bottle from a friend in the States, and then they had to pay duty on top of that. To break even, they would have to charge at least $200 for a 2-ounce pour. I asked her if anyone had purchased a pour at the menu price, and she said no. As I said, it is too much for me, but everything is relative.
I wonder if it is the only bottle of Pappy in the Caribbean?