Photograph by Caitlin Abrams
Bourbon Butcher Kitchen and Bar bartender pours a glass of whiskey
When I was a kid, people scoffed at goat cheese. Can you imagine? Yet someday our kids will laugh at the idea that we ever made fun of kale. Point is, our food culture is always evolving. Which leads me to a high-concept bourbon bar and restaurant in a south metro farm town.
Not long ago it would have been foolish to position an entire drink menu around whiskey—let alone do it in Farmington, Minnesota. But the brown stuff is now a booming cottage industry, and Bourbon Butcher is proof. Located in a strip mall off County Road 3 on the north end of Farmington, it feels different from other suburban joints. There are barrels on the wall, dark barn wood surfaces, and a backlit bar in the center of the room. Applebee’s it ain’t.
The owners have gambled on the surrounding community embracing something new and different. And why not? It worked at their Eagan spot Volstead House, which is a speakeasy tucked behind a burger joint. But a bar is low stakes compared to a full restaurant like Bourbon Butcher, which serves well-executed American plates. You can tell the cheese curds were battered by hand, and that the wings were smoked in-house before being dry-rubbed and fried, giving them a salty, sultry balance.
But the bar is the thing down here, and Bourbon Butcher brought in a ringer from the city to help them make it sing. Ms. Ralena Young is one of my favorite city mixers thanks to her flavorful, well-made drinks and honest hospitality. She created BB’s drinks menu and trained its staff. Her expert touch shows in the Smoked Boulevardier, which starts with you placing your glass over flaming wood chips. After the fire goes out and the smoke has swirled, you remove the glass and pour in your cocktail. It’s as tasty as it is theatrical, and on the night we visited, Luke, our young bartender, pulled it off with ease.
Same goes for the whiskey sour egg white—the classic version of the drink. While Luke was busy shaking it, a lady next to me questioned how on earth that frothy thing was supposed to be a whiskey sour. Luke politely gave her the seminar, and I passed her mine for a sip. She was sold.
Maybe whiskey is the great unifier we’ve been looking for! It used to be country, then it went city, and now it bridges both worlds. Perhaps that’s how you erase the notions of “different” and “weird”—by sharing a few sips with the human on the next stool.
Pro Tips: Bourbon Butcher
Soda for non-tipplers: There's a legit list of nostalgic and craft sodas from all over the country. Frostie Grape, Cheerwine, Dang Butterscotch Root Beer—they're all here.
Games: There's a 21-plus back room filled with Skee-ball and arcade games.
Flights: If you're a whiskey newbie, try a themed sample flight like "Irish Pride" or "Touring Kentucky."