FH Beerworks has hosted a variety of special events in their annex building since it opened in 2018, but COVID-19 lockdowns put an end to that — and rentals didn’t pick back up after, according to co-owner Travis Fields.
Rather than pay taxes on an empty building, he and wife/co-owner Niki decided to start something on their own. After two months of renovations, Neat Whiskey House soft-opened in mid-November 2021 before its grand opening on Dec. 3. Neat offers over a hundred whiskeys, cocktails and a menu of exclusives from house food truck 1231 Craft Kitchen.
“We had ideas for doing something like this, but we didn’t expect to be the ones to do it,” says Fields. “We expected to be adding tenants.”
Licensure allows patrons to order Neat, FH Beerworks and 1231 Craft Kitchen’s full menus anywhere on the property, which is pretty cool, but we dig Neat’s vibe. The dark, cleanly decorated room enjoys a vintage feel thanks to custom shelves with a library-style ladder — some of those whiskeys are pretty high up — and Art Deco typography. Bonus: The restrooms are gender-neutral, which is always nice.
The cocktail menu, which includes classics and a few signature drinks, was designed by Drew Owens-Rice, who Fields calls “essentially, our whiskey house manager.” Locals may recognize Owens-Rice from his time at the Principal’s Office, and he’s responsible for ordering some of Neat’s rarer bottles, such as bourbon from Blanton’s, Elijah Craig toasted barrel bourbon and Michter’s toasted barrel-finished bourbon. We pass those three up when we visit, but we do enjoy a neat pour of Michter’s straight rye, which has a hot, boozy nose that vanishes into a super-smooth sip offering caramel and balanced rye spice notes. It’s approachable but complex.
Back on the cocktails, the Lamphere starts with Cutty Sark Scotch, lavender syrup, flower-infused water and a spritz of Aberfeldy 12-year-old single malt Scotch. It starts sweet, but then the drink opens up with honey, wood and floral notes, finishing with hints of allspice. Another signature drink, The Graduate, mixes Old Overholt rye whiskey with Luxardo cherry liqueur, lime juice and falernum, which is a Caribbean simple syrup that includes lime and spices. Expect a tangy, fruity sip with almond notes that evoke cherry pits and just a whisper of rye spice — a classy sipped cocktail.
For classics, it’s hard to complain about a well-executed Sazerac, here made with Old Overholt rye, and the dance of rye’s spicy notes with absinthe’s anise. And those who’ve never had an old-school Whiskey Sour foamed up with egg white and topped with aromatic bitters could do far worse than Neat’s rendition, which finishes sweet, tart and dry, benefiting from a hint of Old Overholt rye’s spice. (Yes, Old Overholt is Neat’s well rye).
Onto 1231’s special Neat menu, we go potato-heavy, ordering the 1231 potato skins and pub fries. The former comes three to a plate, full of Cheddar Jack, pico de gallo, jalapeño slices, candied bacon and sriracha mayo, with fried bits of potato served on the side with mustard-forward pub sauce. It’s a spicy, smoky bite that we enjoy, but it doesn’t fit the elevated vibe of Neat. Neither do the fries, which get topped with candied bacon, cotija cheese and a house seasoning that includes rosemary; the $3-extra beer cheese atop doesn’t class things up either. It does, however, taste delicious after a few drinks and sop up the booze efficiently. The rest of the Neat food menu, too, feels a hair too heavy for craft whiskey cocktails — a sausage and beer cheese po’boy and barbecue pork sliders would likely do to good whiskey drinks what a steamroller does to Daffy Duck, though smoked trout crostini look more promising and may warrant attention.
That said, this concept has some runway for growth and improvements, as in fairness our review visit took place within a few weeks of the spot’s opening. But the cocktails we sample land sure as anything. And while the heavy appetizers don’t jive with Neat’s menu quite so much, they’re darn tasty and would go great with FH’s beer. Conveniently, that’s also served in this new space, which overall proves to be pretty damn neat.