Chapter One Celebrates 5 Years with Exclusive Whiskey Dinner

And a big happy birthday goes out to....Chapter One: the modern local! The beloved downtown Santa Ana restaurant known for its cocktails, fabulous menu, and literature-themed design on top of a beautiful space recently celebrated its fifth anniversary in high fashion - with a whiskey dinner! Pairing up with Eric Strand, who is also known as The Whiskey Scout, as the educator/guide that evening, the restaurant held an exclusive ticketed dinner on March 19th that featured five courses specially constructed for the occasion paired with whiskeys that might never be tasted again outside of the context of the dinner. We were invited to partake in this fabulous event and were glad to glimpse spirits we'd never be able to otherwise.

The dinner kicked off with some congratulatory remarks to all of Chapter One for its fifth anniversary, and then we dove into the courses and whiskeys right away. The first course was Pickled Shrimp with shaved pickled veggies (fennel, jalapenos, onions, red bell peppers, and micro cilantro) done in a Southern-style. These fat beauts came paired with Greenbar's Slow Hand Six Wood and White Whiskeys, two whiskeys with just the barest differentiator to make them separate products. Based out of Los Angeles, this distillery distinguished between the two through different aging durations. White whiskey would be the type that is aged in barrels less than ten minutes, barely receiving any wood influence and therefore relying mostly on its grain base (in this case, oats, malt, and spelt). It was cleaner and clearer, making sense to go along with the vibrancy of a pickled shrimp. The Six Wood, Eric informed us, was aged in French oak and enhanced with a "tea bag" thrown into the barrel that contained woods from mulberry, grape, hickory, maple, and red oak. Because so much of whiskey's taste is determined by the influencing woods, the Six Wood certainly had more personality than the White.

Next out that evening was a delectable plate of Duck Rillettes with pickled onions and toast points. Full of hearty flavor, the housemade rillettes were accompanied well by the sharpness of pickled onions. It was also paired compatibly with the whiskey cocktail that followed - a Whistle Pig Maple Sour (Whistle Pig 10-year Rye, Whistle Pig Barrel-Aged Maple Syrup, lemon juice, and Malbec float) which cannot be had anywhere else. The Whiskey Scout tuned us into the secret: the distillery has a farm in Vermont with maple trees and therefore could bottle maple syrup along with their whiskey production. Unfortunately, regulations have rendered this syrup unable to be sold to the public but restaurants that feature it in a cocktail can have the privilege to partake of the maple syrup craftily aged in the distillery's whiskey barrels. A riff of a classic New York cocktail, this Whistle Pig cocktail certainly contributed a bit of sweetness to the palate alongside the rillettes.

The third course and pairing were the highlights that everyone had been waiting for, particularly the whiskey. Our plate that course was Chapter One's BBQ King Salmon with ratatouille and a parsnip and red cabbage puree - beautiful. A housemade chipotle BBQ sauce on top of the salmon helped glaze the hefty serving of perfectly cooked fish, and the puree was an appealing lavender color with sweetness in taste to boot. This dish was to play well with the FEW Spirits Family Reserve that evening and it certainly brought its game.

So what was so special about this particular pairing? The whiskey is never going to be sold. As a personal project of the head distiller and founder of FEW spirits, this smooth spirit based on a family pilsner recipe using caramel and barley malts as a tribute was called SLIP for "PILS" backward. We tasted a pilsner alongside the whiskey to get an idea of where the inspiration and heritage came from but the real look into the spirit was itself. Untainted and clean, this whiskey was a creation to be proud of and the fact that it will never be distributed only adds to its standing as one-of-a-kind. We and everyone else there that night were quite grateful to taste something we may never taste again.

The next two courses flew by quickly once the star of the show had been unveiled. A sizable plate of Deep-Fried Short Rib paired with baby vegetables and "Big Ass Beans" came out next, featuring a recipe from a Filipino friend of Chapter One who shared his great grandmother's recipe as well as one from an American great grandmother. Two classic recipes on one plate? What a treat! We really loved the short ribs here which were both sweet and savory, light and satisfying. This came with High West's Double Rye and Yipee Ki-Yay. The two whiskeys' bases were the same but technique different. The Double Rye follows High West's penchant for blending other distillers' whiskeys and is a blend of a two-year-old rye (95% rye, 5% barley) and a sixteen-year-old rye (52% rye, 38% corn, 10% other) while the Yipee Ki-Yay is the same exact whiskey but aged in a Syrah wine barrel and vermouth barrel. If one paid close attention, the tastes would be distinct from each other and the latter would have more of a wine influence.

That dish moved quickly and next up was dessert - a German Chocolate Donut with Ojai pixie orange marmalade, Ojai pixie orange glaze, and Ojai pixie reduction. Homemade chantilly cream topped everything off and helped with the pairing of a Manhattan Moonshine "White" Manhattan (Manhattan Moonshine, Lillet Blanc, and Benedictine) to end the night. The whiskey itself, Manhattan Mooshine, is distributed only in the New York area and is quite clean. As a slight sweeter cocktail, the drink matched the dessert on the plate that was highlighted by both the heaviness of chocolate and lightness of citrus. It was a fine ending to the evening.

The guidance that The Whiskey Scout provided throughout the night proved very helpful in learning the origins and intents behind the whiskeys were tasting alongside the delicious prepared courses. Our great well wishes to Chapter One as it continues on being a community favorite!

Photography by Duc Duong. More photos available on Facebook here.