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Whiskey Rivers

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It's a little late in the season to start (re)discovering the joys of whiskey—but the last couple of nights have been more like late-fall/early-winter evenings, the kind that make you want to sit in a library and drink wistful-looking, amber-colored things.

I don't exactly have a library in my Manhattan apartment—a few toppling bookcases, yes—so the other night I went to the Brandy Library in Tribeca. The clubby, autumny vibe was in full effect, and the shelves upon shelves of Scotch and brandy bottles were crammed with exactly the kind of study materials I had in mind.

My more whiskey-savvy friend and I dedicated our brain cells to figuring out what was in Smokehouse, a hauntingly smoky Scotch made by a secret distiller in Islay. Even the Brandy Library's "spirit sommelier," Ethan Kelley, doesn't know who makes the mystery malt, whose bottle is slapped with an intrigue-heightening bare-bones label. It's one of 300 single-malts on Kelley's list, and soon he'll be adding a bunch more private-label bottlings to the fat, leatherbound volume. Over an order of piping-hot cheese gougères, my friend and I drank our way through a half-dozen more whiskies, via an exquisite tasting flight called the Peat Promise: six Scotches like the ultra-peaty, alluringly named Benriach Curiositas and the hard-core Connemara Cask Strength.

For those who doesn't know their way around a 300-bottle list (who does), Kelley will be teaching a class at the new Astor Center this Saturday, called "Whiskey for Wine Lovers."

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