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Culture / Foodie Events

The Young Whisky Whiz

Meet the Texan Who Travels the World (and Hangs Out With Celeb Chefs) to Spread the Word of Balvenie

BY // 06.09.16

It’s not unheard of for a boy to grow up in Dallas, go on to study social and historical inquiry at The New School, open a boutique liquor store called The Whiskey Shop in Brooklyn, and be recruited by a prestigious single-malt whisky brand to serve as a brand ambassador, in that order. Not unheard of, but neither is it a common story.

In fact, it’s perhaps as rare as The Balvenie 30 that Jonathan Wingo and tasted during a recent lunch at Tony’s.

Wingo was that boy, and since 2013, the man has been traveling the country — and the world — spreading the word about The Balvenie, whose distillery was founded in 1892 in Dufftown, Scotland, and whose whiskies are admired and consumed by people everywhere. Wingo was in Houston visiting a few restaurants, a perfect opportunity for me to catch up with him (we had last sat together in November 2015, when Wingo was touring with Anthony Bourdain and The Balvenie). Lunch and a whisky tasting: Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

This bottle is full of magic.
This bottle is full of magic.

Wingo is a dapper dresser, and seems to be partial to bowties, a look that fits him. He’s also the possessor of a great palate —a definite must-have in his line of work — and his enthusiasm for the pasta and wines we ordered was delightful to see.

“I was used to people debating the merits of the sauces and bread sticks at Olive Garden,” Wingo said, referring to his earlier culinary experiences. “Now I’m fortunate enough to eat great food at amazing places, like this one.” He certainly does not take his job at The Balvenvie — or its perks — for granted.

Wingo has worked as a bar manager and a bartender, and knows what it takes to make guests feel “experienced” and at ease. His rapport with the staff during our lunch was refreshing — casual, respectful, and conscious of the setting. There’s no guessing why Forbes included him in its “30 Under 30” Food and Wine roster in 2012.

During lunch, we tasted The Balvenie 30, and if you are in the market for an exceptional whisky, you could do far worse than a bottle of this. It’s splendid, with its oak and spicy citrus notes. I let the first taste linger on my palate, and the warmth and depth capped off lunch beautifully. A search results in this 30-year-old selling for as little as $760 and as much as $1,000.

No, it’s not for everyone, and if it’s not for you, the Single Barrel 12 and the DoubleWood 12 just might be. Both possess complex finishes, wonderful spiciness, and bewitching sweetness. You can find them for less than $60 a bottle, bargains indeed.

Wingo and I talked New York and Spain, and whisky-pairing dinners. “You know what the best pairing dinner I ever had was?” he asked. “With beer. The chef has to work with the sauces very carefully for them, but there’s such a range with beer.”

Wingo, who now resides in Dallas, will definitely be back in Houston, spreading The Balvenie Gospel, and I have no doubt you’d gain from a few minutes talking whisky and food with him, among other things. I know I did. (And if you are going to be in New Orleans in July, he’ll be speaking at Tale of the Cocktail.)

Jonathan Wingo and a storied door in Scotland. (Courtesy The Balvenie)
Jonathan Wingo and a storied door in Scotland. (Courtesy The Balvenie)

Home, chic home.

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