Whiskey and music have always been intertwined. Brooding bands like Bright Eyes write about whiskey and the women that justify the liquor’s high price in “Well Whiskey.” On “Deacon Blues,” Steely Dan thinks through feeling down and out with a glass of Scotch whiskey. John Lee Hooker hammers through his blues with “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” AC/DC asks listeners to pour some whiskey and “Have a Drink On Me.”Whiskey has managed to spill into most genres of music—including Mississippi country blues, Omaha indie, and traditional rock and roll—and serve as a roadmap. There’s Kentucky bourbon in the United States, Scotch in northern Great Britain, rye whiskey in Canada.
Whiskey-fused music also finds itself deep in the heart of Williamsburg, at The Whiskey Brooklyn on Berry Street. The place initially seems unassuming, but it’s far more complex. At the front of the restaurant and bar, you have two options. Walking to the left leads you to whiskeys by the bottles; walking to the right takes you down a wide, dim-lit staircase that gives way to a bar. The bar serves all types of beers and liquors, but its whiskey menu is what gets you. It’s got everything you know—Bulleit, Jameson, Fireball, Makers’ Mark, Johnnie Walker—and everything you should know, including the bourbons Basil Hayden’s and Noah’s Mill.
And it’s also got a healthy, reliable mix of music.
The first time I went to The Whiskey Brooklyn was almost two weeks ago. I was drawn to the geographically inclusive whiskey selection and happy about the music pouring from the bar’s stereo. The Whiskey Brooklyn favored pop hits from the nineties that night. Third Eye Blind, Eagle Eye Cherry, Sugar Ray, Britney Spears, Semisonic, and TLC made some appearances. There’s nothing quite as gratifying as deciding what Johnnie Walker color to drink while listening to “No Scrubs.”
The Whiskey Brooklyn also served as the perfect setting for a whiskey tasting with Great Good Fine OK, the electro-pop band based in Brooklyn. I met with Jon Sandler and Luke Moellman, the two faces of the band. The reason for our meeting was simple: we needed to rate several whiskeys at the Whiskey Brooklyn, using the band’s name as a scale. The whiskey might be great; the whiskey might be OK. The way we measured the whiskey varied: there were the factors like aroma, the flavor, and aftertaste.
But first on Great Good Fine OK’s music. The band makes smart, edgy pop. There’s something witty and intelligent about their sound. “You’re the One for Me” is a composer’s delight: there’s a stable riff that opens the track and enough groove to hook in listeners after the first listen. Lines like “I’m gonna love you till you’re here” and “I don’t mind getting old” make the song something more than just a love song. It’s a bit of a crisis offset by a melody that’s as welcoming as it is complex.
Like any thought-provoking artist, Great Good Fine OK also reconfigures “You’re the One for Me” in a music video. The track is an existential love song; the video is a picnic gone awry. A woman sets up a food station for herself, making a sandwich that eventually starts to overflow with food. Salt, peanut butter, syrup, jellies, corn, mayonnaise, avocados, tuna, beans, honey, sprinkles, and raw eggs manage to cover the sandwich. Throughout much of the video, the “You’re the One for Me” starlet fixes her sandwich in a sexually suggestive manner. The video is intelligent because it can be funny, hypercritical of food advertisements, [crass] or all three at some point.
Great Good Fine OK’s approach to writing songs is the reason for this complexity, which is also evident on tracks like “Not Going Home” and “By My Side.” Vocalist Sandler handles the melody and lyrics; Moellman provides the compositional skeleton for the songs. They often work in separate rooms, weaving together their songs meticulously.
“It’s really unique to us,” Sandler said of their songwriting process at the Whiskey Brooklyn. Before Great Good Fine OK, Sandler was in the band Jon Sandler and the Fancy Band. The creative process was rather different then: Sandler wrote most of the material. Nowadays, he works with Moellman, who brings an academic flare to Great Good Fine OK.
The result is deeply alluring: the band’s “Not Going Home” is lyrically and musically rich. Sandler’s voice stretches to the higher registers in the chorus, revealing a lot of control and emotion in one moment. Moellman backs Sandler with his keyboard and xylophone. Great Good Fine OK is pop at its finest: fusing multiple genres and placing equal weight on the words and sounds, the band’s music goes down well and leaves a good, linger aftertaste. The band is set to release their EP, Body Diamond, via Neon Gold Records, which represents HAIM, St. Lucia, and Ellie Goulding.
I didn’t just discuss music with Sandler and Moellman, however. There was the business of tasting and then contemplating the collection of whiskey at the Whiskey Brooklyn. We determined the fairest way of judging the whiskeys on taste: Sandler and Moellman turned their heads while I selected a whiskey for them to taste. Great Good Fine OK manager’s Meah and Pancakes and Whiskey photographer Shayne Hanley looked on with me.
Johnnie Walker blue was deemed good for its “unique flavor.” Elijah Craig 12, bourbon produced from Heaven Hill distillery, was considered great. Moellman paused several times while tasting the Heaven Hill bourbon as if to recapture that first spark of discovering a whiskey. Bulleit was also labeled as “great.” Sandler determined that Basil Hayden’s, which received a “good” label, would be great with a cigar. Whiskey classics were also chosen: Jameson and Honey Jack Daniel’s went down smoothly.
By the end of the evening, the table was covered in shot glasses, iPhones, and wet napkins. It was the perfect image of the evening, which felt less like an interview and more like a new group of friends pondering whiskey and music. Walking out of the Whiskey Brooklyn felt like the end of a really good show or whiskey shot: I was ready to pour another shot of whiskey and pop in another Great Good Fine OK record.
Great Good Fine OK will hit the road this fall supporting Betty Who’s The High Society Tour. At any given Great Good Fine OK show, you can catch Sandler hitting those high notes in a kimono and Moellman banging the keyboards. Tickets and date information can be found here.
Article by: Pam Segura
Photos by: Shayne Hanley