It’s no exaggeration to say that UNLV instructor Adam Carmer wrote the book on tasting whiskey.
It’s called “The Method,” and it details his new alternative system for tasting spirits. He calls the method C:STEM, or the Carmer spirits tasting enhancement method.
Combine that with his proprietorship of the the Whiskey Attic, which offers more than 1,000 types of whiskey, and it is perhaps no surprise that he decided it was time to create his own whiskey, Freakin’ Lightning.
“We call it a gateway whiskey,” Carmer said. “It lets you see the dexterity that whiskey has.”
The 88-proof whiskey is the latest in a long run of ventures for Carmer. He came to Las Vegas to work as one of the first staff members of Treasure Island, from 1997 to 2000. He was the director of restaurants and hotel sommelier for The Mirage from 1997 to 2000. In 2003, he opened the Freakin’ Frog, 4700 S. Maryland Parkway.
“I was six or seven years ahead of the craft beer movement,” Carmer said. “Four years later, I had this crazy idea for a whiskey bar. There was no precedent, no outward demand, but I felt it and saw it.”
The Whiskey Attic was originally a private club. Its entrance is at the top of a flight of stairs in the Freakin’ Frog.
“A couple of hundred people joined before I even opened,” Carmer said. “I figured that it was a successful idea. We get politicians, attorneys, judges … celebrities like it because it’s private and we don’t go running out and telling people when they’re here.”
In 2010, Carmer shifted from the private club model and opened the Whiskey Attic to the general public. A few years later, he was simultaneously developing C:STEM and pondering a new direction for the venture. He was sure there was some other method for spirit tasting than the traditional one.
“As I checked around, I realized there wasn’t, and since when is there only one way to do something?” Carmer said. “I started doing tastings with C:STEM across the country and around the world. Everyone was taking to it. Master sommeliers, master distillers, 21-year-old girls on their birthday, 95-year-old men who have been drinking all their life… Everybody gets it.”
The Whiskey Attic is open only for private events or tasting sessions. Participants pay in advance, online or by phone. The bar serves 100 to 150 people weekly, most attending one of two standard tasting events: a $75 tasting of five whiskeys and a $125 tasting of 10 whiskeys.
“The tasting events are hour-and-a-half seminars,” Carmer said. “We explain and demonstrate C:STEM and show people how to taste the difference between different products, then we do a personalized flavor assessment for each member of the group, and we pick whiskeys from the collection based on that information. Everybody has a great time.”
Attorney Brett Axelrod has been going to the Freakin’ Frog since its early days. She was one of the first to visit the Whiskey Attic, and she still goes regularly and sometimes entertains clients there.
“I love the camaraderie of the tastings and being able to share the passion of great whiskey and great conversation,” she said.
“I’ve tasted thousands of whiskeys, and I started wondering why there aren’t any smooth, easy-drinking white whiskeys,” Carmer said. “I talked to some of the big whiskey distillers, and they thought I was nuts. Nobody wanted to make one. After a year or so of bouncing the idea around, I decided we’d do it on our own.”
Carmer and his brother Mark formed Freakin’ Brands, the parent company of Freakin’ Lightning.
“The process involved a lot of mixing and filtering after the distilling,” Carmer said. “We did a lot of different taste tests. It was about six months before we had a product we were both satisfied with.”
Carmer utilized his tasting method to remove what he calls “dissatisfiers.”
“We got rid of the harsh nose and the congeners, those particles you feel in your throat,” Carmer said. “It’s 88 proof, but it drinks very smooth. It’s certified kosher, so it’s held to a higher standard than even vegan products. It’s got a great body and makes an amazing alcohol base, but it plays well with others. If you mix it with harsher products, it mellows them out.”
The Carmers intentionally created packaging that is different from other whiskeys, using good luck symbols in the design from several cultures.
“Plus, it’s got that skull on it,” Carmer said. “When you see that, you know that something unusual is going on.”
Freakin’ Whiskey was launched a few months ago and is available only in Las Vegas. Carmer said it is available in most of the casinos on the Strip, at the Freakin’ Frog and at the Whiskey Attic.
“I wanted to start in Las Vegas because it’s my favorite city in the world,” Carmer said. “It’s my home. If you can make it in Las Vegas with an alcohol, you can make it anywhere.”
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org of 702-380-4532.