ashland.news
July 21, 2024

Better with age: A sippin’ success on Ashland Plaza

Oberons whiskey bar
Sachta and Andy Card bought Oberon's Restaurant and Bar in 2016 and transformed the bar into one of the most highly regarded whiskey bars between San Francisco and Seattle. Jim Flint photo
November 18, 2023

Couple crafts a whiskey gem at Oberon’s, making the bar a destination for connoisseurs of the spirit

By Jim Flint for Ashland.news

When Andy and Sachta Card began the journey that transformed a popular watering hole into a highly regarded whiskey and tequila bar, it was something new for them as well as for Ashland.

The couple bought Oberon’s Restaurant and Bar almost on a whim.

In 2016, they were engaged to be married. He had a corporate job in Brussels with UPS and she was in India, having quit her job in finance to help her father run his restaurants there.

“We were trying to figure out what to do,” Card said. “Would she move to Belgium and find a job in Brussels? Would I move to India?”

Andy went to India for a few weeks to spend time with Sachta and figure out their future together. Sachta’s entrepreneurial father said he didn’t understand why they didn’t just go into business together.

“He suggested that we get into the restaurant business in Ashland,” Card said.

Both families have Rogue Valley connections. Sachta’s maternal grandparents moved to Ashland in 2000. Sachta, 34, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Southern Oregon University. Andy, 37, a North Medford High alum, also earned his MBA from SOU.

“We met in graduate school,” he said.

The idea of going into business wasn’t completely foreign to him. He grew up in a family business atmosphere. His father and uncles owned and operated Combined Transport, a nationwide trucking company based in Central Point.

Striking a deal

So, while Andy was in Brussels, Sachta and her dad took a trip to Ashland to visit the grandparents and scout around for restaurants. Oberon’s, on Ashland’s downtown Plaza, happened to be for sale.

“Both Sachta and her father saw a diamond in the rough,” Card said. “They met with the owner and, after a look at the books, struck a deal within a week. Card said he thinks he laughed out loud when Sachta told him the news.

“I had never stepped foot in the place, but I trusted her instinct,” he said. “We finalized the deal. I put in my one-month notice and flew back to the States. We got married that week and formally took over Oberon’s two weeks later.”

A shot of this Highland Park 25-year-old Scotch from the Orkney Islands ranges from $66 for a 0.5-ounce pour to $266 for a 2-ounce pour. Jim Flint photo

Andy and Sachta divide responsibilities in running the operation. Their chef has been with Oberon’s for eight years.

The changes in Oberon’s operation were slow and steady. Customers liked the rustic, British-style fare, and that’s still the thrust of the food menu today. You’ll find favorites such as bangers and mash, smoked turkey legs, and shepherd’s pie, along with salads, sandwiches, wraps, sausage dogs and a selection of small plates.

On the bar side, Oberon’s was known for its craft cocktails but otherwise offered pretty much the standard fare.

Customers inspired him

“At that time, we had maybe around 15 bottles of whiskey,” Card said. “I spent a lot of time talking with customers and often received suggestions for certain bottles we didn’t carry.”

It didn’t take long for him to decide that Oberon’s should expand its selection and eventually become a whiskey bar. Keeping cash flow in mind, he was committed to expanding over years, not months.

“That also would help me determine which types of bottles sold better than others, and get a better understanding of customer preferences,” he said.

Today, seven years later, Oberon’s whiskey bar has a reputation as one of the most esteemed between San Francisco and Seattle. It has distinguished itself from others in the whiskey game with the depth of its catalog, which includes 50 rye whiskeys and 110 Scotch whiskeys.

That depth is represented by the number of rare bottles from each distillery. It might be common, for instance, to find two or three bottles from the same distillery at a bar, but at Oberon’s it’s a different story.

Card offered a few examples.

“We have 19 different bottlings from Barrel Craft Spirits,” he said. “We have the whole lineup of GlenDronach, including two different 28-year bottlings. And we have around 15 different bottles of Ardbeg, including rare committee releases and their 25-year offering.”

From $12 to $400 a shot

In their carefully curated collection, Oberon’s also has bottles for which only a few hundred were available in the United States. They also stock Israeli and Taiwanese whiskeys, which are less common in most bars.

Oberon’s sells whiskey in 0.5-, 0.75-, 1-, 1.5-, and 2-ounce pours. You can try a 1.5-ounce shot of what Card describes as a “nearly-flawless” bourbon, an Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, for $20.

“You can find a great whiskey for $12 or $300,” he said.

The most expensive whiskey is one of Oberon’s most-prized possessions, the Hakushu, an 18-year-old 100th-anniversary edition Japanese whiskey.

“It’s the one I’m most proud of,” Card said. “It’s extremely rare and one of the best Japanese whiskeys I’ve tasted. It will run you $400 for a 1.5-ounce shot.”

Oberon’s whiskey and tequila collection is characterized by its depth of prized bottlings. Jim Flint photo

The oldest whiskey on the shelf is a 40-year-old Glenfarclas from Speyside, Scotland, at $300 for a 1.5-ounce pour.

The bar also offers 40 different whiskey flights for customers who want to sample more than one. Each flight provides a narrative that connects the whiskeys and engages the customer in a story of taste and tradition. Among the 40 is an affordable flight of cask-strength bourbons for $30 as well as a more expensive flight of exceptional Irish whiskeys for $150.

Tequilas too

The bar also offers 70 tequilas, with many extra-añejo (old) options.

“I think we have one of the best-curated tequila selections in the valley,” he said, “from the best producers in Mexico.”

Oberon’s tequila collection includes a Fuenteseca Reserva Extra Añejo from 1983 with a 1.5-ounce shot going for around $350.

Deciding what to stock entailed considerable research, self-education, and chasing sources.

Oregon is a liquor control state, so bottles must be purchased at Oregon liquor stores. There is an online database, albeit a bit clunky and not always up to date. Card has traveled to dozens of liquor stores around the state, sometimes disappointed after driving for hours to learn the database was wrong and the bottle he was after was not there.

“It’s become a sport for me after all of these years,” he said, “developing relationships with different liquor stores, tracing the OLCC database, and arriving at liquor stores early in the morning to beat out other whiskey collectors.”

Sometimes his research involves visiting competitors.

“It’s helpful when other bars have a bottle on their shelf that interests me,” he explained. “I’ll talk with the bar manager about the bottle, buy a shot, and think about how it fits with my current selection.”

Research abroad

Card’s research has included trips to Scotland and Japan.

“Those trips have significantly shaped the collection of whiskeys in several ways,” he said. “They allow me to immerse myself in the unique environment of each country, focusing solely on the type of whiskey at hand.

“In Scotland, I was able to devote my full attention to Scotch whiskey. In Japan, I explored the subtleties of Japanese single malts.”

It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

Both countries, he said, offered opportunities for hands-on education about whiskey production and distillation methods.

Card said customers have responded positively to the transformation of the bar.

“They appreciate the opportunity to explore and compare a wide range of whiskeys, especially through our flights,” he said. “Our flights have become conversation starters as patrons engage in discussions about the variety on offer.”

It’s clear that one of the things that sets Oberon’s apart from other whiskey bars is how Card has infused his personality into the selection and menu. Limited by space and budget, he’s done his best to bring his vision to fruition, with a goal to surprise on the upside.

“Oberon’s is quite small compared to the many world-renowned whiskey bars, and nothing makes us happier than customers being surprised by our selection,” he said.

To learn more about Oberon’s, and view its menu and selection of craft cocktails, go to oberonsashland.com.

Reach writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

Picture of Jim

Jim

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