Paper City BBQ in Westbrook has an extensive selection of whiskeys. Photo by Ben Moore

There are certain things you can reasonably expect at a neighborhood barbecue joint. The pervasive scent of wood smoke and paprika, for example. Boxes of napkins and sauces on tables and neon beer signs. Odds are good that classic rock or Garth Brooks will be playing – quite possibly from a jukebox. And rusty farm equipment on the walls isn’t out of the question.

But what you don’t necessarily expect to find? A selection of rare bourbons and high-end single malt scotches that would make many a tony lounge jealous.

And yet those are the kind of spirits anchoring the bar program at Paper City BBQ, the new spot in Westbrook – where barbecue had been scarce. It’s taken over the former space of Big Fin Poké and, to be sure, the family-friendly newcomer checks plenty of the above-listed barbecue joint boxes. But this many premium and rare spirits served alongside such casual fare is hardly standard. And I am here for it. Literally.

As I took a seat on a recent weekend night at one of the high-tops flanking the wooden U-shaped bar, bar manager Mike Ward was laughing with patrons and pulling pints. The vast black brick wall behind him holds, natch, a jukebox (this one takes credit cards and bellows Cheap Trick). The obligatory signs for brews – Red Stripe, PBR, Coors Light and the like – abound. Across the 3,000-square-foot space, parents munch brisket in wooden booths to the soft thud, thud, thud of teens playing Hoop Fever and video games in the far corner. If your local watering hole, Chucky Cheese and a Southern pitmasters’ festival had a love child, it might feel a little something like this.

But we’re focused on drinks, so I eye the list of local brews on tap – Allagash White, Mast Landing IPA and Maine Beer Co. Lunch, among them – plus bottles and a stable of tallboys (including a few hard ciders and seltzers), and a rotating number of sours.

The concise list of well-blended specialty cocktails, meanwhile, is an apt foil for Chef Matt Burns’s menu of varied barbecue styles. The Main St. Martini ($11) takes Tito’s and Aperol, laces them with elderflower liqueur, and dashes in lemon juice and triple sec. It cuts straight through a plate of ribs. And the Oaxacan Margarita ($12) with Mezcal, smoked pineapple, Grand Marnier, lime and Tan and Reaper Dust around the rim is a spot-on match for dishes like hot honey pork wings.


An Old Fashioned from Paper City BBQ in Westbrook. Photo by Ben Moore

And then there are the bourbons, from better-knowns such as Maker’s Mark ($11) to loftier pours like Whistle Pig Smokestack ($24). In the single malt arena, there are premiums like Oban and Glenlivit, but also hard-to-find bottles like Ardbeg Corryvreckan ($34), the heady dram named after the world’s second largest whirlpool, north of Islay.

“I wanted to get my hands on some rare bottles,” Ward told me later over the phone.”I even have a bottle of Elmer T. Lee (the exquisite single-barrel whiskey) in back. It might be the only one I ever get.”

If some of those sticker prices seem steep, there’s a happy hour from 4-5 p.m. every day they’re open. And if you’re jonesing to try a few of those spirits, mark your calendar for Whiskey Wednesday, offering half-price pours.

“I want to give more people the chance to try different styles of whiskey,” explained Ward. “Everyone always said Westbrook didn’t have a barbecue place. But it didn’t have a good whiskey list, either. Now we’ve got both.”

Alexandra Hall is a longtime New England lifestyle writer who lives in Maine.

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