If you are unaware of March First Brewing, don’t be hard on yourself. They’ve been intentionally flying under the radar for a few weeks, slowly seeping out to bars and restaurants around town. But this is only the very beginning of perhaps the most ambitious Cincinnati brewery yet.
Whiskey lovers will devour this fresh and comprehensive guide to everything there is to know about the world’s whiskeys, including Scotch and bourbon as well as Tennessee, Irish, Japanese, and Canadian whiskeys. You’ll learn about the types of whiskey and the distilling traditions of the regions where they are made, how to serve and taste whiskeys to best appreciate and savor them, how to collect and age whiskey for great results, and much more. There are even recipes for cocktails and suggestions for food pairings. This is the guide no whiskey drinker will want to be without!
I have written in the past about the boom in craft distilling and how heartbreaking it can be when the cute little distillery with the beautiful bottle that you just paid $50 for turns out to be putting out less than impressive product. So it was with excitement but also a little cynicism that I opened my box of samples from Few Spirits in Evanston, IL. The samples included three different gins, a bourbon, and a rye whiskey. My first thought on seeing the whiskeys was to wonder where they were sourcing from. When I read the informational materials and learned that Few ferments, distills, and bottles all of its products from scratch in their distillery I had to reevaluate my expectations. Turns out that the Few Spirits blew those expectations out of the water. Charlie and I tried the three gins included in the sampler, Few American Gin, Barrel Gin, and Standard Issue Gin on Episode 137 of The Charlie Tonic Hour and I can tell you that it was one of the most enthusiastic drink segments of the show’s history. Here are the details of the three gins.
Few American Gin: First the basics. It’s made with a bourbon mash of 70% corn, 20% wheat, and 10% malted barley and flavored with 11 botanicals including juniper, bitter orange, lemon peel and fresh vanilla and weighs in at a modest 80 proof. The nose is sweet, heavy on the corn but I can smell mint and vanilla as well. It is smooth with a gentle burn on the finish. The juniper isn’t overpowering but it is not as citrus heavy as other American-style gins I have tried. There is almost a hoppy quality to the flavor but it is nicely balanced by the sweeter notes. The vanilla is surprisingly easy to pick out. When I watered it down I felt that the flavors got too diluted but I think this would make a lovely gin and tonic. Retails for $39.99.
Few Barrel Gin: The info materials state that the Barrel Gin is made with a more neutral base spirit which I am interpreting as having fewer botanicals than their American or Standard Issue gin. Then they age the gin in a mix of new American Oak and used bourbon and rye barrels. The Barrel Gin is 93 proof. Barrel aged gins have been popping up all over the place lately. I can see how some people might think that they are a bit gimmicky I have to admit that I kind of love them. They just taste like nothing else out there. Few Barrel Gin has a lot more body and spice than other bourbon barrel gins I have tried. I think using a blend of different barrels was a very good choice. The predominant flavors are mint and a sweet cinnamon with notes of vanilla. The only problem with barrel gins that I have found is that they really don’t work in cocktails for me. Few recommends making a “Ginhattan” with it but I am skeptical. So far I have stuck with sipping it. Retails for $49.99.
Few Standard-Issue Gin: This gin is 114 proof. I mention that first because the high-proof is a big part of what defines this style of gin, which is often referred to as navy strength gin. The story behind this is that when British sailors received their daily ration of gin it had to have enough alcohol so that the gunpowder could still ignite if the gin was accidentally spilled on it. Along with the higher alcohol content a navy gin would have been drier than American gins. To balance this dryness Few added a hefty dose of fennel to balance it out. The result is a gin that will put hairs on your chest but is also surprisingly reminiscent of those candies you get at an Indian restaurant. Surprisingly smooth for the proof, the juniper flavors come on strong and there is a bitterness you can feel on the tongue rather than taste, but the finish leaves a strong impression of licorice. With water the burn was greatly diminished and the softer flavors came out more. I think this would be a great cocktail gin, perhaps with a gimlet. Retails for $39.99.
Right now Few Spirits are not available in stores in Ohio and Kentucky but you can order them online. Next time I am in Chicago I will make a point of visiting the distiller and picking up a few bottles.
With so many micro-distilleries popping up around the country I thought it would be nice to review a vodka from one of the early success stories from the micro-distilling movement. Tito’s Handmade Vodka is celebrating its 16th year in business. Tito’s was stared by a guy named Tito Beveridge (with a name like that how do you know go into the alcohol business) who started out making vodka infusions as gifts and somehow ended up founding the first legal distillery in Texas. Since winning a double gold medal in the World Spirits Competition they have come to be known as one of the go-to brands of vodka for people who are serious about cocktails but also aware of price. I have even heard of some up-scale bars and restaurants who are using Tito’s as their well vodka so that the taste of their carefully crafted cocktails don’t get ruined by sub-par vodka. This really is the path that every micro-distiller around the country is hoping to follow, although few of them look ready to compete at this point.
Despite having been aware of the brand for many years I had not actually gotten around to buying a bottle until now. Tito’s is a 100% corn vodka and it does have the characteristic sweet and creamy taste that most of the corn vodka’s I’ve tried also have. But the other corn vodka’s I’ve tried also have a lot more of a flavor to them. And when it comes to vodka that is not necessarily a good thing. Tito’s is incredibly smooth, with a creamy mouthfeel and just a hint of sweetness before you do taste the alcohol at the end. But it is not a burning alcohol and you can drink it without making cheap vodka face and coughing. One reason for the difference is that Tito’s microdistilled in an old-fashioned pot stills and so they have more control over the process than with column stills. I would say it is very similar in character and quality to Buckeye Vodka but is a few dollars cheaper per bottle and, in my opinion, slightly better. Don’t be put off by the cheap looking bottle and plastic cap. Part of Tito’s mission statement is keeping their product as affordable as possible and they are clearly not investing too much in bottle. Instead they use quality ingredients, a careful distillation process, and then distill it just enough (six times) to get out the impurities and strong corn flavors but not so much that all that is left is the ethanol flavor. So there you have it. If you want to support local vodka at an affordable price go with Buckeye but if you want a bottom line better vodka for an even better price, go with Tito’s.
If you want to listen to a tasting and review of Tito’s you can hear it on this week’s episode of Bottom Up.
As some of you may know, I do a weekly podcast called the Charlie Tonic Hour. My co-host Charlie and I like to describe it as an alcohol-soaked culture podcast with a side of sexy but mostly it’s just Charlie and I discussing music, events, popular culture and whatever else crosses our mind. Every show has had a “bottoms up” segment where we talk about a drink of some kind. It’s always been my favorite part of the show, a chance to talk to local bartenders, try a new spirit, beer, or wine, or just practice mixing up a new cocktail to try. Well, I liked it so much that I talked Charlie into starting a second podcast that was all alcohol. It’s called Bottoms Up with Ginny and Charlie, and it goes live every Friday. At just about 15 minutes in length, it’s a short shot of alcohol to kick off your weekend. Charlie and I will be heading out to local bars to talk to people, attending Cincinnati events, trying new things and making new drinks. If you like cocktails, spirits, beer, or just the local drinks scene, I think you will enjoy the show. We started a few weeks ago with Angel’s Envy Bourbon, and I thought I would go ahead and share it with the good people here at Queen City Drinks. If you like what you hear, you can subscribe through iTunes or download it from the site. Give it a listen and let me know what you think.
Created by Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson, Angel’s Envy is worth coveting. Aged up to 6 years in charred white oak barrels and finished in ruby port wine casks, Angel’s Envy is an artisan’s masterpiece, unlike any other bourbon.
When Wine and Spirits Magazine calls you a “Living Legend,” it should mean one thing. You’ve still got work to do. Lincoln Henderson wasn’t content resting on his laurels. He’s always been a malcontent. You don’t spend 40 years defining the spirits industry and earn a spot in the Bourbon Hall of Fame without a few unconventional ideas.
Angel’s Envy is what happens when 200 years of tradition meet an independent master craftsman’s instinct to improve. It’s a total return to craft first, hand-blended batches of 8 to 12 barrels at a time. We start with the finest local ingredients distilled in micro-batches and aged in American oak. Lincoln personally tastes every barrel throughout each step of the process to ensure that the spirit meets his malcontent’s standards.
This would be enough for any other premium bourbon, but Lincoln had other ideas. That’s why we finish every batch in ruby port wine casks. There’s no set time for the process. It’s only Angel’s Envy when we say it is. The ruby port wine finish adds subtle nuance without ruining the integrity of the bourbon. The result is a rich, exceptionally smooth and rare bourbon. Sin aside, we work every day to inspire envy, even if it takes a little longer.
When it comes to bourbon (and pretty much all spirits), the treatment of the distilled liquids are just as important as how and with what the spirit is made up of in the first place. Buffalo Trace has been on the forefront of bourbon tinkering with their Experimental Collection. Since 2006 they’ve been releasing bottles with either various non-traditional mashes (rice, for instance) or strange treatments of reasonably normal mashes. The scale of this experimental work is huge.
In 1987 Buffalo Trace Distillery began experimenting. Since then Buffalo Trace has produced over 1,500 experimental barrels of whiskey now aging in its warehouses. Each of the barrels has unique characteristics making each one different from all others. Some examples of these experiments include unique mash bills, types of wood, barrel toasts, and more.
Buffalo Trace periodically bottles a few of these experimental barrels and makes them available to consumers. Each experiment that is released is very limited and rare.
This week I finally got around to reviewing the bottle of 1792 Ridgemont Reserve bourbon that was given to Charlie and I over Christmas. Of course that doesn’t mean the bottle hadn’t been opened, just that I hadn’t actual sat down with it to really savor and contemplate the flavors. It is a good problem to have when your liquor cabinet is so full that you are spoilt for choice when it comes to what to write about.
1792 is a small batch bourbon put out by Barton Brands Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky which also puts out Very Old Barton and Kentucky Tavern. The 1792 is 93.7 proof and aged for eight years. It also happens to be the official toasting bourbon of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. The retail price is usually in the $22-26 range which puts it cheaper than Woodford Reserve and in a similar range to Knob Creek. The 1792 is commonly available at most liquor stores in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana.
This is a very nice choice for a sipping bourbon, especially if you like a high rye content to your whiskey. I was drinking it neat as I reviewed it and found it enjoyable. The nose has fruity notes and I got the smell of bananas and vanilla in addition to a nice spicy prickle of grain. The alcohol content is high enough to give a satisfying burn on the finish but mellow enough to allow you to really savor the drink before swallowing.
The 1792 doesn’t have the strong sweet taste on the front like some other premium bourbons do. The rye really came through with its trademark spiciness and buzz to the tongue. This made it more difficult for the sweeter side of the bourbon to come through but I did get the softer flavors of apple and vanilla. The finish had a strong oak kick with a little bit of cloves and coffee. I found this bourbon to be different enough to be engaging but perhaps heavier on the rye than I personally enjoy. You won’t find the dramatic highs and lows of something like Booker’s but then I wouldn’t expect that of a bourbon at this age and price. On the other hand it is a more complex flavor experience than something like Town Branch which is actually more expensive than The 1792. Basically it all comes down to what you enjoy. If you like ryes and have less of a sweet tooth than other bourbon drinkers this is going to be an excellent match for you. If you really go for sweetness or a mellow gentleness from your bourbon this might not win you over as quickly. Either way I can objectively say that this is a well-crafted bourbon for the price and something I would consider giving as a gift myself.
You can hear the tasting that inspired the review on Episode 62 of The Charlie Tonic Hour.
Well, that’s a novel concept. I love me some barrel-aged beer. That’s largely because I love bourbon (the primary spirit barrels used for aging beer) and I love what a good bourbon barrel treatment will do for a beer. Oak, caramel, coconut and, of course, bourbon meld together with the base beer to make something special when it’s done right. When it’s not done well, it makes a boozy, bad beer, but that’s no different than making a subpar base beer in the first place. One such bourbon barrel-aged beer is New Holland Dragon’s Milk, a very readily-available (in both 12oz and 22oz formats) imperial stout made in our neighbor to the north (Michigan, for those of you geographically-challenged). I’m not the hugest fan of it, but it’s wide availability, small bottle format, and price point make it a good option for getting into barrel-aged stouts or for picking up when you don’t want to drop the dime or time to find something superior.
This bourbon from the same New Holland takes the concept and flips it on its head. You acquire barrels that once held bourbon and fill them with imperial stout to make Dragon’s Milk. Once you’ve filled those barrels enough times with beer (not sure if New Holland reuses barrels), then what? Break them up? Reuse the barrels for planters or decoration? Toss them? In what seems to be, at the very least, a product concept and profit maximizing burst of brilliance, they went another route. Why not – wait for it – put bourbon back into the barrels? At worst, you end up with a bourbon that isn’t affected by the prior beer in it at all and just tastes like bourbon. At best, you somehow get to impart the spirit with some characteristics of the beer and create something really unique. Either way, you get to sell it for $30.00 or so and the concept is cool enough that people will buy it (case in point: Me).
Concept aside, two important questions: how does it taste and is the beer factor identifiable? To begin with, at 80 proof, this is not a bruiser of a bourbon. My sweet spot is somewhere between 86 and 100 proof, with everything approaching and exceeding 100 to be too “hot” to enjoy straight and most things below 86 seeming too watery and dulled. This is most definitely a mellow bourbon, with no harshness or tannins from the oak present at all. You get a lot of caramel, a little corn, a little oak, a fair amount of sweetness, and some chocolate. It’s not the most complicated bourbon in the world, but it’s fun to try to pick out the impact of the beer. I’m certain that the hint of chocolate is picked up from it and I’m about 50/50 on whether the rounded edges and mellowness is due to the additional aging in the beer barrels or the fact that it’s only 80 proof. It’s definitely an easy drinker, even straight.
So, at $32.99 (Party Source), is it worth it to pick up a bottle? I’d say this: if you see it at a bar, try a pour first. If you really like it, go for it. I’m just hesitant to pay $33 for a neat concept when I live so close to Kentucky and all the variety of bourbon that entails. For that price you can buy a handful of very good single barrel bottles, including a few of Party Source’s Private Barrel Selection. I think that is a better use of money, but hey, if you have $33 bucks burning a hole in your pocket and want to give it a try, I wouldn’t argue hard against you not buying a bottle.
Similar to Josh, I have recently become more intrigued by bourbon. When the chance came up to participate in the bourbon trail with some friends, I jumped at the opportunity. Below is a rundown of the tour we took. I recommend a similar path to anyone thinking about the bourbon trail themselves
Friday – Lexington, KY
Stop 1 – Four Roses
It was a good thing Four Roses was the first stop on the tour because we would have been extremely underwhelmed had it in been at any other time. The tour consisted of a 15 minute video, and then the same information on the video was regurgitated on a 15 minute walking tour of the facility. The facility was by far the smallest of the distilleries, and it was also shut down for the summer (it does not produce bourbon in the summer because of the heat).
On a brighter note, the bourbon here was phenomenal. There were 3 tastings offered: the standard yellow label, the small batch, and the single barrel. The small batch at Four Roses may have been my favorite bourbon of the trip.
Stop 2 – Wild Turkey
We didn’t actually take a tour here, but from the looks of the gift shop and building, I don’t regret this. The set up was by far the most “gimmicky” of all the stops. I’d love to hear someone who has been on the tour chime in, but it seemed like a good place to get a quick sample and move on.
Stop 3 – Woodford Reserve
One of the funniest things I noticed on the tour is that the customers at each distillery matched the brands persona to a T. This was particularly the case with Woodford Reserve, where the average patron had on khaki pants and a sport coat.
The grounds that Woodford is on are absolutely gorgeous. The tour was also a very good and comprehensive one. You got to see the end to end bourbon making process from start to finish, as well as see a barrel aging room and the bottling line. This was the only tour that charged for attending ($5), and the sampling was the most underwhelming of any distillery – a single serving of Woodford Reserve served in a plastic shot glass. Our tour guide was also a bit of a stick in the mud, and I could see the tour being even better with a different guide.
Stop 4 – Buffalo Trace
We did the “Hard Hat Tour” at Buffalo Trace which requires advance reservations. If you do the bourbon trail, this is the number one must stop on the trail and I cannot recommend this tour enough. It was the most comprehensive, real view of the distilleries we saw all weekend. Plus, Buffalo Trace just looks like the type of place bourbon should be made at. Many of the buildings are from the 1800’s, and the facility itself is a bit of a multi-story maze that seems like the bourbon equivalent of Willy Wonka’s factory. We got to taste fermenting wort at several stages of fermentation, as well as uncut bourbon before it went into the barrel. Our tour guide was also hilarious and a straight shooter, at one point telling us he didn’t understand all the fuss over Pappy Van Winkle and saying there was not a single experimental batch of Buffalo Trace that he cared for much.
The tasting here consisted of Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, White Dog, Rain Vodka, and a bourbon cream. I preferred the standard Buffalo Trace to Eagle Rare. They also had tasting glasses signed by Pappy Van Winkle’s grandson who runs the company now, which was a cool surprise. Also, technically Buffalo Trace is not part of the official “bourbon trail” anymore, but that is just semantics.
Stop 1 – Maker’s Mark
Maker’s Mark was my second favorite tour of the weekend, but I must warn you that it is an absolute haul to get to. It is at least 40 minutes further than any other distillery on the trail and a solid hour and a half from Louisville. However, it is still worth seeing. The tasting here consisted of Maker’s Mark and Maker’s Mark 46, and they probably have the coolest gift shop of any stop on the bourbon trail. You can also dip your own bottle of Maker’s Mark in the gift shop.
Stop 2 – Heaven Hill
There are three tours offered here; a 30 minute one, a 60 minute one, and an hour and a half one. They don’t distill the bourbon on site here, so the more comprehensive tours just consist of videos and seeing the aging rooms. We opted for the 30 minute tour and were glad that we did. This was probably the most boring stop on the trail, but the bourbon was fairly good. We got to taste Evan Williams Single Barrel.
Stop 3 – Jim Beam
This was the 7th stop in two days, and since our entire group was hung over from the night before still, I was at the point of ready to be done by this stop. However, the tour was surprisingly very cool, and we got to see their barrel house and learn about their blending program. The tasting here was for Booker’s Single Barrel (135 proof) and Honey Tea Red Stag. The Booker’s was extremely tasty for how strong it was.
Ever been on the tour? Let me know if you agree or disagree! If you haven’t, it makes for a very fun weekend. And make sure to check out the Holy Grale when in Louisville!