Tasting Whiskey: An Insider’s Guide to the Unique Pleasures of the World’s Finest Spirits is a new book from longtime whiskey and beer writer Lew Bryson. I follow Lew on Twitter and saw him pitch the book there. After deciding to spend 2015 learning about whiskey and bourbon I saw Amazon’s description of the book, below, and decided this was a great place to start learning.
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!
The Bourbon Classic was held last weekend in Louisville, Kentucky. The event drew bourbon fans from around the country to join with distillers, bartenders, restaurants, and media representatives in celebrating all things bourbon. I was lucky enough to be among them and I left feeling very lucky to be living so close to bourbon country.
The Run Down of Events:
The event began Friday night with a cocktail competition that paired local bartenders, chefs, and sponsor distilleries in pairing bourbon cocktails with small plates of food. The cocktails were great that night but the food was outstanding, including the best chicken and waffles I’ve ever had. Saturday afternoon began with a welcoming question and answer session with master distillers. MC’ed by Fred Minnick, author of Whiskey Women and bourbon authority for the Kentucky Derby Museum, the question and answer session featured Wes Henderson (Angel’s Envy,) Fred Noe (Jim Beam,) Jimmy Russell (Wild Turkey,) Harlen Wheatley (Buffalo Trace,) Tom Bulleit (Bulleit Bourbon,) Drew Kulsveen (Willett,) Willie Pratt (Michter’s,) Daniel Preston (Widow Jane,) Colin Spoelman (King’s County,) and Dave Schmier (Redemption.) This event was easily the highlight of the day for me. Listening to stories, learning more about the industry, and even witnessing some moments of tension on stage was all fascinating. We spent the rest of the afternoon in “Bourbon Classic University.” Guests got to attend two classes during the sessions including ‘Bourbon Recollections…A Trip Through Time’ with Fred Noe and Fred Johnson, as well as a variety of other classes like bourbon pairing with cheese, entertaining with bourbon tastings, bourbon and beer, bourbon and chocolate, and home bar essentials. The final event was a night of bourbon tastings, with books signings from well-known bourbon authors like Charles Cowdery and Joy Perrine.
You can read a more detailed and bourbon-focused recap of the event over on Bourbon & Banter and Charlie and discussed the event in detail on The Charlie Tonic Hour, but here are a few of the best moments of the event from my point of view.
– Hanging out with Jonathan Piercy of “What’s Cooking Now” and his lovely wife throughout the weekend.
– Spending time with Molly Wellmann at Friday’s cocktail event and seeing Tom Bulleit call her up to take a bow at the distiller’s welcome on Saturday. He credited her, along with countless other bartenders across the country, in helping to bring about the bourbon revival.
– Getting to talk once more with Wes Henderson from Angel’s Envy. Such a down-to-earth and great guy.
– Sitting in an audience and listening to stories from legends of the industry like Fred Noe and Jimmy Russell, as well as hearing the perspectives and explanations of newer and/or non-producing brands.
– Attending a session on bourbon tastings with a rep from Blanton’s that will help me when contacting bourbon tastings in the future.
– Talking with bourbon lovers from around the country and starting to feel more like I am a part of a wider, boozy community.
The Bourbon Classic was a success all around, despite the notable absence of one of my favorite distilleries, Four Roses. At a length of just a day and half, give or take a promotional dinner or hung-over breakfast, it is a perfect amount of time to immerse yourself in bourbon and the perfect balance between educational and drinking events. Bourbon lovers in Cincinnati who are ready to take their knowledge and enthusiasm to the next level should definitely look into making the drive south for next year.
It probably comes as no surprise that I’ve gotten to know the liquor store up the road from me, Brentwood Spirits, fairly well. Even though it is a small store, the staff are knowledgable and they have steered me toward some really nice choices in the past. So I was a little taken aback when I went in last week looking for something new to try and they recommended a flavored whiskey with a sophomoric name and a tin can. Flavored whiskeys are not something I typically recommend to whiskey lovers. So were they recommending it to me because they thought it was good, or because they were trying to unload some slow moving product? The price was only $19 a bottle, so I decided to give Chicken Cock flavored whiskey a try.
Chicken Cock is another historic whiskey brand that is being introduced with big money and marketing while attempting to trade on a long dead name’s history. According to my friend at Brentwood, although it had existed as brand since 1856, it was during prohibition that Chicken Cock moved production to Canada and started shipping their product back in tin cans. That was when they started adding flavor to mask the metallic aftertaste. That particular story isn’t on their website but they do claim that Chicken Cock was a favored brand at the Cotton Club during prohibition. It stopped being made shortly thereafter and is being reintroduced by a company out of South Carolina. Flavored vodka has done wonders for spirit sales in the last five years and it is no surprise that whiskey makers are looking to jump on this trend. The brand has been marketed heavily in the south, even benefitting from an almost too good to be believed hijacking earlier this year, and has just been introduced into Ohio. So how does it taste?
Chicken Cock currently comes in Southern Spiced, Cinnamon, and Root Beer flavors. Charlie and I tried the southern spiced on Bottoms Up and I have to admit that despite my prejudice against pseudo-history being used to sell rebottled, flavored whiskey, I actually kind of liked it. Chicken Cock’s motto is “More Heat, Less Sweet” and it lives up to it. At 86 proof it does bring the heat. Rather than tasting like syrup with a hint of alcohol, you can actually taste the whiskey. The southern spiced flavor is strong on the vanilla, with a nice touch of cinnamon and clove. I have heard flavored whiskey apologists making the claim that these spirits can serve as a stepping stone that allows non-whiskey drinkers to be converted to the taste. This is the first flavored whiskey that I can actually imagine being able to do that.
While this hasn’t exactly converted me to being a flavored whiskey drinker, this is one that I will be happy to bring a long to a bourbon tasting so that the non-whiskey drinkers can get a chance to enjoy something more approachable that does give them a bit of whiskey flavor. I would also recommend Chicken Cock as being a nice thing to sip from a flask while Christmas caroling since the flavoring would once again serve the purpose of masking any metallic weirdness and it has enough heat to warm you up on a cold night. If you have been wanting to experiment with drinking whiskey but just can’t stomach the taste, Chicken Cock might just be the flavor you are looking for.
I recently wrote a review of Cleveland Bourbon for Bourbon and Banter and I also recorded a podcast where we tried Cleveland in a blind taste test against Knob Creek. But since I paid $35 for the bottle I thought I better get my money’s worth by writing a review of Cleveland Bourbon for Queen City Drinks as well because I certainly won’t be getting my money’s worth by drinking it.
Cleveland Bourbon came out earlier this year, created by Cleveland businessman Tom Lix. Frustrated by the length of time it takes to make bourbon, Lix created a process to cut the aging time down to just over six months. First they age the bourbon in a charred white oak barrel for six months so that it meets the legal requirement to be called bourbon. Then they put the whiskey into a stainless steel container along with pieces of the barrel and subject to an intense pressurization system for a week. This pressure force-ages the bourbon by pushing the whiskey rapidly in and out of the barrel, mimicking the natural process that normally takes place over years in a rack house.
Bourbon lovers have been skeptical of this product and after tasting I have to say that they have good reason for their doubts. The most notable quality of the bourbon is the burn. This has a rough punchy aftertaste that grabs on to your throat and won’t let go. There are some barely discernible bourbon flavors, even a sweetness, that are present for just about half a second before the harsh taste of wood and a chemical burn hit you. Even several moments after swallowing the aftertaste sits on your tongue like an obnoxious party guest that just won’t leave.
With a burn like that I though trying it over ice would have to be an improvement. I poured it over my whiskey ice ball and the ice actually made it worse. The burning was less but the ice also took with it all of the more pleasant bourbon flavors. The only thing it left behind was the wood pulp flavor. A splash of chilled water proved to be the most palatable way to drink it. That splash allowed some more delicate notes, rose and a bit more lemon flavor, to come through while taming the worst of the aftertaste. That was the first time that I thought this might be able to be used in a cocktail if nothing else.
Despite the fact that I have not met a single person who actually enjoys this bourbon I actually expect that they will be in business for a while. There is a growing demand for bourbon all over the world and in foreign markets where there is huge demand, limited supply, and a lack of knowledge of what good bourbon tastes like I predict that Cleveland Bourbon will find an audience. For those of you closer to home who are looking to try a new, Ohio-based bourbon I strongly recommend that you give Cleveland a pass and check out Middle West Spirit’s Michelone Reserve instead. Their wheated bourbon is a unique product that takes bourbon in an interesting direction without leaving you with an acetone aftertaste.
[Ed.: We’re always open to guest posts here on Queen City Drinks, if you want to do 1 or 100 just shoot me an email at Tom@QueenCityDrinks.com. This post is from Blake Daniels a stay-at-home dad from Upstate NY that enjoys the simpler things in life. You would most likely find him building forts with his boys, cooking delicious meals for his wife, brewing and enjoying beer or mowing the lawn.]
Whether you’re a professional brewmaster, amateur homebrewer, or someone that simply enjoys finer beer and liquor, a home bar is something that might make the perfect addition to your house or man cave. You may have seen some extravagant home bars on television or in movies and thought to yourself, “that’s too rich for my blood”. However, you can have your very own home bar for a reasonable price by cutting out the more luxurious components and bringing it back to basics. At its core, a home bar should consist of the spirits and drinks that you enjoy, as well as the accessories you need to enjoy them properly.
Things to drink
The most obvious thing that you need is alcohol. Without it, your bar is just a collection of cool glasses and mixing equipment. Since you want to be prepared for the varying tastes that your guests may have, you should go with a range of whiskeys, scotches, vodka, gin, rum, beers and a seemingly endless stream of other essential spirits. Now that you have the ingredients, the other things you’ll want to focus on include specialized glassware, bartending equipment, and some aesthetic touches.
Things to drink out of
There are two main types of glassware for a typical bar; one for drinks and the other for ingredients. To cover the basics for both, every bar should start with at least a few of the following:
- Whiskey Glasses – These glasses are versatile, can also be used for scotches and bourbons, and are necessary for a number of specialty mixed drinks
- Beer Glasses – When it comes to beer, many stylesrequire a special glass to enhance the flavor and aroma, here are a few examples along with the beer(s) theyshould be used with.
- Tulip – Belgians, Imperial IPAs and Sour beers
- Weizen – Wheat beers (American, German, etc.)
- Shaker Pint – Pretty much any style, but is best reserved for your BudMillerCoors drinking friends
- Mason Jars – Easy to find and perfect for storing things like simple syrups and alcohol infused fruit
In all seriousness, if you can’t invest in dozens of different beer glasses, shaker pints will work well with most styles. If you decide to go with standard pint glasses, you can at least add some personality to them by picking up a personalized set.
Things to make drinks with
It’s not all about glassware when it comes to a home bar, it’s also about the tools of the trade. A well-prepared bar is what separates the boys from the men. You never want to be asked for a drink order and be caught off guard. The most immediate image in people’s minds when they think of bartending is usually the stainless-steel shaker with strainer and maybe a muddler (used to mash fruit, herbs and spices in order to release their flavor); however, jiggers (used for measuring small amounts of liquor), bar spoons, whiskey stones (keeps the drink cool without watering it down) and an ice bucket are equally as important. These tools will provide you with everything that you need to raise your craft to a professional level.
A place for all your things
The final and most important task to tackle is how to set-up or build the bar itself. It won’t do you much good to simply have all of these items sitting around your kitchen, you need to give them a home. A simple solution is to convert one of the cabinets you already have in your house. This is done by adding shelves and drawers into the space available, creating a secret storage unit that fits in perfectly with your other furniture. Using mirrored glass for shelving is always a nice touch, and including special napkins and towels can really impress your guests. For those who would prefer a more permanent setup and aren’t afraid of using a few power tools, you can easily craft your own bar using a set of DIY plans.
Remember, the goal of setting up your own home bar is to create a space where you can relax and enjoy spending time with family and friends. This is a chance for you to be creative and have fun with the process, which will make the final product that much more enjoyable.
Back in the heady days (of 2 weeks ago) when folks (or just me) were hounding around town trying to track down every last bottle of Founder’s KBS (my review) Josh told me to look for Epic’s Big Bad Baptist Imperial Stout. This is a bourbon or whiskey, barrel aged beer just like KBS and from what I’ve been told it has a very similar profile. Luckily though, unlike KBS, it’s much more available much more often. I scored this bottle at Arrow Wine & Liquor up in Centerville and they had 2 more bottles left. Each batch of the Big Bad Baptist is slightly different than the others and this one, batch #10, has the following:
Big Bad Baptist Imperial Stout #10
Brewed on August 24, 2012. Packaged November 15, 2012.
This release was aged in both whiskey and bourbon barrels, primarily first-use whiskey casks, and second-use bourbon casks. Additional dark chocolate and fruit flavors mingle with the whiskey and bourbon notes.
Muntons Maris Otter Malt, Briess 2-Row Brewer Malt, Crystal Muntons, Weyermann Light Munich Malt T1, 2-Row chocolate malt, 2-row black malt, roasted barley
Ibis Coffee (Gayo Mountain Sumatra Dark) and Cocoa Nibs.
Nugget, Chinook, Cascade
Sometimes craft beer is weird. Brewers of beer (or at least craft beer) are an inherently creative bunch. With brewers, like bakers, chefs, and pretty much anyone else who uses their noggins to turn a concept into a finished product, you’ll find that the concept itself is often as important as the process that leads to the finish product. And boy, oh boy, do the Quaff Bros. have some concepts. Strong – sour – barrel aged – stout- wheat – IPA, their creations run the gamut. I thought Sour Grapes (check out my review) was weird, but apparently I had seen nothing yet.
Obviously, following a sour brown ale aged in bourbon barrels with wine grapes (yep), they release a beer that attempts to mimic a classic cocktail. Manhattan Project is a rye beer, aged in rye whiskey barrels with maraschino cherries and bitters. Like I said, craft beer is weird.
Anyways, on to the good stuff. Continue reading “Quaff Bros.’ Manhattan Project”
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.
Kentucky Ale, and more recently, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, have been sources of Lexington pride for many years now. In fall 2011 the city was abuzz with the release of Town Branch, the first bourbon produced by the same company. That’s right, Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co doesn’t just make good beer. They are now in the whiskey business and they have the shiny new distillery to go with it. The beautiful new building is the first bourbon distillery to be built in Lexington for 100 years. The facility was opened in fall 2012 and it is already a popular stop on the bourbon trail if the line of people waiting for the 4:00 tour last Saturday was any indication.
Last weekend Charlie and I were lucky enough to get a private tour with Tony, a tour guide and brewer with Alltech, as well as Nate-the-marking-guy who was there to make sure we stayed in line (and just maybe to grab a tasting for himself.) We got a tour of the grounds and then a chance to try all of the spirits that Alltech is currently selling: Town Branch bourbon, Pearse Lyons Reserve malt whiskey, and the Bluegrass Sundown, a coffee infused with bourbon and brown sugar.
I will say that this was one of the better tours that I’ve done. It was the right amount of science, history, and alcoholic lore to make it approachable to the casual drinker as well as enough meat for those who already know a little more. It was also worth noting that they give more of a tasting education than most distilleries. Tony took us in hand and firmly walked us through each step in the tasting, even slightly scolding me when I started to reach for my whiskey too soon, and gave us a lot of guidance on what to look for in the taste. An experienced taster might find the structure a little confining but for the majority of people who are going through the tour I think it would be helpful. The spirits were all presented in a way that makes them more approachable for the casual drinker as well. The whiskey was served with water, the bourbon over ice, and the Sundown was served with hot water and cream.
As with the tour and the tasting experience, the spirits to seem to be aimed at the novice whiskey drinker. Town Branch is not a bad bourbon by any means. The nose was clean and light and it had a taste to match. Very smooth and mellow. Sweet with hints of vanilla and a light finish with very little burn. It is probably not a bottle that I would reach for on a regular basis but at a price point in the mid-twenties you could so worse, especially if you like a smooth drink with minimal heat. Likewise I enjoyed the whiskey but felt that they had favored cleanness and smoothness over flavor and heat a little too much. I was however quite smitten with the Kentucky Sundown. Strongly coffee in flavor with enough bourbon to make it interesting. The addition of the heavy cream made this a decadent after-dinner treat that I look forward to repeating again soon.
After the spirits tasting we got to try the beer, something not normally on the tour, which is a shame because I think beer is really where Alltech shines. I tried their Kols-style beer, the Kentucky Ale, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale and their brand new Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout. First I tried their Kols-style beer which was incredibly refreshing. Notes of citrus, smooth, and bubbly it was an almost champagne-like beer. It would be an excellent beer for someone who normally likes wine. I have enjoyed Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale in the past but I’d never had the Kentucky Ale and didn’t realize that the two were the same beer. Tasting the pre and post barrel aged versions of the same beer was one of the most interesting aspects of the tour. Both are very well-balanced and easy to drink. Finally, I got to try the coffee-infused Bourbon Barrel Stout. It was too heavy on the coffee for my taste but Charlie really enjoyed it.
If you want to hear more about the experience and listen to Tony talk more knowledgeably about these drinks you can hear the spirits tasting in the drinks segment of Episode 57 of The Charlie Tonic Hour and the beer tasting will in Episode 58.
I do highly recommend checking out the tour at Alltech. They have a beautiful new building and the staff were all super friendly, extremely professional, and very knowledgable. Lexington has so much to offer in the way of history, food, music, and culture and now they have a distillery right in the heart of downtown. What more could any city ask for?