Monday, September 19, 2011

Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project

Sometime, I might write a post comparing the world of craft beer to craft distilling.  For the purpose of this post, I would like to point out what I see is the key difference.  In the beer world, the big guns may sell the most, but they trail craft beer in terms of creativity.  When craft beer gained a foothold in the industry, BudMillerCoors tried to get in on the act.  The results are Blue Moon, Shocktop, Leinenkugel, and other beers that you might think are craft unless you knew better.  In the whisky world, the craft guys are lagging well behind, largely because of the time it takes to age whisky, but also because the big companies have been creative and ahead of market trends.  Jim Beam created the Small Batch collection, and now you'll see Knob Creek on any given bar in America.  Brown Forman, makers of Jack Daniels, the best selling whisky in the world, did not rest on their laurels but instead put out Woodford Reserve, a favorite of both novice and experienced whiskey drinkers.  But no company has been as forward thinking as Buffalo Trace.  From their sought after antique collection, to the Van Winkle line, to their experimental collection (think bourbon aged in wine barrels), they are the standard in American whisky innovation.  Nothing evidences this more than their Single Oak Project.  Here is a link to the press release explaining the single oak project.  In short, a decade or so ago Buffalo Trace took a bunch of trees, cut them in half for two single barrels, taking into account their rings per inch (aging speed), and then seasoned and charred them differently.  They then filled the barrels with a few different recipes of differing proofs, for a seemingly limitless number of combinations of final products.  The actual result is 192 barrels with 7 different key variables.  The idea is that folks will review the bottles before knowing the variables in their particular bottle, giving Buffalo Trace a better idea of what folks like and what makes their products tick.

Long story short, a couple of buddies got me a bottle for my birthday.  Wow, what a great gift (I'll save you some guys).  Once you have a bottle, you go online and follow a 12 question rating questionnaire as you taste the bourbon.  I had a little trouble reading the barrel number as the marker they wrote with rubbed off of the sticker on the bottle, but I'm pretty sure it's barrel 36.  I wound up rating mine out to about an 8 out of 10, and it turns out that it's the wheated recipe, probably the same one that makes Pappy 15, my favorite all time bourbon.  What a boon!  I wish I could say I knew it was a wheated before clicking "done."  I had my suspicions based on the luxurious mouthfeel and soft, round flavor profile. 

My only complaint about the project is the interface of the website.  It's kind of glitchy, e.g. it's saying I've reviewed 18 different barrels and giving me a different number of points than I've actually amassed (you get points for the number or reviews, creating your profile, and other functions, which leads to fun titles, I'm currently (and probably finally) a "barrel cooper."  Other than that, it's a fun project, and as an aside, a fantastic bourbon!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Book Review: Chasing the White Dog

Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw's Adventures in Moonshine, was a birthday gift from my wife (she knows me well).  It is one part history, one part experiment.  The history is the story of moonshine, or white lightning, and the folks that make it.  Watman destroys a lot of stereotypes about moonshiners and their customers.  Did you know that Philadelphia consumes most of the moonshine made in the country?   And some of it is some pretty toxic stuff.  Watman takes us through early American whisky history and through Prohibition.  He even introduces a fascinating theory: "the main result of Prohibition--whether that result was gained willfully or accidentally--was to destroy a liquor trade that could not be controlled and replace it with one that could be."  As he moves into modern moonshining, he introduces us to the Illegal Whiskey Task Force, and takes us through the 2008 Federal trial of accused moonshiner Joey Alton "Duck" Smith.  He loses me a little bit when he gets into the NASCAR story and it's connection with moonshine; I think he veers off course just a bit too far into the world of race cars.  But even that chapter has it's bright spots.

Intertwined through the history is the experimental portion of the book--Watman's efforts to make his own moonshine.  We get to go with him to his first tentative encounter at the homebrew supply story.  Then we journey into his basement where he sets up his still and produces the first few disgusting drops of liquor.  We rejoice when he actually has a bit of success.  But like all good moonshiners, Watman tells us he's done with it.  I even believed him when I read it, but upon reflection I'm not so sure...

Chasing the White Dog was a great read thoroughout my summer.  And nothing went better with it than a shot of whiskey, preferably some white dog.  Heaven Hill Trybox series, perhaps?  It tastes like corn syrup with a harsh burn, but at least it's legal. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

EPCOT: Drinking the Countries

Epcot is the second theme park that was built in Disneyworld, where my dad just took us for his retirement celebration.  It is also my favorite park in Disneyworld.  I'm not just saying that because they brought back Michael Jackson's Captain EO in 3D last summer, although that didn't hurt.  Epcot is split into two sections: Future World--consisting of a bunch of pavillions with themed attractions--and World Showcase--consisting of a loop of "countries" from around the world, with restaurants and attractions focusing on the culture (or at least stereotypes) of each country.  I think Walt Disney had originally envisioned Epcot to be something greater than a theme park--the acronym stands for stands of Experimental Prototypical Community of Tomorrow--and in some ways it is.  Take the Land boat ride, and see the world's first tomato "tree" that produced 36,000 tomatoes in 16 months.   Epcot has a lot of cool stuff to see and do, but on this trip, I had one objective: to drink the countries of the World Showcase.  My wife and I decided to try it in a very limited window, during Magic Hours on the only night we'd be in the park.  Magic Hours are times when the Disney parks are only open to Disney resort guests.  (Magic Hours and Fast Pass are like a Disney-fied classism; the provide a  feeling of elitism as you jump lines and stay in the park after it closes). 

World Showcase consists of 11 countries, each with food and drink--and employees, or "cast members," from those countries.  Let me take you on a tour of the world.

After taking the pleasant boat ride through the faux Mexican plaza, we hit the tequila bar.  We decided up front to split each drink, as we didn't want to ruin the rest of our trip with a killer hangover.  But when we ordered a tequila, the bartender gave a recommendation for a better tequila--El Mayor Blanco--for the same price as the El Jimador that I had ordered--and poured us each a shot (maybe the communication barrier?)  Oh well, down the hatch. 

We took the Norway log flume ride (don't anyone try to deny the thrill of being chased by the troll), then hit up the beverage cart.  The cart had Carlsberg beer (not from Norway, damn sponsors) and Linnie Aquavit, which is more or less a spiced vodka.  No communication barrier here, we shared one shot of the Norweigen Aquavit.  I can't say I really enjoyed it, but it was interesting to try.

We split a Tsingtao beer.  If you've ever had it, you know that it's a pretty straightforward mass produced lager.  It uses rice as an adjunct grain, which somehow seems more acceptable in a Chinese beer than in Budweiser, which also uses rice because of its key property: being cheap.

The German beer cart was out of control, there were these folks from New York who were obviously also trying to drink the countries.  I really appreciated their spirit, as they seemed to want to try everything and not just get hammered (though that was obviously on the agenda, too).  The cart had a couple of liqueurs, including Jager, and one of the guys from NYC tried to get me to order the liqueur that none of us could pronounce so he could see if it was good.  I opted instead for an Altenmunster Oktoberfest.  It was smooth and malty and typical of the style.

We shared a glass of wine in Italy.  I'm not ashamed to say we chose the cheapest red blend that they had.  It wasn't half bad.

This is where we ran into some trouble.  Most of this country was closed, and no one was serving any booze.  I was starting to think that Magic Hours are a fraud.  But we pressed on.  And two days later came back and had a Sam Adams Summer Ale to fill the gap.

Also closed.  We just missed the chance for some sake, and again had to get some two days later.  At this point we felt the quest was doomed and that the rest of the countries would be shutting down.

We were renewed in the quest in Morrocco, as two gentleman from a cart were serving Casablanca, or "Casa beer."  It wasn't bad, in fact I ordered it again when we went to Morocco for lunch a few days later.

Another cheap wine.  I think it was a white, sweet one, but I'm getting hazy by now.

United Kingdom
The party lived on in a pub that looked like many I hung out in while studying abroad in England.  We bumped into the NYC folks, and that same guy was asking for "Whatever is the most British.  Prefferably a shot."  The bartender recommended gin or Pimm's.  That would have been a good call, as we were so full from dinner and beer, but we had already ordered our Boddington's.  Cheers!

Now it gets weird.  The steakhouse bar was closed, no Mooseheads or Molsons in sight.  There was a beverage stand, I don't know if it was actually in "Canada," or just adjacent.  They were serving frozen Bacardi Mojitos.  Gross.  But we had to do it, and did.

In case you think that what we did didn't count, as we drank Japan and the U.S. on a different day, consider this.  For dinner just before arriving in Epcot, we ate at an African restaurant in the Animal Kingdom Lodge called Jiko (translation: the cooking place).  We had each had a different Ethiopian beer, and a glass of South African wine.  Perfect math!  Those two countries replaced the two we missed, the quest wasn't in vain!  As I mentioned we still went back to the two missed countries for good measure.  I do have to question the sense of closing some countries before others, and believe me if they were open we would have drank them.

As far as sharing most of the drinks...Like I said we had beer and wine before even arriving and didn't want to be smashed.  Also, we were on a tight schedule, having only a couple of hours to complete the loop.  I'd say we did a damn fine job.  But if you think you can do better, I'd like to see you try.