Friday, September 28, 2012

GQ Article Oversight

This month's GQ has a beer feature, "The Pursuit of Hoppiness."  I was pleased to see Philly make the list of best beer cities.  It featured a number of great beer spots around town, from Standard Tap and Memphis Taproom in NoLibs to Monks in Rittenhouse and Alla Spina on North Broad.  But it left out my entire neighborhood.  Here is my response:

Dear GQ,
While I was happy to see Philly get some well deserved hype for being one of the best beer cities in the States, I was very disappointed that none of the points of interests mentioned were in South Philly, which boasts one of the best bar and restaurant scenes in the city. The number one oversight was The South Philadelphia Taproom. SPTR chef Scott Schroeder serves up the best gastropub fare in the entire city. The specials are the best part of an excellent food menu (think grilled pocono trout, fried chicken, and ramen). And the beer list is fantastic. Standard Tap's focus on local beer is cool, but without those shackles SPTR boasts a much more balanced list on an average day, with entries from accross the country and globe, and the biggest Founders account outside of Michigan. Their special events rock too, from the annual Wheat Beer Fest to the Philly Beer Week staple Extreme Beer Brunch with rare brews from Russian River and Founders (like Kentucky Breakfast Stout).
Other South Philly beer spots include POPE, The Bottle Shop, and Brew, a coffee shop/beer takeout joint with the perfect name, run in conjunction with the folks from SPTR. You also may have mentioned that our Beer Week is the original and best.  

Thanks, Greg

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Makers Mark vs. Weller Special Reserve

I have been on somewhat of a "wheater" kick, with the warm summer weathering lingering, a soft wheated bourbon on the rocks can be rather refreshing compared to a spicy, complex ryed bourbon.  Makers is probably the second best known bourbon on the planet (next to Jim Beam).  It's remarkable for its consistency--they only use 19 barrels per batch.  It has mass appeal, due to having most of the pleasant characteristics of bourbon without the stereotypical burn.  It's about as simple and straightforward as whisky gets.  Weller Special Reserve claims to be the original wheater.  It used to have an age statement of 7 years, and is part of the Weller line of bourbons.  For me, this one is the closest comparison as it's relatively the same age/proof (both are 90 proof).  Maker's will run you about $25 and Weller about $21.  I will say off the bat that I think all of the other Wellers are better than the Special Reserve.  The 12 year is nice, and the Antique 107 offers a lot of flavor and value.  And of course, WL Weller is a star in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection each year. 

Both bourbons pour a yellow/gold color, the Weller having a tinge more russet color

When I toured Makers, the guide said, "Smell it, is it pleasant or unpleasant?"  Not the most scientific tasting, but it is pleasant.  Makers smells like creamed corn and vanilla with an oak veneer.  The Weller offers a bit more complexity on the nose, some corn, fruit, oak bitterness, and maybe a chocolate note.  I'd give Weller the slight edge here. 

Makers surprises with a bit of a punch of cinnamon spice up front.  After the initial rush, it's sweet and simple.  It's not cloying in its sweetness.  There's just not much to it.  The Weller is super simple as well.  Jim Murray points out some "subtle spice," and it's there but distant.  In a straight pour I'd choose Maker's, as it's pleasant through and through, and the Weller tastse ever so slightly, well, cheap.  On the rocks, fruit flavors seems to burst through with the Weller.  Despite, or maybe bc/ of the low proof, I actually prefer both of these whiskies on ice.  I had them in my Glencarin glass but they don't garner enough respect in that format--they just aren't interesting enough to sip and ponder.  On ice, they are both quite nice, but I think the Weller does a bit better. 

Neither offer much on the finish.  Quick fade and gone.  If anything, the Maker's has a slightly unpleasant finish.  I can't put my finger on it but I didn't love it.  Coin flip on this one. Maybe a slight edge to Weller.

I've said it before, Maker's is the Disney of bourbon.  It's simple, sweet, and unchallenging, wrapped up in a neatly packaged wax sealed bow.  Sometimes that's all you want.  But I'd probably choose a few cheaper, screwtop bourbons to satisfy the itch for something simple, like Four Roses Yellow label at about $18.  Weller has the Buffalo Trace backing and a cool history of its own, but as with any product that's one in a lineup, you are bound to have a weak link, and this is it.  I'd give Maker's the edge in the intangibility category, for the same reasons Disney is better than other theme parks.  As far as value, if you catch Maker's on sale it's about the same price as Weller.  Both are good if not great values.

Maker's Mark.  I think it achieves its goals as a product a bit better than the Weller, despte Weller edging Maker's in more of my categories.  But if you want to be a bourbon snob drink the Weller anyhow since less folks know about it, and really it's about the same.  At a comparable price, I would recommend trying the Weller Antique 107 if you can find it; it's better than either of these two bourbons.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Smoking the Butt

For Labor Day, we had a few friends over.  We briefly discussed grilling lamb and doing a Meditteranean feast.  Two issues.  1.  We had never made lamb, and I don't like trying new recipes on guests.  2.  Lamb is almost $20 a pound.  Enter pork butt/shoulder.  Pork shoulder is one of my favorite cuts of meat, any sort of meat.  For starters, it's got fantastic value.  We got a 9 lb shoulder at Wegmans for $12.  You do the math.  Also, it's versatile, and hard to mess up.  For the party, I chose to do North Carolina style pulled pork sandwiches.  North Carolina style is vinegar, rather than sauce, based.  For the primary recipe, I used Stephen Raichlen's from his book, How to Grill, a summertime staple.  First you make the rub, a basic American BBQ rub with paprika, salt, pepper, brown suger, and smoked salt.  You can use regular salt but the smoked salt makes a difference.  I also used some smoked Spanish paprika. 

You rub the butt and let it cure overnight, up to 24 hours.  Then you use indirect grilling to smoke the meat for 4-6 hours.  You do this by using a drip pan with the charcoals on the sides of the grill, rather than directly under the meat.  Then you add coals and smoking chips once each hour.  It is supposed to get charred after several hours, I think I used too many coals initially because it looked like this after only 1 hour.  I was panicked that I had ruined it. You can see the hickory smoking chips on the sides, which have been soaked in water so that they have a slower burn and produce a lot of smoke.  The lid remains closed throughout to circulate the most smoke around the pork.

Additionally, I made a mop sauce from a recipe I found online, it involved apple cider vinegar, apple juice, brown sugar, and bourbon.  Raichlen's mop sauce does not use bourbon.  Each time I added coals, I mopped the butt, keeping it nice and moist and adding as much flavor as possible. 

The end result was fantastic.  After letting the pork rest for 15 minutes, it pulls apart in your gloved hands.  It was tender and juicy.  We mounded the pork onto hamburger buns and topped it with North Carolina vinegar slaw.  My wife made an amazing mac n cheese that involved bacon and potato chips.  Nuff said.  We made a bourbon punch with citrus peels, sugar, club soda.  Sorry there is no pictures of the sandwich and sides, the ravenous crowd must have dug in before I thought of it.  It fed 6 people and we sent everyone home with leftovers.  The process was a little tricky in the rain, but the grill remains mostly closed so the only tricky part is getting fresh coals to light each hour.  I tried, unsuccessfully, to rig a tent to block the rain, as evidenced by the rope in the picture above.  Overall, a nice end to summer.