Monday, November 11, 2013


Jim Beam, the best selling bourbon brand in the world (if you don't count Jack Daniels, which, though called "Tennessee Whisky" meets the requirements of bourbon, but that's a debate for another day), were trendsetters in the game of premium whiskies; their small batch collection has been around for years and features some great bourbons, e.g. Knob Creek.  But those bottlings didn't feature the Jim Beam name, most commonly associated with the white label "shot and a beer" 4 year bourbon.  Jim Beam Black has been around awhile, it's "double aged" meaning it's an 8 year, and in my view it's the best of the Beam bourbons which are actually called "Beam."  Beam Black has been favored heavily in my rotation of late, similar to Buffalo Trace in that it's at the perfect intersection of cost and quality.  Beam Black is a fine bourbon, but doesn't seek to be trendsetting or super creative.  Enter the Jim Beam Signature Craft line extension.
In a seeming answer to the "craft" movement that has a full head of steam across the country (beer, spirits, cheese, etc),  Beam recently debuted two new whiskies under the label "Jim Beam Signature Craft."  Chuck Cowdery has a great post about what it means for a huge multinational business to use the word "craft."  In a nutshell, Cowdery explains that the claim of craft in this case is referring to barrel selection and management, and finishing.  The line extension includes two whiskies, a 12 year that will be available indefinitely, and a one-off that is a bourbon finished with Spanish brandy.  They don't finish it in brandy barrels, rather they actually add a bit of brandy to the whisky itself.  I've had the pleasure of trying both of these products.  The 12 year is in line with all Jim Beam products.  If you've drank any of the Beam namesake products, you'll find the flavor profile very familiar, that yeasty whisky that hits you in the back of the mouth.  For me this one may be a bit too old (read: oaky and dry).  But it's a nice boundary pusher and worth trying for sub $40 a bottle.  As far as the brandy finish, I was very skeptical but have been enjoying the hell out of it.  The brandy seems to marry the Beam flavor profile with this amazing fruitiness, for a fresh, refined pour.  It goes to show the limitless possibilities if you go beyond the typical definition of what makes a certain thing a certain thing.  It's no longer bourbon as we know it.  The brandy one off will be available this year, when they will debut a new one off.
Another interesting whisky I have on my shelf right now is Quinoa whisky made by Corsair, a small craft distillery (here goes that word again) that pushes the envelop in it's on ways.  In this case, they use quinoa as a flavoring grain in addition to barley in the mash.  They claim it produces a nuttiness in the taste, and I'd agree.  For me, this one is not worth the $55 price tag.  It is fun to try, and a creative idea.  But a more interesting craft whisky worth that price for me is Balcone's Brimstone, made in Texas using Hopi Blue Corn and smoked with Texas scrub oak.  It tastes like BBQ in a glass.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Dr J, AI, MCW?

I haven’t had the time or inclination to blog much lately, but the Philadelphia 76ers inspired me to take a crack at sports journalism.  The other night the 76ers pulled off a stunning upset over the two time defending champion Miami Heat.  Conventional wisdom says the Sixers should tank this season to secure a high draft pick for the rebuild.  But the young players apparently didn’t get the memo.  They appeared to be well coach by rookie NBA head coach Brett Brown, who was obviously trying to conceal his emotion and not act as shocked as we were (the shot of him shaking his water bottle and running up and down the sideline gave up the ghost).   The kids came out swinging, and punched a tired, D-Wade-less Heat team square in the mouth, running off 19 unanswered points to start the game.  I don’t care that the Heat were tired, this is the NBA, back to backs are reality.   And if you choose to try the Spurs approach of nursing your stars, hungry teams will smell blood in the water.  Michael Carter-Williams had one of the best rookie debuts in the history of the league, coming 3 rebounds and only 1 steal away from a QUADRUPLE double.  Almost more impressive was his lone turnover.  He probably needs to gain 15 pounds of muscle, and his jump shot may not always fall so easily night in and night out without a lot more gym hours logged, but MCW made every Sixers fan who doubted the Jrue Holliday trade breathe a sigh of relief. 
A story almost as important is Evan Turner looking like an NBA player for a full game.  He had a couple of bad turnovers but 26 points and some solid defense on King James was huge.  Spencer Hawes also had a good game but I don’t believe in him.  Will the Sixers lose a ton of games this season?  I hope so.  Their other first round pick, Nerlens Noel, is not going to sniff the court this season, and there simply isn’t enough talent elsewhere on the roster to suggest that the Sixers can truly compete for 81 more games.  But the youth gave us a glimmer of hope on the night of Allen Iverson’s official retirement, one of the only nights the Wells Fargo Center will sell out all season.  It’s more like watching your 401k grow than cashing in chips at the casino, but hopefully the ping pong balls bounce their way and they can add a lottery win and a free agent our two this offseason.   Maybe King James will have another show… “I’m moving my talents to South Broad Street.”  Maybe not as unlikely as it sounds.   But while the future is uncertain, it’s nice to know there may be one, unlike during the Andre Iguodala/Doug Collins era, which defined mediocrity in the NBA if you were confused about it before.  I can’t say I predicted this victory—though I had a good feeling—but I can’t say enough about the tone this sets for the franchise moving forward.  There will likely be many nights with a half empty arena, lopsided losses, and a long losing streak or two (or three…).  There will probably even be double digit turnover games for the rookie point guard.  But after each one of those cold, dark winter nights, both the team and the fans can remember how dazzling he was, and how successful they were playing as a team on opening night, and all of us can dream about a future where scrappy contenders become champions.

Friday, August 9, 2013


I'm something of a glassware fanatic.  My feeling is, if you are going to enjoy a good drink, it ought to be in the appropriate vessel.  I have english pint glasses, belgian goblets, steins, and wheat beer glasses.  I have rocks glasses, glencarin glasses for scotch, and snifters.  I even have pewter julep glasses with my name engraved--they were a gift from a program I was involved with at college--which allow for perfect frost for a mint julep.  One of my favorite sets of glassware are from Duralex, they are great as wine glasses but can be used for simple cocktails, or just about any other beverage.  Twenty dollars for a set of six; they were out of production for a while but they are back.  They are the type you would see in French bistros, a nice change up from stemmed wine glasses.  In addition to glassware, I have cocktail pitchers, decanters, and other such paraphernalia.  I'll show you some of my favorites.

Here is a stein that was a gift from a friend stationed in Germany:

I treated myself to this vintage cocktail set for my birthday, Mad Men-esque in the Dorothy Thorpe style:

These snifters were a gift from my in laws, they are etched by a woman in Kenya, all different animals:

This goblet is from a brewpub we went to in Toronto (Bellwoods), their logo reflects quite well the straightforward style of the pub itself as well as the beers poured: 

I'll end with a story about glassware.  On four different occasions, I have purchase pairs or sets of glassware and my wife has broken one or more members of the set within hours, literally hours, of the purchase.  One is a pair of rocks glasses from the Naval Academy.  The remaining glass makes  me feel like an admiral when drinking out of it.  Another was a set of espresso glasses.  Still a third happened after a trip to Flying Fish brewery, where I bought a pair of etched Europint glasses.  We had one beer out of them and my wife proceeded to smash the glass on the ground.  To be fair, that day was one of my best birthdays ever, as it also included seeing the A Tribe Called Quest documentary as well as a meal at a great byob called Farm and Fisherman, all of which, including the brewery tour, planned by the aforementioned wife.  Most recently, I got a pair of liter mugs with the Hofbrauhaus logo.  They sat on the counter for about 5 minutes when they were hastily scooped up in a fit of cleaning and one was shattered, along with my dreams of her serving my friends and I beer while dressed as a German beer wench.  This last time I was hot.  I don't think I even cursed.  I just sort of yelled and rambled about how unbelievable it is.  In hindsight I can laugh about it.  The funny thing is I don't ever remember her breaking any of our $2 IKEA glasses.  I am starting to think it's a deliberate way to curb my habit of purchasing glassware, or a rebellion to the idea that things must come in pairs.  Supposedly, having a party where everyone holds a different sort of glass is a cool kid thing to do.  Who knows.  In any case, my glassware purchasing is on hiatus until further notice.   I just may replace that 1L stein though...
The lonely ones:

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Beer Catalogue Update

Just added 72 beers which I had over the course of the past year. 

Couple of Note:

Westvleteren 12-best beer in the world?

Taquamari-weizen style beer made by prisoners in Italy using interesting grains--tapioca and quinoa

A few from Russian River at the Taproom's Extreme Beer Brunch.

Tons of new Canadian entries from my trip to Toronto, they have a real solid scene up there.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

One more thing I'm liking

Trombone Shorty.  If you like rock, jazz, hip hop, or funk, especially when all mixed in a blender, this is for you.  This guy is super talented and entertaining, I've seen him twice in concert.  He does this circle breathing thing where he'll play one note on his trumpet for minutes and minutes (you can find videos online easily).  As my brother the musician wondered, "How does he write catchy hook after catchy hook?"  His album Backatown is my favorite of the three I have, but they are all tons of fun.  You can't be in a bad mood while listening to this music.  His band is great, too.

Things I'm liking right now

Disclaimer: I am lazy and not bothering to italicize titles in this post.

FX network
Justified, The Americans, The Bridge (new this summer), It's Always Sunny (which is moving to FXX).  Pretty solid lineup.  I feel their dramas rival AMC's Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, The Killing, etc.  The difference is, sometimes the AMC shows lack in fun factor.  Justified and The Americans never forget that television, while now a proven delivery system for art, is still fundamentally about entertainment. 

Reasonably priced bourbon
I just finished a bottle of Breckenridge bourbon from Colorado, good stuff, I really feel the snowmelt proofing water was noticeable.  But didn't blow my socks off, and I know I paid $40 something for the bottle.  I start to compare everything back to Buffalo Trace's namesake entry, which I can get for sub $25 in PA, $43 for a handle.  It has as much flavor as just about any bourbon save for the super rare, super pricey stuff.  Other bourbons in this category would be Four Roses yellow label and Old Grand Dad.  I also recently had some Elmer T Lee single barrel ($30).  Mr. Lee passed away last week, get some now while the bottles are still of his choosing. 

Simple, common, beer
I'm on the same trajectory with beer.  I love trying new beers, hunting down special releases, and going to beer week events to get a glass of Bells Hopslam or Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout.  I even had a few sips of Westvleteren this year, supposedly the best beer in the world.  Never had Pliny the Younger or Elder.  It's fun, but chasing down one offs can get old; and rarity tends to overrate things.  And while there is no end in sight to the craft beer boom, that doesn't mean they are all good.  Half the time, when you try a new beer, you wish you would have just gotten the one you know you liked.  I love beers that started me on the craft beer journey, like Chimay Red.  And it doesn't get any better than Victory Summer Love with some grilled dinner on a warm summer evening.  Summer Love is not sexy, the opposite of a "special" beer, that's what makes it so great.

Bike riding around Philly
My wife has been biking around the city for a few years, as she goes to school at Temple and works part time in Old City.  I commute to Jersey so need a car for that.  But I just got a bike from Craigslist, and have been really enjoying it.  It's a great workout--my wife is kicking my ass at this point--and the best way to get around town.  Provides more range than the subway, plus it's free.  And no parking issues.  Last night we biked to West Philly for a free Shakespeare performance in Clark Park.  Even brought a picnic.  Drivers: share the road!

I follow recipes from two books, Weber's New Real Grilling and Steven Raichlen's How to Grill.  Raichlen is awesome, it's a great first grill book bc/ he really gets into technique, tools, and provides a ton of recipes, from a quick grilled steak to a 6 hour BBQ pulled pork.  All his recipes are simple to follow.  His PBS show is good, too.  The Weber book is good, too, not too many ingredients in the recipes but tons of flavor and value.  Things I've grilled recently--pork and chorizo burgers, rum glazed shrimp on sugarcane skewers, honey glazed chicken thighs, Mexican style corn, flank steak with creamy poblanos, and plenty of veggies (green onions, asparagus, peppers).  Even dessert: coconut milk dipped grilled pineapples with cinnamon sugar.  Nothing like cooking over an open flame.  I prefer charcoal.  I grill all year round, but multiple times a week in the summer.

Mason Jar cocktails
I have gone to two events recently where open containers may be frowned upon: Phillies fireworks and The Tempest in a public park.  Simple solution-pre mix a cocktail in the jar, preferably one that looks like lemonade or limeade, e.g. mojito, daquiri, porch swing.  Bring some seltzer, club soda, or 7 up to top off and you are good to go.  Nothing like drinking under the stars, or fireworks.   This trend of ours started when a friend said, somewhat jokingly, "meet us at the fireworks and bring drinks!"  I took it as a challenge and produced.  I'm not saying I invented this technique, as I saw others doing it, too.  But many of them were lazy and filled mason jars with wine.  That works too, I suppose, for the oenophiles out there.  But the fun is in making it look like you aren't drinking.

Marathon training
My wife and I signed up for the Philly marathon this November.  The full 26.2.  So far so good, but this is week 2 of 17 weeks of training, ha.  I'll let you know how I'm doing in the fall, when the midweek training run is longer than most runs I've ever done, and the long runs top out around 20 miles.  Still, I'm excited to challenge myself and get in serious shape.

What are you liking right now?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Anejo Manhattan

This drink is created by renowned cocktail consultant Ryan Margarian.  He is the co founder of Aviation Gin in Portland, a craft gin that comes in a beautiful art deco style bottle.  It's a nice change up from a standard Manhattan, though it's a bit more involved.  

2 ounces aƱejo tequila
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Licor 43
Dash of Angostura bitters
Dash of orange bitters
1 fresh cherry

As all of these ingredients are transparent, this is one to stir with ice and then strain.  I used mole bitters rather than the angostura, which I thought worked quite well with the Spanish/Mexican vibe of this cocktail.  Margarian soaks a fresh cherry in tequila, then wraps it in mole salami.  I used thinly sliced chorizo around Amarena cocktail cherries.

A decent summer cocktail with savory aspects.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

If By Whiskey

I have been reading Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey, by Chuck Cowdery.  Cowdery, a Kentucky bourbon insider, has a blog that's great if you really want to get more in depth in the bourbon world.  In the book, he writes about Judge Noah "Soggy" Sweat, who served on the Mississippi state legislature in the late 1940s.  Mississippi was the last state to repeal Prohibition, and Judge Sweat gave this speech to the legislature, addressing the issue head on.  Well, sort of head on...

"My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise."   Apparently he got rousing ovations from both sides of the fence.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Favorite Philly Eats

I know as soon as I publish this I'll remember something I left out.  But I thought I'd take a crack at it anyhow.  Here are my top ten favorite places to eat in Philadelphia, in ascending order.  There is not necessarily a distinction between highbrow and lowbrow, just taste. 

11. Adobe Cafe-I can't legitimately put Adobe in my top ten, but this 11th spot is a shout out to my favorite hole in the wall watering hole.  In a building that used to be an Italian night club in it's heyday, Adobe offers low key Tex Mex.  The wings are great, the bartenders are friendly.  There's always a place for you at Adobe.

10. Los Gallos Tacos-This hole in the wall South Philly gem that serves double duty as a Mexican grocer is authentic mexican for cheap.  The tacos pastor (pork with pineapple) are awesome, as is the squash blossom quesadilla.  This food blows away Xochitl, Cantina, Distrito, El Rey, and El Vez, in my opinion.  None of those are bad options, but none come close to cracking my top ten.

9.  Han Dynasty-"What do you call a restaurant with American waiters and Mexican chefs?  PF Changs!"-Chef Han.  Han serves up authentic Schezuan cuisine.  It's hot.  Chili oil and black pepper, so overpowering, yet if you've eaten the Mapo Tofu or Kung Pao chicken with peanuts, you know that it's oh so addictive.  For a fun night, make a reservation for one of his 2x a month tastings, and try 20 menu items for about $25 bucks and byo, and be entertained by Han's humor.  But the takeout is just as good any other night.

8.  Stateside-Just got the number one spot on the Philly mag list.  It doesn't hit my top spot, even though it's within walking distance of my house, but Stateside is killer.  The cocktails are expertly prepared and under 10 bucks (try the clover club if you aren't afraid of raw egg), all the food and drinks are U.S. sourced (that means great bourbon list), and the steak tartare is phenomenol.  The menu changes seasonally of course.   The bar features giant open windows which overlook the fountain on East Passyunk.

7.  Tinto-This is the only Jose Garces entry on my list.  I am partial to Northern Spanish cuisine simply because I've been to the Basque country, where the bar snacks are called pintxos instead of tapas (okay I really don't know all that much about it but it tastes damn good).  I mimicked Garces's serrano ham wrapped duck confit with la peral blue cheese and a cherry for my father in law's 60th birthday feast.  Good food, good beer and wine, great atmosphere.  Right next to Garces's Village Whisky.

6. Osteria-This Marc Vetri spot on North Broad St. makes the best pizza in the whole city, I had the one with octopus.  The brick oven crisps the pizza so nicely.  Great Italian from one of the U.S.'s best Italian chefs.

5. Penang-My wife grew up in Southeast Asia, and this Malaysian spot in Chinatown is the closest thing to comfort food she can get.  The roti canai is a fried pancake that you dip in curry sauce, a must have.  Beef rendang, coconut rice, beef chow fun, mee siam.  Cheap prices, great service, open kitchen with flames dancing around.  Drink a Tiger beer from Singapore to wash it all down.

4. Le Virtu-This Abruzze Italian restaurant is literally around the corner from my house.  It's fantastic.  The housemade charcuterie plate is a great place to start.  Wine on tap is fun.  Nice little beer list with Ommegang Hennepin Saison as a staple.  The pastas are out of this world, try the one with rabbit.  I had some dish that was basically a bowl of assorted pig meat that was incredible.  During Beer Week they do a cool grilling event in their lawn area that's pay as you go.

3.  Zahav-Michael Solomonov's Israeli restaurant features a great atmosphere, good cocktails, great hummus, and fun tasting menu.  If Zahav is the jewel of Old City, then the pomegranate braised lamb shoulder is the jewel of Zahav.  To me this restaurant represents why the Philly dining scene can match up with anyone.  It's unique, special, and delicious.
If you have a half day to kill try Solomonov's Federal Donuts--you have to get there early to reserve some fried chicken.

2.  South Philadelphia Taproom-Scott Schroeder's bar menu has a way of making the simplest foods excellent.  The North Carolina BBQ chicken sandwich is my favorite item, when available, and I'd rarely choose chicken over beef or seafood.  Grilled Pocono trout is a great special, as is the fried chicken.  I like the burger even though it's grass fed beef.  The eggplant parm is amazing.  I could go on and on.  There special events are so much fun, none more fun than the Wheaties/Wheat Beer fest each spring.  (It's tomorrow!)  For Beer week 2011 they had a pig roast, a plate of pig and a beer for 9 bucks, with asian inspired cole slaw on the side.  Can't beat it.  The beer list is always solid, both draft and bottles.  They have the largest Founders account outside of Michigan, so count on some Kentucky Breakfast Stout  and other rare brews popping up now and then.  And if nothing jumps out at you, you could do worse than a $3 Kenzinger, always available.  This is the quintessential neighborhood bar, elevated.  If Schroeder wanted to do fine dining I feel he could do any cuisine he wanted and succeed.  Thankfully for us he seems content to make pig head cheese tacos for a buck and a half a pop (as seen on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives).

1. Fond-Fond means "pan scrapings."  Fond is my favorite restaurant in any city.  The food is incredible.  The chef was trained at Le Bec Fin, as was his wife, the pastry chef, who has her own storefront, Belle Cakery, just down the street.  Pan seared skate wing over brown butter risotto, pork belly with Okinawan sweet potatoes, house made sambuca.  They just moved to a new location and now have a bar, but you can still byo for free in the week or pay a corkage fee on weekends.  This is a special occasion restaurant.  It is one of a ton of BYOBs in Philly (Little Fish, Farm and Fisherman, Will, Cochon) but what sets it apart from these, as well as the Garces and Starr places, is the service.  Attentive, helpful, and out of their way to make you feel comfortable.  One time a server made a minor mistake at our table and the person running the front of the house practically ran over to correct it.

Runners Up: Royal Tavern, Tiffin, Brauhaus Schmitz, Green Eggs Cafe, Talula's Garden, Pho Saigon, John's Roast Pork, Farm and Fisherman, Slice, Mazza, Bibou

Friday, April 12, 2013

Pappy V All

When I was a kid, a few friends of mine had a running joke called, “I’ll take you both on in Madden.” The joke was that in Madden video games, it was much easier to win the game as a single player controlling the whole team rather than trying to coordinate complicated passing plays. But the concept of taking on more than your fair share is always desirable if you are a really a competitor, like trying to win a pickup basketball game 2 on 3. Pappy Van Winkle may be shorthanded, but he always wins. Okay, I’m not sure how well that analogy worked, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Pappy Van Winkle 15, my favorite all time whisky. He’s too intimidating to do a review on. But I do want to share some thoughts about him, and his place relative to my whisky journey. The Van Winkle line has everything, flavor, richness, complexity, cache, uniqueness, everything except for availability. Julian Van Winkle has said, or at least implied, that the mystique of the brand is protected by making it a bit hard to get, but I do think it’s gone beyond what their business model predicted. Just a couple of years ago, you would see some Van Winkle sitting on shelves now and then, and the 15 year sold for about $60. Now, it is sold before it even reaches the sales floor (I bought my last bottle for $120 bucks, limit one per customer, and the whisky manager went into the back to get it. Mind you, the warehouse that stored the Van Winkles was damaged by Hurricane Sandy; we were lucky to get any in this area at all). I am hoping that the new ebay policy shrinks the black market markups on it a bit, and therefore increases its availability). I have a small stash of some Van Winkle bourbons which I drink on special occasions. And I do share with friends, because that’s what bourbon lovers do. All this to say, despite Pappy’s greatness, there are so many great whiskies out there, of all styles and at all price points. It’s a practically limitless world of flavors and experiences. It’s silly to get hung up on one specific bottling. I still consider it my “high water mark,” and will work hard to get a bottle every time it’s released, but I won’t lose any more sleep over it. Life’s too short and the whisky world is too grand.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Interesting Whiskies

This week I had the chance to try two interesting whiskies. I won’t be doing a full review on either, but rather brief descriptions and a few thoughts.

Bruichladdich “The Laddie 10” (pronounced “Brook-laddy”)

The New Yorker magazine recently had a really interesting article on this distillery, which was mothballed for years before being revived by some creative, independent folks. The owners and distillers did such a good job that they were ultimately bought out by a large beverage brand. Because the distillery was low on quality stock, they had to put out all sorts of interesting releases to keep the buzz going, because their new make was too young for age statements. For example, their entry level whisky is called “Rocks,” a nod to the ancient rocks the water runs through before the distillery turns it into the “water of life.” The Laddie Ten represents a benchmark in the distillery’s history, a standard 10 year bottling that won Islay whisky of the year in Whisky Advocate Magazine when it was released. Some reviewers say it was overhyped due to the distillery’s interesting story, but by all accounts it’s a fine whisky, and a good value at about $45. What’s interesting about it is that thought it’s an Islay, it’s “unpeated,” meaning the barley is not dried over peat smoke, and yet it’s fairly peaty in character due to the water source. In any case, it’s a nice pour, a bit of peat but nothing like a Laphroaig, Lagavulin, etc. Creamy and malty, but not the smoothest whisky around, with a bit of bite at 92 proof.

New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon

Many of you will have had a bourbon barrel age beer, this bottling flips that concept on its head. New Holland is a craft brewer that added a distillery more recently. They distill all sorts of spirits, including a hopped whisky they call Hopquila. The whisky I had is a sourced whisky, it’s bourbon distilled and aged by Indiana Distillers, and New Holland ages it for several months longer in casks that held their Dragon’s Milk beer, casks which originally held bourbon. Talk about full circle. One reviewer called this a novelty whisky, but at $30 I felt it worth a try. It’s not a bad whisky. I found it a bit simpleminded, but there is definitely some sort of beer influence that enhances the flavor. A nice change-up, and I always like supporting the craft movement.

Friday, March 29, 2013

TV and Drink Pairing

Note: I am re-posting this as I had some glitches with Blogger and not sure if it was every posted the first time.  Sorry if you've already read this.

TV is the new great American art form.  It's more versatile for telling stories than film, and allows for rich character development.  But with scene after scene of hour long dramas, directors have to use plenty of scenarios and props to keep the story moving along.  One of those props is alcohol.  How many times have you seen one of your favorite characters sipping a drink, and you suddenly have the urge to join him/her?  This post serves as lighthearted guide to what to drink with some of the best shows on television, and why.

Mad Men
While Don and Roger pound straight pours of brown and clear liquids, respectively, you'll want a classic cocktail in your hand while you follow the exploits of Madison Ave. advertising executives and their lackeys.  A few suggestions: Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Sazerac, Martini, Aviation, Gimlet, Negroni, Daiquiri.

Breaking Bad
Unless you want to become a meth head, than have some whisky to steel your nerves while on this thrilling show that seems to ratchet up the tension, scene after scene, through the whole series.  Whistlepig Rye is a Canadian rye out of Vermont that has been featured on the program, but any brown pour will do.  Alternately, staring at the desert of the American southwest might cause you to get thirsty for something quenching like a wheat beer or a crisp IPA.

The Walking Dead
Anything you can get your hands on.  In the zombie apocalypse, anything goes, and any booze counts as premium.

Top Chef
Here I'd say something modern and creative to match the efforts of the cheftestants. A cocktail like the Porch Swing, which is like a grown up lemonade. Or perhaps the Rubicon, which involves lighting rosemary on fire. There are cocktails that involve food, one that I saw uses chorizo as a garnish. Or make a Dark and Stormy with homeade ginger beer by making a batch of ginger syrup and mixing with club soda.

The Americans
This new FX drama is quite promising.  A Cold War tale of KGB living undercover as average Americans.  If you like spy stuff this one is pretty neat.  I would recommend incorporating some kind of drinking game involving potato vodka shots.  Maybe a shot for each time the main characters put on a new wig.

Any Medical Drama
The Penicillin cocktail.

Timothy Olyphant plays U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens, a modern day gunslinger.  At one point he says, "I'm going to go home, open a bottle of Jim Bean."  Yes he seems to pronounce it "bean."  Jim Beam white is pretty boring stuff though.  I'd recommend spending the extra few bucks for the black label, or the new Devil's Cut.  The bad guys generally drink Wild Turkey 101 on the show, but when they run their own bar Boyd, the main criminal, says "give us a pour of that "Elmer T" (Elmer T. Lee is a Buffalo Trace single barrel hand selected by it's namesake, one of only two living men with bourbons named after them).  Raylan's boss drinks Blanton's in his office.  Yeah, you can pretty much drink any bourbon with this show.

Parks and Recreation
Ron Swanson's favorite is Lagavulin 16 year single malt.  But I'd say the show would pair best with a fizzy, bubbly cocktail.  Gin rickey, or champagne with hibiscus flowers.  Fun and light.

Amazing Race
Something with exotic ingredients to savor as the contestants travel the globe.  We made a cocktail with blood orange and tamarind paste.  It wasn't my favorite, but fun to try new things.

Bloody Mary.  Alternately, Dexter drinks a lot of Presidente Beer in early seasons.  Anything that would help with the stifling Miami heat and pair well with lots of blood.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Compass Box Oak Cross

I recently did a review of High West Campfire.  High West has a distillery, but currently most of it's products are purchased and blended.  Compass Box has been doing a similar thing in the most famous home of whisky, Scotland, for over a decade.  This is a review of their Oak Cross.

Oak Cross is a blend, or vatting, of Highland single malt (vatting bc/ they are all single malts, no neutral grain whisky in this one).  The box notes that the malts are sourced from the "villages of Brora, Alness, and Carron."  The Dalmore is one single malt distilled in Alness, but Compass Box is not noting any specific whiskies on the packaging.  Ostensibly, Compass Box is getting these whiskies after their primary aging period in first fill and second fill American Oak.  They then "marry" the whiskies in special casks that they have had made with French oak heads on American oak casks.  The French oak comes from a small mill in France known for its cooperage oak (according to the Compass Box fact sheet).  Two oaks, hence the name.  I got this on sale for about $45 bucks, it's 86 proof.  Let's see what we've got.

Color/Nose:  You can probably see in the picture this one is incredibly light in color.  The nose carries some heft, though.  I get a lot of fruit, like pears drizzled with honey.  Maybe the faintest of peat smoke?  Not sure to what degree any of these malts are peated.

Taste/Finish:  Malty, sweet, and juicy.  More of the fruit hinted at on the nose.  A fair amount of spice mid to late palate, which is either providing or accompanying some burn.  The box says "notes of cloves and vanilla," and you do get some vanilla, though not the punch of it you get with many bourbons.  As light and low proof as this is, the finish is strong and lingers.  Overall the whisky has a nice round mouthfeel.  It feels rich.  I know the sourced whisky is from the highlands but this reminds me of Glenkinchie (lowlands); it's light yet brisk and flavorful.

Value/Intangible: When I drink scotch, I usually want a heavy dose of peat.  With any drink, the thing I value the most is flavor, and lots of it.  Though this one is light and delicate, it doesn't lack in flavor, and offers something a bit on the unique side.  I'd say it was well worth the cost.  In the end this is likely a one time purchase for me.  I've wanted to try something from Compass Box for a while, and I may yet try their other entries.  But while this was a good pour, it doesn't blow me away to the point where I will be depressed when the bottle is empty. The website says it pairs well with many cheeses, which makes sense due to the fruity profile.  I'm having it with a snack of a soft rind French cheese (the name escapes me), and it's indeed a pleasant pairing.

My apologies for any mistakes in this post, Blogger was having some glitches.  Cheers!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

High West Campfire

February came and went without a post.  My apologies.  It's a short month, I'm busy...No, excuses are like assholes, everybody's got one.  In any case, I have a couple of posts in store for the next week or so.  Today I'm reviewing High West Campfire.  Typically, I will write in my whisky journal and then transfer my thoughts onto the blog in an organized fashion.  Today you will get my thoughts as I have them; I am sitting with the glass as I type.  I have tasted this whisky before, so it's not totally blind.  If you don't know much about High West, out of Utah, the owner is David Perkins.  Perkins had a background in biopharmaceutical engineering and wanted to get into the whisky business.  He set up a distillery but, like most craft startups, realized it's not a profitable model to sit on your thumbs while your whisky ages.  So he began sourcing and blending whiskies from other producers.  Some whisky folks turn up their nose at this, and go so far as to claim that buying and repackaging other folks' juice is not an art or a skill.  But if you know anything about the history of brown spirits, blending is a huge part of the industry, and indeed takes a great deal of skill and technique.  And if you haven't tasted any of High West's products, which include a couple of fantastic ryes, a bourbon/rye blend called Bourye, and several others, than you don't know what you are talking about.  Perkins is marrying products with totally different mashbills, ages, and styles, and the results are totally unique products where the components work in perfect harmony.  My favorite High West whisky to date is the Rendevous Rye.  The K&L Spirits Journal has an interesting podcast interviewing Perkins if you want to have a listen. 

Campfire is a blend of rye whiskey, straight bourbon whiskey, and blended malt scotch whisky.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Scotch and bourbon in one bottle.  The text below is from the blog Sour Mash Manifesto, and gives a little more info on the components:

"Here’s the gist of Campfire Whiskey. Its a blend of a six year old bourbon distilled and aged at Midwest Grain Products (Formerly Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana or LDI), a 5.5 year old rye whiskey also distilled at the former LDI and aged in the upper floors of the famed Stitzel Weller Warehouses in Kentucky, and finally an 8 year old peated Scotch whiskey from the Scottish mainland."

You can read Jason Pyle's full review here.  I read it when he first posted it but I am not looking at it now as to not be unduly influenced in my review.

It has the standard cool packaging one would expect from High West.   You can see the batch and bottle number in the pic.  This shot is 92 proof and the bottle costs about $50.  I got it in Indiana.   I initially had a pour of this at Fete Sau, Stephen Starr's BBQ and Bourbon joint in Northern Liberties.

Nose: Fairly gentle.  Perkins writes on the back of the bottle about honeydew topped with peated syrup, a dessert he had in Scotland that inspired the drink, and I'd say the nose about matches up with that concept.

Taste: This is a fantastic whisky.  The smoke is certainly there but plays a supporting role.  This would be good for someone who wants an introduction to smoky whisky but isn't ready for the punch of a Laphroaig 10 year.  It's a bourbon at heart, for sure, but the rye spice is present in addition to the smoke.  Fruit drizzled with honey, oaky backbone, and all of it is laced with the smoke.  It's like when you cook over an open flame, every bite of your steak has some smoke influence, but again, it's not the dominant flavor.  My father in law loves peated whisky, and I wonder if the peat influence here will be too faint for his palate.  But as a bourbon lover it suits me just fine.

Finish: This one is about perfect at 92 proof.  Just a tiny bit of bite but on the whole is it very mellow.  It would indeed be a perfect pour in front of the campfire, but I'll settle for my living room on a nippy early March night in the Northeast corridor.

Value/Intangible:  I love the creativity of this product.  I have a review of a Compass Box scotch coming soon, Compass Box does some neat things on the other side of the pond, but for me High West is the high water mark for artisanship with sourcing and blending whiskies.  Fifty bucks for me does not an everyday pour make, but a fine price for a Sunday evening pour.  If you can get your hands on it I'd highly recommend it.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

American Craft Whisky

The NY Times had an interesting article about American malt whisky, and how it is expanding the definition of American whisky to include more than just corn and rye, but also barley, the main ingredient in Scotch and many other whiskies.  I think it's great that the American craft whisky industry is pushing the envelope and trying new things.  Balcone's, a distillery in the article, makes a whisky imparted with Texas scrub oak, the end result tasting like BBQ smoke rather than the sea salt and iodine of Islay malts.  Other distilleries are aging in smaller barrels, with wood chips, importing Scottish peated malt, and so on.  The article mentions how distillers are distilling beers with strong flavors and hop profile, so that the barley doesn't wither under the American malt requirement of new barrels (it's more delicate than corn).  The craft whisky surge is being compared to California wines finally getting their due, and more recently the craft beer explosion.  But there are differences.

True, most American whisky is bourbon, and most comes from about a half dozen distillers or so.  This is similar to how most American beer comes from BudMillerCoors.  The difference is, BudMillerCoors churned out yellow fizzy piss water for decades post Prohibition, due to consolidation, changing tastes, and huge marketing budgets.  Blue Moon and other "craft" products from the big three only came out in an effort to strangle the new corner of the market, which is craft beer drinkers.  But while Jim Beam's sales are primarily due to their white label--which is on the shelf of almost every bar in the world and could possibly fairly be compared to Budweiser in terms of quality--they have been making their small batch collection, with more intense flavor profiles, for decades.  Buffalo Trace's Blanton's was the first single barrel bourbon, introduced in the 80s, and Elijah Craig 12 claims to have been "small batch before the term even existed."  In addition to putting out quality products, these major distillers are also innovative.  Buffalo Trace has it's experimental collection, which includes made whiskies with rice, wine barrel finished bourbons, etc.  They also have one-off entries like the Col. Taylor line (see my review on the Tornado surviving bourbon below), as well as the Single Oak Project and of course, the Van Winkle line. 

The biggest difference between craft beer and craft distilling is time and stock.  Heaven Hill has acres of rickhouses with more bourbon aging than you can imagine.  They can afford to try new techniques and aging practices as long as they keep bottling their standard products.  They also have the luxury of waiting for years for products to be perfect, where a startup distiller will use smaller barrels, extra wood contact, and do everything they can to get the product to market to start making profit.  A craft brewer can beer made and in bottles in a matter of weeks, but good whisky can take years before it's truly mellow enough for the glass. 

All that said, innovation in one corner of the industry is good for the whole industry.  Support your local craft distillers.  Bluecoat, made in Philly, is my favorite gin.  Note that gin, like white whisky, does not need aging time.  White whisky's popularity among the cocktail set is another discussion (Whisky Advocate had a good article on the subject, is it a trend or here to stay?).  But I caution you, if you are going to buy a craft whisky, do your homework first.  Are they buying stock from major producers?  Making it themselves?  How old is it?  What are the reviewers saying?  Not all of these questions can be answered by reading the bottle, as image is everything, and brands like to project that 1. they've been around forever and 2. they are handcrafted.  Also, none of the answers to these questions determine definitively if the product is good, or more specifically what you think of it.  But when you buy craft, you will be laying down a bit more cash on average, and the more educated you are as a consumer, the more likely you will find a winner in your glass at the end of the day.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Tornado Bourbon

Colonel E.H. Taylor is a series of special release bourbons from none other than Buffalo Trace.  The first entry was an old time sour mash bourbon, where there was a more natural souring process that distillers no longer use due to the difficulty of safely controlling it.  The bourbon I am reviewing here is named "Warehouse C Tornado Surviving."  In 2006, a tornado whipped through the Buffalo Trace Distillery, destroying a couple of warehouses.  Amazingly, the ricks of bourbon remained standing.  The barrels selected for this release were exposed fully to the elements for several months until repairs were made, causing a high percentage of angel's share.  This bourbon states "Bottled in Bond" on the label.  In order to claim this, the bourbon must be aged in a federally bonded warehouse and bottled at 100 proof.  I suppose that Warehouse C meets this mandate, but couldn't find any validation.  The packaging on the whole is pretty cool, and includes a throwback looking tax stamp label over the cork.  For some reason I can't get a photo on here though I tried on multiple devices.  Sorry.  About $75.   Let's get down to business. 


Nose-The nose is something special.  Sweet and juicy, yet oaky and dry.  Even with no ice or water, I could take a deep sniff without singing any nose hairs.  Jason Pyle describes the nose as rum soaked dried fruits.  To me it smells like candy and vanilla.

Taste and Finish-You taste the proof all the way through, it stings with cinnamon early and finishes with a long slow burn down the gullet.  Midway through the palate: a lot of vanilla sugar, there is a moment of richness and typical bourbon sweetness but on the whole I find it very dry.  Though the finish builds with each sip, on the whole it's a little lighter than I would expect, frankly. 

Intangible/Overall-This bourbon is so much fun.  The concept is cool, and the product is very good.  But if this were readily available, I'm not sure it would be worth the price tag.