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.