Embitterment Part Deux: the Rising

So ladies, gents and lady-boys (this is a safe place, we don’t judge,)  tonight I had the honor and undistinguished pleasure of having a Skype conference with an unemployed poet and a consultant…or something.  Undistinguished now, I say but their story is one of those potentially impending Horatio Alger rags, the American dream—ambition, dedication, alcoholism and luck.  What is it that these two young men have?  Bitterness.  First off, if you haven’t read the first part of this article series, get the hell out of here.  And over to the other article, then back here.  Welcome back.  Now that you’ve read my first masterpiece you know I’m talking about Ethan and Eric, the guys behind the art and the agony of Embitterment.

Over more than a couple of cocktails, the E’s (Ethan, Eric, Embitterment) and I awkwardly alternated between looking straight at the webcam and down at the screen, while discussing what drives educated young men to take their spare time and money and mix a bunch of herbs with liquor.  The beginnings of this story, as with any dramatization of real life events, were humble, young friends graduating from Gettysburg College, moving to the nation’s capital with the dream of not starving under the weight of immense student loan debt.  While Ethan decided to take a career that kept his creditors at bay, Eric kept digging, recently earning his master’s in poetry from U Maryland at College Park.  In the meantime, something was brewing, kind of in a literal sense.  See, these gents are both foodies, and both with a love of the tipple—to which I can relate.  For Ethan, this interest led to a variety of alcohol related experimentation—infusing gin, making limoncello and, finally, making bitters.  The bitters hobby seems to have stuck, no shit, because finally these two star-crossed former liberal arts students decided that, this perhaps may be something worth trying to take seriously.  Or something like that.  Really, they just started perfecting the recipe, building a website, and getting the word out…until two weeks ago.

Scene two:  Close up on ginger, sweating in rented kitchen.  Ethan wipes his brow.

Anyways, I asked Ethan to explain exactly how his little kitchen experiment start, and what exactly it takes to make bitters.  The makers of many of the world’s fine food products are notoriously tight lipped about these things, notably the makers of Angostura bitters.  Ethan was glad to spill the beans.  Basically, he explained, their bitters are made out of the same stuff as all the other bitters out there.  Aromatics, anis, vanilla bean, cardamom, yada, yada, yada—and bitters, gentian root, worm wood and yada.   What makes their bitters unique?  Well notice I didn’t, as I usually would, say that their bitters are made out of the same shit as other bitters.  Rule 1: Focus on quality.  Embitterment has done this by ensuring that they are consistently getting the best quality of organic ingredients they can afford, and for now, they’re paying out of pocket—sacrificing to ensure their product is, and remains, the best it can be.  Another aspect of this purity, which those who read the previous article will likely have forgotten, can be seen in the fact that they do not add artificial ingredients—hence the fact that they’re clear bitters.  Quality means cutting the crap.  The final secret, at least as far as I can tell, is strength.  Let me conjure a familiar image for you.  Ever notice how sugar dissolves a lot faster in hot coffee than iced coffee?  Same principle applies, but instead of heat, I’m talking hooch.  Ethan and Eric source suicide strength 190 proof liquor to help extract every bit of flavor from their high quality ingredients.  So, long story short: High quality ingredients + rocket fuel – bullshit x 20 days sitting around in jugs in a DC apartment = Embitterment.

As I alluded to before, Embitterment has just hit the market in the last two weeks, yet, we spent a surprising amount of time talking vision.   That’s primarily my fault; it’s the romantic in me.  When I first starting speaking with Ethan about all this, corresponding as former college anarchist comrades, Ethan explained that he and his friends were seeking to enter the bitters market with a locavore’s intent.  Embitterment was to be a part of the DC cocktail community, a local company with intentionally local limitations.  It hasn’t taken long for that vision to change.  After an opening at a massive farmer’s market type event and presumably some drunken conversations, Embitterment came to some realizations: getting out there as an artisan bitters supplier was going to take a lot more than a farm stand, people at large don’t know jack about bitters, and those far and wide who know bitters are gunna want these suckers.  The vision changed.  The E’s explained it this way:  In the last decade cocktail culture has been undergoing a renaissance, led by a vanguard of producers, bartenders, and mainly consumers.  This renaissance took place primarily in culture centers such as New York, San Francisco and Portland, with the driving force, the consumers, being much like the patrons of the great artistic renaissance.  Fat rich pricks who are willing to fork over $18 to some pretentious wanker who is charging you extra to keep his moustache finely waxed.  Where does Embitterment fit into this all?  They’re the Molotov cocktail to your Dom Perignon, baby. Renaissance, meet revolution.

Embitterment’s vision is simple.  “Make the world a more bitter place.”  No bollocks. I think that second bit may actually be a registered trademark, sorry Newcastle.  What Ethan and Eric see as the goal of Embitterment is to make a product that’s of a higher quality and more reasonable price than their competitors—and that’s not just the big boys, that’s the artisans too.  They want to make the highest quality bitters, sell them at far lower price, and spread the gospel of bitter.  Amen. The people’s bitters, populism in action, something like that.  That’s not just talk either.  Remember, I know Ethan from drinking to excess and ranting about revolution and the corruption of American politics at the hands of corporations and oligarchs—that spirit isn’t dead.  Not only does Embitterment want to sell their bitters to spread the word, they want to educate.  Embitterment’s website, Eric’s love child, as to be the preacher and temple of the bitter—and at the current they have posted not only drink recipes, but food recipes, presenting a variety of mediums for the expression of the bitter truth.  In our discussion tonight they noted their plans for the education of the masses, to include a comical youtube instructional series that takes the mystique and the snobbism out of the cocktail.  The goal?  A world where getting a good old fashioned or Sazerac does imply having some *#%& in suspenders with an armband looking down at you over his turned up moustache.  Embitterment wants to be in your local bar, your liquor store, your grocery store, and foremost—on your home bar, in your hands, in your mouth.  Viva la revolución.

When I first envisioned this article series, I saw it as a trilogy.  Tonight, after looking at how depleted my liquor cabinet is, and forcing my thoughts to segue. I have determined that I shall put the Embitterment philosophy into action, I shall revolt against the cocktail as pretensious art, and put a bit of garage rock improvisation into making some fine cocktails with Embitterment bitters, and whatever I haven’t drank yet.

First off, the classique, the cocktail that is so simple, so historical, so revered—we know it only as the old fashioned.  This is what I was drinking over my interview with Embitterment—they were drinking Scotch—and it is my completely not time tested recipe.

Old-Fashioned Ingenuity

The simplest iteration of an old fashioned involves sugar, rye or bourbon, and bitters.  A lot of people will expressed some citrus by an orange peel or drop of orange juice, many version will use simple syrup, use water, muddle cherries, even, the horror, dilute it with seltzer. Given my current supplies, here’s what I decided to do…

  • 2oz Four Roses Bourbon ( I used a rye during the conference earlier)
  • ½ tsp light brown sugar, muddled heavily
  • 5ish dashes of Embitterment Orange Bitters
  • 3 dashes of Embitterment Aromatic Bitters ( I really like bitters, if you hadn’t realized)
  • A quick drop of Sweet vermouth (untraditional, optional, but I like the little bit it adds)
  • A chunk of un-crystallized candied ginger for garnish (I’m deranged, but it actually adds a nice element.)

There are great mixologists who are currently sharpening the knives they use to peel their garnish fruits, just so they can cut my throat for that abomination. Welp, come at me you elitist swine, because I have had some very expensive old-fashioneds in some very chic places that have nothing on this. In lieu of actual citrus around the orange bitters provide a wonderful and rich orange oil note that can be felt at the note and all the way through, the brown sugar and the rich, dark flavors of the aromatic bitters interplay nicely coming out with heavy with crème Brule and vanilla at the nose and finishing with a lovely anise and maybe, just maybe, a hint of ginger.  Honestly, this couldn’t have been simpler. Didn’t need to be shaken, didn’t require any order or technique, any special ingredients, and not even any real mental acuity.  Seriously, the original old fashioned was rock candy, bitters and rye.  Honor that tradition.

Manhattan A La New Hampshire

Look, I may live in the middle of nowhere in a state not exactly known for being urbane, but I’ve been to Manhattan, and I’ve had many Manhattans.  In fact, I always make it a point to have a Manhattan, when I’m in Manhattan.  Fun fact, they really aren’t better there—possibly because they’re sick of tourists like me ordering them.  Anyways, here’s my Manhattan, one of my favorite classic cocktails.

  • Rye, Old Overholt, 3 oz. This actually deserves its own article, because this bottle was only $13 or something and it’s well balanced, rich, a bit bready but full of spice and warmth.  $13 goddammit.  Cocktails, meet populism.
  • 5 oz sweet vermouth
  • Shit ton of bitters (4 aromatic, 2 orange…maybe?)

(Stir with ice briefly then strain. Garnish with something that vaguely resembles fruit, if you want.  I have friends who still think a Manhattan should be treated as a shot, don’t garnish theirs, they’ll choke.)

Give me a little bit, I’m still working on that old fashioned…Okay, now I’m ready.  No, wait, still chewing that delicious booze soaked ginger garnish.  Okay, maybe now.  Yeah, let’s do this shit. So I served my Manhattan up in a Glencairn glass, partly because I really wanted to get some aroma, partly because I didn’t want to wash another glass, and partly because I’m a rebel.  I must say, this is a very unique Manhattan.  I’ll be honest—I may not have aced this.  It’s delicious, no doubt, the rye comes out very bready using just sweet vermouth and given the hefty portion of bitters.  Given the chance I’d go perfect on it, half dry vermouth too, it would really let the rye shine a lot more…maybe the rebel in me is using the wrong glass too.  I failed you all.  But not really, because this is pretty damn delicious anyways, it’s kinda like a dessert Manhattan…I’m happy with that.

My final for drink tonight, a cold weather New England classic—with a twist—hot cider and rum…Embittered.  Now when the boys were talking, this was mostly Eric’s bag, about cooking with Embitterment, the phrase I heard was liquid allspice.  He said a lot more, but I’m not a real journalist, so I remember what I wanted to hear; kind of like Fox News.  Anyways, this cocktail is the most perfect expression of that, in the sense that it’s a beverage that is more or less a food stuff…with booze…and bitters.

Cider & Rum  (not sure this has a proper name…)

  • 6 oz cider
  • 2 oz spiced rum, I went with the leftovers of a bottle of Mt. Gay…
  • Tonsa bitters, again

Liquid allspice was right.  Look, this was never meant to be a well-balanced cocktail.  It’s a lovely, warm, delicious, beverage with just the perfect amount of sweet and spice.  This was never meant to be a high class cocktail.   This is a way of subtly making a holiday cocktail give you a buzz, an anti-fogmatic and just a nice way to end a cool evening.

I’d meant to try a few more cocktails tonight with Embitterment.  Unfortunately, in the yearning time between the liquor store and deciding to write I hath dranketh my bar dry.  Fortunately, I’ve had close enough to my fill tonight, but let me warn you, there is more in the pipe-line.  More stories, more drinking, more bitters.  I have some teasers that there will be seasonal bitters coming my way (hint: spring is a lovely lavender), and I know this story won’t be done until you’re at your local grocery store buying Embitterment and telling me how terrible my assessment was. Finally, the Embitterment boys mentioned that they were looking to create a signature cocktail, something they could work on within the DC cocktail community as a signature, but yet be completely theirs… They had an idea, they that shared with me.  We’ll hold that one close to the chest for now, until we can try it…

Embitterment: Phase one in which Doris gets her oats.

So, tonight is the beginning of something special, the first part of a multi-part review.  Bonus points if you get the reference.  Let me begin by introducing the subject of tonight’s profile:  Embitterment.  This company, if you lack basic reasoning skills, is a fresh new brand from the District of Columbia which sells—ding, ding, ding, that’s right—bitters.  Embitterment is a very new company, and a very small company.  So small and new I would have no idea they existed if it weren’t for the fact that one of the founders of the company is a fella I used to drunkenly jabber about the Clash and revolution with in college. Good guy.  Anyways, Ethan approached me when his company was getting ready to release their first commercially viable batches of bitters, undoubtedly familiar with the fact that I am now the #1 google search result for “E&J XO Brandy Reviews” and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: either he sends me some delicious bitters, I make a lot of drinks, get jolly and write about them; or he murders my prize steed.  Not one to be intimidated, I woke up with a horse’s head in my bed and bitters in my mailbox.  Over the course of this sloshy mini-series I will go more into the profile of the company, their values, their goals, and their personal financial information.  Now, however, I feel it is appropriate to begin the series with a kind of control testing.

Embittered

For my first experiment I have Embitterment’s Aromatic Bitters and Orange Bitters serving up alongside two big boys of the industry, Angostura and Peychaud’s.  Ethan had recommended I conduct a baseline test before throwing these puppies in some cocktails, as a way of really getting to understand the profile of the product.  He had suggested I do this by putting a few dashes in some seltzer water to really let the flavors open up, and I agreed—it seemed logical, scientific and all that jazz.  Then I realized I rather loathe seltzer water.  I thought about doing it with a bit of tonic, or even some sprite or something—Angostura does actually make a lemon lime soda.  Then I thought, screw it, this blog is all about blues and booze—I’ll put it in a clear liquor.  Since vodka is icky I decided I will do variations on a theme: pink gin.  Traditionally pink gin is Plymouth gin and a dash of Angostura.  I went with Beefeater’s 24 and tonight’s challengers.  So, welp, here it goes.  First off, the established brands:

Angostura Bitters: Classic Aromatic

First off let me mention two things.  Yes, I screwed up, I wasn’t supposed to use London Dry Gin.  But Plymouth was more expensive.  Second, this isn’t pink at all; it’s kind of brackish looking.  Okay three, I didn’t chill it enough. The good news is that this is actually a pretty good medium for testing, as long as I put a ton of bitters in.  Anyways, if you’ve had any experience with bitters, it likely it was with the Caribbean classic Angostura.  The recipe from Angostura bitters, like most of the genre, came about first as some kind of digestive cure-all in Venezuela in 1824.  Basically, a lot of people assumed that mashing up a bunch of herbs and roots and shit with some hooch might make you feel better.  Remember, these were people who thought your health was controlled by humours.  Anyways, said Venezolano amigo’s recipe has been a long guarded secret, it’s oversized label a trademark, and the little drops themselves a classic cocktail additive.  Angostura’s flavor profile is dominated by a variety of root flavors, foremost among them in my mind is gentian root.  Can’t place that flavor?  New Englandah’s will recognize that flavor as the principle ingredient in Moxie soda.  On it’s on (yes, I just splashed bitters on my tongue) angostura is, as you’d expect, is bitter, spicy—think cinnamon and nutmeg, and a bit  vegetal, with a finishing note that seems to leave that part of my tongue numb.  Added to drinks, such as my brown gin, it really opens up with caramel and tons of that moxie flavor, with a bit of something I can’t place…juniper?  Oh, that’s right, gin.

Second up, Peychaud’s.  Peychaud’s bitters are just about as old (about 1830) as Angostura, and came about in much the same way—the crock of shit school of medicine.  Peychaud’s were my first entrée to the world of bitters, as at one point I tried to master the Sazerac, and Peychaud’s were a crucial part.  Rather quickly I resorted to putting endless dashes into my bourbon on a nightly basis, and even one night slugging them down on some kind of bet.  I may have bet myself I’d do it.  It wasn’t particularly pleasant.  When mixed with the proper accompaniment, however, Peychaud’s are quite pleasant.  Though similarly packing with gentian root, to my taste Peychaud’s are far more floral, are quite sweet in a very cane sugar type of way, and have a bit of licorice / anise—which make it clear why they’re the classic Sazerac, jiving perfectly with the Absinthe or Herb Saint.  The Peychaud’s also go perfectly for my whole pink gin thing—first because they actually make the gin pink, looks like a goddamn Cosmo pink, and second because the clean sweetness of it makes a perfect foil to the dry gin, and the licorice note seems to perfectly meet the juniper and grapefruit so prevalent in Beefeater’s 24.  I can see drinking this again, though not in public.  It’s pink and in a martini glass.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s star time! Tonight, the stars of our show: Embitterment!

First off, it’s automatic, diplomatic, enigmatic, and aromatic. Aromatic bitters, that is.  First thing of note, these bitters are stealthy!  They have very little color compared to the older contenders, which I imagine means these are a bit more au natural.  Now, it’s hard to say if I just put more bitters in, or if these just pack more of a punch, but wowww.  Anise is huge here, with a lovely bit of root spice, a tad of citrus and a very light, soft sweet note that kind of remind me of elderflower liqueur.  In the world of bitters varieties are opportunities, and these offer a distinct interpretation that undoubtedly will offer some delicious new twists to some of the classic cocktails I will tackle later.  Also, note to self, a little goes a long way—isn’t that the point of bitters in any cocktail?

The closer for tonight’s performance, another original, is Le Orange.  They don’t call it that; they just go with Orange Bitters.  I’m going to be honest here—I have very limited experience with orange bitters. I’ve had Regan’s once or twice, but these are a lively new experience for me.  They’re warm and round with maybe some brown sugar on the entry and then rich oily orange peel expressed vibrantly.  Little sweet vermouth and I’d have a perfect martini here.  I taste a world of opportunities, a new world to me…and I can’t wait to see what this does to an old fashioned.

Let me remind you folks, this is just an introduction, a teaser, a taster…if you will.  I haven’t really thought it through, but there’s going to be at least one more (possibly many more) installment(s) in the Embitterment review series, with more to come on the company, the mission, and the bitterness.

PS: Special perks to tonight’s medium, Beefeater’s 24, a lovely, floral and balanced gin.

Review: Marie Duffau Napoleon Armagnac

Since I’ve started this blog, which must be at least a year ago now, one article has surged to the peak of popularity.  To date my review of E&J XO Brandy has somehow managed 3,043 views, which is significantly (stunningly) more than the blog homepage.  My review of that product is the 4th result that shows up when you search for it on google.  Seriously, go try it.  Freakin’ crazy.  Particularly freakin’ crazy as it may be the cheapest booze I’ve reviewed.  The funny thing of it all is that I have only bought E&J XO Brandy once, the bottle I reviewed.  That review may well be the farthest my voice has reached in this world, hell the first edition printing of Moby Dick was 3,000 copies.  They ended up burning the ones they couldn’t sell.  My article on a $14 bottle of booze has gained popularity quicker than Herman “the harpoon” Melville—probably because he didn’t have that badass nickname until now.  Anyways, to get to the point, I’ve made my impact on Google based on a product I don’t even really drink.  I do, however, drink brandy somewhat regularly, and tonight I come to review the brandy I actually do drink, Marie Duffau Napoleon Armagnac.

While I’m going to avoid going over the grading system generally applied to brandies, seeing as you already read it on my E&J post, I will give a little backing on what exactly Armagnac is.  See, brandy is basically a distilled wine hooch.  In France they like to name their brandy after the region in which it was made, the most famous of which is Cognac.  You likely know Cognac from rap music videos or rich old men in smoking jackets with oversized snifters.  Well, like Cognac, Armagnac is a brandy which is made in a specific region—what the French call an appellation.  There’s a vocab word for you, kids. Also, stop reading about booze you goddamn 4th grade lush.  Anyways, Armagnac is from the Southwest of France and is known for being a bit more robust, partly the result of being double or single distilled rather than the more commonly triple distilled Cognac, and partly because it is, quite frankly, a less refined product.  I mean that in the best of ways though.  You see, Armagnac is made almost entirely by smaller producers, some of which are essentially long running family farm businesses, and therefore they create a product that is less industrialized, less homogenized, more…passionate. To put it in terms more familiar to the average drinker, your Remy Martin and Courvoisier are like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada: big producers that make a well liked and high quality product.  Armagnac is more like one of the thousands of startup breweries that have exploded over this country, there’s more character, more drive, less money—I come back to it, more passion.  In some cases, centuries of passion, with the same family still on the same farm that has always just kept afloat.

Marie

Marie Duffau, according to my thorough research on the back of the bottle, was started somewhere about 1925 and is now run by the great grandson of Prosper Delord and Marie Duffau.  Granted, this is a bigger brand in their genre, given their US distribution, however you still get the feeling they aren’t that big a company.  Hell, the label looks like it was cut out with those craft zig-zag scissors you use for scrap-booking.  Now, what you want to know is why I keep coming back to this brandy, why I drink $45 Armagnac when I could drink $14 E&J or $23 Courvoisier?  One, because my dad likes it to, which means he buys it and I get to drink it.  Sharing is caring, I’m told.  The main reason though is a bit simpler.  It’s sublime.  So lush, complex, and warming you’ll think you’re suckling the teat of Aphrodite.  I admit, I may have gone too far, so I’ll shut up.  Notes:

Appearance: Beautiful, like a Grade A Medium Amber maple syrup and with long even legs that hang to the edge of the glass. Yes, I used Maple syrup as my reference point, I’m from New Hampshire.

Nose: Full of rich fruit, spiced apple, apricot and even a bit of citrus, backed with a dash more spice, maybe nutmeg, and a hint of vanilla from the oak with just a light wisp of alcohol.  My mouth is watering.

Taste:  Enter orgasm joke here.  Warm and sweet, fine and mellow with the baked apple and lush fruit the nose hinted at, backed by caramel or even honey, and finishing with a very light spice and vanilla that lingers effervescently on the tongue.  Liquid divinity—like my above asinine metaphor warned you.

I think you see now why, when I do drink brandy, I go for the Armagnac, and why I dearly love Ms. Marie Duffau.  Brandy is one of those beautiful luxuries of life that are worth more than $14, worth savoring when you can.  So while yes, you can get a fine cognac for the same price, there is something revelatory to drinking the single distilled family craft that is Marie Duffau Armagnac.

Two Bulleits in the Chamber…

Tonight a have a double shot for you, or perhaps a double barrel…double action? Double tap?  Either firearm based pun? Reason for the pun, tonight I’m going at two Bulleits, their bourbon and rye.  I suspect these products need no introduction, based equal parts on their stand out branding, their mid-range price, and their quality Bulleit has—over just 15 years—become a behind the bar staple.  You probably recognize it, the bold molded glass stating alternately “Bulleit Bourbon: Frontier Whiskey,” or “Bulleit Rye: American Whiskey.”  That bold, old west bottle, striped with a simple striped label stands out to even a whiskey novice.  The story behind the Bulleit brand, so it comes from founder Tom Bulleit begins in about 1830 with his grandfather Augustus Bulleit, who brewed for about 30 years, until his death.  On reviving the Bulleit whiskey tradition Tom switched over to a bourbon style whiskey going from Augustus’ 2/3rd rye, 1/3rd corn formula to about 2/3rd corn, 1/3rd rye.  The final product is bottled at 90 proof.  In its short 15 years Bulleit had been bought up twice, first by Seagram’s, second by liquor giant Diageo, with whom they’ve grown into a massive success and expanded their line to include tonight’s rye and the sadly out of my range Bulleit 10 year bourbon.  The rye, by the way is a 95% rye, 5% barley mash produced alongside many other rye brands in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.  That’s enough background, I’m thirsty.

Bulleit

 First off I’m going to go to the bourbon, knowing from experience that the rye would heavily influence my palate.  First entry into the nose is a rather powerful experience, full of vanilla, cinnamon and oak—with something in the back that reminds me of apple cider that you left in the fridge too long in the hope it would get a little hard.  The first taste is rich and chewy with caramel, vanilla, smooth oak, with just a bit of smoke—leaving with that lovely rye cinnamon that carries through on the finish with just the right amount of 90 proof burn. 

And now that my palate and my brain are fully lubricated, let’s get to the rye!  First off, the smell—glory be, I love the smell of rye whiskey…not in the morning, I want to keep my job.  But damn this smells fine the rye spice coming across full of cinnamon, brown sugar, cloves…quite frankly it smells like pie.  Delicious, boozy pie.  Certainly the nose on this doesn’t lie, with that rye cinnamon heavily in the forefront, but balanced off with a lovely sweetness that seems to be coming from a heath bar like combination of toffee and soft cocoa.  The finish rounds out with something almost reminiscent of honeyed spearmint and a bit of dry oak.  Overall this rye is very pleasing, and my favorite of the two.  Also worth noting is that in a face-off between these contenders and last week’s Cleveland whiskey the Rye came out the clear winner—and Ian, Ben and I came out rather drunk.

 While there are certainly many factors that have played into the rapid success of Bulleit bourbon in recent years, particularly given the explosion in the popularity of whiskey in general, it’s certain that it’s not hype making Bulleit popular.  The reasonable price and consistent quality ensure that while you may come for the looks, you stay for the whole package—just like any love in life.

Review: Cleveland Whiskey

Science, it proved the earth goes around the sun, it eradicated polio (in the first world), and put man on the moon (depending who you ask)—now, it will make whiskey age faster.  Could this be perhaps its greatest achievement yet?  Well, that is the question a young man from Philadelphia names Ben Winston asked himself as I introduced my college comrades to the wonders of the New Hampshire State Liquor Outlet.  Being ever the (computer) scientist himself, Ben reached for Cleveland bourbon whiskey.  Ian and I went Bulleit bourbon and rye, respectively.  The science behind Cleveland and that “make whiskey age faster” thing I mentioned before goes something like this:  Cleveland makes white whiskey, Cleveland throws this and some charred oak in a pressure cooker type thing, changes in heat and pressure merge the oakiness to the booziness faster, then it gets 6 months in a barrel and boom whiskey.  There’s a lot more to it than that I’m sure, but the guy Tom Lix who makes the stuff is all about industry secrets and stuff.  Skeptical?  So was I.  So am I, for that matter.  So before I go one, I’m gunna drink it.

10518709_10153047111453368_2994859814163604905_n

By the way, this is batch 6

 

First think you’ll notice about this is the color, a rich dark molasses that makes this six-month old the Benjamin Button of bourbon.  The nose is rather unusual, woody must, citrus and some kind of thick caramel chew, with a light whiff of alcohol.  Rather pleasant, actually.  The nose doesn’t belie the taste, wurther’s chews and heavy oak with a bite that stings the tongue a bit, though doesn’t hit the throat too heavily.  The finish is warm and oaky.  Kind of like a smoldering campfire.  The funny thing about this bourbon is that in spite of its youth it has the kind of oak that people complain about in some older whiskies, which seems to overpower the whiskey leaving it a bit one dimensional.  At just above $30 this perhaps isn’t quite the bang for your buck that you’d desire, though the 100 proof does slake my thirst.

Overall I do appreciate what Cleveland has done.  In the face of a menacing global whiskey crisis—caused specifically by the time it takes to age whiskey—they have found a way to make whiskey quick, and with science!  The upside of this is fast whiskey and consistency.  With Cleveland there’s none of that crazy alchemy of 7 years of moving around barrels and tasting them, blending them and well, magic mostly.  The science means consistency, advancement, progress!  I must say though, if you couldn’t figure it out, I’m a bit anachronistic.  I like listening to 70 year old music on vinyl, or even acetate, and I like my whiskey with a little bit of magic and mystery too.  Though, for the record I’ll let science explain the mysteries of the universe for me.

P.S. Special thanks to Ben and Ian for forgetting all their booze at my house

Quick Shot: Blanton’s Single Barrel

This one is a solid gold bullet from the hip.  I’m a tad anxious almost, to think that I’ve got one shot at a big one.  Could be a head shot, could be a miss.  Anyways, Blanton’s is one of the big boys, one of those usually out of my price range.  Luckily for me a compadre bought me a nice drinks by the dram set, which held as it’s crown jewel dum-dum-dum Blanton’s.  This is a gunslinger with a big reputation. In the words of Breaker Morant, “Shoot straight, you bastards–and don’t make a mess of it.”

 

Nose: Goddamn phenomenal.  It’s lushly warm, sweet vanilla, spice, reminiscent of baked apple.  Delicious. 

Taste: Do I dare? Pow! Shit, he got me.  Miles of spice upfront, cinnamon rye goodness and, what’s that?  Cherry that borders on the safe side of medicinal and citrus.  This isn’t bourbon, this is an old fashioned.  No wait, it’s wonder-bourbon…

Finish:  …and it fades into smooth, sweet molasses with some oak, vanilla, and something reminiscent of an old tawny port. 

Blanton's

You’ve heard the legends of this bourbon, you’ve seen it’s horse sculptured cap.  Well, it’s the potential triple crown winner the underground claims it to be.  A gunslinger who could hold his own with Doc Holliday. You want a good bourbon tonight? Here’s your huckleberry. 

 

Jefferson’s Very Small Batch Bourbon

I intended for this story to be about America, Manifest Destiny, the agrarian ideal and Deism.  I intended it for the Fourth of July, with rockets’ red glare and screaming eagles and shit.  I’m a little late for all that nationalism stuff though, and not one for blind patriotism, so sorry, it’s the Fourteenth of July and I’ve finally gotten enough motivation and encouragement to write.  You’ll live, unlike the man for whom I write this, Thomas Jefferson. T. Jeffs. Tommy J. Teej.  He died on the Fourth, 1826, which you probably would have learned in history class if you were awake and not stoned.  You probably would have also learned that a document called the Declaration of Independency was signed that day, 1776.  They made a musical about it.  Anyways, Mr. J happens to be the namesake of the bourbon I bought for the holiday weekend, coincidentally.  It was on sale, ‘Murica.  I could go on and on about Mr. Thomas Jefferson because of the whole “I used to get made fun of for being a history geek” thing (just kidding I still do.)  I could talk about how Jefferson was a true Renaissance man:  Statesman, educator, gentleman farmer, distiller, author, architect, inventor, musician.  You probably know him for his affair with his slave / wife’s half-sister Sally Hemings.   I rather like Jefferson.  He hated banks and loved rebellion.  He made whiskey and played music.  You see where this is going?  It’s going to the bottle…

jeffersons ghost

 

Right, the whiskey.  This isn’t exactly old teej’s whiskey for quite a few reasons, but one stands above the rest—they don’t distill it.  “What the hell do you mean?!” you ask, “it doesn’t just condense in nature!”  No, it doesn’t, if it did I would be a religious man and Jefferson owner Trey Zoeller would be my prophet.  Instead what Zoeller does is buy whiskey, pre-made and partially aged, and blend it.  This bourbon can be sourced from multiple distilleries, blended, and sometimes adventurously aged, like their recent “Ocean” outing that was aged onboard a research vessel at sea to give it a strong briny character.  Regardless, this is an interesting business model, particularly for a company vying in around the premium spirits market.  What I drink tonight is Jefferson’s base-line—the small batch.  Ridiculously small batch they claim.  At $25 on sale this is competitively priced bourbon, competing with a lot of big hitters in the $20-30 game.  How does Mr. Jefferson fare in this marketplace? Well, like the man himself the bourbon has a unique and distinct character. The entry on this is one of soft sweet corn, light vanilla, heavy oak with a twinge of must and an airy middle note that I could almost discern until I whiffed a little too much and burned the hair from my nostrils.  That’s surprising from something that’s only 82.3 proof.  Let me also say, that .3 is probably bullshit.  Anyways, the first sip hits quite smoothly, rolling across the tongue with a light sweetness that has a distinct caramel apple character, and leaves with slick, oily coating.  Near the back it seems the sweet has run off and there’s a healthy bit of spice that adds a bit of complexity this whiskey deserves, with such a enigmatic namesake.  So, is this the best bourbon in that $20-30 slug-fest?  That’s a matter of choice, and while this may not be the first one I reach for at that price point myself, I appreciate what it does, how it tastes and a good sale price.  As every history geek has their favorite founding father (mine likely the namesake), every whiskey geek will likely have their favorite reasonably priced bourbon—and those two groups have quite a bit of overlap.  

Jim Beam Single Barrel

I’ve been sitting on this article for a while–or laying off the last of this whiskey, at the least.  I’ve had a mental block, a loss of flow.  Shit, I haven’t got an angle on it.  I like to come at these pieces with a direction, a back story, something that brings me to a point on the whiskey.  It gives me the illusion of creativity.  Anyways, I haven’t really got an angle for this article, that’s my goddamn angle.  Pretty lame.  But you see, I’ve been working my ass off, draining myself, ever since I got back from Mississippi (which probably should be the source of some future angle).  Working 7 days a week does not seem to be the ideal creative fodder, for me at least.  Anyways, enough rambling to elongate your suffering.  To the point, whiskey. The good thing about working non-stop is that I can afford a decent bottle every once in a while to take the sting out of life.  This long delayed bottle?  Jim Beam Single Barrel. 

 ImageJ

Bottled at 95 proof, in this case from barrel 9/139 on February 18, 2014.  I think this bottle ran me just short of $30, which is right around the range of quite a few other f upper mid / sub-premium bourbons, yet twice the price of regular Beam and an Evan Williams more than Beam Black.  First off, nose: very soft, subtle orange and a light sweetness, but really very…ethereal?  I’m not sure I’ve ever found a lighter nose; I basically snorted this stuff to smell it.  The initial taste finds that citrus note fully expressed, with a tinge of acidity, and some dark sweetness that fades into a tad bit of oak, almost no vanilla and a lovely warming baking spice finish.  Overall, this is very tame at 95 proof, and very subtle and well rounded.  It’s as easy drinking as the other Beam labels tend to be, but it certainly is clear that they’ve gone to lengths in selecting their barrels.  My take away, my angle, if you will?  This is the perfect bourbon for an overwrought, overworked mind.  Easy drinking, subtle, so smooth you don’t have to think about it—just take a sip and it does the work for you. 

For those of you who may think I’m a little too booze and need more blues, here is Bukka White, moaning and droning the “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues.” This post has a side point–I’m going to Mississippi, down the delta, putting on my walkin’ shoes and hopping a passenger plane and ride. I’ll be stopping off in Memphis and drinking my way from grave to grave, playing music, certainly, and yes–there will be plenty of booze.