Been a hectic last few weeks, but I’m goin’ to Newport this weekend! In the meantime enjoy some Bukka.
Been a hectic last few weeks, but I’m goin’ to Newport this weekend! In the meantime enjoy some Bukka.
Let me first make multiple apologies. First off, I haven’t posted in a good while. To be honest I’ve been in a rough state for the last month or so. It started when I sprained my ankle hiking, and intensified when after a weekend in Montreal I came down with a chest cold. Which I took to Charlotte the next weekend and let intensify with the help of some super powered allergies. Believe it or not, I have taken many days off the drink in the effort of trying to heal these ills. Then again, as you can gather by my travels I did have some pretty good drinking time in there, over the course of a very tight schedule. None of this was conducive to me writing reviews. My second apology is that I didn’t make any acknowledgement of the 4th of July. I’m sorry, I was just enjoying it too much, with the barbecue and beer and Sam Elliot in The Frogs, I kind of forgot. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, onto business, and a post 4th celebration of a couple fascinating American pioneers—George Stranahan and Jess Graber.
The George Stranahan epic begins in Aspen, Colorado in 1990 when he started the Flying Dog Brewpub. Now, us younger lushes take a good brewpub for granted, so let us acknowledge that when Flying Dog was founded in 1990 it was one of the first brewpubs in the Rockies since Prohibition. The avid reader or writer may also find it intriguing that among the bars regular patrons was an aging political journalist and lunatic named Hunter S. Thompson, well known for violence, drugs and insanity. As Flying Dog grew, it became a bit more than your average brewpub, gaining mass distribution, but always keeping its gonzo edge with obscene names like “Raging Bitch Pale Ale” and “Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout.” Since those early days there’s been a move to Frederick, MD and the loss of the Hunter himself, but Flying Dog keeps going strong, and so has George Stranahan.
The way I see it, George is probably a good deal of drinkers, or at least the ones that count. He can’t be tied down to one fuel. Sure, I love craft beer too, and I know there’s enough variety in that world to keep my palate entertained forever, probably—but a man needs more than one hobby. Like I imagine many of my readers are, George shared his love of beer, with a love of whiskey. If you don’t like whiskey, you may be on the wrong blog. In 1998, serendipity struck in Colorado. On what we’ll pretend was a stormy night with dramatic flashes of lightening and shit, George Stranahan’s barn took alight. As they tend to do, brave and daring firefighters answered the call to save this barn, and among them was a young volunteer, Jess Graber. Somehow, amongst the smouldering ruins, Stranahan and Graber bonded, and developed a brotherhood that can only be explained by a blood borne element…whiskey. From the smoke of Stranahan’s barn rose a greater Phoenix, conjured by Stranahan and Graber, and Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey was born. I’m not going to go too in depth on Stranahan’s, mostly because I’ve never had it, but we’ll pretend that it’s because I’m saving it for another article…should someone send me a bottle. Hint hint, nudge nudge. What I will say is what I know; they were a pretty early player in the microdistillery boom, with a unique product that came from aging barley based whiskey in charred oak in a fusion of single malt and bourbon styles. Like Flying Dog, Stranahan’s was a breakaway success.
Like Stranahan, it seems Graber is not a man to rest on his laurels, and his newest creation is a tribute to a different generation of Rocky Mountain pioneers. Tincup, so Jess declares, is a whiskey made in tribute to the prospectors of the Colorado Mountains, the whiskey drank, and the tin cups they drank from. We’ll start with the obvious on Tincup, and judge the apple by looking at the tree…or something. Anyways, it’s a damn cool bottle. Inset in the glass we are advised (in case we didn’t know) that this is Colorado whiskey, made from pure Rocky Mountain water. The big stand-out and, if we’re honest, the gimmick; is the little tin cup that perches on the top of the bottle, stamped with the pick-ax company logo. Yes, it’s a bit of a gimmick…but its damned cool, and a rather unique approach to branding your company. I may have to drink a few more bottles just to have a set of these little things. Inside the bottle, so I’m advised by the neck tag, is Rocky Mountain bourbon (though they don’t call themselves such) from a corn, rye and barley mash, which spent an unspecified amount of time in American White Oak. So, we must ask ourselves—how far does the apple fall from the tree? (That is really a meaningless maxim to reference in this situation.)
The nose on this actually makes that cliché ring a little truer; it smells quite a bit like a sweet, heavily spice apple crisp. It’s a touch mouthwatering, and notice I avoided making some kind of American as apple pie statement? On sipping this whiskey I find it to be quite delicate, with a rather light body that opens up well with a warm caramel center, just a hint more of crisp apple or pear and a nice backing of earthy cinnamon / nutmeg from the rye. The finish is correspondingly delicate, with not a hint of burn at the mellow 84 proof, and just a touch more spice, some lingering oaky dryness and a hint of a brown sugar and dark fruit taste that holds to the tongue.
Overall, this whiskey is a very well balanced, rather unique expression, with a nice interplay between airy flavors and rye spice. With a bottle down I’ve found that this whiskey holds a light dash of bitters beautifully, and is gentle enough that even casual whiskey drinkers could enjoy a few fingers neat. In the end, Tincup comes as a pleasant surprise at a democratic price point, and pays a fitting tribute to the tin cupped Rocky Mountain miner, and even more so to the pioneering “spirit” of those early brewers and distillers of Colorado, including George Stranahan and the brains behind this fine product, Jess Graber himself.
I am going to start off this article by making you all a promise. I will not make any obvious Billy Idol references. I make no promises about history references, either way. With that out of the way, let me begin.
As my frequent readers have led me to believe, I am some kind of poet laureate of the poor man’s hooch. Well, my friends, let me fulfill your dreams. You see, I’m not entirely sure (because, alcohol) but I’m pretty sure Rebel Yell was my first bourbon. Clearly this was a successful foray, as you likely have noticed I have gained a touch of an affinity for bourbon. Now, I’m not sure when the last time I have regular Rebel Yell was, I imagine it’s been years, but let me state for the record, I enjoyed it. Is Rebel Yell great whiskey? Feck no. But as Faulkner famously observed: “there is no such thing as bad whiskey. Some whiskeys just happen to be better than others.” That’s like piss whiskey populism, or something. Well, it just so happens that while Rebel Yell is one of those fine $15 whiskies, there is better whiskey available—and under the Rebel Yell banner none-the-less. Don’t they call that the Stars ‘n’ Bars?
I’ll be brief in my profile of this spirit. You have your standard Rebel Yell, perhaps a private of the infantry, which howls at 80 proof for $15 and achieves the general goal of getting you intoxicated. Rebel Yell Small Batch Reserve, honestly doesn’t differ terribly a lot in concept. Kentucky made bourbon, with wheat as the secondary grain is purchased from an undisclosed distiller and bottled. Neither have a age statement, but I’d say it’s a good guess nobody is really sure. At $20 we’re not too picky. Small Batch Reserve bumps up to 90.6 proof, which is a significant perk in the getting drunk field. Those are the stats, which beg the question; does bottling a Small Batch Reserve edition ensure that the south will rise again, under the banner of Rebel Yell?
Just the smell of this whiskey harkens back to the glory days of southern pride…no wait, it doesn’t. It smells like whiskey, more particularly some dark brown sugar, vanilla, perhaps some light tobacco and just a touch of dry wood. That’s okay, I imagine the antebellum south smelled like swamp, sweat and injustice. Tasty tasty time… The first note is one of overwhelming honey that rolls from the tip of the tongue on down with a pretty rich mouthfeel. Once a breath of air passes over the palate a touch of heat is exposed that rises with a somewhat acid note that quickly gives a like burn on the tonsils with an interesting cherry note seems hidden in there underneath some vanilla. The finish is heavy on the honey, which coats the inside of your mouth pleasantly, but has a touch of a medicinal note hanging about.
So will Jefferson Davis be adorning future dollar bills, ya’ll? No, clearly not, that’s absurd. But the weekend I bought this whiskey was spent cruising around the campus of Yale in an angry ’85 Camaro with seats that didn’t match, a questionable paint job, and a likely broken carburetor—which seems entirely appropriate. While a step up from your standard Rebel Yell fare, this is still at its core a low shelf sluggin’ whiskey of the sort that makes you feel a bit more rugged for drinking it. So while I may not be riding with Quantrill’s Raiders like Jesse James, with a bit of this in me I feel like my buddy, his Camaro and I could scare the piss out of some preps. Or make them piss themselves laughing…it’s all the same when you’ve had a few.
For some reason for special occasions we raise a glass of something fine. I’m a big proponent of this. At times, however, these occasions necessitate solemn reflection and respectful remembrance. Today is such a day—Memorial Day. On a day such as this, rather than raise a glass it may be more appropriate to pour out a dram to those fallen. In spite of my political beliefs, which wars I believe were necessary and which were essentially criminal, today I pour a glass out to this country’s fallen soldiers. As it seems scotch is often the choice for such tributes, tonight I too shall consume scotch. I’m not pouring any out though; I’d prefer not to get booze in the carpet.
My beverage tonight is a bottle of Glenmorangie 10 year that my mother and stepfather gave me for my birthday. Since my birthday is in March, clearly I’ve been saving this review for a special occasion…Or a night when I can convince myself to write; tonight it just so happens these things coincided. Anyways the 10 year is Glenmorangie’s base-line baby, aged in old bourbon barrels and presumably providing the base that all their special offerings build off of. So, is this bottle a worthy tribute to the roughly 1.4 million U.S. soldiers who have died in combat? Shall we taste?
The Nose on this whisky is quite interesting, with grassy notes, a heavy citrus presence that reminds me of a well-made margarita and, finally, a peach cobbler with ice cream note that seems to come in after I’ve stopped inhaling.
This scotch is somehow walks a line between very light flavors and a rather rich body, with soft vanilla dominating throughout, just a touch of caramel in the middle and a hefty share of green apple / pear notes near the end that brings just a touch of tart astringency to the palate. The finish returns with a bit more acid and astringency that remind you of that citrus nose, and wipe your tongue off like orange oil on a guitar fretboard. It’s pleasant, crisp and surprisingly refreshing—perfect for a cool night while I walk the fine line of chilled toes and open windows.
So let’s go back to the theme of the day, and the question I previously posed— is this bottle a worthy tribute to the roughly 1.4 million U.S. soldiers who have died in combat? Can anything be? I highly doubt there’s a bottle of bourbon worthy of a man’s life, and I love nothing more than bourbon. As a tribute however, this stands up as well as any, and I feel it fortuitously matches the weather of this Memorial Day as well. So, tonight I drink to those who gave the last full measure of devotion to this land, so that we may live to drink another day. I pour out a dram to thee, right into my thirsty mouth.
Knob Creek needs no introduction. They even have freakin’ commercials now. So no gimmicks here, let’s cut to the beef. Knob Creek Rye labels itself as patiently aged, meaning I have no idea how old it is. I don’t really care. I do care that I scored it on sale for $35, like a true booze-hound bargain-hunter. I also care that it’s 100 proof, I like that. In fact, I need that—I’ve got a scratchy throat and a sprained wrist—poppa needs his medicine. Unlike Knob Creek, I don’t have ample patience today. So I’m going to cut past the usual drivel, which you likely skip over anyways, and hit some tasting notes.
Curse my allergies…After a deep huff I’m able to cut through and get a touch of cinnamon, some herbal notes and a touch of fresh sawdust. The first impression on my admittedly hefty sip was how gentle this is, not only as a 100 proof rye without a dragon’s breath, but as a rye in general. Rather than strong hefty spice notes Knob Creek has played a bit more with a softer cinnamon spice muffin like note, a rich caramel middle and, as their “age statement” would imply, a generous dose of balanced oak. This bit of oak leaves the rye just a touch dry as it finishes over the palate but it lingers well with floral, ginger and spice notes that just lightly massages my phlegmatic throat.
Summation points? While the price point, even on sale, is a touch high, this is a fine drinkin’ whiskey. Knob Creek Rye is a refined and balanced rye, so balanced that it mellows down it’s rye spice and high proof into a benchmark for a mid-range rye.
Whiskey marketing tends to flow down a few narrow channels. If you’re walking down the whiskey lanes browsing around, it isn’t exactly hard to see this trend. You wanna sell whiskey? You gotta have a rugged heritage. It’s okay if it’s mostly rubbish, just pick a name of a distiller from the 1700s and slap on a word that makes you think Davy Crockett would drink this between eating bear hearts—boom, you’ve nailed the market. Given whiskey’s image, you’d think it caused your body to develop more testosterone. If it did, I’d probably look like bigfoot. Anyways, tonight’s drinking comes courtesy of a company that has clearly mastered this technique, A. Smith Bowman Distilleries of Fredericksburg, Virginia. The product: Bowman Brothers “Pioneer Spirit” Small Batch Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Long name, I know. Here’s the thing, this whole marketing spiel I mentioned, it seems to be a more modern trend. The funny thing is, unlike the names smacked on labels, such as Elijah Craig, this name actually has something to do with the company’s heritage. Furthermore, Bowman seems to be ahead of the curve a touch—he started the distillery in 1935; in fact, the original distillery location in modern day Reston, Virginia is on the National Register of Historic places. Then again, Bowman was just naming the distillery after himself, much like Jim Beam; he just happens to have famous relatives…
The namesakes of this bottle, the Bowman Brothers, were intrepid American Revolutionary War Veterans and, no bullshit, pioneers. They led families west to the wild frontiers of Kentucky (like someone else I mentioned…) to settle communities in two counties. You probably know Kentucky well for one of its fine exports as well, bourbon. I’m sure there’s no connection. Where the hell was I going with this? Oh yeah, A. Smith Bowman ain’t just another new name on the shelves playing a tired marketing ploy—they were around when whiskey’s marketing ploy was “it gets you drunk.” Now they have to tell you to drink responsibly, how sad. As usual, all of this is tangential though—let’s talk juice.
Supposedly, from what I call “research,” Bowman Brothers is made from a Buffalo Trace Mash, about 15% rye, that is triple distilled though a copper still. What does that smell like? It’s very light, with a crisp apple note leading in, a delectably smooth vanilla middle, and just a dusting of rye spice at the end, almost like apple crisp and ice cream. I’m kind of hungry now. Okay, Girl Scout cookies down and I’m back—let us taste! (As if I haven’t already had two drinks.)
That rye note is actually pretty up front on the first sip, considering its low station in the mash. The middle is where this whiskey really shines, with a very rich vanilla flavor that’s rather unusual—did I buy the special release aged with vanilla beans? Nope, my blood ain’t that rich. There is also a pretty great chewy, sweet, maple-syrup-over-snow thing as the foundation. This is enjoyable stuff.
What’s the point here? Well, one, this Bowman Brothers is a pretty interesting, light and lovely whiskey. Also, all the marketing money in the world isn’t going to give your brand any legit heritage. Finally, it seems to me that Virginia pioneers probably taught the people of Kentucky a thing or two about the art of whiskey—even Washington was a distiller—and if this is the kind of whiskey Virginia is still churning out, I think they still know what they’re doing.
Mondays. Nobody is excited for Monday. Monday is never the best day of the week. Then again sometimes, it’s worse than others—as was the case for me today. I woke up early, and I freakin’ hate waking up. I had to go to the dentist, which meant minimizing morning coffee intake. I got my cleaning done, with a thorough thrashing of my gums and scraping. Worse yet, I have to go back to get a filling. From there I went to one of my favorite coffee shops to catch up on my chemicals, only to realize I had forgotten my wallet. Onward to work in the pouring rain. Work was guaranteed a stressful day, payroll reporting, though that went rather smoothly. Not everything did, which meant—without going into any details—I spent a good hour dealing with someone in a less than pleasant mood. That’s a touch of an understatement. That’s a big understatement. Fortunately, I made it through the day, made the gym, made it home. Now, I would never be the one to recommend alcohol as a coping mechanism (hahahahahaha,) but I think it’s a fine night for a firm drink. On the docket tonight? Jim Beam Bonded.
Jim Beam Bonded is a pretty fresh release, hitting the shelves nationwide. The first natural question, what the hell does bonded mean? I imagine this is a pretty frequent question, as the term is rather specific and therefore rarely applied (aside from on my beloved Old Grandad.) Basically bonded, or “bottled in bond,” means that the bourbon comes from one distiller in one distilling season, has spent 4 years or longer in the barrel, and is bottled at 100 proof. Simple enough, given the government involvement. So the real question here is, is it going to soothe my tattered soul (and taste good doing so?)
That first deep whiff, more deep breathing exercise than nose, comes through robust, with a heavy cedar note, more than a touch of spice, some warm molasses and a lingering forewarning of booze. The mouthfeel is surprisingly gentle with a rich warm oily consistency hiding the 50% of booze in here quite nicely, and the flavors that pop out are decidedly different than your standard Beam. The profile, I would say, can best be described as dark, with a touch of leather and toffee resting on a solid backbone of char and toasted oak. That leather clings on with an almost cigar like finish that is less aggressive than one would expect, pleasantly warming the throat as it winds down. Overall, I’d probably describe this as old school, if I had any basis for that judgement.
Two fingers down, and it’s almost Tuesday. Monday doesn’t hurt so badly anymore, except that brutal 3rd person flossing. The takeaway here is that sometimes you just need to take a deep breath, a full sip, and let it go. Other days are bonded days—a bit rougher, hotter, but worth the hassle in the end.
I recently returned from a week in Ireland, the land of some of my ancestors, rolling hills and millions of sheep. The weather was uncharacteristically pleasant, with the sun illuminating the well watered fields every day, drying the streets, and blinding the eyes of the unprepared and nocturnal. Joyce wrote over 900 pages about one day in the life of Leopold Bloom, and so it is fair to say I do not dare to recount my journey in full. My goal here is to recount some notes on the whiskey I experienced and, to the best of my ability, to share what I learned from my experience (as pertains to the famous Irish tippling culture.)
My journey, or shall I say our journey, began as many in Ireland do, in Dublin. Specifically 7am in the Dublin airport on 17 March, 2015. My father and I collected our right hand drive rental, promptly got lost, and briefly panicked, then found our air bnb location that would serve as home-base for our first few days. For lunch we enjoyed a hurling match and some sandwiches in a deserted bar, wherein my father laid upon me my first challenge, one that would set a trend. He’ll buy me that Teeling Single Grain, if I’ll write it up. I was hesitant. Basically this was tantamount to one of my single shot reviews, but on the fly and in public. Eventually I took up the offer. From here on out, when I had the mind to, I took to the trusty iPhone note app, and recorded my voyage—one whiskey at a time.
Teeling Single Grain Whiskey
The nose, my airport blown senses informed me consisted mostly of lemon, cocoa, vanilla. The first sip hit with a sharp somewhat acid tang, with honey and a grassy herbal tendency to follow—overall quite light on the palate. The finish tended more towards that acid / citrus note, with a touch of clove like spice that hung around long after the glass was empty.
On the evening of St. Patrick’s day—that most blessed of boozer’s days, my father and I bypassed the traditional tourist chaos of the Temple Bar District for a more reserved night in Jack Ryan’s Beggars Bush for some football and food. Jack Ryan’s would become the first whiskey I would have, of what seems to be a thoroughly Irish phenomenon—true house whiskey. In America we have house whiskey, in that a bar decides which whiskey is going to be the cheapest in the well. In Ireland bars buy whiskey from the major distilleries, age and bottle their own product. It’s a beautiful thing, and for me, these became the must note whiskies. It seemed necessary, imperative, that if this whiskey were made for this bar, by this bar, I must have it, and I must record these memories for posterity. As for Jack Ryan?
Jack Ryan 12 Year Old Single Malt
My boy Jack was very light and fragrant, with a buttery nose revealing a touch of vanilla bean and some nice peach notes, with perhaps just a hint of orange oil. The entry was luscious honey and rich oily vanilla. Again that orange peeked its head, and again a rich buttery, almost chardonnay breath on inhaling. Somewhere in there I found an unusual herbaceous note, to quote myself: “…is that what moss tastes like? If so I think I like moss.” The finish was quite nice as well, with the viscous nature of the whiskey keeping it clinging hot to the palate like some kind of melted vanilla butter.
While staying on the subject I shall say that I had intended to take note on a couple more house Whiskies I had the luxury of tasting. One was at the world famous Temple Bar, namesake of the district and home of some friendly barkeeps and an always lively seen. Apparently I did not take any notes on that whiskey, which is a shame because I must have had 6 or 7 of them. Similarly in Waterbury, I had the house whiskey of a very famous and quintessential pub, Henry Downes. I believe I had 4 of those, however my father and I were engaged in conversation—as one so often is in Ireland—with some very welcoming locals, and therefore notes were cast aside. I did manage to have another house Whiskey, this again in Dublin, at a truly brilliant pub and old institution, the Palace Bar. Though during our time in the Palace Bar we did not find much luck in conversation, we did breathe in a rather literary atmosphere and, in my case, a very fine house whiskey.
Palace Bar 9 Single Cask
The nose on this whiskey can best be described as fat, with the omnipresent honey backed by rich port wine and plum notes, a crisp touch of evergreen and a bit of spice reminiscent of warm rye bread. Truly unusual, and truly delectable. This complex nose does not lie, as the first taste reveals a rich almost brandy like flavor with caramel that opens into dark fruit, leather, and a hint of what seems like orange bitters. The finish hangs on with more dark leather, a hint of coffee and dark chocolate, and a thoroughly satisfying warmth.
Not unlike our house whiskies of Irish legend, there is the occasional purveyor of fine spirits who will age and bottle their own project. One is Dublin’s Mitchell & Son, a store famous for creating two legends of Irish Whiskey, Green Spot and Yellow Spot. Green Spot and her 12 year old sister whiskey, Yellow Spot have developed a bit of a reputation as the so called “Irish Pappy Van Winkle,” a whiskey rare balanced and sublime. Well, rare they are not—in fact Green Spot has been available in the States for over a year and while I was abroad I hear Yellow Spot made its first landings. Balanced and sublime? Well that is a question I had to test myself… Naturally, given the nature of my trip, I did not take notes on Green Spot—though I remember having quite a few in the wee hours at Tig Cóilí. I did, in the pleasant bar of the Ballsbridge’s Schoolhouse Hotel, have the wit to jot some notes on Yellow Spot. For the sake of rendering the experience as honestly as possible, I shall share these notes unabridged.
The Nose is incredibly light, effervescent, honey, small amounts of vanilla and a touch of fresh sawn oak, perhaps?
The mouthfeel opens, almost melts over your tongue like a thick honey (maple syrup consistency, infused with lemon grass, and rare Irish sunshine) and leaving a rich lingering roll of…
Well, that’s where I lost it. I suppose I was speechless perhaps, at the subtle and gentle notes of this whiskey that were so delicately balanced and almost challenging. Expect this to do quite well on our shores.
At this point we come to one of the finer points of Irish culture, one which the average American drunk may find baffling. Pricing. Perhaps this point struck me harder than it has many Americans abroad, given that the Euro was basically at an all-time low against the dollar while I was in Ireland, but to me, drinks were cheap. In Dublin a pint of Guinness runs around 5 Euro. In the US it can be up to $8, and your average draft beer is going to be $4-6 a pint. Plus the expected $1 per drink tip. (Tips are not even remotely expected in Ireland.) The rest of Ireland whines that Dublin is expensive, much the way we make fun of $8 draft specials in New York City. For another example, the aforementioned Yellow Spot, a 12 year old single malt Irish that fetches $100 a bottle in the U.S.? That was 8 Euro for a pour. For the sake of comparison, when you buy a bottle of Powers at the off-license (liquor store) it’s close to 30 Euro. A pour of Powers at a bar? 4 Euro flat. That’s about a 3 to 1 pricing ratio. In the U.S. the bar pricing ratio is usually about 6 to 1, maybe even worse. Need more examples? You probably don’t, but I’ve got one. When I was probably 22, I went to a very well loved Irish Pub style drinking establishment near my alma mater. As a lover of whiskies, I ordered one of Midleton’s finer products, Red Breast 12 year. I then got my $13 tab and choked a little. I was kinda broke back then…Anyways, I ordered that same whiskey, I think it was in Ennis maybe? I’m pretty sure I paid 6.30 Euro. The point being, drinking in a pub in Ireland is a crap ton cheaper than a bar in the states, even while drinking at home is more expensive. The profit margin is several times less, but the social value is so much more. It’s like the damn Irish government want you to do your drinking in the pub, ain’t that great of them? Oh, and about that Redbreast 12 year…
Redbreast 12 year old
The nose leads with a touch of crisp pear or apple notes, a little honey center and a bit of orange zest and nutmeg. That honey note, as perhaps should be seen as the defining touch of Irish whiskey by now, comes to dominate the first rolling drops of a sip, warming into a lovely spiced pear, maybe some caramel apple and an unusual citra hop note? The finish of this fine dram lingers with a bit of juicy pear, honey, and just a hint of tart lime.
Given the nature of this pub centric culture, perhaps you may expect that drinkers of every stripe and type would be enjoying all nature of drinks in all of these lovely drinking establishments. You would be wrong. At present it seems the Irish microbrew movement is just starting to get some legs. I enjoyed quite a few when the opportunity presented itself. As you’ve probably noticed, there is a plethora of fine whiskies—Irish and otherwise—available across the board. I clearly had a few of these too. As with any bar, it seemed that every bar had a full stock of assorted liquors and cocktail ingredients available as well. Given all this variety, and the wide variety of people, tourist and local, you would expect people to be taking full advantage, and yet it seemed that everyone was drinking a Guinness, a Heineken, or a Beamish (another Irish dry stout, a tad roastier.) I think I saw one or two gin and tonics consumed, as well as a fair few ciders. I think I saw one other person drink a whiskey, and that’s because I helped make the selection. Maybe this was an aberration. Maybe I was just blind drunk all the time. It seemed to me, however, that the reason the Irish are seen as drinking heavy weights is because everyone is slowly nursing 4% beers. Sure, that old man started at 1pm, but he’s only had 4 Beamish during that last 2 rugby games, of course he isn’t trashed like a sorority girl.
Reading this over, I probably haven’t given you any insight whatsoever into the Irish drinking culture, or really too much factual information at all. One of those reviews wasn’t even finished; I’m such a lazy bastard. Oh well, at least I wrote something—better than you, sitting on your ass reading about whiskey online. Slothful alckie. I think the takeaway point here is that you need to get moving, get a plane ticket, and see Ireland yourself. Even if you’re observing it from a barstool it’s a lovely country, with warm and welcoming people and a fuck ton of whiskey. On that note, here’s one more review for you—a Jameson I didn’t even know existed.
These caskmates (whatever the hell that means) start with a nice floral bouquet, a touch of lavender and vanilla, which is underscored by an acidic lime rind type note. Kind of a gin and tonic feel…The body of this whiskey is rather rich, though not in the traditionally prized oily way, something closer to a velvet consistency, like a pint of its Irish cousin. Flavorwise, honey is predominant, with a bit of that floral note coming up, some grainy malt sweetness, and a light caramel finish that evaporates to leave a soft honey and what I can only describe as “green” finish. Perhaps that’s just the turf.
You may have noticed, I write a good deal about booze. Perhaps you didn’t, in which case I’m shocked you’re literate. Congratulations on that literacy thing, by the way. So yes, I’ve written quite a lot about booze, which is kind of the point of this blog. But perhaps that makes me appear one dimensional to your eyes. Sure I wrote about poutine and debauchery recently in my Canadian Odyssey, but really, that had a lot to do with boozing and such as well. Recently I was approached with an opportunity to tangentially expand my horizons, and go beyond just whiskey swilling to my other favorite vice–caffeinating. You see, sometimes people actually read this blathering nonsense and enjoy it, and one such gentleman made me an offer I could not refuse. Accept rather than waking up with a horse’s head in my bed, I woke up with a message on my blog inviting me to try his product, a coffee.
You may be thinking to yourself, well, clearly this guy is a lush—but what qualifies him to pass judgement on coffee? Well, here are my qualifications.
So, I may be under qualified. In this situation, however, I may be just the man for the job; see this is special coffee, whiskey barrel aged coffee. See what I mean by tangential? Let’s get to it.
Cooper’s Cask Coffee is a recent (very recent, like I may be drinking the first batch) start-up hitting the ground running out of Rhode Island. Which is a fine state, by the way. John and Jason, the fellas behind the company both had a shared passion for coffee (like many of us,) clearly some drive (like a lot fewer of us,) and a winning idea (like we all wish we did.) Whiskey barrel aging is booming the world over, a wide variety of products from wines, beers, and other whiskies to fish sauces (yes, really) and maple syrup. For John and Jason the wheels got turning, and Cooper’s Cask was born. The process is seemingly rather simple. Green (unroasted) coffee beans go into a whiskey barrel, are given some time to catch some of the magic therein, and then are roasted to coffee—voila! Well it is rather simple, although I gather a lot of trial and error went into finding the right beans, the right aging times and the proper roast to truly express the product. Also, I’ve been advised that the barrels used are smaller 10 gallon barrels with a heavy char that once held single malt from an undisclosed “independent distillery.” I’m making a hunch that the barrels come from Sons of Liberty Spirits Co., also out of Kingston, RI, but don’t fault me for making such unfounded and circumstantial assumptions. Anyways, sounds like a good idea—right? So what is the result of this experiment?
Before I even get to the brew, the first thing to note is the incredible aroma of these beans, which really opens up on the grinding. One of the first notes to hit me is a rich dark chocolate note, followed by a smokiness similar to a full-bodied cigar. From there the lighter flavors are able to escape with a distinct fruitiness—John had noted dried papaya, but I’m really catching mango and a touch of coconut. The final smell I get is something reminiscent of coffee ice cream, maybe a second wave of milkier chocolate and a touch of vanilla. I brewed the beans up in a French press, conveniently as recommended, and let settle about 5 minutes before pouring a cup for myself and one for my father. Once brewed the nose remains very similar with the tropical fruit elements being dominant and a touch of caramel and vanilla.
The flavors a rich, which a bit of molasses, a good deal of fruit and THERE it is! Booooze with toasty oak, vanilla and that strange in between note that is exactly like a shot of Jameson in a cup of coffee. That milk chocolate note is there as well, and all these wash through in a medium (perhaps should have used another scoop) body and a long but very light finish with vanilla whiskey notes predominating, rather than any bitterness or smokier notes.
This, my friends, is not your average cup of joe. On a blind tasting you’d find yourself wondering if this might be flavored, or perhaps just spiked—but you’d certainly find yourself wondering why the fuck anybody has every professed a love for Dunkin Donuts. If you aren’t already wondering that every day. While I do find myself wishing for a touch more bitterness—because that’s just who I am—I see a lot of potential to this, perhaps I’ll throw it in my espresso maker next. And knowing that there’s a bourbon barrel and a rum barrel version I can see any number of delicious iterations coming of this. With Cooper’s Cask Coffee, you may find yourself saying cheers first thing in the morning.
Right about this time last year there was some serious controversy brewing (or shall we say, distilling?) in the whiskey world. The source of this controversy, was the Maker’s Mark distillery—the cause, lower proofing. It’s no secret that whiskey has been in a vastly unanticipated boom in recent years, Maker’s Mark, like many other distillers were, and still are, facing a bit of a shortage of this golden nectar. See, the problem is that about 5-10 years ago whiskey wasn’t exactly selling well. As your high school economics teacher would tell you, if he was having a few too many at your dull hometown sports bar, simple laws of supply and demand meant that these distilleries weren’t trying to make a ton of whiskey, knowing quite well that it may not sell. The thing with whiskey is, it needs to age. You have to anticipate the market, well, 5-10 years in advance. At least. Now it’s the modern time—there are a few options for a hot, yet product strapped, business has. Let’s look at our options here.
Fuck no. There was public outcry, and it made the national news. People were pissed, feeling cheated by that extra 3% water they were going to be pouring on the rocks. With all this negative publicity Maker’s Mark folded. They would not cut the proof on their product. They’d stick by their customers words. Sadly when Old Grandad did the same thing there was no outcry, and the change has stuck…but perhaps I’ll save that for another article. If you’ve read the title of this article, you’re probably wondering what the fuck this has to do with Knob Creek Single Barrel reserve. Or maybe you’re an astute motherfucker and realized where I’m going with this.
See, with the whiskey market booming and supplies low, a lot of distillers are turning out lower proof, younger, or overpriced products. Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve, seems to have done none of this. This is no bullshit, 120 proof (barely any water added I’d guess) 9 year old whiskey. At some $40 that’s some bang for your buck. No cut corners, no cut proof—just straight, honest firewater from pre-teen, hand selected-barrels. That sounds almost perverse, and perhaps it is. Good, old fashioned, Kentucky straight perversion.
The nose surprisingly doesn’t cause your nose hairs to burst into flames like a Jeri-curled Michael Jackson. Somehow, the nose manages to be somewhat light, and certainly sweet, with a rich maple base, some apricot, a healthy dash of cinnamon and nutmeg and just a touch of earthy cigar smoke. The first sip is even richer than the nose, again, no cut corners. With a full round body of caramel, toffee and a tad more maple at the base, some finer notes seem to rise from the woodwork, with cinnamon / allspice, spearmint, and vanilla all taking turns to jump out at you and take a hot numbing stab at your palate—which brings me to the finish. Not so much a finish as an after-burn, like a fighter jet shooting for an intercept. Gentle, most certainly not, but hot, belligerent, smoldering and downright delicious with the spice sinking deep in your taste buds and a pyre burning in your chest.
At some point a decade ago Booker Noe, head distiller for Jim Beam, clearly made a decision. Bourbon may not have been selling big, but he was going to make some big bourbons. 9 years later, that decision paid off, and rather than cutting, blending or overpricing the products of that decision, Knob Creek has decided to go barrel by barrel, and go big. Bullshit is only worth as much as the field it can fertilize—big, bold bourbon? That’s worth its price in liquid gold.
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