Here’s a classic Thanksgiving moment from when Saturday Night Live didn’t suck. Ladies and Gentlemen, Paul Simon.
Thanksgiving is upon us, and soon the hellscape that is holiday shopping, and well the holidays. To kick off the holiday season I offer you a recipe for success this holiday season. No, it is not the recipe for my delicious stuffing, though I wouldn’t be opposed to posting one once I figure one out, this Thanksgiving recipe is simple.
Buy Wild Turkey 101.
Step 1. Drink Wild Turkey 101.
Step 2. Let those anxieties about gifts, crazy relatives, mass capitalism, and your developing gut melt away.
It’s quite obvious why Wild Turkey is the perfect match for Thanksgiving, and certainly many men before my time made this simple connection before I did. I’m sure there have been some sad Thanksgiving dinners where the liquor was the only turkey involved (hey, it’s a decent vegetarian substitute). If you’re one of those people that aren’t into word play perhaps this inherent connection isn’t enough to put Wild Turkey on your shopping list. I’m here to convince you otherwise.
The first obstacle I undoubtedly have to surpass for you Wild Turkey skeptics out there is the brand’s image. Turkey has long been perceived as a lower standard of bourbon, and quite frankly, an alcoholic’s bourbon. This view has been shaped by its media portrayal, no frills appearances, affordability (although prices have climbed into the mid-range), and of course, the high proof. So is this just some swill alcoholic’s bourbon? I refuse to answer that. But say you’re looking for an expert in pastries, do you ask some skinny guy who rarely eats dessert?—so would not an alcoholic not be a good resource on that bang for buck ratios of liquors? My point, however, is not that it will get you drunk a good 25% faster, which it will, but that for the price this is also a damned fine product.
What makes Wild Turkey great? That’s actually who: Jimmy and Edward Russell. The father/son team who run production at Turkey have dedicated themselves to making this bourbon great at any cost, and what that means is that they distill to a lower proof (108) than most competitors, which is far more costly to barrel and age. Then they take their project, and instead of diluting it to 80-90 proof, they add just a tad bit of water and sell you 101, and at a reasonable price. To summarize their competitor is giving you less of the product that actually aged in the barrel and a lot more water—which you’re often paying significantly more for. To be fair sometimes you get a fancier bottle with the competitor. Now, for the moment you’ve been waiting for, brief (and not that insightful) tasting notes. First of all the nose of this is a napalm bomb, baby—you can smell the warm vanilla, caramel, and booze of it from a mile away—gotta love the smell of it in the morning. Perhaps that’s why Ron Swanson said his father eat it on his breakfast cereal. The taste of the Turkey is just as big, with thick chewy caramel, cinnamon spice, soft vanilla, and a finish that leaves your palate clear and begging for more. Even though there’s 101 proof of high octane power, this is a sweet and balanced bourbon that doesn’t hide its flavors in a tongue numbing hell-fire. Not only is Wild Turkey great for your Turkey-day, it’s great to keep you warm all winter long, and good and buzzy any other time for that matter.
Ah, the heritage of the old south—the honored past of the war of Northern aggression and, antebellum, the peaceful pastoral days of the plantation. For some reason this myth of the noble old south somehow pervades, perpetuated by Rhett Butler’s mustache, Aunt Jemima and Lynyrd Skynyrd. While debates still rage over the appropriateness of the use of the Confederate flag, other parts of the heritage of the American Civil War find their way into brand labeling. 600,000 Americans died during the war, and yet the imagery of the confederacy is a marketing tool. In the whiskey world, this heritage is sold under the “Rebel Yell” label, and associated, the whiskey I’m drinking tonight: Rebel Reserve. Rebel Yell takes its name from the ragged battle hollers that confederate soldiers used to muster their courage and strike fear into the hearts of their enemy. I have nothing against the soldiers of the Confederacy, most of them poor, not slave owning, and fighting for their homes. I just think it’s a bit strange to name a whiskey after the last noises people made before they were likely bayoneted. Still, I suppose it’s better than the extreme racism that was used to sell products up until, well, Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima. Oh, that’s right; we still have branding based on racial stereotypes.
Anyways, you’re here to read about whiskey, and as always I’ve babbled incoherently for a paragraph. Rebel Reserve is the premium version of the decidedly not-premium Rebel Yell. Regular Rebel Yell is quite cheap and, I must admit, rather aptly named. It’s untamed, hot and perhaps may induce a yelp. It, like the yells of the rebels long ago, may also lead to you waking up with a leather belt in your mouth and a stub for a leg, if you drink enough of it. It’s probably a good thing then that Rebel Reserve is a bit more refined, like Butler’s gentry accent. It weighs in at a not unreasonable 90.6 proof, but unlike its cracker cousin it has a bit more balance that keeps that from eating away your vocal chords. While the firey nose hides much of this whiskey’s aroma, the whiskey settles down on the palate to reveal an almost chewy caramel quality, some of the sweetness of the wheat in it, and something a bit darker I can’t quite pinpoint. Maybe almost raisin-like? The finish of this coats the palate and lingers warmly, with a slightly astringent flavor left as it dries my tongue, though that could be from my dinner. This certainly isn’t a bad whiskey, and is a nice step-up from that crazy cousin, but it’s not exactly a standout. Of course, for about $20 for a bottle of small batch bourbon in a numbered bottle, you aren’t going to get something outstanding. In fact, I think that’s the problem. This is budget bourbon brands attempt to make an upgraded product with premium marketing at a mid-range price. So to attempt to make my metaphor work, this bourbon is a bit like Rhett Butler, polished up like the southern gentry, but still crude enough to own slaves. I suspect this may be a bit of a controversial post…
I’m back from my vacation and have a couple planned whiskey reviews, and perhaps a couple beer ones too. I haven’t much felt like writing, but I’ll make sure to put my fingers to the keys soon so you have something to read. In the meantime enjoy Mr. Tambourine Man.
The poor people of Ireland have seen more than their fair share of conflict over the course of history. Under the English Crown the Irish suffered hundreds of years of brutality as the Brits sought not only to rule the Irish but to exploit them and ultimately to crush their cultural identity. The Irish rebelled against their condition quite often—even following the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 granted the Irish a semblance of political independence. I don’t have the time or knowledge to fully expound on the centuries of conflict in Ireland, because I write a post about drinking. So how does Irish history relate to drinking? First off, you should know not to order an Irish Car Bomb in Ireland. That would be like ordering an Afghani IED in an Army canteen. It’s recent history, and the tensions still exist. Second off, don’t order a black and tan. The black and tans were the British military force place in Ireland in the early 20th century to establish order. They did this in much the way the brown-shirts did in 1930’s Germany. The third thing is what we’re here for today: know your Irish whiskey (it’s spelled with an “e” there too!).
The word whiskey comes from the Gaelic word uisce beatha, meaning “water of life.” You’ve probably already heard that. Irish Gaelic was the language of the historic language of Ireland and is still spoken by some on the island today (though rarely a first language today as a result of the centuries of English), so whiskey is their word. To be fair the Scottish also spoke Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic, so it’s their word too. I’m rambling. So how does Irish whiskey relate to Irish politics? Well the basic thing is there are 3 big names in Irish whiskey: Jameson’s, Bushmills, and Tullamore Dew. Jameson’s is made in Dublin, and Tullamore Dew in Tullamore. These are in the Republic of Ireland. Bushmills is made in Bushmills, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. That’s the UK–protestant country. In Ireland, that still matters. Violence still erupts in Northern Ireland, and though the IRA is officially dissolved, the factionalism has not. Whiskey has often been used as a metaphor to examine this factionalism, representing Bushmills as the “orange” protestant whiskey and Jameson as a good Dublin true Irish whiskey. John Jameson was a Scottish immigrant, and a lot of people have pointed that out, which makes Jameson’s not much of a true Irish Catholic whiskey. So we’ll call that the “white,” neutral, whiskey. If you hadn’t gathered I’m using the colors of the Irish flag here, which leaves me with our green, the Tullamore Dew. It’s a neat little metaphor, but I say fuck it. Instead of using whiskey to represent the divisions of Ireland I think we should use it to unite people, because that just makes more sense.
Ireland has a very broad definition of what legally makes an Irish whiskey, and while there are only 8 distilleries in Ireland, and several aren’t even selling their product yet, that broad definition allows for a wide variety of flavors for people to enjoy. Let’s not divide our whiskies by religion and region, but by the joy they bring and their flavors. Unfortunately I only have Bushmills on hand, and only a tiny bit left after wasting the rest as fuel for all the babble I’ve already written, so you won’t get the comparisons I wish I could do. I’ll get to writing about more of them at some point. For now, I’m gunna tell you why a good Irish Catholic might want to drink Bushmills.
Irish whiskey is lighter by nature, in flavour and in colour. Therefore Irish whiskey really needs to be enjoyed for its character and its subtleties. A lot of people like Jameson’s because it’s smooth as hell and so sweet and gentle. A lot of people like that. In fact Jameson’s has become a massive brand because its gentle way of getting you hammered is loved by lushes the world over. But if perhaps you’re looking for something a little more complex, with more grain character, Bushmills is a perhaps the budget Irish for you. This whiskey starts with a light nose full of lemon zest aromas, which aren’t as forward when you take that first sip. The predominating flavors are those of the gently sweet malts, and the light vanilla and fresh sawdust flavors from the barrel that fade of the back of the tongue. I’ve heard this described as rough. That’s insanity. The word I think of is robust. While it is dry and oily, with a bit of a late heat that Jameson doesn’t give you, that’s what sets Bushmills apart. Does that sound like something you’d enjoy? Then who gives a shit if you’re Irish Catholic, or really a 4th generation Irish-American who dropped out of CDD and want to act like you’re really Irish—drink what tastes good to you, even if it is “protestant whiskey.” So maybe whiskey, and the love thereof, can bridge the gap between Northern Irish and Irish Republican, Bushmills drinker and all other whiskey drinkers. You may say I’m a dreamer, but after a few whiskies everyone seems more tolerable to me, and perhaps that’s a peace plan.
PS: I’m going to Arizona for a week starting tomorrow, so I won’t be posting, but perhaps I’ll drink something to post about later!