Sunday Morning Coffee, with Cooper’s Cask Whiskey Barrel Coffee

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.

  1. I drink a lot of coffee. Usually 5-6 “cups” a day, although when opportunity presents a cup may be a redeye or a double espresso or just a very large cup.
  2. I know that what you get at Starbucks is not a macchiato, it’s a sugar bloated botched abortion.
  3. I really enjoy my coffee, don’t we all have preferences or critiques on coffee anyways?

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.

Cooper's Cask

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.

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve

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.

  1. Seemingly the simplest option a business has when demand is high and supplies are low is to make more product. As I mentioned, that’s a problem in the whiskey business, as the product needs time to age—but with the whiskey boom showing no end in sight, this is indeed an option, and many distillers have hoped to accelerate aging to meet ongoing demands.  This means selling younger whiskies, whiskies aged in smaller or honey-combed barrels, otherwise…cutting corners.  Now these processes can yield good results, but the majority opinion seems to be that cut corners lead to cut quality.  Clearly Maker’s Mark couldn’t go this route.
  2. The second option our distillers face is simply to accept the limitations of their supply, and raise prices to take advantage of the high demand. If you only have so much whiskey, and people are going to buy it either way, you may as well make more money…no? High demands have clearly driven whiskey prices up, and even in the last 3 or so years a lot of whiskies have shot up 20-30% in price.  People are still buying em.  Sure as shit I am. Of course with high demand Maker’s went up in price too, but I imagine at some point they realized they couldn’t go up much higher and still sell, so they went ahead with option three…
  3. If you’re familiar with what happened last February, you’ll know what happened. Maker’s Mark opted to stretch their product, water it down.  Specifically they were planning to go from 90 proof to 84 proof.  That’s a difference of 3% water, in a product that probably 85% of people add water or ice to anyways.  Seems reasonable, no?

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.

Fear and Loathing in Quebec: A Savage Voyage to the Heart of the Quebecois Dream (Part Deux)

V.  Interlude: The Modern Age

On return to the warm womb of our hotel room Ian and I promptly set about the necessary task of bring warmth to our innards.  A couple slugs of whiskey sank down as we stowed our spoils in the fridge and stripped down to base layer.  The night stand between accommodations rapidly turned into a small graveyard as I slaked my thirst on high-proof bourbon and Canadian crafts while Ian tackled the Molson dry gorilla on his back.  Balance—of course, was a key consideration, lest you think this is about to degenerate.  A warm healthy buzz arose from frost bitten toes to dumbfounded mind, each sip making the French language History Channel closer to comprehensible.

As our glacial blood warmed and flowed like a mountain stream in a spring thaw, that balance we had sought to restore with our libations may have led to a minor flood at the brain.  As two disinhibited young men in a foreign land, in search of foreign women, we began to brainstorm our options for our pursuit.  My companion and I, admittedly, are sons of the modern era—though a tad anachronistic at heart—and as such we turned to one of the strange phenomena of our age.  Tinder.  Le Tinder, to the Quebecoise…I assume.  We prepared our French guidebook, the next round of beers, and got to swiping.  Oh, les lovely ladies du Quebec, all at the swipe of a finger, all presumably single and ready to mingle.

Now reader, before you jump so quickly into judgment, let it be known, we did not have high expectations for this venture.  Casual sex, particularly as our state began to degrade, was not likely on the menu—our goals were more modest.  We sought conversation, kindness, female companionship on this strange and surreal voyage of ours.  Is that too much to ask, is that so offensive to the sensibilities of respectable society, that people should meet and make acquaintance over drink in the night?  Probably.  Regardless, Tinder we did, and as a team we crafted poor French phrases to our matches—those young women who also expressed interest in us, to those not pathetically familiar with the Tinder.  As for matches, our luck was surprisingly quick.  Perhaps it was our distinct Americanness, our French expertise (hah!,) or simply our stunning good looks, but we rapidly found ourselves jumping between conversations, passing phones frantically, failing miserably to make impressions—sounds about right.  It’s hard to tell, in retrospect, how much time we passed in this manner, but it could not have been more than a couple of hours.  The light began fading over the buildings of city center no longer lighting up our hotel window.  The French version of Pawn Stars became less amusing, and the warmth in our stomach turned to a dull and empty burn.  The streets once again were echoing with the siren’s song of the curd’s squeak—poutine.

VI.  Men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

Braced as best we could be against another bitter Canadian night, Ian and I once again set off.  Bitter is perhaps a bit soft on a night which could freeze whisky in the bottle, and then blow the bottle away with the wind.  Though armed with a list of recommended restaurants from one of our kind Tinderesses, Ian and I, blinded by the cold and a somewhat inebriated hunger could not walk into the wind, so we ventured east.  Blocks passed as we trod past restaurants we could find no time to agree on, we found ourselves nearing the border of our known Quebec as we came upon our morning’s breakfast stop, Chez Ashton.  Chez Ashton, however, did not appeal to us—too familiar, too…tee-totaling.  Luck should have it, next to Chez Ashton was a quiet Pub, Le Pub Edward.  Shelter from the storm.

We found ourselves 2 of perhaps 5 patrons in a large Pub at prime-time on a Saturday night.  Staff was spread thin, as if this were expected, and we sat at the bar as seemed most natural.  The first rounds were, if I recall, some of the Quebec mainstays, St. Ambroise, I believe.  Poutines were ordered, and a second round of more intriguing and unfamiliar beers from an extensive menu, a menu that included many brews which would be treasured in anywhere in America, among those some of the world’s finest Trappist ales.  Did I mention poutine was ordered?  Lovely, warming, hearty poutine, soon was in its well deserved place of honor—next to my beer.

Perhaps I should mention, Pub Edward is not high up on the river in the Old City, but closer to the business district, nearly under an overpass.  It is unassuming, and not mentioned with baited breath as a haven of the poutine arts.  This may well be a mistake.  Maybe it was a good night for the chef, or maybe Ian and I were a round beyond—though I think the cold had frozen us sober.  Whatever the situation may have been, the poutine with which we were presented was a thing of beauty.  As you may have noticed, there are limited criteria of which to judge poutine.  Crispy fries, why yes, deep fried to a near brown complexion.  Fresh curds, again, check—though not the squeakiest of our trip, which is Chez Ashton’s honor, the curds met our rigorous standards.  The gravy, well, the gravy was an epiphany.  Rich, and luscious, with the consistency of velvet and the color of rich mahogany the gravy soaked into our fries, coated our curds, and caught in our throats with a dark, smoke seasoned flavor.  Words are insufficient, lest I should resort to those cruder in my vocabulary, which would seem sacrilegious in this context.  Mingled brilliantly among this cacophony of flavors were shreds of fatty and delicious pork shoulder, making the symphony whole and completing the Canadian food pyramid.

Sometime during this orgy of gravy goodness Ian and I must have set down our forks to breathe, and order another round.  Perhaps it was only suiting to the culinary delights on which we were feasting that we sought something else exquisite, this on that revered text, the beer menu.  Should you be one of those close reading English major types, you may have seen me mentioning fine Trappist ales earlier.  Maybe you were even astute enough to sense, just maybe, this was foreshadowing.  Well, you are right my brilliant friend, it’s a shame our liberal arts degrees are worthless.  Should your genius also lead to alcoholic pursuits, you may be familiar with a beer which is revered as the finest of Belgium, perhaps even towering above the Belgian waffle in lowland glory—Westvleteren XII.  In the United States, this beer has graced our shores but once, in a limited fund raising effort for the Abbey.  Westy 12 is like the gorgeous agoraphobic girl next door, for whom we all lust, but who never leaves her home.  Which happens to be on the other side of the street…and that street is the Atlantic Ocean.  We could not fight the urge, we split the round, and $45 (Canadian) later we were splitting one fine beer, and Westy too lay aside our plates.

Again, I am at a loss for words, even while my memory holds every sip so dearly, and may until the day my neurons cease to fire.  Westy was a dark mistress, garnet in color, and with the aroma of a well mulled wine and a touch of dark leather.  The taste did not disappoint.  Dark spiced fruits abound, with a mouth that is at once thick and chewy, but creamy on the tongue.  The flavors lingered, sensuous and vibrant, however, the experience was all too ephemeral.  As all great things must end, we received our bill.  Satiated and bathing in the sublime light of glorious food coma, we paid our dues and went on again, into the night.

VII. The Wild Hunt

It turns out while we had been indulging in the finest that Pub Edward had to offer, a sideways glance had occasionally fallen upon our previous pursuits.  The great dynamite fishing expedition that was Le Tinder, during our fine meal, had somehow borne fruit.  While sadly, we had not found Quebecois love, we had found a group of Americans, similarly adrift on the banks of the St. Lawrence, and willing to hang out with some countrymen. Misty, we shall call her, beaconed us on our next steps in the night and emboldened we faced the wind down the Rue St. Jean, of which we’d grown so fond and headed into the citadel, toward the quarters where dollars and drafts flowed, toward L’Pub d’Orsay, where friendly strangers await.

On arrival at the pub, we listened about for familiar words and searched for the face from my phone.  After a circle round the joint, we sat ourselves at the always inviting bar, and ordered a couple of Boréales to pass the time, as I inquired into the whereabouts of our would-be companions. They had vanished, passed onwards to the Pub St. Patrick. We contemplated our situation.  We had beers, and a warm bar.  These small joys must first be savored before we can face the cold, find the strangers.  So we sipped.  I don’t recall our conversation, but likely we were still discussing gravy and Westy.  The great intellectual discussions of our times.  Upon settling, it was unspoken that we would continue our pursuit, and therefore it was toward the St. Patrick we went.  There was, of course, the small matter of finding the St. Patrick.  Having little knowledge of where this pub was, we marched off into the cold, I remembering only it was dark and on a very sharp corner, Ian remembering it being toward the river, as was everything.  In the cold of the evening, well below zero with river valley winds, we spent what could have been the rest of our lives searching, searching, stumbling, shuffling and sliding in the icy streets until dumb luck (which, as the author, I will insist is the result of my Henry Hudson-like intuitions) drew us to that sharp corner, the green white and gold, the pub.

Unlike Pub Edward, Pub St. Patrick was busy on this Saturday night.  Fuckin’ slammed. Crazy. Somehow we got a table for 2.  Ian, in good spirits, or least containing damned good spirits, decided on a round of Bulleit bourbons and a pitcher of beer.  We sent our follow-up in for Misty and her compatriots.  Gone again, vanished, to L’Atelier.  I, my friends, do not see the appeal of the bar hop.  When I get to drinking, I set up camp, I fortify.  In this evening, with a multitude of drink on the table before us, my natural instinct prevailed.  Rightly so, we shan’t go off again into the mist.  Instead, we began to make the best of our surroundings, and began to converse with the people at the adjacent table.  The gentleman was an Australian, one of some means, as best we could tell.  We spoke of ourselves, our backgrounds, small talk.  Across from the Australian was a beautiful woman, quiet, local. A school teacher, she told us. Whiskey gone, pitcher getting low, our inhibitions grew low.  My memory grows dimmer.  Ian, I think it was Ian, jested with the Australian that the woman was too beautiful for him—they played along, she coyly stating she was an escort.  She probably wasn’t, maybe she was.  I went along with the ruse, I told her she was too beautiful to be an escort, that she didn’t need rich men, she should run away from her rich Australian, run away with the young, broke, dashing American with inflamed liver and fogged eyes.  The joking was fortuitously ended by the coming of our bill.  It would be the last of the night, or perhaps the very early morning.  Again, the slush and ice and stumble of the streets.  My peripheries grew black, the streets dim.  Somewhere, someone fell.  Down the stairs, a couple more blocks…through the lobby, elevator, door.  Bed.

VIII. Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down

Morning came once again with a ray of blinding light illuminating the stagnant air over my bed.  That ever familiar pounding rhythm went from heart to head, reminding me that I was still alive, and that I lacked good decision making skills.  To the lavatory, need water.  I was met by a blood caked scarf across the sink, which only seemed slightly out of place, and simultaneously filled my glass and emptied my bladder.

The good news, that was not my blood—though admittedly a bit of bloodletting could actually have done me some good.  The better news, Ian was still alive, though a little worse for wear and tear.  He had had a bit of a cobblestone face-plant.  Anesthetized by cold and liquor he fortunately ignored the severity of his laceration and simple let the blood freeze in the wound.  Presumably he discovered this as I collapsed fully dressed into an unconscious heaving mound on return from our fruitless hunt.  Chemicals needed: coffee, food, forgiveness.  This need was addressed briefly at the hotel continental, and with 3 cups and some French (Canadian) toast in me I felt human again.  Ian was still feeling a pint short I’d guess.  It was determined he probably could have taken a couple of stitches.  Too late for that.  Best get a move on the day, once again.

This, the Sunday of our discontent, I should happen to mention was a bit of an American holiday, Super Bowl Sunday. Given the holy feast of the Patriots, we were on a bit of a deadline to get underway, with just a few hours to spare after check-in for a final round of fair Quebec.  Our evening’s plans were to take place in Vermont, a small town near the New Hampshire border and a few hours distant, where we planned to watch the event, eat and imbibe at the home of a great friend of mine and his fiancé.  Maybe that’s another story.  Anyways, these evening plans in mind we set off on our final inspection.  We went once more to the Carnaval grounds, for a minor inspection of the scene.  The plains were relatively quiet, aside from the clatter of toboggan on ice luge there was little in the way of goings-on.  We took a quick shot at the classic Canadian game of “slapshot in the clothes dryer,” at which I did slightly better than the French-Canadian fathers, and at which Ian promptly excelled.  They gave him a pin, I think, but overall this was a bit of a forlorn farewell.  Just one weekend into the 2 week Carnaval and we had to leave.  The sky blue sky and possibly above zero temperatures let us know, it was time to be on our way.

We made our way back once more to the Rue St. Jean to run a final few errands—some maple candies for Ian’s Chinese kids (these being Chinese students who live with Ian and his family,) a bomber and matching glass for the coming evening’s host.  On a whim, we took a last pit stop at the SAQ (liquor store,) as I still clung to the idea of bringing something back, maybe even something top-shelf Canadian.  Alas, barbeard had been right—they had maybe 4 bottles of Canadian whisky, all readily available and cheaper across the border.  All swill.  I settled for a Bottle of 7 year old Havana Club Rum.  I need something to write up, don’t I?  They didn’t give me a bag, so I swaggered down the streets as a menacing American pirate, blockade booze in hand.

IX. The Chicken Man

It wasn’t long before we were humming down the highway again clicking away the Canadian kilos south.  We did have a minor goal in mind on our way home, aside from the clear need to make time, we also sought one final poutine at a place that lingered fond in Ian’s memory, Le Chicken Hut, St. Hubert.  Fortunately the highway obliged, at some quasi-truck stop with big fiberglass dinosaurs outside I met St. Hubert, the chicken man, and Ian and I ordered Poutines and chicken tenders.  This was decidedly fast-foody, so much so that they fucked our orders, which were in doubtlessly flawless and un-stuttering French.  We had one poutine, some regular fries and 4.5 tenders, or some shit.  Now, admittedly, this was a St. Hubert express.  Also, admittedly, they share a location with a McDonald’s, which is a terrible sign.  They’re also a rotisserie chicken joint, which is not what we got.  But all of these details aside, we were forced to conclude that St. Hubert, as our final poutine was a sorrowful parting indeed, to the extent that splitting one was just fine.  Sadly, I am told that the sit down St. Hubert is actually decent, for what it is.  What we had was cheese curds that sobbed, gravy like used bathwater and flaccid fries.  Again, a sign, onward.

X:  Land of the Free

As the sun began to fall across the plains of Quebec we once again neared the United States.  We exchanged the remaining plastic money we had for a few liters of petrol to satiate Cecilia, who was no longer stating how many miles left I had on the tank.  We neared the border, which was admittedly a bit more backed up that the Canadian entry had been.  And for a reason, here in America, we have things we want to keep out.  People who dress funny, talk funny, or have…shall we say different complexions are monitored closely.  Two young New Englanders apparently fit this bill.  The 3 border guards, sharing a close hut and dressed in the official garb of Fascism, began to question us.

“ Where have you been?”

“Quebec City”

“When did you live the states?”


“How long were you there?”

“Since Friday, so, two days, or so?”

“How do you two know each other?”


“What college?”

“Gettysburg College.”

“What year did you graduate?”

“I graduated in 2012.”

“2014, for me” (from stage right).

“So when did you guys go to Canada, Tuesday, you were there 5 days?”

“No. 2 days. Friday.”

“Okay. Do you have any food, tobacco, liquor?”

“We have a bottle of liquor.”

“What liquor?”


“What kind of rum?”

“Havana club, I think…”

“You can’t have that.”

Now my friends, here is a moment perhaps you’d been waiting, but I thought we had grown past this as a people.  Given the current political climate, with an opening of communications between ourselves and our Cuban neighbors, I had been led to believe that limited Cuban goods were now being welcomed into this country.  I was led to this belief by the liberal media, actually, BBC, and the fact that there was a newly listed $100 limit on the intake of Cuban goods.  Clearly Capt. America here had not heard of this, or had a different interpretation.  He sent us back to Canada, to dispose of our contraband.

It took a bit of explaining at the Canadian border to the friendly officials as to why we had been rejected entry into our father country.  The jovial gent stated that their rejection of my rum was decidedly “shit,” but, no, sadly he could not take the bottle while on the job.  We drove a bit further and placed it in a snowbank beside a snowmobile trail for some lucky recreationalist to find.  Again, at the US border, Capt. America was a bit less curt, and he let us on our way, without search, but also without rum.

I leave this story at the American border, with my bottle of rum, and a little carefree piece of my heart.  Perhaps you note that, for the most part, our stated goals failed.  I did not find a Canadian whisky to open my eyes and mind to the craft of the northfolk.  I did not find Canadian love, unless we count the Australian’s schoolteacher / escort.  I did not, it seems, even find material for a booze review to post.  And though I can’t say that I necessarily found the heart of the Quebecois dream, I can say that it is not cold, in spite of its environs, and that it quite likely pumps streams of gravy and good beer, which delivers the curds of life to hockey strained muscles.

Platte Valley Moonshine, neigh, 100% Straight Corn Whiskey

A dark night, deep in the Virginia woods.  Thick old growth trees rustle in a crisp evening breeze.  There’s a crackle from the wood fire a shining red glow hot under the copper.  Penetrating the hollow is just a thin sliver of moonbeam. This, perhaps, is what you picture when you think of moonshine.  If that’s what you’re a goddamn poet, and a tad bit quixotic.  That’s not exactly what moonshine means nowadays.  Nowadays moonshine is a TV show, a Hollywood movie, and a multi-million dollar spirits company that has a lot of leeway, a bit of redneck cache and a mythology for a sales pitch.  Sure, some people are still making raw booze and dodging a tax.  Most of these people are making easy money on a moment.  But nothing I can say is going to burst that bubble.

The thing about the moonshine you’ll go buy in the average liquor store—whether they call it moonshine or more appropriately “white whiskey,” is that essentially you’re paying for an unfinished product.  Some moonshine products are basically corn vodka that’s had a couple less runs on the still.  Some are just the unaged version of our favorite whiskies, that you’re more than likely paying more for.  Either way, that’s a genius business model.  Hell, the moonshine of old was white lightning, hot, high proof and unfiltered liquor. Today’s moonshines are largely watered to 80 proof for the soft palate public. Basically, it’s an easy to make product that you could spend more time and money making into something else, but that fetches more when you don’t.  No wonder so many people are jumping to make one.  You don’t have to meet the strict definitions you do with bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, etc., you just have to make a slightly less than neutral spirit, that doesn’t taste like crap.  You have to turn grain sugary water into tasty booze.  Maybe that’s harder than it sounds, but it’s a lot easier than waiting 4+ years to have your liquor age, and very possibly come out like crap.  The funny thing is, there are a few people within this booming segment, who are deciding to put a bit more effort into their product, and I’m not referring to those who bottle it with fruit or spice—I’m talking about those who age something that is, more often than not, unaged.  Platte Valley Moonshine is doing just that.

Platte Valley Moonshine, unlike most of its competitors, spends 3 years in a barrel before being filled into its very distinct, pretty old school, ceramic jug.  Slap XXX’s on that thing, or maybe just one, it’s only 80 proof.  Interestingly enough, all this extra effort, and damned good packaging, doesn’t come at a higher cost.  In fact, Platte Valley’s product set me back a cool $16, while any of the Midnight Moon types will run $20+ to come in a standard mason jar.  To be fair, you’ll probably keep the packaging in either case.  All this extra effort means Platte Valley also earns the right to slap another title on their logo, straight corn whiskey.  See, by definition straight corn whiskey has to be at least 80% corn and 2 years in a barrel—which the 100% corn 3 year old Platte Valley easily meets.  In fact, I’d say that sets it ahead above all those moonshines with no age or real legal definition (aside from being illegal, which they aren’t…)  But rather than continuing to sit here on my pedestal pontificating and turning my nose down on your beloved plebian (*ack* overpriced, overhyped  *gahrumf*) moonshine, I believe it is time I have a drink.

Platte Valley

Platte valley pours a light lemongrass yellow, barely noticeable in some light—more or less the color your doctor told you your piss should be.  Bud Light yellow, that’s the Crayola name.  The nose is very light, with a fair share of sweet corn, and a bit of a lactose or condensed milk note.  After all those years of bourbon sniffing it’s somehow foreign to me that corn based liquor actually smell like corn.  A light sip reveals this to be very gentle stuff, sweet with a bit of an almost agave note and a based something like kettle corn, which makes for quite easy drinking, if not mental taxing to interpret. The finish hangs on a bit longer than you’d expect for something with such soft flavors to begin with, and almost takes on a slightly darker hue—not quite caramel, but something close.  There’s basically no burn (to my admittedly fire-tempered constitution,) college girls rejoice.

The moonshine and white whiskey market shows no signs of slacking, at least in 2015, and probably not while camo, country music and Nascar continue to present a significant consumer sector.  While I’ll admit, for the most part, I’m rather dismissive of this market as a whole, I think that Platte Valley is on the right track here.  For $16 you can have a few drinks, that have even met a barrel, and get to keep a cool ceramic jug afterwords. My advice, I think Platte Valley would do better off to ditch the moonshine label and keep it what it is, straight corn whiskey, which is a market I would like to see some growth and development in.  With the right amount of interest, and some solid effort, I could see there being some real breakout “straight corn whiskey” in our future.

Fear and Loathing in Quebec: A Savage Voyage to the Heart of the Quebecois Dream (Parts I-IV)

Fear and Loathing in Quebec: A Savage Voyage to the Heart of the Quebecois Dream

We were someplace around Concord when the snow really began to take hold.  Sheets of whipping white temporarily obscured the world outside of my silver bullet Subaru.  Ian and I were on a mission, one most treacherous and fraught with peril—one of noble ambition and primal mammalian drive.   Screaming through one of what would be repeated blizzards we were northbound, to the land of the ice and now—Quebec—and the ice castle of the Bonne Homme.  Our mission?  Simple, we were on a Savage Journey to uncover the icy heart of the Canadian dream: hockey, beer, poutine, gorgeous women with accents and, first in my mind, the quest for a good Canadian Whisky.  Perhaps we were overzealous, overly bold and unprepared. Perhaps we were just too fucking cold.  But this, my friends is our story—two mediocre young men in the Great White North.

The road north was the first of our great trials, as my dramatic introduction has stated without exaggeration, our Subaru steed Cecilia was tasked with the possibly fatal undertaking of passing through Friday ski traffic north on 93 in the midst of a snowstorm, which would ultimately leave roughly a foot of snow.  A New Hampshire man my whole life, I’ve learned many things about driving in the snow—much like dealing with any beast of nature the first key is to avoid any sudden movements, the second key is to avoid any motherfucker dumb enough to ignore the first rule.  We saw several such motherfuckers being plied from each other’s bumpers and towed from snowy medians as we ourselves rode in relative comfort,  Little Walter honking through the stereo, the speedometer reading a cautious 65mph (in a 70?! Madness.)  Passing beyond New Hampshire’s mountainous interior toward the Connecticut river we faced very little danger due to Cecilia’s sure-footed all-wheel drive—suffering only a few times from those asshole puckering moments when the vehicle is no longer fully within your power, and the helmsman becomes the passenger.  As we passed into the People’s Republic of Vermont the snow showed little sign of abating, but with a quick fill and a cup of coffee we had to soldier on, northbound still, on roads less and less trod as the forests thickened around us.  The signs and towns began to disappear, until finally, slightly behind schedule but well ahead of blizzard time we reached that great imaginary dividing line.  That point where men cease to be free ‘Muricans, and become citizens of the United States, the point where we enter a foreign country.  Canada.

On arrival in Canada the boarder was disarming—far from literally.  I smoothly floated into the inspection port in neutral, awaiting the pounce of the border agents eager to strip us, so I was told, of all foreign produce—all our dark illegal contraband.  The Canadian Border guards did not pounce.  A friendly man with a jaunty speech and easing accent beckoned me to back up my car, and pull in again—like this was some kind of toll booth rather than the DMZ.  I did so.  We handed him out passports—exchanged greetings.

“Where ye headed, eh?”  (I may be exaggerating the Canadian…)

“Quebec City, we’re in for the Carnaval.”

“Do you have anything to declare, any produce, fireworks, liquor?”

“Yeah, we’ve got a bottle of liquor…”

“Okay, here’re your passports, have a fun time in Canada boys—Ian you better sign that passport.”

Bafflingly simple. They had not taken any of our (not present) potential weapons—they

had merely disarmed our American paranoia and fear of the paramilitary Gendarme.  Soon we were ticking past each kilometer, passing silly signs with ludicrous and hardly descriptive images,  and maintaining a constant and sensible 130 toward the goal.  After a brief, terrifying and confusing hunt for poutine in Drummondville, where the lights have inexplicable blinky green lights, we again found the highway, and with the snow continuing lightly we reached city limits just after check-in began and promptly spent 30 minutes driving around looking for a parking spot anywhere within reasonable distance of our hotel.  That didn’t go so well, but we trudged through ankle deep slush, checked into the hotel, moved the car, etc., etc., until I was able to wash down some of the sacred nectar Old Forester 100 the Canadians had welcomed in with open arms.  Ahh, warmth flowing through our veins we were prepared to face this foreign city on the hunt for our first of the weekend’s pleasures.

  1. Hunting the Bonne Homme

One of the things that does not come to mind when planning your great Canadian adventure is accessibility to the modern age.  No, I’m not saying Canada is behind the times.  Canadians are a thoroughly modern and intelligent people; however, their phone networks are likely not going to match up with yours.  If you’re young and hip like Ian and I, you may have grown a little dependent on your phone network not charging you hundreds of dollars in roaming fees when you’re looking at Google Maps.  Fortunately, we were warmed, and had thus rendered our phones into useless brick-watches with wi-fi only available when networks were unlocked.  This became our great barrier, as thoroughly bundled we climbed the cliffs to Old Quebec and the Rue St. Jean, in search of our first round of beers and poutine.  Without our Google Maps and Urban Spoon at the ready our numbed feet dragged block by block, past poutinerie, restaurant and bar completely bound only to the book’s cover, unable to google a yelp or zagat rating to salvation.  On our second round we settled for Snack Bar, a mellow restaurant offering over a dozen of poutines piled with meats, gravies, sauces and dreams.  Molson exports, poutines with meat and gravy and curds oh my. Ahhhh, the crisp fries, the gentle squeak of curd on tooth and that rich liquid roux that would soon pulse slowly through my coagulated veins.  Our first poutine was all that was promised in this city of snow, hearty and filling warmth—fuel in our hearths as we prepared to hit the streets again, more quests and necessities in mind.  We made way towards the Plains of Abraham—the site of Montcalm’s defeat and death in the war against the Brits in 1759, and home of the Quebec Winter Carnaval.  To enter the Carnaval, one must have Le Bonne Homme, the good man, the creepy light up Snowman emblem of the Carnaval who hangs from every zipper—yet, to have the Bonne Homme, one must have the funny money—of which we had none.  Under the safety of hotel wifi I had found TD bank, but in the windswept streets with foreign names, could my boozy brain its ATM find?

We passed vendors, block after block, peddling the little glow Homme for plastic cash.  The street side bars beaconed with cute girls in fur gathering at bars of ice, terrible club music and door men barring our way and keeping us on the path to our goal.  After a brief foray to the cliff’s edge, high above the St. Lawrence where the wind cut our faces with snow, leaning against the tower defenses to catch glimpse of the haze of lights on the other banks we again hit the streets.  My sense of direction, while questionable at times, led us through the streets (did I mention whipping wind and subzero temperatures?) and to the shelter of—me glory be, the heated, unlocked TD bank ATM antechamber!  Plasticy, colorful money spit into our hands at $1.26 to the dollar, filling our pockets with liquidity and power.  Now, dear reader, it is time we too get glowing pendants.  Wrong.  Time for a fuckin’ beer.  Now fortunately, I am a man who came just barely prepared for this trip—mildly warm clothing and a list of bars and addresses programmed in my phone notepad.  Back on Rue St. Jean, we found a great one.

III. Beer, Hockey, and Broken Dreams.

Bateau De Nuit.  Through a door into a dank opening, and up a winding flight of stairs you pass through the curtain into another dark room, illuminated by a drifting curtain, with astral projections of Canadian glory—hockey.  Was it the Devils and Penguins?  It wasn’t important, it was their sport, and my miniature companion with his expertise of the game, and fuming vitriol for the Canadiens of nearby Montreal threatened to pour gasoline on our whole sub-polar journey.  In generous English the beard behind the bar introduced me to the supra-local tap menu, more my expertise, and I readied to mellow over a warming barley wine.  Ian’s inborn hatred of the Bruins longtime deadly foe, however, did not back-fire.  It broke ice.  Then shaved it up, poured some warm water on it and smoothed it over like a Zamboni.  We were in.  The local beers flowed, we made acquaintance with these northerners of this half-metal, half-hockey, wholly dive-bar. We discussed youth and sport, and built bridges.  This, I felt, was the moment.  We have hockey, we have beer.  I have a pint of 9% milk stout from a farm in Phillipe’s village that is quite simply sublime.  Where can we find the best of the rest?

My first question, that which had been burning in my mind for weeks rose, directed at the man who must surely know, the beardtender, the bar-keep.

I shall paraphrase, because, barley wine, imperial milk stout, and much more lingers heavier on my memory:

“Now, of anyone here, you’re the man who I know will know.  In the US, pretty much all the Canadian whiskey we get is shit, Crown Royal, which everyone seems to like—shit. Where can I get a good Canadian whisky?”

“You don’t want a Canadian whisky man, US has all the good whisky.”

“But I came here in search of a good Canadian whisky, to prove it exists!”

“Man there isn’t any good Canadian whisky, you guys have more whisky in your stores then we do and it’s all the same shit, Royal and Club, tastes like sawdust.”

So there it was.  The hunt for the great northern dram, defeated in one fell swoop.  A man of clearly distinguished tastes, a countryman, probably a proud Canadian; has conceded Canadian whisky is shit.  I didn’t push the point.  Perhaps deeply I had suspected it all along, sure, Whistle Pig, a beautiful Rye if there ever was one, is distilled in Canada.  When it comes down to it, it’s a product of Vermont in the end.

Perhaps this is something I should have mentioned sooner in my introduction to the glorious Bateau de Nuit, or perhaps I did with my description of a dark, metal, hockey and craft beer bar…this wasn’t exactly the place to meet women.  Being red blooded American men with booze and cheese curds in our arteries we asked these proto-Canadian males, where, oh where, can my bébé be?  But again, dreams dashed, they directed us to the clubs.  We instead had a couple more beers and staggered through slush filled streets once again towards le hotel.  We put on the Frenchie History channel, I poured a bourbon, oh sweet liquid of home, and promptly fell asleep on my bed fully dressed.

IV:  A Hazy Shade of Winter (Carnaval)

As you can imagine, dear reader, I awoke drenched in sweat in a less than pleasant state of being.  I tore down to base layer and promptly got back to bed—because, fuck morning—and struggled to forget my throbbing head long enough to fall asleep.  Hours of blinding daylight pouring through the window succeeded in rousing me and my comrade, him somewhat less battered than me, and while he showered I quickly finished my evening’s bourbon to ease myself back into pace.  After I too was less reprehensible in appearance, we set off in full layers to meet our hierarchy of needs.  First stop, coffee.  Camel fuckin’ Christ the magic a hot red-eye can work on a broken body—then onto a local favorite, the much touted and well-distributed chain of Chez Ashton, which many claim serves the finest poutine of Quebec.

Chez Ashton, chain though it may be, did serve up some damned good poutine.  The fries were thin, crisp, the gravy beyond all expectation of what fast food gravy could conceivably be, the curds? Alchemy.  Perhaps of all the curds we meet in many days of curd chewing, the curds d’Ashton were the squeakiest, with that light lovely fresh crisp funk that comes straight off the farm and quickly degrades into something less rubber and more mush.  It was something to soothe the soul, however, I must offer warnings.

  1. Pass on the sausage. Sausage is Chez Ashton for a hot dog of questionable provenance chopped up on top of your poutine.  It’s not terrible, but it certainly isn’t good. It’s unnecessary, and it slows the curd delivery.
  2. Pass on the burger too. Chez Ashton is poutine and they do it rather well, quickly and cheaply.  If you’re thinking to yourself their burger is probably going to be a bit like McDonald’s—shitty, but not entirely dissatisfying, you are incorrect.  It is shitty and entirely dissatisfying.  It’s a centimeter thick, dry and sadder than a pound full of puppies.

Welp, I’ve done it. I burned a local institution, please don’t ban me Quebec, I love you, and I truly did enjoy the Chez Ashton Poutine!

Chez Ashton brought me back to life, and another quick bourbon pit stop brought my back to a jaunty rhythm and effervescence, which led us back up the cliff face, and emboldened us for a chilly stroll the old citadel, the tourist district and the like.  We took in the sites, and when our skin threatened to fall off we stepped into the warm shelter of the art galleries for a momentary respite and a bit of culture.  In this journey Ian and I wended past the Auberge Saint-Antoine and along the colonial fortifications overlooking the St. Lawrence in its vast glory, ice breakers clearing through the clusters of jagged natural buoys.  From the walk along the walls we found ourselves emerge into the outskirts of the Carnaval, among the snowshoe and ski trials we wandered our way into the center.  Now armed with those plasticized bills (the ones we hadn’t drank) we were able to obtain the elusive glowing Bonne Homme, and gain entry into the main festival grounds.

Bonne Homme affixed, we set about exploring the excuse for our misguided, or perhaps completely unguided flight of escapism.  The grounds of the Winter Carnaval in truth encompass most of the sprawling Plains of Abraham—with the snowshoe trails and cross country ski paths intersecting walking path and one another, large tents for eating and escaping, snow-packed avenues of vendors selling all natures of maple, warm beverage and pastry treats.  There were ice luges, ice sleds, mini hockey rinks and ice bumper car…things.  Ice and ice and more ice—ice bars, ice shot glasses, ice sculptures and all other manner of icy quasi-wonderland (my instinct is still to say hell.)  Oh, did I neglect to mention snow?  Spectacular blocks of packed snow were being carved before our very eyes into detailed replicas of less ephemeral sculpture, and among our first activities was the diabetes laden activity of pouring hot maple syrup over snow. This is then let to set and rolled into a lovely Canadian lollipop, which then becomes a sticky sugar strand mess that tangles sweetly in your beard.  Yep, my blood sugar levels needed that.  After our little tour of the grounds, which I can only imagine probably expanded following our weekend there, (the first of the festival) we made our way to spectate sport, in the form of a snowshoe 5k.  Yes, in the season where many of us simply give up and embrace morbid obesity some people are out there on specially designed snowshoes that strap to their running shoes, in some kind of spandex gimp suit, (hardly enough protection when the high was -4 Fahrenheit before the wind) running a goddamn race.  Of course while these warriors of winter probably ran 5k times that would put high-school cross country running me to shame, Ian and I felt a shot of “caribou,” a mulled and fortified wine in a chunk of ice, seemed a suiting surrender.

After cheering on our fellow countrymen in skin tight red, white and blue, my lowering core temperature and BAC led us off again, to obtain more funds in the super-heated ATM parlor and regain strength at the hotel, down again along the Rue St. Jean.  Before our return we found fit to visit another of the highly rated beer destinations, where I gathered a fine selection of high alcohol dark beers to warm my blood, and a nice glass to go along.  Somewhere along the way Ian saw fit to buy a 40 of 10.1% Molson Dry, which is basically Canada’s solution to the problem of Colt 45 not getting you drunk quickly enough.  I imagine you can gather where things will go from here…