The Irishman: Founder’s Reserve

Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. On 3/17/2015, at about 7 am local time, my father and I touched down in Dublin for our all too brief visit.  In that time we covered many miles, decided to completely change the course of the trip toward the sunny south, and drank many a lovely dram. It is with this fond memory that I write now, looking back, and I hope looking forward to that lovely land, and those lovely people.  To all ye over in Ireland, I raise a glass, sláinte!

Which leads us to tonight’s libations, The Irishman: Founder’s Reserve.  My quick and distracted research (one laptop streaming Netflix and writing while browsing on the other like a master of the multi-task) leads me to a bit of information about The Irishman, first that the founder for which this is reserved is Bernard Walsh, father of the brand.  I’ve also learned that the brand themselves does not do the distilling, rather they’re a 3rd party blend and bottle outfit, which doesn’t have the stigma in Ireland that it seems to have here.  This blend, so the bottle tells me is a blend of 70% single malt and 30% single pot straight whiskey, which my fantastic internet pseudo-journalism tells me, may have at least partly been sourced from the famed Cooley distillery. I can prove none of that, and don’t really give a damn.  What I care about is the taste, and this Irishman doesn’t let me down.  I’ll cut the bullshit.  Here it goes:

Irishman

The nose leads with a strong wave of tart and mouthwatering green apple which really takes some cutting through, before you’re rewarded with softer honey notes and just the light hint of spice.  The first sip cuts back that green apple immensely, leading strong on the honey, with a very warm pear pie thing going on about the mid-palate and bit of peppery spice on the finish, with just the right amount of burn.  As it finish the warmth really hangs resilient on the tongue, with a clinging warmth to get you through a chill drizzly night.  I happen to be typing in just such a night.

So, as you all paint shamrocks on your faces tomorrow and get right pissed, I beg of you to do one thing, to make the holiday a touch more Irish.  Okay, a few things.  One, don’t drink piss beer dyed green.  Two, take a minute to sniff your drink, taste your drink, fuckin’ enjoy your drink.  Finally, say cheers when they give you the drink and sláinte when they give it to you, that’s the proper way.

West Cork

Sunday morning, waking up.  Slight headache, perhaps that last one before bed was a touch much, but I hadn’t timed my Netflix to drink ratio properly.  Rookie mistake.  Breakfast, things to do. Shower and all that shit.  Sweet glorious coffee.  I told my father that I would come over for dinner and the fútbol games and all that, free food, good company.  Good plan, good day, sunshine, all of that.  As the caffeine starts to take hold my brain begins to fire on all 5 cylinders, like an Audi or something.  I’m not sure why they use 5 cylinder engines, but I also know I’m no V12.  Full speed ahead Sunday, sort of, not too fast.  I seek fresh air, beauty, nature.  32 degrees is lovely flannel weather, these woods are lovely, dark and deep, and this is a pleasant but small mountain and…holy shit what a view.  I crack open a Smutty and marvel at my glorious decision to trek through the snow on a crisp winter’s day.  Sunday morning coming up into a lovely afternoon.

Anyways, I carry on to the stated goal and make moves, hustling down the icy slopes to the valiant steed Cecelia and onwards to father’s home.  My father is a good man, good conversation and the like.  The Patriots are playing like absolute shit, and I assume Benedict Arnold must have something to do with it.  Fortunately I don’t really care, it’s football, and my mind is on the prize.  Bangers and Colcannon.  Wild Boar Andouille and po-tay-toes.  La vie en emerald, I shall wash it down for authenticity with Guinness extra stout (the bottle as stout as the contents.)  I gorge myself, as I am wont to do, yet I must also hit the road and I know.  With fare-thee-wells I hit the road and wend my way home to rest and digest.  In the event of pleasant day, crack bottle and nightcap—today’s prize needed to be one to suit the diet of the day, Irish Whiskey, which brings me (sadly only figuratively) to West Cork.

West Cork Distillers is a relative newcomer to the Irish Whiskey biz, one of many fresh brands to invigorate a once threatened, and still under-rated market.  Since their founding in 2003 it seems the Distillers have grown immensely, while sticking close to the roots and their own methods.  In under 13 years (at this writing) West Cork has expanded to include a second distillery, and has expanded sales into 35 countries across the globe, including, glory-be, the Democratic Republic of New Hampshire.  Also of note, as I steal all of this information so thoroughly professionally from their website, is that they are the only distillery in Ireland to malt their own barley, and one of few to use fresh spring water.  (In-text citation, plagiarism.)

Tonight’s West Cork offering, which I highly doubt will be my last, is their base-model blended.  The nose on this (mine is a touch stuffy) is strongly of citrus, to the point where I must ask myself if there is lemon oil in the soap I used to wash the glass—no?  Well then, lovely light lemony liquor with a hint of warmth at the base so faint as to be a possible mirage.  Shockingly I have confirmed I am not drinking straight lemon oil, which is a relief, because what I am drinking is quite pleasant.  The taste is lightly of biscuit, with a base of sweet grain note I’m inclined to call “sconey” because I’m rather fond of scones.  There is a light and pleasant vanilla, which after this many whiskey articles is starting to seem like a worthless thing to say, but it’s there dammit and it’s delicious. The lemon which dominated the nose is present, tingling round the edges of my tongue and flashing a tad with a deep breathe, truly a vaporous entity of the whiskey.  Finally, that warm note hiding so cleverly in the nose again is lightly present on the finish a touch of light brown sugar, and even a dusting of spice, which I can only attribute to the possibility the bourbon barrels they age in once head a high rye jewel.  Baseless accusations, I know.

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In short, this was the perfect ending to a pleasant day of Irish culinary delights.  Except I the bangers we had were far from traditional Irish, more Creole or something.  I have noted before, and I will note again, that Irish whiskies can be very difficult to rate, because they play a fine game of subtle eloquence, like a liquid Yeats.  As an entry offering, West Cork has done a lovely job of offering yet another fine piece to the canon of Irish liquor-ature, with a distinct and balanced blend, which only entices me to further explore their catalogue.

 

Appalachian Gap: Snowfall

It’s winter time in New England.  That means cold. That means waking up in the morning and losing feeling in your extremities before the hot water hits the shower head.  That means scraping stubborn frost off your windshield into line blow lines that your windshield wipers won’t even deal with, while your warm breathe fogs the inside of the windshield and the morning glare blinds you.  If there is one thing it means a lot of, that’s snowfall.  Except thus far this winter…we seem to have gotten off with just a touch of the stuff, enough to paralyze anything south of the Poconos for a week, but not enough for your average New Englander.  I’ve got a little secret, over Christmas, I was given a little extra snowfall, as it were, and of a kind I much prefer…

 

No, I did not get cocaine for Christmas, no feliz navidad Medellin over here, officer.  Instead I got my snowfall as it tends to come, sweep east from the moisture of the Great Lakes, dusting over the Green Mountains, and landing swift and pure in my lap.  I got my Snowfall from Appalachian Gap—Appalachian Gap Distillery that is.

 

Appalachian Gap is an outfit out of Middlebury, Vermont, a town which itself is a miniature mecca of drinking delights.  Otter Creek Brewing Company, Drop-In Brewing Company, Vermont Hard Cider (of Woodchuck fame,) Lincoln Peak Vineyard, and hell I just realized the coffee I drink every morning from Vermont Coffee Company comes from Middlebury.  Into this (presumably drunken) scene arose Appalachian Gap, whose spirits are as unique as the town itself.  They have staple spirits like Mythic Gin, which in this case isn’t an adjective, and Mosquito Fleet Rum, the even have Kaffevän Coffee Liquorbut they also have some far out drinks too, like a spirit distilled from corn, barley, and coffee, Kaffekask.  More inventive yet is their very Vermont take on tequila, Papilio, which is distilled from blue agave and…maple syrup?  Yes, maple syrup.  Next up, fermented and distilled Ben and Jerry’s liqueur. But none of those beverages are the subject of my article, because, if I’m honest, I haven’t had any of them.  Tonight, the forecast is Snowfall.

Snowfall

Snowfall, in my experience is an experience devoid of most of the senses.  Its sensation is numbness, its image is a blank yet lustrous white, its smell is an almost startling absence of smell, crisp, cold, pure.  Snowfall, however, is a stunning sensation.  The nose of snowfall is a wonderful and unique expression that does not draw easy comparison to anything within my frame of reference.  It’s light, vaporous, and has a full sweetness which is I can only think to describe as “pure.”  None of this aroma would give the slightest hint that this is 108 proof, which is stunning given that I am basically huffing alcohol fumes.  That unique characteristic of sweetness carries on into the first sip, opening up marvelously to display a pastiche of flavors, with a hint of warm cornbread opening into an almost taffy like note of round chewy sweetness with light fruity esters expressing just the suggestion of a banana note.  The finish, is like the glow of a woodstove, with a gentle warmth which engulfs the palate, and just a touch of rye spice dances on the tongue and down the throat, lessening with each breathe.

 

I’ll be honest, I tend not to drink too many white whiskies, because I find them frankly unsatisfying, and they’re just a step (or a filtration) too close to being vodka.  The same cannot be said of this fascinating expression.  I have to imagine that the mash bill of this spirit, 45% barley, 30% corn, and 25% rye, has a lot to do with how lovely it tastes.  That is not a normal mash-bill, and to my knowledge leaves this spirit, and its aged counter-part free of any legal classification beyond whiskey or delicious.  Yes, you heard me right my friends, there is an aged counterpart to Snowfall, and while I have not yet had it, I know that my next trip across the Connecticut River will find me on a search for at least one Ridgeline.

Uisce Beatha Real Irish Whiskey

Every thirty seconds the slow wash of tires passes across my right shoulder, over to the left, behind my neck, out my left ear into the hallway.  Spinning forward to my right periphery a red illumination shines from the grove of a black disk, spinning, spinning, spinning, and moaning… “you betta come on / / in my kitchen / / babe it gonna’ be rainin’ outdoors.”  It’s a misty, chill December shower.  Inside, in the mellow warm candle light with Marrakesh smoke on the air, every thumping bass note on old Bobby Johnson’s thumb seems to urge the floor to tickle the increasingly numb souls of my feet.  The draining circulation in my fingers makes for spasmodic and pained typing.  Perhaps more pained because I’m still not sure what I mean to say.  It is rare this late in December, in this Northeastern clime, to still be awaiting our first snowfall.  And yet we are.  And still—warm enough to rain, winter enough to frost—I’m ready to embrace an instinct familiar to other mammals, hibernation.  This in-between weather, this wet and confused New Hampshire December, I imagine is how most of winter must pass in Ireland.  As ancient coal stoves burn, turf stoves, even, I imagine many among the Irish fight the mammalian instinct of hibernation in turning to one more human.  I imagine on a night like this, sometime in the 14th century, some tonsured monk drink a fluid warm from the still, and he said to his brethren, “this is the water of life,” uisce beatha.

 

From these words, uisce beatha, comes the modern word for the sweet nectar and societal scourge, that is whiskey.  Of course, if you’re reading a whiskey blog in your free time, I probably don’t need to tell you that.  But if you learned something, well, the more you know.  Why do I bring this up, with unnecessary verbosity and noir musings?  Well, because someone done gone made an Irish whiskey, and guess what they’ve called it…yousebetya, Uisce Beatha.

 

It takes a fuckin’ fully functioning spleen to go and brand your whiskey as its etymological root. Before you say anything, the spleen does have a purpose, look it up, smartass.  Now while we’re on the point, I’ll give you some brief background.  Apparently this whiskey, Uisce Beatha, *redundant* is a product fresh from the mind of John Paul DeJoria, who is best known for bringing the world Patron Tequila and Paul Mitchell shampoo.  One of these things is not like the other.  I think I’m just going to leave your mind lingering on that without further comment.  Anyways, the Patron Mitchell guy happens to be a cofounder of a company called Rok Drinks, which has decided to churn out whiskey under its original moniker.  Sadly, I cannot figure out where the juice these “Rok Stars” are using to make this whiskey, but they have clearly disclosed that it is blended of whiskies aged at least 4 years in former bourbon barrels. That’s about is far deep as I’m going a googling tonight, so let’s get to the point—I’m seriously flagging in the life department and giving that hibernation thing some consideration.  Let us put some life in my blood.

Uisce Beatha

The nose on this is delightfully rich, honey was a given based on the color of the whiskey, but there are pleasant dimensions of richer molasses and dark fruit, a touch of spice and maybe even a hint of hazelnut.  The base note which seems to first hit the tongue and then lingers steadily throughout the palate is something akin to a sweet but gristy whole grain muffin.  On top of this are layers of flavor, including a more fully expressed cinnamon spice—which I’ll be bold enough is from the barrel of a high-rye bourbon—some light citrus, and the ever Irish honey sweetness which is more than usually subtle in this expression, I imagine due to the bourbon barrels. The finish is very light, with an almost cold breath around the edge of the tongue passing and leaving just a grassy sweet reminiscence of loving life on the tongue.

So, does this young upstart, new to the market from the mind of a tequila slinging hairdresser live up to its Gaelic name? Well, it certainly is whiskey, that’s an accurate start.  Beyond that, it’s a pleasant whiskey, distinct from the many other expressions in the field, with a refreshing complexity for its youth.  Yes, I do feel a bit less like sinking into hibernation, I feel a bit more blood running in my fingers and toes, and I may in fact be on the verge of having a touch more life.

Rebel Yell Small Batch Reserve

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.

Rebel

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.

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.