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.

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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.

 

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.

Baker’s Bourbon, or Why We Fight

It’s Sunday night.  If you’re anything like me, and innumerable other poor insufferable bastards your mind is now spent pouring every moment of your weekend trying to remember where the time went, what did you do, have you really spent the last 11 hours on that couch?  Then there’s that other thought, that lingering dread, that grim cloud of despair that threatens your next 5 days—a combination of the known and unknown sufferings to come.  Or maybe you like your job, in which case, bully for you—self-fulfilled prick.  At some wicked hour you’re going to be awakened by some unnatural thought.  You will roll out of bed, stagger through your morning without being able to enjoy the beauty that is your breakfast and coffee.  You will drive (in the snow, in my case) to the office complex, the job site, the sweatshop.  You’ll bleed for 40 hours as the phones ring, the shitfans spray, the meetings drone and the whip cracks.  Why, dear god why?! Why do we dedicate so much of our lives to something that we find so dreadful, even possibly loathsome?  The short answer—we need shit.

I’m going to really try my best to avoid a rant (rampage) against crass consumerism here; for the sake of your already tormented minds and for the sake of space.  Also, it doesn’t contribute to my point.  The point is, that we work, because we need to make a living.  Maybe some of us legitimately hate our jobs, maybe some of us love them, me, I find it far more tolerable while doing it than warrants my present dread.  I do it though, admitted, because I need to.  I do it because every two weeks a bunch of numbers show up on this website saying I can pay people money that I owe them for that piece of paper I paid way too much for.  That website also says I can eat stuff, and drink some nice booze.  If you couldn’t tell I’m rather fond of booze.  Which brings me to my next point: sometimes there are, emphasis on sometimes, little unexpected perks that make your work go from something you bleed at for 40 hours per week, to a part of your life.  There are times when there’s a reward, be that intrinsic or otherwise, that make Sunday night’s dread perhaps seem a bit unfounded.  When you’re able to make a little impact in someone’s life, when there’s leftover pizza up for grabs in the breakroom, or when you go that extra mile for someone and they go out of their way to thank you.  These are nice moments. Small joys, surely, but without them the shitfan keeps humming endlessly.

Where am I going with all this?  Did the title not give it away? One of those small joys happened for me over the holidays, when my team at work went out for a nice dinner and exchange of gifts.  Many of the gifts were alcoholic (ahh, numbing the stress), my boss kindly bought me a bottle of Baker’s bourbon.  Working with people that you enjoy the company of is quite nice in and of itself.  When they give you good bourbon?  Small joy.  To the point, what of the bourbon?

Baker’s bourbon is a Beam brand project, one of their premier line, running at 107 proof after spending 7 years on oak absorbing, let me tell you, some lovely flavors.  Perhaps that’s an understatement.  You see, the first whiff of Baker’s is warm, round, almost thick and chewy, if your nostrils can detect that.  There are luscious notes of caramel, honey, and an almost cedar like woodiness with some dark and rich spice notes.  I’m pretty sure this would for some manly cologne.  Ah, and to taste this.  Rich chewy molasses cookies are the predominant flavor with a bit of allspice, a touch of dark fruit and a hint of vanilla—the best way I can describe this is simply lustrous. The finish reveals that vanilla that had but hiding just beneath the surface and sinks softly down warming, melting away the tension, the fear that goddamn grim menace of tomorrow.

What it is all for?  It’s for those small joys, that leftover pizza, for those people who make work tolerable, and that special bottle every other Friday that lets you stop the droning, stop the bleeding—lets you reap your just rewards.

Gift Pack Season, Give ’em the Bird and an Aging Kit

Happy Christmas, ya bastards.  I may as well be honest; I have a reputation as a bit of a scrooge.  That’s an under exaggeration, I’m an atheistic anti-capitalist with a tendency towards Seasonal Affective Disorder and a cynical heart. There is, however, one thing I embrace about this season:  gift packs.  Tis the season where buying a bottle of booze means getting a little bit more than a solid buzz and an excuse to hate mornings. Glasses and shakers, muddlers and nips—this is the glory of the season.  This year I feel I have found an extraordinary gift pack, and a gift that keeps on giving—the Wild Turkey cocktail aging set.  This year’s Wild Turkey gift pack, 101 mind you, includes a Wild Turkey embossed mason jar and a piece of charred spiral oak.  At the same price as a bottle of Wild Turkey.  Which also happened to be on sale for $20.  Ho, ho, ho-ly hell yes.

The oak aging concept is something that has been pretty hip for a while now—with mini-barrels on sale for aging white whiskey and bars serving barrel aged cocktail off the barrel, the movement has more legs than a Czech supermodel or a good scotch.  Though there is a chunk of hype involved, yes, but there is also a lot of benefit to aging a cocktail all wrapped in one lovely package, to mix and meld and smooth over the edges with a consistent dusting of smoky oaky goodness.  With this in mind, Wild Turkey have done isn’t anything new.  There are plenty of brands out there selling you decanters or plain old bottles with a spiral or honeycombed stick of charred oak.  The primary word there?  Sellinggggg.  You can buy a bottle with a charred oak stick as a “cocktail aging kit,” that’s $35.  You can buy a bottle of Wild Turkey for $20 and they give you that shit.  Merry Christma-hanna-let’s-get-ripped-akah.

Given my complete absence of holiday spirit it should come as no surprise that my interest in gift sets is purely selfish, and therefore it should be clear by now that I bought this set for myself.  I may be more for myself, because I’m not giving anybody gifts.  Ba-humbug. Anyways, in the world of infinite opportunities, known as mixology, I decided to use this lovely little perk of mine to make a twist on an old favorite—based on the materials I already had at hand.  I went with a twist on one of the oldest, some argue oldest, American cocktails: Le Sazerac.  The twist here is that instead of Rye I used the materials God and the New Hampshire State Liquor Commission gave me, Wild Turkey.  Now it is worth noting that this lil’ kit hold 500ml of fluid fire, which means scaling up your standard Sazerac Recipe significantly.  To make mine I briefly looked over a few interpretations of the standard recipe, thought about doing some math, then rapidly ignored it all and drank some of the other 250ml of Turkey.  I then put something together that may or may not resemble the following recipe.

Ye Big ol’ Sazerac

  • 2 oz Absinthe (La Muse Verte is what I had on hand)
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 10 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters (the traditional)
  • 10-15 dashes Embitterment Aromatic Bitters (the one upper)
  • 10-15 dashes Embitterment Orange Bitter (at this point, what the hell)
  • 1 Lemon’s rind, careful to avoid the pith
  • 1 oak spiral
  • About 400+ ml Wild Turkey to the top

Let settle 2 weeks or so.

Sazer-that!

Sazer-that!

There probably should have been more science to it, but I like to go by feel and I’m definitely feeling what I made there…I decided to serve this little monster over a single ice cube. The result? Hail Santa (Satan?)!  There is indeed a wonderful alchemy that occurs when all of these ingredients merge into one, spending weeks together in the bar top equivalent of Stalag Luft III with a little bit of oak to mellow it all together.  Perhaps I went a bit above and beyond the call of absinthe wash, as exemplified by the louche this concoction takes on when chilled, but the ingredients played off oh so well together, with the star of the show being the garnish.  That’s right, the garnish—the tinsel on the tree—the lovely lemon shined after 2 weeks giving off the beauty of her essential oils and soaking in the wonder of the Wild Turkey.  The bitters come through wonderfully as well, warm, sweet and mellow.  A damned good cocktail…though perhaps not perfect—but therein lies the beauty.

The genius that is the 2014 Wild Turkey gift pack is that it is the gift pack that keeps on giving.  Yes, perhaps you could make a cocktail to share—give, if you will—but that’s not where the pleasure stops.  This kit is reusable.  This time around I made a Sazerac.  Next time I could make a Manhattan, age it a bit longer, and maybe even impart a bit of that Sazerac.  I could then make an Old Fashioned that winds up with a hint of sweet vermouth note.  Even when that charred oak has exhausted all it has to give, you have a free mason jar emblazoned with the Wild Turkey emblem—the latest in whiskey chic.  So, though I have not gone on an all-out gift pack spree (yet,) I do declare the coolest (thus far) gift pack of the year is Wild Turkey 101’s do it yourself, drink it yourself, gift that keeps on giving, aging kit.

Tomatin 12 Year Single Malt

I’d like to start this evening by stating that I hope all you disloyal readers had a great Thanksgiving.  I’d like to give thanks to the people of Hydro Quebec who brought power back to New Hampshire.  Because of you bastards I’ve had to work all week.  On the plus side I had a great Thanksgiving, because in spite of not having power from Wednesday to Saturday last week I have a bully good time reading, playing guitar, stoking the woodstove and drinking Wild Turkey (the only turkey I had on a powerless veggie burger’s giving.)

Now to the business at hand; drinkin’ scotch. Tonight seems as good as any for taking a Scotch geography lesson, so I’m going to brush up and pontificate.  See, my pupils, Scotch, made in…Scotland—you morons—comes from several regions around the country, each renown for certain characteristics imparted by their “terroir.” Terroir is frenchy for the effect of earth, climate and straight environmental magic that plays into booze.  The regions for Scotch can be broken down most simply as Lowland, Highland, Speyside and Island (Islay and Skye subregions.)  The islands, think Ron Swanson’s Lagavulin, are all peat smoke and sea brine.  Speyside you get a bit of light brine and crisp fruity notes alongside your classic scotch malt and vanilla.  The lowlands are known for being more representative of the grains and can be light, floral, even grassy.  The highlands, well, that’s where our palate visits tonight…*

Tomatin, the sponser of tonight’s program is a Scotch distillery established in 1897.  That’s about all I know, and I’m not going to do more research.  You have google, do your own goddamn footwork.   I’m going to be honest, if there was going to be an angle to this article, this is where I would be putting it.  Probably would have something to do with Sean Connery, Highlander, and how “there can only be one.”  I don’t have one, so I’m just going to drink this scotch and give you some notes, because highlander don’t spit no bull.

Tomatin

On the nose Tomatin 12 is full of vanilla, very round malt notes, a bit of honey, and something a bit like some tart fruit, maybe Lychee? The nose doesn’t tell the full story of what hides in my glass.  The mouth of this opens up quite well, with a fair share that honey that rolls over the palate, and a bit of pear, and a world of grain.  There is one note that hangs out a bit like musty hay that perhaps comes from the environment, perhaps from the barrel, but doesn’t detract much from a nice warm and delicate mouthfeel. Likewise that finish leaves with perhaps even more lingering ethereally over the tongue with warm vanilla, the tiniest bit of spice and a pie of chest hair.  Shit wait, that’s Connery again.  That note was something like a granny smith apple after taste, tad tart, plenty delicious.

On the whole I find Tomatin’s 12 year old single malt a quite pleasant experience, the more so because it doesn’t cost you any more than a bottle of blended Famous Grouse. While there were some notes we’ll refer to as…unique…I feel as though this Tomatin 12 year, as a “young” single malt (you’d get the Mann Act for this,) is a nice entry for the brand, and shows quite a lot of promise for the older vintages available; and at that price, you’re doing quite well for yourself.  Verdict?  In the wide world of Scotch there are bargain single malts, and there are bargain single malts worth drinking.  This is the latter.

*Disclaimer, this is probably all bullshit, I don’t generally drink much scotch, so I’m basically being a scotch racist.

Embitterment: Phase one in which Doris gets her oats.

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

Embittered

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

Angostura Bitters: Classic Aromatic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Marie Duffau Napoleon Armagnac

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

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

Marie

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Templeton Small Batch Rye Whiskey

Dateline:  Chicago, 1928.  Eight years ago the manufacture and sale of alcohol were banned by Constitutional Amendment.  People are so desperate for a buzz they’re drinking rub alcohol.  Goddammit, they’re so high and dry they thnk Canadian whisky is good, poor bastards.  The man making his fortune off this prohibition? Scarface Al Capone, former New York street bulldog, part time psychopath, full-time gangster.  When you run the most notorious liquor operation in the country like Al does, you have your pick of the litter.  Mr. Capone, he drinks the high class domestic product.  Not some hillbilly heat moonshine full of wood alcohol and kerosene, but Iowa’s finest, Templeton Rye.

Flash forward to today and the Rye that Templeton once only cooked up illegally is now paying its dues to the revenues and has gone legal.  This new incarnation of the speakeasy legend is steaming off a prohibition era recipe, and playing big on its underground heritage.  Beyond their reminiscences of Prohibition legends and all that jazz age hokum this new Templeton is earning a new reputation in its modern incarnation, winning numerous spirits awards, including consecutive Gold medals at the renown San Francisco Spirits Tastings in 2009 and 2010.  But what do I care about gold medals?  When it comes down to it, bathtub gin or Templeton, what ot comes down to is hooch in the glass.

What comes in a glass of Templeton?  Whiskey fit for a bootlegging magnate, Capone had taste if this is what the old boy was drinking.  A wonderful and tantalizing nose of cinnamon, peppercorn and hefty brown sugar wafts draws you into a deep and complex first sip, with rye that goes beyond just that young cinnamon burn and almost widens across the palate to reveal a hearty dose of oak that can only have come from years of patience.  This rye is clearly well crafted, which is a stunning feat for such a young brand but the secret, I suspect, is that the folks at Templeton had a stroke of genius—they used a proven recipe.  Clearly they did everything else right, but to me the greatest genius of this product is that they took a recipe for a superior product that was unused, and made a superior product.  Also, I must say, the buzz is probably better than rub alcohol too.

Photo: Review in process