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.

A. Smith Bowman: Bowman Brothers Small Batch

Whiskey marketing tends to flow down a few narrow channels.  If you’re walking down the whiskey lanes browsing around, it isn’t exactly hard to see this trend. You wanna sell whiskey?  You gotta have a rugged heritage.  It’s okay if it’s mostly rubbish, just pick a name of a distiller from the 1700s and slap on a word that makes you think Davy Crockett would drink this between eating bear hearts—boom, you’ve nailed the market.  Given whiskey’s image, you’d think it caused your body to develop more testosterone.  If it did, I’d probably look like bigfoot.  Anyways, tonight’s drinking comes courtesy of a company that has clearly mastered this technique, A. Smith Bowman Distilleries of Fredericksburg, Virginia.  The product: Bowman Brothers “Pioneer Spirit” Small Batch Straight Bourbon Whiskey.   Long name, I know.  Here’s the thing, this whole marketing spiel I mentioned, it seems to be a more modern trend.  The funny thing is, unlike the names smacked on labels, such as Elijah Craig, this name actually has something to do with the company’s heritage.  Furthermore, Bowman seems to be ahead of the curve a touch—he started the distillery in 1935; in fact, the original distillery location in modern day Reston, Virginia is on the National Register of Historic places.  Then again, Bowman was just naming the distillery after himself, much like Jim Beam; he just happens to have famous relatives…

The namesakes of this bottle, the Bowman Brothers, were intrepid American Revolutionary War Veterans and, no bullshit, pioneers.  They led families west to the wild frontiers of Kentucky (like someone else I mentioned…) to settle communities in two counties.  You probably know Kentucky well for one of its fine exports as well, bourbon.  I’m sure there’s no connection.  Where the hell was I going with this?  Oh yeah, A. Smith Bowman ain’t just another new name on the shelves playing a tired marketing ploy—they were around when whiskey’s marketing ploy was “it gets you drunk.”  Now they have to tell you to drink responsibly, how sad.  As usual, all of this is tangential though—let’s talk juice.

Supposedly, from what I call “research,” Bowman Brothers is made from a Buffalo Trace Mash, about 15% rye, that is triple distilled though a copper still.  What does that smell like? It’s very light, with a crisp apple note leading in, a delectably smooth vanilla middle, and just a dusting of rye spice at the end, almost like apple crisp and ice cream.  I’m kind of hungry now.  Okay, Girl Scout cookies down and I’m back—let us taste! (As if I haven’t already had two drinks.)

Bowman

That rye note is actually pretty up front on the first sip, considering its low station in the mash.  The middle is where this whiskey really shines, with a very rich vanilla flavor that’s rather unusual—did I buy the special release aged with vanilla beans?  Nope, my blood ain’t that rich.  There is also a pretty great chewy, sweet, maple-syrup-over-snow thing as the foundation.  This is enjoyable stuff.

What’s the point here?  Well, one, this Bowman Brothers is a pretty interesting, light and lovely whiskey.  Also, all the marketing money in the world isn’t going to give your brand any legit heritage.  Finally, it seems to me that Virginia pioneers probably taught the people of Kentucky a thing or two about the art of whiskey—even Washington was a distiller—and if this is the kind of whiskey Virginia is still churning out, I think they still know what they’re doing.

Corner Creek Reserve Bourbon

Well, my readers, I must begin by apologize.  I’ve gone dark, slightly.  Not really, but my frequency dipped.  Anyways, that being out of the way, let me give you a little glimpse of your narrator, author—vice-roy, perhaps.  I have a little bit of a process on these articles.  Usually it starts by getting a bottle of hooch.  You probably could have guessed that.  If it’s a good bottle, I’ll stretch it out a bit; start out nights with a single pour.  I start to think on it, find the tastes, get an angle, if I can.  In this case, I have no angle really, but we’ll let that slide.  Once I’ve gotten down to a good bottle, usually I’ll leave that last couple drinks un-drunk.  Basically, I’ll grapple with the base impulses which are always at war within me.  The one that wants to do something creative, that wants to let my mind breath, if just for a couple meaningless paragraphs or a quick solo—and the lazy son of a bitch who just wants to lay back in his chair watching the X-Files for the 15th time and take the edge off with a light buzz.  Usually that lazy bastard wins, because, well, life is goddamn exhausting.  Occasionally the ambitious dude escapes, grabs up that last few pours—puts the bottle in front of him and starts to think.

He tries to rework that angle that ran across his mind on the way to work one day.  He looks at the website of his subject, tries to get the feel for how they present themselves, and tries to get their vibe.  Often, I’ll look at other reviews, amateur and otherwise—see if they’re just bullshitting notes or if maybe they caught something I hadn’t noticed.  A little bit of research, fact-checking, plagiarism.  That kind of shit.  Well, this has been my process tonight. In my research, I’ve found something quite interesting.  There are a lot of people who don’t have much to say about Corner Creek.  Some people have negative things to say.  Now, granted, maybe some of these people are snobs, who treat Blanton’s as their daily drink and occasionally do filthy things with bottles of Pappy Van Winkle.  Wretched perverts.  But then again, a lot of these people seem to be normal bourbon enthusiasts, and more to the point, they’re pulling the exact same notes out of this that I do— and they ain’t diggin’ it.  Before I go into it further, let me give you the rundown, the notes.

Starting on the nose, as any drunkard worth their slug is wont to do, we find Corner Creek is almost self-contradicting, with something like cola on leather underneath being overpowered by a light floral chamomile bouquet with warm vanilla and just a touch of dry oak.  It’s quite a lovely nose, unusual but inviting, and something I would consider splashing in my beard before a date.  If I had what could respectably be called a beard.  I’m trying, goddammit.  The first taste, too, is rather unusual.  While the flavor profile—light vanilla on the entry, a touch of rye, spice, some warm caramel and a nice crisp orange oil near the end—is not unusual itself, there is something unusual, which seems to be a sticking point in each review.  This bourbon is quite dry, almost like the mouthfeel of an old cabernet.  It’s quite unusual, and among the forum folks, quite controversial—but then again, I like cabernet.   The finish, upon which I can agree with some of my fellow tasters is a bit short, is not unpleasant, leaving you with a touch vanilla on a slightly dry palate that seems to ask for a splash more…

Corner creek

With the right Instagram edits it looks even drier!

So, for the most part, many of us tasters find a similar thing with this bottle.  But how do these tasting notes translate into a person’s feeling on the bourbon?  In the case of Corner Creek, quite greatly.  Some reviewers were offering to give their bottles away, some saying they didn’t understand it, but they liked it.  Quite a few people considered it undistinguished, but yet others seemed to find the dry notes distinctly and unwelcomingly out of style?  To be honest, I usually don’t put much stock in the other reviews when I do my “research,” but I found the controversy here quite interesting, and since I clearly have no other angle to this (un)creative ejaculation, I wanted to put in my two centavos down on this $26 argument.

My take on Corner Creek?  Distinct, and refreshingly so.  What makes Corner Creek so interesting to me, is that somehow it fits the mold of an almost quintessential bourbon in the flavors you find on the nose, in the taste, even on the finish—and yet, that touch of dryness to the wood has made a beautiful nose, and a highly controversial, and, in my opinion, interesting, flavor profile.  So while many reviewers out there found this to be flawed as an undistinct and dry bourbon, I find that in being dry it has a unique, and enjoyable distinctness.  Corner Creek may be just another band playing an old song, but there does seem to be a bit of a new twang to their sound.

Bushmills 10 Year Old Single Malt

I have had a remarkably productive weekend, for me.  Yesterday I worked my second job for 8 hours, which means that I read a Nabokov book. After that I went out and replaced my phone, which had been broken for several months, and had a nice dinner with family.  Then I came home and enjoyed some fine beverages and Netflix programming while setting up said phone.  Today I woke up at the crack of 11, went out for breakfast with the family, and cleaned my bedroom top to bottom.  I then drank some beer, made some banana bread, took a hot bath and beat the Indianapolis Colts 45 to 7.  Wait, was that not me?  Well without that it looks like I just kicked back, ate too much and took care of a few things.  Well bollocks, I’ve earned a reward for all that anyways.  My reward tonight?  See title.

Let’s flash back some four or so years—a young man is turning 21.  Said young man may, and this is not an admission of guilt (you can prove nothing,) have been known to have a premature fondness for the brown spirits.  At that time, this young nameless man was in the practice of keeping on hand a bottle of bourbon, a bottle of Irish and a bottle of cognac about, finance permitting.  So, come this young man’s 21st birthday, a generous benefactor / my father’s girlfriend, gave said young man a bottle of the title spirit—Bushmills 10 year Single Malt.  It was wondrous, eye opening even, for a fella who was used to your standard Irish blends.  That bottle was a revered treat, saved only to start a special night—one that more than likely involved listening to Bob Dylan and contributing nothing to society.  I…ehhhmmm…our anonymous subject, received a different kind of education alongside his college studies.  For some reason (read: college debt) this young man never bought another bottle of that sweet nectar, and yet has continued (I’m an omnipotent 3rd person narrator) to remember it fondly.

Well, that young man still has not bought another bottle of that sweet stuff—but my dad has.  And for the sake of that young man, so innocent and lost, let me steal a dram off my old man, and pour it out in his honor.  Right down my gullet.  Without further dudes, let me imbibe of this wee borrowed dram, and catch a couple notes.

New camera is gunna step up my photogue game

New camera is gunna step up my photogue game

From the nose I find some lovely light orange oil notes, with a very complementary dose of clove and some floating vanilla notes, to really tie the room together.  Once you sip of that golden sunshine, oh lawdy lawd—soft honey washes into miles of smooth vanilla floating on streams of chocolate milk which leave, yet linger and somehow leaves you feeling as though your palette is cleansed.  It’s lovely, almost…poetic…

In County Antrim did Sir Thomas Phillipps
a stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Bush, the sacred river, ran
Through stills measureless to man,
Down to sweet whiskey.

Just one dram, and you too can rip off Samuel Taylor Coleridge! Anyways, this is truly a beautifully subtle whiskey, and a perfect introduction into the world of Irish Single Malts—one that you will be likely to remember fondly, as did our young protagonist for he on honey-dew hath fed, and drunk the milk of Paradise.

 

Single Shot, Bam!—Jameson Black Barrel

The newest member (I’m pretty sure) to Jameson’s diverse line of Irish whiskies.  I have previously noted the role of the Irish in introducing me to the wonderful world of whiskey, and I’ll admit to quaffing my fair share of their main spirit, which is perhaps America’s best known Irish.  But I’m not reviewing that.  I’m reviewing the Black Barrel, Jameson’s more rebellious and slightly more expensive next step up the ladder.  I say next step up because there are so many products in their line that I have really lost track. Anyways, what distinguishes the black barrel is its considerable age jump over your standard Jame-O to 12 years, and the time that it spends its hibernation time splitting time between a bourbon barrel and a sherry barrel…like a somewhat damaged child of divorce.  That got dark (pun intended.)  So yeah, full disclosure, this is a single shot review, because dear ol’ dad and I drank the rest.  In the spirit of the single shot review, and in the furtherance of ending my sober rambling, down the hatch!

Jameo

Nose: Sweet, with vanilla, cherries, a bit of must, partly from the barley I suspect.  Maybe some spice too.

Taste:  The entry is very soft with some light vanilla and some nice round fruity notes, maybe that cherry I smelt, I suspect, and maybe something a bit lighter…apple? Pear? The flavor fades out clean with a bit of grainy grassiness before leaving just the slightest tad of oak on the tongue.

Final thoughts? A worthwhile jump from the $23 standard to the $35 Black barrel.  It’s delicate, infinitely quaffable, and while it has a level of complexity it’s very approachable, both in flavor and price; which I think is the point.  If you’re used to thinking of Irish Whiskey as a shot, perhaps this could be a nice next step on the ladder to appreciation for you.

Author’s note: I don’t actually down drinks for the single shot series—I’m a liar and a phony, and kind of need to take a few sips to get my thoughts straight. 

Review: Thirteenth Colony Rye Whiskey

“Rye whiskey, rye whiskey, rye whiskey I crave, if I don’t get rye whiskey I’ll go to my grave.”  I like whiskey, maybe you’ve figured that out by now. I’m starting to think I may be inclined to bourbons with a higher rye content.  Maybe I’m starting to realize I really like rye, but that could the rye speaking.  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, and have been sober enough while reading to recall the previous articles, you’ll realize that I have already reviewed a product of the Thirteenth Colony Distillery—their corn whiskey.  Well the people at the distillery read that article, and seemingly they liked it, because when I mentioned I wish their rye made it up to good ol’ NH they said, and I don’t quote: for you it does.  Basically they sent me an awesome gift pack consisting of a bottle of rye, some cool cozies, and a bumper sticker.  I believe in the blogging world they now refer to this as “swag.” I like to swig my swag.  I am not a good dancer, and therefore not a man to dance, but I did a little goofy jig every time I thought about the wonders coming my way.

At this point you’re jealous and sick of my little story, so here it goes; let’s talk swag.  My cozies are awesome, and camo.  ‘Murica. Oh, right you care about the rye. Now what I’ve been doing is starting with a big whiff, which for a moment almost has a soft sweetness with a bit of clove and cinnamon, until you’re hit with some burning numbness and you think it’s possible you’re getting a buzz on the fumes.  That’s a good first sign in my book.  Now with a sip. I can only really describe what’s happening from front to back of the mouth, because there is so much going on here.  On the very tip of my tongue is a lovely cooling and numbing sensation, and, moving back around the middle of my tongue, I catch a beautiful brown sugar and vanilla sweetness which begins near that last hump of the tongue to show some more bite, hearty and spicy. The cinnamon and clove from the nose appear, plus tons of peppery goodness, and finally at the back of the throat is a most gloriously benevolent burn—47.5% alcohol goodness that doesn’t hurt or feel like it’s going to burn through.  Finally that beautiful warmth sinks down and you’ve got a happy belly and mind.  Oh those good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye and singing this’ll be the day that I die, but I bet they didn’t have rye like this.

I know what you’re thinking. This guy is biased. He gets his first free bottle of booze and can’t help but love it.  That’s why I drank most of the bottle before I reviewed it, as they say a drunken mind writes a sober heart, or something like that, and I let the rye remove the bias. Since this bottle of rye arrived I haven’t found a way that I don’t want to drink it. I’ve drank it straight, chilled, with a little water, with an ice cube—all joyously.  It kills me that I can’t buy this at my New Hampshire state liquor store yet, because I can’t let the last of such a rare and lovely thing leave my bar. Thank you to the generous folks at Thirteenth Colony, you’ve crafted another great spirit.

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Earlier today I had a pour of this rye with a tiny pinch of sugar, a few drops of water and several healthy dashes of angostura bitters. I was sitting on a porch watching a pink sunset spill across the lake in good company. It was a perfect cocktail if I’ve ever had one.

Review: Cornelius Applejack—Batch No. 46, Bottle 271

Cornelius Applejack sounds a bit like a nutty professor, the kind of guy who tries to make a time-machine from a busted up Oldsmobile.  Well professor, you’ve done it; this is a time machine.  Applejack is a classic American spirit, a crude liquor made from hard cider—often in the old days it was concentrated by freezing the cider and tossing out the water that froze.  A classic antifogmatic, for guys work worked hard.  Like that George Washington guy.  Georgie boy drank Laird’s applejack, which is still made today, but is a far different product from what lurks in my glass.  Laird’s nowadays is fortified with neutral grain spirits.  It’s cheap, tasty, but it’s made to be cheap.  The good people of Harvest Spirits in Valatie, New York do what those guys in Jersey haven’t; they’ve refined a good tradition.  Cornelius is closer to calvados, the French apple brandy, as it’s triple distilled to a cleaner finish.  Then again Harvest Spirits have been able to overcome my problem with calvados–its cloying sweetness.  Perhaps this has something to do with the barrel aging, but the end result here is very interesting—sweet, hot and slightly tart.  There’s no way to place this flavor other than apple, like green apple Laffy Taffy fermented, and yet there’s so much more than that. It comes in waves, sweet, than tangy and tart, finally leaving your tongue cool and aching for more.  This applejack may not use traditional methods, but it certainly makes a fine product.  Cornelius Applejack takes the spirit out of the 18th century and into the sophisticated world— a product that is distinctly rural America, and yet has grown up with the nation into a modern spirit for a modern society.Image