A bourbon for what ails you

maggie and old forester

Who needs a Saint Bernard?

Snow in bourbon-drinking country is not usually a common occurrence but sometimes it happens and when it does, well what more could you ask for? I call our snows “boutique” snows, since it’s usually great big puffy-flake snow that makes for great pictures and it’s all gone in the next day or two. I can send the pics to friends up north and say “see, we have snow, too” while never acknowledging the fact that I don’t own a snow shovel, or a snow blower, or even decent parka.

(I was going to mention “rubbers,” Midwestern vernacular meaning overshoes or galoshes, but the very fact that I grew up being told to “be sure to put on your rubbers” as I headed out the door is still disconcerting…)

This year we’re getting more snow than we’re used to, but each instance is a “let it snow” moment providing the perfect excuse to stay indoors, stare out the window and toast the season. Of course you can toast any season, and I believe you should, but right now this is the one to focus on.

This month I got us some Old Forester bourbon, which is a bit of conundrum in the bourbon world, as near as I can tell. From a purely consumer standpoint Old Forester resides in the netherworld between your everyday bourbons and your special occasions bourbons.

If your friends aren’t the sort that worry about the hit they’ll take from the estate tax, then you can pull out some Old Forester and everyone will appreciate your slightly eclectic taste.

On the other hand, if your doctor is recommending rotator cuff surgery for the shoulder pain you feel from constantly reaching for those top-shelf bottles, then it seems to be de rigueur to suggest that Old Forester is somehow unworthy of serious consideration.

To quote, as I usually do, the estimable F. Paul Pacult: [from F. Paul Pacult’s Whiskey Review, iWhiskey iPhone app]

“… The palate entry is hard, brittle, unwelcoming, … at midpalate there’s a slight reflection of the grainy aroma, but that’s washed away in the torrent of oaky resin; ends up bitter and biting. I didn’t care for this uneven, Jekyll and Hyde of a bourbon. One minute it’s sweet, inviting, and succulent in the nose; the next minute it’s scraping the skin off your tongue and upper palate.”

Sheesh, what an attitude! A couple of ice cubes, a splash of water and a devastating Dear John letter and F. Paul would be throwing it down with a vengeance I say.

Then there’s the frequently-suggested-on-the-internets but unverified claim that Woodford Reserve, which I wrote about a while back, is just the best of each Old Forester batch relabeled and greatly revalued. I want to believe Woodford Reserve when they say this is not true, but until they can produce an actual, legitimate birth certificate from the state of Hawaii, I’m skeptical. I guess it’s a conspiracy with legs given that Old Forester is made by Brown-Forman, which also bottles Woodford Reserve and Jack Daniels among its products.

You gotta love this guy’s tenacity in searching for the truth:

Old Forester does have history on its side, at least according to Charles Cowdery:

“Old Forester was born in 1870. In those days, distilleries and distributors sold whiskey in barrels to bars and groceries. Many less than scrupulous merchants watered the whiskey or ‘extended’ it with un-aged spirits and other, sometimes toxic, substances.

“Among those who complained about this practice were physicians, who often prescribed whiskey as a tonic and anesthetic. George Brown, who previously worked for a wholesale drug company, knew about this complaint and got the idea of selling whiskey only in sealed bottles, so a buyer could trust the contents.”

Given that information I must suggest that Old Forester was the first “medicinal purposes” whiskey that a doctor could really trust. You know where I’m going with that…

So anyway, Tweets and I did a blind taste test using the remains of the previously mentioned Woodford Reserve and our new bottle of Old Forester. Old Forester won. We still like Woodford Reserve, but on our binary scale of zero-to-one with one being good and zero being void of all goodness and undeserving to exist in this universe, we give Old Forester a one.

P.S. – “Fried peanut and banana sandwich with bourbon and vanilla” on the breakfast menu at Breslin in NYC. I might have to move back.

Tour Tomorrow, Dogs, and Shot Glasses

Driveway Entry Sign - Photo Andrew Burnham

Tired but compelled to post.

Studio Tour starts tomorrow. It’s been very odd but very invigorating to be so focused for an extended period on something that’s so self-involved. I probably couldn’t do it all day every day, but it’s been like getting a sabbatical after so many years of prioritizing other stuff.

Less art than illustration, here’s a banner I just put up in the woods that features Chigger and Woody, both gone now but it was them that put the “dogs” in Bourbon, Dogs and Art and so this banner was for them and for me. It’s not for sale.

Banner: Chigger and Woody

Wednesday was the 13th, so we celebrated our monthly sunset anniversary with a toast of Woodford Reserve, a small batch bourbon that bills itself the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby.  “Small batch” is basically a way of saying that it might taste different from bottle to bottle or year to year. If you’re someone who’s keeping score, our bottle was from Batch 69, Bottle 879. Great bottle with a cool wood top cork. Here’s what Jim in Whisky Magazine said about Woodford Reserve:

“Nose: Pronounced oak, softened by fruity rye and gentle vanilla. A little toffee and honey. Palate: Big, big lift off with a powerful oaky-rye surge and an immediate arrival of spice. Toasty toward the middle with the corn arriving late on. Finish: Long, cocoa and oak finale, burnt toast with a spread of honey.”

We especially agreed with the “burnt toast with a spread of honey” part. How could you have a drink and not think of burnt toast and honey? At least from here on out.

If you want poetry, then here’s our old iPhone app standby F. Paul Pacult:

“The lovely bronze color shines in the light; absolute purity. The first few sniffs detect restrained, lightly roasted kernel/bean-like scents; additional undisturbed time in the copita opens up the bouquet as added aromas of saddle leather, tobacco leaf, and walnut eventually come to the fore. The palate entry is semisweet, candied, and creamy; by midpalate the taste profile includes pepper, welcome spirity heat, oak resin, and caramel corn. Ends gracefully and leanly, showing the delicate, ultra-sophisticated side of bourbon.”

Think that guy doesn’t get laid? Anyway, on Tweetsie’s and my binary scale of zero-to-one with one being better than zero, we give Woodford Reserve a solid one.

Woodford Reserve

Woodford Reserve and the official "Bourbon, Dogs and Art" shot glass! At sunset!

But I buried the lede! Note the first appearance of the official “Bourbon, Dogs and Art” shot glass! Available to all at this weekend’s studio tour and soon to be available here on BDA!

Preaching and Drinking

Elijah Craig in a glass

There are folks who claim that Elijah Craig, a Baptist minister, colonial-era pioneer and capitalist entrepreneur, invented bourbon. That he was the first person to age whiskey in the charred oak barrels that give it its flavor and color. And there are folks who beg to differ. I don’t have a dog in that particular fight. However, there is no question that Craig was one of a number of serious distillers in the area around Bourbon County Kentucky back about the time that George Washington was being sworn in on a bible.(1)

He apparently did establish Kentucky’s first classical school, build Kentucky’s first hemp rope facility, its first cloth mill, its first paper mill, first lumber mill and first grist mill. He was either brilliant or he just got there before anyone else and took credit for everything. Ironically, he eventually died poor, which I’m sure more than one Baptist blames on the bourbon and hemp.

Elijah CraigSo anyway we had another anniversary to celebrate last evening and we chose to give Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Small Batch Bourbon a try. (There’s also an Elijah Craig 18 Year Old bourbon, but we couldn’t wait that long.)

The first thing you notice is that EJ12 has a great top with a big old impressive cork, which probably deserves a better bottle. Not a big fan of the bottle. The liquid color is dark and rich. Probably from spending 4-8 more years in a barrel than most typical bourbons. Beyond that my expertise flags and I rely on the Liquor Snob:

“Usually we like our drinks to be relatively simple. But Elijah Craig 12 Year Old posed us a challenge. There was a strong rye taste, spicy and heated. But then, we also tasted fruit, citrus and berries. And what else, maybe some of that butterscotch we smelled, as well as the woodiness of the oak? Yessir, it’s all there. When we breathed in, we could feel the heat rushing into our lungs.”

Yeah, what he said. That fire in the lungs thing.

Anyway, our feeling was that EJ12 might be a bit much for a night on the town drowning your sorrows, but incredibly attention-grabbing for a slow sipping whiskey out on the deck as the sun’s going down. Of course the sun’s also going down while you’re drowning your sorrows, but then the last thing you need is some bogus poetic nature display just when you’re working up a good batch of righteous indignity to spew all over the person who has so egregiously rained on your parade.

So on our binary scale of zero-to-one, we gave Elijah Craig 12 Year Old a one.

(1) Our first President made some money on the side selling bourbon. It was 175 years later that President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation that declared bourbon “America’s Native Spirit.” Sort of our Champagne as it were. Luckily for those Presidents there was no significant talk radio at the time.

Bourbon Dogs

I know, I know, but once I’d come up with “Bourbon, Dog and Art” I had to make bourbon dogs. At least once. You take maybe a cup of barbecue sauce (my choice, many recipes use ketchup), a cup of brown sugar (I just threw in a pinch since the barbecue sauce is already kinda sweet) and at least (emphasis mine) a cup of bourbon and simmer it down to a thick brown liquid. I also chopped up a bunch of onion and threw it in. Then you add mass quantities of tiny weenies. The longer it simmers, the more flavorful it gets. A couple of hours is a minimum. Be sure to sample your remaining bourbon at various points during the process to make sure it isn’t going stale.

This is the sort of dish that half the people I know would love, and the other half would rather starve than be caught in the same room with. Don’t know what that says about me.

Anyway, it’s more fun to cook with bourbon that with wine. Now that I’ve conquered the basics, I’m sure there’s more sophisticated recipes.

Friday the 13th

Bulleit BourbonYesterday was Friday the 13th, but one thing you never encounter around our place is any friggatriskaidekaphobia. (That’s fear of Friday the 13th for those of you who don’t read Wikipedia.) Why?

Many years ago, lost in the mists of time* we got married on the 13th. Since then we’ve always celebrated the 13th as our anniversary, regardless of month or year. It’s usually a quiet celebration consisting of wishing each other a happy anniversary in the morning and later, in the early evening, sitting somewhere out on our vast estate with several fingers of single malt, or Irish whiskey or a good bourbon and chatting while the sun goes down and the woods transition from day-shift activity to night-shift activity.

As luck would have it, Friday the 13th always falls on our anniversary, and therefore has just never been able to achieve any mental traction.

Bulleit Bourbon bottleSo to the business at hand and one of the raisin detras of this blog which is to occasionally discuss bourbon: Last evening we celebrated with a glass of Bulleit Bourbon “Frontier Whiskey.” Regardless of taste Bulleit would get high marks just on packaging alone, given its medicine-flask-raised-letters bottle, complete with cork top and old fashioned label. We have no pretensions to connoisseurship around here, but this is how an expert described Bulleit: “smells include rye toast, snack crackers, and brown butter… palate entry is remarkably savory, corny sweet, and nearly honey-like… attractive tastes of buttered popcorn, brown sugar, and nougat expand. Finishes with a spurt of fire and lots of long, corny/grainy tastes.” [from F. Paul Pacult’s Whiskey Review, iWhiskey iPhone app]

We, on the other hand, tend to rate bourbons on a binary scale of zero-to-one, one being good and zero being void of all goodness and undeserving to exist in this universe. We gave Bulleit a one.
*I really wanted to write “in the midst of time” but lost my nerve figuring most folks would assume it was a typo instead of a brilliant play on words. Might be a good title for a sci-fi novel. Oops, a quick visit to Google indicates that it already is the title of a new age sci-fi novel. Plus there’s a number of blogs that have already used the phrase, some seemingly aware of the word-play conceit, but others just blissfully ignorant of their mistake. So never mind.

Pin It on Pinterest