Category Archives: Bourbon

‘The Best’

Inevitably, when we are out proselytizing, someone asks the question, “What is the best whiskey?” For someone new to whiskey, this seems like a reasonable question. “Tell me what is best and I’ll try that,” is the implication. However, what is best for me may be swill for you. You may find the Bowmore Legend to be the finest thing on earth, but I would not touch it with Richard’s tongue. Taste is subjective and much more complicated than one might think. What are we really looking for? The best value? The best flavor? The best bourbon? The best Irish? Scotch? And on and on. So, I recruited Richard and we will be tackling this most perplexing of questions in a our first ever joint blog (not counting reviews).

Matt’s Answer:
I can tell you that I would drink Glenmorangie Original every day and be happy. I will recommend Redbreast Irish whiskey to everyone. And, I could drink anything produced at Buffalo Trace or Four Roses and be contented. The next logical question is, “Why?”

Again, a question more complicated than it seems. Is Glenmorangie Original the best single malt Scotch that I have tasted? Not by a long shot (that is a tight race between a Claret Aged Glen Grant and Macallan 30). However, Glenmorangie Original is a great whiskey at a good price and it holds a great deal of sentimental value to me. When I was a student at the University of Wales, my flat mates would often find me watching rugby or ‘Neighbors’ with my giant mug of Glenmorangie in the common room. It was my time in Wales that really crystallized my love of single malt Scotch. I could get a good bottle for very little at the Co-Op down the road. The selection rotated through the regions and Glenmorangie was my favorite of the offerings.

There are stories behind my love of the other distilleries as well. I have a deep affection, deeper than mere tasting notes, for the distilleries that top my list. Sure, I factor in taste, value, and reputation into my recommendations, but do not be surprised if ‘awesome’ is the only statement on taste I can give you off the cuff.

Richard’s Answer:
So Matt tells me that I’m supposed to co-write a blog about the “best whiskey” out there and my experiences with getting that question. I too get that question a good bit. Another version getting to the same point is when I’m asked “which whiskey should I buy?’

“Best whiskey?”[smirk] That’s a bit like picking your favorite child isn’t it? Maybe it’s not as drastic but you see what I’m getting at. Like Matt I have my favorites. But my favorites are not necessarily going to be your favorites. No matter how high the regard in which I hold my tastes and preferences I’m not arrogant enough to say that something is the best. Different strokes for different folks and all that.

Even between Matt and me there is a good bit of disagreement. We grew up in the same area, like the same types of food, and generally don’t have differing opinions on much…except whiskey. On Buffalo Trace we both agree. I kind of think their distillery manager walks on water but that’s just me. On Glenmorangie, not so much. I like it but I’ll take a dram of Macallan or Highland Park over the product of Tain any day.

Even when picking a whiskey for myself “the best” isn’t absolute. It’s really the best at that given moment. The setting, circumstances, and company can play almost as much a part in me picking one whiskey over another as the taste.

Why am I rambling on? Because I want to stress that taste is incredibly subjective. We offer reviews to highlight and inform. We don’t see our opinions as the end all be all on these particular drams. If you ask me what the best is then I will always answer with a question. More likely, I will answer with a series of questions. These questions will help me understand what you are looking for or could be looking for in a whiskey. From there I can recommend something that I think you might like. Putting all the ratings, reviews, and pomposity aside; that’s really the best any of us can hope for.

Spirited Swine

Tonight I experienced the melding of two of mankind’s greatest inventions, distilled spirits and cured meat. Astor Center (the event space for Astor Wines & Spirits in NYC) hosted the Bacon & Bourbon Expo. Mr. Cutlet (Josh Ozersky) played host to the event, where I had the opportunity to pair some of my favorite American whiskeys with a sampling of artisanal smoked meats. The title was a bit of a misnomer. There were nearly as many assorted American whiskeys as true bourbons. I assume the title was for alliteration and because Bacon & Assorted American Whiskey Expo did not roll off the tongue half as well.

I envisioned a semi-guided tour where meat masters conferred with spirit sommeliers to determine pairings of specialty bacons with complimentary whiskeys. Perhaps an applewood smoked bacon with Bernheim’s Wheat Whiskey or something of that nature. However, it was a bit of free-for-all. There were plates stacked with bacon and thick cut pork belly, containers of ham sticks, and a handful of distilleries represented (each with a small selection of their line – about 20 whiskeys in total). There was a long lapse between courses of bacon as the plates emptied, but the event was great fun and I got plenty of bacon and some really great whiskey.

The stand-out whiskey favorites were the Parker’s Heritage 2nd Edition 27 Year Old and the Rittenhouse Very Rare 23 Year Old 100 Proof Rye. As always, the Tuthilltown table was packed as Ralph Erenzo worked his charm on the gathered bourbon enthusiasts. He makes great whiskey, but I’ve got to give this one to Heaven Hill (they make both Parker’s and Rittenhouse).

Even at 96 proof, the Parker’s is dangerously drinkable. One would expect a 27 year old bourbon to be overly woody and a 96 proof bourbon to burn your nose and your throat. This edition of the Parker’s Heritage collection is surprisingly balanced with notes of spice, vanilla, and marzipan. I’m going to give this a ‘Must Try,’ but, at $200, it is out of my price range.

The Rittenhouse is intense, smooth, sweet and spicy. There was a time when I shied away from rye whiskey. After trying some really good ryes (like Sazerac), rye became part of my regular drink list. The Rittenhouse is unique and far smoother than any rye has a right to be. Its price point is higher than the 18yo Sazerac by $20-50 depending on the source and I am not sure that it is worth the difference. Definitely worth a try though.

The bacon list was not as extensive as the whiskey list, but it was quality. My favorites were D’Artagnan’s Hickory Smoked Wild Boar Bacon and the pork belly from RUB (a NYC bar-be-que joint). I can honestly say that I could subsist entirely on pork belly and bourbon.

The big surprise of the evening was the Bacon-Infused Old Fashions being served up by PDT (go here for the recipe). It is even better than it sounds.

As I type this, my throat is raw from talking about whiskey all night and my fingers still smell of smoked pork fat. I think I should go eat a salad.

Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon

45% ABV/90 Proof
Available in the United States and Europe – $30

What the distillery says:
Marrying, or mingling, multiple Bourbon flavors is an art in itself. Four original and limited Bourbons have been expertly selected by our Master Distiller at the peak of maturation to create a perfectly balanced small batch Bourbon that rewards you with a mellow symphony of rich, spicy flavors along with sweet, fruity aromas and hints of sweet oak and caramel. Finishes soft, smooth and pleasantly long. Best enjoyed straight up, on the rocks, or with a splash.

What Richard says:
Nose: I found this whiskey to have a light and delicate nose that only hinted at the sugar and spice within.
Palate: The first thing you taste is sweetness at the center of the tongue. A subtle pepper blanket surrounds the sweetness and the tongue from the outside in. However the pepper is never too much and really plays a supporting roll in the flavor profile. There is a candy note in there that I cannot place.
Finish: The finish is smooth but slightly astringent and medicinal. There isn’t an overwhelming burn on the finish.
Rating: Stands Out.

What Matt says:
Nose: Light, not overly alcoholic. Hints of brown sugar and white pepper.
Palate: I feel like writers often say a whiskey is spicy, when they mean that it has an alcoholic burn. This whiskey is are great example of actual spice, but is perfectly balanced. It makes me think of Christmas with notes of vanilla, cloves, caramel, and kettle corn(?).
Finish: The whiskey’s astringent qualities mean that the finish does not linger. This, and the minimal burn, mean that the experience is over all too soon. Overall, the Small Batch is not as complex or interesting as some of its brothers, but well worth a taste.
Rating: Stands Out.

Overall Rating: This is a good bourbon, suitable for everyday imbibing. It’s balanced character and unobtrusive alcohol make it a great entry into the world of whiskey. It also makes a fantastic Highball. Stands Out

A Night With Char no.4

Among my circle of friends, it is clearly no secret that I love whiskey. So, it was not all that surprising when four separate people (all within the span of a week) told me that I needed to try out this new place in Brooklyn. The place is called Char no.4, a reference to the level of char that is burned into a bourbon cask imparting that smokiness for which bourbon is famous. The name sounded promising, but it was the lure of the extensive whiskey list that drew me to the far reaches of Brooklyn.

I’m quite familiar with the whiskey joints in the city (St. Andrews, Brandy Library, etc.). However, they primarily focus on Scotch. The real appeal of Char no.4 is the bourbon and other American whiskeys on the list. They also have a larger selection of Japanese and Irish whiskeys than is typical. Their single malt and blended Scotch selection is good, but pales in comparison to the more Scotch focused places (and is overpriced to boot).

I tried four bourbons, while I munched on a tasty beet salad and fried pork nuggets. I ordered four 1 oz. tasters. I sampled the Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel (Buffalo Trace), the Wathen’s Single Barrel (Charles Medley Distillery), Noah’s Mill (Kentucky Bourbon Distillers), and Prichard’s Double Barrel Bourbon (Prichard’s Distillery, Tennessee). Since my bill said Blanton’s instead of Wathen’s and I haven’t had the Blanton’s in a donkey’s age, I can’t say for sure that what I tasted was the Wathen’s (I guess I’ll have to go back). I enjoyed all four whiskeys. The real surprise for me was the Prichard’s.

Prichard’s Double Barrel Bourbon is aged twice in new, white oak barrels. This gives it a unique character that is a little woodier and a little smokier than traditional bourbon while remaining extremely drinkable. It is produced limited runs, so it costs a little more that it should, but that is the cost of exclusivity.

So, if you find yourself in Brooklyn, check out the bourbon list at Char no.4. One caveat though. Come prepared and do your research. A small portion of the drinks are grossly over-priced. Some of the pricing is done by rarity (to the NY market), some by novelty. In my opinion, it is criminal to charge $26 for a 2oz serving of whiskey that retails at $35. And if you are willing to pay $8 for a 2oz serving of Rebel Yell, you get what you deserve.

-Matt