Doh!

Okay, so I screwed up this weekend. I decided to head out on a whiskey search. Let me tell you that this is no small endeavor. Atlanta is not known as a hotbed of whiskey activity. Finding a quality dram is not as easy as you’d think. Finding a tasty bottle of some rare or hard to find tipple is almost impossible. It’s the nature of the beast. We’re the Grandpoobah of all Blue Law states so what do you expect. But I digress. So I started searching a few of my regular haunts.

First, I went to Total Wine in Dunwoody. This place just opened and it is a new liquor superstore. Think Binny’s in Chicago but with more wine and less liquor. No luck. There was a lot of “been there, done that“.

Next, I trotted on down to Pearson’s Wine Merchants in Buckhead. Pearson’s is actually listed as a “Malt 100” liquor store by The Malt Advocate but going in there now you’d never know it. Pearson’s selection must have declined since grabbing the “Malt 100” notation. There was one high point, Ardbeg 10 Year Old. Since Glenmorangie PLC’s purchase by LVMH and the relaunch of their brands the price of Ardbeg has sky rocketed. In Atlanta the 10 Year Old normally sells for around $65. (It’s 10 freakin’ years old!) But Pearson’s happened to carry it for about $42. Sold! But the initial search continued.

Finally, I rolled into Mac’s on 10th & W. Peachtree in Midtown. I thought I’d seen something here a few weeks ago and prayed that it was still there. As I walked down the bourbon isle I saw it…Parker’s Heritage Collection First Edition 1996! Ooh I was excited. They had two bottles. I snaked one, paid, and walked out happily on my way.

Then I got home. The recent issue of The Malt Advocate noted the second edition of Parker’s with a 96/100 and a pretty phenomenal review by John Hansell. I looked at some back issues and found the first edition in the Q1 2008 issue. Uh oh. There were three listed. All titled the same but one was 61.3% ABV (95/100), the second was 63.7% ABV (94/100) and the third was 64.8% ABV (80/100). Which one did I have? Yep, 64.8% ABV.

I realize this is just an arbitrary rating. But that said, I respect Mr. Hansell’s opinion. I found through trial and error that he and I share a more similar palate than a lot of other whiskey writers. But still, it’s the taste right? Well I was so flummoxed that I couldn’t open it. I’ll dive in later this week and post a review. For now I’m a little annoyed, both with myself and a little bit with Heaven Hill. I understand that it’s 95% my fault for not doing my research. However, I do feel Heaven Hill should have distinguished their bottlings a little better. The idea of three separate whiskies as a first edition seems counterintuitive to me. But I’m just me and what do I know? Anyway, I’ll do some tasting and maybe it will all work out in the end.

Cheers!

-Richard

Whisk(e)y And The Weaker(?) Sex

*NOTE: The title is only for alliteration not misogyny. Please, do not flood me with hate mail.

I have noticed a wonderful trend of late. Women who like whiskey. I personally have several female friends who can appreciate a good dram as much as anyone. Unfortunately, my wife is not one of them. Traditionally, whiskey is a harder sell than other hard liquor for women (if you have a significant other who likes beer, brats, and single malt Scotch you can quit reading). Once they try it, women are just as likely as men to enjoy whiskey. They are just less likely to give it a chance. So, how do you share your love of whiskey with your lady friend(s) if they are hesitant or uninitiated? It may sound sexist, but it is simple… cocktails (a topic that seems more than appropriate given Richard’s last blog).

Currently, the only way I can get my wife to drink whiskey is in a high ball (bourbon & ginger ale). I’ve tried making it with cheap stuff, but she prefers Four Roses Small Batch. What can I say? The lady knows good whiskey.

Unfortunately, it seems the art of whiskey cocktails has been lost to most bartenders (see the Jameson Whiskey Martini). Whiskey cocktails should compliment not disguise the whiskey. Instead of ordering a Jack and Coke, try an Old Fashioned (bourbon, sugar, bitters, an orange slice, and a cherry), a Whiskey Sour (the hard way or with a mix), or a Mint Julep (bourbon, sugar, and mint). If you have a savvy bar keep, you may be able to get a New Yorker (bourbon muddled w/ lime & a dash of grenadine) or Rusty Nail (Scotch, Drambuie & a lemon twist). If you find a cocktail you like, try it with different whiskeys.

The other way to introduce whiskey to any neophyte (regardless of sex) is to demonstrate the ritual of tasting (see FAQs for details). If they know that it is acceptable to add a little bit of water to temper the burn, they may be more willing to take the plunge.

Introducing whiskey to someone can be a challenge, but is usually very rewarding. Why else would we be whiskey apostles?

-Matt

The Jameson Whiskey Martini…

Last weekend I was out having dinner with my wife at our favorite Thai restaurant. When we sat down the waitress placed the menus in front of us and also their drinks menu. I don’t usually order more than the occasional glass of wine at this particular restaurant. It definitely has a 4J bar. However, this time the waitress put my drinks menu down upside down. I glanced down and saw something interesting. “Jameson Whisky Martini” it said. Aside from spelling it wrong (Irish whiskies are generally “whiskey” not “whisky”) the idea of a martini-like tipple made with Jameson piqued my interest so I ordered one.

About three minutes latter the waitress comes walking towards our table carrying a drink that could not possibly be mine. But in following Murphy’s Laws and a few of my own she set the drink right in front of me. My wife and I both just stared. For the love of God the thing was blue! I’m not entirely sure how you make a brown spirit turn blue but that’s what it was. Well, I paid for it and in the spirit of open mindedness I indulged in this aqua colored marvel.

Here’s what I tasted…

• Blue curacao
• Sweet & sour mix
• Peach schnapps
• Cherry syrup (I think)

Oh and there was a cherry floating in the bottom of the martini glass. You know what I didn’t taste? Jameson. I don’t really know how you call it a “Jameson Whiskey Martini” and not actually be able to taste any Jameson. And did I mention it was blue? Really? Blue?

I’m not sure whose idea it was to start replacing vodka with whiskey in cocktails but that just doesn’t cut it. Vodka and whiskey are too VERY different spirits and are in no way interchangeable. When you put vodka in a cocktail you really just want alcohol in what you’re drinking. When you’re working with a whiskey you want the cocktail components to compliment the spirit, not mask it. This blue wonder was a travesty to the Jameson name. It just goes to show that not all whiskey cocktails are created equal. Choose wisely my friends.

-Richard

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

The 4J Bar…

I’d like to avoid using this blog as a way to vent my frustrations but I’ve got to bring up the bane of my drinking existence…The 4J Bar. What is a 4J Bar you ask? Oh you’ve seen them whether you know it or not. It could be a restaurant, a pub, a hotel bar, or any other trendy or not so trendy place to grab a drink. You’ll know the 4J Bar because when you look up behind the bartender you only see around four different whiskies. Usually they consist of Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, John Walker, and Jameson. This may not be the exact make up of the bar (and I personally have nothing against any of these) but my list is alliterative and you get the gist of what I’m saying. Basically, their whiskey selection doesn’t really exist. I’m not saying that every place that serves alcohol should be a whiskey bar (God I wish!) but especially places that obviously put thought into their beer and wine selections could put a little more effort toward their whiskey.

The kicker is that those four or so bottles of whiskey are bunched in around 400 bottles of vodkas and liqueurs. I’m sorry but you just don’t need that much vodka. You’re paying for the name not the taste (or lack there of). Nine times out of ten that vodka’s going into a cocktail where you can’t tell if it’s Grey Goose or Smirnoff. Show me someone who can and I’ll show you a liar. “But I drink my vodka straight and I can tell the difference.” No you can’t. At best you can sort them into three groups: Premium, mid-tier, and crap. If I line you up with a blind tasting of Grey Goose, Belvedere, Ulitmat, and Stolichnaya and tell you to pick Belvedere out of that group you’ll probably be right…25% of the time.

Why am I harping on this? Because whiskey isn’t like vodka, they all taste different. However, we live in a vodka world. It’s cheaper for the bar to buy and they sell those cocktails for the same price as a quality dram. And the endless herds of Trendy Wendys buy them by the gallons. Buy cheap, sell high, vodka wins every time.

So what can we do about this you say? Say something. Ask the bartender why they don’t stock more whiskies. Tell the manager that you love the food but you’d like to see more whiskies on the bar menu. Mention to the owner what a rising tide there is in the interest of quality whiskies and that they could really capitalize on that with just a little more variety. Make your voice heard. Eventually, if enough of us say something we might start seeing a bottle of Macallan or Rittenhouse.

-Richard