Tag Archives: Bourbon

From Whiskey Boom to McConaissance

On the heels of the Matthew McConaughey’s New York Times interview, Richard asked me if I wanted to write a “Whiskey Manifesto” for the site after being long absent from the public discourse. Richard is right when he says the interview is crap and the video is damn good. I don’t know if the interviewer came in with a predetermined agenda or an inherent dislike for Mr. McConaughey or if everybody’s cooler older brother really came off that douchey. Also, like Richard, I bristle a little bit at the ad agency doublespeak about “selling.” Whether you’re selling a product, a story, or an experience, you’re still selling. Whether you hire a carnival barker or an ad (wo)man, you’re still trying to move product.

Most of my adult life, I worked at a place whose primary focus was selling “brand experiences” (not what I did there, but that was their primary focus). I spent a lot of time sitting in meetings where Creative Directors and Strategists would spout the same rhetoric about authenticity and not being “sold to” about Boomers and GenXers as they are now saying about Millennials. These are not generational affectations, this a fundamental human condition. No one enjoys condescension and a good portion of the buying public is smart enough to understand when you are talking down to them (and often when you’re talking down to other demographics as well). Rarely did the word-salad-faux-Ted-talk strategy sessions churn out anything but pandering and recycled ideas. There were a few inspired moments, but they were depressingly far apart. On the few occasions where I fell within the target demographic (whiskey drinkers for instance), the strategy often showed a fundamental misunderstanding of the already imbedded culture within the demo. These misunderstandings often went all the up the chain to the multi-national beverage conglomerate that hired us in the first place. Where the New York Times article feels like the Wild Turkey campaign is falling into the same traps I’ve seen a thousand times, the video suggests a deeper understanding, not just for the brand, but for the culture of whiskey drinkers. There seems to be a concerted effort not to alienate the market that already exists in an effort to chase one that may never coalesce. There is a reverence for the spirit and the heritage of Wild Turkey that feels genuine.

I’m not angry about the assertion that Millennials are the target audience for this campaign. Honestly, it’s their time. Aging boomers and rising GenXers gave us the whiskey boom, the micro-distillation rage, and the innumerable whiskey blogs. In a way, it’s up to that peer group to continue momentum from the initial ground swell. The ad agencies missed us while they were busy boosting birthday cake vodka, cherry flavored everything, and “whiskey for women”. I’m more upset that they missed the point the first time around than I am to be skipped over now.

I suppose, so far, this is more of a whiskey in advertising diatribe without much to do with whiskey itself. I agree with a lot of what Richard has to say, so I’ll try to be brief. He points out that “We founded Whisk(e)y Apostle on the belief that there is a whiskey for everyone,” and I still mostly believe that. I have only met a few people that have not been able to find a whiskey they enjoy and I think it largely comes down to a lack of willingness to try something. They have a predetermined opinion about what whiskey is (often built on a bad experience with some rotgut brand or other) and they are not interested or willing to give it another chance. It’s also quite possible that I’m wrong. I have a hard time with that though. I love whiskey in many styles and countries of origin. I love some that don’t even taste like what I would call whiskey and some I hate for the very same reason. Strangely, it’s often those weirdos that help me pick up the stragglers waiting to join the whiskey parade. Whiskey is such a diverse class of spirits, it’s hard to believe that someone could write it off in its entirety. I guess, when you are incredibly passionate about something, it’s hard to understand why someone else can’t find the same joy. Maybe McConaughey says it best when he says in the video, “If we’re for you, you’ll know.” I knew whiskey was for me on my first sip, but that’s not everyone’s experience. I’m also innately curious. When I find something I like, I want to learn as much as I can about it, I want try every variety, and I want to share it with others. Even if I don’t like something all that much, I sometimes test it out more that your average person would just to make sure I don’t like it. Not everyone has my sense of curiosity or experimentation. And that’s okay. I’m willing to do the research/testing and share my findings.

I only halfway agree with Richard about whiskey not being an acquired taste though. He’s right that people find whiskey when it’s their time. However, that first sip of whiskey that speaks to you often opens the doors to other drams (some you may have even tried before and didn’t like). Personal tastes change, but so does our ability to parse out flavors, smells, and mouth feel. That’s how you acquire a taste for whiskey, not from dogged repetition, but from finding the one you already love and branching out from there. Some folks will never branch out. They’ll be Jim Beam or Wild Turkey drinkers all their life and never try Four Roses or Old Forester or Buffalo Trace. That’s who the advertisers want; the lifelong, brand-loyal, everyday drinker. That’s not what I’m about, that’s not what Whisk(e)y Apostle is about. We are looking to share a dram with curious folk (in all senses of the term) and folks with a sense of adventure. If that sounds like you, pull up a chair and settle in. It’s going to be a long and beautiful night.

A little something for our UK readers

I know I’ve been out of the loop recently, but I have two announcements that should intrigue our readers in the UK.


JW Steakhouse is delighted to announce the launch of its very own Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel – a truly unique-tasting whiskey exclusively available to guests of the restaurant. Following months going through the bespoke process, JW Steakhouse’s Single Barrel will arrive from the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchberg, Tennessee and be available to buy in the restaurant in spring 2012.

Only one in a hundred barrels is selected by Jack Daniel’s Master Taster to carry the Single Barrel label, and JW Steakhouse feels privileged to have acquired one of these and be able to offer a whiskey that is uniquely available to its guests and one that can not be experienced anywhere else in the world. A Single Barrel whiskey is distinctive due to its rich and intense flavours owing to the advantaged position it holds at the upper reaches of the barrelhouses.

In October 2011, a tasting session took place in the restaurant with Grosvenor House’s General Manager Stuart Bowery, Restaurant Manager Raoul de Souza, Beverage Manager Pierce du Plessis and the rest of the F&B team, with samples selected by the Master Taster.  This ensured the team chose a whiskey that best fits the JW Steakhouse guests’ taste preferences. Batch 1007 was selected as the first ‘JW Steakhouse single barrel’. It was agreed that the initial nose, which highlighted the toasted oak nature of the barrel would appeal to a traditional Jack Daniel’s drinker, whilst the hints of liquorice, smoke and toffee would remind them of the luxurious nature of the whiskey. The palate highlighted the complexity of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel with wonderful flavours of maple and vanilla coupled with a punchy spiciness that one would usually associate with a rye whiskey, and a long finish that is more akin with the finest single malt Scotch whiskies. As Stuart Bowery comments “all in all a truly remarkable whiskey and perfect for JW Steakhouse”.

The empty barrel will be proudly displayed at the bar having been sanded, varnished and engraved with the JW Steakhouse logo. Having been fledged a member of the Jack Daniel family, a plaque bearing the restaurant’s name will also be displayed on the distillery wall.

Since opening in May 2010, JW Steakhouse at Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel in Mayfair has firmly established itself as a leading American steakhouse in London and this is the latest way in which the restaurant continues to offer its guests unique and enjoyable tasting experiences whilst heralding its trans-Atlantic heritage. In addition to this new exclusive Jack Daniel Single Barrel, The Bourbon Bar at JW Steakhouse also has an extensive array of other single barrels and small batch bourbons, offered in innovative tasting flights, to complement the restaurant’s menu.

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel will be available from March.  It will be priced at £10.00 per 50ml measure and £130.00 per bottle. For reservations telephone 020 7399 8460 or visit www.jwsteakhouse.co.uk


“But we hae meat, and we can eat, Sae let the Lord be thankit” – Robert Burns, The Selkirk Grace
This January, The Rib Room Bar & Restaurant at Jumeirah Carlton Tower is opening the doors to patriotic Scots and sympathetic Sassenachs in celebration of the birth of Burns, with a five course tasting menu from the four corners of Caledonia.

From 20-25 January, for £50 per person, diners can enjoy an array of classic seasonal Scottish dishes given a modern twist by head chef Ian Rudge.

Straight from Scotland’s bonnie banks and braes, a starter salad of Crowdie cheese, pickled vegetables, beetroot, roasted walnuts and croutons is closely followed by the fish course and an innovative twist on a classic; a delicate dish of pan-fried scallops with a Cullen skink and cauliflower purée. Followed with magnificently prepared loin of Highland venison with haggis and chestnut casserole, parsnip and apple. Providing a taste of Scotland’s sweet tooth an array of desserts include cranachan, chocolate and Drambuie mousse and Dundee cake soufflé. A must try are mini Tunnocks-inspired petit fours to accompany your coffee.

For a full-blooded Burns experience, guests can hire The Buccleuch private dining room for £100 per person and enjoy all the trappings of tradition. As well as the five course menu, diners will receive a bottle of Glenmorangie Astar Single Malt to share and an additional middlecourse of haggis, neeps and tatties welcomed by a piper before your own personal poet reciting Burns’ most famous Ode, celebrating the “Great Chieftan o’ the Puddin-race!”

Discerning drinkers can also join the celebrations with a specially created heather infused gin cocktail, aptly named Slàinte (Gaelic for cheers!) or The Rib Room Bar’s signature, ‘Flaming Bobby Burns’, a ‘blazer cocktail’ featuring a beguiling blend of Glenmorangie Astar Single Malt Whisky, aged sweet Antica Formula Vermouth and Benedictine poured alight from one glass to the next in a thrilling serve at the bar.

The Rib Room Bar & Restaurant has reopened following an extensive refurbishment by Martin Brudnizki. The legendary Knightsbridge institution has been reinvented for the 21st century, offering guests a stylish place to dine with the world-renowned Jumeirah standard of service.

So if you are stuck south of the border on the 25th January, The Rib Room Bar & Restaurant is sure to be the bonniest Burns Night in London.

The Rib Room Burns Supper Menu
20th-25th January 2012
£50 per person
Including a Slàinte cocktail on arrival
Salad of Crowdie cheese, pickled vegetables, beetroot, roasted walnuts and croutons
* * *
Pan fried scallop, Cullen Skink and cauliflower puree
* * *
Loin of Highland venison, haggis and chestnut casserole, parsnip and apple.
* * *
A tasting of Scotland, Cranachan, chocolate and Drambuie mousse, Dundee cake soufflé
* * *
Coffee & mini Tunnocks

Wild Turkey 81

Wild Turkey 81 Straight Bourbon WhiskeyWild Turkey 81
40.5% ABV, $20
Available: Throughout the US

What the distillery says (Matt’s interpretation of the press release):
Wild Turkey 81 is Eddie Russell’s first solo project for the distillery. After cutting his teeth working with his father on the Russell’s Reserve bottlings (and one could assume the rest of the Wild Turkey portfolio), Eddie comes out of the gate with a whiskey specifically designed for cocktails. With WT 81, Eddie hopes to hit the niche that finds Wild Turkey 101 a bit too harsh and other whiskeys too wimpy for mixed drinks. He uses the classic Wild Turkey high-rye mash with heavily charred barrels and blends whiskeys ranging from 6-8 years of age. The press release has this to say about the WT 81:

The result is a whiskey with a deep, rich amber color, and a nose full of fruit, butterscotch, toffee and toasted oak. On the tongue, you discover cigar-box sweetness, caramel, vanilla and pear, with a long finish of rich spice notes and hints of toast.

What Matt says:
Nose: Citrus, mint, caramel, oak, and shellac
Palate: A little sharp, acidic and warm, mint and caramel, rye spice and a little char
Finish: Clean and malty with a lingering sweetness
Comments: A little water mellows the sharpness on the palate, but (as expected) this whiskey really shines in a cocktail. With all the natural mint flavors, I decided to throw together a quick Mint Julep. To my palate, Eddie Russell reached his goal here. I’m not a big fan of Wild Turkey in general (with the exceptions of Kentucky Spirit and certain bottlings of Russell’s Reserve), but there is a good balance of rye spice, caramel sweetness, proof and char to the 81. Plus, it retails for $19.99. You can’t really beat that.

Richard has not had the opportunity to review this whiskey yet.

Special thanks to Brian Roundy at The Thomas Collective for the generous sample.

Ancient Age

Ancient Age Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
40% ABV/ 80 Proof
Widely Available

What the Distillery Says:
You’ve known us a long time, and you could always count on us for quality. But even more than that, you’ve known us to make great bourbon. Well, we just got better. We’ve begun using a chill filtration system for our bourbon, which improves our color, flavor, and all around taste experience.

We’ve always taken great pride in what we put in our bottles. Now even more so.

What Richard Says:
Nose: Orange blossoms, cloves, and hints of baked cherries.
Palate: Orange bitters developing to orange zest. There’s a lot more citrus than I expected. There’s just a hint of sweetness poking around the corners.
Finish: The finish is smooth yet bitter.
Comments: The first time I became aware of Ancient Age was years ago through Stephen King’s novella Apt Pupil. Kurt Dussander, the Nazi war criminal in hiding drank bottle after bottle of Ancient Age. He described it as “cheap and good.” It’s definitely cheap. The good is subjective. I find this to be an average bourbon but it is the “orangiest” bourbon I’ve ever tried. Maybe something for the mixologists to take note of.
Rating: Average

What Matt Says:
Nose: Tart plums, dry dusty wood, burnt sugar and vanilla.  Water brings out some tart apple (almost like a Wine Sap)
Palate: Sharp and alcoholic on the sides of the tongue.  Walnut husks, cinnamon bubble gum (Big Red to be exact), an almost berry sweetness and rock candy.
Finish: The burn lingers and warms the throat.  The finish is dominated by dusty walnut husks with a sweet/sour combination that hovers just above the tongue
Comments: A smoker’s whiskey.  The finish slowly fades to a taste that is something very similar to cigarette ash.  It’s cheap.  I’ll give it that.  Perhaps one of the better whiskeys at this price point.  It certainly stands out against drams like Ten High and Rebel Yell.  If I ever become a hobo, riding the rails and hustling for my next meal, this will probably be my whiskey of choice.  Until then, I’ll stick to my Buffalo Trace and Four Roses Yellow Label for affordable bourbon.
Rating:  Probably Pass

Overall Rating:  Average