October 2, 2011

A Taste of Evan Williams Black with Parker Beam

You've got to love the slow pace and southern drawl of Mr. Parker Beam. "Slow down and enjoy some bourbon," he seems to say without saying it. Read the Bourbon Observer's review here.

September 30, 2011

Cyrus Noble Small Batch Review

Cyrus Noble is a bourbon I recently tasted for the first time. Its not-yet-popularized name is not the only obscure thing about this whiskey: it is distilled in Kentucky and then aged in San Francisco for 5 years. Cyrus Noble is bottled by Haas Brothers, clocks in at 90 proof, and is touted as being Small Batch.

Noble has a bright coppery color, more rusty than amber. Its nose is dominated by syrupy sweet caramel that is as smooth as crushed velvet. Behind the sweet note are hints of allspice, gingersnap, and well-oiled leather. Mouthfeel is thick but not heavy. The taste, like its nose, is substantially sweet, with chewy caramel and nougat. It's like a Milky Way. In the shadows of the sweet lie twangs of oak and just a hint of juicy, dark fruit. Cyrus Noble finishes very smooth and cool and insists you take another sip.

What is perhaps most noteworthy about this bourbon is its smoothness. From the nose to finish, there are really no sharp edges. This is no easy task given the higher proof, and considering the natrual brash character of bourbon generally. If you haven't yet tried Cyrus Noble, put it at the top of your list. It's a fun, suprising bourbon that should be taken seriously. And, it's quite affordable, too.

July 10, 2011

Old Fitzgerald Bottled In Bond Review

Old Fitzgerald Bottled In Bond is one of the handful of bourbons on the market today designated as such. I discussed Bottled In Bond bourbons here. Old Fitz BIB is affordable, priced at under $15 at most liquour stores. It's also one the relatively few wheated bourbons - wheat replaces the usual rye as the flavor grain. It also has an old school label, which makes it easy to spot in your liquor cabinet.

Old Fitzgerald is a glowing amber-orange in color. Its nose is soft and sweet with notes of candied orange, floral lushness, honeysuckle, and a sour hint in the background. Mouthfeel is on the thick side, not oily, and robust. Old Fitz's most obvious taste is caramel sweetness. The wheat certainly tempers the high proof to a degree, allowing some subtler flavors to come through: a slight oaky sourness is there, along with some clove, and a tinge of herbal bitterness. It finishes with a burst of sweetness and a lingering burn that is understated considering the high alcohol content.

Old Fitzgerald Bottled In Bond packs a punch as a result of its proof, but doesn't slap you across the face with it. The hot edges and smoothed by its sweetness, and the spicy burn is blunted by the wheat. For fun, have a taste test with Old Fitz BIB and Old Grand Dad BIB. You'll appreciate the difference a little rye can make. It is a great choice for a cocktail, and to enjoy by itself. Try introducing a bottle into your rotation.

As a general rule, when I drink bourbon neat I never add water. Some people would add water to a 100 proof whiskey, and certainly would do so for those with even higher proof. This being a function of your personal booze rules, I concede that adding a bit of water will change the flavor profile of Old Fitz. Whether or not that change is for the better is for you to decide.

May 11, 2011

Cabin Still Review

Cabin Still bourbon is one of the more inexpensive choices at the liquor store. It's distilled by Heaven Hill and is sold at 80 proof. Cabin Still is young, aged for a short 3 years and is bottled with a recognizable bright yellow label and cap.

Cabin Still is light copper in color. It's nose is peppery with a balancing caramel presence. There's also a soft grainy note in the background with a whisp of vanilla bean. For its age, the nose is surprisingly complex. Mouthfeel is a bit thin; watery, but not weak. Cabin still has a spicy taste. The sweet caramel found in the nose is gone in the taste, and a charred, ashy bite comes through. The finish is quick, slightly hot, and not very memorable.

Cabin Still is not a top shelf sipping bourbon. But that's ok - everything has its purpose. You don't light up an Ashton every time you have a cigar; sometimes you want a Swisher Sweet. Cabin Still is a perfectly suitable knock-around bourbon that you can splash into a glass and mix with whatever and not care if you spill some on the counter. It's cheap and serviceable. Cabin Still will not win any awards for best-in-show bourbon. But, you wouldn't want to mix a quick, sloppy whiskey sour with Blanton's, would you?

March 20, 2011

Cocktail Recipe: the Algonquin

In the category of those whiskey cocktails served up, the Algonquin is one of the greats. It's named after the Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan, where in the pre-Prohibition days some of the city's literary elite would meet for lunch and drink this mix. The Algonquin is a refreshing balance of sweet, tart, and spice (from the rye). It's a classy cocktail; try one instead of ordering a Manhattan next time your out.

One of the fun things about the recipe is the room to tailor it, slightly, to suit your palate.

- 3/4 to 1 ounce pineapple juice
- 3/4 to 1 ounce dry vermouth
- 1 1/2 to 2 ounces bourbon

You'll see that many recipes call for either rye whiskey or blended whiskey. In my mind, a bourbon with a high rye content works the best - something like a Buffalo Trace or an Old Grand Dad. My personal recipe:

- 1 ounce pineapple juice
- 3/4 ounce dry vermouth
- 2 ounce Eagle Rare bourbon

Srart with a baseline recipe and then tweak it as you see fit. My personal recipe took a handful of small fixes before I was done. Believe me it was arduous work. Whatever ratio or whiskey you use, be sure to stir the ingredients in a shaker. If you shake it, the pineapple juice will get all foamy and make for a sloppy drink. I garnish mine with a peel of orange, which adds the perfect note of subtle citrusy sweetness. If you really want to exhaust all options before deciding on your opwn recipe, try a dash of orange bitters instead of the peel. After all, making a drink should be almost as fun as drinking it.

March 6, 2011

How to Make a Mint Julep

It's been a while since I've written about a cocktail recipe. The Mint Juelp is a handy recipe to know as knowing just a few simple techniques will make a significant difference in your creation of it. Always use crushed ice, pour whichever bourbon you prefer, and remember that the Mint Julep is designed to drink pretty quickly.

February 21, 2011

Basil Hayden's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Review

Basil Hayden's is part of Jim Beam's Small Batch Collection, along with Baker's, Booker's, and Knob Creek. Out of the Collection, Basil Hayden's has the most rye in its mash bill, is the lowest proof at 80, and is the lighest bodied. It's named after an early-American distiller (after which Old Grand Dad is also named) who supposedly used a recipe similar to what is now put into the bottle. The bottle is sold with a paper label that hangs over the bottle's shoulders that's held in place by a ribbon of wood and metal that comes together like a belt buckle to form a BH logo.

Basil Hayden's is aged 8 years. Its color is pale, light, and rusty. Basil Hayden's has a welcoming nose to it: warm, sugary caramel is dominant with a peppery, clove-like background. There is also a subtle vegetal note reminiscent of Jim Beam White Label. Mouthfeel is cool, light, and watery. Basil Hayden's taste almost reverses what the nose presented. The pepper comes through stong, with the caramel sweetness taking a back seat. The signature Jim Beam vegetal nuance is also there. There's also notes of fresh pine sawdust and a quick flash of cinnamon buried in there deep. Basil Hayden's finishes with pepper at that back of the tongue. There is a very slight fleeting burn and around the edges the caramel returns.

Basil Hayden's is certainly the most delicate of the Small Batch Collection. It's worth a try neat, or in cocktails - its spice holds up well in a whiskey highball. When you're looking for a quality, light-bodied whiskey, Basil Hayden's will not steer your wrong.