Tribute

tribute

Personally, I am glad autumn is upon us. The summer was long and quite taxing at times. In July, my father Lt. Col. C.D. Breme USMC,  passed away. He was only 73.  Life never really seemed to get back on track from that point on. The exhausting tug-o-war of emotions has been constant. Good days filled with laughs of fond memories and, of course, those difficult days heavy, aching from his absence. I miss him very much.

So today I wanted to post this tribute to thank him for the lifetime of love and education. Honestly, I could fill volumes of grateful testimony recalling all my father imparted, but this page is about bourbon. So what Pop and I shared relating to whiskey (bourbon specifically) will be the focus of this narrative.

I wanted to begin by stating that without Pop my interest in bourbon would be scant and I certainly wouldn’t espouse myself as The Bourboneer. Pop was one of the most intelligent people I ever knew and I am not just saying that because I am his son. He was highly educated, overflowing with practicality and common sense and possessed the gifted faculty of knowing vast amounts of information on just about everything, much like the topic of whiskey. Yes, that wonderful distilled spirit from fermented grain.

As far back as I can remember, Pop’s favorite whiskey (whisky) was scotch. Blended or single malt it didn’t matter, he was a scotch man through and through reminiscent of the legendary Ron Burgundy. Growing up in our household I can distinctly recall Pop always having bottles of Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Johnny Walker, Dewars, J&B or even Cutty on hand, rather in a crystal decanter I should say. He imbibed the majority of the time either “on the rocks” or with a little club soda, rarely ever neat. In fact, my first encounter with any alcohol came from an unsuspecting gulp of Glenlivet on ice. To a 10 year old, a mouth full of scotch that was expected to be ice tea was quite the eye-popping experience. I believe I could have sipped gasoline and wouldn’t have had the same reaction. Pure burn! Pop chuckled as I gasped for precious air and chugged water to dissolve the smokey hell fire. A valuable lesson learned about asking before taking.

“How in the world is that enjoyable or even palatable!?!” I’d ask repeatedly over the years. “A refined sense of taste son…a refined sense of taste.” He’d always quip.

Simply put, Pop just had an affinity for scotch and there wasn’t much he didn’t know about it either. He was a literal encyclopedia on the subject. He could explain the “peating” process in remarkable detail, he could, by memory, list the regions of Scotland that produced the specific kinds of scotch and then rattle off many of the labels belonging to each, he would happily recite how scotch was a proprietary spirit of Scotland and could’t be made anywhere else and be called scotch. And I am fairly confident this wealth of knowledge derived not by anything of the written word but more osmotically through his lifetime of imbibing. Scotch and it’s history seeped into his understanding with every drink he took. Seeing how much Pop enjoyed scotch piqued my curiosity for whiskey and essentially poured the foundation for my love of bourbon.

What was even more impressive than his love and knowledge of scotch, was his familiarity with all spirits. You’d think that a man who consumed only scotch wouldn’t concern himself with other “lesser” alcohol. Sure, he had the obligatory gin, bourbon, vodka and rum offerings on the bar, but was a complete and thorough education on other spirits even necessary? I didn’t think so, but like I said earlier he possessed vast amounts of knowledge on just about everything. A true pedagog. Quite frankly, I was captivated by it. I wanted to know more. I wanted to be the Padawan learner to his Jedi.

Pop never seemed to tire from my endless questioning on whiskey. He always took time to answer just about anything I wanted to know.

“So, is bourbon a whiskey?”

“Why is whiskey spelled with and without an ‘e’?”

“What is rum or gin distilled from?”

“What’s the difference between scotch and Irish whiskey or Canadian whiskey?”

“What is straight bourbon?”

The list went on and on. Pop knew every answer. I don’t know if I appreciated him or that time as much as I do now. I miss those precious teaching moments so very much today.

For me, after sampling many, many spirits in search of the one I could call my own, I discovered there could only be one. It was bourbon and there was really no other competition. Like Pop with his scotch, I found the same nose and the same palate for bourbon. And despite not sharing his affinity for scotch, I definitely found a connection with him in my love for bourbon. Both are whiskies and both require that “refined sense of taste” as he always said. Because of that bond, that relationship shared between father and son, “whiskey will always be a part of my life”… just like Artie Lange said.

The last memory I recall sharing a drink with Pop was about 6 years ago. I brought a bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon down to my parents during the Christmas break. I knew he may have only heard of the label but never had any, so I took the opportunity to share my knowledge with him as he always did with me. I could see a “well-pleased” smile begin to stretch across his face. A moment of pride. I was not surprised when he knew much more than I expected about the label, not surprised at all. But what he said next was truly a surprise and one I will never forget. “Get a couple glasses and let’s try it out.” This wasn’t a blended or single malt scotch, this wasn’t Dewars or Glenlivet, this was Woodford, a Kentucky straight bourbon. This was not in his comfort zone. Yet for me, his son, he graciously sipped bourbon over ice as we talked and shared for an hour or more. Man, I miss him! I miss those times as well. There’s not a lot I wouldn’t do to share just one more whiskey with him.

Cheers Pop and rest easy Marine! I love you and I miss you. Thank you for always taking the time to teach. Most of what I know and who I am comes from what you knew and who you were. Thank you for sharing and making me the man I am today. I look forward to the time we can imbibe once again.

Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Woodford Reserve KSBW, 45.2% ABV or 90.4 proof (NAS), Woodford Reserve Distillery, Versalles, Ky.

The Art of Bourbon…(Bottles)

BlantonsNo106x6041217

             (painting by Claudia Hammer; claudiahammer.blogspot.com)

We all know there is a beautiful yet scientific process to making bourbon.  It is an art form really. The artist, or the master distiller in our case, must have a clear idea of the finished work before he or she begins. They must achieve the desired product from the medium and palate of their trade. The different grain combinations that make up the mash bill, the perfect yeast strain for fermentation, whether to pot still or not to pot still, the char level of the barrels and of course the length of the aging process are all aspects in the design that must be considered in order to create their finest work of art. We know this and, of course, we get to imbibe the fruits of their labor with each beautifully crafted bottle.

But what about that bottle? Not what’s inside the bottle, but the actual bottle. It’s the first thing you see on the shelf, right? It’s what captivates your sense of sight well before the contents inside can quench your thirst. For many, the process of selecting a bourbon (unless you are drawn specifically to the taste of your preferences) starts with the packaging. It’s advertisement in it’s basic form. For the Bourboneer, the more the bottle looks like old west canteen, flask or flagon, promising some medicinal value the better. In my anomalous mind, I rationalize such curative comparisons as being healthy and something that’s “healthy for you.” I mean if it’s in a medicine bottle there has to be a therapeutic benefit…right? Of course, there does! (see my past article: “What Bourbon Can’t Cure, There is No Cure For”). The art of the bottle, whether you realize it or not, has a lot to do with, subconsciously for some, the process of selecting a bourbon. The creativity in the packaging is sometimes lost on offerings from larger distilleries. There is less of a need for the wow factor because their product is a house hold name and has stood the test of time. But some of the smaller and even boutique distilleries have done their homework in conceptual design to get their product noticed. Their bottles hook the consumer and the bourbon either reals them in or releases them back into the market. In this age of bourbon growth and enlightenment, distilleries often just need to get their foot in the door (or bourbon in the mouth) to make their place in the glorious world of brown water.

Here are some perfect examples of how the packaging, the bottle itself, recalls an age of a simple, more independent, yet lawless time in ‘Merica!

ci-american-barrels-bourbon-1c44cfad54069077

American Barrels Bourbon

bib-tucker-small-batch-bourbon-whisky-usa-10692676

Bib & Tucker Small Batch Bourbon

cooperstown bourbon

Cooperstown Bourbon

tncp

Tin Cup American Whiskey

3ab3fd8ddedd7a34c75fd278eed41e0d91779c90_1024x1024

Lusty Claw Bourbon

 

bulleit-bourbon

Bulleit Frontier Whiskey

 

angles envy

Angel’s Envy Bourbon

 

Obviously there are numerous others and the thrust of the matter is clearly subjective. But no matter how creative and unique the design of the bottle, we all know it’s what’s inside that truly counts. The looks can only carry entire package so far, then substance, both literally and figuratively, must sustain the rest. Which is why, for the Bourboneer, there is nothing more aesthetically and delectably pleasing than my personal favorite, Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon. I mean just take at a look at her exquisite beauty. So incredibly smart, seductive, chic, can carry the conversation and tastefully refined to boot! Man I am thirsty!

ci-blantons-single-barrel-bourbon-f27c3cae7eeaa8b9

So the next time you’re in a liquor store or spirit shop, take a moment to look down the bourbon aisle as if you were at a gallery. Wonder at the many artistic renderings. Gaze at the nuances of the label, the embossed or etched glass, the unusual shapes and sizes. Pay respect to accoutrement and the regalia of each offering. Where does it take you? Then once you find out, snap out of it already and buy the stinkin’ bottle! What’s wrong with you!?! Its a just a glass bottle filled with bourbon. Take it home and drink it!

-The Bourboneer

 

Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Blanton’s Original Single Barrel Bourbon KSBW, 46.5% ABV or 93 proof (NAS), Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfurt, Ky.

Bourbon…It’s What’s with Dinner.

UltimateGlutenFreeCookout

With summer fast approaching, less than a month away actually (June 21), it’s the perfect time to discuss your menu and what food you should be pairing while sipping your favorite bourbon. Summer fare presents such a delicious diversity when it comes to enhancing your bourbon drinking experience. Savory, smoky meats, creamy appetizers and indulgent desserts make summer gatherings such a target-rich environment for all types of bourbon.

For the sake of this article, let’s focus on the classic summer outing…the cookout (or the backyard barbecue). The cookout truly defines what is delicious and All-American about our summers. Hamburgers, hot dogs, steak, chicken, fish, corn on the cob, all sorts of salads, chips and dip (salsa), pies, and of course ice cream. The list is endless depending on your preferences. But what about accentuating those wonderful foods while imbibing on some scrumptious brown water? Sure beer, wine, soda and lemonade are time-honored and popular summer staples, but they do very little to intensify your summer nosh. You need to add bourbon to your summer spread. That’s right…bourbon! And I don’t want to hear how you think bourbon stands in stark contrast to what you consider appetizing, refreshing and delicious to what you’re used to drinking. First off, stop thinking! Secondly, and more importantly, bring your attitude way down, your curiosity and “All-American can do spirit” way up and pay attention.

There is nothing more appropriate or patriotic for your cookouts than bourbon. It’s produced from indigenous grains, distilled by U.S companies and aged in american oak barrels. It’s protected by law and is our country’s native spirit. So you can wrap Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day even Flag Day and every day in between in your summer cookout festivities and bourbon has you covered. Here’s how.

Typically, there are three categories of bourbon: traditional, high-rye and wheated. Each possess a different mash bill to create their specific flavor profile. Traditional bourbons are generally distilled from an average of about 70-75% corn, 10-15% rye, 10-15% barley. These bourbons include labels such as Jim Beam (white label), Evan Williams (black label), Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve. Traditional bourbons are smooth and can compliment both spicy and sweet foods. High-rye bourbons obviously have an increased rye content, about 25-35% on average. They have a spicier palate than the traditional and wheated bourbons. These labels include Bulleit, Basil Hayden and Four Roses Single Barrel. Because of their spice notes, high-rye bourbons offset heavier, rich or sweeter foods. Lastly, we have the wheated bourbons. These bourbons, which include Makers Mark, Weller and Larceny average anywhere from 16-20% wheat and no rye what so ever. With the absence of rye and a higher wheat content the palate is generally smoother and sweeter, working well with spicier fare. Oh, the alcohol content or proof also plays an important role in the pairing process as well. Lower proof bourbons pair better with lighter fare and higher proof selections pair better with heavier, fattier and sweeter foods.

So then what type of bourbon goes best with what type of cookout food?

Traditional 80-90 proof bourbons aged 4+ years: Jim Beam (white label), Evan Williams (black label), Wild Turkey 81, Woodford Reserve, Buffalo Trace, Elijah Craig Small Batch. Ancient Age, Blanton’s, Benchmark 8, Four Roses Yellow Label.

  • White meat chicken, fish (salmon, rockfish, cod)  shellfish (crab, lobster, clams, oysters, mussels), nuts (pecans, walnuts), creamy appetizers (cheese dips and guacamole) and fruits (apples, watermelon) vegetables (corn on the cob), desserts (chocolate, cheesecake, apple pie and ice cream).

The Bourboneer’s choice: Blantons (although Blantons has a slightly higher proof it pairs well with everything!)

High-Rye 86+ proof bourbons aged 5+ years: Bulleit, Four Roses Small Batch, Old Grand Dad and Basil Hayden (although this bourbon is only 80 proof).

  • Ham, pork loin, pork BBQ ribs, pork hot dogs, dark meat chicken, duck, mild sweet chili and cornbread.

The Bourboneer’s choice: Bulleit

Wheated 90-100 proof bourbons aged 5+ years: Makers Mark, Makers Mark 46, Weller, Larceny, Van Winkle (all), Old Fitzgerald, Parker’s Heritage Collection.

  • Hamburgers, BBQ brisket, steak, cheese burgers, spicy foods (jambalaya, chili, brats, chorizo, kielbasa, Italian suasage), cured meats (salami), savory meats (bacon, beef BBQ, beef hot dogs), dried fruits (dates, apricots), aged cheeses (Gouda, cheddar).

The Bourboneer’s choice: Larceny

When pairing your bourbon with your cookout selection its important to drink it neat, with a few drops of fresh water or with an ice cube. From personal experience, I find using ice actually works better. As the ice melts, it cuts the alcohol burn and opens up the flavor profile of your bourbon. Not to mention, an ice cold drink on a summer’s day is much more refreshing. Bourbon cocktails and mixed drinks are always delicious but they don’t pair as well with food. I am  not saying not to enjoy them, by all means, but if you desire to accentuate your cookout eating/drinking experience try your bourbon neat or with ice. Use the pairing suggestions above to help navigate your way. Understand that these recommendations are from what I have learned over my many years of drinking bourbon and that your personal preferences may be different. Don’t let that distract you from expanding your pairing experiences. Ultimately, if bourbon is your drink of choice, no matter what you enjoy eating, then you’re on the right path.

Enjoy your bourbon summer and, of course, enjoy your Memorial Day. Never forget those who sacrificed everything so we can enjoy the freedom we have today.

-The Bourboneer

 

Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Evan Williams – American Hero Edition, 43% ABV or 86 proof, NAS, Heaven Hill Distilleries, Bardstown, KY.

References: The Gentlemanual: “Eat This: Bourbon and Food Pairings” (on-line) Becca Stonebreaker.

 

The Battle of Little Big Corn

Over the last several months I have acquired two new bourbon labels. My brother gifted me a 375 ml bottle of Reservoir Bourbon as a Christmas present and rather recently a good friend of mine surprised me with a 375 ml bottle of V5 bourbon left on my doorstep when I returned from work. Both were very thoughtful and unexpected offerings and both were rather new labels to my modest knowledge of bourbon. New but not completely unfamiliar.  I actually sampled Reservoir at a bourbon and beer festival in Fredericksburg, Va., back in 2016 (see my past article Commence au Festival) however, never enjoyed a dram. As far as Smoky Quartz Distillery’s V5 bourbon, I had only recently read about it’s arrival on the bourbon scene. So, like any inquisitive Bourboneer, I went to school on the matter. I needed more information. I needed some history and of course I needed a private tasting to see what each had to offer.

reservoir V5-Bourbon_WebTransBG_Crop

After a little research, I realized that both Reservoir and V5 bourbons were perfect candidates for a taste comparison. Not just any comparison, more like a North vs. South, blue vs. gray, good old fashion American “mine is better than yours” taste comparison. I’ll explain why momentarily, but what made this observation categorically perfect was that both bourbons were produced from the same exact mash bill: 100% corn. The similarities didn’t end there. Both bourbons are considered to be “small batch”, both are aged for only 12-24 months in small 5-15 gallon charred oak barrels as opposed to the standard 53 gallon barrels and both were produced from locally sourced corn. This was setting up to be a heavy weight test of labels. One for the ages. Ok, that was a bit dramatic, but the similarities were prime for an epic battle. The differences, however, were what made this taste comparison a war of home town pride and territorial dominance. Still too dramatic?

Here is the battlefield review (fight card):

  • Representing the blue corner (North): Smoky Quartz Distillery’s V5 Bourbon Whiskey
  • Tale of the Tape: Seabrook, New Hampshire Bourbon Whiskey, 45% ABV or 90 proof, Aged 14 months, Year – 2017, Batch – 7, Bottle – 1230. “Veteran Owned and Operated”, 2016 New York International Spirits Gold Medal winner, 2017 Distillery of the Year.
  •  Nose: Vanilla, heavy corn (obviously), candy corn, honey, definite grassy notes.
  •  Taste: Tons of corn, vanilla, cherry cola, grass or grain and oak. Quick hot finish.
  • Representing the gray corner (South): Reservoir Distillery’s Reservoir Bourbon Whiskey
  • Tale of the Tape: Richmond, Virginia Bourbon Whiskey, 50% ABV or 100 proof, Aged 24 months (a straight bourbon whiskey), Year – 2017, Batch – 5, Bottle 126, “The Capitol of the South”, 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Double Gold Medal winner, 2014 San Francisco World Spirits Silver Medal winner, 2016 New York Wine and Spirits Gold Medal winner, 2016 New York International Spirits Silver Medal winner.
  • Nose: Corn (of course), vanilla, cinnamon toast, slight gingerbread notes.
  • Taste: Candy apple, candy corn, some cherry highlights, buttery. Long hot finish.

Decision: This was clearly a split decision based solely on my flavor profiles. We all know that heavy corn bourbons will be sweet to the tongue. Reservoir and V5 are no exceptions. Such offerings are generally much sweeter than traditional, wheat and especially rye heavy bourbons. However, both labels were quite delicious, not cloyingly sweet and certainly worth drinking over and over (special thanks to my brother and good friend). So it boils down to a personal taste preference. I think the grassy notes in the V5 bourbon were the difference. It’s a new taste and nose for me. Not one I am accustomed to. I think if I had experienced a longer history with such notes the outcome may have been different. The Reservoir edges past the V5 in the final review but it was incredibly close. If I had to use a Civil War battle to best describe the taste comparison between Reservoir and V5 it would have to be Antietam:  All out, close in and bloody campaign, numerous casualties (empty shot glasses). Considered a northern (blue) victory (by the numbers) yet southern forces (gray) showed toughness and were ready and willing to fight again.

No matter my preference, I’d definitely recommend both of these smaller distillery, corn bourbons for your bar. If you have the opportunity to get your hand on either of these bourbons I’d strongly encourage you to grab one. If you can get a hold of both, perform your own taste test and let me know your results. Enjoy.

-The Bourboneer

Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article:V5 Bourbon Whiskey, 45% ABV or 90 proof, Aged 14 months. Smoky Quartz Distillery, Seabrook, NH.

‘Red Liquor’

red liquor

In 17th century colonial America, rum was the dominant distilled spirit. It was rather easily produced from molasses which came from an abundant Caribbean sugarcane supply. Boston, was the first city in the colonies to distill rum and it was extremely popular. Rum was America’s original distilled spirit one could easily argue. That’s right, despite knowing that bourbon being the federally protected and distinctive American spirit in the 20th century, It wasn’t always that way. Rum was technically first to be produced and consumed in our country. And as The Bourboneer, I have no problem with that. Brandy, which is distilled from fermented fruit, was also very popular. Peach and pumpkin specifically were the most consumed. Pumpkin!?! Ew! Now I do have a problem with that. In no form does that sound appetizing at all.

It wasn’t until the influx of Scottish and the Irish immigrants, in the late 17th century, that whiskey began to take hold in America. There were issues however. Our soil wasn’t very hospitable for the growing of whiskey’s main ingredient, barely. There just wasn’t much of it around. Corn, on the other hand, was everywhere. There was so much corn that once it was harvested the colonists couldn’t consume or sell all of it. Unfortunately much of the crop was susceptible to decomposition and couldn’t be used. Possessing the knowledge of making whiskey, the colonist found it much more beneficial to distill the unused supply of corn instead of watching rot. Ingenious! The corn whiskey could be stored almost indefinitely and of course became a very lucrative endeavor.

As America’s population continued to increase, thirst for the new corn whiskey naturally followed suit. In order to keep up with demand, methods for storing and transporting the whiskey became a priority. Barrels hewn from the bountiful supply of American oak became the custom of choice used to ship the whiskey. Now using barrels was not a new method of storage, not at all, but it was new for the purpose of storing and transporting whiskey. Barrels that held other products like fish or salted meat were often reused to save money. Why spend the money to make new barrels when you could reuse old barrels once used to store other things. However, before the whiskey could be poured into the barrel, the barrel had to be cleaned and free of potential contaminants. Burning or charring the inside of the barrels was the cheapest and most effective method of sterilization. Clearly, there was not a huge demand for a ‘fishy’  palate in the new whiskey. Can’t say I blame them. Now a pork belly (bacon) aftertaste in a whiskey, specifically bourbon…mercy! I might as well have died and crossed over to glory. But I am getting ahead of myself. My apologies.

What soon became very noticeable to whiskey drinking Americans was that their favorite booze, after being removed from the charred barrel, now had color. It was no longer clear. In the barrel, the once colorless corn whiskey absorbed the characteristics from the charred wood and took on a light brown or red color. The properties of the whiskey also became more purified and possessed less bite and less of a sour or acrid taste. This new ‘red liquor’ understandably became a sensation and laid the groundwork from which bourbon got it’s start. The story behind how bourbon got its name, however, is one of lore and for another time. I promise I will write about it soon.

It’s no coincidence today that bourbon color profiles are commonly described as a gradient of the color red. Look at any bourbon review and you will see tone descriptors such as russet, mahogany, burnt umber, amber, chestnut, auburn, tawny and red gold. Red is a powerful color commonly associated with emotion, power, desire, pioneering spirit, ambition and leadership. Sounds perfectly American if you ask me. It’s no wonder why we love our bourbon so much even if on sometimes subconscious levels not commonly realized. Bourbon has redeeming qualities such as character, bourbon can stand alone without mixing, it’s sweet, it’s spicy, it’s full-bodied and is as ‘red’ blooded American as guns, pick-up trucks and BBQ. Can’t say that about vodka. Can’t say anything about vodka really, well nothing positive anyway.

So the next time you pour yourself a glass of bourbon, hold it up to the light and remember the ingenuity, albeit by happenstance, that made our early whiskey blush enough to become what we now refer to as our distinctive American spirit.

-The Bourboneer

 

Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Belle Meade SBW, 45.2% ABV or 90.4 proof, Aged 5.5 – 7.5 years. Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, Nashville, TN.

References: Whiskey A Very Peculiar History: “Meanwhile in America…” Fiona McDonald. Salariya Book Co., Ltd 2011.