‘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.

A Resolution

If you’re like me, you love to walk into a new liquor store and gaze wide-eyed down the aisles stocked full of glistening bottles (of bourbon particularly). It’s a rush for the senses. All those choices. The anticipation. What’s new? What’s marked down? What will entice my palate today? Is this a day for multiple purchases or merely a reconnaissance mission for future visits? Clearly, it’s more than an errand for me. It’s an event!

With joy abounding what could pull the plug on my excitement and drain the hopes of such an anticipated shopping experience?…Bullet-proof, plexi-glass vault style enclosures! That’s right these…

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Look, I completely understand why these obnoxious partitions are in place. I get it…they serve the purpose of safety, security and the protection of merchandise. However, they are, in my opinion, an eyesore and a bit ridiculous. Granted, I’ve not seen such an array (above) in any of the liquor stores near me but I did have the unfortunate experience of patronizing a store, locally, that had all of their spirits behind the counter and, yes, behind bullet-proof glass. The wine and mixers were out in the open for all to peruse, but the good stuff was behind the intimidating plexi-glass wall of doom.  Dumbfounded and taken aback I pondered “Where am I?…What is going on around here?” I actually became obstinate. “How dare they?”  Don’t they know that I can’t shop in such an environment. It’s unfortunate that even in semi-rural Maryland such precautions need to be in place.

You see, I can’t just gaze at my bourbon through a hazy plastic wall. Much like a bibliophile needs to hold a book in his hands, feel the thickness of each page, I need to hold the bottle, feel it’s weight, pore over the label. By no means do I want to continually request the clerk to hand me a different bottle every five minutes because I can’t make up my mind. Most of the time there is a language barrier and, to no fault of their own, they have no clue on how to be helpful in answering any of my questions, should I have any. Frankly the whole process is annoying and I am not the only one who thinks so.

In 2017, a Philadelphia councilwoman introduced a bill requiring the complete removal of the bullet-proof glass partitions from beer-liquor-deli establishments in the city. The councilwoman cited “we want to make sure that there isn’t this sort of indignity, in my opinion, to serving food through a plexi-glass only in certain neighborhoods.” Good for her! I agree totally. And her use of the word indignity is spot on. That’s how I felt. However, her bill has been met with much backlash…and I see why. As I mentioned before, those partitions are there for a purpose. Those stores provide a service to their communities and the partitions provide a continuance of the stores ability to serve their communities. But it doesn’t mean that I have to like it or support it.

So, my resolution is to simply not patronize the establishments that armor up with these bullet proof partitions. Honestly, this is not a referendum on the stores in particular, it’s more of a preference for my sake moving forward. I am The Bourboneer and I clearly have a problem (more of a specific taste) when it comes to buying bourbon. But I’d be willing to believe that most of you who love bourbon as I do, would care to only visit those establishments who don’t segregate their spirits from their consumers. Am I wrong?

Anyway, happy new year and may you partake in your favorite spirit (as long as its bourbon) from any establishment you’d like. I am just here to offer my beliefs and recommendations as The Bourboneer. God bless!

-The Bourboneer

Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Jim Beam Distiller’s Cut, 50% ABV or 100 proof, Aged 5-6 years. James Beam Distilling Co., Clermont, KY.

References: Daily Wire:“Philadelphia City Council Votes In Favor Of Looking Into Banning Bullet-Proof Barriers From ‘Beer Deli’ Stores in Dangerous Neighborhoods.” Frank Camp, , December 15, 2017.

What Bourbon Can’t Cure, There is No Cure for.

flask

I recently came across  a great article in Men’s Health magazine on-line, “Science Gives You Yet Another Reason to Order Whisky.” The author, Christa Sgobba, provides a very interesting revelation on the correlation between whiskey and bacteria. In her article, Sgobba references an Italian study published in the Annals of Microbiology where researchers tested 60 samples of ice cubes made in homes, bars, restaurants and industrial facilities. Disturbingly enough, 52 different strains of bacteria were discovered. That’s right…52! And some are known to cause sickness in humans like the B. Cereus bacteria known for being associated with food poisoning. As you can imagine, the ice cubes found in restaurants and bars were the most vile offenders.

The research study incorporated 4 of the most common bacteria (out of the 52 discovered) found in the ice cube sample and tested them in various drinks, both alcoholic and non. Coke, peach tea, vodka, martinis, tonic water and whiskey were the drinks analyzed. The study didn’t specify what type of whiskey, but considering that bourbon is a whiskey and for the sake of this article, we will assume that bourbon was the whiskey tested.

In the final analysis each drink did reduce a good portion of the bacteria from the ice, however, there was a distinct difference in the anti-microbial effects between the drinks. According to the study,  all 4 bacteria strains remained when introduced to the peach tea and vodka. Does that surprise you about vodka? It shouldn’t. As you’ve heard me preach before, vodka is over distilled, tasteless and lacking character. It’s no wonder that it tested the way it did. Anyway, back to the results. Two strains of bacteria hung around in the Coke and martinis samples and only one persisted in the tonic water. Yes, tonic water on the rocks tested safer to drink than vodka! Finally, and not surprising to The Bourboneer, whiskey fared the best. Apparently, due to whiskeys acidity levels (pH of 4.2) it neutralized all four strains of the bacteria introduced. Of course it did! Just another reason to drink whiskey (bourbon) instead of any other distilled spirit.

I have written before about the medicinal benefits of bourbon. Not even a century ago it was prescribed to combat numerous common ailments and has even been studied to be a benefit today as a remedy for conditions you probably didn’t realize. See below.

whiskeyinfo

Do you really need another reason to drink bourbon!?! It tastes great (a little sweet and spicy), you look really cool and sophisticated drinking it and, oh, it’s a 100% made in the USA product.  I can go on if you’d like.

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I think I am going to partake in a little preventive medicine and pour myself a bourbon. And thanks to the generosity of a great bourbon drinking friend (BF), I will partake in a glass of Blanton’s (my favorite). Here’s to my health…and yours!

-The Bourboneer

 

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

References: Men’s Health Magazine: Science Gives You Yet Another Reason to Order Whisky.” Christa Sgobba, December 8, 2017.

A Flight for the Ages

flight

If you are planning a bourbon tasting or just want to experiment on your own, here is a recommended flight from The Bourboneer.

I like to call this offering the “Unique Aging Style” flight. There are 4 bourbons presented, each with it’s own specific and unique aging method. The particular aging methods are introduced after the initial 4 – 6 year aging process and are considered secondary. The four bourbons selected were Maker’s Mark 46 Kentucky Bourbon Whisky, Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Jim Beam Double Oak Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and Hillrock Solera-Aged Bourbon Whiskey. Each one of these selections uses a secondary aging process lasting from several weeks to several months.

flight 2

Angel’s Envy

Mashbill – 72% corn, 18% rye, 10% malted barely. Alcohol By Volume – (ABV) 43% or 86 proof. Distiller – Louisville Distilling Co., KY. Age – 4-6 years with secondary aging in ruby port casks. Color – Butterscotch. Price – @ $45.

Nose – Bourbon and wine. Corn, malty sweetness candied and spicy fruit. Some hints of cocoa, currant and SweeTART.

Taste – Bourbon with noticeable wine notes. Rich corn, dark dried fruit, caramel, some spice from the rye and vanilla. Also there are some notes of chocolate covered sherries and oak.

 

Hillrock

Mashbill – 63% corn, 37% rye. ABV – 46.3% or 92.6 proof. Distiller – Hillrock Estate Distillery, NY. Age – 6 years by solera process (rotating and mixing new bourbon with older bourbon) with secondary aging in Oloroso sherry casks. Color – Golden Amber. Price – @ $85.

Nose – Sweet fig, tobacco, with strong caramel and vanilla notes. Floral and honeysuckle scent.

Taste – Sweet, bit of spice from rye, cinnamon and nutmeg. Maple syrup, brown sugar, dark fruits, cloves and Heath bar.

 

Jim Beam Double Oak

Mashbill – 77% corn, 13% wheat, 10% malted barley. ABV – 43% or 86 proof. Distiller – Beam Distilling Co., KY. Age – 4 years with secondary aging in new charred oak barrels. Color – Dark Caramel. Price – @ $22.

Nose – Oak, caramel, vanilla, toasted corn, toffee, hint of bettescotch and cinnamon.

Taste – Oak, caramel, dry corn, vanilla toffee and lights hints of maple.

 

Maker’s Mark 46

Mashbill – 70% corn, 16% wheat, 14% malted barley. ABV – 47% or 94 proof. Distiller – Maker’s Mark Distillery, KY. Age – (No Age Statement) estimated about 6 years with secondary aging by introducing seared french oak staves into original barrel. Color – Deep Amber, Price – @ $35.

Nose – Very sweet. Cherries, caramel, vanilla, oak and a whiff of pastry or candy.

Taste – Caramel and toasted wood, vanilla ice cream, sweet grains, roasted corn, cinnamon toast and many sweet dessert notes.

Be sure when you nose the bourbon that you keep your mouth open slightly. This will cut the strong alcohol scent and allow you to pick out the different flavor notes. When tasting, add a few drops of water to cut the alcohol. This will open up the natural flavors of the bourbon and will allow you to enjoy with less of the alcohol burn. DO NOT SHOOT bourbon. It’s a sin! Shoot crap like vodka, there is no taste worth savoring anyway.

I hope you enjoy your Bourboneer recommended flight. There will be more to come. Cheers!

-The Bourboneer

 

Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: William Wolf  Traditionally Crafted Bourbon Whiskey, 43.4% ABV or 86.8 proof (aged a minimum of 6 months) Wolf Distilleries, North Charleston, SC.

South of the Border

south of the border
A few months ago I traveled south of the border for our family summer vacation. No, not south of the border down Mexico way, but South of the Border South Carolina way (Myrtle Beach actually). You know where within 100 miles of the actual SC border you start seeing signs for Pedro practically every mile and you can by fireworks that are illegal in the 47 other contiguous states. Yeah, you know the place. It’s quite annoying to be honest, but I do have a favorite sign, however: “South of the Border – 75mi. You never sausage a place!” Get it? Sausage = saw such. Simple, yes, but it made me chuckle.
Besides looking forward to spending a relaxing week of sun and sand with my loving family, I secretly looked to stockpile bourbon, add to my collection and save some money in the process. I knew that South Carolina only charged a 6% tax on alcohol as compared to 9% in my home state of Maryland and it goes without saying that things are just cheaper in the south. So I figured I’d bring home a few bottles of my old stand-byes like Bulleit and Evan Williams single barrel and potentially add some new or top shelf bourbon to my bar at a discounted price. Prior to our trip I, as any good Bourboneer would,  did some research on area liquor stores near our hotel. To my excitement nearly all the stores in the surrounding area prominently displayed the word “Discount” in their title. The gears in my head began to churn, “Discoooooount booooourbon  ahhhhh” I salivated in my best Homer Simpson. Sweet and provoking thoughts of rows and rows of cheap bourbon cascaded through my mind (and by cheap I mean in price not grade). Not only was there a lower tax rate on alcohol but it was discounted too!?! Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to patronize as may stores as possible.
Now to provide a little background information. In the U.S., there are 17 states in which liquor sales are owned and run by the state government. South Carolina is NOT one of them. Neither is Maryland for that matter. So if the store is not state run then it is individually owned and operated as a small business. This means liquor, beer and wine can only be sold in these stores and no where else. Since the state government does not have a hand in the proprietorship, the alcohol is generally sold for less than in a state owned store which, of course, is music to the ears for any bourbon lover like myself.
Keenly aware of this information, I knew that SC did not participate in state owned liquor stores and I knew the prices would be considerably cheaper there than in a state like, let’s say Virginia (state owned with a 20% tax on distilled spirits). I also knew that MD, even though it shared SC’s self proprietorship and was not state run, had more expensive liquor prices as it is historically famous for being one of the higher overall taxed states in the country. All leading to the conclusion that Myrtle Beach, SC would be a great place to buy my bourbon on the cheap.
I WAS WRONG!
The use of the word “discount” is a sales/advertising ploy and clearly a subjective term. I probably should have seen that coming but I let my avarice cloud my common sense. The reason I mention this is due to the fact that there was absolutely no discount in either of the two liquor stores I visited in Myrtle Beach. It wasn’t even close. My favorite mass produced bourbons like Jim Beam, Wild Turkey and Evan Williams were several dollars higher in price than they were in MD. Yes! That’s right! More expensive than Maryland!!! The mid to upper shelf labels like Woodford’s and Michters were priced even higher, averaging about 7-10$ more per bottle (750 ml). And the smaller brand, boutique bourbons…forget about it. They were outrageous. To add salt to the wound, I was laughed at, yes laughed at when I asked one of the sales reps if they stocked Blanton’s (my favorite). Dismissively, he called out to his fellow sales rep and actually said, “We should have shirts made that say we don’t carry Blantons”. Really… shirts made!?! Maybe you should have a shirt made that says you’re an asshole!
What was going on here? How could this be reality. Nothing is cheaper in MD south of the state line! Nothing! Was this price gouging as a result of Myrtle Beach’s high tourist population. I am not sure. But what ever it was, it was disappointing. My ambition of stocking my bar with affordable bourbon was dashed. No way was I going to pay for any bourbon at 20-30% more than what I do at home, vacation or not. I do have some fiscal standards believe it or not.
So I guess the moral to my story is that things aren’t always cheaper South of the Border, especially if you love distilled spirits, preferably bourbon. Oh and by the way SC…I can buy Blanton’s in MD:)
                                                                          -The Bourboneer
Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Old Forge Reserve Single Barrel Tennessee Bourbon Whiskey, 44.5% ABV or 89 proof (Aged 10 years) Old Forge Distillery, Pigeon Forge, TN