By: Gill O’Teen
I have learned through expensive on-going research that some Bourbons are definitely better than others. These stand up well when swallowed straight with no added water or ice. To my tongue these have a bit of age, a minimum of 6 years, and a bit of germ-killer, at least 45 ABV (90 proof). Some whisk(e)y experts recommend that when tasting such a product for the first time, it's best to add a drop of water in order to release the full wonders of its taste and smell. But there are other Bourbons which in order to trick my tongue into thinking they are as tasty as Ridgemont Reserve 1792, Wild Turkey Rare Breed, Knob Creek, Makers Mark or a dozen other first class spirits, may require a bit more boost. To my taste, 80 Proof (40% ABV) Bourbons such as Jim Beam (white label) and Old Crow need a flavor assist for me to enjoy them.
Now I am not an expert on making whisk(e)y by any criteria. When it comes to my opinion I am reminded of the old Monty Python skit in which some old ladies were visiting the local art museum. They were literally eating the expensive paintings. One said to the other, “I may not know art, but I know what I like.” But why would ABV play such an important part in the taste of Bourbon? I believe it has to do with water. With a distilled liquor, basically if it’s not alcohol, it’s water. Distillers like to sell their beverages at a certain proof level, which might have something to do with how the gum’mint’s outrageous excise taxes are calculated. Do you realize that when you purchase any alcoholic liquid, you pay sales tax on the excise tax. If a barrel contains a supply of spirit with an ABV higher than the target, sufficient water is added to dilute the alcohol. This newly added water was not aged in any container other than the nearest water supply and so lacks the flavors imparted to the rest of the liquid by a magical charred white oak barrel. That’s why, in general, I find cask or barrel strength whisk(e)ies tastiest. Blended whisk(e)ies retain their flavor by blended higher ABV product with that having lower ABV, which may be why 80 Proof Scotch tastes better on my tongue than its American cousin.
Last Fall, I visited a ‘legal’ moonshine distillery. I think that’s an oxymoron. It’s master distiller told me that the gum’mint of his state mandates that his product be sold at 80 proof. Mathematically inclined folks know that this means 60% of his whiskey is not alcohol. Essentially moonshine, white lightning, white mule or whatever it’s called in various locales is simply unaged condensation. This liquid consists of practically all alcohol and water. This means his ‘shine’ is mostly water because if it comes out of the still at a proof higher than the law allows, it must be diluted with water to make it legal. Say it comes out of the still at a healthy 125 proof such as Frankfort Kentucky’s Buffalo Trace Distillery’s White Dog Mash #1 (actually I don’t know at what proof it exits the still, that’s the proof of the bottled fluid), then to reduce it’s proof to that other state’s legal limit, the moonshiner mentioned earlier must add 422 ml of water to 750 ml of product to keep his license to bottle and sell. So to my thinking the higher the proof, the less added water and the more tasty the potion.
I love Bourbon. I do not know an incorrect way to enjoy it. Parker Beam has been Master Distiller at the Heaven Hill Distillery near Bardstown, Kentucky, an incredibly worthwhile tour, for just over 50 years. A big party was held in Louisville to celebrate this remarkable achievement on October 24, 2009. As part of the festivities New York mixologist, Allen Katz, put on a cocktail seminar for Bourbon aficionados (why wasn’t I invited? -drat). As part of the seminar Katz demonstrated how to make a hot Bourbon cocktail which is sure to cure the global warming winter chill blues. Courtesy of The Bardstown Whiskey Society Winter 2009-2010 Newsletter"The Barrelhouse Chronicle" (from which I stole other details of this paragraph), here’s that recipe. It makes more than I can drink in one night, and the addition of sugar makes storage difficult (freezing the leftovers might work). However, it might make an excellent party punch. There might be easy substitutions for the fruit juice such as Minute Maid for the orange juice or Realemon for the lemon juice. And I see no reason to not use your own favorite Bourbon - just make sure it’s one that mixes well.
Ski Lift - A bourbon cocktail invented by Allen Katz:
1 750 ml bottle of Evan Williams Single Barrel
2 ounces of Orange Curaçao
2 cups hot green tea
Juice of 3 lemons
Juice of 6 oranges
½ cup sugar
Stir tea, lemon juice, orange juice and sugar together over low heat until sugar has dissolved. Add Bourbon and Orange Curaçao. Stir gently, keep warm and serve in your favorite mug.
Might warm up your next party! Have fun!
Last Friday night I sampled a wonderful example of the brewing arts and fully endorse it for others. The drawback is that it is a pricey limited edition. It is Bourbon Barrel Stout (Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels) which is brewed by Odell Brewing Company, Fort Collins, CO
http://odellbrewing.com. It came in a 1 pint 9.4 fluid ounces (750 ml) now emptied bottle. Notes on the bottle side say, “This limited edition offering begins with a full-bodied Imperial Stout that has notes of sweet milk chocolate, smooth vanilla and roasted coffee beans. Then things get interesting. We transfer it to Kentucky Bourbon barrels where it’s aged for four months to let traces of oak and caramel come forward. The Bourbon barrels have a remarkable effect on the Stout. In turn, the Bourbon barrel aged stout has a remarkable effect on the senses." The Bourbon barrels might come from the Buffalo Trace Distillery mentioned above, and they make wonderful Bourbons and Bourbon Balls for those of us with a sweet tooth. Actually a Bourbon Ball imparts a nice finish to a just downed shot.
As mentioned earlier Bourbon must be aged in a NEW charred white-oak barrel. This means that once used for any reason the barrel cannot be used another time, if that second use is to age Bourbon. Bourbon distillers resell their once-used barrels to anyone willing to purchase them. Scotch and Irish distillers are large buyers of these and use them for building the huge casks in which they age their excellent beverages. Some sherry, brandy and wine companies also age their excellent fluids in used Bourbon barrels. That is what Odell did. By aging this stout in a used bourbon barrel, they have crafted a wonderful American Stout with a touch of Bourbon flavor to it. If you like Stout, and I do, and you like Bourbon, and I do, you will like this limited edition Odell offering.
If you are a Bourbon purist incapable of enjoying other drinks, I don’t care. I can be just as snotty as anyone; however, the only valid point to any alcoholic drink is to have a good time, as long as it makes the folks happy nothing else matters. If you don't like mixed drinks, I have no problem with that, but back off on the folks who do. The last thing this country needs is a whisk(e)y nanny. In my opinion, there is only one correct way to drink Bourbon - frequently. Everything else is incidental.
There are several distilleries worth a visit within an easy drive of Buffalo Trace such as Woodford Reserve, Four Roses and Wild Turkey. I have completed the 8 stops of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and have toured both known Tennessee Whisk(e)y Distilleries and encourage everyone do the same. Every one of these 10 businesses offer products which are worth our time and our hard-earned treasure. Most of the other Kentucky Bourbon trail stops are near Bardstown. Bardstown is also home to the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History.
Here are a few links to help your studies:
Kentucky Bourbon Trail http://www.kybourbontrail.com/
George Dickel Tennessee Whisky http://www.dickel.com/
Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey http://www.jackdaniels.com/
Bardstown Whiskey Society http://www.bardstownwhiskeysociety.com/
Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History http://www.whiskeymuseum.com/
I would never impose my own drinking preferences on another. The only correct thing to say to someone about to enjoy a tasty American spirit, wine, or brew is, "Salute!" - be sure to join him or her. However, there are thousands of other toasty expressions which may be substituted. An old friend of mine was fond of saying, "Look out lips, look out gums, look out stomach, here it comes!" I never corrected him, but I did drink his booze for free.
Gill O’Teen 09 February, 2010