Sunday, November 11, 2012

Maker's Mark Bourbon

The wife and kids finally left for the park! Time to put my plan in place. Yep, I opened the Maker's Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky! This Bourbon is "Handmade" by the Maker's Mark Distillery at Star Hill Farm in Loretto, Kentucky. The distillery has been designated a National Historic Landmark, so be sure to check it out if you're in the area.

The bottle has a little story on it about the process they use to make their bourbon. The cap and neck are dipped in a red wax to finish the presentation. And finally the Maker's Mark, the S IV and Circle with Star, is added. You can find that mark on the label as well as as stamped into the glass. 90 Proof, 45% alcohol.

I like my Kentucky Straight Bourbon, well, straight. If you're a cocktail kind of person, though, Makers Mark has a handful that you can try. Let me know if you do that and which are your favorites.

Sweet, delicious aroma. Maple syrup and honey hang out with vanilla and oak. Very rich, the kind of aroma you make out with!

Oh, wow! Great bourbons always get me first sip. Wonderfully bold! Rich body and smooth. A beautiful sweetness is tempered by an excellent heat on the lips and tongue. Wonderful, gentle coating of the palate while still being powerful.

Maple syrup and caramel flavors are the first to come through, but within a few sips, this awesome rich, buttery pound cake flavor starts to build and repeat itself over and over. The finish is filled with vanilla and oak and some spiciness that carries long after each sip.

Great Bourbon! Recommended, and for $22 for a 750 mL bottle... need I say "duh"? I'm betting that if this is your first time with Maker's Mark, it will be the spirit that will make you switch!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Ile de Ré Double Matured Fine Island Cognac

Today I decided to jump back to one of the Cognacs given to me after my appearance on the Camus Cognac episode. Camus' Alexandra Albu provided me with an additional sample of the Ile de Ré Double Matured Fine Island Cognac that we had tried on the show. "Double Matured" is their middle-of-the-line Cognac that comes from the grapes they grow on the Ile de Ré island, the most western part of Cognac.

Double Matured is given its name based on the dual aging process used to produce the final product. The Cognac is first aged on Ile de Ré in damp and humid cellars.  A second aging process takes place in lightly charred and toasted barrels to provide the final Cognac with some smoky characteristics. 

Great violet and dried orange peel aroma. Some honey and a little wood are also noticeable. Very enjoyable bouquet.

Sweet but also salty right from the beginning. Definitely noticeably briny. Some really nice fruit and orange flavors pop first. Dry wood flavors are also prevalent. And there is an underlying spiciness that is enhanced by the alcohol heat. 

Everything I've read including literature direct from Camus and even my own review from the show talks about a "smoky finish". Don't get me wrong, I can taste the toasted wood characteristics, but the smoke is faint at best for me. Perhaps I just need a bigger sample (hint: Alex). The finish is dry and you are left with some heat in the chest and throat. 

Has some whiskey and Scotch characteristics and flavors. I bet they will be able to steal a few of those drinkers. 80 proof. Approximately $65-$70 for a 750 mL bottle. Could this be the spirit to make you switch? Find out for yourself.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Bourbon

As you can see from the photo, I waited almost until the end of this bottle to finally do a review of Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. That doesn't mean I've had the bottle that long, though, if you know what I mean. Eagle Rare is distilled at Old Prentice Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, and is part of the Buffalo Trace family of bourbons.

This bourbon was recommended to me by multiple people, and $28 at Total Wine seemed like a great deal considering. The bottle is very nice, sleek and slender clear glass, with an American Bald Eagle adorning the front. The story on the back preaches patriotism and freedom and innovation, including the crafting of Bourbon as the true American spirit.

Around the neck of the bottle, a tag lets you know that this is the only bourbon to ever win the double gold medal five times at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. On the inside of that tag, Eagle Rare announces The Rare Life Award and encourages you to nominate someone based on their courage, leadership, survival, heroism, devotion or character. (PS. The winner of the award has $30,000 donated to charity in his/her name, and each of the six finalists have $3,000 donated for each of them. My tag says $10,000 but the website video says they upped that for 2013).

Beautiful maple syrup aroma with a touch of honey and orange. Perfectly sweet scent. You will taste the oak immediately, carried with a lovely corny sweetness that follows the aroma. This bourbon totally coats the entire mouth and gets all of your taste buds fired up.

Spicy and fruity at the same time--nice orange and apricot flavors. A little floral in the finish too. Extremely pleasant and not sharp at all. The 45% alcohol (90 proof) was perfect and provided an excellent heat in the chest, while remaining soft to the palate. Complex for sure and one of the best bourbons I've had in a category I adore. Definitely a spirit that will make you switch!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Graffiti Artist Futura Signs Hennessy VS Bottles

I'm from a little town in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania. I lived in the far suburbs of a 3000 person town. The closest I got to graffiti was when "the guy with the knife" carved "I'm the creeper" into the bridge my father and we kids built across the little creek in the woods behind our house. The Guy with the Knife story is for another time, just let me tell you my mother finally called the State Police when this idiot kept walking around the woods in 95 degree August weather with his full ski mask on and boom box blaring. Oh, and because he was suspected of cutting down our tire swing and the rope ladder from our tree house.

Hmm. Sounds like I got a little off topic. Anyway, I don't know any people that have ever put graffiti on anything. Actually, that's not true. One kid I knew climbed a street sign when I was in college in Ithaca to change the last letter of a popular street to match my last name. Same kid that got arrested for stealing a turtle crossing sign... coincidentally.

Again, I digress. Basically, what I'm getting at is that I never heard of the famous graffiti artist Futura fka Futura 2000. He's been around for decades and YouTube is full of videos about and by him. Apparently, his work caught the eye of Hennessy Cognac too. My gateway to this dude was the email blast list of Total Wine. One day a month or so ago I was told he'd be making an appearance in the North Miami store. Sounded cool.

My cousin-in-law and I watched more than an hour of Futura's videos on YouTube to prepare. She decided that she'd go with me. "Arrive Early" pleaded the Total Wine email, so the plan was to meet 30 minutes prior to showtime.

I arrived 28 minutes early, enough time to hang with the Hennessy models and take some photos prior to the event. One of the Total Wine employees told me where to go for the event and he pointed to an enormous man, saying I'd need to arm wrestle him for any autograph. So I approached said enormous man, told him the deal and he quarter-heartedly said it could be arranged. He was not the snuggly jokey kind of graffiti-artist bodyguard I'm accustomed to. Yeah, Futura had a bodyguard. I was also first in line, a line that I created. I started hitting on some of the models when my wife's cousin showed up Hispanically late. I was a little shocked she even showed at all.

The dude behind me also helped me kill the 28 minutes by talking about Hennessy VS, his drink, on the rocks, never mix. The lady with him and I had a photo-off to see who could take the better photo, my iPhone v. her Samsung v. VS guy's iPhone. Yes, of course I won!

Pardon how long this is before we even get to Futura, but the dude was not exactly prompt about showtime, at least 10 minutes late (to an hour-long gig). Anyway, when Futura was ready, he was escorted out by his security detail and led to a table surrounded by velvet ropes. And that's when the Hennessy VS began to flow as well.

I personally just tried the cognac straight, pretty nice. The models were making and serving cocktails as well, and my cousin said that she really liked them.

Since we were at the front of the line, we quickly stepped up and Futura signed our gear--bottle, gift box and my new Hennessy cap. There were some other photographers there trying to make a buck as well. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any Futura photos on either of their websites. Not really that good for business.

And that's it. Except for the Total Wine Cashier that told me I needed to pay for the bottle before having it signed. How do you think that conversation went?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris Interview

Full is how you'd like your bottle of Woodford Reserve to be!
Back at the beginning of August, Total Wine's Education Director Greg Tuttle asked me if I'd like to interview Chris Morris from Woodford Reserve in honor of National Bourbon Heritage Month. I think I said something articulate like, "Um, duh!" It's no wonder that I was asked, right?

Chris is the Master Distiller of Woodford Reserve Bourbon and is also its Brand Ambassador. So I tried to come up with a set of interesting questions that stretched beyond the distillery. I'm pretty sure I came up with a few that aren't asked every day, too. Oh, and I also needed to try to outdo the interview Total Wine did with him last year! Surely you expected that of me!

The interview is published on the Total Wine Blog in two parts. Chris delivered an awesome interview: informative, entertaining, personal, and didn't let my hypothetical questions distract him. Start by enjoying Part 1 and follow the link to Part 2 from there. Or if you're a weirdo, go ahead and start with Part 2.

The picture above I stole from the Total Wine Facebook page. The post there was so popular that Greg tried to "friend" my FB "stalker" account. Don't hold your breath, Greg!

Anyway, I've also recently decided that Bourbon is my favorite. And if you don't believe me, this is what I'm up against at my house right now. Two empties of Woodford Reserve, a sad day in South Florida. I'm saving up for the 1.75 L big bottle now--a very impressive piece it is!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Grand Marnier Quintessence

Today I decided to take another small taste of Grand Marnier Quintessence. About a year ago, I was fortunate enough to receive and first try a sample of this fabulous spirit. Since I rationed then, there was still enough to write another review and article here on this site.

I only have photos of the beverage since the sample bottle is not really meaningful. I did copy the media photo from the Grand Marnier website so you can get an idea as to how the $900 bottle is packaged. Yeah, I know, pricey! And that bottle comes in a mirrored display case as well. The presentation really is quite beautiful, and even moreso in person. Look for yourself at your local liquor store.

Quintessence is a blend of the finest cognacs that the Marnier-Lapostolle family has in their private collection, one dating all the way to 1906. That cognac blend is then further blended with the famous orange essence which has been double distilled. Finally, that combination is aged and becomes one during an oak barrel maturation.

Beautiful orange aroma jumps out of the glass, clean, floral. Add some sweet honey and a sharp rind contrast, just spectacular. I bet you'd criticize me if I said it smells like butterflies and sunshine... but then you'd be wrong.

Wowsa! So spectacular, the flavors. Oranges and baked goods meet spices and violets. This gem feels great in the mouth, covering the palate entirely and making it tingle. My taste buds are very happy right now. Intense and delicate at the same time. Candied orange rinds bring sweet and bitter together. Lovely fruit flavors. An excellent finish and warmth in the chest are how you will remember this, and those violet flavors last on and on and on.

Considering the price tag, doing this frequently is impossible, but what a terrific little nip I just had! Quintessence is definitely the spirit that will make you switch!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Original Bauer's Obstler

Today... My first Obstler. "Obst" means fruit, and an obstler is a fruit brandy. I'm trying the award-winning Original Bauer's Obstler made by Nannerl (Google Chrome is happy to translate for you) in Austria. This sample was provided to me by their US importer Wein-Bauer. I was told that the Bauer in this obstler name is the same Bauer as in Wein-Bauer.

My 1 L bottle has a swing-style cork attached. The label is very simple yet clean looking with a small colored contrast of an apple and pear. This obstler is made from a 70% apple and 30% pear blend. 40% alcohol.

Great pear and apple aroma. The website description suggesting a custard-like aroma is perfect. Think also of freshly-made doughnuts.

Wow. I wasn't quite expecting the initial sharpness on the palate. I guess I will attribute that to an aroma that was very much a fruity lullaby. Wonderful fruit flavors, apples and pears unsurprisingly are dominant. This is extremely dry as well.

The alcohol certainly provides some heat in the chest along with some spicy peppery jabs at the palate. Great texture. The violet and flowery aftertaste is quite pleasant. Check it out, perhaps as an after-dinner brandy as suggested by the company.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Bohemia Old-Fashioned Cocktail

My wife left for a vacation with her mother and cousin in Lisbon and Budapest a little while ago. I decided to take the opportunity to prepare the Bohemia Old-Fashioned cocktail recipe, a twist on the classic drink created by Chef Rick Bayless using Bohemia beer. Rick is of course an author and owner of the award-winning Mexican restaurant Frontera Grill in Chicago. Besides this cocktail, he's also created dozens of other recipes using Bohemia Clasica.

Below is the recipe from his website. I kept mine on the sour end and used the equivalent of what 2 tablespoons of sugar would be here. For bourbon, I used the fabulous Woodford Reserve. This bottle of Bohemia and actually the idea to pursue this recipe was provided to me by their agency. If you're interested in seeing what I think about the beer alone, well that exists too! Finally, I didn't rush out to buy maraschino cherries for a garnish. I just used red seedless grapes.

Serves 4
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons superfine sugar to taste
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • Ice cubes
  • 1 to 2 cups Bohemia beer
  • Maraschino cherries for garnish
  1. Mix lime juice and sugar in small pitcher until sugar dissolves. Stir in bourbon and chill until needed.
  2. Fill 4 short “rocks” glasses with ice. Top each with ¼ of the bourbon mixture. Fill the glasses the rest of the way with Bohemia. Garnish with maraschino cherries.

I found out I'm not very good at juicing limes and in fact did squirt some right into my eye. That was the only mishap though. What a nice drink! Refreshingly bitter with small nibbles of sweetness here and there. Of course the lime really is acidic and a little biting. The bourbon stands out on its own as well, also offering a little sweet relief. And the Bohemia showed some of its grainy characteristics in addition to the nice carbonation. The grape garnish worked well--three crunchy sweet pauses in what turned out to be a fairly bitter drink. Next time I might go a little further with the sugar, perhaps to three tablespoons.

What do you think of my pictures? Better than the professional ones? And let me fill you in on a little secret--it was raining on me when I took them. Check this cocktail out!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Camus Extra Elegance

Now on to a most excellent Cognac, one that was instrumental in making me start this website. Along with Camus Vintage 1971, this Camus Extra Elegance is one of the most fantastic Cognacs I've ever tasted. But how did a beer guy get to try some of the most exclusive Cognacs available? Excellent question. I was on the same day that Camus' Alexandra Albu made her appearance. The rest, as they say, is history!

Alex was also nice enough to provide this sample for today's solo tasting too. Since the sample was not in its original beautiful glass bottle, a piece of artwork in itself, I don't have many new photos. But the ones I do have from my original tasting are pretty good. *Hint* Maybe when Alex empties another bottle, she'll pass it on to me, either the 700 mL 1.75 L bottle.

The bottle design is quite elegant, even winning industry awards and being copied by other brands. And the 1.75 L bottle in the cradle is very much a show piece! Retail is around $350 for the 700 mL bottle and $1200 for the big boy, both presented with excellent packaging as well.

Camus Extra Elegance is a blend of eaux de vie from Borderies, Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne regions of Cognac, aged for an average of 50 years! This Cognac has won Gold in the 2010 World Spirts Competition and Platinum in the 2007 Pentawards Luxury Category.

Fruity and perfumy aroma which hints a little bit of nuttiness. Soft yet fulfilling and worthy of lengthy smelling enjoyment. Dried violet flavors explode all over the mouth, first sip, with the alcohol really helping deliver that experience.

Just letting a little bit sit in your mouth is outstanding. Fresh baked goods followed by apple and peach and mango flavors, even with a touch of fruit preserves sweetness. A dose of spicy flavors adds complexity and balance.

Texture like silk. Fantastic luscious smoothness. The spirit that will make you switch? It was one of them, for me!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Appleton Estate Bartender Challenge 2012: Miami Semifinal

Last night I attended the Miami semifinal of the Appleton Estate Bartender Challenge that took place at The Blackbird Ordinary. The "Remixology" event was one of four nationally, with the winner going to the New York final in a few weeks. Five bartenders were challenged to take some musical inspiration to name and create a unique cocktail using Appleton Reserve Rum. Here is a list of their creations and some rationale as to why they chose a particular song.

My date for the night was Ed Roberts. When we arrived 20 minutes before the start, we just walked in and blended with everyone as they were setting up for showtime: cameramen, DJ, servers, bartenders, etc. I even bumped into my friend Becky who was working as one of the Appleton Girls. No one knew who we were and since we were not in the way, no one asked why we were there. Even the hostess never asked our names to compare to the guest list. We obviously fit in. LOL.

A little before it started, one of the servers showed up with his Parrot. I'm pretty sure it's not a parrot, so please correct me when you see the picture. But I got to hold it on my arm and it even talked to me. Very cool.

Once the event began, bartenders from Blackbird Ordinary started preparing the cocktails that the contestants were about to make for the competition. They were stationed around the bar in different locations. We started with Hot Buttered Buns and worked our way around, trying each throughout the evening.

Once everyone else arrived casually late, the competitors were introduced and the competition began. There were two rounds (so that's two drinks that each prepared for you mathematically challenged). The bartenders had costumes, props, support actors, a theme and of course the music that they were inspired by when creating their drink recipes.

Cricket Nelson shocked everyone by dropping panties in front of each of the judges before they even knew what was going on. I got hit with a pair of red ones when she tossed them into the crowd. Yeah, we had front row action! I think Ed is still explaining the whole thing to his wife since he took them home with him.

The panties theme was explained when Erykah Badu's Annie Don't Wear No Panties started playing. Then we watched Cricket prepare her Hot Buttered Buns. I mentioned it was the first we tried. The nutmeg on the top was very powerful smelling and tasting. It was a sweet, creamy dessert cocktail with a noticeable amount of rum flavor. One of my favorites of the evening.

Ben Clemons next created Big Woo, yes, named after that movie volcano. I don't remember much about the drink. I noted that it tasted a lot of vanilla and rum, not necessarily a bad thing. What I did remember was when Ben used the 151 Rum to blow fire from his mouth. Pretty good start, and we got a rum shower from it as well.

Nick Nistico then came out to the Beastie Boys' Sabotage. He was dressed with a big bandana, long fake hair and a fake mustache (that wouldn't stay on). Oh yeah, and a giant gold chain around his neck. He made Flip The Script for the judges, which turned out to be another of my favorites. Sweet melon, really enhanced the rum and you could taste a lot of flavor from the quail egg in the drink. Not sure what the hell he was talking about, but he ended with, "Natty Ice. Game Over."

Richie Petronzi then made his version of an Old Fashioned called Die Die My Darling, inspired by Michael Buble's cover of Mack The Knife. This turned out to be the best drink of the night for me, and Ed also felt the same way. Great flavors, nice rum and refreshment.

Finally, Rob Ferrara made The Notorious P.U.N.C.H. The song inspiration name was Juicy (so I was told) by The Notorius B.I.G. (which I was also told). That's right. I'm not as cool as you think I am and didn't know the song. I did think the rationale for song and name was probably the best of the night. Biggie is part Jamaican, perfect for a Jamaican rum. He used orange juice to go with the Juicy name, and he said Biggie = Brooklyn, so he used Brooklyn Brown Ale in his recipe.

After a break, Round 2 began. The audience didn't get to try these drinks. But the theatrics were definitely still there. Lots of dancing, joke making, one dude handed out 40's of Olde English 800 to match his theme, one guy said "fuck" about 800 times in his post-cocktail-making presentation. It was all good.

In the end, Ben Clemons (yeah, I originally said Richie Petronzi; must have been the squirrel hat Ben was disguised in during Round 2 that threw me, LOL; anyway, I confirmed with the Appleton communications agency that Ben won) was declared the champion. He drank Appleton Reserve from a giant silver trophy bowl and made a speech. Ed and I dreamed Richie won since he created our favorite cocktail of the evening, but all of the competitors were awesome and worthy. Good luck in New York, Ben!

Everyone had an obvious good time. Over the course of the evening, I got my picture taken with a few of the contestants, bumped into the famous rum guy Robert Burr, and hung out with James and Annette from Soul of Miami. I'll be doing a shorter recap there in a little bit, but with more pictures, so check it out!

Thanks to Appleton Estate for the invitation, and I hope to be invited back next year or sooner.