Dinners with special wine pairings have always been a treat, but I hadn't ever paired bourbons with food. This event was held at Cafe Felix, and we learned that it was the third in a whiskey dinner series that the organizer, Jude, hopes to make a regular event. We will absolutely be at his next whiskey dinner.
Course 1: Buffalo Trace White Dog Mash #1 (pictured)
Paired with: Warm camembert
Course 2: Buffalo Trace Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Paired with: Roasted chicken thigh
Course 3: Old Fitzgerald Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Paired with: Braised Short Rib
Course 4: Grass Widow Madeira Barrique Reserve
Paired with: Pear Napoleon
The list was exciting to me for a few reasons. Our host put some thought into the selections, clearly. As you know, a bourbon mash bill (recipe) must consist of at least 51% corn, which tends to give it a pleasing sweetness. Before this night, I hadn't ever tasted the distillate before aging. The course 1 Buffalo Trace White Dog solved that. Immediately after, we had the aged, finished product, Buffalo Trace, heavy in corn. Next came a bourbon heavy on wheat, which is pretty neutral as far as flavor goes: Old Fitzgerald. Think of tasting a corn tortilla and a wheat flour one. They're pretty different and the corn one has a lot more flavor, right? Same with these bourbons. We ended the evening with a bourbon heavy in rye: Grass Widow. As you might guess if you have tasted rye bread, this one was spicier than the others. It went perfectly with the sweet dessert course.
Next came the Buffalo Trace as an aged bourbon - as you would normally find it on the shelf. Tasting the first two back to back really highlighted what aging in barrels does to the distillate. It makes a difference, people. The complex wood and fruity flavors that I adore in bourbon were present.
The Old Fitzgerald was a new pour for me. Because of the heavy wheat content, it was extremely smooth. This would be very easy to drink neat, even for an inexperienced bourbon drinker. I thought it would be quite nice in a cocktail.
Last was the Grass Widow. Ok, folks, I was suspicious of this one. It's manufactured by Two James Distillery. In DETROIT! Right?? I'm pretty partial to Kentucky bourbons, and have often said it's not real bourbon unless it comes from Kentucky (yes, I am aware that is not the legal definition, but it's mine). Guess what? It's was pretty darn good. Sweet, rich, and spicy. I even tasted licorice, though my palate isn't the greatest. I enjoyed it so much that the next time I went out to a bar, I ordered an Old Fashioned made with it, thinking the sweet and spicy would marry well together - it rocked. One thing I'm learning about bourbon? The more you taste, the more you change your mind about what you like.
And there you have it - a successful date night out! We met a lovely couple at the event as well, which is always a plus. Like I said, we will be sure to make it to the next whiskey dinner at Cafe Felix.
**One little sidebar about the glassware; I've not seen these sort of glasses pictured before. Captain Dominic at Tippins has trained me to want to drink bourbon from a bowled glass - ideally a Glencairn glass. (Yes, I'm giggling thinking about the Pavlov dog experiment, too, though he trained me by sending articles about "nosing" drinks and about various glassware.) He really, really believes that smell is a huge part of the enjoyment of a drink. In order to properly nose the liquor, he says, you need a proper glass. More on that in a future post, so stay tuned!