Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Belligerent Me

I love this. Write drunk, edit sober. At first when I read it, I laughed and decided it was good advice. Then I thought about it a bit more and realized drunk and sober need not be literal, but that it's smart to keep in mind that changing your mind, taking another look at things, can be good for you.

And so that's what I've been doing lately with whiskey.

Yesterday a friend said that I amused her, even when I'm belligerent. Perfect, I thought! Belligerent!! Nobody had ever said that to me before, though I'm sure people have thought it. I do like a good bit of verbal sparring. Yet, I sometimes think I'm not taken seriously because I tend to be nice and thoughtful and stuff. So, because I was in a mood, "BELLIGERENT" was a badge of honor.

One thing I have learned while pursuing my love of the verbal fight is that you can always learn something from it. Sometimes a fresh idea is presented by your adversary. Sometimes you just learn that you'll need to dumb it down next time. ;)  And so, in this spirit of doing things someone else's way, just to try it, I mixed up the way I drink my favorite evening pours.

First off, as you know, I prefer drinking whiskey neat. Period. No ice, no mixers, no pop (for crying out loud, people!). You do it that way if you like, but not me. However, there a certain times when I think a cocktail sounds nice. I've got three go-to cocktails for bourbon and rye: sazerac, old fashioned, manhattan. And tonight, I'm trying a hot toddy.

I make the best sazerac I've ever had, save the ones my cousin makes. He's the one who taught me. Ohmygosh delicious. I could drink them all day if only I could hold that much alcohol. So I wasn't going to mess with that.

Lesson learned: Nothing. 

But a manhattan. Dominic the amazing loves them and thinks liking them is as easy as liking rainbows and unicorns. (Seriously. That's what he said.) I wasn't convinced, so I tried doing it differently. I tried it with different ryes, with different bourbons, classic, perfect, orange bitters, chocolate bitters, plain old angostura bitters. I don't like them. I don't like them so much I didn't finish them. I'm blaming the sweet vermouth. I like everything else in them. I made sure I shook my bitters and bought nice vermouths. My husband enjoyed those experiments, because he ended up drinking most of it. I have yet to try one with all dry vermouth. Maybe that will be good. I do like a dry martini. We'll see.

Lesson learned: I don't have to like them just because everyone else does. Also, I don't like sweet vermouth.

On to old fashioneds. I had been making them with simple syrup because, well, it's easy. Dominic kept telling me to use a sugar cube! (Yes, it felt like he said it with an exclamation point.) Ok, ok, I tried it. He is right! I muddled the sugar cube with the bitters, added in the orange slice and muddled a bit, then the bourbon or rye and poured over ice. Topped with a cherry. Delicious! As the ice melts and the sugar dissolves, it changes a bit and I liked it a lot. It's been very, very cold here where I live the past several days, but I've had a chance to enjoy my old fashioneds.

Lesson learned: I like it when the flavors change in a drink as I sip it. Trying a new way to make a cocktail can produce a better result. 

Tonight's hot toddy is inspired by the cold. Honestly, I feel like I'm drinking cough syrup. We've got whiskey, honey, lemon juice and hot water. ::schrunched up nose:: I've had one made at Zingerman's Roadhouse before and it was so delicious. They must have fancied it up more than this one. I'm not sure I'll finish it. (I did.)

Lesson learned: If it sounds like a cough remedy, it will taste like one.

So I took another look, tried things a new way. I learned that I still prefer neat, but that I can enjoy a fantabulous self made old fashioned for a twist sometimes. Yay! Very fun.

Write drunk, edit sober. I always write, read over a couple times and then immediately post. ::shrug:: I'm too impatient to wait. ;) Do I listen to my own advice, apply it everywhere? No. I'm BELLIGERENT. Haha!

Cheers everyone!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Bourbon Date Night

A couple of weeks ago, I took my husband on a date to a bourbon tasting and dinner. I'm converting him from a beer lover to a bourbon guy. After years of his being a dedicated brewer and beer drinker, I'm swaying him. I can be convincing. Then again, the bourbons themselves are pretty convincing.

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.

The lineup:

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.

So we began. The white dog scared me, even as I eagerly anticipated tasting it. I assumed it would be like white fire in my mouth. It's how the early whiskey makers drank it, right off the still. Surprisingly, it was quite sweet! I enjoyed it very much; it was smooth and, while it lacked the complex flavors of an aged product, was easily drinkable. Paired with the cheese, it was delicious.

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.

Cheers, peeps!!

**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! 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Relationships and Bourbon

If you thought this was going to be about romantic relationships, sorry to disappoint you. There is no way I'm going on record with advice in that regard. Yikes! I do, however, have a bit of advice about building relationships with your local liquor store buyer, local whiskey groups, and even national groups.

As I've said before, I'm sort of a newbie bourbonista. I love the stuff, and am learning about it rather quickly, but not without loads of help. You guessed it, I've got a bourbon sensei, Dominic from Tippins Market, or, as I like to call him, Captain Dominic. It really wasn't too hard to strike up a friendship with him. This is how I did it, step by step:

1. I didn't try to.

2. I liked bourbon, and chose to shop at Tippins for it because they have a great selection.

3. Every time I went in, I decided to try something new - and asked tons of questions. After all, there are so many bourbons to choose from! All of the Tippins guys were very knowledgeable about the products and helped me pick some great whiskeys.

4. After peppering them with questions, Dominic noticed that I came in fairly regularly and was adventurous about trying new things. He asked if I'd like to get a call when some of the expected barrel selections came in. Um...yes!!

5. I tried every barrel Tippins bought.

Bingo! I'd made a friend by this time. Captain is very good at remembering what I bought the last time and always asks me what I think when I come in the next time. He says he believes in bourbon karma, which amuses me, and would give me samples of things he thought I'd like. Smart move - I wanted all of them. 

It's been fun knowing him - and the other great people who work there - because I always get the hot tips on what's coming in, what's coming to Michigan, and Dominic sends me endless articles to read so I can learn more. He has hooked me up with a few national and local bourbon groups. Through them I have learned even more. 

What might interest you most is this - not only do I have this great friend, but the reason I have been able to get my hands on Pappy 20, Four Roses 125, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, and Angels Envy Rye aged in Carribean Rum Casks in the past few months - without even trying - is because of this relationship.  Dominic has just let me know what's coming and asks if I want it. He has offered me other things that I haven't been able to buy because, well, I'm not rich. I can't have everything.

People come in to the store who are far more knowledgeable than I to buy bourbon. People also come in who have heard of Pappy, for example, and want to buy it. Well, the truth is that unless you're nice, you might not get those rarer bottles you want. 

Recall that I said I wasn't trying to get an "in" when I shopped there. I sincerely wanted to learn more. I think I'm pretty friendly and I always try to be kind to people. Certainly I'm not going to act like I know more about the products than the people who buy and sell them. And I make sure to say thank you. I thanked Dominic for the Pappy 20 and Four Roses 125 with samples of each. Karma? Perhaps. :)

Another way to get to try some of the hard to find pours is to make friends with someone in a whiskey group, like the ones I mentioned I've joined on Facebook. Plenty of people love talking bourbon and get to chatting about their collections. Next thing you know, they're meeting up to trade samples or taste them together. Win win!!

Cheers until next time! Remember bourbon peeps - be nice. It just might pay off!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

I have to get something off my chest

Clearly, I love bourbon. I've *missed* writing about it over winter break, but alas, it was a busy time around here. Back to it. And it's just in time, because I have to get something off my chest.

As a bourbon lover and friend of Dominic, the amazing Tippins Market guy, I've joined several Facebook groups whose purpose is to discuss bourbons and other whiskeys. Most of the folks in the groups are great; they are very knowledgeable and readily share their experiences, likes, dislikes, and are in the groups to meet other bourbon obsessed people. Lots of the people are members of several of the groups, as I am. These groups have been a fantastic way for me to learn, as a relatively new bourbonista. However, there are a couple of irritating sorts and one kind of poster in particular bugs me. This guy:

I know the right way to own bourbon. You are not doing it the way I would, so you are violating the rules and I will make you pay.

A guy in one of these groups posted a pic of a bottle he was really excited to own, but felt a bit intimidated drinking it, since it's a sought after bottle. He thought it was disrespectful to not drink it. I told him to do what he wanted. It's HIS. I'm also of the opinion that you cannot disrespect a bottle of liquor. It doesn't care. 

Several people were teasing and saying to sell it to them, or that they'd come help him decide. Then one jerk pipes up and tells him that he didn't have any business owning the bottle if he didn't know what to do with it, basically. Really? 

Now, I also am of the mind that there is no reason to hoard and stockpile liquor. I have a few bottles I am really excited about in my house and a couple that are pretty rare. The rare ones? They're opened. But that's just me. There are plenty of people who collect. Just because I don't understand collecting anything doesn't mean those people aren't allowed to do it. Goodness.

It's not so much the "should I drink it or not" problem that bothers me. It's that the "you have no business owning that" guy thinks he is some kind of bourbon authority and that he sets the rules. Sorry, there are no rules.

Enjoy your bourbon how you like. If you want to add ginger ale to your very rare bourbon, go ahead. It seems fairly obvious to me that the makers of these fine spirits want the owner to enjoy them. So go ahead and do it your way.

(Please do not tell me if you add ginger ale to your very rare bourbon. I might cry. But if you liked it, good for you!)