Firstly may I apologise for the length of time between updates, but as it has been ‘Bourbon Heritage Month’ I felt I should dedicate myself to promoting this fine spirit in various countries across Europe! Last month I shared with you a few things that everyone should know about Bourbon, so it seems only right to share some of the Bourbons I enjoy drinking. To be honest, for me narrowing it down to just 11 has been challenging as there are over 80 Bourbons in the b&t drinking room at the moment. Of those 80, I’m pretty sure there isn’t a bottle that hasn’t been opened, and most of them get enjoyed on a regular basis.
In tackling this task, I considered breaking them up into different styles to make sure that Bourbons with high rye, corn or wheat recipes were well represented, but somehow that didn’t balance out, as I tend to be a little biased towards rye heavy Bourbons. Then I tried breaking them down by distillery, but there are just too many distilleries! Doing it by price seemed like a reasonable course, but once again I didn’t find the balance I was looking for, so instead I have done something a little less formulaic. Below you will simply find a selection of Bourbons that I like, with a description, and a cocktail for each. There is everything from super premium to entry level Bourbon, some made with wheat some with rye. There are lots of Kentucky Bourbons, but also a few from newer distilleries in other parts of the US. The main thing that they all have in common is that they’re tasty examples of this fine and versatile spirit.
There are invitations, and then there are invitations! When Jim Meehan of New York’s famous PDT bar, asked me if I might consider being involved in an event at Tales of the Cocktail this year, of course it got my attention. When he explained the event and listed the people involved in the project, it became the sort of invitation you simply can’t say no to. A group of bar luminaries coming together to honour the work of a bartending legend, in a unique and compelling way is hard to resist. Make the setting for this event in New Orleans on the Mississippi river, and get four fantastic brands involved and there was no way I could say no!
Colin Asare-Appiah, decided that it was about time someone paid homage to Tom Bullock, the first African American to release a cocktail book, back in 1917. If you don’t recognise the name, there’s more information below about why he remains an important historical figure in the world of bartending. Anyway, while he seldom gets the spotlight, making way instead for the likes of Jerry Thomas, Harry Craddock and Harry Johnson, his book, The Ideal Bartender, has done more to record the history of pre-prohibition cocktails than any other I can think of. So the idea of building an event around this character from our cocktail past was instantly appealing, but the method for doing so needed to be something special.
But first more about the man himself, Mr Tom Bullock…
I read an interesting article the other day on the Los Angeles Times website, about how clear spirits are the trend in Southern California at the moment. The article talks about ‘light drinks for sunny days, meant to refresh’ and goes on to say that ‘clear spirits often get the job done better than the dark stuff’. While I totally agree with much of what the article says, especially about treating these clear spirits with a delicate touch to stop them from being overpowered by other ingredients, it also got me thinking about how we often unfairly compartmentalise spirits to be for a certain occasion or time of year. So below are a few thoughts I have about not forgetting ‘the dark stuff’ when it comes to summer drinking.
I should start by saying that I love white Rum, Gin, blanco Tequila, and am even slowly growing fonder of Vodka. But having said that I’m often drawn to the complexities of dark spirits as a base for cocktails as well as for sipping neat. When the sun is shining I’ll admit that a Daiquiri, Margarita or Caipirinha are great thirst quenchers, or that a refreshing Collins can be hard to beat. But likewise there are some pretty amazing dark spirit drinks that fulfil the same role for me. A Mai Tai, Mint Julep or even a Whiskey Sour are pretty remarkable summertime cocktails.
There’s a lot of colourful, descriptive and evocative language used when describing spirits, and while the imagery called to mind can make a spirit sound inviting, the descriptions themselves can sometimes be a bit over-the-top. Generally the language used to describe a spirits aroma, flavour and mouth-feel isn’t quite as elaborate as with wine tasting (can you really smell the fresh dew on a dandelion petal in the morning sunlight?) but to someone who’s new to smelling and tasting spirits, it can still be intimidating.
To a lot of people bourbon smells like whiskey, gin smells a bit piney and vodka smells like alcohol, so when they read that they should be smelling dried apricot, pencil shavings and vanilla fudge, they wonder if they're doing something wrong. So I thought I’d take a look at the language we use to describe the effect alcohol has on our senses and the way we approach identifying the characteristics of different spirits. Take this as a beginners guide to the language of tasting spirits, if you will.
Usually the b&t blog is written by Dan, but today I’m pushing him to one side and taking my turn in the spotlight. The reason for this is simple; we wanted to write about Four Roses but as many of you will know Dan works for the brand as an ambassador, and so I felt that he might be biased on this particular subject! We try never to blur the line between our personal writing and the brand that Dan works for, but when we found out the Master Distiller from Four Roses was coming to the Uk and bringing a new bourbon with him, we knew we had to share it with you.
I am a big fan of bourbon; some I love simply because they’re easily enjoyed and are sympathetic to my female palate, no matter the serve. Others because their aroma transports me back to precise moment in time; a hot, sweet rick house in Kentucky, a September evening with wood smoke and blankets. Sometimes a bourbon manages both and in fact this week I tasted a limited edition that I knew I would like, but also (rather unexpectedly) instantly reminded me of the first time that I ever tried a whiskey straight out of the barrel.
This week I am feeling pretty lucky. You see Jim Rutledge, the Master Distiller from Four Roses is over in the UK and I have been invited to tag along with him as he does various events and trainings in bars across London, Leeds and Glasgow. He's here in the UK to kick start the new focus that Four Roses has on the UK market, since teaming up with InSpirit. So as we reach the half way point in Jim's stay I thought it only right to share some Jim's teachings and insight with those who've not been able to meet him in person.
I thought I would pick one day during his visit and share my notes from his training sessions as they panned out across the day... I guess I had better start with the bourbon Breakfast. That's right, you heard me, bourbon Breakfast!
Yesterday started with a small group of us meeting Jim for breakfast at Smith's of Smithfield as a chance for a few industry bods to get to know him in a fairly relaxed setting. It was only a matter of time before someone suggested that we 'just quickly run through the range' (while tucking into a full English fry up of epic proportions). I should state for the record that it's not my usual practice to have neat bourbon with my breakfast... but actually it did go really well with the bacon! So Jim kindly obliged by giving us a brief run through of the three products in the Four Roses range, Yellow Label, Small Batch and Single Barrel. He also talked a little about the history of Four Roses and how it has arrived at this point in time: its rejuvination.
Well we made it through RumFest (just!) which was once again a great show. I have to say I really love the fact that it is the one event here in London that has some real life to it. I think that everyone there was shocked at how great the turnout was and how many people both in the trade and consumers are really passionate about rum!
But enough about rum, I have a few other things on my mind at the moment so if you will indulge me once again, I am going to talk a bit about bourbon, a bit about homemade ingredients, a bit about autumn and winter flavours (again) and a bit about garnishes.
I’m going to start with garnishes because I feel the need for a short sharp rant. Talking to American bartenders and friends in Canada there seems to be a dislike of garnishes by consumers over the other side of the pond. To my mind though a relevant garnish can take a good cocktail and elevate it into a drinking experience.
So what makes a visit to an Area of Outstanding Alcoholic Significance (AOAS) an exceptional experience? Why would you want to give up your precious holiday time for a busman’s holiday? Would it really be worth your time to travel half way around the world to have a booze related holiday?
I guess for me the answer depends on how seriously you take your interest in spirits. If you are a bartender who likes to party hard then visiting a small city with a small nightlife may not be your scene. If you are a cocktail snob, then visiting the places where drinks were once made famous can be a disappointment when you realise their glory days are long since over. If however you are willing to invest a little time to meet a few interesting characters and can have an open mind about learning a thing or two about your favourite spirit, then the idea of visiting an AOAS might not be so crazy!
With Tales over, hangovers recovered from and New Orleans left as a distant memory in the rearview mirror, we have finally made it into the heart of American Whiskey country. As we drove from New Orleans the countryside slowly changed from monotonous swampland (how and why anyone settled this area is a mystery to me) to heavily forested flatlands, to wooded hills and finally to more open farming land with rolling hills stretching as far as the eye can see.
Our original plan was to hit Kentucky and do ‘the bourbon trail’ but someone told us that we might be pleasantly surprised if we stopped in at Lynchburg to check out Jack Daniel’s. So that’s where we find ourselves on a hot and sunny Tennessee afternoon. After a quick pit stop in town for a bite to eat at the bbq caboose (if you get there try the pulled pork sandwich!) and to stretch our legs it’s up the road to the main attraction.