Friday, April 30, 2010

Nat Sherman TDG-91 ('02) - Friday, Apr. 30th

Ok, I'm totally not dead. I'm just realllly busy. Sorry about the D-Day fiasco. In a similar vein to Afroman, I was gonna do reviews...

But then I got drunk. Da da da.

Really. We did well in the case race (technically we won because the team that finished before us had an extra person) so that was cool. I then hung out with a friend for a bit and drank a few more beers, then cider. Next thing I know I fall asleep at 8pm and wake up at 2am hungry and hungover. I ate some canned fish (yeah, I love canned fish) and then went back to sleep. So no reviews. However, due to recent opening in my schedule I was able to fit in some quality study time. By study time, I mean I smoked a cigar and read a beer magazine on this fantastic day. The smoke today was a Nat Sherman TDG-91. You won't find this on Cigars International or even at Uptown Cigar, no. It's actually short production rolls available only at the Nat Sherman store in NYC. When I stopped in to see Lindsay (The Cigar Chick) I couldn't resist the allure of hard to obtain smokes from finely aged tobaccos. Who can? Here's the cigar, a beauty:

Om nom nom.


Prelight was nothing special. Mostly just tobacco with a hint of a stout-like flavor.

First quarter was very nice. Heavy on the nuts (pecan or brazil nuts) and some delicious spice, mainly cinnamon. Since it was a perfecto and it's a slightly windy day I was worried about the burn post-light but it burned smooth and clean. Towards the middle of the cigar it kinda looked like a pencil. A delicious pencil.

Halfway the cinnamon and nuts fled to reveal a simpler, less complex cigar. It was all leather, tea, and clean tobacco. Nothing more, nothing less. Burn was still razor sharp at this point, even with the wind. No touch-ups required.

About 3/4th it started getting bitter and rough. It was a pretty chaotic flavor profile but none of them were that great. It just started getting harsh and the wrapper started splitting which I found odd considering it was doing so well up until that point. We then hit the Spolverino's Conundrum.

Spolverino's Conundrum has to do with lighters. I love fire but I'm forgetful. I tend to lose things easily, especially lighters over $2. If it's worth about $2.01 then I lose it as soon as I fill it for the first time. Ask Pat. The first trip to Habana Premium in Albany, I left a Ronson Jetlite that I had taken out of the package and filled in his car. I'm terrible at this. Unfortunately, all the lighters appropriate for the average windspeeds of Rochester (which is about 10 miles an hour) cost more than that because they need to be the equivalent o a cigar smoking blowtorch (most actually are). So, as soon as I get a lighter I need up here, I lose it and I get stuck using a Bic in these hellish winds. And the same problem happened today but I don't mind because it proves not just my dedication to reviewing but my tenacity as a smoker. While touching up the Nat shortly after it went south the wind decided to pull a "screw you" and shift direction suddenly, blowing Bic flame onto my exposed thumb. My thumb promptly said "OH SHIT" and blistered. That's right. I got a second degree burn and kept smoking. It hurt like a son of a bitch but I owed it to the Nat Sherman brand to keep on going. So I did, even though it wasn't that great past that point.

My opinion on this one is it's "meh". It's mild-medium to me and it lacks depth/complexity. It's not a terrible smoke but it's not one I'd reach for time and time again. I think it wasn't too expensive in NY terms (about $8-$9 so probably $6ish most other places) so it's not too big of a gamble to try one if you're ever down in the city. Tell Lindsay I sent you though! Maybe I can get some sort of referral cigar plan going or something.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dandelion Day Devilish Drinking Derby

I was going to do this post last Saturday but you know how things go. You get busy. Work piles up. You get drunk and pass out shamefully early. The trials and tribulations of life never cease to amaze me. Anyhow, I'd just like to give you a run-down of what's happening this Saturday, April 24th, 2010.

University of Rochester heralds in the epic day known as Dandelion Day. A tradition since the school's inception in 1850, it is a day of merriment and mirth. The school brings in rides and food vendors, sponsors dinners and events, and even has a dj. Or, in this case, Ok Go is playing on campus.

We also get shithouse drunk.

This last bulletin is important. It is the one day of the year where it's not just socially acceptable but required that you fill a travel mug with rum and coke and take a shower with it at 8:30 in the morning. Dandelion Day is solely dedicated to getting absolutely hammered. It is the last Saturday before finals so it's a rather welcome celebration, frankly. In the spirit of the festivities, I will also be getting drunk. But in a rather unique and slightly anti-social way. After the Case Race I have to attend (damn it, it's Chemical Engineers against Biomedical Engineers, our bane) I will go on a fabulous drinking derby of epic proportions. I really do have a lot of beverages to review before I leave and I can't take them home so I'm going to do constant reviews every time I pop open something new. All day. I'll post links on my Twitter and such with the hashtag #DDD (Devilish Drinking Derby) which is a ludicrous amount of D's and, after a few drinks, I may forget a few. You're welcome to belly up to the bar and join me in this liver-punishing extravaganza. Just don't drive.

Also, you should check out this month's edition of Mutineer Magazine. Might be a familiar name or some-such in the "Happenings" section.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bourbon and Blues Pairings - Thursday, Apr. 15th

As (hopefully) you know by now, I am hopelessly infatuated with the Blues. On Christmas Eve last year, when families would be listening to "Deck The Halls" and wrapping presents, I spent six hours listening to online blues radio and reading articles on Muddy Waters. That was my Christmas Eve and I regret nothing. You also may have caught the hint about my prodigious love of bourbon as well. One of the things I've always loved was sitting around, drinking good bourbon, and listening to some sweet, sweet blues. Then it hit me: why don't I pair them? Thus, I give you the In With Bacchus Bourbon and Blues Pairing Seminar. Bear in mind that these choices are my personal preference and are subject to debate which I gladly foster. If you've never heard much blues or want more where this came from, just let me know (with your email) and I'll pass along a bunch more Youtube videos for you to enjoy. But, for now, we begin:

Muddy Waters: paired with Elmer T. Lee

Muddy Waters, one of the kings of Chicago Blues and the champion of Chess Records, gets paired with Elmer T. Lee. Both have the "quiet riot" factor to them. Muddy has such songs as Hootchie Cootchie Man and Mannish Boy, both relatively easy-going rollicking Chicago blues but, like the example above, Muddy can really belt out some powerful shit when he wants to. Same with the Elmer T. Lee. The Elmer T. Lee starts off slightly soft and mellow but builds to an unexpected crescendo of power at the end with a hauntingly lingering finish. Perfect fit.

John Lee Hooker: paired with 1792 Ridgemont Reserve

John Lee Hooker is a man with a vast recorded catalog. Completely disregarding the fact that you were only supposed to record with one company at a time, he went ahead and recorded hundreds of songs across multiple records. Hooker was incredibly unconventional in his musical stylings; one of the reasons you rarely hear Hooker with a band is because he didn't stick to traditional musical theory when he played. He kinda adlibbed it. His voice was rough and powerful and his guitar playing, while simple, suited his lyrics and singing better than anything complicated could have. Thus, the 1792 Ridgemont Reserve. What I prefer to call a "barroom brawl in a bottle", it has potency and a grittiness to it, complemented with an mellow simplicity to it. 

Bobby "Blue" Bland: paired with Buffalo Trace

Bobby "Blue" Bland didn't sing the blues, he crooned them. His version of "St. James Infirmary" is like blue velvet. I chose Buffalo Trace for the same reason. A deep, flavorful bourbon with a silky smooth and sweet quality to it, it matches Bland's style to the T.

Booker "Bukka" White: paired with Booker's

Name similarities aside, I chose to pair Booker's with Bukka for one simple reason: strength. Bookers, a delicious cask strength monstrosity from the Beam family has sheer alcoholic power on its side but, once you get used to it, its palate really opens up and it is actually a fabulous spirit, undilute. The same goes for Bukka White. His vocal range is limited and he has a gravelly voice that doesn't really sound like it would be make for a pleasant listening experience. But this vocal authority and roughness, once acclimated to, allows the listener to truly experience the breadth of Bukka White's emotions in his songs.

Eric Clapton: paired with Jim Beam Black Label

Eric Clapton is one of the more prominent, widely available "blues" artists. Taking most of his cues from the person next on the list, Robert Johnson, Clapton puts out a variety of revamps of Johnson's songs, along with a collaboration CD with B.B. King. I chose Jim Beam Black Label for the same reason. Black Label isn't bad, has a decent flavor profile, and is widely available. However, in my opinion, there are finer bourbons out there. Same with Clapton. I don't mind his stuff but there are better blues-men out there.

Robert Johnson: paired with Hudson New York Corn Whiskey

Robert Johnson: the legendary blues player. Died at the age of 27, under mysterious circumstances. Historians don't even know which grave is his; there are three to choose from. An enigma to music historians for many years, he has provided backbone to the blues revival by spurring the interest of bands such as Cream/Clapton and Led Zeppelin. His invention of the walking bass-line, now a common theme in blues and in some blues rock, cemented him as not just an unknown but as a solid guitar player. I chose Hudson New York Corn Whiskey because it shares several traits with Johnson. Being a corn based, white dog whiskey it is literally the stepping stone and base to bourbon, much like Johnson was the stepping stone to blues for many. Their whiskey is also sweet and mild but not lacking, like Johnson's voice. And despite this sweetness, it has depth and a potent ABV to back it up. Like the whiskey, the song above has a mellow sound to it but it has a deep, complex, and strong message behind it.

Charlie Patton and Howlin Wolf: paired with Wild Turkey 101

Charlie Patton was the inspiration between Howlin' Wolf. Wolf mimicked Patton's rasp of a voice in his recordings. Both were talented guitarists and no slouches when it came to songwriting. I chose Wild Turkey 101 over the 80 proof because the Wild Turkey 101, I feel, is the far better proof. The whiskey, Patton, and Wolf all have moments where they perform using a lower, softer side but I feel that in all three cases, the higher octane variants are truly the best.

Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee: paired with Blantons

Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee are a blues duo of great repute. With Brownie playing harp and Sonny playing guitar and kazoo (sometimes), their music is definitely delicate and easeful. The same can be said for Blantons. A very easygoing, light spirit that should not be underestimated. Since Blantons is bottled at a healthy 46% it, like Sonny and Brownie, has an intensity that shouldn't be neglected.

Lightnin' Hopkins: paired with Maker's Mark

I chose Maker's Mark over Buffalo Trace for Hopkins solely because of the spice aspect of Maker's Mark. I'm not sure if it's the winter wheat or just the transparency of the rye from the mash bill through the bourbon but the finish on Maker's really has a delicious spice at the end. This pairs well with Lightnin' Hopkins who has the same embellishment on quite a few of his songs.

Son House: paired with Rittenhouse Rye

Son House actually lived in Rochester for about twenty years until his rediscovery in the mid 60s. I chose Rittenhouse Rye due to its tenacity and fire. Like the bourbon, Son House's songs (what few there are) have a beautiful zest and vim to them. The above song is one of my favorites of his and I think it is the best pairing to go with the Rittenhouse.

There you have it. That's just a taste of what I like to do for fun. I may do another one of these because it was fun as hell and I didn't actually get to cover everything that I wanted. So...I guess I'm forced to do another one.

Oh darn.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

13th Annual Stoli and Stogies - Wednesday, Apr. 14h

One of the perks of going home for the Whisky Live New York event was I was at home on the 8th. This may not seem like an important date to you, my fine readers, but to me it certainly was. Uptown Cigar has put on the annual Stoli and Stogies cigar dinner at the Wiltwyck Golf Club for many years now and, through sheer misfortune, I had never been to one. Serious error on my part. Let me paint a picture for you of what this event is:

You pay about $75. Sounds like a lot, right? That's wrong. You're wrong. Try again. You get a dinner buffet of awesome food. You get a dessert buffet. Since it's sponsored by Drew Estates, you get some sweet-ass stogies to smoke during the dinner, which is indoors. Since it's also sponsored by Stolichnaya, you get all you can drink martinis. Let me repeat that last sentence. All. You. Can. Drink. Martinis.


It's literally a buffet of booze. Literally. They came out with huge trays of martinis. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The dinner takes place at the Wiltwyck Golf Club, a very nice place I had never been to before. It's off the beaten path to be certain but from the looks of the place, I'd consider joining. The grounds look awesome and I'm quite partial to golf. In case you hadn't noticed by now, I'm about half Scottish. Nothing makes me happier than drinking while hitting small objects with metal clubs, eating offal, smoking, and then drinking more. I really was in my element at this dinner. Let me illustrate:

That's me on the very right, happier than a pig in shit. I have everything this site is about: booze, cigars, a meal, and good company (Pat is to my left). Look at me. It was bliss. Anyway, we arrived a bit late to the event thanks to Pat being what I call "too stupid to hang up" or what others call "politics". My version of politics is a pair of boxing gloves and a bottle of bourbon after. I think I'd make an awesome politician. At least I'm honest.

We arrive at the club and enter. Big signs on the front of the building stating "The bistro is closed. This venue is smoking permitted Thurs. only" welcome us like a neon sign into Valhalla. Upon entering and checking ourselves in on the guest list, we are presented with our first choice of the night. A pack of cigars was handed to us and we were allowed to choose between either a free cutter or a free hat. I chose a cutter but in retrospect, I kinda wanted one of those Drew Estate army hats. I like hats. The cigar pack was mindblowing to say the least. It had:

1. Tabak Especiale (robusto?)
2. Joya de Nicaragua Dark Corojo Antano (not a favorite fresh so I'm aging it)
3. Liga Privada No. 9 (robusto again?)

Oh, and a little number called The Dirty Rat. I guess it's special or something, I dunno. I threw mine out. It looked gross. I then proceeded to eat salad, not smoke, and drink water the entire time. Then I stopped swearing and became a monk. I'm writing from a monastery right now.

Alright, I laid that on a bit thick. Suffice to say, I nearly passed out from glee upon seeing the Dirty Rat in person. We then went and found a table and sat, clipping our first cigar of the night. Pat and I started with the Tabak Especiale because, to be honest with you, I'm not fond of flavored cigars mostly and if it went out a few times (which it did) while we ate and chatted I didn't want it to be any of the others. Surprisingly, the Tabak really was...not bad. It is made with emulsified coffee and instead of being overbearing like their Javas used to be it's more along the lines of just enhancing the inherent coffee notes in the tobacco anyway. It's actually the cigar I had in my mouth in the earlier picture. It did go out quite a few times though. Isy gave the go ahead on the food so we plowed in. Here was my plate:

That's pork loin, beef short ribs with horseradish, garlic mashed, a roll, some sort of onion salad, couscous, and penne a la vodka. I didn't eat it as much as I inhaled it. It was all very, very good. The best was the penne a la vodka, whose creaminess paired really well with the Tabak. I also got a much needed straight martini, pictured here:

Unfortunately, there wasn't nearly enough vermouth in it so it was pretty much a cold shot of vodka with olives but meh, whatever. I forgot what Stoli was like ever since I did way too much Stoli Razz freshman year of college. It kicks like a mule and has a rough burn. Definitely not something you sip and a bit unrefined for a straight martini. There were other martinis as well: a blueberry-tini, a mochatini, an orangetini (very tasty) and an apple martini. The appletini was the first martini we had and wasn't bad mainly because they used real apple juice instead of that neon green horseshit. Dinner ended and Isy gave a rousing speech, along with a very motivating and inspirational one from Marvin Samel, the co-founder of Drew Estate. There was a toast to the troops in here somewhere (like I said, all you can drink martinis) which was very nice and highly appropriate. Then the raffle started. Just by attending you got a ticket and they raffled off a bunch of cool stuff. First up were some of the crystal ashtrays, then a Drew Estates painting, then the hand-hammered pewter and wood ashtrays made by the Drew Estates Artist Association (well, just their artists but I like this name better). Then there were five packs of a variety of Acids, Ligas, and Tabaks. The piece de resistance was a 40 count humidor from Marvin Samel's private stash. It was created when they first rolled the Liga Privada line out and it held 40 of the first Liga Privadas made. They had been aging in Marvin's humidor since early 2000 so they were particularly succulent. I didn't win anything but it was still awesome. Then the dessert buffet opened and we grabbed more food. Finally, the evening winded down and I got some chatting time with the Drew Estates Crew.

First off, I finally met Dave Lafferty, or Drew_Estate_Dav on Twitter. This funny. We share a kindred sense of humor and let's just say it's not "New Yorker" cartoon quality humor. He is a dirty, dirty man and I could see myself hanging out with him a lot if I actually knew him better. I also got to chat with Marvin a bit and shook hands. Here is a picture of Dave (the tall bastard in the back), Marvin, and myself.

 Dave even gifted me a cigar as well. Such a nice guy. Marvin was great too but I felt bad because obviously United Airlines lost his luggage and hadn't delivered it yet. Marvin, I hope you got your luggage back. I shudder to think that there may be cigars floating around perpetually in airspace limbo. Because, if I was the co-founder of Drew Estates, I wouldn't be packing clothing in a suitcase. Just box after box of Ligas, JdNs, and the Dirty Rats. Like this one:

This event was kick-ass. If you're ever in town when Stoli and Stogies is on, you should go. If you're not, you should fly in and go. That great. So thanks for having me Isy, Michelle, Dennis, Diane, Zoe, Marvin, and Dave. Sweet event, folks.

Side note: If you want to see more pictures, you can go to Uptown Cigar's Facebook Page here and check out the entire album. I think.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Vermont Gold - Monday, Apr. 12th

If you remember my previous foray into the Vermont Spirits line-up, I had a particular unabashed love of the Vermont White and it's creamy goodness in a White Russian. Their other spirit, the maple based Vermont Gold, was a bit harder to quantify in a cocktail setting. I originally tasted it and sat around for about a half hour trying to figure out what cocktail this would fit into. I really couldn't come up with anything other than just neat. To start, here are the notes (and a picture):

Vermont Gold vodka

Nose is rather delicious. Orange peel and, oddly enough, clotted cream. It's a very rich and buttery smell. Some dark chocolate buried deep in there as well. Sweetness too, but a non-descriptive sweetness. A fascinatingly complex aroma.

The taste is faintly maple like and sweet. Very "rich" taste that I really can't describe in words. It's got a beautiful feeling on the palate and is viscous and oily. Has a taste almost like maple sugar sweetened butter. Buttered caramel is a good way to put it, I suppose.

This is a crazy good vodka and I think I like it even better than the White. It has a delicious butterscotch quality that I find absolutely endearing but not fitting to a cocktail, really. I was thinking something along the lines of some of the Vermont Gold, a touch of agave syrup, and a touch of citrus (orange, perhaps as I think lemon/lime would be too intense and overpower the delicate flavor of the vodka). Shake this first to combine the syrup and vodka, then shake with ice. Pour into an old fashioned glass and top with cream soda. I dunno what to call it or if it would be good but if you can come up with a name, put it in the comments.

Anyway, as for Vermont Gold, it's a thumbs up, highly recommended drink for me. It's what a vodka should be: flavorful.

In other news, I have been conditionally accepted to Heriot-Watt University in their Brewing and Distilling Science Program. So, come next September, In With Bacchus will go international. Provided I can come up with $40,000~ish. But, really, minor details.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Saga of Whisky Live NYC 2010

Short story:
1. I met Mark Gillespie of WhiskyCast. We high fived. Life = complete.
2. I met Craig Beam, master distiller of Heaven Hill. He was nice and pours like a true Southern Gentlemen: HUGE POURS.
3. I got to try Glenlivet XXV but the 18 was better.
4. The Bowmore, Park Ave, and Glenlivet people were awesome.
5. I ate a lot of sandwiches.
6. Amtrak sucks.

The complete story:

I am, even after the event is over, still amazed that they gave me a press pass. Let us be honest here, to say I'm a small-time reviewer would be an overstatement. Seventy five hits a day on a site covering as broad a range as this one does typically doesn't warrant a press pass to something like Whisky Live. Hell, I'd be happy if I got into the local fair on a press ticket. But events like the New York Coffee and Tea Festival and, ye gods, Whisky Live? Never imagined it. At all.

So when I got the confirmation email from Jeffery Connell on April 1st...I was skeptical. I had to ask if it was an April Fool's joke. His reply was short and sweet: "Too tired to be playing games. Tell all your friends about the event and I'll see you there".



As I was getting dressed yesterday, I was trying to figure out what to wear. I had a pair of khakis that I had freshly pressed and I had put on a nice shirt. I even tucked it in. Yeah, I was super serial about this. I was worried how I'd look, honestly. I'm small; I don't want to make a bad impression. I certainly didn't want to offend anyone. This event was huge for me, a gateway and a way to put my foot in the door. I mean...go to the website and look at the pour list. I didn't want to offend any of those companies. They're heroically awesome with beverage lists longer than the excuse list of Amtrak (more on that later). Then I realized that it would be appropriate to ditch the khakis and put on jeans. No tucking on the polo. Why? Because that's not me. If there's one thing I've learned from "Crush It" it's that you have to hold on to your passion and uniqueness to survive and thrive. So I went au naturale: jeans and a polo with my trusty kicks. If anyone was offended, I'm sorry. But I gotta be who I am. Hopefully my charming good looks and debonaire style wooed you over. Yeah, half way through typing that I started laughing.Oh well, I tried getting it out with a straight face.

Of course when my compatriot Pat showed up dressed in shirt, tie, slacks, and confidence waned. He had just come from some formal event and I looked like a damn hobo compared to him. Well, whatever, off to the races. Too late to turn back now. We hustle on down to the Poughkeepsie train station, get our tickets, and look out the window overlooking the tracks. Woo! Our train is pulling in soon as we can see it further down the track. We amble out and go down the stairs. Rounding the corner, we see the not-so-sweet visage of tail-lights of the train. In the distance. A far distance. Like...600 feet.

The. Train. Never. Stopped.

It just kept on truckin' like a Grateful Dead song. What the hell.

Amtrak: I'm sure you have the wherewithal to know if there are supposed to be passengers at a station, considering I booked the tickets for the train four days ago. This isn't a hard concept. You get my reservation, you stop the train at the station, we get on and go to the city relatively on time. Instead, you decided that "Screw it, it's not worth the gas to slow down to pick up these damn kids" and just motored on by. Thanks Amtrak. Thank you for completely voiding the fact that I bought Pat a VIP ticket to the event that entitled us to an extra hour of tasting. I'd like those $30 back, please. Sure, it was nice of you to put us on the next train, even though you not only gave us a laundry list of excuses, several different variations on what we did wrong (hint: saying we should arrive a range of five minutes to a half hour early WHEN WE WERE ALREADY AT THE STATION does not help) but the fact of the matter is that we deserved it. Good talk, Amtrak. Try applying brakes next time. So, instead of arriving at the Piers at about 5:55 (a touch later than the VIP but still an extra half hour) we arrived at the Piers at about 7:15. Way to be, Amtrak.

The venue itself, Pier 60, was a very nice place. The perfect size with windows facing out onto the Hudson Bay. Very picturesque. You could sit there, have a snack and a dram, and watch puttering up and down the waterway. After getting my press badge and Pat his VIP ticket, we decided to get something to eat first. We hadn't eaten in awhile (I actually hadn't eaten all day) and it's never a good idea to dram on an empty tummy. As I put it: if you want to build a house of whisk(e)y, you need to have a strong foundation. This foundation resulted in a small smorgasbord they had laid out. I passed on the cheeses (they had a blue that looked nice) and went straight for the hearty stuff. They had a black forest ham, cheddar, sauteed onion sandwich with cranberry chutney on rosemary bread. It was very good. They had some sort of basil cream sauce ravioli that I would fight a hundred men to the death to get the recipe for. Also, meatball sliders that were kinda hard to eat (the rolls were clamshell-like so the meatball would shoot out) but delicious. A rinsing of the Glencairn tasting glass we got and we were on our way to Scotchtown and Bourbonville. Oh, and Rumburgh.

Who I met:

Mark Gillespie - The maestro of WhiskyCast. I almost literally ran into him on the way away from the Bowmore booth. He had just finished talking to the guys at the Suntory booth and I looked up from my notes as he turned around. Since he's a good bit taller than I am, the first thing I saw was the name tag, framed in green for press. My mouth went slack and I met his eyes. He's AWESOME. A very nice guy. I introduced myself and revered him (as everyone should). He had his recorder in his hand so look out for a sweet review with the Suntory people! He had just finished tasting the Hibiki 12 year and he motioned to me to nose it. In normal society this would seem creepy and wrong. In whisky society, this is a great honor. Suffice to say, the nose on that Hibiki 12 was awesome but more on that later. I thanked him profusely for what he does. I kinda fanboy'd out on him a touch. Normal people become fanboys or girls of movie stars or singers. Mine's a whisky enthusiast. Yeah, I rock.

Craig Beam - No, seriously. It was THE Craig Beam. The master distiller of Heaven Hill. I shook his hand. He was a very nice gentleman and southern to the extreme. Why do I say this? Because you can take the boy out of the South but not the South out of the boy. He poured generously, in true southern hospitality. I tried the Evan Williams Single Barrel, Bernheim's Wheat, and Rittenhouse Rye there. Those Southern boys can pour, I tell ya. I walked away from that table with, like, three shots under my belt. I had to go get food again.

What I drank:
This list is significantly larger, so bear with. The notes are not complete in any respect so don't judge these as reviews. I'd like to get some of these at a later date and actually give them the attention they deserve but the tastings did serve as a good guide for what I want to review later.

Glen Grant - I tried the 10 and the 16 year old. The 10 had a nose of tropical fruit, clean malt, and black tea. The taste was light and fruity with a short finish. A nice, light dram that I could see drinking on a hot day. Also would be nice to cook with. The 16 year old was heavy oak nose with chocolate and raisin. The taste was strong oaky. I personally think it had been in the wood a touch too long but this is just prelim.

Auchentoshan - I tried the Three Wood, the 18 year old, and the 21 year old. Nice whiskies all, the Three Wood in particular. Eight years in ex bourbon, then finished in Oloroso and Pedro Ximinez sherry butts gives it an interesting profile. It has the dark fruit taste and cherry color of the sherry but the depth and complexity of the bourbon's oak, vanilla, and char. A nice amalgamation. The 21 was very nice and really showed how well Auchentoshan ages. While long in the barrel I didn't think it showed it, retaining its sherry notes while having an intense oaky background; the two counterbalancing each other. Since we're being completely honest here, the 18 I can't remember. I tasted a lot.

Bowmore - Woman at the Bowmore table, you were awesome. I tasted the range of Bowmores: 12, 15, 18. My favorite was the 12 year by far. It had a nice malty sweetness to it with a muted but complementary peat smoke finish. The 15 was aged in sherry so the peat was tamed greatly giving it a fruity, smoky flavor which was nice but not working for me. The 18 managed to be a balance of the 12 and the 18 in my eyes, but I feel that the 12 really shined. Next time I'm trying their 25 year.

Suntory - I tried the Yamazaki 18 and the Hibiki 12. Let me put this in perspective. Have you ever watched a sci-fi movie where someone gets grievously injured and gets rescued by a medical team? They always show him or her floating in that tank of weird but life-sustaining liquid, breathing by means more magical than I can comprehend? If that ever happened to me, I want them to fill my tank with either of these whiskies. The Yamazaki 18 and Hibiki 12 I can't really describe in words but I think what I like most about it is the influence of Japanese Oak on the whisky. It gives it a certain sandalwood/aloewood like spice that really is unique and different. The Yamazaki 18 has a silky smooth mouth-feel and finish that's completely full of butterscotch / caramel. It was so, so good. Pat referred to it as a "dessert whisky" because of it's sweet taste. The Hibiki 12 I can only describe as such: remember your first "sweet and spicy" dish, whether it be shrimp or BBQ wings or whatever. I remember my first was a wing when I was young and I distinctly remember wondering "how can this combo work". This is the crux of the Hibiki 12. It's nose is out of this world but it's taste has a sweet spiciness to it. It starts off with a peppery sweetness that gives a burst of cinnamon, cardamom then fades to a sweet maltiness. It's delicious. They had a few other bottles that I'll have to try next time.

Heaven Hill - With Craig Beam pouring, I couldn't say no. I tried the Bernheim's Wheat Whiskey, the Rittenhouse Rye, and the Evan Williams Single Barrel. The highlight was definitely the Rittenhouse Rye. I've heard people raving about it for awhile but after really not liking Canadian ryes I was skittish in purchasing a full bottle. Man, gonna have to buy one now. It has a flavor profile that's spicy with clear notes of rye, black pepper, maybe chipotle too (I think that's the best way of putting it). It was spicy, slightly smoky, and crisp. Very easy drinking too. The Bernheim's was interesting with a nice astringency and a flavor of fresh cut hay and slightly burnt toast. The Evan Williams was soft and sweet with a high corn mash bill (Mr. Beam said 78%). I think I prefer the Elijah Craig more though. The Evan Williams was a bit too easy-going and corn-sweet for me. I think that the aging/barrel char on the Elijah Craig gives it a better toffee-like flavor and a touch more complexity.

Park Ave. Liquors - I had their Tormore '97, their Glendronach '89, and their Four Roses Single Barrel, all bottled specially for (and only available at) Park Ave. Liquors. At this point, my palate was kinda shot so my notes are a bit screwy but oh well, here goes: The Four Roses Single Barrel tasted, I swear, like dill pickles. It had the traditional bourbon oaky, vanilla sweetness but tucked in there was, so help me, dill pickle. It was actually...nice. Sad to say, I can't remember the Tormore. Their Glendronach I got notes of...beef stock and road tar. Honestly, I feel bad doing this but I'd discount my notes on this one. I should have reset my palate before the cask strength beasties because, frankly, these notes are scary as hell. Beef stock? Dill Pickle? Manuela, thank you for the pours but apparently I failed you terribly. I'm sorry.

Oban - Oban had this cool "Oban Experience Tent" like thing with some nice couches in it and a "Master of Malts" or some other official title. He had, by far, the best job I've ever seen. He sits around in a kilt, drinks Oban all night, and talks about it. Rinse, repeat a bunch of times. Really, he gets paid to sit around, drink, and talk about it. Sounds vaguely familiar...Anyway, I tried the 14, the 18, and the Distiller's Edition. The 14 was, as always, very nice. The Distiller's Edition I actually did not like at all. The normal Highland floral notes, toffee sweetness, and smooth finish yielded to a grassy, herbaceous quality in the Distiller's Edition that I didn't find appealing. My palate may have been a bit off but not by much as I had eaten right before that. The 18 was the 14 year old but more intense with a slightly more brooding oak influence. I definitely prefer the 18 over the 14 in this instance.

Glenlivet - Whoever made the choice for staffing at the Glenlivet table should be given a damn medal. The two guys at the booth were the coolest guys ever. I got to try a bunch of stuff that I'd never be able to afford ever in my life and they did it with a smile on their face and a bounce in their step. Oh, and a lab bottle filled with diluting water. Which freaked me out a bit because the very same bottles are used in our organic chemistry labs. To hold acetone. Yum, scotch and harsh solvent. Om nom nom. I tried their 18 and...jeez, their XXV (25). Honestly? The 18 was the best. It had a nose of clean malt and, amazingly, fresh apple. The normal pineapple flavor of the 12 year old has evolved into a more mango-ish flavor which teases the oak on it. A cracking dram. The XXV was very nice for it's age. It was not over-oaked at all and was exceedingly smooth with a long finish. I just didn't think the fruit flavors that I love in the younger Glenlivets could compete with 25 years worth of an oak barrage. To the guys at the Glenlivet table, slainte. You were awesome.

Ardbeg - Ardbeg was there in force. Ever see a rather tipsy Ethan Kelley of the Brandy Library on a motorcycle? I have. Ardbeg was raffling off two(?) Ardbeg motorcycles to a U.S. Ardbeg Committee Member. They were pretty great looking. I got to try their Uigeadail. One simple word: Peat. It was more intense than their 10 year old in both peat and sacchariferous qualities (that is SUCH an awesome word). It was yummy in my tummy.

Edradour - I had it. I can't remember it. I remember peat and being impressed. This was at the end of the show. I was not in the greatest condition after Park Ave. Those cask strength whiskies did me in a touch. I'll try to get a bottle sometime.

Cabin Fever - The last beverage I tried. A maple whisky. No, not a maple FLAVORED whisky. Nothing artificial here. It's just simply Vermont Maple Syrup and whiskey that's aged in oak for three years and then chill filtered to cut down on the sweetness. Warm it was still a bit cloying but not totally unpleasant. It still had an interesting dichotomy to it and I feel that the oaky whisky and maple tones did not mesh well. Upon recommendation from Rob to have it on ice, I do feel it pulled together quite well. The cold really softened up the sweetness and brought out the whiskey flavors. Personally, I'd like to see what they could do with either a lighter hand as far as the syrup or maybe blending it with a more aged/oaked whiskey to bring about more balance.

What I Missed (brought to you by Amtrak: Screwing up your travel plans since 1971):

Compass Box - Gah, so pissed I wasn't able to get to Compass Box. From their Orangerie to their Spice Tree, Hedonism, Oak Cross, Lady Luck, and Asyla, their table looked like a feast of whiskey. But I just didn't have the time. Argh. To those that got a taste, JEALOUS.

International Beverage table - Oh man, oh man. They had Balblair, anCnoc, and Old Pulteny to taste. No dice. Note: they import Mekhong "whisky" too. Interesting.

Most of the Irish Whiskies - Castle Brands had a large selection, including Knoppague Castle (great name) and Clontarf (even better name). Michael Collins and The Wild Geese Irish Soldiers and Heroes were there as well. Some other time.

Brandy Library - I wanted to meet Ethan Kelley. I saw him drunk on an Ardbeg motorcycle. We'd get along swimmingly. I'd go to the Brandy Library in NYC but I own no clothing that I could wear that wouldn't get me kicked out of there faster than I can drink sweet tea.

Laphroaig - I've never had it. Odd, eh? Next time.

Sheep Dip / Pig's Nose - The names amuse me greatly. Sheep Dip comes from the tendency for Scotsmen to "mislabel" their whisky to avoid the high tariffs. By labeling it "sheep dip", or a chemical dip used on sheep to remove bugs, they could get around the whisky tax as it was an "agricultural" product. Pig's Nose comes from the saying "smooth as a pig's nose" as one of the whiskey's qualities.

Well, there you have it. Coverage of the 2010 New York Whisky Live event. I had an excellent time. I'd just like to thank Jeffery Connell for the opportunity to go, everyone at Whisky Magazine for their awesome magazine, to Mark Gillespie for putting up with me, and finally to my parents who seem to be tolerant of my job choice. I have some pictures that I will share later. As for now, cheers. Stay classy and keep drinkin'.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Bana Tea Company: Orchid Charm Sheng Pu erh - Sunday, Apr. 4th

Google is funny. A lot of the time it has ads that have nothing to do with what you like, despite how they tout the fact that their AdSense system is custom tailored to what people are looking at in their email or website. Last time I checked, a beverage review website's email doesn't necessitate a shitload of recipes for the many uses of "Spam". Unless this is a subtle hint about the amount of emails I get from Nigerian princes, then you are failing on the advertising part. Really Google, try a bit harder. The only time your AdSense ads make sense are when they start advertising programs that help you to "quit smoking in two weeks" and ads about AA meetings. As I've said before, thanks Google. Much love and faith from you guys.

Every rare once and awhile, every once in a blue moon...Google has an applicable ad. This time it was for Bana Tea Company. As I am perpetually on the quest for delicious tea that doesn't get a lot of exposure, I dropped by the website. I almost staggered a bit when I found out that they imported some very nice pu erh cakes. I emailed them as to what sampler to get because while I love pu erh, I don't really know much about the cake types. Yet. Yet, dear readers. I can't tell factory types apart in terms of tea styles and blending. I can tell their names apart. Sometimes. Anyway, the kind people at Bana Tea helped me out by sending me a mini sampler of teas, two sheng (uncooked) pu erh and one cooked. This is the first of three from the Bana Tea Company, their Orchid Charm Sheng. A 2009 vintage, spring harvest, uncooked pu erh from Lincang, Yunnan Province, it has reminiscent notes of orchid to it. I, honestly, couldn't get the orchid out of it despite my best coaxing. Here is a picture of it steeping:

Here are the notes!

Steep 1: 208F rinse. Pour in, pour out. Wash and open the leaves a bit.

Steep 2: (3o sec, 208F) - Brew color is a light tan. Nose of sea brine and greens. Slight woody/smokey quality as well. Taste is grassy with a raw wood like quality. A touch of spice, like sandalwood. Pleasant bitterness as well. Roasty hints on aftertaste.

Steep 3: (45 sec, 208F) - Brew color is now a yellow. Brininess on the aroma is gone. It's all wood and greens. Bitterness on the palate is still present, even a bit stronger but not unwelcome. Mostly just woodsy now. The spice has receded and that green flavor has receded. Astringency comes out too.

Steep 4: (1 min, 208F) - Brew color is a burnt yellow color. Nose is rather bland. Very limited vegetable smell, nothing else. Taste is wood, the green flavor is almost gone. Bitterness is still around but the astringency has vanished. One more steep and I'm gonna call this baby done.

Steep 5: (2 hours, 15 sec, 208F) - Yeah, that's right, 2 hours. I decided to do an experiment and let it infuse for a loooooong time. Alright, I won't lie. I did the fifth infusion and forgot about it. Whoops. The pu erh had pretty much petered out by the fourth steep so I wasn't to distraught. Why not drink it? Surprisingly enough, it is pretty interesting. While a two hour steep would make most teas bitter, this one...well...wasn't. It was very woody, almost like gnawing on a branch but it wasn't bitter at all. The nose, however, is non-existent. Whoopsie.

This tea was an interesting discovery for me. It took me a bit but this tea really showed me the difference between sheng and cooked/aged pu erh. It was a remarkable discovery and it really helped me define the merits of both a good uncooked and a good cooked pu erh. This was a decent tea. It is quite affordable, clocking in at about $7-$12, depending on how much you want. Here's a LINK.

Would I buy it? Yeah, probably. It doesn't look like it comes in cake form at all which is a shame because I'd like to see how this does aging for awhile. I like the woodiness to it at this point but I think it lacks a peppery, raw spiciness that a lot of pu erhs have. But that's just me.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Xikar HC Series Criollo Robusto - Friday, Apr. 2nd

Whoever said that "paying it forward" was a useless thing to do obviously was a bitter, lonely person. If there's one thing I've learned to date its this: karma is a cruel but beautiful mistress. She has a soft caress; a welcoming embrace that you never expect. She also has a tendency to backstab when you least expect it. Thus is the duality of karma: boon and bane.

I tell you this to tell you another story. A few days ago Xikar, of the cutter fame, sent out a survey asking a few questions about cigar clubs and such. While I shamefully admit I've never used a Xikar before I do enjoy the concept of their cutter and I've heard awesome things about their lighters. I figured "Aw hell, throw a dog a bone". So I filled it out for 'em. While I'm not in a cigar club per se, I do have a hardcore group of ragtag ragamuffins that do enjoy meeting at Uptown when the fates and stars align (read: our vacations aren't off by a few weeks). I filled the survey out the best I could and went on my merry way. A few days later I received a "thanks for the info" email stating that they're sending out cigar packs of their cigar brand, Xikar Series HC, to those that participated.


I'd never actually had a HC cigar before because, well, no one even remotely near me carried them. They're made/blended by Jesus Fuego, who I've heard makes some great cigars under the "Jesus Fuego" name. Specifically the 777. I informed them that I'd review the cigars I got and ye gods, I certainly will. When the package came, I opened it to find a Xikar HC Series three pack of their Criollo, Habana Colorado, and Connecticut. I was in the mood for a spicy cigar so I grabbed the Criollo and headed out into the beautiful 80 degree day. Here's a picture of it before it's sacrifice to Pele, Goddess of Fire:

The press release says that it comes in sizes of Churchill and Petite Corona but this looks a touch more like a robusto to me. A touch skinny and a touch long for a robusto but more robusto size than petite corona. It also smoked like a robusto too. EDIT: Apparently I sometimes know what I'm talking about. Their marketing director, Bob Moreno, said that indeed they were robustos, not petite coronas (title has been adjusted accordingly). Notes are as follows:

I actually forgot to get the prelight draw on this one. Sorry folks. The cigar itself was nicely made. Good draw, slightly veiny but in an attractive way. Clipped it with my Palio (the irony did not escape me) and lit it with my trusty Bic. Yeah, that's right. I use a Bic. Mainly because if a lighter is more than $2.50, I can't keep track of it for more than a week. Less than that and I'd take a bullet getting it back. Odd eh?

First quarter started out surprisingly like the JdN Antano. It came right off the light with a zesty, spicy punch. My first puff and I went "Bam!". It was like someone lit Emeril on fire and he roundhouse kicked my tongue. Almost as quick as the spice came, it disappeared. It burst forth with espresso and peanuts.

Half-way and the spice has gone. The cigar has really, really mellowed; almost surprisingly so. It's a pretty mild criollo cigar. Leather picks up along with the espresso and it gains a slightly grassy flavor that's not unpleasant but unexpected.

Third quarter and it hasn't changed much. Very, very mild to my palate. I'm used to smoking LFD Double Ligeros so take this with a grain of salt though. It isn't exactly a shitty cigar though. Leather, coffee, nuts, some caramel, and grassy notes interplay.

Last quarter and it started burning a touch hot and a bit bitter but I was kinda smoking like a chimney. I was reading Imbibe Magazine while smoking so I was a touch distracted but not enough to discount the review. Same flavor profile as before but the spice kicked up a bit more.

Overall, it's a nice cigar. To me, it's mild-medium and a nice change of pace. However, if you're looking for spicy criollo like I was, I wouldn't go for it. But it wasn't unpleasant.