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.

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