Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bulleit "95" Rye American Whiskey Review:

"If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck,
I'd dive to the bottom to get one sweet suck.
But the ocean ain't whiskey and I ain't a duck,
I'll play Jack O' diamonds and trust to my luck.”
- Tex Ritter in Rye Whiskey

Founded in 1897 and released in 1999, Bulleit Bourbon (I reviewed that here) has been climbing the ranks ever since. As my go-to bourbon, its high rye mash bill gives it a unique palette to remember. I've been a fan of Bulleit since the first time I tried it and when I heard about a rye version the Bulleit Distilling Co. was working on I was pretty excited. I Definitely had some high hopes. In development since 2004, Tom Bulleit’s Rye was due to come out being that rye is today's current trend whiskey. Yet for the very reason of rye's popularity, this release would need to rise one above the rest, holding its own as a reasonably priced rye. 

Released nationally just this May, and the second spirit to be released by Bulleit thus far, Bulleit “95” Rye has a mash bill of 95% rye and 5% malted barley, making it again unusual for its own class which legally only requires 51% rye in the mash bill. Aged a minimum of four years and as long as 7 in new white oak barrels, charred at a level 4 (the highest level char), and sourced from German, Swedish, and Canadian grains, Bulleit Rye is produced by the “infamous” and “illusive”(..?) company, LDI – the same producer of Redemption and Templeton Rye.

The label does say this whiskey is "small batch" but how "small" that is, coming from LDI, I don't really know. It is really a catchphrase today which means nothing, unless the producer is completely transparent. LDI, nor Bulleit, are companies that are very transparent so I would simply disregard the claim, true or not. Unless some of you know the answer?

Bulleit "95" Rye Whiskey Review:

Price: Around $28 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Brilliant as Bulleit always is. I think it was the right choice to stick with the “classic” bottle while simply changing the color of the label. No complaints. I just hope they don’t change it like so many other producers are doing right.

Alcohol Content: 90 Proof, 45% ABV.

Color: Golden Straw.

Nose: Dark cherry, aromatic tobacco, with mint and spice. Honey, leather, milk chocolate (no bitter dark cocoa) and caramel in the background.

Tasting: Enters softly, almost flat. Progresses into a spiced cherry and apricot. There is a minty and creamy airiness which rounds off with maple syrup, Red Hots and a very dry oak.

Conclusion: Whether I am having an off day or not, the front is not very impressive. At least it isn't as strongly built as I think it should be. I will keep trying this for an update later - I really want to like the whole thing.  You do get the spiciness from the rye but not nearly what I would expect from such a high rye mash bill.  Being that it contains whiskeys between 4 and 7 years, I would guess there is more 4 year old whiskeys than 7. I suggest some higher aging to possibly round out the front, though it is what it is. I will also update this on how it works in a cocktail. Either way, despite the arrival I could still sip this neat (with a little water).

Monday, August 29, 2011

Imbibe Monday: How To Make A (Good) Gin and Tonic

“I never drink anything stronger than gin before breakfast.” - W.C. Fields

There is definitely something to be said about a complex cocktail, finely and delicately built to perfection. But I also am one who leans towards simplicity. Give me a cocktail with a few good ingredients over a Vieux Carre any day. That’s why I think the Gin and Tonic is such a wonderful beverage. Perfect as a summer drink, it only takes two ingredients and some ice. Done! Easy.

Initially introduced in the 18th century by the British East India Company, Gin and Tonics were utilized for medical purposes for the British colonies in India. In the 18th century tonic contained large amounts of quinine, used to prevent malaria, which held a very bitter taste. Thus gin was used to offset the acrimony. Just as dry vermouth harmonizes well in a gin martinis, the quinine (smaller amounts used today) complements the juniper and botanical green notes used in the production of gin. And the very reason it was consumed in the warmer Indian weather led to it becoming a favorable summer treat.

You might be asking yourself why I would even bother writing a whole blog on how to make such an "easy" cocktail; however, even the simplest of cocktails can go down the wrong path. I would have three suggestions to enjoying a good Gin and Tonic: 

First use good gin. Today, there is a much larger market of gin, and some really good stuff is showing up in the micro-distillery sectors. Up and coming distilleries, such as Dry Fly and Breuckelen Distilling Company Inc. (as well as many others) are producing some very complex and intricate gins.  

Second, though it might sound strange to even bring this up, is to use fresh tonic. The worst thing to experience is an offering of Gin and Tonic where your host is using an old half-empty bottle tonic for your cocktail. Buy the small cans if you are not going to finish the tonic in one sitting. It's worth it.

Lastly and most importantly is what kind of ice you use. I am not necessarily a Gin snob but I will admit to being somewhat of an ice snob. My biggest disappointment when I order an Old Fashioned at a bar is when it’s brought to me with crushed or small cubed ice. Different kinds of cocktails use different kinds of ice. When it comes to Gin and Tonic I think large ice is best. This is not a beverage which needs to be diluted quickly – you just want it cold. 

Gin and Tonic Recipe (1 Serving):

2 oz gin
4 oz tonic water

Adjust to taste if needed, don’t ever think it, just use the best ingredients you’ve got. Maybe throw in some lemon (or lime) and juniper berries if you want.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mad About Whiskey: AMC's Mad Men, Drinking, and Other Things…

"All credibility, all good conscience, all evidence of truth come only from the senses." 
– Friedrich Nietzsche

I love the show Mad Men. Recently I introduced my wife to it through Netflix. Now she's addicted. So about once a week, or twice depending on how badly we want the next few episodes (since we only get one disk at a time), she and I sit down on the couch and delve into the world of advertising for about 2 to 3 hours. And without much thought, before we even get to the start menu, my mouth starts to water. I get up and walk to the bar, pouring myself a double of whatever happens to be on hand. Finally ready to relax the night away I sit back down next to her and press play. 

And during those three to four 45 minute episodes something happens. I forget about everything I had done that week. I forget about everything I have to do tomorrow. I am transported into a world which is so different than mine - a past I never knew. Yet somehow everything is familiar to the point that one of my largest emotions is nostalgia. Nostalgia for something that has passed, a time that will never be. I find myself yearning to live in a world where the cars are classy, the restaurants are swanky, where all the women dress in beautiful clothing, and where the men order Scotch instead of beer. A place where smoking actually has sex appeal.

But then I sit back and think about what I’m watching. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) the star and face of the show is an identify thief. As a married man he sleeps with every woman he can get into bed with. And he is a complete alcoholic who lives by the motto, “I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one.” And speaking of egotistical self-loving narcissists, almost everyone else in the show seem to exhibit much of the same characteristics. Sleeping around, drinking too much, lying, cheating… the list goes on. Everyone is striving for a life they believe will fulfill them, the epitome of the American dream, in a world speeding forward at a pace no one can quite keep up with. So the natural question to ask would be: Why do I enjoy the show so much? Why does it make me nostalgic? Why is Old Overholt getting an overhaul in the real  world – rye Old-Fashioned anyone? Why are more men wearing suit vest again? Why is Don Draper so cool?

I guess my questions are not necessarily about drinking, per se, as much as the way people used to drink. The way in which Scotch used to be enjoyed. A cultural essence of sorts. Where have the classy bars gone? When did playing video games and cheap beer replace drinking Scotch and playing cards? Have we lost something, in spite of the rampant prejudice, sexism, and tumultuous times of the 60s, which was worth having? Somehow Don Draper in all of his folly, exudes a quality which people admire.  “What,” asks Lauren M.E. Goodlad, “is it that makes this odd blend of Jay Gatsby, American Gigolo, and the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit so captivating a figure for today?” 

Maybe Don Draper, with our hindsight of the impending world crisis to be had in the next decade, just makes falling look good.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

An Education: Does Bourbon Have to Come From Kentucky?

Just a small post: On reviewing answers from and it seems there is still a lot of confusion on where bourbon comes from and what is the distinction between it and Tennessee whiskey. Simply bourbon comes from the United States. The country provides the boundaries, not the state of Kentucky. Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, often confused to be bourbon, is not. It is not bourbon because it goes through an extra process of charcoal filtration, called the Lincoln County Process, and it is made in Tennessee. Tennessee whiskey is made in Tennessee, bourbon is made anywhere. Bourbon production has nothing to do with the water, the county, nor the state it is distilled in. To legally be called bourbon the spirit must be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn, it must be aged in new, charred oak barrels and it has to be made in the U.S. (anywhere in the U.S.).  From what I have read, to give the post "expert validation," John Hansell also seems to believe that Tennessee whiskey is not bourbon because of charcoal filtration - a fairly strong statement which essentially labels Tennessee whiskey as an entirely unique product apart from bourbon, rather than a class under bourbon.

To Note: Not all Tennessee whiskey goes through the Lincoln County Process, but as a general rule, when most people say Tennessee whiskey they mean a bourbon which has undergone the process. A similar distinction could be made between Scotch and Irish whiskey. Historically what was considered Irish whiskey, now called pure pot still whiskey, was a mashbill of malted and unmalted barley, compared to scotch with 100% malted barely. Not all Irish whiskey has both malted and unmalted barley but when speaking of Irish whiskey in the traditional sense one should think malted/unmalted barley. Though I'm sure some of you will debate this.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Imbibe Monday: Introducing Jeffrey Morgenthaler and the Barrel-Aged Cocktail

"Coughlin's diet: cocktails and dreams." 
- Doug, from a horrible movie called Cocktail

So my wife and I have been exploring a few cocktails and whiskey treats I have been wanting to add to Imbibe Mondays, but none of them turned out like I wanted so I thought I would cheat a little and post some videos I've been "keeping to myself" about an interesting development in the cocktail world. An exciting time for cocktails, mixologist, and those who love to drink their makings, new ideas and creations are literally being poured out from coast to coast. One of the current trends taking over bars across the U.S. is the barrel-aged cocktail. Literally a cocktail aged in used whiskey barrels these beverages are generally consumed in bars, however, because of the ease and personalized touch anyone can add to these aged cocktails, I wouldn't be surprised to see them start popping up at larger events and weddings.

The creation of this new and innovative idea originated from none other than Portland's own, Jeffrey Morgenthaler of the fabulous Clyde Common, located in downtown Portland one block south of Powell's City of Books. Tending neighborhood taverns, college nightclubs, fine restaurants and upscale lounges since 96, Morgenthaler began writing and blogging in 2004, yet since his move to the Clyde Common his image has grown considerably. Now considered one of the leading mixologist in the world his recipes and mixologist musings have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Wine Enthusiast, Wired, and Imbibe magazines. Forbes Traveler labeled Morgenthaler one of the "Cocktail Movers and Shakers" of 2007, while the Tasting Panel Magazine knighted him as the "New Leader" in 2009. 

Below are two videos explaining the barrel-aged cocktail process: The first is a video of Morgenthaler and another Portlander Evan Zimmerman, the bar manager of Laurelhurst Market, and the second video is Morgenthaler at Tuthilltown Distillery explaining the process using Tuthilltown’s unaged corn whiskey in a barrel cocktail.

One can purchase a barrel-aged cocktail from the Clyde Common for $10, but from a New York Times article I read, in a place such as New York prices can be between $13 and $25! Such high prices are justified, say many bar owners, because of the limited quantities and the actual time invested in creating the cocktails, which have to be constantly watched, tested, and gauged until considered ready to serve.

Click here for barrel-aged cocktail directions straight from Morgenthaler's great blog - a must read for any mixologist.   

*Photo provided by

Friday, August 12, 2011

Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Whiskey Review:

“About as complete as a bourbon aroma you are likely to find…one of the most beautiful noses found anywhere in the world today. A bourbon to keep in the mouth forever… Toffee apples and malt rise above the gentle oaky notes and there is a very late arrival of burnt sugar and rye. The very final notes are extremely complex… near perfection. Perhaps one of my favorite five or six bourbons and certainly the superstar in the Heaven Hill portfolio. It is a bourbon of almost unfathomable depth and has something for everyone. Brilliant." 

Produced by the privately owned  Heaven Hill, Elijah Craig was originally created by a pioneering Baptist preacher in the 18th century of the same name, many of whom credit as being the first one to use charred oak cask or essentially the person who invented bourbon. Winning numerous awards in the last 10 years and recently winning a Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Elijah Craig 12 is touted as a “true Small Batch premium Bourbon.” Bottled exclusively from 70 barrels or less this is one of the finest buys for the price on today’s market. This is the spirit RalfyMitchel believes sets the standard as a baseline bourbon.

Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Whiskey Review:

Price: Around 24.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Nothing fancy, but you will remember the bottle with the uniquely Elijah Craig shape and a large cork top.

Alcohol Content: 46% alcohol by volume, 92 proof.

Color: Dark amber color alludes very well to the character of the whiskey.

Nose: Solid and composite. You get intense corn and a sour caramel apple with dried apricots. Dark charred honey and vanilla bean. Nuts and fruit spices. Lots of complexity here.

Tasting: This has a wonderful arrival which lands rich and direct then amplifying and spreading out off the palette, exploding into a sweet corn and spicy char and pleasant fruit note. There is a slight but agreeable burn which fades with sweet rye dryness – ending with a nice long finish.

Conclusion: This is a very good example and benchmark setting bourbon. Packs a punch and is strong and assertive. Though it is sweeter than I anticipated and to what I am used to. It is on the cusp of being too sweet, but I say this not to draw anyone away from it. I generally find myself in the minority when it comes to my sweet tolerance, where my love/hate relationship with rums comes into play. I will suggest to Heaven Hill that they add about 1 or 2 percent ABV to bring out some of those back notes and slightly offset the sweet characteristics. Either way this bourbon far outpaces many more expansive brands of bourbon out there. Another example to remind us that you can have great quality whiskey at a reasonable price – that being said I don’t expect Elijah Craig 12 to remain at this low of a price for too much longer.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

An Education: Whisky Masterclass with Ralfy Mitchell

"I never expected to receive so much recognition and positive feed-back from so many people so soon. In fact I never expected anything! started as a conventional Blog but with my decision to record video Blogs (Vlogs) in the form of 10 minute, unedited, informal video clips mainly of reviews of bottles, I seemed to hit an appreciative audience looking for a ‘Malt friend/advisor’ rather than for an Expert presenting a Marketing message or whisky cliches." - Ralfy Mitchel in a interview

It's about time I said a word about the "Maltastic" Ralfy Mitchell. Anyone who has begun the journey into the world of whiskey, like myself, will find out very quickly that there is a lot of bad information out there, sending unknown travelers down the wrong path. So when you find someone who knows their stuff it feels like you've just been rescued. Ralfy of is one of these people - an expert tracker who can get you back on the right path. Though he consistently says he is not an expert, Ralfy has had more then his share of whiskey experiences. Proof that the internet has power to push an average person into stardom, Ralfy has been vlogging heavily since 2009, having posted over 300 vlogs while also having received over 1,700,000 upload views to date.

Ralfy is one of those people who is hard not to like. From the onset of each video he is always well spoken and personable, bound to give you a laugh from start to finish. But laughs are not the primary reason one watches his videos. Laced with historical information and an awareness of the industry which peaks on an expert level, you are guaranteed to finish each of his reviews with a more abundant comprehension and most importantly a greater appreciation for distilled spirits in general. Like many whiskey enthusiasts out there I believe he is one of the best non-industry whiskey reviewers and definitely the best whiskey vlogger out there.

Since he's from Glasgow, Scotland, his focus is primarily Scotch Whisky, but he has also done a series on Irish and American spirits. Just recently he posted a 7-part whisk(e)y masterclass series which appeals to everyone, from newbies trying to get their footing to longtime aficionados who have been around the stuff for much of their lives. So sit back with a dram and enjoy - I guarantee he will became a favorite of yours. 

*Also check out his other videos from his YouTube channel or website.

Update: New Name!

Well, as you can see (if you haven't noticed) I have a new name. It came to my attention recently that I had chosen a name which was unfortunately too similar to another whiskey blog. I should have been a bit more careful, but due to Google's search engine being quite finicky I had assumed the name was not taken. In lieu of  my blog's reputation and my desire to be in good standing with the whiskey blogging community I have chosen a different name. I introduce to you The Bourbon Intelligencer. I will miss the old name, but being an American blogger the new name seems to be appropriate. Besides the name nothing will change, so rejoin me on this adventure, drink what you like, and make it a double!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Watering Hole Review: The Pelican Inn

A Taste of London in Muir Beach, CA:

"As soon as I enter the door of a tavern, I experience oblivion of care, and a freedom from solicitude. There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn." - Samuel Johnson

It is a rare thing to find a traditional pub in the United States, especially on the West Coast, which simply because of its age never had a chance to develop its "pub scene." But every so often one can discover a jewel. For example, the Horse Brass Pub here in Portland, holding the title of the oldest pub in Portland and having a sister back in England, South London's Prince of Wales (Which particular Prince of Wales it is, I don't know. There are dozens in London!). The only issue with places like the Horse Brass has to do with those who can actually enjoy the space. Kids and families usually stray away from such venues because of the more rowdy atmospheres. Where on the other hand, for example, many of the pubs in England and Scotland will act as hotels and restaurants which all family members can enjoy. Of course 21 and over joints are needed, but when there are so few traditional pubs and eateries here in the US which allow children, younger ones can miss out on locations which have more history and authenticity built into then. That's why The Pelican Inn in Muir Beach, CA was such a pleasant discovery.

Right off the Muir Beach near the entrance of Muir Wood and the surrounding Tennessee Valley, Mt. Tamalpais, and Mill Valley, with easy access to a variety of trail heads, the Pelican Inn provides a safe haven for weary hikers, bikers, tourist, and locals alike who need something to eat and a good pint to go along with it. Just a short drive from San Francisco, on pulling into the parking lot one feels miles away from one of the largest cities in California. Step inside and you might feel you’re a few thousand miles from America in an outlying borough of England, not to mention a couple centuries back in time. Adorning the walls lay memorabilia of 400 years of English history, while the wood paneling and white walls are genuinely worn with age, rather than simply made to look shabby and chic.

Serving traditional English fare and only providing what they have on their small draft selection, the Pelican has no license to serve hard liquor; only beer and wine. I can only speak for the beer (Harps Lager) and a few small ploughmen’s platters we ordered but I was pleased. Being in the pub rather than the adjoining restaurant the place was packed out with friends and families alike, yet the atmosphere was calm and quiet to the point where I had to watch my volume.

Some might question how authentic a 17th century English style inn off the California coast can be. True enough, but I would suggest you at least try it out. You might just find yourself forgetting where you are, being drawn into the conversations, the laid back environment, and questioning whether or not our more modern accommodations have really achieved the level of comfort and relaxation we desire (or once knew).

Retracing our steps down Mt. Tamalpias:

Monday, August 8, 2011

Imbibe Mondays: How to Make the Mint Julep

Ode to the Julep:

"Then comes the zenith of man’s pleasure. Then comes the julep – the mint julep. Who has not tasted one has lived in vain. The honey of Hymettus brought no such solace to the soul; the nectar of the Gods is tame beside it. It is the very dream of drinks, the vision of sweet quaffings.

The Bourbon and the mint are lovers. In the same land they live, on the same food they are fostered. The mint dips infant leaf into the same stream that makes The Bourbon what it is. The corn grows in the level lands through which small streams meander. By the brook-side the mint grows. As the little wavelets pass, they glide up to kiss the feet of the growing mint, and the mint bends to salute them. Gracious and kind it is, living only for the sake of others. Like a woman’s heart it gives its sweetest aroma when bruised. Among the first to greet the spring, it comes. Beside gurgling brooks that make music in the fields, it lives and thrives. When the bluegrass begins to shoot its gentle sprays towards the sun, mint comes, and its sweetest soul drinks at the crystal brook. It is virgin then. But soon it must be married to old Bourbon. His great heart, his warmth of temperament, and that affinity which no one understands, demands the wedding.

How shall it be? Take from the cold spring some water, pure as angels are; mix it with sugar till it seems like oil. Then take a glass and crush your mint within it with a spoon – crush it around the borders of the glass and leave no place untouched. Then throw the mint away – it is the sacrifice. Fill with cracked ice the glass; pour in the quantity of Bourbon which you want. It trickles slowly through the ice. Let it have time to cool, then pour your sugared water over it. No spoon is needed; no stirring allowed- just let it stand a moment. Then around the brim place sprigs of mint, so that the one who drinks may find the taste and odor at one draft.

Then when it is made, sip it slowly. August suns are shining, the breath of the south wind is upon you. It is fragrant cold and sweet – it is seductive. No maidens kiss is tenderer or more refreshing, no maidens touch could be more passionate. Sip it and dream-it is a dream itself. No other land can give you so much sweet solace for your cares; no other liquor soothes you in melancholy days. Sip it and say there is no solace for the soul, no tonic for the body like old Bourbon whiskey." - Joshua Soule Smith

Mint Julep Recipe (1 Serving):

3 sprigs fresh mint
2-3 teaspoons simple syrup
3 ounces (roughly) bourbon

*There are a lot of weird recipes for the Mint Julep out there - most of them are the very first recipes which  showed up when I did a Google search. If a recipe suggest club soda, flavorings, powdered sugar, etc, then don't bother with it. This is a classic cocktail: sugar, mint, spirit. Keep it simple and your taste buds will be rewarded.

Step 1: Put mint leaves and about half the simple syrup over the leaves in a Mint Julep cup, old-fashioned glass, or similar vessel you may have. I suggest a 2:1 sugar to water ratio syrup. You can try it any way you like but this seems to generally be the best choice for allowing a little more sugar content and less watered down beverage.

Step 2: Lightly press and meld leaves together with the syrup. Using the muddler brush the mint and sugar oils along the sides of the cup, painting and coating the walls. This is not a heavily mixed drink so you want to allow as much area to hold these oils for when you add the ice and bourbon. I CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH: DO NOT BRUISE YOUR MINT. If this happens you will have a beverage with strong and unpleasant vegetal character.

Step 3: Fill glass with crushed ice till it cones on the top of the glass. Add the bourbon, pouring slowly over the top. Some recipes add the bourbon first, I on the other hand like the more traditional way of pouring the bourbon over the ice, allowing the bourbon to cool on its way down. Because the ice is crushed, there is little surface area, which allows for cooling to happen quickly without stirring.

Step 4: Taking an additional mint in your hand (enough to cover much of the top opening of the glass), slap the mint with your hand, shocking it and allowing it to stick straight up. Garnish on top. When someone takes a drink with a straw, if you have one, they will be placing there nose right in the middle of the mint, smelling the fragrance as they sip.  

Step 5: Enjoy!

Mint Simple Syrup Recipe:

2 cups unrefined sugar
1 cup water
1 small handful of mint

Step 1: In a medium saucepan combine sugar and water. Bring to a boil, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool.

Step 2: Add mint and cold step for about 24 hours. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Watering Hole Review: The Trappist

“Nunc est bibendum.” (“Now is the time for drinking”) – Horace, Odes

A Diamond in the Rough:
Just recently opened, The Trappist sits in the heart of downtown Oakland on 8th and Broadway. This classically styled Belgium Beer pub and eatery claims to feature 28 rotating taps, over 100 specialty bottle and no corporate beer. Guineas or Fat Tire nowhere to be found, this bar was rated #17 best beer bar in the world, and #1 best beer bar in California by

Owned and operated by Chuck Stilphen and Aaron Porter, The Trappist is all about excellence, serving only superior beer in the correct glass and at the correct temperature each selection necessitates. You can enjoy the beer in one of their two adjoining pubs: the Main Pub and the Back Bar. Watch out though, or you might pass the place without knowing it. Nestled into a 1870s Victorian building, both bars feature incredible architecture and woodwork throughout without being conceited, making it easy to get comfortable in the laid back environment.

With no hard alcohol, or wine, beer is king at The Trappist. All the employees at The Trappist regardless of their position are Cicerone certified, meaning, more or less, they are experts in their field; having passed an examination and having gained multiple recommendations from brewers, beer wholesalers, or beer retailers. 

I had heard from other experienced guest of The Trappist that the staff at times can be a bit snobbish, not unlike up here in Northwest-I-know-more-about-coffee-than-you-do Portland, OR, so I wasn’t too worried. However I was pleasantly surprised by the staff that day being more then friendly and spending time at our table to explain any and all questions (very honestly) we had.

That day I had the St. Feuillien Triple 8.5% ABV, and the Flying Dog Barrel-aged Gonzo Imperial Porter 9.5% ABV. I've wanted to try the Feuillien Triple for quite some time, and I was pleased with it despite the fresh and fruity makeup of the drink. Generally I am not too keen on the sweet stuff, but this being my starter beverage, the creamy delivery and light bitterness was great.

My second beer was going to be the Rasputin Stout since it’s my favorite stout to date, but on seeing the Flying Dog Barrel-aged Gonzo, I couldn’t resist. I had actually never had a barrel-aged beer before, and the thought of an imperial porter aged in Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey barrels was at least intriguing, despite my doubts that I wouldn't love it. Matured for about three months in the barrel, strong strains of oak were more apparent than the whiskey. If anything I could appreciate the thought behind the beverage. Flying Dog Brewery has always focused on “experimental brews and limited-edition one-offs” never sticking to anything conventional and the Gonzo embodies their mission. Nevertheless, this is something I wouldn’t have every day, much like a Deschutes beer made with coffee I once sampled. The Gonzo is simply a difficult brew to produce. Beer has an age life, and unlike whiskey, will keep aging once it’s in the keg. That said, being in a barrel longer than most brews are even in the keg, the Gonzo can hardly be considered a “fresh” brew (using fresh in the "tasting note" sense).

All in all, the experience was a good one – from the appetizers my brother, father, and I ordered, the diverse selections of beer we sampled, and the service we enjoyed, this is a place I will be coming to again when I’m in the area.

*Also, just finished was a wonderful patio area which will dramatically increase the square footage and capacity of their pub. They’re only waiting on the liquor license.   

Saturday, August 6, 2011

An Education: Absinthe

"In all likely hood, if they're going to be honest about the color, they're going to be honest in just about everything else they're putting in it." - Lance Winters

Will you really cut your ear off when you drink absinthe? Is wormwood a poisonous substance? Will it make you hallucinate? No, no, and no. With absinthe recently being made legal and the hype it brings as Van Gogh's favorite drink, the legends and lore have grown and been proliferated by some bad producers racing to get in on the newly (re-newed) created market. With all the public confusion surrounding the spirit and since I just visited St. George Spirits, the first distillery in the United States to release absinth in about 90 years, I thought I would share this video (view below) of Lance Winters. One of the distillers at St. George, Lance explains the production process, the recent cultural phenomenon of the spirit, and his favorite way to drink it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The St. George Distillery Tour: Home of Hanger One Vodka

"We can’t write like Neruda, paint like Cézanne, or dance like Jennifer Beals, but we can express ourselves through craft distillation. It’s our art form, our passion, and our way of making the world just a little more beautiful." - St. George Spirits

An unusual, but beautiful, view for a distillery:

St. George Bourbon, impatiently waiting to be released:

Their pet shark from the set of Deep Blue Sea (Link: Spoiler alert!):

In 1936 the City of Alameda, for the hefty sum of $1, transferred Alameda Point to the federal government of the United States. Known as the “Aviation Gateway to the Pacific,” Alameda Point was the perfect location for setting up an air force base in the tumultuous times of the 1940s. Decommissioned in 1997, the base became an ideal place for unassuming enterprises. One such enterprise was St. George Spirits who in 1997 moved into the beautiful 65,000-sqaure-feet Hanger 21 - though, 1997 was not St. George’s birthday. Jörg Rupf who had come to the Bay Area in 1979 to do post-doctoral work on a grant by the German Government started the company in 1982. Because of the lack of locally produced eau de vie, Rupf decided to leave his studies and open the first eau de vie distillery in the US. It was only in 2000 that Rulf and his new partner, Lance Winters - a former navy nuclear engineer and brewer, released their first bottling of single malt whiskey; and in 2002, their first batch of Hanger One Vodka, what would become their most praised and revered beverage to date. With 10 full time employees and 9 different products, each with multiple variations, St. George Spirits is a microdistilling powerhouse. 

Just from walking around this place one can see this distillery is not like the “rest of them.” From its giant shark, the mermaid hanging down from the mash tanks, and the tour guide which would fit better in a comedy club, St. George Spirits has a personality of its own. Is it exactly my taste (no pun intended)? Maybe not, but when push comes to shove I don’t really care about the personality of the distillery and the character of its staff. All I care about is the quality of the spirit. Is it made with care? Does it hold up when you begin comparing it with other similar products of quality? Not to mention, there is a place for diversity. One shouldn’t expect a loch outside the window of every distillery, or their water to flow in from the iron-free Cave Spring. There is a place for everyone and, as I just said, when it comes down to it, the product is left. There is room for novelty, but I don’t think this is the source of St. George's passion, practicing and refining the art of distillation is.

So what of it then? How did the tasting go? It was interesting. In fact, I hardly remember it. Why? Because after trying 15 different spirits in one sitting, by the time I actually tasted their bourbon my palate was ruined. If this was the "basic training" I would hate to see what it’s like for the "special ops." Why in the world, if you make an aqua perfecta eau de vie, multiple selections of vodka, a single malt whiskey, aqua perfecta fruit liqueurs and an absinthe verte, would you have someone taste them all in one sitting? I don’t have an answer. Coming out of the tour and tasting I almost felt like I was being swept through the place rather then feeling like a valuable customer who they wanted to educate about their product. 

So what am I saying? Am I giving a negative review of the place? No. The guided tour was a terrific and hilarious experience. One whole hour for a free tour is something you don't get every day - and you come out having learned a lot. The only issues were the excessive amount of spirits for the tasting and the server seemed a little inexperienced - I would say it was a noticeable problem when she didn't even know there was bourbon set to be released, stacked directly behind her in the adjacent room (only having been in the barrel for the last 5 years!).

My suggestion for the tasting would be to limit it to about four or five spirits at the most and provide more time for discussion on the actual tasting of each individual drink, allowing for each participant to not only learn about the spirit, but also to gain a valuable experience in tasting. You don't need to show someone everything on God's green Earth to get a customer to come back. Show them the quality of a few products and allow them to recognize the quality, and from there they will not only keep coming back to St. George Spirits, but they will also be more wiling to try the larger selections St. George offers. Rushing a group through all of them will leave a person with little to go back to - overwhelmed and under appreciated. All in all I would still recommend you visit the place if you're in the Bay Area.

In 2007 St. George released the first absinthe in the U.S. since 1912: