May Wine

As the merry merry month of May winds down in a hot, sticky fashion, I thought it would be appropriate to share my take on the traditional German punch called May Wine. The following recipe is for a pitcher for home consumption, but could serve for a small party. For a larger party, double the recipe and serve in a large punch bowl with a ball of ice and garnishes.

2 Bottles of dry, white Mosel wine or sweeter if you like. A couple inexpensive Michigan or New York Rieslings would work very well too.

1 cup of powdered sugar or other sugar to taste depending on the sweetness of the wine.

6 sprigs of sweet woodruff

1/2 liter of club soda, seltzer or other sparkling water. An inexpensive dry sparkling wine can also be used.

Additional sprigs and orange slices or sliced strawberries (if in season in your area)

Pour half of one bottle (375 ml) into a large bowl or a pitcher. Add the sugar, 6 sprigs of woodruff and stir. Let sit for 30 minutes. Remove woodruff. Combine with the rest of the wine and stir. Just before serving add the soda or sparkling wine. Serve in glasses of your choice with a sprig and a slice of orange or 2-3 slices of strawberries.

Serving suggestion photo courtesy of O.V. Hightower:

Casillero del Diablo Reserva Shiraz

Maker: Concha y Toro

Grape: Shiraz

Region: Central Valley, Chile

Vintage: 2005

ABV: 14%

Color: Like Richie Blackmore early in his career: Deep Purple. Good legs too.

Nose: Blackberry jam, black currant with a slight mustiness. Oak perhaps?

On the palate: shockingly light. Could there be a touch of Grenache in the mix? That same mustiness detected in the nose comes up in the palate, but takes the form of a pleasant tannic dryness.

Finish: Light, sweet finish.  Lingers in the cheeks like a well-made lollipop.

Parting words: Not like a New World Shiraz hardly at all. It’s closer to a fine Rhone wine, maybe a Chateauneuf-de-pape or a more generic
cote-de-rhone. Worth picking up, even if a later vintage.

My Two Ounces: Public and Private Houses, part 2

When I joined 1789b, I was expecting a sedate and sober (in a manner of speaking) place where serious bourbon lovers could have a civilized discussion about the world’s finest beverage. What I found was different than what I expected.

At first I was surprised at the number of members who really didn’t seem to be all that interested in bourbon at all. Several introductory posts began something like this, “I don’t know much about bourbon but the co-founder of this site invited me to join. We got to know each other through the Cigar forums.” Odd, I thought, that a place that was supposed to be the home of serious boubon-peoplewas being populated by cigar people whose interest in bourbon seemed to be marginal. The opposite was true too. Ed Phalen, a pillar of the bourbon community, was nominated for membership. The public comments about his nomination were overwhelmingly positive. Then one of the founders of the forum posted that some members had sent him private concerns about Ed and that his nomination was under review. Then the whole thread disappeared.

Other aspects of the membership were curious. I was told that certain classes of people were deliberately excluded from membership. There were to be no people associated with “the industry” at all, even those who work at liquor stores were excluded. But one of the most frequent posters while I was there was someone who was for many years (and to my knowledge still is) an employee of Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD). Bloggers (should I have been insulted?) and professional writers on American Whiskey were also excluded to preserve the purity of the
forum.

Another thing that was surprising was that in a forum that was supposed to be for “mature” persons, there was plenty of pettiness. Cheap shots at those excluded critics and bloggers abounded. There was even a thread entitled “John Hansell whining AGAIN” which was a response to this post from Hansell’s blog. Taking shots at someone unable to respond didn’t seem particularly gentlemanly to me.

1789b was most disappointing in how unbelievably BORING it was. One of the most active sub-forums was one devoted to food. Not bourbon & food, just food. Many of the threads were very similar to ones on SB.com, and not the interesting ones either. One of the most potentially exciting sub-forums at 1789b was the “guest of the month” sub-forum. Someone in the American whiskey industry was invited to join 1789b for a month and interact with the membership. The first (and only) month I was there the guest was David Perkins of High West distillers/bottlers. What could have been a very cool experience was nothing but a bunch of softball questions (“How do you find such great whiskeys?”) and more thinly veiled shots at whiskey writers (“What do you think of critics who say things about you?”).

In spite of all this, I stayed. The private bottlings that members of 1789b were getting together for their membership were just too mouth-watering so I decided to stay on to take advantage of those.

I didn’t log on for about a week and a half because I was so bored and annoyed with the forum, and my arthritis had just started to rear its ugly head. When I tried to log on again, I discovered that I couldn’t. I tried again the next day but I still couldn’t get in. So I sent private messages to my friends on SB.com who I knew were 1789b members (including one of the founders) to ask them if they knew what was going on. A few replied but they knew nothing. Neither founder never replied. I replied that I didn’t really have to time to post regularly anyway due to my schedule, which was certainly true. But I was also fed up with the forum and frankly a little miffed that I had not even received an email or message telling me that my account was about to be terminated. As far as I can tell, my account was deleted because I failed to post often enough to fulfill the forum requirements but I have still not received any official explanation.

In the end, I bear no ill-will toward any members of 1789b or the management, although I would like an explanation of why I was booted. I still consider most of the membership of 1789b to be friends and I understand the desire to filter out the “noise” of the internet. I just realized that I am not a gentleman’s club kind of person. I’m a saloon guy. I like the noise, I like the newbies, I like the trolls and most of the time I like the mods. Maybe there’s a place for 1789b in the online whiskey world. They certainly seem to have found their niche, but SB.com is my internet whiskey home and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

My Two Ounces: Public and Private Houses, part 1

Even its critics would admit that Straightbourbon.com is the online heart of American Whiskey fandom. It was founded over ten years ago by Jim Butler, bourbon aficionado and Silicon Valley scientific systems analyst. Butler still owns and operates the site himself. It is an online expression of the community of bourbon-lovers that formed at the gatherings that took place in Bardstown, Kentucky around the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. When the group got too big to meet in their rooms at the Bardstown Best Western, they moved the festivities to the gazebo behind the hotel. The Gazebo has been the spiritual center of this community ever since. The only rules for the Gazebo are that people bring at least one bottle to share (it doesn’t have to be fancy) and bring their own glassware.

The Straightbourbon.com (SB.com hereafter) forums share in the freewheeling spirit of the Gazebo. The chat room attached to Straightbourbon.com is even called The Gazebo. Anyone is welcome and as forums go, it is a pretty polite, easy-going place. It currently has over 7,000 members and by my estimation has close to 100 members who post at least once a week. I am a member there with a few thousand posts under my belt, mostly due to over a year of unemployment. I go by the enigmatic handle Josh (not to be confused with Joshua or Macinjosh).

There are other online bourbonforums and blogs, of course. There is whiskey writer Michael Veach’s Bourbonenthusiast.com forum. There are also the blogs of whiskey writers like The Chuck
Cowdery Blog
, John Hansell’s What does John know? and others. There are also the blogs of amateurs (in the true sense of the term) like bourbondork, sku’s recenteats, and this one. While they all have their place, none have the saloon feel of SB.com.

Not everyone appreciates the feel-wheeling atmosphere of SB.com, though. Complaints have been made about the shifting membership of the forum, the changed tone of the forum from the old days, and the usual complaints about moderators, newbies and trolls. Off and on there would also be heated (by SB.com standards) discussions about the at best gray-market sale and resale of whiskey by forum members.

In reaction to these and other complaints two long-time members of SB.com started a new forum called 1789b earlier this year. The founding of a new forum was nothing new, but what makes 1789b different is that it is a private forum. Membership is only open to those who have been nominated by another member and approved by the membership. If SB.com is a saloon, 1789b is intended to be a private gentlemen’s club in the classic sense of the term. The forum rules state that only mature, active members are desired and that members are expected to behave themselves. Most controversially, members are also required to refrain from any discussion about 1789b with those who are not members of 1789b. This has prompted a few sarcastic nicknames for 1789b from non-members including Super Secret Bourbon Club and Bourbon Fight Club (“The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Fight Club!”).

A few weeks into 1789b’s existence, I was informed that I had been nominated for membership. My first reaction was surprise. I assumed it had been created specifically to exclude people like me, but out of curiosity and consideration for a few friends who were members already, I joined. It was not what I expected. More on that later.

Review: Ardbeg 10

Maker: Ardbeg, Isle of Islay, Scotland (LVMH)

Region: Islay

Age: 10 y/o

ABV: 46%

Appearance: Light gold. On the glass it is clingy and insistent like an insecure lover.

Nose: Brown butter, peat (but no smoke), weak black tea

On the Palate: Full-bodied, more butter, big peat, white chocolate, but lots of sweet malt too.

Finish: The finish is a monster. Big, hot and aggressive, with the long hidden smoke making its appearance.  As the sweetness fade from the palate the smoke and peat and alcohol erupt from the back of the mouth, swirl around the mouth and engulf the tongue, cheeks and lips in a symphony of fire.

Parting words: This was my first bottle of Ardbeg and I have enjoyed it quite a bit. I remain a Scotch novice, but compared to the other Islay malts I’ve tasted so far, I think I would rank this whiskey in the middle of the pack. Not to say this is a mediocre whisky by any stretch, it’s excellent. But at the same price I think I would prefer something from Laphroaig if I had to choose. Luckily, I don’t have to. The buttery peat of Ardbeg is a nice change of pace from the smoldering hearth of Laphroaig.

I am eager to try some of Ardbeg’s NAS offerings. Any recommendations?

Review: Atwater Dunkel

Maker: Atwater Block Brewery, Detroit, Michigan

Style: Dark Lager

ABV: 5.2%

Appearance: Big persistant foamy head. Dark coffee brown.

Nose: Malt, fresh roasted coffee.

On the palate: more coffee, quite dry and bitter.
Finish: coffee coffee coffee, French roast to be specific.

Parting words: My take on this beer seemed to change every time I drank it. I can’t quite pin it down. This last time, I didn’t care too much for it, frankly. It is too far on the roasty toasty side of things. Almost burnt. If I had written this review a few months ago, this may have been more positive. Right, now, I cannot recommend Atwater Dunkel. It is unbalanced.

Four Roses 2010 Limited Edition Small Batch

More catching up…

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky (Kirin)

Age: 10 y/o (mix of 15 y/o, 11 y/o, and 10 y/o bourbons).

Proof: 110.2 (55.1% ABV)

Style: High-Rye Bourbon

Appearance: Light copper, with long, thick legs.

Nose: Wood, big spice and big alcohol, spicy nacho chips,
jalapeno.

On the palate: Good body, a little sweetness, then dry
woodiness and tannins, then cassia, then burn. Water balances it out quite a
bit. There are still plenty of the aggressive flavors above, but they are
balanced by brown sugar and vanilla, flavors not usually associated with Four Roses.

Finish: Hot at first, then dry and tannic, then a tingling sweetness. Water doesn’t slow down the finish much.

Parting Words: This bourbon, as noted above, is a mix (“blend” is a dirty word in the world of American Whiskey) of three of the ten bourbon recipes made by Four Roses: 15 y/o OBSV, 11 y/o OBSK and 10 y/o OESK. In 2008 and 2009 Four Roses put out something it called the Mariage Collection. The concept (and the bottle) was very similar to the Limited Edition Small Batch. It was also a special annual release, but only two of them were “married” together (it was produced in Kentucky, not Utah, after all), and the constituent bourbons were older. The 2008 Mariage was very good, and the 2009 was the best bourbon whiskey I have ever tasted, and I’ve tasted a lot of them.

So the 2010 Limited Edition Small Batch had very big shoes to fill. If measured against the 2009 Mariage, it falls short. But if it is measured up against most annual releases from most distilleries, it more than holds its own. It is not as subtle or multi-layered as its predecessor was but it is a well-crafted assertive whiskey that announces its presence boldly, but never wears out its welcome. Spice, corn, and wood all jockey for position throughout and the winner is always the drinker. Highly recommended!

Review: Maker’s 46

Maker: Maker’s Mark, Loretto, Kentucky (Beam Global)

Style: Wheated Bourbon (infused with toasted French oak)

Age: NAS

Proof: 94 (47% ABV)

Appearance: copper with a pearl necklace of some significance, like on Antiques Roadshow.

Nose: Wood and char, quality toasted wheat bread.

On the Palate: more toast and wood flavors morphing into spice: ginger, nutmeg, allspice and that quintessential wheater flavor:
vanilla. Some sweet marshmallow flavors as well.

Finish: Moderately hot and distinctively drier than the standard Maker’s.

Parting words: I first tasted this at the 2010 Spring Sampler in Bardstown. I liked it then and I like it now. the differences from the standard Maker’s are easy to pick up on. It has a very nice woodiness, but in a different way than old wheaters like the Pappy Van Winkles or Very Special Old Fitzgerald. It is more perfumed than tannic. I find it very pleasant. No Maker’s bourbon is going to be a life-changing experience, but 46 works well as an affordable dessert sipper.