Posted: Aug 31, 2010 12:00am ET
Just got a bottle of Basil Hayden’s Bourbon (which I adore) and rather than drinking it, I was perusing the label (which I generally deplore, but I’m on duty, and sometimes you have to learn about liquor the hard way—through reading).
That’s when I came upon these words: “You’ll find Basil’s at its best when sipped STRAIGHT or with a splash of branch water.” It’s a message with which I generally concur. At 80 proof, Basil Hayden’s is mild enough (“gentle” is the word on the label) that you can easily drink it NEAT (I like to reserve the term STRAIGHT for the Bureau of Alcohol Firearms and Tobacco’s legal definition of Bourbon: at least 51 percent corn in the grain recipe, aged at least two years in new, charred-oak barrel with no coloring or flavoring added). And if I were to add water (which is actually allowed under the legal definition), it probably wouldn’t much more than a splash so as to savor the unusually high rye content in the Basil Hayden’s mash.
But what of this “branch water”? You hear the expression all the time in old western movies when cowpokes come off the dusty trail, belly up to the bar and ask for Bourbon and branch water. “Bourbon and branch” was also J.R.’s favorite bar call on Dallas, television’s great paean to greed and corruption in the Texas oil industry (except that I think it was dislocated—isn’t Houston about oil and Dallas about cowboys?)
I’d never really thought much about what branch water was, so I went looking for edification in that the great resource of truth and other things that are sometimes, maybe true: Wikipedia. There I found my choice of definitions.
• Water from a stream (a term primarily used in the southern United States).
Now I have a brook in my decidedly not Southern back yard, but that’s out. First of all, part of the water comes from runoff from a roadway up the hill and, second, well, frogs, you know…swim in it. Besides my well water isn’t even that good and that’s been filtered through the earth.
Posted: Aug 20, 2010 12:00am ET
…and the Sailor Jerry and the Cruzan 9 and the Black Beard and the Seven Tiki.
Spiced rum, a drink category that virtually didn’t exist before Captain Morgan stormed our shores in the early 1980s, is, well, spicing up the market. New brands are joining the fray and pulling it in new directions.
Which, oddly enough, I think is great.
I’ll admit I’m not the preferred-customer profile for the spiced variety of sugar-cane spirit. Normally you’ll find me lurking in the extra-aged end of the rum pool. But I always applaud category excitement. The rising tide seems to raise everyone to new heights. And you can always expect redefinition of what a drink can be—translation: novel options. If you doubt, just consider what happened to the whiskey world when single-barrel and small-batch Bourbons started turning that category on its ear.
But what can you do to spice up spiced rum? When you’re talking about a spirit whose major presence is personified by a seventeenth century Welsh privateer who sports a saber, a cape and a tri-cornered hat, a lot has to do with image. And the Captain mascot worked so well that sales have boosted every year since its arrival and Captain Morgan is now one of the top-selling liquors in America of any kind with unerring growth for its entire existence.
Well, if you want to trump the Captain for connection to the sea you have to get right in the water. Which is what The Kraken did. The label portrays a kraken, a mythical sea monster reminiscent of a giant squid, swallowing up a galleon from beneath the waves. When the rum hit the market in March, it got a serendipitous boost from the almost simultaneous release of the remake of Clash of the Titans. Possibly the only redeeming scene in the film is when Zeus, played by Liam Neesan, spouts the line, “Release the kraken!” and the beast slithers out.
Elwyn Gladstone, of The Kraken’s parent company, says the timing of the releases (I guess three in all if you consider the rum, the movie and the beast) was a “happy coincidence.” He hastens to add that the name has been floating around at least since the eighteenth century (Alfred, Lord Tennyson rhymed about it).
Posted: Jul 31, 2010 4:45pm ETHeaven Hill just sent me a pre-release of the whiskey maker’s latest Parker’s Heritage Collection, a series of four (so far) special releases that are a tribute to its distinguished master distiller Parker Beam. The good news is it’s excellent. The further good news is it will sell for $79.99, far more approachable to the wallet than the prior two releases ($200 and $150 respectively). If there’s any bad news it’s that there will be only 4,800 bottles for distribution in the U.S. as well as internationally.
A 10-year-old, this whiskey is packed with flavor, but doesn’t have the pronounced woodiness that the earlier Parker’s released at 27 years was shouldered with. I found plenty of everything here—sweetness, spice, vanilla, caramel and maple—all layered in a kind of confection.
This year’s Parker’s is a wheated Bourbon from its Bernheim distillery, where Heaven Hill now produces Old Fitzgerald. While Bourbon is typically made with a grain recipe that includes more than 51 percent corn together with a mix of rye and barley, Old Fitzgerald substitutes winter wheat for the rye. That tradition dates to when the legendary Pappy Van Win Winkle owned the label. The Fitzgerald label came to Heaven Hill when it bought the Bernheim facility from United Distillers in 1999 after losing its own Bardstown distillery in a fire in 1996.
As a 10-year-old, the new Parker’s Heritage represents the oldest wheated Bourbon Heaven Hill has produced. (The Very Special Old Fitzgerald 12-year-old is product the company inherited from United Distillers.) The Parker’s Heritage is bottled at a cask strength of 127.8 proof (63.9 percent alcohol) and so has a pronounced tang despite the smoothness that wheat usually implies.
Heaven Hill's whiskies are all aged and bottled in its original facilities in Bardstown. The 52 barrels for this release come from the fourth, sixth and seventh floors of Rickhouse A. Beam says, “It has the caramel and smokes notes that only 10 years in the top floors of our rickhouses can produce.” The distiller adds that it is at this age and proof that a wheated Bourbon shows best.
Posted: Jul 14, 2010 3:49pm ETWho’s your matchbook guy? Who’s your cocktail napkin guy?
These are probably not questions you put much thought into. To tell you the truth, I hadn’t either—that is until by wonderful wife, in one fell swoop, cherried out my man room and enlightened me to the joys of customized matches and cocktail napkins.
A little background: A couple of years ago we went through a house renovation that seemed to last longer than a drum solo, and even then it wasn’t quite complete. Phase Triple Z in the plan was to finish a room in a newly created basement that would be my bar and smoking room. The whole thing had gone on so long that I myself had forsaken the possibility of its happening and was wondering how the whole house had become so girlified.
Then the lovely Ellen suddenly sprung into action. She called back the contractor, had him trick the place out to a fare thee well with a built in wood bar, bottom-lit glasses shelves and—glory of all glories—an icemaker. (This is an appliance that all it ever does is think of me: “I wonder if Jack needs some ice. Oh, he does. I better make him some. I wonder if Jack needs some more ice. No. I’ll just wait here until he does.”) Then the centerpiece arrived: a billiards table. What a great man room.
But, now I was feeling a bit embarrassed—I’d been thinking all these sullen thoughts about how I never get what I want and then the wife comes through like this. What I didn’t know was she had one more trick up her sleeve: the crowning piece.
Posted: Jun 3, 2010 5:58pm ETI just learned that when the Belmont Stakes is run for the 142nd time in New York on Saturday Woodford Reserve will be the official Bourbon of the race. This I applaud: it’s a good whiskey and I feel that not enough events these days have an official Bourbon. (My wife, however, would add that walking out to get the mail in the afternoon may not be an occurrence worthy of such a official distinction.)
Along with the official-Bourbon honor, Woodford will now be used to make the traditional cocktail of the Belmont Stakes, the Belmont Breeze.
1 1/2 oz. Woodford Reserve
2 oz. Lemonade
1 oz. Pomegranate Juice
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain over ice into a rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge or cherry.
I use the term “traditional” under advisement. If by traditional you mean that the Belmont Breeze has the same sort of longevity that, say, the Mint Julep has had with its unstinting relationship with the Kentucky Derby, well, not that traditional. But if by traditional you mean it’s been the drink associated with the Belmont Stakes for quite a long time, again no. But if by traditional you mean this is the first time it’s been served this way at the race, then, yes, it is traditional.
To be fair, some tradition exists here. The Belmont Breeze has been listed as the official cocktail since 1998 when the barmeister Dale DeGroff invented the drink to replace the former official Belmont cocktail, the White Carnation. The only thing is that when the King of Cocktails first created it, the Breeze was a galaxy more complex and had different base ingredients:
Posted: May 17, 2010 9:27am ETEver since I discovered the Bourbon with the distinctive red-wax seal 20 odd years ago, I’ve heard rumors of some super duper Maker’s Mark that they were keeping for themselves or selling overseas. Whenever I explained that there wasn’t one, the response was a plaint that there should be because every other Bourbon has its "really good stuff.”
Well, I always thought that Maker’s Mark, which turned the Bourbon world on its ear in 1958 by breaking through the superpremium ceiling, was the really good stuff. But it’s human nature to want to move onto the next big thing and so the market clamored for a new release from the company that hadn’t changed what it does for a half century. (Yes, I know they flirted with the stuff that came in the gold seal bottle, but that was fleeting and it was essentially just a higher proof and not a different taste.)
Now the distiller introduces Maker’s 46, and I have to say it was worth the wait. The whiskey manages to embody the essential character of Maker’s Mark (smoothness matched with big flavors of vanilla, caramel and maple), while revealing a spicy side that it never showed before.
Bill Samuels Jr., president of Maker’s Mark and son of its founder, came by the office recently to introduce me to his new baby and explain its creation. Watch this video to learn about the nightmare that drove him to make it.