Whiskey Book Review: Mountain Spirits

Mountain Spirits: A Chronicle of Corn Whiskey from King James' Ulster Plantation to America's Appalachians and the Moonshine LifeI had been told by several people that Mountain Spirits by Joseph Earl Dabney is a must read for anyone interested in the history of American spirits. After devouring it in just a few days I must admit that it's one of the most entertaining, educational, and hard-to-put-down books I've read in a long time. Mountain Spirits' anecdotes of life in the Southern Appalachians will appeal to history buffs and Southerners, even of the non-drinking variety. If you do like a glass of corn whiskey with your history lesson then you're really in for a treat as Dabney recounts the tales of numerous moonshiners, bootleggers, whiskey runners, and revenuers. If you have trouble distinguishing between those different players in the hooch business just read the book and you'll be an expert in no time flat.


Last Minute Gifts for the Whiskey Afficianado on Your List

It's almost Christmas, but I'm sure you've probably put some of your gift buying off til the last minute. Well if you have whiskey aficionados on your gift list you're in luck because I've compiled a handy list of great gifts for whiskey-lovers. Happy Holidays!


Philadelphia Whiskey Week at Fiume

Beer week has grown into a huge to-do in Philadelphia over the past few years. Dozens and dozens of bars participate, there are endless events every night for more than a full week, and beer lovers come from all over to soak it all in. Well that all had to start somewhere, and now one bar is trying to start small and build a whiskey week for Philadelphia. Based on my visit last night I'd say they're off to a great start.

Fiume is a low profile little barroom above one of West Philadelphia's many Ethiopian restaurants - Abyssinia - at 45th and Locust. This restaurant happens to be where my wife and I had our first real date, but I had never been up to the tiny second floor whiskey bar that I kept hearing about until last night. It's very tiny actually - if you're familiar with West Philly Victorian homes you'll recognize Fiume as the bay-windowed front bedroom which is big for a bedroom, but small for a bar. It felt packed with about 20 patrons last night, but great things come in small packages. I'm sure Fiume is a great spot all year round, but for his first Whiskey Week bartender Kevin James Holland added 52 new whiskeys to his menu, giving Fiume one of the best whiskey selections in Philadelphia, especially when it comes to bourbons and ryes.

He has also made trying the numerous whiskeys on his list super easy by offering full or half servings (at half price) and by running happy hour from 6-9pm every day. While there last night I sampled a Michter's Rye and my wife had Elmer T. Lee bourbon, both of which were great, and could only be had at maybe one or two other spots in Philadelphia and nowhere at such bargain prices or from such a knowledgeable barkeep. Fiume is also offering themed flights (a 'smooth flight' for example) that allow you to taste your way through a series of whiskeys, and come complete with highly-educational commentary from Holland.

Whiskey Week at Fiume runs through Sunday December 12th so get there quick!

Read more Here and Here.


Hazelnut Rye Flip

This past weekend was the time for decorating at my house, and I decided to make the tree lighting and tinsel hanging a little more fun this year by coming up with a tasty drink to match the festive atmosphere. I think my creation hits all the right holiday flavors perfectly, especially if you're a fan of rye whiskey.

You'll Need:

  • 1 oz. Rye Whiskey - I used a classic, Old Overholt
  • 1/2 oz. Frangelico hazelnut liqueur
  • 1 egg white
  • Dash of Angostura bitters
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cinnamon
  • Cinnamon stick for garnish
  1. Pour everything but the cinnamon stick into a large shaker filled with ice.
  2. Shake vigorously for a minute or so - you really want to froth up the egg white for a nice creamy drink.
  3. Strain it into rocks glass over a few cubes of ice - I recommend using a very fine strainer to keep out any stray chunks of nutmeg or cinnamon.
  4. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.
  5. Enjoy with Christmas carols and a warm sweater.


First Tasmanian Whisky Available in the US

A few months ago I wrote about the growth of whisky production in Australia and specifically on the island of Tasmania. Until now getting your hands on Australian-made whisky in the U.S. has been next to impossible. I tried to have a tiny sample bottle of Aussie whisky sent to me this past summer, and after a few frustrating calls with a customs officer at the Port of L.A., I gave up on jumping through all the hoops necessary to get the bottle to my shelf. I guess they sent it back to Australia, or maybe had a little happy hour at the customs office.

Well now it's easier to taste at least one Tasmanian whisky - actually three different whiskies from Lark Distillery - at least if you live near New York, Chicago, Miami, San Fran, or L.A. You can read more about the first Australian whisky being imported to the U.S. here, and as soon as I get a chance to taste some I'll report back.



Oh Taste & See: 1729 Ridgemont Reserve Bourbon

I mentioned in my recent post about the Philadelphia Whiskey Festival that 1792 Ridgemont Reserve has recently made my list of favorite bourbons. I'm not ready to say exactly where on my list it falls, but I encourage you to try a glass and decide for yourself how it stacks up on your list of favorites. 1792 Ridgemont Reserve takes its name from the year in which Kentucky became a state (the 15th state if you're counting). It's an eight year old small batch bourbon bottled in Bardstown by Barton Distilling Company (a division of Sazerac), and designated the "Official Toasting Bourbon of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival." Given that Christmas and New Years are coming up I think a 'toasting bourbon', whatever you think that means, is a great thing to have on hand.


Cooking with Whiskey: Mint Julep Pork Chops

Over the weekend I did a fall clean out of my tiny little garden. While most of the plants died or went dormant weeks ago, I was still able to harvest a few peppers, and a whole bunch of mint. The mint was still thriving to the point of growing out of cracks in my planters, so I decided to pull it all up and start over next spring. But what to do with a pile of fresh-from-the-garden mint? Play around in the kitchen what else.

By pure luck I hit on a pretty tasty dish on my first try. You'll need the following ingredients:

1/3 cup of fresh mint leaves, de-stemmed and rinsed.
3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
1 egg
2 oz. of bourbon (I used the last of my Henry McKenna - I'm sure anything better would be...better)
2 tbsp of dark brown sugar
3-4 thick pork loin chops

1. Put everything except the pork chops in a food processor and blend it together until you have a nice creamy mixture.
2. Soak the pork chops in this marinade for at least 2 hours - a longer marinade can't hurt if you have time.
3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
4. Transfer the pork chops to a baking dish and brush a light coating of the marinade on both sides of the chops.
5. Bake for 25-30 minutes and serve.


The 2010 Philadelphia Whiskey Festival

Last night I attended the seventh annual Philadelphia Whiskey Festival put on by Philadelphia Magazine. This was the first time I'd attended this event, and my first surprise was the crowd - apparently Philadelphia has a lot of whiskey drinkers and they have no problem coming out on a Wednesday evening. After waiting in line for half an hour to get to the check-in table I finally got a wrist band and made my way into the crowded Ballroom at the Ben - a lovely venue for sippin' whiskey.

Philadelphia's Whiskey Festival isn't all about whiskey - there are also plenty of vodkas, rums, and even a few gins and liqueurs available for tasting. I tried a couple amazing rums (Mount Gay 1703 Old Cask and Ron Zacapa stand out) and a disgusting (to me) local phenomenon known as Root, but I mostly stuck to the whiskey (and some whisky) of which there was plenty.


Whiskey Book Review: The Art of Distilling Whiskey and Other Spirits

The Art of Distilling Whiskey and Other Spirits is a must read for anyone interested in the production process, history, or future of fine spirits. It's edited by Bill Owens and Alan Dikty, two of the biggest names in the distilling industry (and the craft-brewing industry to boot). Given the vast knowledge that Owens and Dikty bring to the table, you're bound to learn something from this book even if you're already well-versed in the world fine spirits.

My favorite thing about this book is that serves three purposes at the same time. First it's a beautiful coffee-table book with dozens of beautiful photos showing the various bottles, stills, and people that make up the world of artisan distilling. It's worth having around just for the photos, but wait there's more! The Art of Distilling Whiskey is also an informative and entertaining introduction to how distilled spirits are made, and the differences between the various categories of spirits. If you're looking for a comprehensive but digestible book to bring you up to speed on the world of spirits this one is perfect. Finally, this book is a great reference volume. It contains a wide-ranging bibliography of further reading on the topic of distilling, a distiller's glossary, and a comprehensive international directory of distilleries that focuses on small craft producers.

In summary, this is a book that you'll go back to time and again as you have questions about what you're drinking, who made it, and how it got to be so darn tasty. For the moment it's also the most up-to-date book in its category and contains few of the omissions and errors that I've found in similar books from just a few years ago. It is hard to write comprehensively about the constantly-changing world of spirits, but after reading through The Art of Distilling Whiskey I can see why it has become a classic only a year after first being published. I look forward to reading more of Bill Owens' books and reporting back on them here.


Oh Taste & See: Whisky MAG'5

I bought a bottle of Whisky Mag'5 earlier this summer while on vacation, mostly because I couldn't figure out exactly what it was. Also it was inexpensive enough to take a chance on, but I learned the lesson that sometimes taking chances on cheap whisky doesn't work out and you end up wishing you had bought more rum instead.


List of Philly's Top 50 Bars Includes Some Whiskey Joints

Interior of Pub on Passyunk East
The website Foobooz.com just released its 2010 list of Philadelphia's top 50 bars as selected by a "who’s-who of Philadelphia’s drinking scene." I was glad to see both of the bars that I've reviewed for this blog on the list - Royal Tavern at #10 and Village Whiskey at #14, and several of my other favorite haunts also made the list including my go-to spot, Pub on Passyunk East aka POPE at #4. Bars on the list with notable whiskey selections include Southwark (#3), Chick's Cafe (#9), Oyster House (#22), and Devil's Den (#43), all of which I will eventually get around to reviewing for this blog.

In addition to the list there's also a great map of all 50 bars that makes it a piece of cake to plan a good bar crawl in the City of Brotherly Love. If you're into history, you might find it interesting to compare this year's top 50 to the 2009 version - there are plenty of newcomers, but also a good helping of the classics that should be on the top 50 list for decades to come.


Amazing Website About the History of American Whiskey

Remember when the internet first came out and you could sit for hours in front of your computer clicking from page to page reading about topics that you'd always been interested in...or those you never even knew existed? You didn't need fancy videos or flash presentations, just well-written text and a few photos. Well, if you like whiskey and American history get ready to spend some old-fashioned internet time clicking around this website:

It's a labor of love put together by a husband and wife team who seem to have an endless capacity for researching and retelling the stories of American whiskey. Happy surfing.


Best of the Rest from Portland

I already gave you the run down on the top five whiskeys that I tasted in Portland, but I also tasted a lot of other craft spirits that at least deserve a mention. So, in no particular order, the best of the rest:

Dos Maderas P.X. Rum - Although not necessarily a 'craft spirit' this rum, imported by Kindred Spirits, certainly is unique and deserves to be tasted by anyone who enjoys good rums or good sherry as it has characteristics of both. It begins life as molasses-based rum from Barbados and Guyana, spends five years in American oak, followed by five years in Spain. The first three of those last five years are spent in Palo Cortado sherry casks, while the final two years are in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. After all that Dos Maderas P.X. ends up as a syrupy, complex rum, perfect for sipping neat or pouring over a bit of vanilla ice cream.


God Bless Texas

In my last post I mentioned that I had a chance to try Baby Blue Corn Whiskey from Waco Texas' Balcones Distillery. It was a very nice unaged whiskey made from blue corn. Now comes news of another exciting product out of Texas, this one a more traditional two year old bourbon being released in very small batches.

The limited release makes a quick Texas road trip quite tempting as cold weather rolls in here in the mid-Atlantic. The bourbon is known as Garrison Brothers Texas Bourbon Whiskey and is being produced in Hye, TX about 50 miles west of Austin. If you get a chance to try any I'd love to hear how their first vintage shapes up.


Report from Portland

I'm back from the Great American Distillers Festival in Portland, OR, and now that I'm over my jet-lag I thought I'd start writing about it a bit. First things first, there was some good whiskey at the festival that I hadn't had a chance to taste before. So without further ado, my top five whiskies from the weekend:

1. W.H. Harrison Indiana Straight Bourbon - As a bourbon fan, I had to tip my had to this brand new bourbon out of Indiana that just hit the market and also just hit the nail on the head as far as making a delicious sippin' bourbon. The 80 proof straight bourbon was good neat, but the Governor's Reserve Barrel Proof version, with a dash of water added, was amazing at 115 proof. Lots of rye spice and being named after a U.S. President made this my favorite whiskey of the festival.


Update from Portland

After spending my first full day in Portland, Oregon I've already added it to my list of favorite cities. I mean what's not to like - great public transit, super-nice people, good coffee, great beer, and did I mention that I'm here for the Great American Distillers Festival which is held here for good reason - there's a ton of good liquor made in this town!

Yesterday I tasted my way through a tour of six (yes six) micro-distilleries that are all located within a few blocks of each other in a hip, industrial section of East Portland. In true northwestern fashion these distilleries have decided to cooperate with each other in creating Distillery Row - an ultra-local, artisan version of Kentucky's Bourbon Trail or California's various wine trails. The six distilleries are Integrity Spirits, New Deal Distillery, Deco Distilling, Highball Distillery, House Spirits, and Stone Barn Brandyworks. The people behind each distillery all have their own great stories, and the products they produce range from (very hot) hot-pepper infused vodka to an all-rye white dog whiskey. I'll write more about the individual distilleries and their products soon, but today I've got to head off to judge cocktails crafted by some of the country's best mixologists at the Portland Cocktail Invitational.

Also, on a side note, I went to a bar last night and heard a really good local band called The Low Bones. Perfect music for the end of my first day in Portland.


Great Cocktail - Marble Rye

I had a really delicious and unique cocktail last night at a local Philadelphia restaurant called Zahav. The cocktail was called the Marble Rye and I highly recommend it if you're dining at Zahav. The ingredient list and name make you think this drink will taste like liquid rye bread, but it's actually a refreshing, light spritzer of a drink with just enough whiskey kick behind it. If you want to try to make your own, the ingredients are:

1. Pumpernickel and Caraway infused Rye - you'll have to play around with making this yourself. I'd say start with a bottle of Jim Beam Rye, pour it into a large, sealable jar and drop in a handful of caraway seeds and a chunk of pumpernickel break. Let it sit in a cool, dark spot for a week or two and see what happens.
2. Celery Soda - hard to come by in most places, but not impossible - see Wikipedia.
3. I'm guessing the proportions were about 1 part infused rye to 3 parts celery soda - shaken and poured over ice with a lemon twist.

If you have any luck making this at home let me know!


Whiskey Jim Goes West

I'm headed out west for the weekend to the Great American Distillers Festival in Portland, OR. I'll be talking to distillers, tasting some of the spirits that are so hard to get your hands on here in Philadelphia, and even judging a cocktail competition so it should be one heck of a weekend. I'll post as much as I can throughout the festival and give a full report on the Portland scene as soon as I'm back.


In Pittsburgh this Weekend?

I normally feel sorry for people who spend their weekends in Pittsburgh...just kidding (sorta)! This weekend though it's the place to be for fans of rye whiskey and history. Although there's currently no rye being produced in Western PA, there is a ton of history there and this Friday and Saturday will see a series of lectures, tours, and events targeted towards those interested in the region's whiskey history. The events are timed to match the addition of West Overton, outside of Pittsburgh, to the American Whiskey Trail. The area is the site of the whiskey rebellion after all, as well as the original Old Overholt distillery.

For more info on the weekend's festivities see:


Philadelphia Distilling Company

I finally got a chance to tour a distiller that's right here in my backyard, Northeast Philly's Philadelphia Distilling Company, home of Bluecoat American Dry Gin, Penn 1681 vodka, and Vieux Carre absinthe. No they don't make whiskey, but they do make some very fine spirits and they have a beautiful Scottish-made copper pot-still that looks just slightly out-of-place in the ho-hum industrial park that Philadelphia Distilling calls home. That's more than enough for me to be interested.

I've been drinking Bluecoat Gin as long as I've been drinking gin. By that I mean it's a gin that appeals to non-gin-lovers and, in my case, eventually eases you into a taste for gin in general. It's a citrusy, crisp spirit that has become quite popular in the Philadelphia area since it was introduced in 2005. Enough about Bluecoat though, this entry is about the distillery where it's made and the highly educational tour I took on recent afternoon.


The 2011 Whisky Bible is Out!

For whisk(e)y aficionados Jim Murray's annual Whisky Bible has been indispensable since it was first published in 2003. Every year's issue includes hundreds of new whisky reviews spanning the globe and all its varied whisky styles. Jim's reviews are very well written and the book's comprehensiveness is absolutely unmatched. I would delve into a detailed description of the 2011 version of the Whisky Bible, but I don't think I could beat the write-up from the folks over at WhiskyIntelligence.com. Check out their summary of the book here or hit up Amazon to add this must-have book to your collection.

If your tastes tend more towards whiskey with the 'e' you might prefer to pick up the 2010 version while it's still on a few bookstore shelves. It lists the world's best whisky as the all-American Sazerac 18-year-old Kentucky Rye, while the latest version has Ballantine's 17 Year Old Scotch listed as number one.


Oh Taste & See: Henry McKenna Sour Mash Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Fact: Henry McKenna is not a top shelf bourbon. It sells for about $18 for a one liter bottle (750mL bottles are hard to find and come in around $15), and it doesn't even get its own website (or Wikipedia entry!), settling for a short blurb on Heaven Hill's corporate site. Judging just by the bottle though, Henry McKenna is intriguing, and given its price it seemed worth trying when I picked up a bottle a while back. My bottle has been almost emptied after much use as a mixer for whiskey sours, Manhattans and bourbon & cokes, so it seems like a straight tasting is in order before it's all gone.


Courtesy of Maker's Mark - The Bluegrass Breeze

Back home in Kentucky they've been celebrating bourbon heritage month for the past few weeks, and it just so happens to coincide nicely with the World Equestrian Games that are being contested through October 10th in Lexington. In honor of these events dozens of distillers, restaurants, and bars in Kentucky and nationwide have created signature cocktails based on America's official native spirit - bourbon.

One of the best of these cocktails that I have come across so far is The Bluegrass Breeze - a cocktail being billed as the signature cocktail of the World Equestrian Games by Maker's Mark. It's just a slight variation on a simple classic - bourbon and ginger ale - with the addition of a bit of curacao adding a new and refreshing twist. The basic recipe is below and you can read more about the drink on kypost.com.

Bluegrass Breeze
Signature Cocktail of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2010
1.5 ounces Maker’s Mark Bourbon
3 ounces Ginger Ale
0.5 ounces DeKuyper Orange Curacao
1 orange slice
In a rocks glass filled with ice, pour in Maker’s Mark Bourbon and DeKuyper Orange Curacao and top off with ginger ale. Squeeze orange and drop in glass.


Oh Taste & See: Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey

Irish whiskey is very popular among my circle of friends, and in Philadelphia in general. I would say the most common whiskey I hear people ordering around town is Jameson, with Bushmills also getting plenty of love.

While it's definitely popular, I have always found the lack of choice among Irish whiskeys to be a bit boring. At any given bar you're lucky to find three or four different brands of Irish whiskey, even if they stock dozens of Scotch or Bourbons labels. This lack of variety is largely due to the fact that Ireland today boasts only a few distilleries, with most owned by two large conglomerates. You can read a bit more about the history of Irish whiskey in this post, but today's tasting is about a slightly less common, and delightful whiskey called Kilbeggan produced by the "distant third place" distiller of the Irish whiskey world - Cooley. Cooley is cool because it's the only major Irish whiskey maker that is still independently owned by Irishmen.


Day Late but Not a Penny Short

Did you miss your Saturday Night Whiskey Song? Well sometimes a good song is worth the wait. Here's one that's just perfect for late on a Sunday evening. The song may not be about whiskey, but the band's name is The Whiskey Rebellion, so you can't beat that!


Delicious Drink Alert - Guayabita del Pinar Dulce

This post is not about whiskey, but it is about one of the most delicious beverages I have ever tried. It's something I brought back from my recent trip to the Caribbean and just opened up for a taste this evening. The drink is called La Occidental Guayabita del Pinar Dulce and it's a sweet, cane liquor (like some rums) with flavorings from the guayabita (literally 'little guava') fruit of western Cuba. This drink has been produced commercially since 1892 but hasn't spread far beyond its home town.

I had not been able to find much information on Guayabita del Pinar before opening it, but from the little I'd read I was expecting more of an herbal-infused flavor halfway between gin and rum. Boy did it throw me for a loop when I twisted off the cap to find one of the sweetest, most candy-like flavors I've ever encountered. I'm not a big fan of super-sweet drinks, but something about this one is very nice. It's smooth and creamy and nutty and fruity all at the same time and all in perfect proportion. It's like a tootsie roll, some almonds, and a jolly rancher (grape?) got mashed together and then any sourness or bitterness was sucked out leaving only sweet, fruity, nutty, chocolaty smoothness. It is so smooth in fact that I might not guess it had any alcohol based on a quick taste, much less 30%. Sorry to gush, but this stuff is unique and very good, try to get your hands on a bottle!

I enjoyed my first glass of Guayabita del Pinar over a bit of ice while reading up on the product's history here. Turns finding detailed information about it in English is tough, but if you speak Spanish you can learn a thing or two on the back of the bottle or on a few Spanish language sites around the web. One thing that is clear in any language is that Guayabita del Pinar is a tough product to find anywhere outside of the region where it's produced - a beautiful region I might add as you can see in the photo below. So I'm going to have to nurse this one bottle to make it last as long as possible. If you know of anyone headed to Cuba tell them to max out their liquor quota on Guayabita del Pinar - decent rum can be bought anywhere, but this unique tipple is worth the hassle of finding it and bringing it home. There's also a dry version of Guayabita del Pinar out there and I'd love to hear from anyone who has tried that. Given that sweetness is by far the dominant characteristic of what I'm drinking I can't imagine how a dry version could maintain any of the same flavors, but who knows. Cheers!

p.s. There's some sort of object in the bottom of my bottle. It looks like a prune with a stem, but I assume it's a guayabita. In a few months when all the juice is gone I'll have a taste of the little guava.


Back to the Music...

After a few Saturdays without posting a new 'whiskey song' I'm pulling out a classic. George Jones singing Tennessee Whiskey with David Allan Coe at 1985's FarmAid concert. It doesn't get much more country than this song, so throw on your boots, pour yourself a Jack Daniels on the rocks and get ready to two-step.


A "Fair and Balanced" Overview of the White Dog Phenomenon

If you follow my blog you know that I'm interested in the newly popular un-aged whiskies that seem to be popping up everywhere. Whether you call it legal moonshine, white lightening, or white dog, there's no denying that legit micro-distillers, and even a few of the big boys like Buffalo Trace, are butting their way into a market once dominated by woodsmen in bib overalls.

I found this article from Fox News to be perhaps the most glaring sign yet that un-aged whiskey has indeed hit the mainstream. If Fox News is reviewing four different white dog whiskeys on their website it has definitely come out of the woods and into the modern world. All four of the whiskeys they review sound pretty drinkable, although I haven't tried any of them personally, so I'd love to hear from any of you who have.


Oh Taste & See: Forty Creek Barrel Select Whisky

For the first tasting from my 'purchased on my vacation' series I've decided to pop open the bottle of Forty Creek Barrel Select Canadian whisky that I picked up at the duty free shop in Niagara Falls. I had read good things about Forty Creek distillery, and it was high on my "To Taste" list. So when I saw a one liter bottle for just $25 (Canadian!) at it looked like as good way as any to convert my Canadian cash to something with real value.

Forty Creek Barrel Select is a small batch whisky distilled in Grimsby, Ontario on the south shore of Lake Ontario. It's crafted by John K. Hall, the man behind Kittling Ridge Estate Wines & Spirits. Forty Creek is unique among Canadian blended whiskies in that Mr. Hall distills and ages each of its component grains (corn, rye, and malted barley) separately and blends them to taste after aging. He also uses a variety of barrels, including those formerly used to age sherry, to impart a full range of flavors to his final product.

Color: Forty Creek is a very nice looking whisky in the glass with a rich, burnt-orange color.

Nose: The aroma from Forty Creek is initially boozy and astringent, but with a dash of water and some time to open up hints of vanilla, rye, and oak start to show up, although it still doesn't have an overly strong nose.

Flavor: Given the weak aroma, I began to worry that Forty Creek's flavor would disappoint. I needn't have worried as it packs plenty of taste and is one of the richer blended whiskies I've had. The initial taste is a spicy kick from the rye. On top of this I found notes of sweetness - caramel and honey - along with a nice vanilla and oak flavor. Overall it's a full bodied and extremely smooth whisky.

Finish: The finish with Forty Creek isn't overly long - it is clean and smooth with some lingering notes of vanilla and honey. The spicy kick stays on the tip of your tongue for a while too - just enough to remind you that the smooth drink you're sipping is a full 80 proof.

Overall Forty Creek is a solid whisky, and has a lot more character than I'm used to finding in Canadian blends. It goes down smooth, has enough complexity to make it an interesting sipper, and its flavor is very unique. In fact, if I didn't know what I was drinking I would have had a very hard time pinning it down as a Canadian whisky and probably would have guessed it was a nice Irish whiskey. I guess the tag on the bottle-neck touting it's #1 ranking among Canadian Whiskies (according to Whisky Magazine's Michael Jackson) might just be spot on. Eh?


Thrift Store Score!

Taking myself too seriously is one of my favorite pastimes. Therefore I can't help amassing a needlessly large collection of glassware. Browsing through cassette tapes and old polo shirts today at a thrift store I stumbled upon these winners:

A pair of Crown Royal rocks glasses with '2000' printed on them. I guess I need to find a vintage bottle of crown to match these things. Is it obvious from this one that glassware photography is beyond my abilities as a photographer?

This Glenfiddich snifter looked cloudy and yellow in the thrift shop but after a quick scrub it's as good as new.

Not whiskey related, but these little Sam Adams tumblers will be great for sharing a bottle of beer with a friend, or serving up little mixed drinks...or milk...or OJ...

All in all a VERY successful trip to the thrift store considering I got all this glassware, plus two Willie Nelson cassette tapes for only $5.02!


A Couple New Micro-Distilleries

While going through the emails piled up in my inbox - which isn't nearly as fun as a big stack of paper mail used to be after a long vacation - I came across articles about two new micro-distilleries whose whiskies have recently hit the market and sound quite interesting.

The first article was about Reservoir Distillery of Richmond, VA which just came out with a very small-batch bourbon that's currently available only in 375 mL bottles and only by special order in Virginia which has a notoriously silly state-run system of liquor stores.

The other new-to-me whiskey that I read about in this article is an unaged corn whiskey that's also made in Virginia with a 1933 vintage copper still and a pre-prohibition recipe. The Belmont Farm Distillery grows and mills its own corn on-site for its Virginia Lightening, and also offers a triple-grain whiskey called Kopper Kettle that should have a very unique flavor after spending time in locally-sourced apple wood and white oak barrels.

Since I don't have any plans to head to Virginia in the near future I'd love to hear from anyone who has a chance to try either of these whiskeys.


Did Ya Miss Me?

After a very relaxing couple of weeks traveling around Canada, the Caribbean, and New England and completely ignoring the internet and other modern technologies I'm back in action and I have plenty to write about. I picked up several cool bottles of whiskey during my travels and I look forward to reviewing those over the next few days. I was also forced to drink lots of rum and fruity cocktails (see below) while in the Caribbean, so look forward to a series of posts about whiskey-alternatives that might appeal to your inner beach bum.

Check back over the next week or two for these and more exciting posts.


Saturday Night Whiskey Song IX

And good 'ol boys were drinking whiskey and rye...a classic - American Pie, performed here by Don McLean, Garth Brooks, and Nanci Griffith. Sure to keep your weekend rocking.


Whiskey Jim's Manly Manhattan

I usually drink my whiskey straight - with a couple rocks in the summer. I like to think of myself as a rugged frontiersman swilling whiskey in a dusty saloon most of the time. However, on occasion, this image just doesn't fly. When you want to appear more civilized, but still crave a taste of whiskey go for a Manhattan. You'll look just as classy as any wine or martini drinker you're forced to converse with, and you'll have a delicious, manly drink to enjoy.

Here's how I make my Manhattans, although it's certainly a recipe worth playing around with to match your tastes.


Oh Taste & See: Four Roses Bourbon

I've always been intrigued by Four Roses Bourbon. I think the mystique comes from the fact that it wasn't available in the U.S. for over 40 years while the brand was owned by Seagram's. During that time Four Roses became immensely popular around the world - it's Japan's #1 selling bourbon - and it has finally started to become widely available again in the U.S. over the last several years. As soon as I saw a bottle for sale in Pennsylvania I scooped it up and started enjoying this very nice everyday sipping bourbon. The "yellow label" bottle is the standard Four Roses expression, although they also make several small batch and premium products as well, some of which still aren't available in the U.S. In Pennsylvania Four Roses Yellow Label sells for $18.99 - in the same range as Jim Beam or Wild Turkey - but carries a bit more mystique than those more commonly-known brands. It also has a distinct flavor profile that makes it extremely smooth and easy too drink - no wonder it's so popular worldwide.

Color: Classic young bourbon - pale caramel color with a bit of an orange tinge to it.

Nose: Very light nose, with an almost neutral watery scent at first. After a few swirls it opens up to hints of grain, char, and a peppery spice.

Flavor: Four Roses is a light, almost fruity bourbon. It tastes very fresh and has all the requisite bourbon flavors (oak, vanilla, grain, char) without letting any of them come through too strongly. There's also a hint of sweet butter in the taste. Four Roses blends 10 different straight bourbons to make their Yellow Label expression. Perhaps this blending is why it's such a very drinkable, classic bourbon but is also fairly nondescript and unoriginal.

Finish: Smooth and quick, a little spiciness left behind, but that's it.

My verdict is that taste-wise Four Roses is good. Certainly as good as other bourbons in the $15-$20 price range, and very smooth and light if you're looking for an easy-sipping drink. It would also make a good mixer in drinks where you don't want too much bourbon flavor. Still, the best thing about Four Roses is its mystique: if you're going to take a bottle of bourbon to a party and your budget max is $20 you can't go wrong with one of the world's favorite whiskeys that many Americans still haven't heard of.


Saturday Night Whiskey Song VIII

This one's a bit of a downer, but Brad Paisley is one of my favorite singers and songwriters, and paired with Alison Krauss he's even better. The video for this song is like a depressing little five minute movie...hope you enjoy it!


Whiskey Movie: On the Irish Whiskey Trail

Netflix can be a dangerous thing - thanks to their modern technology and endless library of titles I spend untold hours watching movies that I never would have known existed in pre-Netflix days. On the Irish Whiskey Trail fits this description. I found it on Netflix while browsing through the documentary category, and added it to my queue on a whim. Turns out On the Irish Whiskey Trail is more like a commercial for Irish Whiskey disguised as an hour-and-a-half long travel documentary. If it wasn't for the fact that the film ends with a visit to independent distiller Cooley and a nod to up-and-coming craft distillers I would assume that On the Irish Whiskey Trail was bankrolled by Irish Distillers - part of spirits giant Pernod Ricard and the owner of the three largest Irish whiskey brands.


Saturday Night Whiskey Song VII

This weekend's whiskey song was originally written in 1927 by Bertolt Brecht for a German opera. The version recorded by the Doors is a little bit more up my alley though, so that's the version of Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar) I present to you here. Enjoy!


Would You Drink Speed Whiskey from Cleveland?

I came across this article that highlights one of the ways in which the traditional boundaries of whiskey-making are being pushed by modern technology. Tom Lix is a 58 year old serial entrepreneur whose latest venture is a Cleveland, Ohio based company that aims to make high-quality whiskey while reducing the amount of time that the whiskey must spend aging in barrels. Lix claims his process makes six month aged whiskeys that taste like six year aged whiskeys, quite a feat that could revolutionize the economics of the whiskey business if it ever catches on.

The article doesn't go into his process too much, but apparently it involves using smaller-than-standard barrels, a fairly common practice among small-scale and start-up distillers, as well as controlling temperatures and pressures in order to help the whiskey age more quickly. I assume there's more to the process than simply storing a small barrel of spirits in a temperature controlled room, as Nix has a patent pending for his process and has received $25,000 in start-up funding from a Cleveland small-business incubator. He has also received a helping hand from a Kentucky bourbon-maker who supplied unaged white dog whiskey for Nix to use in testing his aging process, saving him the need to distill his own raw product.

Cutting down the time needed to make high quality whiskey would certainly have it's advantages, allowing distillers to bring new products to market more quickly and reducing the costs associated with storing and insuring aging whiskey for years. On the flip side, adding new technology to whiskey production takes away some of the traditional, artisanal nature of the product. What could be less traditional than speed-aged whiskey from Cleveland? Although that does have a very modern, American ring to it.


King of New York Taking on Scotland

Is there anything Donald Trump won't try? The real estate mogul, TV host, casino magnate, and all around one-man-mega-brand has now announced plans to create a high-end brand of Scotch to pair with his under-development golf resort in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. The whisky will be produced under contract by an existing distiller, most likely one of the 40 or so operating in the Grampian region of Scotland around the proposed golf resort.

Given that The Donald is involved, expect this whisky to be a big deal - at least in terms of marketing and promotion. He has high hopes for his Trump International Golf Links Scotland including one day hosting the British Open which was contested over the past weekend at St. Andrews' Old Course. That means his golf course will have to be a serious competitor indeed, so we can assume that the Scotch will strive to be equally world class.

I'm sure we'll all be waiting anxiously for Trump's whiskey - planned to hit the market in 2012 - but for now you can get your toupee'd tipple in the form of  Trump Vodka which has been around since 2006 at $35.00 per bottle and shows that a true salesman really can sell just about anything be it million dollar condos, ugly neckties, or overpriced booze.


Update - Old Crofter Scotch

A few weeks ago I wrote a review of Old Crofter Blended Scotch which you can read here. When I wrote that review I thought that the Old Crofter label had been discontinued because I couldn't find any up-to-date information on it online, nor was it listed in the online catalog of the store where I purchased my bottle over a year ago.

If you were worried that you might never get your hands on a bottle of this tasty but inexpensive blend you can stop fretting. I made a trip to Total Wine & More in Claymont, Delaware today and they had a whole shelf of Old Crofter in both 750 mL and 1.75 L bottles. It even had a "Staff Favorite" tag saying that it was Vince's favorite Scotch. It's still selling for $12.99, and I guess it's just one of those labels that doesn't do any advertising or maintain any kind of online presence. So much for my bottle being a bargain-basement collectible.


Saturday Night Whiskey Song VI

My series of Saturday Night Whiskey Songs is leaning heavily towards country and blues-rock music, which is totally fine with me since I'm a big fan of both. However, I'd love to represent some other genres of music, so if you have suggestions just send them my way.

For today though, a nice sad, slow country ballad that doubles as a fine piece of product placement for a Johnnie Walker Red, a product that really doesn't need anymore advertising since it's already among the most universally popular Scotches on the market. In any case, here's Lee Ann Womack's Last Call.


Oh Taste & See: McKenzie Bourbon

As promised in last week's post about my visit to Finger Lakes Distilling, I'm finally getting around to a proper tasting of their McKenzie Bourbon Whiskey. Based on my tasting at the distillery and one glass that I've had since, I have to say that my initial impression of this bourbon is very good. I'm especially surprised at its complexity given that fact that it's aged for only 18 months, barely enough time for the spirit to experience the full four season temperature cycle that is so important working the oak flavor into bourbon.

To offset the short aging period Finger Lakes Distilling uses 10 gallon oak barrels that ensure much more wood-to-whiskey contact than standard 53 gallon bourbon barrels, which is why the distiller claims McKenzie tastes more like a five-year-old bourbon than a mere 18 month old. After tasting it I wouldn't fault them if they pushed things a little further and claimed that it drinks like a 6 or 8 year old - it's certainly on par with widely available 8 year olds such as Jim Beam Black and Basil Hayden.


Australian Whiskey Innovators

I've been reading up on the Australian whisky scene, and I've found it to be quite interesting so far. In particular, I was interested to read about Wood Aged Holdings a distiller that offers a whisky investment scheme allowing individuals to invest in whiskies while they are being aged. This ingenious idea provides a unique alternative investment for whisky aficionados, as well as helping the distillery to raise the money needed up front before embarking on the long, expensive process of distilling and aging whisky.

I've read about similar schemes in Scotland, but this one seems to be very well put-together, and I think it makes more sense in Australia where there is a lot more risk in aging whisky for 15 years. This risk comes from the fact that it's hard to predict what the market for high-end Australian whiskies will like be that far down the road - there simply isn't as much historical market data to base projections on as there is in Scotland - although Wood Aged Holdings is betting the only direction for Australian whisky sales to go is up. They back up this belief by agreeing to buy back the whisky from investors, at a premium, after it is aged. Allowing individual investors to fund the distillation and aging not only spreads the financial risk, but also gives some indication of how much demand there will be once the product is ready, since we can assume that most of those investing in whisky now will be consumers of 'their' product 15 years down the road.

Another sign of the bright future of Australian whisky comes from the island of Tasmania off Australia's southeastern coast. Most familiar to Americans as the home of the cartoon character Taz (at right, obviously after drinking a bit too much Tasmanian hooch), Tasmania is also home to six whisky distilleries and counting. According to this article, some Tasmanian distillers think it's only a matter of time before their whiskies rise to the top of the whisky world alongside the best products of Scotland. Apparently Tasmania has the perfect climate and conditions for making whisky, and at one time in the 1800's was home to 16 distilleries, so the tradition is there as well.

It seems that most Australian whisky is currently sold in Australia and nearby Asian countries. I haven't seen any Australian whiskies in the U.S., and I don't have plans to travel down under anytime soon, but if you hear of any being sold in the states let me know, I'd love to have a taste to see what all the fuss is about.


Saturday Night Whiskey Song V

Elton John sang that Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting which I couldn't agree with more, but Saturday nights are also great for drinking a bit of whiskey and singing along to some of the great songs that have been written about whiskey over the years. So, every Saturday afternoon check back here for a fresh whiskey-related song to get your Saturday night started off on the right foot.

Last weekend's whiskey song was one made famous by George Thorogood, so I thought that for this weekend I'd post a song written and performed by Mr. Bad-to-the-Bone himself. Plenty of good drinking songs to choose from from George & The Destroyers, but I chose I Drink Along because it has some great whiskey references in it - definitely the only song I know of that name drops Old Granddad! Cheers!


Finger Lakes Distilling

Over the 4th of July weekend I had the chance to relax in New York state's Finger Lakes region, catching some fish, catching some rays, and even touring a new micro-distillery on the shore of Lake Seneca. The finger lakes area is well-known for its vineyards and wineries, of which it has over 100, and while a few vineyards and orchards distill fruit-based spirits in the region, Finger Lakes Distilling, which opened in 2008, is the area's first stand-alone distillery.

Finger Lakes Distilling (FLD) is currently producing a wide range of products from their bestselling Seneca Drums Gin to various grappas, cordials, and whiskies. FLD offers a taste of any three spirits for $2 which seems to be the going rate for tastings at most Finger Lakes wineries as well. If you go with a friend you can each try three and share, meaning you can each have a sip of six different drinks for $4! On top of that, the cost of the tasting applies towards any bottles you purchase which is nice since FLD's bottled spirits are priced towards the premium end of the scale, as most craft distilled products are.


Building A Home Bar on a Budget - Part 2 of ???

When building your home bar always keep in mind that it's yours, so make it to your liking! If you don't like my advice please don't take it, I just want to help you think through the very fun project of establishing your home bar!

After much anticipation, I present to you the second post in my series on how to build a home bar on a budget. This post will cover what I consider to be the best part of building your home bar - shopping for booze! Yes, I like this even better than drinking the booze which comes in a close second. As discussed in my previous post, setting a budget is an important first step to building your home bar, so I'll break this lesson down into four parts - the basics that apply across the board, as well as sample shopping lists for three different budget levels.


Saturday Night Whiskey Song IV

Elton John sang that Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting which I couldn't agree with more, but Saturday nights are also great for drinking a bit of whiskey and singing along to some of the great songs that have been written about whiskey over the years. So, every Saturday afternoon check back here for a fresh whiskey-related song to get your Saturday night started off on the right foot.

This one is a true classic - One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer by John Lee Hooker. You might be more familiar with the George Thorogood, "House Rent Blues" version, but I thought the original was appropriate for this 4th of July weekend - nothing's more American than booze and the blues.


Bar Hopping: Village Whiskey, Philadelphia, PA

Last Friday I made my first trip to Village Whiskey - the Rittenhouse Square restaurant and bar that has received rave reviews since opening last August. Village Whiskey, the fourth Philly restaurant opened by Philadelphia's celebrity chef du jour Jose Garces, has quickly established itself as one of the best places in Philadelphia to get a hamburger. A taste of that burger will have to wait for another time since my visit to Village Whiskey was on one of the hottest days of the year so far, and I just can't think about big juicy hamburgers when the temperature is over 95 degrees at 6:00pm. A nice refreshing whiskey however was just what I needed on such an evening.

The whiskey list at Village Whiskey has received surprisingly little attention from the restaurant reviewers who have raved about the delicious burgers and unique bar snacks (think oysters, deviled eggs, and five different pickle options). The whiskey list isn't over-the-top, and there were a few brands that I hoped to see that were absent, but it is probably the most extensive whiskey list in a Philadelphia bar.


Saturday Night Whiskey Song III

Elton John sang that Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting which I couldn't agree with more, but Saturday nights are also great for drinking a bit of whiskey and singing along to some of the great songs that have been written about whiskey over the years. So, every Saturday afternoon check back here for a fresh whiskey-related song to get your Saturday night started off on the right foot.

Since this blog's title was inspired by the rambling, renegade tradition associated with whiskey I thought this tune, Train to Birmingham by John Hiatt, would be appropriate. In the video below the song is performed by Stoney Larue and Cody Canada of Cross Canadian Ragweed. You'll especially enjoy this one if it's raining outside or if you're feeling a bit homesick. Pour yourself a glass of whiskey, something from Tennessee is most appropriate for this one, sit back, and enjoy:


Whiskey Book Review; The Business of Spirits

I have a confession to make: I am a nerd. Let's be clear, I'm not a Star Wars nerd or a World of Warcraft nerd, although there's nothing wrong with those, but I am very nerdy about certain topics. One of them, as evidenced by this blog, is whiskey. Another of my nerdy interests is business & economics. I read Forbes just for fun and I get a real kick out of reading over Harvard Business School case studies. My most recent reading material, The Business of Spirits by Noah Rothbaum tapped into my nerdy interests in both whiskey and business, making for a double dose of nerdy reading pleasure.


Saturday Night Whiskey Song II

Elton John sang that Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting which I couldn't agree with more, but Saturday nights are also great for drinking a bit of whiskey and singing along to some of the great songs that have been written about whiskey over the years. So, every Saturday afternoon check back here for a fresh whiskey-related song to get your Saturday night started off on the right foot.

This week I'm offering a newer song from one of the rising stars in country music, Rain is a Good Thing by Luke Bryan. This is a fun one, so shoot down that shot of Old Crow and get ready to party.


Building A Home Bar on a Budget - Part 1 of ???

When building your home bar always keep in mind that it's yours, so make it to your liking! If you don't like my advice please don't take it, I just want to help you think through the very fun project of building your home bar!

A good home bar serves many purposes. It acts as a form of home decoration and a conversation starter; it allows for at-home pre-gaming before a night out on the town; and most importantly a home bar provides quick and varied drinks for impromptu guests, dinner parties, and nightcaps after those long days at work. I get a lot of questions from friends about the best way to put together a home bar on a budget, so I thought I'd share a few tips over the course of several posts, starting with this one.

The first thing to keep in mind when starting your home bar is your budget - set a budget for initial bar setup as well as a monthly budget for replenishing your favorite beverages and gradually adding new ones. If you stick to a budget you can actually save money by creating a place for you and your friends to have a few drinks for less than you'd spend going out to the local bar.

After setting a budget you've got to decide where and how you're going to display your bar. There are many options for this ranging from a simple window sill bottle lineup to re-purposing salvaged, antique furniture (my choice as you see in the photo) to building a custom bar from scratch (my neighbors did this recently with a lot of success). Be creative and find a spot in your house that will be convenient for making and serving drinks - think kitchen or dining room - and has plenty of space to display your bottles and store your bar gear such as bottle openers, glassware, etc. If you have kids you might also want to consider putting your bar somewhere that can be locked or made off-limits when you're not using it. After picking the spot for your bar spend a few minutes visualizing how you'll arrange things. This will help you get a realistic idea of your bar's capacity before heading to the liquor store to stock up - if you only have space for ten bottles maybe you shouldn't buy five different vodkas (in my opinion you should never buy five different vodkas anyway, but that's another post...).

Once you've established a budget and set up a space for your bar it's time to go shopping. I'll cover the basic booze you should pick up on your first bar-stocking trip in my next post, but don't forget these all-important, non-potable items that every bar should have:

  1. Glasses - you'll want an assortment of glasses including shot glasses, rocks glasses, snifters, wine glasses, and pint glasses - flea markets, thrift stores, and stores like Marshall's and TJMaxx are great places to scout for bargains on glassware.
  2. Shakers & strainers - it's best to have a couple so that you can make different mixed drinks without having to wash out your shaker after every one
  3. Corkscrew - my favorite is made by Pedrini and doubles as a bottle opener
  4. Bottle Opener - kill two birds with one stone by getting a combination corkscrew/bottle opener
  5. Jigger - this is the little measuring cup used to measure 1oz & 1/2oz amounts of booze.
  6. Pourers - great for parties, pourers fit into the tops of  your bottles and make pouring drinks a breeze.
  7. Muddler - for muddled drinks like Old Fashioneds, Mint Juleps, and Mojitos - I like wooden ones
  8. Long-Handled Spoon - for stirring drinks
  9. Coasters - I like to steal these from bars to create a kitschy collection, don't tell on me!
  10. Drink Book - a book of drink recipes is essential for every home bar - you can't go wrong with the Mr. Boston: Official Bartender's Guide.
  11. BONUS - mini fridge - if you have a college dorm-style mini fridge hanging out in your basement there's no better way to put it to use than as a bar-side storage spot for beer, white wine, and chilled liquors.
Check back soon for my next post on the fun part of building your home bar - stocking it up with booze.


Whiskey Jim's Mad Rascal Drink Recipe

The Mad Rascal is a drink you might not have heard of before because I made it up! It all started when I was bartending at a wedding and we had a couple bottles of whiskey at the bar, which of course led to some lady ordering a whiskey sour. What we didn't have was any sort of sour mix, but not wanting to disappoint a lady I improvised by mixing Jack Daniels with cranberry juice, orange juice, and a bit of Rose's sweetened lime juice. I threw in a lime and a cherry and handed it off with a smile. I knew I had a hit when the same lady came back for three more raving that it was the best whiskey sour she'd ever had.

If you're familiar with mixed drinks you'll recognize that this recipe is very similar to a Madras which calls for vodka, cranberry juice, and orange juice. I named it by turning Madras into Mad Rascal which seems more appropriate for a whiskey drink. Since it's made up you can feel free to call it whatever you want. This is a drink that can't help but taste good, but play around with the proportions to find your ideal mix. The steps are as follows:

1. Fill an 8-12 oz glass to the brim with cubed ice.
2. Add 2-3 oz of whiskey - the original was made with Jack Daniels, but you can use a Canadian whiskey for a smoother drink or whatever you have handy - this drink really isn't about the flavor of the whiskey...sorry.
3. Add equal parts orange and cranberry juice until glass is almost full.
4. Top off with Rose's sweetened lime juice (available at any grocery)
5. To mix & chill pour into a mixing glass, swish it around and pour back into the serving glass.
6. Garnish with whatever fresh fruit you have handy and enjoy!


Oh Taste & See: Old Crofter Blended Scotch Whisky

For my first scotch tasting on this blog I thought I'd pull out the bottle of Old Crofter Deluxe Old Blended Scotch Whisky that's been gathering dust in my liquor closet for close to a year. Old Crofter is blended by Smith & Henderson of Edinburgh, but a quick Google search makes me think that it's no longer in production - I could find no real information on Old Crofter or Smith & Henderson. I believe it was a featured product at Total Wine & More in Claymont, DE when I bought it, but even their website has no mention of the brand now.

To my surprise I may have accidentally collected a bottle of out-of-production Scotch! I suppose that is kinda cool given that it was a price-driven impulse purchase (around $13 for the 750mL bottle), but I'm not really the collecting type, so let's go ahead and have a taste of this one.


Bar Hopping: Royal Tavern, Philadelphia, PA

Although it is not a whiskey-focused bar, and doesn't pretend to be, Royal Tavern in Philadelphia's Queen Village neighborhood is a great neighborhood watering hole that also happens to have a very nice whiskey selection. I went there for dinner last night, and was pleasantly surprised at everything this low-key bar has to offer.

The best thing about Royal is hands-down the food. They have a small but diverse menu that includes many vegetarian and vegan options, as well as a good number of rotating specials at lunch and dinner. Last night they had a Greek lamb burger on special that was amazing - a juicy lamb patty with feta cheese and an awesome olive tapenade spread. Combined with their just-crispy enough fries and a cold beer from their great draft selection this was a perfect meal to devour at the bar. They also offer one of the best bar snacks in town - freshly popped popcorn with pecorino cheese and truffle butter.

Enough about the awesome food, you're probably wondering how their whiskey selection was right? Well it's not bad at all for a neighborhood joint. They had a nicely organized selection of all the standard bourbons, scotches, and Irish whiskeys including most of the common top-shelf brands. They also featured a few bottles that you don't see at most neighborhood pubs, such as a nice bottle of 14 year old Oban hanging out on the Scotch shelf, a 12 year old Redbreast Irish Whiskey, and a bottle of Sazerac Rye which is a whiskey you're starting to see in more bars around Philly, but certainly is not at all ubiquitous yet. I enjoyed a glass of the Sazerac, and I believe it was the only whiskey I saw poured during the two hours or so that I was there. It's not the type of bar where you'll be talking whiskey with the bartender or other patrons, but I didn't get a funny look when ordering either.

So, if you're looking for an outstanding whiskey bar in Philadelphia I can suggest better places than Royal Tavern. But if you're looking for an awesome place to take a few friends for dinner and drinks where everyone will be happy, including any whiskey snobs in the group, then Royal is the spot. It has amazing food, a nice laid-back vibe, and enough high-quality whiskeys to keep you occupied while you're enjoying your dinner.


Saturday Night Whiskey Song

Elton John sang that Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting which I couldn't agree with more, but Saturday nights are also great for drinking a bit of whiskey and singing along to some of the great songs that have been written about whiskey over the years. So, every Saturday afternoon check back here for a fresh whiskey-related song to get your Saturday night started off on the right foot.

And what better way to start this weekly tradition than a classic from the Redheaded Stranger himself...Willie Nelson's Whiskey River:

If this song makes you thirsty look for a bottle of Willie Nelson's appropriately named bourbon Old Whiskey River, bottled by Heaven Hill Distillery.


Whiskey Bars Popping Up Everywhere in Philadelphia

Over the past few years the bar scene in Philadelphia has really taken off. Dozens of new brewpubs, craft-beer dens, and "fashionable speakeasy" style bars, have opened in various neighborhoods across the city, and most of them seem to be doing plenty of business, which is great to see. Recently we've even seen the addition of a few new whiskey-focused bars, to compete with some of the great whiskey bars that have been serving the thirsty in Philadelphia for years.

While these new kids on the block certainly bring their "A game" in terms of whiskey selection, creative cocktails, and interesting atmosphere, there's still something to be said for the old classics. Philadelphia's classic whiskey dens continue to serve awesome drinks, with a side of friendly bar-chat, in an understated, self-assured way that the newly opened joints just can't match.

Over the next few weeks I'll be visiting and reviewing some of Philadelphia's best whiskey bars. I'll definitely visit the bars listed in the poll to the left, and I'm happy to add to my list based on suggestions from my readers. My current vote for the best whiskey bar in Philadelphia is Southwark. We'll see if that preference changes as I visit the other bars with fresh eyes.


Barrel-Aged Beers from Yards Brewery

It's beer week here in Philadelphia - a ten-day-long week during which almost 1,000 beer related events take place all over the Greater Philadelphia region. It's a great time to experiment by trying unique and delicious beers, so last night I visited the Yard's Brewery and was treated to tastes of a couple of special brews with a hint of whiskey in them. Both of these beers started off as traditional Yards products, but were then aged for a few months in used bourbon barrels acquired from Brown-Forman Corporation of Louisville, KY - the owner of such whiskey brands as Early Times, Old Forester, and Jack Daniels.

The first beer I tasted was a barrel-aged barleywine that was so wonderfully smooth I had a hard time believing that it packed an 11% ABV punch. The bourbon flavors imparted by the barrels give the beer a nice warmth and add a touch of oaky sweetness. Next I tried a porter that had received the same bourbon-barrel treatment, and the result was equally good. The wood helped to mellow out some of the boldness of the straight porter, and gave it a unique mix of flavors that you don't find in run-of-the-mill beers. Both were perfect beers for the gray, rainy day outside - like little liquid fireplaces to make the dreary day seem cozy.

For now Yard's has no plans to mass-produce these two awesome beers, but they are currently available on tap at the Yard's Brewery's in-house bar, so I recommend making your way up Delaware Avenue to have a taste for yourself before it's all gone.


Whiskey Book Review: 99 Drams of Whiskey

99 Drams of Whiskey: The Accidental Hedonist's Quest for the Perfect Shot and the History of the DrinkI just finished reading 99 Drams of Whiskey: The Accidental Hedonist's Quest for the Perfect Shot and the History of the Drink by Kate Hopkins. Ms. Hopkins is a food writer whose blog Accidental Hedonist covers all things tasty - from beer and whiskey to cheese and candy. 99 Drams is Ms. Hopkins' first book-length effort, and it uses the informal writing style found in her blog to make learning about the history and culture of whiskey entertaining, for whiskey connoisseurs and novices alike.

In the book Ms. Hopkins goes on an international quest to understand our obsession with whiskey. Her interest is sparked by the story of a gentleman whom she refers to throughout the book as Mr. Disposable Income, so named because he purchased (and drank) a bottle of Dalmore 62 Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky from a hotel bar in Surrey, England for £32,000 ($70,000). Over the course of several weeks of travel the author delves deeply into the world of whiskey in hopes of comprehending how a bottle of brown liquid could be so highly prized.


Distillery Tour: Maker's Mark

On the same trip during which I visited MB Roland Distillery I also had a chance to tour the Maker's Mark Distillery in Loretto, KY about an hour south of Louisville. Maker's has long been my go-to whiskey when I'm at a new bar or restaurant because it is consistently delicious - straight-up, on the rocks, or as a Manhattan - and it is available almost everywhere you go. Seeing the place where this iconic, red-wax-capped whiskey is made would be a nice treat indeed.

I missed the first few minutes of the 3:30pm tour because this distillery is really tucked away into the rolling hills of Kentucky's bluegrass region, and it took a few minutes longer to get there than my GPS predicted. I was cutting it close to begin with because I couldn't help but stop at for a few minutes at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site which you pass on the way to Loretto when approaching from the south. As I rolled through the small town of Loretto I could tell we were getting close to the distillery because I started to see large complexes of barrel-houses along the side of the road. The red-and-black paint-jobs on the barrel houses indicated to me that they must belong to Maker's Mark, but it was still a winding 10 minute drive from the time I saw the first barrel-house until I crossed a small bridge across a burbling brook and saw the sign welcoming me to the Maker's Mark Distillery.


Oh Taste & See: Seagram's VO Canadian Whisky

Like many whiskey drinkers who I know, I often skip right past the Canadian whisky shelves of my local liquor store. For some reason Canadian whiskies seem to lack the character and personality of their Scottish, Irish, or American counterparts. Maybe it's just poor marketing or the fact that they're mostly packaged in very uniform, boring bottles, with the exception of Crown Royal and its wide, squat bottle in its purple velvet pouch. Or maybe I'm just biased against Canada.

In any case, my expectations are always low when tasting a Canadian whisky, but occasionally one will surprise me. Today the surprise comes from Seagram's VO blended Canadian whisky. VO has been around since 1913 and is a 6 year old whisky bottled in one of those tall, boring, brownish bottles. I've been drinking VO for a while, but I can't remember ever sipping it for taste. I usually use it as a mixer for whisky sours or other drinks where the flavor of the spirit is masked behind other, stronger flavors. As I poured myself a glass tonight I expected a drinkable, but uninteresting whisky - lucky for me those expectations were a bit off base.

The nose on VO doesn't do anything to raise expectations. The scent is pretty weak and what smell I did detect is mostly rubbing alcohol with just a little oak and vanilla in the background. As I took a sip the first thing I noticed was how smooth and easy-to-drink the VO is - perhaps this is why it makes such a good mixing whiskey. Blended whiskies are supposed to be smooth, so mission accomplished there. The nice thing about VO is that it also has enough flavor to keep things interesting when enjoyed on its own. I picked up the vanilla and oak tastes again, along with a rich, buttery sweetness that carried through into the mellow finish. The finish was the thing that surprised me most - the VO stays with you for a nice long while with the oaky taste fading to sweet butter and finally to a light minty heat.

At about $15 per 750mL bottle VO is an affordable whisky that is ideal for mixing and good enough for sipping on its own when you're looking for an easy, smooth drink. Its lightness makes it an ideal summer-time whiskey and a great way to ease first-timers into whiskey drinking.