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.


Whiskey Jim's Perfect Mint Julep

The mint julep is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, and although I'm about a month late for Derby Day, I think mint juleps are a great drink any time the temperature starts to creep into the 80s or 90s. Here in Philadelphia we've had a couple weeks of scorching hot temperatures, so mint juleps certainly seem appropriate. The mint juleps that I make for Derby Day, and any other time I can get my hands on fresh mint, are loosely based on a recipe from The Bartender's Guide by Peter Bohrmann.


Craft Distillery Tour: MB Roland Distillery

My mom has a habit of sending me clippings from the local newpaper back home in Kentucky. Usually she sends my high-school friends' wedding announcements or articles about local political happenings. Sometimes these clippings hang on the fridge for a week or two, but mostly they go straight into the recycling bin after a quick read. One article she sent recently caught my interest though. It told about a new craft distillery that had opened right down the road from my hometown in Pembroke, KY.

The idea of craft-whiskey being produced in Pembroke blew my mind. This is the Pembroke where I used to ride four-wheelers on my friends' farms and once spent hours trying to steal a road sign reading "Welcome to Pembroke, Population 1,000." The Pembroke where the population includes large numbers of Amish, Southern Baptists, and other groups for whom alcohol is a taboo subject. This I had to see.


Oh Taste & See: Elijah Craig 12 Y.O. KY Straight Bourbon Whiskey

For my first whiskey review I thought I'd finish off the bottle of Elijah Craig 12 Year Old (EC12) bourbon that's been slowly disappearing from my bar over the past few months. Elijah Craig, the man, was a Baptist preacher from Virginia who migrated to Kentucky in the late 1700's and is credited by some as the 'inventor' of bourbon, or at least of the process of aging bourbon in charred oak barrels.

Elijah Craig 12 Year Old, the whiskey, is one of the premium products made by Heaven Hill Distilleries of Bardstown, KY - one of the 800-pound gorillas of the bourbon world. EC12 is an excellent bourbon all around, as attested by the numerous accolades and rave reviews that it has been receiving for years, but to me where EC12 really shines is in its value. The tag on the bottle claims that EC12 was a "small batch" bourbon before the term "small batch" even existed. Too me "small batch" is, in many cases, a marketing term used to justify single-barrel pricing for non-single-barrel whiskeys that really aren't much better than mass-produced blends. For EC12 however, Heaven Hill keeps the price competitive with more mass-market bourbons making this one of the best all-around values you'll find. At  $20-$24 per 750ml bottle, EC12 is in the same price bracket as Jim Beam Black, Wild Turkey, or Maker's Mark - all great bourbons, but not quite in the same league as the more expensive bourbons that EC12 can go head-to-head with in terms of quality, presentation, and complexity.


Whiskey Book Review: Chasing the White Dog

Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw's Adventures in Moonshine
For some whiskey aficionados, myself included, the renegade, outlaw spirit of whiskey is part of its overall appeal. It's as if we think that by drinking a product that has gone through various stages of legality and social acceptability throughout its history we can ourselves become just a bit more bad-ass, in that James Dean, John Wayne sort of way.

The book Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw's Adventures in Moonshine, by Max Watman explores this rebellious side of whiskey lore and also delves into the world of curtains-drawn kitchen experiments in home-distilling. To anyone with an interest in whiskey or quirky Americana, this book is absolutely intoxicating. I found myself unable to put this book down - it is so well written that even the later chapters, chronicling the tedious details of a modern-day Virginia moonshine trial, draw the reader in like the best TV crime-dramas.


Welcome to Whiskey Jim's Ramblings

Welcome to my blog about all things Whiskey. I hope you enjoy reading and responding to what I have to say about my favorite beverage, and if you would ever like to hear my thoughts on any specific whiskey-related topic, no matter how tangential the relationship, just let me know.

First things first, I'd like you to know how I came to name my blog Whiskey Jim's Ramblings. Obviously, my given name is Whiskey Jim, so that explains that part. I chose to use the Whiskey spelling of the word (as opposed to Whisky) because, again, it's my given first name, and because I was born and raised in Kentucky where our native spirit is usually spelled Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, and I would feel like a traitor spelling it any other way. However I don't feel treasonous in the least when drinking products labeled with the Whisky spelling.

I chose the title Ramblings for two reasons: first, as you may have already noticed, I tend to ramble (definition #2). While writing this blog I fully intend to ramble on-and-on about the intricate details of the world of whiskey. Second, whiskey has long been the beverage of choice for ramblers (definition #1) - from kilt-clad highland troubadours of the British Isles to the lonesome cowboys of the American west, to the modern-day restless hipster roaming from bar-to-bar in search of inspiration. To a rambler like you or me, whiskey is a great companion when exploring what's beyond yonder hill.

Now that you know where we're going, sit back, pour yourself a glass, and enjoy. Hell, make it a double...