Whiskey Dinner at Percy Street Barbecue

Last night I had a chance to attend an American Whiskey Dinner at Percy Street Barbecue here in Philadelphia. I had heard great reviews about this relatively new restaurant, and the whiskey dinner featured five courses paired with five different whiskeys so what better time to try it for myself! It even featured some very entertaining and educational commentary by whiskey and beer writer Lew Bryson.

The food at the dinner was awesome, but unfortunately it is not on Percy Street's everyday menu. Their regular menu does feature a wide variety of barbecued meats and down-home sides, and their bar was well stocked with a variety of whiskeys so I don't think I'd be disappointed in a visit on any 'ol night.

On the subject of the food, the country ham trio that started off the dinner was amazing. I grew up on country ham down in Kentucky, but we never sliced it prosciutto thin like they did at this dinner, which really brings out the taste and prevents you from filling up to quickly. We also tended to fry it in a skillet, which is delicious but hides a lot of the meat's natural flavors. If you've never paired country ham with bourbon go do it now...you back? It was great right?


Bar Hopping: Longman & Eagle, Chicago

The window at Longman & Eagle, the hip whiskey bar in Chicago's up-and-coming Logan Square neighborhood, says simply: "Eat Sleep Whiskey." That seems like a pretty simple slogan, but it concisely captures most of what's going on at this watering hole where I had dinner last weekend.

Let's start with the drinking. Longman & Eagle has an epic selection of whiskeys behind the bar. There are so many bottles that many of them have been turned sideways so that you can't even identify the labels. Thankfully there's a well-organized list to choose from so that you don't have to rely solely on your eyes scanning the bar shelves. The drinks menu lists numerous craft beers, wines, and cocktails - both whiskey-based and other - along with a complete list of the whiskey selections available. The whiskeys are categorized by type (bourbon, scotch, etc.), but there's also a great menu section entitled "Whiskey For Drinking" where all the 'affordable' whiskeys are listed again - each one available for only $3 per shot. Each whiskey on the menu is offered in 1.25 oz or 2 oz pours, and the prices seem to be fairly reasonable across the board. One thing I didn't care for was the glassware that the whiskeys are served in - basically a straight-up-and-down shot glass. It's fine if you're doing shots of Jack or Jim, but for some of the higher-end tipples on the list a nicer glass would have made me feel better about dropping the big bucks.


St. Patty's Day Tasting: Tullamore Dew 12 Year Old Special Reserve

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! I'm not Irish, and I don't like artificially colored beer, but I do enjoy the occasional glass of Irish Whiskey, so I thought I'd review Tullamore Dew's 12 Year Old Special Reserve bottling in honor of the holiday. Tullamore Dew's standard bottling is the world's second best selling Irish whiskey (behind Jamison), and the brand is owned by William Grant & Sons and produced at Pernod Ricard's Midleton Distillery alongside Jamison, Powers, and other brands. While the standard Tullamore Dew is heavily advertised and can stand up to any other mainstream Irish whiskey, I hadn't heard much buzz about their 12 Year Old expression, so I thought I'd give it a try.

At $35.99 per 750 mL bottle in Pennsylvania, Tullamore Dew 12 Year Old Special Reserve isn't a cheap Irish whiskey. Along with being aged 12 years, this whiskey also has the distinction of being aged in used bourbon barrels and finished in Oloroso sherry barrels. It also claims to have a higher malt whiskey content (and therefore lower grain whiskey content) than other Irish whiskeys which should give it a fuller flavor. To me Irish whiskeys are meant to be smooth, easy-drinking, and very approachable, and achieving that in a 12 year old whiskey that will also appeal to those looking for more distinctive flavors is quite a challenge. Tullamore Dew does a good job of meeting this challenge, and my overall impression is good, although I'd like to try their 10 Year Reserve as well to see how much difference there is in the two.


Oh Taste & See: Buffalo Trace Bourbon

Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort, KY flies bit under the radar compared to some of the other bourbon distillers, but it always seems to be highly regarded by folks who know their bourbon. I rarely see it stocked at bars and restaurants around Philadelphia, and it's certainly not a household name like Maker's or Jim Beam but it is sold in some Pennsylvania state stores around here. I somehow managed to make it to this past weekend without ever trying Buffalo Trace, but after a few tastes I'm starting to understand what all the subdued buzz is about. It's a very solid, low-key bourbon that's an outstanding value compared to some of the more highly marketed and higher priced bourbons on the shelves.

Buffalo Trace has only been around as a brand since 1999, but it's produced at the Buffalo Trace distillery which has been around in one form or another for about a century and half. It was formerly known as the George T. Stagg distillery and produces the George T. Stagg line of high-end bourbons as well as the Blanton's, W.L. Weller, and Eagle Rare labels. All of these bourbons also follow the 'substance before style' path of Buffalo Trace, winning awards and accolades, but avoiding being over-hyped. So, enough hype how does BT drink?

Color: Buffalo Trace has a very nice golden amber hue and appears thick and sticky when swirled around in the glass (in a good way that implies a certain richness).

Nose: When I opened the bottle a bouquet of rich, fruity dark berry aromas jumped out at me right away. After pouring a glass the nose was more ethanol and honey, but the fruity blackberry aromas came back as the glass sat a bit and opened up. There were also hints of vanilla and grain in the nose.

Flavor: Buffalo Trace feels nice and creamy in the mouth, not watered down or weak, and it's immensely smooth for a 90 proof whiskey without even a hint of burn. The dominant flavors are of oak: vanilla, honey, and caramel. There are also some peppery spice flavors and a hint of the blackberries that come through so nicely in the nose.

Finish: This is where BT really surprised me for a $20 bourbon. The finish is long and much more interesting than the actual taste. All the same flavors are present, but the peppery spice really hangs on for a long time, and there are hints of corn and more vanilla. Again there's no alcohol burn, making this a great one to sip slowly and really savor.

Overall I have to agree with all bourbon-heads who have told me that Buffalo Trace is one of the best deals in bourbon. A great bottle to keep around as an everyday whiskey that will never disappoint.


Jim Beam Devil's Cut

If you read this blog frequently you may have picked up on the fact that I'm a bit of a traditionalist. I'm usually not a fan of new or modern techniques when it comes to making whiskey. If it ain't broke don't fix it right? Well Jim Beam is introducing a new product that I might be a little more friendly too, but I'll have to taste some before I give my final approval.

The new 90-proof Beam product is called Devil's Cut (the opposite of Angel's Share), and it is essentially the bourbon that's left soaked into the barrel after the barrel is emptied. They've come up with a way to extract this extremely-woody bourbon and bottle it for our drinking pleasure. Although I'd like to have a taste of the straight 'devil's cut' right from the wood, the commercial product is mixed with regular Jim Beam in unspecified proportions. I'm sure it's an interesting twist on the world's best-selling bourbon, and I look forward to giving it a try. In the meantime you can read a review of it from Cigar Aficionado here.


Oh Taste & See: Four Roses Small Batch

A few months back I took a trip to the Four Roses Distillery in Kentucky. While there I picked up a bottle of Four Roses Small Batch in the gift shop - mostly because it came packaged with a really nice rocks glass and muddler. Well I finally got around to opening up the bottle a few days ago, and given how much respect I have for Four Roses Yellow Label, I was a bit disappointed at my first few drams of the Small Batch. However, now that I'm sitting down to really taste and review it I have to say it has grown on me and it's not a bad bourbon at all.

Like all Four Roses expressions, the Small Batch is very smooth, so if you drink bourbon for the 'bite and burn' this one might not appeal to you. But if you like a nice smooth, relaxed whiskey you'll probably like it, although I'm not sure if the Small Batch (about $36) is worth the premium over the Yellow Label (about $18). My initial reaction to it was that it was medicinal and watery, but I'm coming around after a few subsequent drinks, so maybe I just need to give it some time. In any case, my impression from my current glass is below.

Color: Honey brown with orange shades here and there. A perfectly middle-of-the-road bourbon color, neither light or dark.

Nose: Light and thin in aroma, not much at all to the nose. What is there is a hint of orange and some light vanilla and caramel notes.

Flavor: The Four Roses Small Batch is smooth and easy-sipping, especially for a 90 proof, 'higher-rye' recipe. It does have some peppery notes, but I wouldn't call it spicy. There are also some vanilla, leather, and grain flavors. I am impressed that it manages to be so smooth without being overly sweet, since many bourbons use excessive sweetness to smooth out their rough edges.

Finish: This is where the Small Batch sets itself apart from the standard Four Roses Yellow Label. The finish is long and slow with all the flavors bouncing around for a good while, especially the peppery and grainy tastes. There's even a hint of pine flavor that gives it a really clean-feeling finish. Unlike some other 90+ proof bourbons the long-finish is not just alcohol burn, but is really full of nice flavors.

Overall Four Roses Small Batch is a nice bourbon, especially if you're looking for something super smooth, but still interesting to sip. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's worth double the cost of Four Roses Yellow Label which I consider a top-notch value, but it's worth a try if you get a chance.