Oh Taste & See: Early Times 354 Bourbon

You may have heard the buzz surrounding the release of Early Times 354 Bourbon a few months back. It's the first time since 1983 that the storied Early Times name has appeared on a bourbon available in the U.S. Early Time's only domestic-market product for the past 28 years has been labeled "Kentucky Whiskey" - a bourbon-like whiskey aged in some used barrels instead of all new ones, a minor distinction that meant it couldn't be legally called bourbon. I never thought much of Early Times Kentucky Whiskey, but the 354 bourbon isn't bad at all, and even earned a starring role in my Derby Day mint julep this year.

This new bourbon is a value-priced whiskey (about $16) that packs a decent punch for the price. It also has a very cool bottle that gives it an old-time, small-batch look. It's definitely one of the best-looking bourbons in the under-$20 price bracket, so not a bad option if you're looking for an affordable bourbon to take to a party or to give your whiskey shelf a little color.But it's always what's inside the bottle that counts.


It's Mint Julep Time Again

Tomorrow is Kentucky Derby Day, the one day a year when you just must drink bourbon, most likely in the form of a mint julep. Last year I gave you my go-to mint julep recipe which you can check out here. That recipe makes an awesome drink, but it's also a bit complicated, especially if you're trying to make juleps for a whole party full of people who are all drinking like racehorses.

So this year, I offer a simple, more scalable recipe for a quick, easy, and awesomely refreshing Mint Julep. You can use this same recipe to make one mint julep or fifty, and it should be quick and easy either way so have fun with it.

You'll need:
1. Bourbon. I'm going to use the new Early Times 354 Bourbon this year. Early Times Kentucky Whiskey is what they use at Churchill Downs for their standard mint juleps, but now that ET is selling an honest to goodness bourbon in the U.S. why not use that? It's affordable and pretty tasty to boot!
2. Ice - lots of it.
3. Mint - leaves, fresh, cleaned...picked from your garden if possible.
4. Simple syrup - boil 1 cup sugar in 1 cup water until dissolved, refrigerate until you need it.

Put the mint and the ice in a blender, blend until it has a nice snow-cone consistency. Fill your glasses (6-8 oz. old fashioned glasses are perfect) about 2/3 full with the blended ice/mint mixture. Pour in a couple ounces of bourbon and a dash of simple syrup. If you have a few mint sprigs left over use them for garnish. Enjoy while watching the Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports!


Oh Taste & See: Pendleton Blended Canadian Whisky

What makes a whisky Canadian? Well I guess if you ask the folks at Hood River Distillers, the Oregon-based bottlers of Pendleton Blended Canadian Whisky, the only requirement is for the liquid in the bottle to have been distilled and aged in Canada. Given how much I like their product, I won't argue with them at all.

Pendleton is named after Oregon's Pendleton Round-Up, one of the worlds longest-running rodeos. The bottle features the Round-Up's bucking bronco logo, and all of the marketing seeks to tie this whisky to the romance and intrigue of cowboys and rodeo culture. In fact a portion of the proceeds from each bottle is donated to the Pendleton Round-Up. That's all great, but it does even more to make this seem like a distinctly American (Oregonian?) whisky, even if the liquid itself was made in Canada and the bottle says Canadian Whisky. Oh well, enough nitpickin' about Pendleton's provenance, how does it drink?


Canadian Whisky Getting Some Respect

This recent article from the New York Times gives Canadian whisky a bit of attention that it isn't used to getting. Always the backbone of cheap whisky cocktails and a go-to for old-timers everywhere, Canadian whisky is now aspiring to rival its flashier Scotch and Bourbon competitors with unique, higher-end bottlings. Some of these more sophisticated Canadian whiskys are coming from the major international spirits conglomerates (such as Collingwood Canadian whisky from Brown Forman), while others come from smaller distillers trying their hand at innovative new techniques (such as Forty Creek).

One Canadian whisky that the NYTimes article doesn't discuss, perhaps because it's actually blended and bottled in Hood River, Oregon, is Pendleton, which I will be reviewing in my next blog post.