Bar Review: Whiskey Cake Kitchen & Bar (Plano, TX)

I have been to Bourbon Mecca in Texas, and it’s not in Dallas. It’s in Plano at Whiskey Cake Kitchen and Bar. I may start a turf war in Texas but IMHO there can’t be a better selection of bourbons in Dallas, maybe all of Texas. I looked and I looked and I looked. But at Whiskey Cake, I didn’t see anything missing. In a new brick building in Plano is a hip bar and restaurant with a southern spirits and food menu big on choices. There are so many choices you will get brain freeze picking from their over 150 offerings of the liquid gold. Whiskey Cake is named after their incredible whiskey cake. “D Magazine” has named it as the best Dallas dessert 3 years running.

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Whiskey Cake opened 5 years ago last November. It feels like an old downtown establishment. With a sitting area of sofas and chairs you feel just like you were having a drink at home. It is home to a Bourbon drinker. I started off with a Stagg Jr. from Buffalo Trace based on the suggestion of the bar staff. I had never had this one and I was told it was excellent and easier to find than the normal Stagg. It is a high proof bourbon at 134, with a lot of spice and body. Not to mention great color, very deep, very rich.   I followed that with an order of the deviled eggs which were egg-cellent. I know, bad joke, but they are incredible. I then ordered a Sazerac cocktail made with Rittenhouse Rye. Bartender Anthony made it for me and it was everything I expected and more. It was a nice follow-up to the Stagg Jr. and I complemented it with the fried green tomatoes with remoulade & lemon sauce.

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Bartender gear
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Stagg Jr.
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Deviled eggs
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Fried green tomatoes and a Sazerac cocktail

I met Chris, the Assistant General Manager. Chris said the incredible selection of bourbons are the passion and vision of Tanner Fleming, the General Manager.   Chris suggested I try the 13-year Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye. I had not seen it prior to today. Well, that was incredible. I will not forget it after today. So smooth and so Van Winkle, words just can’t describe it. WOW! This is another great offering from Buffalo Trace you will not find in many bars.

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Last sip of 13-year Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye

The next time you are in the DFW area, take the time to drive to Whiskey Cake in Plano. The bar staff is all very friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. The food was just as good as the strong bourbon selection. I didn’t have the time or capacity to try more of the menu but everyone I spoke with at the bar was enjoying their choices. I was very impressed and very happy as I left. By the way, I have been in the corrugated business for more years than I will mention. How could I not like an establishment that uses recycled corrugated with their name on it for coasters?

I ended the evening sipping the Van winkle and eating their incredible Whiskey Cake. Man that was sinful and so good.

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Photo from D Magazine

Bar Review: The Cellar Restaurant & Spirit Room (Fullerton, CA)

The Cellar Restaurant & Spirits Room as penned on their website says:

The Cellar in Fullerton is Orange County’s premier fine dining experience featuring one of the country’s largest and most exclusive wine lists. Whether it’s a romantic dinner for two or a larger gathering of friends, family or for business…

What it doesn’t say is they have a great bar! This is a place to go for a drink, small plates at the bar, or an elegant dinner. It is literally in the cellar of Fullerton, California’s Historic Villa del Sol, built in 1922.

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The interior of The Cellar was conceived and designed by craftsmen from Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean in 1969. You descend a flight of dimly lit stairs into the old world. The dimly lit restaurant is true to the 20’s and festive at the same time. Fun Fact: Richard Burton proposed to Elizabeth Taylor (for the second time) in a secluded booth in the cellar.

Ryan Dudley, the owner, has worked hard to keep it current, yet classic, including hiring bartenders with a flair for the history of classic cocktails and spirits (you can check out their bar menu here). They have a good selection of quality Bourbons and Ryes and they make a terrific “Old Fashioned.” Orange Coast Magazine’s February 2016 issue named the “Original Manhattan (1870)” from the Spirit Room at The Cellar as one of the tastiest cocktails in Orange County!

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Photo from The Cellar’s website

Ryan’s creative approach to marketing the restaurant is to even have classes in the bar. We attended one on making “The Classic Old Fashioned.” What great fun we had that night.  It’s become my regular recipe, which I’ll share in the next couple weeks.

After a play last Thursday, Lynn and I wandered down to The Cellar for dinner (we’re in walking distance!) and split the “Steak Sandwich.” I had an Old Fashioned and Lynn had one of their specialty cocktails, “Just Peachy,” with peach, lemon, bitters, and bourbon. We like The Cellar for drinks and a bite after a play or movie, champagne after midnight on New Year’s Eve, or a well deserved dinner out.

I can’t say enough about the feeling of drinking an old fashioned in the ambiance of The Cellar.   You feel like you are back in the 20’s when Vila del Sol was built. It is truly as magical as the Disney artisans intended. Sit at the bar or one of their cozy booths and check out their list of specialty cocktails or order your favorite, you won’t be disappointed.

This is a Bourbon Blog but I have to mention they have a spectacular wine selection if you or your company doesn’t want bourbon (on Wednesdays they have 1/2 price bottles of wine). As I sit here writing this week’s blog I am dying for some of their Truffle Macaroni and Cheese and they are closed on Mondays! You can order small plates or a full meal at the bar. We love making a meal out of small plates. You can have the Lobster Bisque, Bone Marrow, Escargot…   There is no end to the choices but do end the evening with a Soufflé!

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From The Cellar’s Facebook page

Bourbon Review: Wild Turkey 101

It’s 101 Proof and as good as it sounds.  Doesn’t it sound interesting and a cut above?  Being 101 proof means it’s 50.5% alcohol.  They get Wild Turkey to 101 when they dilute the bourbon down from about 109 after filtering to  bottle it.  It has matured in barrels with a #4 char between 6, 7 & 8 years.   Austin Nichols was Established in the mid 1800’s but it hasn’t always been called Wild Turkey.  A little history is below from the Campari Group’s website.

In 1940, Austin, Nichols executive Thomas McCarthy inadvertently established the Wild Turkey Bourbon brand name. An avid sportsman, McCarthy gathered with friends each year for a wild turkey hunt on a South Carolina estate. McCarthy, who was asked to bring the whiskey, pulled a sample of undiluted 101 proof from the warehouse. The following year, his friends insisted he bring more of “that wild turkey bourbon.” McCarthy, a businessman with a background in marketing, realized he had a winning product and soon began to market Wild Turkey Bourbon.

Knowing it was 101 proof, the first time I tried it I wasn’t sure what the first sip would bring.  It was delightful, very robust in flavor and a wellspring of flavors as it opens up.  As I was tasting it for this blog post, I was looking for the bite of the proof but it’s smooth for a high proof bourbon.  A lot of complex flavors: cinnamon (I would call it liquid cinnamon in color), very strong caramel, nutmeg. I detect some fruit which to me is apple, others call it orchard fruit.

I enjoy this bourbon and would recommend you try a bottle for sipping or mixing.  It will play well with other flavors.

I have had many bottles of Wild Turkey on my Southwest Airlines flights (thanks for the free drink coupons Southwest!) but never the 101.  Watch for it at your local store and give it a try.  Like me, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

Aged: Blend of 7, 8, & 9 Years
Proof: 101
Color: Deep Russet (Distillers Notes)
Price Point: $24.99 (at BevMo)
Wine Enthusiast Rating91

Bolder but hotter than the 81 proof version, this Kentucky Bourbon has a drying feel, and lots of maple, caramel and vanilla flavor, finishing long with touches of dried orange peel and clove. Add a splash of branchwater to even out the alcohol. (Read more here)

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Collecting Old Bourbons

I collect different things – horse racing memorabilia, old sports stuff from colleges my family went to, Boy Scout badges… But the one thing I don’t collect is old bourbons.Well, until last January.

I was attending the All-American Collector’s Show in Glendale, Ca this weekend and it reminded me if a purchase a year ago at this same show.  I walked up to a booth & saw an Old Bardstown 103rd Kentucky Derby Decanter.  The 103rd Kentucky Derby was in 1977 when Seattle Slew won, and went on to win the Triple Crown.  I already have one but as a price check I asked the guy in the booth how much he wanted for it.  He said, “12 bucks and it still has the bourbon in it.”  I wasn’t interested until he said, “It has the bourbon in it.”  That was bottled 38 years ago.  I couldn’t get the money out of my pocket fast enough.

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There are bourbon aficionados out there who do collect old bourbons.  It’s important to understand that bourbon does not age in the bottle like wine (If it was a 12 year old bourbon when it went in, its still a 12 year old barrel aged bourbon).  But that said, old bourbons have a different taste that is unique to their heritage and maker.  One of the most famous of those collectors is Chet Zoeller who was profiled in the June/July 2014 Garden & Gun Magazine.  He collects pre-Prohibition bourbons.

“These Prohibition-era bottles emerge periodically from their hiding spots in attics and storm cellars, places where they have spent nearly a century as fugitives from what was once the law of the land. When they do, Chet Zoeller is waiting to pounce. A septuagenarian Kentucky native, Zoeller knows as much about the history of bourbon whiskey as any man alive, and he has made it his mission to lay his hands on one bottle from each notable pre-Prohibition distiller. He’s up to 125, about halfway there. Among his prizes: a rare bottle of the once popular Green River whiskey from Daviess County, and an Old Oscar Pepper with its distinctive “OOP” on the label. While the latter brand is lost to history, the distillery itself remains in operation as Woodford Reserve.”

Like anything worth looking for, these bourbons can be found and they are still out there.  Take a look at the Garden & Gun article and look out for that old bottle of bourbon in your Grandfathers kitchen cabinet.  So, I ask you this — Should I open the bottle of Old Bardstown?

Bourbon Review: Angel’s Envy

Angel’s Envy is the creation of bourbon industry legend Lincoln Henderson. It is known as his masterpiece and until his passing in 2013 he watched over the entire creation process. In the process of aging bourbon in barrels there is a lot of evaporation. The portion that evaporates is known as the “Angel’s Share.” The name “Angel’s Envy” is derived from what is left in the barrel. It is bottled in a tall bottle with angel wings on the back of the bottle.

Angel’s Envy has a distinct spiciness. I, personally, detect a very strong caramel flavor. Others say they taste black cherries, almond, and raisins.   The bourbon is aged 4-6 years in American oak and finished for 3-6 months in port barrels. This is what gives it a sweet taste with a hint of cherry.

I will be the first to admit I don’t have a discerning pallet. What I like about a bourbon or whiskey is how it opens up and how it finishes. When my wife Lynn tried it for the first time, her initial comment was, “This is very smooth.”

I first tried it when it came out in 2010 and regularly keep a bottle around. It is one of the bourbons I like to keep around to sip and to introduce to friends who are new to bourbons and want to try something a little different.

Aged: 4-6 years
Proof: 86.6
Color: Very Medium Rich
Price Point: 750 ML $44.99 (Total Wine)
Whisky Advocate Rating: 93

Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey finished in a port pipe. This is veteran master distiller Lincoln Henderson’s newest creation, and it’s a beauty. Richly textured, silky, and well-rounded, with ripe berried fruits, candied tangerine, light toffee, maple syrup, and creamy vanilla, sprinkled with spice (cinnamon, hint of mint). Smooth, silky finish, and dangerously drinkable! The port pipe notes dovetail perfectly. Lovely just the way it is, but it’s begging for a cigar. My only gripe: why not 45 or 50% ABV? But I’m splitting hairs. I really enjoy this stuff!
(Spring 2011) Reviewed by: John Hansell

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Photo from http://www.angelsenvy.com

My 3+ Favorite Bourbons

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Talking about my 3 favorite Bourbons is a little like trying to list my 3 favorite cars. Pick a category: sports car, race car, weekend driver.   When it comes to bourbon is it neat, on the rocks, best mixer, or best value? How do you pick just 3 from so many good Bourbons? So, I will give this post a qualifier: today I’m talking about my favorite everyday bourbons I drink. Because, given unlimited money, supply, or special occasions you’re talking a whole different ballgame.

In my opinion, you can’t beat Blanton’s Original Single Barrel – either neat, or over a large ice cube (don’t let it get too much water in it). It’s easy to find, regularly on sale, and really smooth. I am also a big fan of 1792 (the year Kentucky joined the Union). It’s an excellent bourbon at a fantastic price point.  Next on my list is Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Blanton’s and Woodford are my 2 sipping whiskies on a regular basis. BTW, if you ever visit the Bourbon Trail, Woodford does an incredible “Corn to Cork” tour that I highly recommend.

If you are looking for a craft bourbon at a good price point, Old Pogue is one of my favorites. It’s spicy and complex, but the distillery is so small it’s not even available right now unless you find a liquor store with a dusty bottle left on the shelf. Go to their website and get on the waiting list; its worth the wait. Also, the Old Pogue tour is the subject of a future blog.

If you are mixing mint juleps or our house’s favorite drink, bourbon and ginger (with a lime), Evan Williams Black Label does the trick. In the Fall 2015 Whiskey Advocate Lew Bryson wrote an article titled “In Praise of ‘Table Bourbon’” a la the way French have “table wine.”

It’s a bourbon that good for everyday drinking-well made, ready for a cocktail, a simple highball, or ice destruction duties-and priced for everyday drinking, too. one of the best values in Bourbon. You can get a bottle of good bourbon for under $25, from the same distilleries, the same warehouses, the same barrels and mashbills as bourbons that are hyped, rare, and over $100 a bottle.

Evan Williams is a great “table bourbon.” You can find the 1.75L Evan Williams Black Label on sale at big spirits stores and grocery chains for $14.99 to $17.99 if you keep an eye on the ads. Well worth stocking up for mixing and parties. This is what we use for mint juleps at our annual Derby Party (more on that later this spring).

But, how can I not mention Maker’s Mark, Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon, and Angel’s Envy Cask Strength (more on Angel’s Envy on Thursday). It’s hard for me to even stop there. That is why my bar cart has over 25 Bourbons on it. So, moral of the story, I’m having trouble narrowing my favorite everyday bourbons down to 3.  The beauty of today’s market is there are many bourbons for many tastes. Bourbon and whiskeys like wine and should and can suit your particular tastes. My opinion? Don’t listen to the experts, drink what you like.

“O Pappy, Pappy, wherefore art thou Pappy?”

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My Pappy Van Winkle collection.

That elusive bottle of 12, 15, 20, or 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle. Everyone wants to know where to find a bottle. When we toured the Buffalo Trace Distillery in 2013 everyone on our tour wanted to know which barrel warehouse had the Pappy in it. Our tour guide, who had been a 40-year employee, said he didn’t even know. By now, everyone has heard about the theft of Pappy from Buffalo Trace and the subsequent capture of the thieves. It was an inside job by one of the few people in the world who knew, “Where in the world is Pappy Van Winkle” for Carmen Sandiego fans, or, “Where’s Pappy” for Waldo fans.

How I got my first bottle

I got my first bottle because my friend John called and said they had some Pappy at Total Wine for sale. That was about 5 years ago, maybe 7. At that time they would get in all the years and sell one bottle per customer until it was gone. Those days are gone.

Collecting more Pappy

My second bottle was given to me by one of my best friends and college roommate, Jeff. Jeff buys a lot of wine from several stores.   If you are a very good customer, well, rank (and relationship) has its privilege.

My latest acquisition, a 20-year bottle, my wife Lynn gave to me for Christmas this year. She got it in a state lottery she entered on a whim while we in Idaho this fall! NOW THAT’S A GREAT GIFT.

Finding Pappy

So how do YOU find a bottle?   Pappy is released in late fall. It is never too early to start. Start early, find a friend, make a friend, get creative.

Make a friend means get close to your local liquor store manager/owner that gets Pappy. I got to know the manager of my local BevMo in Brea, California. He put me on the list early in the year in the year and they called me to say I was high enough on the list I had my pick of years. Of course, I took the 23 (more on preferred years in another post). This is key to acquiring any rare spirit, whether it’s bourbon, scotch, wine, etc. Identifying a good store and building a strong relationship will get you far.

My Christmas bottle came from a lottery. Some states with state run liquor stores have a lottery for the Pappy they receive – so, try to win the lottery. Other states with state run liquor stores have long waiting lists for Pappy. It’s worth putting your name on it, but you’ll probably have to wait years.

And, having friends scouting for you helps too.  One of my bottles came from Indiana (from Jeff).  I bought a bottle from BevMo for a family friend in LA who was interested.  Having friends on the team, especially out of the area friends, can pay off.

Years ago I saw a guy on Johnny Carson who got a White Baby Grand Piano for free. His philosophy was if you let enough people know, you can find almost anything you want, at the price you want to pay. He was looking for a White Baby Grand piano and he didn’t want to pay much for it.

Happy hunting and remember start early and be creative!