Bourbon Review: Elijah Craig Small Batch

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Elijah Craig is named for a Baptist minister who was originally credited with inventing bourbon in the late 1700’s. Don’t know about you but there wasn’t a lot of drinking in the Baptist Church where I grew up.

On my last trip to Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa I asked Ryan what he had gotten in recently that I should try. He never steers me wrong and he pointed me toward a couple of bottles they had recently received. When he showed me the Elijah Craig Small Batch, that they had hand picked when in Kentucky, I was immediately intrigued.

This latest Elijah Craig Single Batch was just released by Heaven Hill, which established the brand in 1986. There is no age statement on the bottle but according to the information given to Hi-Times Wine Cellars this is a 9-year-old bourbon. In 2016 Heaven Hill announced they were no longer going to put age statements on their bottles. With supply and demand you are seeing more and more of that in the industry.

The bottom line, does it matter? The real proof is in the pudding (who said that?). Or in this case the real proof is on the bottle and the taste inside is what matters. It has a very strong nose the minute you open it. The spices, vanilla, and sugars jump out at you.

That was not my immediate first impression. I tasted this one on three the separate evenings to write this review. The first night I opened it I had been drinking a high proof bourbon first and this one seemed a little weak. I decided that it was not a fair assessment and wanted to give it a second chance. We learned from our friends Ray and Jeannine ,who own Highland Valley Vineyards, how important atmosphere, music, and mood are to taste. More on that in a later blog but explains why when you try a wine on a tour, buy a case, take it home, and then say, “What was I thinking when I bought this?”

Back to the Bourbon. Elijah Craig has been putting out some very nice bourbons the last few years and this one qualifies as another winner. It has very strong appeal when you open. More of the spices and not so much alcohol. As you taste it you will note it has a very soft appeal and then the spices and a bit of alcohol run into the palate. I have to say it has the body of a more expensive bourbon. Others have described it as weak but after tasting it for the third time last night I think it is perfect for my palate neat.

It is at a price point to be served neat or mixed in a cocktail – you can’t go wrong. With the bourbon inside this attractive bottle with its wood stopper is the perfect gift for a friend. This will be on their bar long after that that $20 bottle of wine.

Aged: No Statement but 9 years
Proof: 94 proof
Color: Dark Amber
Aroma: Spicy, vanilla’s, caramel, oak
Taste:  Caramel, fruits, nutmeg
Price: $22.99 at Hi-Time Wine Cellars

Bourbon Review: Stagg Jr.

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Back in February I bought a bottle of Stagg Jr. that Ryan at Hi-Time Wine Cellars had recommended when I was drooling down the aisles. I knew its reputation; I have a bottle of Stagg I have been nursing for a couple of years. But I have never had Stagg Jr. I love anything from Buffalo Trace so the $59.99 price tag seemed very fair. Well, looking on line recently, I should have bought more than 1 bottle because when I run out I will have to pay north of $125 for that same bottle.

Taken straight from the back label of the bottle:

“George T. Stagg was born in Kentucky on December 19th, 1835. Stagg built the most dominant American distillery on the banks of the Kentucky River, during a time known as the Gilded Age of Bourbon. The Distillery survived floods, fires, droughts, and even Prohibition – when it made whiskey for medicinal purposes. Today, Buffalo Trace Distillery strives to carry on the tradition of its famous forefather. Uncut and unfiltered, this robust bourbon whiskey ages for nearly a decade and boasts the bold character that is reminiscent of the man himself.”

Robust even falls short as a description of this bourbon. As you can see by the color it is a very deep color I would describe as walnut. At a 130 proof it’s not been cut. When you open the bottle you can smell the spice. It’s a distinct nutmeg smell. You also pick up vanilla and cinnamon. This is an 8 to 9-year-old bourbon that has picked up a lot of flavor from the No. 4 char in the Missouri Ozark American white oak barrels where it has lived.

In Fred Minnick’s book Bourbon Curious (which I highly recommend), he devotes an entire chapter to tasting bourbons, breaking it down by grain, or spice prominence. The older bourbons that are uncut have that rich color and stronger flavor profile.

I definitely suggest getting a bottle now. You may still find it in some liquor stores around the country without paying high prices. Hi-Time Wine Cellars with their following sells out of these limited release bourbons very quickly. You can certainly find some in your higher end local restaurants or bars. It is a bourbon I would highly recommend if you can find it.

My next blog will be about another 9-year-old bourbon I picked up yesterday on Ryan’s recommendation.  Stay tuned!

Whiskey from one of our Founding Fathers – George Washington’s Distillery

Happy Independence Day to all my loyal readers. You might be surprised to learn that U.S. Presidents and whiskey are entwined in the fabric of our country.   Did you know our first president was a whiskey distiller? George Washington’s Mount Vernon Distillery produced nearly 11,000 gallons of whiskey in 1799 (according to its website). That was one of the largest distilleries in the country with 5 copper pot stills – larger than many distilleries today.

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Mount Vernon Distillery was not the first in the country. General Washington was buying whiskey for his troops from Pennsylvania distillers during the Revolutionary War. He later angered these distillers after the war when, to help pay war debts, the country decided to tax whiskey.

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If you are ever get a chance to visit Mount Vernon make a side trip to the Mount Vernon Distillery. They give an interesting and fun tour of George Washington’s distillery operation. While there you can buy rye whiskey at the distillery which has been restored and is a working distillery.

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George Washington was making mostly Rye whiskey with 60% rye, 30% corn, and 5% barley. This rye was distilled twice and sold as common whiskey. He also distilled apple, peach, and persimmon brandy.

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Prior to the revolution rum was the preferred beverage. We know from our tours in Barbados that Washington spent time studying the rum making process when he was in Barbados with his brother. After the war, molasses from the west Indies, which is required for the rum making process, became more expensive. The ingredients for whiskey were more easily acquired and less expensive. And thus, distillers turned to whiskey.

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As you celebrate the 4th of July you may be celebrating with a beer, which was Thomas Jefferson’s preferred beverage. I would suggest you toast our first president, and perhaps the most famous Founding Father, with a sip of American whiskey.

Bourbon Review: Bond & Lillard

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A few weeks ago I wrote about the Whiskey Barons collection, a special release by Campari America, and reviewed Old Ripy. Today I’m giving you the lowdown on Bond & Lillard, also released in the collection.

Bond & Lillard was a trusted name in pre-prohibition whiskey industry. It was first distilled by John Bond, a veteran of the revolutionary war. He left the company to his son and grandson, David and William. David would go on to form a partnership with his brother-in-law C.C. Lillard in 1869, and they began labeling the product Bond & Lillard. The bourbon was so revered it won the grand prize at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Using the tasting notes the judges wrote down at the World’s Fair and historic notes, Wild Turkey created today’s bourbon.

This is another 375ml offering in a unique round bottle. Again, classic graphics with the look of an old label. The label has statements on it such as, “It Bears no Equal” and “Real Delicacy of Flavor.” The top of the bottle says, “Judgment & Integrity.” As I have said many times in the past, I love good packaging. They have done a nice job on this Bond & Lillard bottles shape and graphics.

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The bourbon is a golden color, about the same color as Old Ripy. I would have thought it would be lighter being a younger bourbon. It has a fruity, spice and vanilla nose to it. It also has a fruity and spice taste. For a higher proof whiskey this one does not have the sting or bite you would expect. It has a pleasant finish and leaves fruit on the tongue with a hint of spice.

I like having a diverse and deep bench on my bar cart. This is a bourbon I have added to it and suggest you do the same. Bond & Lillard has an impressive look and equally impressive taste. At $49.95 it is an affordable, out of the ordinary, bourbon to have when you want to get off the beaten path of the Bourbon Trail bourbons. Try a bottle and send me your thoughts.

Aged: Minimum 7 years
Proof: 100 proof
Color: Gold
Aroma: Apricot, spice, stone fruit
Taste:  Caramel, fruit, nuts
Price: $45.99 at Hi-Time Wine Cellars

This post was sponsored by Campari America, who was generous to send me a bottle to try! Opinions are my own.

Restaurant Review: Turf Supper Club

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We joined our friends Ray and Jeannine at a San Diego Padres game a few weeks ago and following their win they said they had a fun place for dinner. Knowing I like horse racing and a great bar, they knew we’d love the Turf Supper Club, a “Grill Your Own Steakhouse” is in the historic Golden Hill neighborhood of San Diego.

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Nothing pretentious or Turf Club stuffy, the Turf Supper Club is right out of the 50’s: campy fun.  You can see by the neon sign you are in for a treat. There is long bar with plenty of stools, photos of horses, old style lamp shades with horse shoes, red lights, and carpet, and classic wallpaper. It has been described as comfy and friendly – and that is true.

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What makes this restaurant truly different? You cook your own steak on the grill in the middle of the dining room. But don’t let me get ahead of myself. The bar has a very classic drink menu. For bourbon drinkers they have an Old Fashioned, Manhattan, or American Thoroughbred. They also offer a Gimlet, Esquire Martini, or Cosmopolitan, just to mention a few. With good bartenders and a good selection of liquor you can’t go wrong. Lynn started with a Manhattan and I had an Old Fashioned. Our drinks were very good and quite reasonable with prices from $7 to $11. If you just read my Bourbon blog for fun, they also have beer and wine.

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Steaks start at $11.75 for a Top Sirloin with a top price of $22.75 for Filet Mignon. I was impressed with Marinated Flank Steak I ordered. If you don’t want beef there are kebobs, pork, chicken, or salmon. All steaks and kebobs come with a large slice of garlic bread. The “Extras” as they call them are a side salad, baked potato, or potato salad.  You can end your meal with a selection of cheesecakes.

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I recommend The Turf Supper Club for those who like bourbon, steak, and a fun evening with friends, new or old. Next time you are in San Diego step back in time with a classic cocktail and steak at the Turf Supper Club. On Sunday nights they have live music in the Piano Bar. I felt like George Woolf or Johnny Longden was going to walk into the place before we left.

Remembering Fathers

I fondly remember my father and grandfather.   Anyone who ever met them said they were both, “such gentlemen.” They were wonderful parents and grandparents. My grandparent’s home was on the Ohio River across from downtown Louisville, Kentucky. They had a deck that overlooked the river and on any given Saturday or Sunday a backyard full of friends. The back porch had a refrigerator full of long neck PBR’s or Falls City Beer. If you wanted something else there was a bar where my grandfather would make you a highball. Esquire Magazine says, “The potency of the drink is the result of the bartender’s kindness.” My grandfather Bill was kind and there was always plenty of Old Granddad or Early Times on the bar.

Granpa behind the Bar

People would always gather at their house for a barbecue, fireworks show, “The Great Steamboat Race” between the Delta Queen and Belle of Louisville, speedboat races, air shows, or to just watch the barges go up and down the river. If you were there for dinner Daddy Bill would offer to “sweeten” your coffee with a little Canadian Club Whiskey.

Granpa Bill & Corrine

Those really were the good old days where everyone sat around and discussed sports, politics, and the weather without phones, TV, or interruptions.

They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and in the case of my dad, Bill, that is very true. My parents always had people over for some occasion. He had built a beautiful bar in our basement. The drink of choice in my latter years at home was a Manhattan. But Dad could make any drink you wanted. Bartending for that generation was a skill many had learned. Mom and Dad threw a lot of parties. I remember most their New Year’s Eve parties where everyone was still there when mom would make breakfast at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning. They would dance, talk, and play cards all night. The “Greatest Generation” were great hosts and threw epic parties.

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Mom and Dad would come to California for our Derby Party and Dad would be our bartender. He said, “he could meet everyone that way.” But he also just enjoyed being behind the bar and talking with people.

My Grandfather Burrel was a mule skinner from Kentucky who brought his family to Indiana after the depression. He would have a bottle of Four Roses tucked away for a little shot neat, followed by a Coca Cola chaser. The drinks I remember from gatherings in those years were drinking whiskey neat, or on the rocks with a “splash” of water. The ladies especially would enjoy their whiskey in a highball with coke. You always started a party or dinner with a cocktail, not a glass of wine or champagne.

As you spend Father’s Day with your family ask about the traditions of your parents, and grandparents. We have recently held discussions with our kids about what we did for entertainment when we were their age and how drinks and drinking has changed. I get a grin on my face even saying “Wine Coolers.” What was that old commercial… “We’ve come a long way baby.”

Happy Father’s Day to all the Dad’s and expectant fathers that read my blog!

Triple Crown Mixology: The Belmont Jewel

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For those who don’t follow horse racing as closely as I do, the Belmont Stakes is this weekend! Continuing my series on drinks specific to the three Triple Crown races, today I’m sharing with you the “Belmont Jewel” –  the official drink of the Belmont Stakes (recipe below). The name is a reference to Belmont being the 3rd jewel in the Triple crown.

The Belmont Jewel is made with Woodford Reserve, the official bourbon of Belmont Park. Belmont has changed their drink over the years. In 1975 it was “The Big Apple” which was made with rum, apple liquor, and some sort of fruit juice. It only lasted a year or two then it was changed to “The White Carnation” which was a combination of vodka, peach schnapps, orange juice, soda water, and cream. It was created with the thought of the blanket of white carnations put on the winner. It was not well received by the patrons. How long it lasted seems to be lost in history. In 1997, then head bartender of the Rainbow Room, Dale DeGroff invented the “Belmont Breeze.” Believing that a track drink should be whiskey-based, he made what he called “an old-fashioned whiskey punch, which has mint as a garnish.” It was made from Bourbon or Rye, sherry, orange juice, pimento bitters, fresh mint, and orange zest.

That brings us to 2015 and the Belmont Jewel. As part of a modernizing effort they wanted to have a drink that was bourbon based, easy to make at home, and in large quantity at the track. They needed a drink that was more “fan friendly” and this was it.

Having been to the Belmont to see American Pharoah win the Triple Crown, I can attest to the fact the crowd was lined up to buy the Belmont Jewel and everyone seemed to be enjoying it. I will only admit to having more than one.

Here’s the recipe:

1.4 oz. Woodford Reserve Bourbon
2 oz. Lemonade
1 oz. Pomegranate Juice
Orange zest

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously with ice. Serve in a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with an lemon twist.

Let’s all toast the last Jewel in the Triple Crown and the start of summer with a Belmont Jewel!