Untitled Super Club (Chicago)

While sitting at the bar at the Berkshire Room, I had a nice conversation with a few locals who told told me I had to go to the Untitled Super Club before I left town – a self-described “Contemporary revival of a Prohibition-era Chicago Supper Club” combining fine dining with a classic social club-feel complete with live music and Cabaret-style entertainment.

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The club has a very nondescript entrance, as you might guess. Once inside the door are stairs down to the basement. Behind the stairs is a big glass case filled with whiskey bottles.

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Once downstairs I was bombarded with the ambiance of the surroundings –  comfortable lounging areas and fun art. On each side of the stairway are two large bars with a spectacular display of whiskies. They claim to have one of the largest collections available. I cannot dispute that fact.

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What made the experience even greater was the hospitality of the bartenders. Mick, who asked what I would like, greeted me. I judge a bar by their cocktails and I usually start with an Old Fashioned. Mick was a terrific bartender. He was attentive, knowledgeable and knew his whiskey.

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We started talking about what kind of bourbons I liked and I had tried. He suggested I try the Garrison Brothers Single Barrel. It was quite good. I still have not figured out the nose but I said burlap, Mick said top of the rick house.

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We then we moved on to a discussion of Japanese Whiskey. I said the ones I had tried did not impress but I knew they were not the best. He suggested the Yamazaki 12 year-old Single Malt. Once again, he hit it right on. I would try this again and I am not a single malt person.

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The last one I tried was Widow Jane from New York. Another great selection and bourbon. I will add a bottle to my bar.

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We ended the night when Mick brought out the Cynar for those left at the bar. Cynar is an artichoke based bittersweet liqueur known for its distinctive flavor. Its taste is enriched by an infusion of 13 herbs and plants. The name of the drink derives from Cynar scolymus, the botanical name for artichoke. Try it sometime; it’s very appealing.

The Untitled Supper Club is definitely worth a stop when visiting Chicago. I’m looking forward to visiting again when I’m in town next.

How do you like your bourbon?

These days there are a lot of options when it comes to chilling your bourbon (and drinks in general). Today we’ll walk you through some of the different options like how to order your bourbon and the many different styles of ice cubes.

Neat, straight up, and on the rocks are still the standards. Neat means without ice. Typically a bartender would serve it in an old fashioned glass. Neat is also how most distilleries on the Bourbon Trail serve their bourbon for tasting. It definitely takes some getting used to if you’re like me and like your bourbon chilled.

Straight up means chilled but without ice in it. This is similar to how a martini is served. This is becoming trendier for drinks beyond martinis as bartenders get increasingly creative with their drink list. It’s also a very classic way of serving drinks.

And then there is on the rocks, which is what we are all most used to when it comes to sipping bourbon. Just some ice with bourbon poured over it.

Now, these days there are a ton of ice options. There’s your old standby of standard ice out of the refrigerator or ice maker. I tend to prefer this if I’m mixing my bourbon. The ice melts quickly, especially on a hot day, which waters down the bourbon.

So when I’m sipping bourbon I generally use a large ice cube from molds that I’ve purchased from Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table. There are a ton of ice mold options out there. These are very common in restaurants now too. Some restaurants I’ve visited have even installed ice makers that make larger ice cubes (there’s a Japanese ice maker that makes ice cubes that are larger than the normal squares an ice machine makes but smaller than the large square mold ice cubes).

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You can purchase ice molds in all sorts of shapes and sizes. I have a bunch of large square molds, and some round ice molds made by Tovolo – they seem to make the best ones (found in stores all over the place). I even have a tray to make Purdue P ice cubes!

For those who want chilled bourbon with no added water whatsoever there are whiskey stones. Whiskey stones are just that, small pieces of stone made in all sorts of shapes, but usually small squares. Most of them are made from Granite. Granite is very hard and dense. It doesn’t absorb liquid and also retains temperature very well. There are also metal stones with a coolant inside which freezes. This is a way to chill your bourbon without watering it down at all. Admittedly I don’t use my whiskey stones very often. I prefer the large ice cube option – chills the bourbon and dilutes just a bit as you get to the end of the glass.

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If you read the tasting notes of many of the bourbons being released today they suggest you serve the bourbon slightly chilled. How you achieve that is really up to personal preference! Right now, I think by a fire is the best way!

Bar Review: The Whiskey House (San Diego)

Last weekend, we drove down to San Diego for a Padres game with our good friends Ray and Jeannine, who own Highland Valley Vineyards (they make some incredible red wines at HVV, and well worth a Sunday afternoon to visit their vineyard). They promised that after the game we would stop in the Whiskey House in San Diego. I knew it was going to be a killer experience when I looked in the door and all the walls were covered with lighted shelves and whiskey, after whiskey, after whiskey!

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They had so many whiskeys I was in awe. They claim to have over 1,400 whiskeys, and I am not going to dispute that claim. WOW I was in “Bourbon Heaven.” Lynn, Jeannine, and Ray had ordered craft cocktails and they were all good. Lynn had an Old Fashioned, and Jeannine a Manhattan. I was just memorized by the list; I had to try bourbon that I had not experienced previously.   The list is huge! Many seemed very reasonable but $299 for a pour of Pappy seemed a little steep.

From their website:

The Whiskey House features over 1,400 whiskeys, craft cocktails, 20 international draft beers, an eclectic wine list and a delectable menu of house made fare. We specialize in house made sausages, fresh ground burgers, exotic cheeses, and charcuterie and downtown’s newest breakfast café, just next door… The Lazy Hippo, offering healthy breakfast items and savory favorites, along with fresh squeezed juices and smoothies.

By the time we got there after a long but successful Padres game the clock was about to turn to AM so we did not try any food but it looked really good. This will be a regular stop for me when in San Diego. The atmosphere is very dark, warm, and inviting. There are is kinds of seating from bar stools, tables, to sofas so you can enjoy your favorite spirit in a relaxed environment.

The next day we took in the races at Del Mar and on Saturday we saw California Chrome win the Pacific Classic. What a great weekend of baseball, whiskey, wineries, horses and good friends. When in San Diego you must put this on your to-do list!

Tasting Rum in Barbados (St. Nicholas Abbey Distillery Tour)

Surprise! Lynn and I were in Barbados last week. We decided to go on a little island vacation this summer and had a great time. Naturally, while there, we had to taste some of the local spirits – rum!

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When in Barbados you must try the Rum. Barbados is famous for its sugarcane and when you are stuck with sugarcane and great limestone filtered water you make RUM.

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Our first stop was St. Nicholas Abbey. What an incredible find. Lynn had read about it and knew we would love it. One flat tire and driving on the left made a little rum welcome by the time we arrived. The home was built in 1658 by Colonel Benjamin Berringer, and it is one of the island’s oldest surviving plantations. The Jacobean style architecture is unusual for a Caribbean home and one of only 3 in the Western Hemisphere. The other 2 are Drax Hall also on Barbados, and Bacon’s Castle in Virginia.

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When you visit St. Nicholas Abbey you get a tour of the home, the boiling house, distillery, and gardens. Part of the tour includes a home movie shot in the c1935 by Charles Cave and gives a glimpse of life on the plantation and the island. The narration is also fun and so British. They serve a wonderful lunch on the terrace. Plan to spend a lot of time there tasting, eating, and touring.

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The current owners are Larry and Anna Warren who bought it in 2006. They bought the property to preserve it as part of the island’s heritage. They have meticulously restored the property with their sons Simon and Shae. It is their mission to develop St. Nicholas Abbey as a heritage attraction, cultural centre, and self supporting plantation. Part of that mission has brought them to develop St. Nicholas Abbey Rum. This will help to sustain the legacy of the plantation. They are also unique in that they use their own sugar cane to make this rum. They also sell brown sugar, molasses, and other homemade products.

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They are making their rum with classic Bajan balance and finesse. It is a great introduction to rum for Cognac, Whiskey, or Bourbon lovers. It has a mellow sweetness having been aged in bourbon barrels. It is a deep amber color with hints of vanilla, chocolate, cinnamon. Sound al little like your favorite Bourbon? As a review of the rum I can say I enjoyed it as much as any excellent bourbon.

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They sell their rum in 3 vintages. When we were there they offered a 5, 12, and 18 year old rum. What they sell on line through a few stores in the UK may have slightly different vintages. Most of their rum is sold right at the abbey. We spent some time with Anna in the bottling and packaging building. Another great old building they had restored. They have one lady who bottles, seals and labels every bottle. They hand bottle about 8,000 bottles a year. It was fascinating talking with Anna. You could sense her passion for the plantation and the rum. She and Larry along with their sons are doing something they love and putting that passion into every bottle. The bottle is a work of art. The bottle is etched with an image of the great house and sealed with a mahogany cork symbolic of the trees on the plantation. The top of the cork has a leather insert, hand stamped logo on the top.

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Everything has been done with style and class. Larry, a renowned architect, and Anna have shown incredible attention to detail.   From their product, to the tour, to the products they sell in their store it’s all first cabin. Even the tour guide’s uniforms reflect their passion to detail. When you go to Barbados you MUST tour St. Nicholas Abbey. You will be impressed with their rum and pleased you took the time to tour the Abbey and a rum distillery.

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Bar Review: Vino Nostra (Fullerton, California)

Wine Bar Review, WINE BAR REVIEW?

I know exactly what you are thinking, this is a BOURBON blog. Well, one has to diversify at times and this is that time. We have friends and relatives who own wineries, wine bars, restaurants, and craft breweries. I have to give some quality time to my friends of the grape and hops.

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On Saturday we stopped by Vino Nostra, a wonderful “Retail, Beer, and Wine Bar” in Fullerton, California. We were there to pick up our June Wine Club bottles. Vino Nostra is the creation of Dena and Kevin David. Dena has been involved in the wine and restaurant business for years and she has put that knowledge and experience to good use.

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On their website they have the following quote:

“Grapes. One of the crops that helped found northern Orange County. Grapes and wine, in part, founded Fullerton, and in that tradition, Vino Nostra was created.”

The Wine Club (which is filling up quickly), is unique in that Dena selects 3 unique wines for you quarterly and as part of the club there is a private reception to pick up your wines where you can taste them while enjoying small bites, cheese, fruit, and this month we enjoyed some delicious tri-tip sliders!

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More importantly it’s a great spot to try a huge selection of unique wines and craft beer. They have small bites available daily. With very friendly owners and staff its always warm and welcoming. Dena has been creative in having Tastings and Tacos on the 1st Tuesday of the month, regular Thirsty Thursdays, and the 2nd Sunday of the month an “Old Fashioned Ice Cream Social” with some cider for the ice cream.  They are also one of the hosts the Fullerton Art Walk.

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Vino Nostra is open Tuesday through Sunday until 10:00 PM, opening times vary by day. It’s a short walk for us, but worth the drive from your home or office. Give it a try and you will discover one of the best spots in Downtown Fullerton!

Bar Review: Husk (Charleston, SC)

No trip to Charleston is complete with out a meal at Husk. It’s a great restaurant and next door to it they have a cool bar. Both are in historic late 1800’s buildings. Husk is known for their food and bourbon and it’s tough to get a table. Husk has almost any bourbon you would ever want to try, and knowledgeable bartenders to help you make your choice.

Make sure to make reservations WAY in advance of your trip. Our daughter was in Charleston a couple months ago and as she and her husband pulled into town they tried to swing by Husk for a late lunch. The restaurant is so popular, rightfully so, that they were fully booked for lunch. When she mentioned this, Lynn immediately made reservations for our trip to Charleston over Memorial Day Weekend.

Husk describes their restaurant as:

“Centrally located in historic downtown Charleston, Husk, from James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock of McCrady’s and the Neighborhood Dining Group, transforms the essence of Southern food. Led by Brock and Chef de Cuisine Travis Grimes, a Lowcountry native, the kitchen reinterprets the bounty of the surrounding area, exploring an ingredient-driven cuisine that begins in the rediscovery of heirloom products and redefines what it means to cook and eat in Charleston.”

Our meal was delicious! I had the fried chicken and it lived up to the billing. The menu changes daily and I had a tough decision to make between chicken fried steak and the fried chicken. The waiter suggested the fried chicken and that was all I needed to know. Lynn had the shrimp and grits. Both were winners. We finished lunch with the delicious Chocolate Chess Pie. The dessert menu even has recommended bourbon pairing for the dessert.

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My Barrel Aged Manhattan at lunch
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The delicious dessert menu!

After lunch we strolled, did some shopping, toured the historic Joseph Manigault house built in 1803, and the Charleston Museum. The Charleston Museum is recognized as the first museum in America. It was founded in 1773.

When the museum closed at 5:00pm, we found our way back to the Husk Bar which opens at 4:00pm daily.

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It is very cozy with a long bar on the first floor and a nice room on the second floor for groups to sit and enjoy the food and beverage.

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I tried the Jefferson’s Chef’s Collaboration. It is one of the creative offerings from Jefferson’s and was developed with the collaboration between Chef Edward Lee and Trey Zoeller Master Distiller. It has a hint of vanilla, cherry, and a little apple. It was a great pick and went well with the appetizer we had – pimento cheese on toast. I don’t remember all the ingredients but I do remember if was really good and went well with the Jefferson’s which was blended to be enjoyed with spicy foods.

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Lynn had an old fashioned and they used an orange and cherry bitters which gave it a wonderful flavor.

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Yes, we enjoyed Charleston, Husk, and, despite dodging a lot of rain over the weekend, look forward to our next trip there!

Bar Review: Who Goes to Augusta for the Bourbon?

Last weekend, we were in Augusta for the wedding of a good friend’s son. But we couldn’t pass up a great bourbon bar for lunch on the way to the wedding. So, I guess I went to Augusta for the bourbon.

The bar is Finch & Fifth and it’s only minutes from Augusta National. It’s in Surry Center, a nice shopping center with antique stores, clothing, and outdoor shops. Finch & Fifth has been there about 3 years.

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The bourbon selection is superb. They have most anything you want Pappy, Orphan Barrels, older and new bourbons. They have almost anything you might want. On their website they say, “With craft cocktails, artisanal cheeses, and a creative twist on southern classics, Finch & Fifth is your new local hang out.”

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I looked at the list of bourbons and decided on the Hillrock Solterra Aged Bourbon. I had not tried this one previously and they had it on their menu.

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I was very impressed with the bourbon, the setting, and a top-notch BLT sandwich.

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Lynn had an Old Fashioned and the Artisan Grilled Cheese (cablanca goat gouda, tomato, & smoky mayo on ciabatta).

Check out their menu on line – they have very creative drinks and food. We had a fun lunch and enjoyed a lot of attention from the bartender. The crowd was light but I am guessing most of the year it’s tough to get a seat in here with such good food and drinks.

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Next time you go to Augusta stop in or if you need a good diversion stop over, you won’t be disappointed.