Quarantine Bottle Kill #1: Heaven Hill 7 Year Bottled In Bond Bourbon

Sheltering in place has led to a massive spike in booze sales across the United States a the days are now divided into “Coffee Hours” and “Alcohol Hours.” Being forcefully unemployed by the pandemic I’m unable to contribute to that spike and have had to reexamine my hoarding tendencies. My reluctance to open bottles, let alone finish them, has been overtaken by my belief that whiskey is meant to be enjoyed. And if not now, when?

So, join me as I work my way through my bar cart with the great Quarantine Bottle Kill of 2020.

First up is a relative newcomer: Heaven Hill Bottled In Bond 7 Year Old Bourbon. Not to be confused with the Heaven Hill Bottled In Bond 6 Year Old Bourbon which was only available in Kentucky and was discontinued in 2018. One year later this 7 Year hit shelves with an updated label, an extra year of age, and a boosted price tag.

I’ve made no qualms about Heaven Hill being one of my favorite distilleries but their lack of an eponymous bourbon certainly means they have much less name recognition as a distillery than say Jim Beam. The old Heaven Hill 6 Year was one of my favorite bottles to bring back from a Kentucky trip and at $12 was an absurd steal.

Now, what exactly does an extra year and a new label and bottle taste like?

NOSE: Chestnut, dusty leather, vanilla, and oak

PALETTE: Earthy with a strong oak presence. A dusting of baking spices and a hint of tobacco. There’s a slight woodsy quality to it with a surprisingly light punch for a bonded whiskey.

FINISH: Medium and dry with a touch of stone fruit and capped with the oak and vanilla from the nose.

This is quintessential Heaven Hill. In fact, if you told me this was the 6 Year Old bottle I would believe you. Which makes sense as it’s the exact same mashbill only a year older and released a year after the 6 Year was discontinued. You can do the math. And that’s my only real con with this bottle: the math.

$12 would be an absurd price for any quality Bourbon these days.  However, at $40 it enters a very crowded field of more household names like Eagle Rare, Woodford Reserve, and Knob Creek. While this is solid bourbon I’d personally pick up a bottle of Elijah Craig from the same distillery for a lower price tag. 

I am happy to see it on the shelves though if only to help spread the Heaven Hill name. Though if it was still at the old price point I might have been able to stock up for the quarantine instead of having to finish the bottle.

Whisky(ish) Wednesday: A Different Story

I’m not a healthy individual. 

I know I project an air of fitness, health, and confidence but the underlying structure has a flaw. This flaw directly relates to me being a bartender and no it’s not my propensity to drink barrels full of whiskey or my possibly addictive personality. 

I started bartending as a career when I was 25 and like most of us it wasn’t a planned career. I had been in LA for a few years quietly attempting to be a writer. It was going as well as you imagine. I had started my time in LA as an NBC Page, worked the desk of the Chairman of NBC and was currently an Executive Assistant at a large TV Production company but things were stalling. Not just on the career side but in my body. 

It started with blurred vision and dizziness while play volleyball with friends. It happened frequently enough that I spoke to my doctor about it. Being young and fit he assured me it was simply dehydration repeatedly.  

Over the next few months it got worse. I started getting what is known as hyperpigmentation, essentially a really deep tan, but I lived a block from the beach so of course I was tan despite never being in the sun. Then I started to feel constantly exhausted, I started losing a lot of weight, and craving a massive amount of salt. I started getting dizzy and nearly blacking out just walking the few blocks to my car. I lived alone and didn’t talk to anyone about it. I was young. I was invincible. It would pass.  

I started making mistakes at work, which lead to me being let go, which lead to me finally feeling like I had time to go back to the doctor. The story was different now and I was quickly diagnosed with Addison’s Disease. 

Addison’s is an autoimmune disorder that attacks your adrenal glands. If you’ve heard about it at all it’s because JFK had Addison’s. While we usually think about adrenaline in that “Fight or Flight” mentality the hormones produced in the adrenal glands do a lot. They help regulate your circadian rhythm. They maintain proper nutrient density in your blood stream for things like potassium and salt. They help you deal with stress, not even ongoing stress but the minor fluctuations throughout the day. And yes, that familiar adrenal surge that lets us be super human. And like all autoimmune diseases its cause is unknown and it is chronic. 

I was devasted. Here I was unemployed, broke, and alone with my entire sense of self destroyed. No longer was I the invincible, physically fit person I’d always viewed myself as. Now I was this broken thing that would be forever reliant on needing daily medication. A weak mortal whos body couldn’t supply itself with cortisol to survive illness or trauma.  I would forever need to have a syringe and emergency medication in case of a major injury like a car accident, or surgery, or a global pandemic.  

I was so desperate for this to not be the case that when I went for a second opinion, I asked if I might be cancer. My internal headspace was so off that I was hoping my symptoms could be explained by a rare form of cancer. Because cancer at least stood a chance of being cured and I wouldn’t have to live with this forever. 

The story of myself that I told to myself was forever altered. And I wasn’t even aware I was telling it. We all have this story, this set of assumptions, expectations, and ideals that we write about ourselves in our day to day lives. It weaves a story of who we imagine we are and what our future is going to be. But unfortunately, we don’t get to control the editor of that story. And my editor had just deleted the chapter where I could be an action hero or the lone survivor of the apocalypse. 

I think it also deleted a portion of my spontaneity. Everything felt so uncertain. How can you be spontaneous when you need to know how much medication to bring with you for the trip? 

I now had an answer to what was wrong but there wasn’t a “solution.” I didn’t know what to do next. I fell into my safety net of bartending. I had bartended in college but the game had changed. The cocktail revolution and craft beer movement suddenly offered a lot more than the occasional shooters I mixed up at the Irish Pub in Syracuse, NY. There was so much to learn and I threw myself fully into it. The bar manager left two months after I came on board and for some reason they thought it’d be a good idea to offer me his job. I took it and kept letting the momentum of that job, and the next job, and the next job, and this lifestyle drive me forward without a direction. I just a needed to move. 

And still I didn’t talk about it. Despite this now being a daily influence on innumerable choices and actions I kept it to myself.  

I’m talking about it now because for many people, especially in the hospitality world, it does feel like the apocalypse. The story that we’ve told ourselves about our industry, our professions, and ourselves as a community has radically changed. We’ve been given a new story line with no idea how it will resolve. It feels like things will never be the same. And they won’t be. 

There will always be hope that it will be. To this day every time I go to my endocrinologist I hope that the tests come back that my body has magically reset to the before times. That I will suddenly be the person I imagined myself to be. But the test always come back the same. I maintain. And I work towards the next day. 

I’m not saying things will “get better.” Things will eventually be normal though. A new “normal” one that takes this shattering of expectations and builds itself into a new tale. One that has new opportunities, new expectations, and new parameters. It will be life and few things are as sweet as having one more day of life. 

Whiskey Wednesday: Take Off of Taketsuru

Continuing this month’s conversation about Nikka comes the news that Nikka will be discontinuing the Taketsuru 17, 21, and 25 Year old expressions as of March of 2020. While some stocks will remain under “heavy allocation” all three marks will no longer be listed by the company. The Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt, a Non-Age Statement (NAS) edition that replaced the 12 Year old Taketsuru several years ago, will also be discontinued.  

While the loss of the age statements is lamentable, it falls neatly into the familiar story of aged stocks not being able to keep up with current demand for high end whisky. But the loss of the NAS Taketsuru Pure Malt comes as a bit of a shock. The NAS was originally released in late 2015 and was meant to address the supply issue. Then in 2019 it won Jim Murray’s Japanese Whiskey Of The Year. Add to this the discontinued Nikka Miyagikyo and Yoichi Single Malts in 2015 and the temporary interruption in supply of their Coffey Malt and Grain in early 2019 and the picture of a company struggling to match pace with demand while also seeking to define its core identity emerges. 

So, what exactly is being lost with the Taketsuru’s? 

The Taketsuru line was named after the company founder Masetaka Taketsuru. They have been the core of the Nikka line up for as long as I’ve been familiar with the brand.  They’re also incredibly representative of the Japanese blending style. Every bottle is the Taketsuru line is a Pure Malt which is an old term for Blended Malts. Not to be confused with a Blended Whisky. A Blended Whisky is made up of both single malt and grain whiskey. A Blended Malt is comprised only of Single Malts. In this case the Taketsuru’s are made from a blend of malts distilled at the Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries. 

Japanese Whisky makers often think of themselves more as blenders than distillers. They look to layer flavor by creating a blend of whiskies to create consistent and nuanced bottling. Take the Hibiki’s as a prime example. Suntory has repeatedly said that they consider the Hibiki to be the perfect representation of their art, both in terms of distillation but more as a blend. But while the Hibiki contains a fair amount of grain whiskey the Taketsuru line is comprised of big single malts.  

One of the advantages of the centuries old whisky tradition in Scotland is 100s of distilleries that are relatively friendly with each other. This means that if a distiller wanted to make a Blended Malt with a style of malt they didn’t distill themselves there was always another distiller that did who would be willing to sell or trade. When Masataka founded Nikka in 1934 as the Dai Nippon Kaju, Co. there was no one to barter with so if he wanted different styles to create a blend he had to distill them himself. 

This eventually lead to the creation of Nikka’s second distillery, Miyagikyo, outside on Sendai in 1969. This allowed for a greater depth of flavors for blending as well as over doubling the company’s production capability. Miyagikyo is much further south than its sibling Yoichi Distillery granting a different character as the whisky ages. We can expect to see more of this style of whisky from Nikka in the future as a planned expansion on Miyagikyo should be finished in 2021 with production expected to expand by 40%. 

As for the present, the Nikka Taketsuru 17 Year Pure Malt. Award the Best Blended Malt Award by the World Whiskey Awards in 2014 it’s a blend of single malts from both the Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries. Aged for a minimum of 17 years this is a powerful whisky. 

NOSE:  Fresh fruit, Cedarwood, Honey
PALETTE: White Pepper, Dried Fruits, Oolong Tea, A hint of smoke
FINISH: Medium to long, rounded smoke and with dark chocolate and leather

The Taketsuru line represents NIkka’s history. It pays homage to its founding father as well as combining the art of both of the company’s distinct distilleries. The loss of the Taketsuru line is the loss of a piece of history but it does open a future. Whisky, and in particular Japanese Whisky, is having an incredibly large moment. Bit even if whisky distilled 25 years ago is being depleted left and right the world, and the flavor, that whisky represents is gone. The challenge now is to find the way to create the spirit that fills the barrel to be bottled in 25 years while still keeping the lights on in the years between. 

Whiskey Wednesday: Nikka Days of Our Lives

I love a good story and Nikka Whisky certainly has a good story. A story of both an excellently crafted whiskey but also a phenomenal story in the life of the company’s founder, Masataka Taketsuru. The month of January is especially important to the story of Taketsuru and his redheaded Scottish wife, Rita. So I thought I’d take some time and look at a few of Nikka’s offerings for the rest of January. 

In 1918 Masataka Taketsuru was sent to Scotland by the Settsu Shuzo company to learn how to make whisky from the Scottish master craftsmen. The goal was to learn from the best, return home, and create a Japanese whiskey that would be on par with the best whiskies being produced in the world. The unexpected consequence was Taketsuru meeting Jessie Roberta Cowan, known as Rita, while teaching Judo to her brother Ramsay. 

In a time when “international” marriages were rare the two fell in love. Takatsuru proposed in September of 1919 and the two were married on January 8, 1920, exactly 100 years ago. After the marriage the two moved to Campbelltown where Taketsusru completed his apprenticeship. The two returned to Japan in November of 1920, partially due to Rita’s encouragement. Taketsuru had expressed a desire to stay in Scotland with his marriage to Rita but she disagreed. “We should not stay in Scotland, she said, “We should head to Japan. Masataka-san is living a big dream, a dream to make whisky in Japan. I want to live your dream together.” 

Upon their return to Scotland the landscape had changed. The post World War II depression had set in and the Settsu Shuzo company was no longer financially able to invest in new projects, like whisky making. When he left the company in 1922 he found a job, through a friend of Rita’s, as a science teacher. The following year he was offered a job at Kotobukiya to make whisky. 

The name Kotobukiya may not be familiar to Western ears but the company it grew into, Suntory, certainly is. While Masataka helped them produce their first whiskies from the brand new Yamazaki Distillery his first wide spread release was essentially a failure and Masataka parted way after fulfilling his ten year contract. 

In 1934 the couple founded the Dai Nippon Kaju, Co., literally the “Great Japanese Juice Company, in Yoichi, Hokkaido. The two said the Yoichi, more than any other place in Japan, reminded them most of Scotland. This endeavor was made possible by investors who were introduced to Taketsuru through Rita. Both of the primary investors had family that had taken private English lessons from Rita. With the help of these investors, and the production of many apple products in the early years, Taketsuru was eventually able to release his own whisky in 1940 winning much acclaim over the years and the company formally being renamed as Nikka Distilling in 1952. 

Sadly, on January 17, 1961 Rita passed away at the age of 64. She was buried on a hill overlooking the Yoichi Distillery and Taketsuru engraved both of their names on the tombstone promising they’d be together forever. 

As much as I love a good whisky making love story, I also love duty free shopping. There is always something unique and quirky to be found. But in a world where Japanese Whisky is in ultra-high demand, and age stated malts are disappearing daily even the unique duty-free offerings are drying up. Which is why, on a recent international trip, I was so surprised to find a bottle I had never seen before, the Nikka Days. 

The Nikka Days was released in 2018 and seems to be a response to all of the factors above that are pressing in on stocks of Japanese Malt. It is a blended whiskey made of lightly peated malt and grain whiskies from both the Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries. 

The brand says that it has always stood at the crossroads of between East and West, tradition and innovation. Saying that each day is a journey and an opportunity to learn from previous days, and that this whisky embodies that mentality. Hence the name. 

The whiskey is certainly result of the current journey of the whisky world. So how does it taste? 

NOSE: Apple, Orange Blossom, Vanilla, Melon 
PALETTE: White Chocolate, Toffee, Citrus, a touch of smoke, and fresh apples 
FINISH: Slightly sweet, bright, with a touch of creaminess 

It is certainly fitting that apples are so prominent on the nose and palette of this whisky. Ultimately this is a very serviceable whisky but it stands in the shadow of its history and the massive malts that Nikka is known for. The price point also makes it hard to justify as a day to day sipper but it is worth the journey to spend a few days with if you are traveling. 

Drinking Poetic: The Banana Dance

I’m prouder of the Banana Dance than almost any other drink that I’ve created. More so than I probably have any right to be. It’s an esoteric, nerdy, centrifuge requiring, relatively prep heavy drink that is ultimately delicious, complicated, and easy to batch and execute in a way that belies its complexity. Its evolution is also a damn good microcosm of my personal journey behind the bar in the past few years. 

The Banana Dance began life as the Josephine Baker as an entry for Diageo’s World Class competition three years ago. I had entered my very first competition the year before, a little competition known as World Class and having made it to the Western Regionals I was determined to make it back and prove myself. Prove that I wasn’t just some beach side Santa Monica bartender slinging Vodka Soda’s all day long. I certainly had a chip on my shoulder when I was younger. 

For my entry the following year I looked at the spirits available and decided that I wanted to play to my strengths with a stirred drink and ended up riffing on the modern classic the Chet Baker.  I knew the base was going to be Ron Zacapa Centenario and I wanted a drink name, and a flavor profile, that would compliment the story and flavors of the rum. Enter Josephine Baker. 

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker was an African-American ex-Pat who rose to fame as a dancer and performer in Paris in the 1920’s. Earnest Hemingway once called her, “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” While being a multifaceted performer her most famous act, and photos, are of her dancing in a banana skirt. Josephine was more than a performer though. During WWII Josephine used the freedom granted to her as a performer to spy for the Allied troops and help smuggle refugees out of France. She was also incredibly active in the American Civil Rights movement later in life. Pairing this phenomenal woman’s story with a rum crafted by one of the few female master blenders in the world was a no brainer. 

Too add to that the Giffard Creme de Banan had just be released which provided a perfect flavor, and thematic, compliment to tie the two together. Add in a little amontillado sherry and a passable Old Fashioned style variation on the Chet Baker was born. It was serviceable but unfortunately didn’t make the cut leaving me out of the competition that year. I knew there was something special in there though and couldn’t let the idea go. 

The next year I ended up using some discretionary income to help fund Dave Arnold’s kickstarter for the Spinzall tabletop centrifuge because, well, I’m a nerd. I had already been experimenting with every technique that I possible could from Liquid Intelligence and had voraciously devoured every technique book I could get my hands on. I was actively experimenting with melding flavors in every way that I could. However, there were two pieces of technology that seemed like they would forever bne outside my reach: the rotovap and a centrifuge.  Now here was one of those unicorns just sitting on my kitchen counter. I went nuts. 

I played with infusing and clarifying everything but one of the most successful experiments was that original pairing of Sherry and banana. It was a relatively simple process, slightly overripe bananas were blended/ together with sherry and Pectin X and the resulting smoothie was run through the Spinzall clarifying the mixture. Here phenomenal fresh banana flavor married perfectly with the sherry with out adding any unnecessary sweetness like other creme products.  

The experiments took a hiatus however as I joined Team NoMad as one of the opening Bar Managers for NoMad LA. The training, translating and entire hospitality culture from NYC to LA, and opening four separate venues in a single building consumed my and my team’s attention for months. It was in this period that I also learned to collaborate in a way I never had before.  

Not only was this team larger than any I had ever worked with before, it was also the most talented. And while I was a leader this was not a program that was about me or my force of personality as so many venues I had worked on in the past were. This was about the guest experience and about working as a team to create the best product and experience possible. It was demanding, meticulous, and honestly exhausting. The light at the end of the tunnel was R&D. 

I love doing drink R&D. I love throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, I love creating crazy ingredients, and I love what seeing other people do with those ingredients. Once we were in a place to start R&Ding drinks specifically for LA I dove in head first. But you never walk into a R&D session with out a concept. The drink hiding up my sleeve that seemed to most fit this NoMad model I had learned was the Josephine Baker, updated with the new clarified Banana Sherry of course. 

If you check the NoMad compendium they make phenomenal drinks. They also rely heavily on sherry and a lot of small culinary touches. This comes from the collaborative R&D process as well as the fact that NoMad bar was birthed out of the bar at Eleven Madison Park which is absolutely driven by the mentality of its award winning kitchen. 

This was going to be the first time putting any of my drinks through this culinary tasting style with a group of incredibly talented, and opinionated, peers. I’m still amazed to this day how the process can create a drink that is both unrecognizable from the original yet still wholly in the same spirit and design. 

The first thing that became clear was that style of sherry needed to be dialed in. We quickly moved away from the darker amontillado in favor of an oloroso which left more acidity with the banana. The Banana Sherry was a crowd favorite and we decided to make it the star of the show. The banana sherry became the base of the drink instead of a modifier. 

To add back in some of the richness that the clarification process had stripped out of the sherry we turned to another classic NoMad ingredient, Brown Butter Falernum. Essentially a brown butter washed Velvet Falernum that add in baking spices, a rich mouth feel and tied back into that original idea of bruleed bananas and sherry that had inspired the flavor pairing. 

Finding the right balance was tricky because the Falernum can easily overwhelm. As a through line between the Sherry and the Falernum was added Blanc Vermouth. A touch of bitter to go with the vanilla that lengthened the flavors. It wasn’t quite bitter enough so a quarter ounce of Punt e Mes was also added to round out the effect. This firmly moved the drink out of the Old Fashioned style and into the Manhattan style, a subtle but important distinction. 

At this point I gave into my true desire to make every drink a whiskey drink and pulled the Zacapa and subbed it with Greenspot Irish Whiskey. This Pure Pot Stilled Irish Whiskey is aged in New American Oak. It has an intrinsic bright green banana note as well as the barrel tannins to be a base for all of these complex flavors to stand on. 

At this point the drink was good but the culinary drive for perfection kicked in and we went through countless more variations. The difference between them being a teaspoon of this versus a dash of that. The final touches were a teaspoon of Walnut Liquor to bring a bit more tannin and a nuttiness to compliment the banana as well as a teaspoon of Verjus Blanc to add in a hint of acidity to cut through all of the rich fruits and fats. 

The drink was now a lovely fruit forward, complex, surprisingly dry, low ABV stirred drink that still had enough depth and tannin to stand on its own as well as pair with food. It was a real crowd pleaser while still being esoteric and weird. It was my kind of drink. It just needed a garnish and a name. 

The garnish was easy. While I personally love an incredibly dry drink I know not everyone does. And the drink ingredients could read sweeter than the final product. So, to appease both types of drinkers a single brush stroke of chocolate ganache was added to the outside of the glass. This allowed the guest to choose their own adventure. If they wanted the drink slightly sweeter they could indulge in the chocolate or leave it alone. It also ads a look of elegance has an elegance that can sit just at the tip of the lips. 

The name quickly followed. While the drink had come miles and even years from its roots with Josephine her spirit, her dance, still infused every ounce of this drink and thus it was christened the Banana Dance. 

I love this drink. I think that the prep needed for it is relatively small considering the final product. Especially for the Banana Sherry. I was fortunate enough to finally utilize a version of this drink, with the Banana Sherry and Zacapa, at the World Class National Finals this past year bringing the drinks journey full circle. 

I’ll never create a drink that’s a modern classic but I hopefully will create things that inspire people and tickle their imagination. The NoMad just published a brand-new cocktail book and while sadly the Banana Dance didn’t make the cut the Banana Sherry did. Bright and bold at the top of the ingredients section is the recipe for Banana Sherry. 

Hopefully this little dance will continue to inspire people not only in my extended NoMad family but the entire cocktail community that has embraced me and given me so many opportunities this past decade. 

Photo Credit: Jordan Hughes

The Banana Dance:

1.5 oz Banana Infused Oloroso Sherry (Preferably Lustau)
.5 oz Greenspot Pure Pot Still Irish Whiskey
.5 oz Blanc Vermouth
.5 oz Brown Butter Washed Velvet Falernum
.25 oz Punt e Mes
Tsp Verjus Blanc
Tsp Nocino

Combine All ingredients in a mixing glass.
Short stir with Kold Draft Ice.
Strain into stemmed cocktail glass painted with a chocolate ganache brushstroke.

Banana Sherry:

750 ml Oloroso Sherry
3 overripe bananas
3ml Pectin X

Blend all ingredients together.
Into the Spinzall spindle add 375ml and set to continuous mode.
Once the centrifuge reaches full speed pump the rest of the mixture in at 80ml/minute. The should run clear.
Once all liquid has been pumped into the centrifuge let it run for another 5 minutes then power down and strain the remaining liquid through a chinoios.
Bottle and store under refrigeration for up to three (3) weeks.

Brown Butter Falernum:

750ml Velvet Falernum
.5lbs unsalted butter

Cube butter and place in pot over medium heat. 
Melt and constantly whisk butter so that milk solids brown evenly
Continue to brown, whisking constantly, until as dark as the color of an almond skin
Remove from heat, and add velvet falernum
Transfer to cambro and place in freezer until the fat has risen and solidified on the top 
Remove solidified fat cap from top and discard
Bottle and store under refrigeration for up to one (1) month

Drinking Poetic (On A Christmas Wednesday): The Nutcracker

I’ve always felt disconnected from the Holiday season. While I grew up Catholic it has had been many a solstice since I identified as such. I’ve also spent the past 10+ years living 2,500+ miles from the family and friends I grew up with. As such when the holidays roll around I often find myself latching on to the traditions and celebrations of my friends. Which is why the one tradition that I do have from my childhood is so fascinating to me. 

When I was about 5 my grandfather gave me a nutcracker for Christmas. My siblings were so jealous that the next year he gave all four of us our own nutcrackers. It was a few more years, and arguments about which nutcracker belong to who, before we started putting our names on this ever-expanding collection. So while they ostensibly belonged to someone they were really just collectively ours. When my grandfather passed away my grandmother took up the tradition and it took on new meaning.  If you enter my family’s house at Christmas a veritable army of wooden soldiers, drummers, cobblers, and pirates stand ready to perform their ceremonial duty. 

Like all terrifying dolls the nutcrackers eventually escaped their Christmassy confines and spilled over into the rest of life. Currently sitting on my desk in the 70 degree California sunshine is a board short wearing, hipster beard sporting, surfer bro nutcracker that marked my first full year on the West Coast. It’s a touchstone that exists beyond its original conception. 

It also led to the creation of the Nutcracker Cocktail. 

The Nutcracker was originally conceived as a drink for the Heaven Hill Bartender of the Year competition a few years ago. I drew on all of the above thoughts about tradition and threw them into a glass. I wanted a drink that was very evocative of a time and place but that also existed outside of its “seasonality” just like the Nutcracker resting on my desk. 

I knew I wanted the drink to be based around Elijah Craig Bourbon. Not simply because it was one of the options for the competition but because it is an actual touchstone whiskey for me. The very first private barrel of whiskey I ever picked out was a barrel of Elijah Craig. It’s a whiskey that’s been my companion through my journeys behind bar since the very beginning. It carries a weight, a depth, a tannin, and an earthiness that makes it a classic backbone for a whiskey focused drink. 

Next, I wanted a solid bitter base to enhance the earthiness while also adding in an extra dry component to balance the sweet components I knew would inevitably make their way into the glass. The Clemanti China provided a suitable Manhattan-esque build while adding in a beautiful shock of the bitter. 

Next were the seasonal elements. You can’t call a drink “The Nutcracker” without any nuts so a touch of Nux Alpina Walnut Liqueur added in a discernable nuttiness to play off the base of the Elijah Craig. This Made the drink Nutty but still dry, too dry. To balance this a hint of Tempus Fugit Crème de Cacao added in both the Christmas sweetness and memories as well as a balance for the dry, dry, dry components. 

To tie it all together, and to add a hint of fruit to brighten up all of these dark nutty elements, a few finishing dashes of angostura orange bitters went into the mix. 

Now, this drink was fine. However, it didn’t evoke anything larger than itself to me. It was a wintery sipper that was Mostly just a slightly esoteric Manhattan. It needed something to pull it out of its time and place.  

I briefly considered making it a warm drink but that would have turned it into a drink that I had no interest in drinking. I almost universally hate hot beverages, from coffee to tea and everything in between. So, instead I turned to other childhood memories as well as my local Japanese grocery store. In both of those places I found chestnuts. 

Growing up there were several horse chestnut trees in my yard which when the chestnuts would fall I would end up chucking at my siblings as children do. And in the Japanese market there were wonderfully proportioned bags of roasted, soft chestnuts for the holidays. This was the missing factor for this drink. 

I pulled out the Spinzall and infused the chestnuts into the Elijah Craig, stirred everything together and expressed an orange zest over the drink tying in the underlying orange bitters. Now the drink sang. It was complex, fruity, dry with an intriguing sweetness, and was no longer simply a “Christmas Drink.” 

The Nutcracker:

1.5 oz Chestnut Infused Elijah Craig Bourbon
.5 oz Clemanti China Antique
.25 oz Hau Alperine Nux Walnut
.25 oz Tempus Fugit Crème de Cacao
2 Dash Angostura Orange Bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass.
Stir with Kold Draft Ice.
Strain into a punch glass.
Garnish with an orange twist studded with clove. 

Revisiting this drink years later there are a few changes I would make. I might add a splash of Verjus to add in more acidity to the heavy nature of the ingredients. Or I might add in a touch of Oloroso Sherry to length the drink while staying rich and stirred. 

But then again, some traditions shouldn’t be over thought. 

Whiskey Wednesday: Blood Oath Pact #5

A couple of months ago I was graciously sent a sample of the new release of Blood Oath Bourbon. Between competitions, menu flips, leaving a job, and much needed vacation travel after leaving said job the sample unfortunately fell by the wayside. But with Halloween nearly upon us I figure it would be appropriate to crack open a little Blood Oath and see what it was about. 

Blood Oath is a brand owned by Luxco, Inc. a beverage producer and marketer based out of St. Louis. In addition to Blood Oath Luxco also produces Ezra Brooks, Rebel Yell, and distributes Yellowstone for Limestone Branch Distillery. While Luxco has sold bourbon for years they’re personal bourbon distillery, Lux Row Distillers, didn’t start production until January of 2018. Although their first year of production outpaced projections none of the whiskey they’ve distilled is old enough to be used for any of their brands meaning the Blood Oath is a sourced whiskey. 

Now, sourced isn’t a dirty word and while I wish Luxco was open about where they sourced the whiskey they at least are open about the fact that Blood Oath is sourced and blended. In fact, Blood Oath boldly claims that they are “loyal to no one family, favoring no one distillery, and bound by no one philosophy.” The cynic in me wants to say that’s marketing speak for “we can’t guarantee a source” but blending is an art form that can produce some spectacular bottlings so let’s take the idea at face value. The Blood Oath isn’t trying to create a consistent bottling but rather a unique, limited, yearly offering. So, what’s in the Blood Oatch Pact this year? 

Pact 5 is a blend of three whiskies a 13 year old rye Bourbon, an 11 year old wheated bourbon, and an 8 year old rye bourbon finished in Caribbean rum barrels. Bottled at 98.6 proof (the temperature of the human body) we don’t know the distilleries or the proportions of the blend but given Luxco’s working relationships it’s not too much, of a leap to assume that a lot of the whiskey comes from Heaven Hill. Also, considering the current state of aged whiskey it’s probably also fair to assume the bulk of the blend is the 8 year. This is noteworthy because it is this rum finish that really sets the Pact 5 apart from the previous four releases of Blood Oath.  

NOSE: Vanilla, Red Apple, Cherry, Brown Sugar

PALETTE: Wet oak, molasses, earthy, candied citrus peel, clove, and a touch of hogo

FINISH: Short to medium, orange, pepper, and oak 

The rum finish is surprisingly apparent once your mind is keyed to look for it. There’s a hint of that funk and brown sugar but without knowing it was a rum barrel I would have thought this was a slightly over oaked release. 

It’s a touch sweet, a little aggressive, and surprisingly oaky all around. It’s a style that’s leaning into heavily oaked, older American whiskies which is certainly on trend. People are looking for flavors that are unique, big, bold, and a heavy barrel influence can make a spirit pop out of the more mellow distillates. 

While the blend is interesting, I personally couldn’t justify the price point. At a suggested MMRP of $99.99 but often appearing on shelves at north of $110 I don’t know that it’s interesting enough to justify the “special occasion” pour of the price tag. This is something I’d rather sip, compare, and enjoy rather than store and dole out during the justifiable times that a 100+ dollar bottle usually enjoys. 

I ultimately find myself wishing I had more context for the Blood Oath. There’s nothing bad with the Pact 5, aside from my hesitation on the price, but I don’t see a through line. I’ve had several of the previous Blood Oath’s and can’t connect the dots between the Pacts. While it’s all well and good to not have a “favorite” I would love to see a point of view that makes this whiskey more than an experiment. 

Drinking Poetic: Cascading Lines

This is the story of a drink that got away from me. 

As I’ve said before I tend to turn every drink into a brown, bitter, and stirred variation on a theme. It should therefore come as no surprise that I’ve been trying to play around with some version of a hopped Old Fashioned style drink for at least a few years. Long enough that the idea of using hops in a drink now seems cliché. 

The first iteration that almost made a menu was while I was the Bar Manager at Faith & Flower. Dubbed the “Whiskey Icarus” this drink combined a hopped honey, Bernheim wheat whiskey, and Riesling.

I remember the drink being refreshing and surprisingly crisp. With the memory of the drink in my head I brought it into the initial R&D sessions at NoMad. However, I was never able to recreate that remembered flavor. I’m not sure if it was the specific Riesling that was being used, a change in the hops, or a change in production method. This inability to replicate is a prime example of why you should keep detailed notes, especially with liquid R&D. 

I couldn’t put the idea down and when I was putting together the One Year Anniversary Menu for NoMad LA I dragged the drink back into the conversation.

It was a Frankensteined drink from the start. The original thread lost and reassembled using existing NoMad syrups and ingredients. I made a homemade apricot and barley tea bitters (which are still one of my favorite ingredients I’ve ever made) Verjus replace the wine, Lapsang Cacao instead of hops, and tried split base after split base. While the initial variations were some of the least liked ideas for the menu there was something about the drink that kept tugging at us. It was intriguing enough that we wanted to figure it out. 

The first think that needed to happen was stripping the drink back down to basics. What was the central premise of the drink? A hopped, old fashioned style drink reminiscent of mead.  

Once the basic concept was nailed down we started picking out the elements of the numerous variations that we had liked. 

The addition of the chocolate from the infused cacao was so nice that we decided to keep it and made a Cascade Hop infused cacao to replace the smoky Lapsang tea. 

The bitter, grapefruit notes from the hopes were now overwhelming the subtle stone fruit of the Apricot and Barley Tea Bitters, however the barley helped to reinforce the hop component so the bitters were replaced with a teaspoon of barley tea syrup and to get a touch of that fruit aspect back a quarter ounce of Grand Marnier was added. 

Next it was time to address the split base. Out of all of the combinations a split between bourbon and aged genever complimented the original base the best. We swapped bourbon after bourbon looking for something luxurious. The genever was the Boomsa Oude which was rich and malty but light on the barrel and the best bourbon pairing that wasn’t a limited release was the Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond. This was before its gold medal win so we stocked up once it started clearing out. 

Because of the split base it didn’t have as heavy of an oak presence and a teaspoon of vanilla was added to compensate. 

And then because it’s the NoMad we added aquavit and sprinkled a pinch of fluer de sel on top. 

At this point no one was leading the ship and the palate fatigue was strong but this was the most balanced of the new version. You could tell we weren’t quite satisfied with the drink but it made the menu. Renamed the “Cascading Lines” as play on the Cascade hops and the conflux over different threads that had to come together for this drink. 

As the drink rolled across the floor in the first week changes and tweaks were inevitable.  As we tasted it with fresh palates it quickly became clear that the Grand Marnier was completely unnecessary. The final change happened completely by accident. 

As a standard we use White Crème de Cacao. However, during our opening there was a delivery issue and we ended up with a case of Dark Crème de Cacao. After sitting on it for nearly 1.5 years this infusion seemed a perfect opportunity to clear some inventory space. What seemed like a nothing change actually lent a deeper note to the drink that actually let the hops shine in a more balanced way. 

The lesson I took away here was the importance of a directed focus and idea during the R&D process. This ended up being the best version of the Cascading Lines but is it the best version of this idea? I’m still hoping to see the Whiskey Icarus on a menu one day. 

Cascading Lines :
Tsp Vanilla Syrup (50 Brix)
.25 oz Barley Tea Syrup (50 Brix)
.25 oz Cascade hopped Dark Cacao
.5 oz Henry McKenna Bottled In Bond Bourbon
1 oz O.P. Anderson Aquavit
1 oz Boomsma Oude Genever

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass.
Short stir with 1×1 ice cubes.
Strain over a large 2×2 ice cube in a large rocks glass and garnish with a pinch of fluer de sel. 

Hopped Cacao:
15g Cascade hop pellets
1 liter dark crème de cacao
Vacuum seal.
Let set for 25 minutes.Pass through a chinois and store in a clean glass bottle under refrigeration for up to two (2) weeks. 

Whiskey Wednesday: Woodford Reserve Bottled-In-Bond

Let’s get meta. 

I run a blog, which you’re currently reading, called Bottled In Bond, LA. I write about bartending, cocktails and spirits, primarily whiskey but occasionally not. I’ve been doing this for a few years now and occasionally old articles will suddenly get a few more views because someone Googled a bottled in bond product that doesn’t exist. You would not believe how many people are looking for a bonded Chartreuse

About a year ago, I noticed a huge spike in an old article about Woodford Reserve. It was getting a Google search almost daily for a month. I became curious, did my own googling, and found a single Reddit post about a Woodford Bottled-In-Bond but not much else. 

After asking around with no clear answers my friend Luke Ford, who works for Woodford, returned from a visit to Kentucky with a .375ml bottle signed by Woodford Master Distiller Chris Morris. A distillery only release of Woodford Reserve Bottled In Bond. 

My natural hoarding instincts took over, it went on the shelf and remained unopened for the past year. But why? I’ve always maintained that whiskey is meant to be drank, to be experienced, and after all the curiosity that lead to me actually receiving a bottle shouldn’t I be curious about what the whiskey actually tastes like? So, I opened it. 

NOSE: Super oak, straw, light stone fruit
PALETTE: Caramel, cinnamon, baked peach pie, with a touch of the metallic pie tin
FINISH: Bright, quick, and surprisingly light for the extra proof 

This bottle tastes exactly like what I would expect a Bonded Woodford to taste like and that is incredibly interesting to me because by all right’s it shouldn’t. 

The Bottled In Bond Act of 1897 states that to be bottled in bond a product must be produced by one distiller at one distillery within in one 6-month distillation “season.” It must also be aged in a federally bonded warehouse for a minimum of four years and bottled at 100 proof. 

It’s the one distillery requirement that makes this interesting. The traditional bottle of Woodford is made up of spirit from two different distilleries. Column Still distillate from the Brown Foreman Distillery in Shively, KY and Pot Still distillate from the Woodford Distillery in Versailles, KY. This bottle only caries the DSP Number, essentially the distillery address, for the Woodford Distillery. Meaning this should legally be only the pot still whiskey. Which to me says there should be a bigger flavor difference. In a way it’s almost impressive that this really does just taste like Woodford. 

Part of what I love about Bonded whiskey is how clear cut it is. You always know the exact distillery, proof, and process whenever a product is bottled in bond. It strips out a lot of the mystery and marketing from a brand. It was an often overlooked mark of quality on affordable whiskey. And yes, the category is seeing a resurgence and premiumization in the past few years, however these are often just upscaled versions of existing brands. They aren’t bad but they are a sign of the times and they are familiar. 

This Woodford Bottled In Bond clearly falls into this ongoing trend but this bottle also raises questions for me. Is the labeling on this very small run inaccurate or have I always overestimated the impact of the column stills on the final Woodford profile? It’s made me think about Woodford in a way that I honestly haven’t in years. I don’t have an answer to these questions but at least it’s something to ponder over the next glass. 

Whiskey Wednesday: Four Roses’ New Selection

Conservatively, I would say that 87% of the Four Roses Single Barrel depletions at any bar I work at are due to it ending up in my mouth.

Conversely, my Partner-In-Bars, Dave Purcell, would rather sit in the pool with a bottle of the Four Roses Small Batch. I’ve sourced Four Roses Barrel Strength Single Barrels and have dived into the history of the distillery in the past. All of this is to say that I am a big fan of Four Roses and became very excited when they announced their first permanent product line extension in over 12 years. And immediately became wary when they announced that it would be called the Small Batch Select. 

Four Roses is one of the two great modern distilleries to emerge from the collapse of the old Seagram’s Empire. While Four Roses languished as a bottom tier blended whiskey for the later half of the 20th century it quickly became a staple of the new Bourbon Boom in the ‘00s when the distillery was purchased by the Japanese beverage conglomerate Kirin. Under the leadership of Master Distiller Jim Rutledge Four Roses became one of the most sought after Bourbon’s in the world. This was in part due to the process that Four Roses uses to make their whiskey.

Four Roses makes 10 different Bourbon recipes. And they’re all coded so you can tell what whiskey is being used in every bottle. For every code there are four letters, the first and the third will always be the same. The first letter will always be ‘O’, signifying that it was made at the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, KY and the third letter will always be “S” meaning that it is Straight Bourbon. 

 The second letter will then signify that mash bill. Four Roses utilizes two different mash bills:

Mash bill E, which is 75% corn, 20% rye, and 5% malted barley
Mash bill B, which is 60% corn, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley. 

These mash bills are then fermented with one of five unique yeast strains, which is designated by the fourth letter: 

K – rich in spiciness, full bodied 
O – floral, spicy, medium bodied 
Q – slightly fruity, spicy, medium bodied 
F – herbal
V -delicate fruit 

The Single Barrel is always OBSV, high rye and delicate fruit. The Small Batch is a blend of four: OBSK, OESK, OBSO, OESO, and the standard Yellow Label is a blend of all ten. Special releases throughout the years have used different mash bills in different amounts. 

My initial hesitation upon hearing about the Small Batch Select was two fold. I’m just not as big of a fan of the Small batch as the Single Barrel and I didn’t know if it would be different enough from the Small Batch to warrant a new extension. So, what makes it different?

First up is the proof. Bottled at 104 Proof and Non-Chill Filtered the Small Batch Select is hotter than the Single Barrel which comes in at 100 Proof. Second, while there is no age statement Four Roses has said that it is a blend of 6-7 year old Bourbons. Lastly, that blend is a blend of six of the recipes: OBSV, OBSK, OBSF, OESV, OESK, and OESF. We still don’t know the proportions, but this brings in distinctly different flavors from the standard Small Batch. 

NOSE: Baking Spice, red fruit, and oak 

PALETTE: Vanilla, apricot, cinnamon, oak, and dark chocolate 

FINISH: Medium and dry, tobacco and leather 

This fourth Four Roses is truly distinct from its siblings. Enough to warrant its entry to the family. My initial skepticism came from the name yet upon further research and tasting its clear that this new entry is vastly different from the established small batch while still being a technical small batch. 

It’s also important to note that this is new Master Distiller Brent Elliott’s first permanent edition to the Four Roses line up since taking over in 2015.  Coupled with previous limited releases like the Al Young 50th Anniversary and the 130th Anniversary Small Batch I think we’re getting a sense of how Brent’s palette differs from Jim’s. 

While this won’t replace the Single Barrel for me it is a worthy addition that fans of Four Roses will love but is also a great introduction for new comers to the brand. 

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