Archive for the ‘whiskey’Category

Chocolate and bourbon make best of friends

Erika Chavez-Graziano offers bourbon balls at Mesa in New Albany

We were glad to see Andy Embry behind the counter at the cookware store and demonstration kitchen Mesa (216 Pearl Street, 812-725-7691, mesachefs.com) in New Albany. Mesa offers an ambitious schedule of cooking demonstrations led by local chefs. We had signed up for the bourbon and chocolate tasting program that is usually offered once a month, according to Mesa owner Bobby Bass.

Embry had been remarkably engaging and knowledgeable when he guided us through the Evan Williams center in Louisville (see this post). And he had offered some good pointers on tasting bourbon. So we were curious to see how he approached pairing bourbon with chocolate. His partner in the demonstration was Erika Chavez-Graziano, founder of Cellar Door Chocolates (cellardoorchocolates.com), which has three shops in Louisville.

“Chocolate brings out the sweetness of bourbon,” Embry told our group as the tasting began. We each had three small glasses of bourbon and three of Chavez-Graziano’s confections in front of us. “Take a bite of chocolate and let it melt in your mouth,” Embry advised. “Then take a sip of bourbon and let the flavors blend in your mouth.”

Whiskey tastes with chocolate

Bernheim Wheat and milk chocolate


We began with Bernheim Wheat Whiskey. At 90 proof, it was the lightest and the softest of the Heaven Hill whiskies. Embry and Chavez-Graziano had paired it with a 38 percent milk chocolate truffle. Embry prefers milk chocolate with bourbon. “It pairs better because it is smoother,” he said. “It brings out the best in bourbon.” The milk chocolate was light enough that it didn’t step all over the toffee and spice of the wheated whiskey

Elijah Craig and salt caramel


Next was Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon. This is one of our favorite bourbons. The nose has sweet fruit, fresh mint, and vanilla notes. The taste is woody with a hint of nutmeg and smoke. It’s one of those bourbons with a pronounced “Kentucky hug” in the finish—warming all the way down. Pairing it with a bourbon-barrel-smoked sea salt caramel gives the caramel a slight toasted note, while the caramel accentuates the wood and spice in the whiskey.

Henry McKenna and cinnamon truffle


Finally, we tasted Henry McKenna Single Barrel with a cinnamon truffle. The McKenna is bottled in bond with the barrel number on each bottle. The nose shows caramel and vanilla, while the taste is a swirl of oak, toasted spices, and honey. The cinnamon in the truffle plays especially well with the sharp spices in the whiskey.

Make your own bourbon balls


Chavez-Graziano is a self-taught chocolatier who is so serious about her craft that she imports and roasts her own cacao beans. She participated in the tasting with great enthusiasm, but also managed to make a batch of bourbon balls to share with the group while Embry was talking.

Erika Chavez-Graziano makes bourbon balls at Mesa in New AlbanyShe began by melting chocolate and cream in a double boiler behind the counter. For best results, she said, use couverture chocolate rather than compound chocolate. Couverture contains cocoa better, while compound chocolate substitutes another oil.

For every pound of chocolate, Chavez-Graziano adds one-half cup of whipping cream. She also stirred in a little sea salt and a generous splash of bourbon. Then she removed the pot from the heat and set the mixture aside until it was cool enough to roll into small balls. For the final touch, she rolled each one in dark cocoa powder. Do not use Dutch-processed cocoa, she told us, because the processing alters the flavor by removing the natural acids.

Chavez-Graziano passed the tray of truffles to all the guests. “The most selfless way to express love to people,” she said, “is to feed them.”

We were only sorry that we had finished our bourbon.

22

11 2017

WhistlePig launches Farmstock Rye (and it’s good)

Dave Pickerell of WhistlePig Rye
As a Kentucky-born grandson of a contract whiskey distiller, my allegiance to bourbon as a spirit of choice is practically genetic. But the older I get, the more I’m inclined toward the drier, spicier sensations of good rye for a serious, contemplative tipple. And I’ve had to become less of a Kentucky chauvinist ever since master distiller Dave Pickerell (above) and founder Raj Peter Bhakta started releasing aged ryes from WhistlePig (whistlepigwhiskey.com) in Vermont. The distillery has 10, 12, 14, and 15 year old whiskeys in release.

Those are all made from stock rye spirit that WhistlePig buys from Canada and Indiana. That’s how a new distillery was able to bring whiskey to market even before they built their first copper still in 2015. Their exquisite straight rye (10 years old, 100 proof) scored 96 of 100 points with Wine Enthusiast, while the Robb Report (no, I didn’t make the selection) rated the 12-year-old Old World Cask Finish as “Best of the Best.” The latter is aged in a mix of American oak, Port, Sauternes, and Madeira casks. You might say it’s rye for single malt Scotch drinkers. The 15-year-old Straight Rye is 92 proof and finished in barrels made from oak cut on WhistlePig’s farm in Shoreham, Vermont.

Because Vermont is about the northernmost growing region for oak, the trees grow very little each year. As a result, the growth rings are closer together and impart more aromatics to the aging spirit than standard oak casks. The 15-year-old shows that influence with pronounced caramel and vanilla notes with hints of allspice and orange.

WhistlePig Farmstock Rye

Terroir shines through


“This is the first chapter in the migration of the brand,” Pickerell said when he was in Boston to launch Farmstock Rye, the first WhistlePig rye that features spirit distilled from rye grown on the farm, cut with artesian well water, and aged in Vermont oak. Of course, only 20 percent of the blend is produced entirely on site. That will change, Pickerell explains, as the percentage in Farmstock increases every year until it is 100 percent rye, water, and wood from the farm.

“We call it triple terroir,” Pickerell says, showing that he is as good at marketing as he is at distilling. “Since it will change every year, we expect some whiskey collectors might want to lay down a few bottles as an investment.” (Shelf price is around $80.)

Me, I’ve never believed in having a closet full of unopened bottles. The pleasure in whiskey lies in the glass. Farmstock Rye is a dynamite sipping whiskey. The young Vermont rye gives a smart, spicy kick. The Vermont oak barrels in two different toasts along with some #3 char bourbon barrels provide three different layers of vanillin. They’re clearly stratified, and each represents a different source spirit combined with the barrel type that Pickerell chose to best complement it.

WhistlePig was offering rye cocktails for the launch party. I commented to Pickerell that it seemed a shame to muddy the flavor of good whiskey with mixers. “I won’t tell you how to drink,” he said, “but I’ve always felt that great whiskey makes a cocktail even better.” Then he took a sip of Lipstick on a Pig and smiled.

LIPSTICK ON A PIG


2 oz. WhistlePig Rye
1/2 oz. dry vermouth
1/2 oz. maple syrup
2 dashes aromatic bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glasses. Garnish with an orange peel or fresh cherry.

14

05 2017

Commander’s Palace lives up to the legend

Dining room at Commander's Palace in New Orleans
Enjoying a leisurely four-course Reveillon dinner (see previous post) is probably the best way to revel in the holiday spirit in New Orleans. But a fine meal is by no means limited to dinner—or to the historic French Quarter.

St. Charles streetcar in New OrleansFor office parties and ladies who lunch, many restaurants also offer midday holiday menus. Among them is Commander’s Palace (1403 Washington Ave., 504-899-8221, commanderspalace.com). This dining institution is housed in a bright blue building in the Garden District, where American interlopers shunned by French Creole society built their own grand mansions in the 19th century. The St. Charles streetcar carries passengers from the edge of the French Quarter to the Garden District in trolleys decked with garlands.

Emile Commander opened Commander’s Palace in the 1880s. It was already a landmark when the Brennan family acquired it in 1969. In truth, it’s nearly impossible not to eat in a Brennan restaurant in New Orleans. The extended family has bred great restaurateurs the way the Bourbon family bred kings and queens. I’ll admit, though, that trying to decipher the family tree and follow the twists and turns of family disagreements could give anyone dyspepsia.

“This is a holiday lunch at Commander’s Palace,” the maitre d’ told me as he led me through a maze of dining rooms. “We can’t guarantee what’s going to happen.”

Dining at a grande dame


servers at Commander's Palace in New Orleans

Actually, they can guarantee a fine meal, which should start with a glass of Commander’s Palace Cuvée Brut Blanc de Noir. It’s made for the restaurant by Iron Horse Vineyard, a sparkling wine specialist in Sonoma’s Green Valley. The Christmas Celebration lunch starts with turtle soup, followed by Sugarcane Lacquered South Texas Quail. I opted instead for the soup of the day. I figured that roasted pumpkin soup with whiskey and toasted pumpkin seeds seemed like a pot I could try to recreate back home in New England.

Some of New Orleans’ most famous chefs have honed their skills in Commander’s kitchen. Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse both served as executive chef during the 1970s and 1980s. Prudhomme created the Creole Bread Pudding Souffle that remains the restaurant’s signature dessert (available à la carte or with the Christmas Celebration Lunch). For a dramatic end, it’s finished tableside with warm whiskey cream.

ROASTED PUMPKIN WHISKEY SOUP

roasted pumpkin soupThis isn’t the restaurant’s recipe, but it tastes very much the same. Any of the winter squashes can be substituted for pumpkin, though a nice sugar pie pumpkin makes a sweet, rich soup. Butternut squash also works well, and tends to be available all winter. I’ve given the directions here to make your own roasted pumpkin seeds, but snack jar pepitas are a lot less trouble.

Serves 8 as a soup course

Ingredients

3 pound pumpkin or butternut squash
3 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt
1/4 pound butter (1 stick)
2 leeks, washed, trimmed, and sliced into thin rounds
1 onion, roughly chopped
8 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons whiskey
1 cup buttermilk
black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons minced parsley

Directions

Set oven at 375°F.

Trim off the stem and base of the squash or pumpkin. Cut top to bottom into six pieces. Remove seeds and reserve. Paint the flesh with olive oil and place on a roasting pan. Roast in oven 15-20 minutes or until flesh is tender and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and set aside. Turn oven down to 300°F.

To prepare pumpkin seeds, rinse thoroughly to remove all pulp, then place in pan with water to cover. Bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain well and pat dry. Toss with remaining olive oil and spread in single layer on a baking sheet. Salt generously. Roast in about 45 minutes until crisp and brown. Reserve.

In large soup pot, melt half the butter. Add leeks and onion and sprinkle with pinch of salt. Cover pot and sweat leeks and onion over low heat about 20 minutes. Add a little water if needed to keep them from sticking to pan.

Scoop roasted pumpkin flesh away from skin and add to leeks and onion. Pour in the stock, season and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, then let the soup cool. Add whiskey, buttermilk, and remaining butter and stir to dissolve. Purée in a blender and adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper. Reheat for serving.

Serve sprinkled with a few roasted pumpkin seeds and minced parsley.

Irish whiskey tells the country’s tale

Boston Globe, March 15, 2015 - page M2 Judging by the job posting at Teeling’s Whiskey, the first new Dublin distillery in 125 years is finally getting ready to open its visitors center. The job? They’re looking for fluent English speakers with at least one other language to give tours. The center, located on Newmarket Square in the Liberties section of Dublin (that’s Dublin 8 for those who understand the city’s postal codes), will be open daily 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Exactly when it first opens for business is still unannounced.

Meantime, Dublin hardly lacks for whiskey attractions, some of which we outlined today in a story in the Boston Globe travel section, “Even its whiskey tells an Irish tale”. The story includes the new Irish Whiskey Museum (inaugurated in January) at 119 Grafton Street (+353 1 525 0970, irishwhiskeymuseum.ie) as well as the Old Jameson Distillery on Bow Street in Smithfield Village (+353 1 807 2355, www.jamesonwhiskey.com). Perhaps our favorite stop of all was the Palace Bar, an institution in its own right and one of the finest places to drink whiskey in all of Ireland. The Palace’s own whiskeys — a 7-year-old named The Fourth Estate to honor the journalist patrons, and a 14-year-old finished in sherry casks — are both made for the bar by Teeling. Here’s hoping they will be included in the tasting at the end of the tour.

15

03 2015

Whiskey in a Jar from Dublin’s Quay 14

Gary Campbell mixes whiskey in a jar in Quay 14 in Dublin
The Morrison Hotel on the north bank of the Liffey in Dublin has a swanky, modernist feel, but the Quay 14 bar retains a nice clubby atmosphere enhanced by a crew of barmen who really know their craft. It’s a good spot for a drink and quiet conversation. In fact, one evening we had a nice chat with Gary Campbell, who used to tend bar in Greater Boston before returning to Ireland and shaking drinks at some of the nicer Dublin hotel bars.

Although we prefer our whiskey neat—the best way, we think, to appreciate Ireland’s great contributions to the world of spirits—he persuaded us to try one of Quay 14’s signature cocktails. It’s a variant on the whiskey sour. Made with Bushmill’s 10-year-old Irish whiskey and served in a small canning jar (until they ran out of them), it’s called “Whiskey in the Jar” in deference to the chorus of “Sporting Jenny.” If you have trouble finding pasteurized egg whites, you can usually get Organic Valley’s 16 oz. carton in most health food stores.

Whiskey in a Jar

Whiskey in a Jar at Quay 14 in DublinIngredients
50 ml (a shot) Bushmills 10 Year Old Irish Whiskey
20 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
20 ml simple syrup
1 pasteurized egg white
ice
orange slice

Directions
Add whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg white to shaker. Dry shake to emulsify the egg white and lemon juice. Strain for any foreign objects.

Return to shaker with a handful of crushed ice. Shake and strain into glass and top with a thick slice of orange.

04

03 2015

A fine homegrown single malt whiskey

Westland American Single Malt whiskey As a lover of good whiskey — whatever its Gaelic or hillbilly pedigree — I was pleasantly surprised to find a whole new category that’s just become available in the Northeast. Based on a tasting of Westland Distillery’s American Single Malt, the folks behind this Seattle distillery are visionaries. The Pacific Northwest has been, arguably, the source of some of the most exciting craft beer making in the last 15 years. Part of that is due to the great barley-growing areas of Washington State and Idaho, and the localized skill in creating specialty malts.

To my taste buds, though, it’s a big jump from craft beer to a sipping whiskey, and I’m pleased with the fruity, not-too-sweet Westland house style. I’m typically a bourbon drinker, and this single malt barley whiskey is frankly less assertive and less sweet than high-end corn-bred bourbons. But it’s a very civilized sip that picks up a lot of subtlety from the complex grain bill (Washington select pale malt, Munich malt, “extra-special” malt, pale chocolate malt, and brown malt). The mouth heat I’d normally associate with 92 proof is tamed by aggressive aging in new American oak for at least 24 months (with some mellowing in sherry casks and port pipes). The flavor starts as an assertive graham cracker sweetness, quickly mellows to caramel crystal (like crème brûlée), and gives an aftertaste full of white chocolate and toasted spice.

This is Westland’s first release in New England, and will be followed soon by a peated single malt with strong smoky phenolics. I’ll be happy to see how both styles fare with a little more time in the barrel before bottling, but to borrow from the film Casablanca, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Next time I’m in Seattle, I definitely plan to visit the distillery for a $10 tasting and tour (offered Wed.-Sat. at 11 a.m,, and 2, 4, and 6 p.m). The distillery is at 2931 First Avenue South, Suite B, Seattle (206-767-7250, westlanddistillery.com). Suggested retail for Westland American Single Malt is $79.

30

09 2014