My Goodness, (not) My Guinness!

I was in Dublin last week and, naturally, visited the Guinness Storehouse for a tour / taste of what is surely one of Ireland’s greatest achievements – Guinness Stout. I love Guinness – the way it tastes, the way it looks, the way it takes a few minutes of lovely effervesence to pour a proper pint, the way that thick foamy head forms and hangs around. I also love Guinness for its admirable history of brilliant marketing – the characters, colors, slogans, and omnipresent wall murals that make it such an integral part of the Irish landscape. Guinness is a great beer, and it is a great brand. Which brings me to the vexing and confounding creation that I recently learned about – a beer called… Guinness American Blonde Lager.

Guinness My Goodness

My goodness – things are upside down at Guinness

What are the first three things that pop into your mind when you hear the word Guinness? I’m guessing they’re something along the lines of Irish, dark, and stout. And isn’t it interesting that American, blonde, and lager seem fairly antithetical to those characteristics that we so closely associate with Guinness? In other words, WHAT THE HELL ARE THE PEOPLE AT GUINNESS THINKING!????

Actually, I have a pretty good idea of what they’re thinking. They’re thinking that Guinness is not doing as well in America as it should. That other beer brands are eating their lunch. That surely there’s a way to introduce Guinness to a new crowd of beer drinkers. Sure, the first two points there are right – Guinness is not doing that well in America, and other brands are indeed eating their lunch. But is introducing an American blonde lager a way to grow the Guinness brand? Better yet, is introducing a GUINNESS American blonde lager the way for Diageo, Guinness’ parent company, to grow their portfolio of beer brands in America? If you ask me, the answer is a resounding NO and NO.

The folks at Guinness – and more rightly I should probably say the folks at Diageo – should properly recognize the great value that exists in the Guinness brand. The equities that it holds so strongly that offer opportunity… but also act as a form of tether. Sure, Guinness is bound by its history and heritage – but that tether should be considered not as a barrier to growth, but as a guideline for HOW to grow. How can Guinness take its heritage – its Irishness, blackness, stoutness – and use that as a springboard into the heart of the American beer drinking public? I can guarantee you that the answer is not by watering down everything that the brand stands for - by discarding Irish for American, black for blonde, stout for lager. Stick to your strengths, Guinness, and leave the light stuff to one of your sister brands. My goodness. That’s not MY Guinness.

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Atlanta BYOB Brouhaha

NO BYOBOver on Creative Loafing, I’ve been tracking a back and forth exchange between the Georgia Restaurant Association (who has asserted that the city is cracking down on restaurants allowing BYOB) and the mayor’s office (who asserts that there is no such crackdown). It’s a developing story, but for now we know that several restaurants in Atlanta have actually stopped offering BYOB, which is likely hurting both diners and restaurants in the city.

Hopefully restaurants around town can resume their BYOB practices without any cause for concern – it certainly sounds like the city believes that to be the case. In the meantime, I’ve asked the city some follow up questions that should fully ease concerns and push this dialog forward.

As pointed out in the article on Creative Loafing, the city-established Alcohol Technical Advisory Group II had made a wide range of recommendations to the city council last year that were never acted on, including a recommendation to simplify the city’s ordinances as they relate to BYOB. If the city acts upon those recommendations now,  situations like this will certainly be prevented in the future. Wouldn’t that be nice?

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The Youngster and the Elder: Dickel White Corn Whisky No. 1 and Barrel Select Tennessee Whisky

Dickel White Corn Whisky

One is young and clear as glass. One is old(er) and soft tan leather. Both are Dickel Whisky. When the fine folks from George Dickel offered to share a sample of their new “White No. 1 Corn Whisky,” I asked that they (please) also send along a sample of their roughly ten year old Dickel Barrel Select so I could compare the two side by side. I’ve long been a fan of Dickel – especially after visiting their bucolic distillery in Cascade Hollow, Tennessee. And I like the fact that they tend to do things a little differently than most others out there – like calling their whiskey “whisky,” or actually doing something unique (charcoal filtering) with the sourced rye from Indiana that so many others are just bottling and branding as their own.

Like the Dickel rye, the Dickel White No. 1 also gets the Dickel charcoal treatment, setting it apart from other white whiskeys (AKA moonshine), at least in some small way. And the Dickel White No. 1 is the exact same stuff that ends up in Dickel No. 8 and Dickel No. 12 and the Dickel Barrel Select. There’s one whisky mashbill being made in Cascade Hollow – 84% corn, 8% rye and 8% barley - and that’s what ends up in all the Dickel bottles except for that “Dickel” rye. (In case you weren’t counting, that’s nine Dickels so far in this paragraph. Make that ten.)

You know what else is different about the Dickel White No. 1? It’s 91 proof, vs. the  80 proof that shows up in other big brand white whiskey (see Jim Beam’s Jacob’s Ghost). Also, it’s priced rather well at $22, vs. other ridiculously premium-priced unaged whiskey  out there (see Jack Daniel’s Unaged Rye – $50!???) .

So, how does the Dickel White No. 1 taste? Can you actually see the family resemblance between this youngster and its elder, the Barrel Select? On with the tasting notes and review.

Dickel White Whisky

George Dickel White Corn Whisky No. 1
91 Proof
Approx. $22 Retail
Tasting Dates: February 10-18, 2014
Thirsty South Rating: Good Stuff*

Like I said, this stuff is clear as glass, though clearly thicker than water. The nose is clean, but packs a ton of grain – you get the popcorn first, then a Sugar Smacks cereal rush, with a toasty malt depth in the background and an elusive bit of green corn silk and husk. It’s actually quite nice, though a far departure from the sweet heat that this will turn to after years in a barrel.

Sipping neat, the corn/grain character continues, with some alcohol heat building through a long, lip-tingly finish. It makes for pleasant sipping, though I think it may be better served as the basis for creative cocktail making. Ice brings out some lush thickness in the whisky, but also seems to bring out a bit of that charcoal effect. It’s darn good for a white whiskey, and if I were more of a fan of white whiskey in general, I’d probably rate this higher – I just prefer the older stuff.

Dickel Barrel SelectGeorge Dickel Barrel Select Tennessee Whisky
86 Proof
Approx. $40 Retail
Tasting Dates: February 10-18, 2014
Thirsty South Rating: Excellent*

Dickel’s Barrel Select is a small batch of 10-12 barrels at a time, and 10-12 years old (though not with an age statement on the bottle). The nose here is beautiful, mellow, and balanced – you may get a tiny bit of that corn grain, but its well overshadowed (nicely so) by light brown sugar and lush tropical fruit and warm leather and toasty light wood. There’s so much textbook American whiskey stuff going on here, without any overbearing oak, I’m sorry I haven’t been drinking more of this over the years.

Sipping neat, the first thing that stands out is the fruity character – ripe peach, simmering in a skillet with butter and brown sugar. It’s rich and full, and cinnamon spice starts to come out after a few seconds, along with warm vanilla. There’s a bit of green woodiness in the middle that knocks it down a tiny notch in my book, but the finish is long and pleasantly cinnamon hot. Damn good stuff, very nice for the price, worthy of a go for any bourbon fan.

A cube of ice brings out the fruitiness on the nose even more, but also some syrupy sweetness. It dials down the green wood in the middle, but also slightly dulls the warm spice and vanilla. Again, I’d go neat rather than subject this one to ice, but that’s just personal preference.

Do I see the family resemblance? Not so much, to tell you the truth. One is young and corn focused, the other achieves a beautiful balance of grain and oak and time. I appreciate that both the young Dickel and the elder Dickel have a smoothness to them that doesn’t detract from the flavor – so maybe that’s the Dickel profile, the impact of the charcoal mellowing. In any case, both are Tennessee goodness in a bottle. After all, Dickel’s for drinking.


* Thirsty South Rating Scale:

Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

Full Disclosure: Both tasting samples were provided by George Dickel.

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Lot 40 Rye Whisky

Lot 40 Rye Whisky

Canada, eh? I’ll be the first to admit I know too little about the whisky of our neighbor to the north, but it’s clear that Canadian whisky is riding the same surge of love that is hitting bourbon and American rye these days. We’re seeing more premium releases, and they’re exporting more and more around the world. I’ve tasted a few, including American-labeled bottles of Canadian whisky like WhistlePig (what? WhistlePig isn’t made in Vermont!? but it says “hand bottled at WhistlePig Farm, Vermont”!). There’s plenty of nice stuff coming out of Canada for sure, but nothing I tasted really got me excited to fully embrace Canadian whisky… until I tried the Lot 40 Rye Whisky 2012 Release.

Ho. Lee. Cow.

Lot 40 Rye WhiskyThere are a bunch of much wiser Canadian whisky drinkers out there who have extolled Lot 40′s virtues. It won this big award from Whisky Advocate. And this one, too, from a bunch of Canadian whisky pros. And you can read a scholarly history of Lot 40 here (please do, really) from Davin de Kergommeaux, “certified Malt Maniac.” Most importantly, try to locate a bottle of this stuff ASAP. Lot 40 has been rolling out in select markets in the US over the past few months (after hitting Canada in late 2012), and just hit Georgia in January. It’s a limited release, so bottles are not likely to stick around for long. No telling what the next go round will look like, assuming there is one. So get it while the gettin’s good.

A few quick details, then the review and tasting notes. Lot 40 is a marriage of many batches of copper pot still rye whiskey – 90% rye, 10% malted rye – spanning different ages. I’ve read it’s mostly in the 7 to 8 year old range, aged in a variety of barrel types. It was produced at the Hiram Walker Distillery.

Lot 40 Rye WhiskyLot 40 Canadian Rye Whisky, 2012 Release
86 Proof, Approx. $55 Retail
Tasting Dates: February 1 – 9, 2014
Thirsty South Rating: WOW*

Lovely rich copper color on this Canadian. Sniff it and you get prominent rye bread, then a fruity almost bubblegummy note, nutty black walnut, ginger and a lot of intriguing spice notes. Think ginger peach cobbler with walnuts and a sprig of mint on top. It also had me thinking of Italian amari (that’s the plural of amaro, at least I think it is, kinda like octopi is to octopus, but I digress…) with their bittersweet baking spice character.

This is made for sipping – no water, no ice required. In fact, I much prefer it neat. This will not be confused for bourbon, it’s rye through and through, with a firm and elegant strength. It’s supremely well balanced, but you get bitter and slightly sour and delicately floral and rich warm grain and fruity tart at different moments in time. Baking spice shows up strong in the middle – plenty of clove, a burst of sharp ginger. A bit of wood shows up, but never gets in the way. The finish starts off sharp with those rye and spice notes, then mellows and fades slowly into happiness. It’s highly complex and highly drinkable, wholly rye but very distinctive at the same time.

This is an incredibly singular whisky. For American rye drinkers, it will have you questioning what a great rye should really taste like. It may not have the power of Thomas Handy, nor the age of the Sazerac 18, nor the warm embrace of the Van Winkle Family Reserve, but – to me – it’s every bit as intriguing, enjoyable, and impressive as any of those great rye whiskeys. O Canada!

Lot 40 Rye Whisky

Lot 40 Rye Whisky


* Thirsty South Rating Scale:

Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

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Sweetwater Second Helping IPA and the Giving Kitchen

SweetWater Second Helping IPA

As was evident in the recent Atlanta SNOWPOCALYPSE(™), the good people of this city excel at coming together in times of need. And the story of the Giving Kitchen has been one of those amazing coming together stories that exemplifies our city’s spirit. Chef Ryan Hidinger is central to the story – one man’s battle with cancer morphing into a community rally for others in need. It was his battle that sparked the Giving Kitchen idea, and his remarkable enthusiasm and will that helped bring it to life. But it’s the embrace of the community around Hidinger that extends his legacy, and that embrace continues to be shown in an amazing multitude of ways. Like this Second Helping IPA from SweetWater Brewing Company.

SweetWater Second Helping IPA Simply put, Second Helping is a great beer with a great mission – to support the Giving Kitchen.

The Giving Kitchen’s mission is to provide crisis grants to members of Atlanta’s restaurant community facing unanticipated hardship.

The important thing here is that mission, that embrace. The secondary thing here is the taste. Have no doubt, though, that SweetWater and Hidinger teamed up to turn out something remarkable.

I urge you to learn more about this cause, and to go try this beer. You’ll be glad you did on both counts. Second Helping is an Atlanta-only limited release (go get some now, seriously, it will be running out over the next couple weeks), served up in 22oz bottles or growlers in shops and bars all over town. I asked the folks at SweetWater about Second Helping’s success, and Francesca Zeifman there replied that Second Helping was one of their “fastest selling brews,” saying, “there was such passion put into this campaign from all parties involved, and the story behind the beer and its mission is so compelling. Nearly every drop was pre-sold before it hit the market.” See that? Community.

While no definite plans have been made for future Second Helping releases, SweetWater let me know that they do hope to continue working with the Giving Kitchen. Hopefully we’ll see a second (and third, and fourth) Second Helping. To learn more about the cause and the beer, visit, read this great intro from the AJC’s beer guru, Bob Townsend, or check out the video from Beer Street Journal featuring Nick Nock and Steve Farace from SweetWater.

And here’s my review and tasting notes on the beer itself.

SweetWater Second Helping IPASweetWater Brewing Co. Second Helping
India Pale Ale brewed with juniper berries
7.4% ABV, 69 IBU;s
Approx. $5.50 retail price for 22oz bottle
Thirsty South Rating: Excellent*

For you beer geeks out there, Second Helping is made with a variety of specialty malts (2-row, Victory, Chocolate, Wheat), as well as five types of hops (Amarillo, Bravo, Centennial, Chinook, Simcoe). Juniper berries were added in the whirlpool, and also during dry hopping. And it’s those juniper berries that really make this one stand out.

Second Helping pours a lovely rich copper, with hints of cherry wood red. The nose hits the expected pine and citrus notes, with a smooth and deep maltiness in the background. Second Helping has a pleasant and fairly lush mouthfeel. It’s a bit sharp at first, with that pine and citrus most prominent, also some more herbal botanical character, but then it mellows out quickly into caramel and a bit of chocolatey and hearty crusty bread. Then that crisp juniper gin character kicks in towards the finish, before melding into a hoppy IPA finish that goes on and on. That’s a lot of quick character evolving in a single sip, and it will have you coming back for more.

SweetWater Second Helping IPA SweetWater Second Helping IPA



* Thirsty South Rating Scale:

Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

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