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Beer Before Liquor

Beer Before Liquor

Bierschnaps & its’ root (hah!) beer, Feest Noel. Courtesy IDC/Three Taverns.

If you’re into whiskey, you may have heard the expression “distiller’s beer” which refers to the fermented mash of grains, yeast, and water that feeds the first distillation. Typically these are not beers that are meant to be consumed on their own, but a few craft distillers are now working with existing craft beers and using them as their distiller’s beer in special releases. There’s the Samuel Adams Boston Lager that becomes Berkshire Mountain Distillers’ Two Lanterns whiskey, or Arcane Distilling’s Lone Wolf line of whiskey made from various micro-craft (and homebrew) beers, or Charbay’s R5 Whiskey which is distilled from Bear Republic Brewery’s Racer 5 IPA, or HUB Brewer’s Whisky made at New Deal Distillery from HUB Organic Lager. Even more crafty, J. Rieger & Co. in Kansas City is using slightly-past-its-prime beer from nearby Boulevard brewery as the starting point for their Left for Dead series.

Here in Atlanta, two recent craft beer-distillery collaborations have taken up the charge of beer before liquor, both to rather impressive results. There’s Decatur-based Independent Distilling Co., who used the Feest Noel beer from neighboring Three Taverns brewery to make their Outlier series Bierschnaps; and ASW Distillery, who partnered with Monday Night Brewing to develop a custom distiller’s beer and turn it into  Monday Night Scottish-Style Single Malt Whiskey.

Both of these collaborations are unique and, more importantly, quite tasty. If you’re into the esoteric and local and can manage to find a bottle, whether at the distilleries themselves or in limited local release around Atlanta, they reward the investment. And both are harbingers of good things to come as the craft beer and distilling scenes in Atlanta (and beyond) continue to grow side by side.

Here are the details and tasting notes on these two very special (and limited) beer-to-liquor success stories:

Independent Distilling Co., Outlier No. 3 Bierschnaps

Base Beer: Three Taverns 2014 Feest Noel (300 gallons) – made with 100% malted barley, Belgian dark candy sugar, cardamom, allspice, and clove.
Distillation: Alembic pot still (in February 2015)
Aging: 22 months in newly charred American oak barrels (two 15 gallon barrels)
Bottled at 90 proof

Notes: I first tasted this one out of the barrel about halfway through its aging process, and the prominent baking spice notes on the nose and palate had me thinking of Cocchi Vermouth di Torino (one of my favorite sweet vermouths). The extra time in the barrel until release lent this Bierschnaps further depth and complexity – starting delicately with a floral yet spicy nose, then hitting the tongue hard with a slap of cinnamon and clove backed up with toasty burnt caramel notes. The aging in those small barrels (for more interaction with the wood) is evident in a dark and oaky finish. Simply fascinating stuff, especially if you can get a hold of a bottle of Feest Noel and compare the two. The spice notes here offer some fun opportunities for cocktail experimentation as well (Kimball House recently made a Sazerac variation with the Outlier No. 3 combined with aged rum).

The Outlier No. 3 Bierschnaps actually has a release party tonight (if you’re reading this on March 23) at the Argosy if you want to snag a taste of this very limited run!

Seeing double (and more) with the ASW-Monday Night collaboration

Monday Night Scottish-Style Single Malt Whiskey

Base Beer: Custom batch from Monday Night Brewing, made with a hefty dose of cherrywood-smoked malt barley (which is a component malt in their popular Drafty Kilt Scotch Ale) and two-row malt barley.
Distillation: Scottish-style twin copper pot stills (in August 2016)
Aging: Roughly 6 months in new charred American white oak quarter casks (13 gallons)
Bottled at 86 proof

Notes: How is this lovely whiskey merely six months old? The nose may not give much away, with light hints of marzipan playing coy, but you can tell there’s much more of interest underneath. If you sit with it long enough, the cherrywood smoke comes through in subtle wisps at the tail end of deep breaths in. Sipping, the “Scottish-style” character emerges, but this is no peaty beast – think of the more delicate end of Scotch and you’ll be in the right territory. The malted barley here provides a pleasant cereal warmth, balanced with a light wildflower honey sweetness, and the finish leaves a happy memory on your tongue for several minutes. ASW is turning out mighty impressive limited releases (like this and their Resurgens Rye) for such a young distillery. And you have to love a label with a badger in a bowtie.

Full Disclosure: The tasting bottle of Monday Night was provided by ASW Distillery.

 

 

 

Rare bourbon for a cause – Pappy Van Winkle and 1980 O.F.C.

Rare bourbon for a cause – Pappy Van Winkle and 1980 O.F.C.

In a second, I’m going to tell you about a chance to acquire the full lineup of Pappy Van Winkle bourbons and one of the mere 100 bottles of 1980 O.F.C. bourbon in existence, plus the chance to support a wonderful non-profit. But first, I have a question…

Do you – A) love drinking rare bourbon, B) love supporting a good cause, and C) love using the thousands of dollars of wealth you have accumulated in order to enable your love of drinking rare bourbon and supporting a good cause?

  • If you said YES to all three, congratulations! You are an awesome person and should read on.
  • If you didn’t say YES to all three, you may still be an awesome person… I don’t know, we haven’t met, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. You still might want to read on.
  • If you didn’t say YES to ANY of those three, then you are likely NOT an awesome person, but maybe you have recently declared a new year’s resolution to either drink more bourbon or support more charitable causes, in which case, you may well indeed be on the path to becoming an awesome person. I hope so. Please read on. Maybe it will help you on your way.

So back to the bourbon and the charity. The Giving Kitchen is one of my favorite non-profits. They do tremendous work in the Atlanta restaurant community to aid those in need. I’ve volunteered and worked with them, and even gave them a bottle of Pappy 15 a while ago since I was so enamored with their work. On January 29th, they are holding their annual Team Hidi fundraiser event, which includes a ridiculously good live auction. This year, they happen to have the full lineup of Van Winkle bourbons in one lot (10, 12, 15, 20, 23 year old), and the ultra-rare 1980 O.F.C. bourbon in another lot. And, for the first time, they are allowing bids from outside the room (the event is already sold out).

I don’t need to tell you about the Pappy. We all know how hard it is to come by, especially the chance to get the entire Van Winkle bourbon lineup in one fell swoop.

The O.F.C. you might not be familiar with, but is really interesting for bourbon geeks. Buffalo Trace Distillery has, over the years, been pulling barrels from back vintages – before it even was the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Their new O.F.C. limited releases are vintage-dated, but have not actually been in barrel ever since that initial vintage. The 1980 that the Giving Kitchen will be auctioning off, for example, is not actually a “36 year old” bourbon – it has no age statement. A Buffalo Trace representative tells me, “these bourbons were distilled over 30 years ago, but did not age for three decades.  These bourbons were tasted and removed from the wood as they peaked in flavor over the years.” In any case, they offer a chance to taste something from a different time in the bourbon industry. A time many look back to as the golden age of the craft. (Please read Sean Brock’s thoughts on the matter.)

Maybe the coolest thing about this O.F.C. release is that all of the bottles – 100 from 1980, 50 from 1982, 50 from 1983 – were doled out to charities (no charge) to help raise funds to support their missions. Good bourbon, good cause. I love it.

So, for those of you interested in bidding on either the Pappy or the O.F.C., here are the details, pulled from the Giving Kitchen’s press release. And note that, while they are allowing bids from anyone, the charity’s supporters who are in-person at the event will have the ability to outbid the highest outside bid. In other words, if you actually want to win these lots, you better go big:

The Giving Kitchen, the non-profit that serves Atlanta restaurant workers facing unexpected hardship, will be auctioning off several rare bourbons at its annual Team Hidi event on January 29 and, for the first time, will be taking bids in advance on select lots for those who can’t make it to the sold-out event. Bids on the two lots below will be accepted via email (whiskeygalATL@gmail.com) between Monday, January 23 at 9AM EST and Friday, January 27th at 5PM EST. While these bids allow a wider audience to participate in the auctions, they will serve as the opening bid for each lot, giving supporters in the room the opportunity to bid higher if they so choose.

The first lot of interest to bourbon enthusiasts is a bottle of 1980 vintage O.F.C. Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, one of only 100 bottles produced by Buffalo Trace, exclusively offered to non-profit organizations at no charge to raise money for their causes. The hand-cut crystal bottle containing this precious whiskey is a replica of an O.F.C. decanter from the early 1900s found in the Buffalo Trace Distillery archives. It comes in a luxurious dark wood display box embossed in copper. According to Buffalo Trace, bottles of this rare collectible are expected to bring in upwards of $10,000 each for the charities they support. For the Team Hidi auction, the Giving Kitchen is pairing the rare 1980 O.F.C. with a multi-course whiskey-themed dinner for 12 people at Atlanta’s Empire State South, one of chef Hugh Acheson’s many lauded restaurants. More information on the O.F.C. limited release can be found at www.ofcvintages.com.

The second lot that will draw heavy interest from bourbon fans is titled, “Who’s Your Pappy,” and includes the entire range of Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey from the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery – one bottle each of the 10 year Old Rip Van Winkle, 12 year old Van Winkle Special Reserve, 15 year Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve, 20 year Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve, and 23 year Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve. The opportunity to find the full Van Winkle bourbon line-up in one place is incredibly rare. For the Team Hidi auction, the Giving Kitchen is also including a private whiskey tasting and dinner for 20 prepared by the chefs of Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn BBQ at the home of the winning bidder (if in the Atlanta area).

While these are the only two auction lots that are open to outside bidders, the Team Hidi event will also include more than a dozen other impossible-to-replicate auction lots that celebrate Atlanta and the city’s thriving restaurant community.

THE WHEN & HOW:

The sold out Team Hidi event, featuring the live auction and tastes from more than 50 of Atlanta’s top restaurants and bars will take place Sunday, January 29, 2017, from 5-9PM. Bids for the two lots discussed will be accepted via email (whiskeygalATL@gmail.com) between Monday, January 23 at 9AM EST and Friday, January 27th at 5PM EST. All emails should include the specific lot the individual is bidding on, the single bid they are placing on that lot, and the bidder’s home address. At 5pm EST on January 27th, the Team Hidi auction staff will compile and review the submitted bids on the two lots. The highest submitted bidders on each lot will be contacted to ensure that their bid is legitimate, then their bid will serve as the opening bid for that lot in the live auction – so may or may not end up as the winning bid. The opening bidders will be notified immediately after the auction as to the results.

 

Drink Local: ASW Distillery Fiddler Bourbon

Drink Local: ASW Distillery Fiddler Bourbon

ASW Distillery Fiddler Bourbon

If you’re in Atlanta and enjoy a fine drink, you need to be watching our local distilleries, who are all up to some very cool things. This week in Creative Loafing, I shared the goods on the new Fiddler Bourbon from ASW Distillery. My take? This is a must try for local whiskey enthusiasts, thanks to a  reasonable price, a unique mash bill (45% wheat), and the fact that ASW is very open about this being a foraged spirit that they are fiddling with in the aging process. And it’s delicious. So grab a bottle quick if you are interested – there’s not much to go around.

Here’s the news from Creative Loafing:

The facts: The new Fiddler bourbon whiskey comes from a line of “foraged” spirits to complement ASW’s house-distilled products — meaning ASW bought the stuff from another distillery but have fiddled with it in some way, mainly through aging in different types of casks and blending. This particular release came out Nov. 1 and amounts to a mere 450 bottles, or roughly two barrels. It is a high-wheat bourbon, meaning that wheat makes up a good percentage of the mash bill — 45 percent for this particular whiskey. Other notable wheated bourbons on the market are Maker’s Mark and Pappy Van Winkle, both of which have a much smaller wheat component than ASW’s. This Fiddler release is relatively young — “aged at least 18 months,” according to ASW, in full size new American oak barrels followed by quarter casks. Suggested retail price is around $35.

How it tastes: At 86 proof, Fiddler makes for a smooth and balanced sipper… READ THE REST AT CREATIVE LOAFING.

 

 

Jack Daniel’s, 1968

Jack Daniel’s, 1968

Jack Daniels 1968 Whiskey

I never really considered that tasting a Jack Daniel’s whiskey that was bottled in 1968 might be a possibility in the year 2016. Where would I find such a thing? How could it have escaped thirsty lips for nearly 50 years? How much would it even cost if I did find it? And, of course, how would it taste?

Well, I was recently given such an opportunity: a bottle of 1968 Jack Daniel’s, right in front of me. Clearly worn by time on the outside, but surely – hopefully – in wonderful spirit on the inside.

I didn’t find this bottle of Jack – it found me. I don’t know how it lived this long without being devoured. I have no idea how much it cost, nor the nature of any transaction involved. But I was soon about to find out how it tasted, and I quickly recognized that a bottle of Tennessee whiskey from 1968 should not just be considered in the sense of taste, but in the sense of time.


If you look at the history books, 1968 was not a particularly good year for this world, nor for Tennessee. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles just two months later. On the other side of the globe, North Vietnam launched the infamous Tet Offensive against South Vietnam and the United States. That’s a lot of awful for one span of 366 days (1968 was a leap year).

But, also in 1968, Star Trek treated American viewers to TV’s first interracial kiss. A bold (and controversial) act by three men in support of human rights took place on one of the world’s greatest stages – the Olympics. And the year came to an exhilarating finish with Apollo 8 orbiting the moon and offering the world an incredible look back at itself. So maybe it wasn’t all bad, after all.

In 1968, Jack Daniel’s (the distillery, not the man) was 102 years old, past the heralded Lem Motlow era, and well into the Brown-Forman years. Jack Daniel’s was already much-loved in Tennessee and throughout the United States. Thirteen years prior – in 1955 – Frank Sinatra had famously uttered onstage: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is Jack Daniel’s, and it is the nectar of the gods.” But Jack was not yet a global brand experiencing massive growth, nothing like the behemoth that it is today. That would start in earnest in the 1970’s.

So what would you expect of a bottle of Jack sent forward from 1968 into the future? Would you sense the tumult of history? Would there be a glimmering sensation that man was about to step foot on the moon after just having zoomed by for a good look? I had never asked myself those questions, but that changed last week when this bottle of 1968 Jack Daniel’s was set before me.


The setting for this taste of history was Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville, itself a tribute to Tennessee’s whiskey past. Sean Brock, the executive chef and partner at Husk restaurants in Nashville and Charleston, was holding forth on the topic of Tennessee whiskey to a crowd gathered at the Southern Foodways Alliance summer symposium. He was joined by Charlie Nelson of Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery and Nashville journalist Jim Myers. And then they starting passing around little plastic cups of brown water. The gathered crowd had no idea what we were in store for.

Brock has earned something of a reputation as one of the nation’s foremost hunters of rare bourbon. He has dished on the drink with Anthony Bourdain on TV, and all you have to do is look at his cabinet of collectibles in the bar at Husk to know that he is serious about tracking down – and sharing – rare and yearned for bourbons. So maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise that he had an unexpected bottle for us.

Like I said, I have no idea where Brock found this bottle – this 1968 Jack Daniel’s that was now before us. I have no idea how much he paid for it, or what dark closet floor it must have been inhabiting for decades. I was just thrilled to be given a chance to taste this whiskey that was born roughly a decade before I was, when stalks of corn harvested from Tennessee fields (at least I imagine so) soon met up with the limestone-rich spring waters of Lynchburg and artificial anything was nowhere in sight. GMO? What’s that? Fireball? Never heard of it. 

We smelled. We sipped. We savored from our small plastic cups. The 1968 Jack tasted unmistakably… Jack. If you’ve ever had Jack Daniel’s, you know what I mean. If not, feel free to remedy the situation in the near future. But the 1968 Jack also tasted unmistakably… long-lived. It had a haze of elusive maturity to it, not deeper, or richer, or even necessarily better than typical Jack. But it was more full of character. Actually, yes, it was better than typical Jack. Much better. If I had to peg the age-added notes dancing on my tongue, I’d lean towards almond extract or even baked almond meringues. But this tasting wasn’t about the tasting notes.

We turned our thoughts from almond aromas, and notes of caramel, to timelines and Tennessee.  We thought about what 1968 took from us, and what it left behind. We pondered the extent to which the world has taken in the lessons of 1968, of Martin Luther King, Jr., of trips to the moon. If only a glass of whiskey contained enough wisdom to answer any of that.

Closer to home, my mind turned from the historical landscape of Tennessee to one particular geographic corner – Memphis – where my late grandfather had already reached 55 years of age in 1968. I remembered being told that he had long ago joined the Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Squires association, which bestowed upon him a small plot of land in “the Hollow, Lynchburg.” That may seem gimmicky today, but I have to think that Jack Daniel’s in 1968 was simply a source of Tennessee pride in the midst of sometimes shameful times. Maybe it still is.

Either way, there’s little doubt that my grandfather sipped some 1968 Jack Daniel’s back in his day. That very same year, my father turned 21 while studying at Memphis State University, and had his first opportunity to legally take a pour. So, as I sat in a Nashville distillery, three generations of my family shared a symbolic sip, looking at once back in time and towards the future, through the amber lens of Tennessee whiskey.

Nelson's Green Brier Distillery Nashville Tennessee

Booker’s Rye Review: The $300 Limited Edition Whiskey You Probably Won’t Be Able to Find

Booker’s Rye Review: The $300 Limited Edition Whiskey You Probably Won’t Be Able to Find

Bookers Rye

Ready for this? The numbers on the new Booker’s Rye limited edition, AKA “Big Time Batch,” are pretty staggering:

  • Booker’s Rye, the first ever from the brand, is 13 years old, plus one month and 12 days. Awesome.
  • Booker’s Rye is bottled uncut at 136 proof (plus 0.2). Love it.
  • Booker’s Rye costs a suggested $299.99 (plus whatever markup there might be to account for scarcity). Say what?

The obvious first question is – “so is it worth it?” The obvious second question is – “if so, could I even find it???” Sorry to disappoint you, but I can’t answer either of those questions for you. What I will answer are the more pedestrian questions of – “so how does it taste?” and “is it any good?” With that in hand, you are then free to hunt it down and determine if it’s worth breaking out your Amex Centurion card for.

Before that, a bit of crucial background info. This rye is a tribute to Booker Noe, the legend who served as longtime master distiller for the Beam brands and founded their Small Batch Bourbon Collection (including Booker’s Bourbon and Knob Creek). Put in the barrel back in 2003, the new Booker’s rye was among the “last barrels laid down” by Booker Noe in the final years of his life. Amazingly, Booker’s has never released a rye in all those subsequent years. According to Booker’s son Fred, current master distiller:

Dad saw the difficult, temperamental rye grain as a challenge – small, but tricky to work with – and he never backed down from a challenge. So, in 2003, he went big and laid down barrels of a rye whiskey in his favorite rack house – creating the first ever Booker’s Rye Whiskey… Barreled as a small batch late in Dad’s life, Booker’s Big Time Rye is a rare, limited-edition rye whiskey that won’t come around again any time soon…  and I’m proud to release it in his honor this May.”

Without further ado:

40235_BookersRyeBottleBoxShotcopy Booker’s Rye, 2016 Limited Edition, “Big Time Batch”
136.2 Proof, uncut (and unfiltered), approx. $300 retail
Tasting Dates: May 26, 2016 – May 27, 2016
Thirsty South Rating: WOW*

Tasting Notes & Review:

Right away, the burnt orange/amber color of this whiskey conveys considerable age. A sniff of this heady stuff confirms it – loads of vanilla and toasty oak, an undertone of thin wintergreen wrapped in dark chocolate. The 136 proof is pretty well in check, and thankfully there’s nothing to suggest that this rye is over the hill – 13 years seems like it was just right.

Sipping neat, that high proof hits your tongue with a searing burn, but the burn quickly turns to pleasure, and that pleasure goes on and on in a loooong warm finish. There’s plenty of cinnamon apple, more vanilla, brown sugar – this is one hot-out-of-the-oven-dessert of a rye whiskey. For the high proof fans out there, this will really hit the spot – with great depth of flavors, good harmony, and a quick but measured alcohol punch to the gut.

Over a cube of ice, the aromas from the Booker’s Rye become more elegant, more refined, with plum fruit emerging from the vanilla and oak. And, wow, the intense burn is gone, replaced with a much more lush and full-bodied embrace.  The plum notes carry onto the palate, now like a plum and apple spiced cobbler. The finish is still long, though more subtle than when served neat, with the fruit jumping to the front alongside the cinnamon. It feels a touch more bourbon than rye, actually, but if you look for the rye spice, it’s certainly there in the background.

If you ask me, a single cube of ice is the way to go with this. You start sipping right away before the ice dilutes and you get the full power of the 136 proof. Within a minute, the ice brings down that brute force and smooths things out. Just don’t put too much ice in there, because this is a whiskey you’ll want to linger over – and bringing that high proof down too much would be a shame.

Fantastic stuff from Booker’s. Yep, I’m giving it a rare WOW rating. Would I plonk down $300 to buy a bottle? Personally, probably not; but if you’re the kind of person who has the ability and desire to spend that kind of cash on good whiskey, you’re not likely to regret it.

Unfortunately, Booker’s Rye is quite rare, so good luck tracking down a bottle. And all indications are that this will not be a recurring release. If you happen to track down a taste, look to the heavens and thank Booker Noe for his foresight some thirteen years ago.

*******************************
* 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: Tasting sample provided by Booker’s. Photos courtesy Booker’s.