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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.

 

 

TACO TRUCKS ON EVERY CORNER

TACO TRUCKS ON EVERY CORNER

This is why I love America. Some see political division. I see a shared love of tacos. Some see fear mongering. I see an opportunity for delicious eats.

Click the hat to buy your very own patriotic, taco-loving, head covering. All proceeds from the sale of this hat will go to taco trucks parked on street corners. : )

 

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

Atlanta Restaurants: In Praise of Being Bold

Atlanta Restaurants: In Praise of Being Bold

Ticonderoga Club
Ticonderoga Club

There is something magical happening right now on the Atlanta restaurant scene. I’m not talking about the impressive numbers of new restaurants opening up on a seemingly weekly basis – though the numbers are indeed impressive. And I’m not talking about the big names coming to town – though names like Jonathan Waxman or Sean Brock are also noteworthy. I’m talking about restaurants that are bent on being bold. Being personal. Doing things differently. Crafting experiences with deeply human personalities that go beyond the surface-level sheen that so many of Atlanta’s restaurants of late have relied on.

So let’s pause now to celebrate the bold – those pioneers who may shape the very definition of restaurant dining in this city for years to come. Specifically, let’s celebrate three particular pioneering restaurants who are doing their thing in distinctly personal ways: the brand new Staplehouse, the barely open Ticonderoga Club, and tiny little Dish Dive, which opened just under a year ago. But before we dig in to why these three warrant celebration, it’s worth a quick detour to talk about how the stage was set for their arrival.

It’s clear that the past few years of economic growth in Atlanta has given restaurateurs a boost of confidence to go out on a limb. Krog Street Market and Ponce City Market both have been major engines driving restaurant openings, and neither would be here had the local economy (and the commercial real estate scene specifically) not ramped up significantly. In parallel, as the number of new restaurant openings goes up and up, the need to stand out and carve out a niche becomes more and more important. At this point, we’re all slightly, reluctantly, somewhat over the whole modern-Southern-local-farm-to-table-mania that seemed to guide every other new restaurant in Atlanta over much of the past decade. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Miller Union, Cakes & Ale, Empire State South, Restaurant Eugene, and their great forebear – Bacchanalia – are all restaurants that have brilliantly harnessed that mania and thrilled Atlanta diners in the process. But after a while, especially as the number of high profile restaurants in town increases, we simply need more diverse perspectives to have a well rounded dining scene.

Getting back to the embrace of the bold and personal that’s now happening, you could point to One Eared Stag as a precursor, with its ever-quirky personality and fearless combinations of flavors that can’t be disassociated from chef Robert Phalen. Or the completely unique, late-night-only, industry-centric Octopus Bar in EAV. Or Zach and Cristina Meloy’s Better Half, which is among the more prominent chef-driven supper clubs to have made the move to a full-scale restaurant, yet still maintains the personal touch of its supper club incarnation. If I had to pinpoint one single restaurant, though, that signaled to Atlanta that it was OK to go bold, it would be the aptly named Gunshow.

Gunshow's Instagram
Gunshow’s Instagram

With Gunshow, open since 2013, Chef Kevin Gillespie and his crew took an intentionally polarizing stance on the dining experience – in a way that was meant to better connect the kitchen (the chefs) to the dining table (the patrons). One by one, the chefs cart out their creations to the dining room, explaining the dish, serving it up when they get the nod. This is not traditional dining, and, with its bare bones environment and totally unique pacing and delivery, Gunshow admittedly pisses some people off. And it also thrills a lot of people who are looking for a meal that gleefully messes with expectations (and delivers some stellar, intriguing food packed with personality in the process). And Gunshow is smart enough to know that it’s OK to piss some people off as long as you’re deeply connecting with others. Something is clearly working, as Gunshow remains one of the hardest-to-get reservations in town.

Which brings us back to three newer restaurants that, like Gunshow, are proudly waving their own particular brand of freak flag. The first of the bunch, Dish Dive, made its mark by being unrelentingly small and personal. Dish Dive equals chef Travis Carroll in the kitchen and Jeff Myers manning the house. 16 seats inside. BYOB. A super-concise menu. And you can’t help but feel that it’s Travis and Jeff’s (figural) house you’re dining in. It doesn’t get much more personal than that.To borrow a popular expression, Dish Dive gives no f*cks about what a restaurant is supposed to be. They know what they are supposed to be, and who they are trying to delight, and they do it with aplomb.

Dish Dive's Instagram
Dish Dive’s Instagram

Meanwhile, newcomer Staplehouse furthers this idea of boldly building the restaurant-diner relationship in a few notable ways. First, they are a restaurant in service of a non-profit – the Giving Kitchen. And, while not the first restaurant to have a social mission as its underpinning, Staplehouse is certainly the most high profile. This gives them a built-in aura of true goodwill that – for those informed diners who are in on the aura – inevitably shapes the experience of dining there. You know you are supporting a cause with each ticket you purchase (more on that in a bit) and every bite you take. Even more, you know you are supporting the people who are most invested in that cause with each ticket you purchase and every bite you take. If you’re familiar at all with Staplehouse’s story, you know that the restaurant’s story is also the story of Jen, of Kara, of chef Ryan Smith. You could even say Staplehouse’s story is that of the entire Atlanta restaurant community in all its tragedy and triumph. This is a story, a dining experience, that people want to invest in.

Staplehouse's Instagram
Staplehouse’s Instagram: “Anything long lasting or worthwhile takes time and complete surrender.”

Point two on Staplehouse – did you notice that they are not taking reservations, but rather selling “tickets”? They’re the first restaurant in Atlanta to adopt the Tock ticketing system used by many of the country’s leading restaurants. You could argue that this is a business-minded step away from the personal trust inherent in the typical reservation approach, but really, this path of selling tickets just reinforces the commitment from the diner to the restaurant – when you buy that ticket, you have given them your cash, and you are in on the cause before you even step foot through the door.

Smartly, Staplehouse realized that the ticketed seats inside the restaurant couldn’t be the only way to engage with diners. They built an outdoor patio, with its own little kitchen, ready for all comers with a menu that’s more affordable than the glorious (but admittedly pricey) tasting menu inside… but every bit as creative. And Staplehouse consciously avoided giving this outdoor patio a standalone name and identity (think Holeman & Finch for Restaurant Eugene, or Star Provisions for Bacchanalia), but rather embraced that Staplehouse itself needed to have more than one way to connect with diners. Simply put, Staplehouse is approaching the mission to deepen the restaurant-diner relationship in new ways, and bridging the casual/fine dining divide in the process.

Now for what may be the boldest restaurant of the bunch… Ticonderoga Club. If you haven’t (yet) heard much about this new spot from Greg Best, Regan Smith, Paul Calvert, David Bies, and Bart Sasso, that was intentional on their part. Ticonderoga Club is the result of a long-simmering stew of hush hush ideas that started way back in September 2013 (if not earlier) when Best and Smith left their founding roles behind the bar and front of house, respectively, at Holeman & Finch. Roughly a year later, Best and Smith confirmed that they would join the party at Krog Street Market, but still the details were few, from the name (which wasn’t revealed until one week before the place actually opened in October), to the very type of bar/restaurant it was going to be. Finally, now that Ticonderoga Club is open (although still awaiting signature on a liquor license as of this writing), the months of mystery are starting to make sense… Best/Smith/Calvert/Bies/Sasso weren’t just creating a bar and restaurant, they were creating an entire mythology.

Ticonderoga Club's Instagram
Ticonderoga Club’s Instagram

Mythology, you may ask? Let’s just say that the Ticonderoga Club crew’s attention to storytelling rivals that of Homer himself. And this is not storytelling for the heck of it… the mythology here is in service of forging a bond between an establishment and its patrons. In an extensive reveal published by the Bitter Southerner, titled The League of Extraordinary Hospitalitarians, we learn that the Ticonderoga Club is actually (nix that… mythically) the Atlanta chapter of a 249 year old organization. The mythology extends in a printed Ticonderoga Club Quarterly, packed with philosophy and silliness in equal measure. The Bitter Southerner’s Chuck Reece hit the nail on the head, though, with the raison d’être of this whole elaborate backstory – which is fostering a feeling of gleeful hospitality. That won’t come as any surprise to fans of Best, Smith, and Calvert, who are all known for their skills as hosts, conversationalists, and all-around-fine-folks.

Is Ticonderoga Club quirky as hell? You bet. But isn’t it nice to see folks go out on a limb and do something different, especially when, at the end of the day, you know that they’re doing something different on your behalf? Ticonderoga Club, Staplehouse, Dish Dive… they’re all pushing the hospitality envelope in their own clever, even magical, ways. They’re not the only intrepid trailblazers in town doing so, but their lead is one to take notice of and celebrate. If their bold steps lead to something great, we all win.

by Brad Kaplan, November 6, 2015