DC Drinks

Reviews, rantlets and ribald on all things alcoholic.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Confessions of an Oak Addict

I used to hum Fly to the Angels by Slaughter when no one was looking. I used to think Lindsay Lohan was hot. And I used to drink vodka. I'm now only ashamed of one of those things: drinking vodka.

You see, while it's a normal part of developing the drinker's palate to start with the colorless and odorless stuff, once you've had a taste of the complexity imbued by oak its hard to return to the watery, clear substances. The phenolics (flavor compounds, pigments and tannins imparted by wood) add a dimension to liquor that is nothing short of sublime. So much that law requires it for Bourbons.

Of course for Bourbon they char the wood by exposing new barrels to flame for about 60 seconds, depending on how much char the distiller wants. That helps to extract sugars from the oak--new white oak more specifically--and it's where all those lovely confectionary notes come from. Other brown liquors might be toasted (AKA burnt a little less).

Brown liquors include Cognac, Armangac, Scotch Whiskey, Rye Whiskey, aged Rum. The list goes on. And every one of them preferable to the slight hint of anise or citrus you might squeeze out of a trillion-time distilled artisanal vodka. I want to taste the wood.

OK, so there are some flavorful vodkas. There must be, otherwise Russia would be known exclusively for Dostoevsky and Communism. How depressing that would be! But Whiskey is what gets me up in the morning (not literally). So now it's time to unveil my new slogan:

Once you've had brown, white just won't go down.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Ben 'n' Jerry's of Whiskey

Just picked up a bottle of Jon, Mark and Robbo's whiskey, "The Smokey Peaty One". Following the same marketing philosophy as Nantucket Nectars fruit juices and Ben 'n' Jerry's ice cream, these three "regular guys" are trying to change the face of scotch. First off, who the hell doesn't like fun-lovin', whiskey-swillin' lads who decided to make their vice, er, hobby, into their careers? Second, it gives the whiskey buyer something that every other scotch has failed to do: be unintimidating to the novice. Genius. And their company was only launched in June of 2005! Wait, how long has scotch been around with its complicated regions, agings, labels and descriptions without doing this?

What can I say. I got exactly what I thought I'd get. There's no mystery involved, unlike buying a Lagavulin or Oban for the first time. The labels say it all. You have four choices: 1 - Smokey/Peaty, 2 - Rich/Spicy, 3 - Smooth/Sweet, and now---god help us--- 4 - Fresh/Fruity. Not sure if the average whiskey buyer (me) would purchase that last one, but maybe it's geared toward the wine cooler set ...

These pals have taken the mystery out of scotch buying. But isn't mystery part of the excitement of it? The feeling like you're about to put some kind of rare jewelry up to your lips? Jon, Mark and Robbo want to take that away from us with their delicious, inexpensive ($26), easy-to-understand blends, for fuck's sake.

Part of me wants to rant but another part wants to celebrate. I remain conflicted. Let me have another couple of glasses before I make my final decision ...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Drinking Class: Industry Legends Create Harvard of Bartending Schools

Half the art of becoming a bartender is lying your way through the door. I got my first bartending job after the owner of a restaurant I waited tables at asked if I had bartended. The previous bartender had just quit. Without hesitation, I nodded yes.

She looked me up and down and before she asked another question I grabbed the shaker and told her I would whip something up. It was rum and fruit juice. Lots of both ingredients but especially more of the former. By the time she finished her dubious rum punch, I had the job.

So it goes without saying that I had little or no respect for the suckers at bartending school who take classes on blue drinks, pink drinks and how to flip bottles. What a bunch of idiots. That was until my present bar manager informed me she had attended bartending school and she's one of my favorite bar gals. (She hid that part during the interview.) I decided to revise my policy: only some bartending students are suckers.

Now I take it all back. Doug Frost, who is a phenomenal booze educator (both a Master Sommelier and Master of Wine) told me he is starting a bartending school with Dale Degroff and just about anyone who is anyone in the cocktail trade.

It's called the Beverage Alcohol Resource or B.A.R. It will be headquartered in New York and there are two-day, four-day and twelve-week courses. The courses are pretty pricey but I can imagine they'll be worth it. If for nothing more than spending time with living legends.

Can you imagine Dale Degroff as the dean of your school? Keggers will definitely be a little more sophisticated. Jello shooters will have to be made from a recipe in a 1911 cocktail guide using Cognac. Check it out.

Friday, March 03, 2006

DC Drinks' Whiskey Tasting

We recently got together with a motley crue of whiskey geeks, restaurant critics, bar managers and modern drunkards at Bourbon restaurant in Adams Morgan in what could be the most ad hoc, randomly-chosen whiskey tasting on historical record. Most whiskies listed were discovered by wine distributor, Jase Viennan, in dingy liquor stores from Anacostia to Baltimore.

The heat packed:

Pikesville Supreme Rye; bottled 1983; Michter's Distillery: Tasting Notes: "Not very interesting. Palate was a little jacked. Lemony with some spice notes. As boring as vodka. An insult to the good name of rye whiskey."

Pikesville Rye; bottled 1992; Heaven Hill Distillery: Tasting Notes: "A real surprise. Much more complex than the big bottle. I wish I had another bottle. $2.99 never purchased so much flavor. As good as top shelf."

William Larue Weller's 121 proof bourbon: Tasting Notes: "Brown sugar, cinnamon, and buttered peaches. Heavy and dessert-like. Pretty bottle with a taste to match."

Suntory Red Japanese whiskey, purchased in Cambodia, mixed with Russell's Reserve Wild Turkey: Tasting Notes: "Disgusting, really. Shite. Good lord, I could not choke this shit down. Poured out most of the glass."

Wild Turkey; bottled 1989 (out of production): Tasting Notes: "Blast of cinnamon. Spicy and aggressive. The kickin' chicken has definitely improved since '89."

Lot 40 Malted Rye; Corby Distillers (out of production): Tasting Notes: "Honeysuckle and caramel. Like rare jewelry."

Bush Pilot (Canadian); bottled 1982; Alberta Springs Distillers (out of production): Tasting Notes: "Piss water. Now I know why they char the inside of whiskey barrels. Canada is boring."

Motgomerie's Single Cask scotch; aged in Sherry casks (independent bottling of Glenlivet from 1976): Tasting Notes: "Light but firm. Some smoke and peat, but mostly just smooth golden drinking goodness. Needs more peat!"

Interestingly enough, the hands down winner was the pint bottle of Pikesville Rye bought for $2.99 from a dusty back shelf in a shitty liquor store in Baltimore. Just goes to to show you don't need an expense account to get good whiskey.