Saturday, September 3, 2016

Becoming a Bourbon Buff

whiskey chick mason jar bourbon campfire Colorado
copyright © 2016

(Yes, I made a Boulder pun.)

For a shot of courage, George Washington would give whiskey to his Continental Army troops. From morale booster to taxable commodity, whiskey has been part of American history since day one—like it has been a part of world history for thousands of years. Bourbon is another story; bourbon is the distinct product of American resourcefulness and ingenuity.

Distilled from corn and aged in sealed barrels, bourbon has its origins in Kentucky. Maybe bourbon was the God-given brainchild of Baptist minister Elijah Craig, or maybe the good Reverend leant his name to soften the legal knife of Prohibition. Either way, with sales of super premium bourbons up 104% over the past five years (Plotkin, 2015), more people are coming to bourbon than ever before. 

Here are three beginner-friendly bourbons (which can easily be found on store shelves) to wet your novice whistle:

This old school bourbon has been around since the beginning when Basil Hayden Sr. started distilling it in Kentucky when Washington was still president. It’s a mellow 80 proof, amber, honey-flavored bourbon with a high rye mash bill. A sip will leave you with very little aftertaste and next to no unpleasant nostril burning. Basil Hayden's was my gateway bourbon, and I keep a case on hand to use as hostess gifts throughout the year. 

Hudson Baby is distilled from 100% corn as opposed to the mix of corn and rye used in other bourbon whiskeys, (though by law all bourbons must be at least 51% corn-based). The all-corn approach is historical—corn being the top Kentucky agricultural commodity in the early days of the state. The tone leans predominantly sweet, with occasional detections of oak, metal, and vanilla associated with the barrel itself. As a new bourbon drinker, you are obligated to try a 100% corn bourbon. Plus the distillery, Tuthilltown, sources 90% the material prima within ten miles of their site.

Peach Street Distillers in Palisade, CO craft their bourbon ‘from grain to glass.’ Unlike non-distiller producers, Peach Street chooses Colorado corn and pure Rocky Mountain water to finesse their high vanilla, homespun bourbon locally in a Christian Carl brandy pot with a column still. The barrels rest onsite for 2 to 5 years before bottling. If you want to try a true Colorado bourbon, Peach Street’s hooch is the real Colorado deal. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

What Does Cask Strength Mean?

whiskey chick bottle Laws cask strength Colorado bourbon
cask strength © 2016 A.D. LAWS 

As you know by now, an important factor in the quality of whiskey is the amount of time that has been put into making it. When whiskey is made, it is often stored in casks for many years before being bottled, which is essential for creating the nuanced layers of flavor. Often the whiskey is categorized by the kind of barrel it was aged in, the char level, and how long it has been aged for. 

However, it is usually stored at around 60-65% abv, as compared to the average bottling strength of 40% abv. The whiskey is diluted with distilled water before bottling to obtain this more palatable and cost effective abv. Cask strength bourbon (sometimes referred to as 'barrel proof') has not been diluted, or diluted to a higher abv such as 60%, and often is less palatable to many inexperienced drinkers due to the burning sensation. Whiskey connoisseurs have been known to describe cask strength as "dangerous and delightful."

Cask strength bourbons are a relatively new phenomenon. Some notable distillates in this category include Booker's, George T. Stagg, Parker's Heritage, and Wild Turkey. Wild Turkey is interesting in particular because it is distilled at a lower abv, meaning its cask-strength version is around 54% rather than 60%. For a local option, Colorado's A.D. Laws Whiskey House distills a noteworthy cask strength, four grain straight bourbon. 

Cask strength bourbons often make excellent cocktails due to their high alcohol content. Adding mixers often helps to bring out the flavors of the bourbons by diluting the alcohol burn, but there is still a noticeably stronger kick than your standard bourbon cocktail. Many people enjoy these potent whiskeys on the rocks, but experts will recommend first sipping these strong spirits neat and then diluting down to taste.

Monday, August 22, 2016

What is White Whiskey?

whiskey chick bottles Colorado white whiskey moonshine
White Whiskey © 2016

One of the trendy novelty products to hit the craft distilling market is white whiskey. However, you might already be acquainted with white whiskey via its older, more commonly known aliases -- White Dog, White Lightening or Moonshine. Both white whiskey and moonshine are clear distilled grain spirits, but for a whiskey lover there are some crucial distinctions between the two products.

Moonshine carries the connotation of being made illegally, thus some producers have found success marketing spirits under this term. They bank on the added element of romance and danger that comes from drinking a spirit with a notorious name. However, "moonshine" products, whether made in a backwoods still or sold in your local grocery store, do not have much going for them besides their high alcohol content and their lumbersexual name.

Barrel aging is what gives conventional whiskeys of all varieties their flavor and color. Both moonshine and white whiskey lack the strong flavor and color of a traditional whiskey. However, whereas moonshine is completely un-aged, white whiskey is not. Thus, moonshine is harsh on the palate and lacks the any complex character. On the other hand, craft distilleries selling white whiskey take an extra step to mellow and flavor their spirits. Their subtle flavors make white whiskeys smooth and subtly sweet when sipped straight up or on the rocks, and has made this spirit a favorite ingredient in craft cocktails.

Some distillers use charcoal to temper the harsh bite of un-aged white whiskey, a job that the barrel aging takes care of in traditional whiskeys. Others age the whiskey for a short period of time in white oak barrels, giving white whiskey a light and sweet vanilla flavor—like a light bourbon.

If you are a Colorado whiskey lover looking to try a white whiskey, check out a few of my favorite varieties from local distilleries:

Distillery 291, Fresh (un-aged, mellowed with charcoal)
Colorado Springs, CO

Deerhammer, Whitewater Whiskey (lightly aged in oak barrels)
Buena Vista, CO

KJ Wood, Dead Drift (no information about processing)
Ouray, CO

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Non-Distiller Producer (NDP): What Colorado Whiskey Lovers Need to Know

whiskey chick bottle Colorado bourbon whiskey
Tincup Whiskey © 2016

Non-Distiller Producers (NDP) are one of the most controversial topics in the world of whiskey. In short, NDPs are companies that buy barrels of whiskey from a large producer, then bottle and package it under their own niche label. Some NDPs hide the origins of their whiskey and claim to be the producers as well as the distributors of the spirit, while others do not.

Critics of NDPs claim that the practice is fraudulent and degrades the quality of whiskey available on the market. Defenders of the practice counter that in a blind taste test, NDPs give craft whiskeys a run for their money and that not all NDPs hide the origins of the whiskey they are selling.

NDPs have a long history, both in the United States and abroad. In Scotland, the practice is extremely common and accepted. NPDs produce the blended (read: not single-malt) Scotch that makes up 90% of the world Scotch market. Even some single-malt Scotch brands, such as McClelland's and Cadenhead, fully disclose that they are NDPs, and often list the origins of their whiskey on their bottles.

NDPs have caused controversy in the United States because a number of high-profile American NDPs have disguised their status behind elaborate origin stories. One notorious case is that of Templeton Rye, which claimed to be the favorite whiskey of mobster Al Capone. Templeton claimed their whiskey had been produced illegally through prohibition, up until 2006, when they finally went above ground. In truth, Templeton simply popped up and started bottling whiskey from a secondary producer ten years ago.

Tincup Whiskey is an NDP whiskey. Distilled in Indiana, Tincup is then cut with Rocky Mountain water in Denver. However, the text on their bottles imply that it is a Colorado product. In 2016, Tincup and its owners, Proximo Spirits, Inc., paid out a settlement to class action lawsuit members who had accused the whiskey maker of deceptive marketing. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

10 Best Colorado Bars for Drinking Colorado Whiskey

whiskey chick Bitter Bar Boulder Colorado
The Bitter Bar, Boulder  © 2016

If you're like me, there's nothing you want more at the end of a long summer day than to sit back with a delicious local whiskey poured over a beautiful block of ice. Lucky for us, Colorado is full of watering holes where you can go to kick up your feet and sip a few with kindred spirits. Here are some of the best bars where you can go to drink Colorado Whiskey:

1. Whiskey Bar
2203 Larimer St.
The name is no-frills, and so is the menu. If you like whiskey, and nothing but, this is the place to for you. They don't serve food, nor do they have a cocktail list. What they do have is a lot of whiskey - some 200 varieties behind the bar, although manager Dave Barry told The Whiskey Wash he estimates they have closer to 400 now. 

2. Whisky Tango Foxtrot
2907 Huron St. 
Five Points, Denver
How can you go wrong with a place that has whiskey in its name? You can't, especially when it carries 15 choices from Colorado on its extensive liquor menu with over 90 whiskeys. 

3. The West End Tavern
926 Pearl St.
Curl up in the sunshine on the West End Tavern's rooftop deck with a glass of one of the 75 bourbons or whiskeys they have behind the bar. If you can't decide, ask the bartender for a custom flight of your favorites. You could even order a flight of Pappy 15, 17, 20, and 23 yr.

4. Cascades Whiskey Bar at the Stanley Hotel 
333 E. Wonderview Ave.
Estes Park
All work and no whiskey makes me a dull girl. What's better than sipping one from a Stanley Select Barrel surrounded by views of the rugged Rocky Mountains? Enjoying a drink in one of its most famous haunts. The Stanley Hotel, featured as the backdrop in The Shining, is now home to the Whiskey Bar at Cascades Restaurant that offers prohibition-style mixes and 21 pages of whiskeys.

5. The Bitter Bar
835 Walnut St.
You can sample $6 cocktails on tap during Happy Hour, including The Tin Man—made with bourbon, lemon, elderflower liqueur and ginger ale. Plus, they boast the longest Happy Hour around, from 5-8pm Monday through Friday. The atmosphere is sophisticated, but the menu isn't pricy. 

6. The Arvada Tavern
5707 Olde Wadsworth Blvd.
Before you pass off this Denver suburb as a snooze-fest, I dare you to pay a visit to The Arvada Tavern. They've got Colorado classics (I'm talking Rocky Mountain oysters and green chile soup) and you can wet your whistle with a large selection of vintage cocktails made with local liquors. It's a great little place off the beaten path. 

The Oxford Hotel
1659 Wazee St.
Known as Denver's first bar post-prohibition, this joint is the perfect place to slip back in time and enjoy a classic whiskey or bourbon cocktail. It opened its doors for business the day after amendment 18 was repealed in 1933, but there are rumors it was serving thirsty Coloradans before that. 

8. Williams & Graham
3160 Tejon St.
Seeking a little anonymity and adventure? Try Highland Park's speakeasy, Williams & Graham. This bar-disguised-as-a-bookstore looks like it would attract the type of person who would rather wrap her hands around a handbound book than a handcrafted whiskey, but don't be fooled. Give the clerk at the counter your name to gain entrance through a trap-door bookshelf. On the other side, you can relax into a plush leather booth with a classic whiskey cocktail or something straight-up.

9. Interstate Kitchen & Bar
1001 Santa Fe Dr.
To the outsider, this retro diner might look like a kitschy 50's joint, but it takes whiskey—even white whiskey—seriously. The Interstate Kitchen & Bar dishes up hearty portions of Americana classics like mac and cheese and deviled eggs that will help you soak up the 13 Colorado whiskeys and bourbons they have on hand. 

10. The Prinicpal's Office at The Ivywild School
1604 S. Cascade Ave.
Colorado Springs
No goody-two-shoes allowed at The Principal's Office in Colorado Springs. This isn't your daddy's swinging-door saloon. It's a joint where young-at-heart meets lush, with an array of unique cocktails designed to showcase classic flavors in new and interesting ways. Owner Eric "Harry" Nicol gets extra credit for having 4 different grilled cheese sandwiches on the bar menu.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Whiskey Cocktails: Have an Old-Fashioned

A Rittenhouse Rye Old-Fashioned at The Kitchen, Boulder, CO © 2016

Whiskey cocktails come in many varieties and tastes. The Old-Fashioned was originally a bourbon whiskey cocktail which is on the official International Bar Association (IBA) list. It was perfected and given its name in the 1880's. A bartender at the Pendennis club, a gentlemen's club, is said to have invented the drink in honor of Colonel James E. Pepper, who was a successful and popular bourbon distiller. The Colonel is credited with bringing the drink to the Waldorf-Astoria hotel bar in New York City.

However, not everyone agrees that this was indeed how the Old-Fashioned came to be a popular drink. Robert Hess, co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail pointed out that there was a very similar recipe in Jerry Thomas's 1862 How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivants Companion. That drink was simply named the "Whisky Cocktail." Mr. Hess believes that the bartender at the Pendennis probably served the cocktail "the old fashioned way" and somehow the confusion began.

What is the old fashioned way? In the early 1800's cocktails were made of a spirit combined with sugar, bitters, and water. The drink was served in a short, glass tumbler which was eventually named for the cocktail, an Old-Fashioned.

There are many variations of recipes out there and one long-standing debate—rye or bourbon? A good argument exists for each choice, and it really just comes down to personal taste. Here's a typical recipe and preparation technique. Reading this will give you a better understanding and appreciation for just how classic an Old-Fashioned is.

1 Sugar Cube
3 Angostura Bitters
1 L Club Soda
2 oz. Rye Whiskey
1 old-fashioned glass

Place the sugar cube (or 1/2 teaspoon loose sugar) in an Old-Fashioned glass
Wet it down with 2 or 3 dashes of Angostura bitters and a short splash of water or club soda
Crush the sugar with a wooden muddler, chopstick, strong spoon, lipstick, cartridge case, whatever
Rotate the glass so that the sugar grains and bitters give it a lining
Add a large ice cube
Pour in the rye (or bourbon)
Serve with a stirring rod

Credit: Esquire: How to Make an Old-Fashioned

Friday, July 22, 2016

Women & Whiskey: Spotlight on Peggy Noe Stevens

Peggy Noe Stevens

Women have been involved with whiskey for at least two centuries, but their stories are not often heard. Only a few decades ago was it considered acceptable for women to drink whiskey. More women in the workforce promoted this change, but female trailblazers who were involved in the whiskey business get credit for the fact that women make up about 37 percent of whiskey drinkers. Peggy Noe Stevens is the first of these trailblazers--the original whiskey chick.

Stevens, a Kentucky native, traces her history back to some of the most famous bourbon-making families in the state. She, however, is most famous as the founder of the Bourbon Women Association (BWA) and as the world's first female Master Bourbon Taster. The BWA seeks to offer resources and inspiration for female bourbon lovers and wannabes of all ages from all corners of the world. The organization hosts events and gives educates women on all aspects of bourbon-making and bourbon-drinking. Stevens was inspired to start the BWA after noticing that whiskey makers were only targeting the male half of their potential market.

Stevens began her career in the hospitality industry with the marketing department of Hyatt Hotels. Subsequently she moved to Brown-Forman Corporation, one of the largest American-owned spirit and wine companies, to head up their global event planning department. During her tenure at Brown-Forman, she had the opportunity to work with leading spirit labels such as Jack Daniel's and Southern Comfort to help them with their branding. Specifically, she helped develop iconic brands of bourbon and whiskey as destinations, whether through culinary and tasting experiences or through touring distilleries.

Currently, Peggy Noe Stevens resides in Kentucky and brings her branding expertise to clients through her consulting firm, Peggy Noe Stevens & Associates. She has continued to work with whiskey makers such as Beam Inc. and has expanded her client list to other industries.