Archive for the ‘Bourbon’ Category

Quick & easy eggnog

The first time I tasted homemade eggnog, it changed me forever. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll drink the store bought stuff. And an eggnog latte?! Love it. Since learning how to make eggnog however, I almost drink it exclusively.

First, you need a good source of fresh eggs because you’ll be eating them raw. My regular egg supplier gives her hens a vacation in the winter. The shorter days and colder temperatures cause them to molt and nearly ceases their egg production. So, I buy eggs. I like to check out the Cornucopia Institute’s egg scorecard, which has led me to buy eggs from Wilcox farms. They’re available at most supermarkets, which makes them the most convenient option for me.

As much as I’d like to try Jess Thomson’s recipe, I always wimp out. The recipe I use is based on one by Alton Brown. It makes about nearly a half gallon of egg nog. His recipe calls for mixing in the Bourbon, which sounds like a fine idea to me but less so to my non-Bourbon drinker husband. Plus, if you do want to make an eggnog latte in the morning you’ll seem like less of an an alcoholic if there’s no booze in your ‘nog.  

4 egg yolks
⅓ cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (see Cook’s Note)
4 egg whites

In a medium bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the ⅓ cup sugar and continue to beat until it is completely dissolved. Add the milk, cream, and nutmeg and stir to combine.

Place the egg whiles in a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, and beat to soft peaks. With the mixer still running, gradually add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.

Whisk the egg whites into the mixture.

To Serve: Pour a shot of Bourbon or Rum – or even Kahlua – into a glass and add 1 cup or so of egg nog. Grate a dash of freshly grated nutmeg on top.

Cook’s Note: DO NOT buy ground nutmeg. For about 15 cents, you can buy a whole nutmeg that will last forever. You just need a Microplane zester. They are only $15 or so and also last forever and can be used to zest citrus or grate hard cheeses.

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“You can’t overcook pork belly,” was the last thing my dad said. Well pops, that is mostly true. Unless you burn the shit out of the crispy, crunchy skin on top of the pork belly.

I should have known. I should have KNOWN something would go wrong. Hours before we were hosting 25 people for a Bourbon tasting last Friday, I posted a very smug blog entry about how to host a “stress-free” party. I was pretty much asking for something bad to happen.

The party was actually a big success. We plied our guests with lots of super fatty, salty, irresistible food as we tasted our way through 13 Bourbons. Deviled eggs, guacamole, mini grilled cheese sandwiches, aka “the booze sponge,” and pork belly. The first belly turned out great. I scored the skin into 1-inch squares, which we cut through after pulling it out of the oven. We just served it off the cutting board with toothpicks. But then, I started tasting Bourbon.

Photo by Jeremy Cothran

We were only tasting eye-droppers full, but I lost track of time. I checked on the second pork belly and the skin on top just wasn’t getting crispy enough. So I turned up the heat for a few minutes. That worked, and after checking on the pork belly again it was nearly perfect. Gavin was busy showing guests around the house and I thought I could buy myself a few extra minutes by just turning off the oven and letting it finish up in there. Well, I didn’t take into account how hot the oven was at that point and the belly kept right on crisping. In fact it got downright blackened.

When I finally remembered the belly in the oven, I opened the oven door and released a giant plume of black smoke. Thinking quickly, I rushed it outside rather than letting it smoke up the entire house. Well, my friend Brooke knows a good good photo-op when she sees one. Priceless.

Photo by Brooke Azumi

It wasn’t a complete disaster however. Everyone actually gobbled up the second pork belly as well. It really is hard to overcook pork belly because all the fat continually bastes the meat and keeps it moist. Of course getting your guests drunk first helps too.

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Read Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Part 1 or Part 2

So about that Kentucky sunshine. It didn’t last. We decided to make our trip to Bourbon country in May because the weather would be better and we could also see the Kentucky Derby. Well…the weather didn’t exactly cooperate. On Derby day, the forecast was for flash-flooding and 4-6″ of rain. In this part of the country, weather predictions are a little more accurate than in the Pacific Northwest so we knew beyond a doubt that it was going to rain.

So about the Kentucky Derby. We didn’t go. If we were super rich we maybe could have bought seats in the Grandstand at Churchhill Downs, but alas, we are just simple people and our Derby tickets were general admission. When we went to Churchhill Downs for Oaks Day on Friday, we discovered – much to our dismay – that this was not going to be the day at the races that we had envisioned. It was more like Nascar with horses. General admission gets you into the center of the track, which is full of drunks, fair food, betting booths, and throngs of people squished up against the chain link fence trying to catch a glimpse of the horses as they race past. And they don’t allow umbrellas.The primary purpose of our trip to Kentucky though was to visit the Bourbon distilleries. The Derby was just a bonus. But still, I was pretty disappointed. The thought of standing in the rain, drinking overpriced Mint Juleps out of plastic cups was bad enough for us to just eat the price of our tickets and watch the race on TV somewhere.

But first – there were six more distilleries to visit…

Buffalo Trace 

Our hotel was in Frankfort, the capital of Kentucky, located between Louisville and Lexington. On Saturday morning our first stop was at the Buffalo Trace distillery, located about three miles from our hotel. You gotta love bellying up to the tasting bar with a cup from Starbucks still in your hand. I like to call this a Kentucky Speedball…Buffalo Trace – like a many of the big distilleries in Kentucky – distills and bottles a number of smaller labels as well. They make Blanton’s, Pappy Van Winkle, Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace and probably a few more. We didn’t go on the tour, but learned plenty by chatting up the man in the tasting room. 

The most interesting thing we learned was the term “Wheated Bourbon.” Bourbon made from a grain mix consisting of at least 51% corn, but the rest of the grain is usually rye. Or a combination of barley and rye. Or wheat, barley and rye. You get my drift. Anyways, wheated Bourbons don’t include any rye. Instead, they include a large percentage of wheat. Maker’s Mark is a wheated Bourbon, which may explain why they rank lower on my list of favorite Bourbons.          

It is worth noting at this point that we had a designated driver for our day of Bourbon tasting. My sister-in-law Marie joined us for the trip and doesn’t really drink. It’s not easy dealing with the Grosets sometimes – especially after Bourbon gets involved – but Marie has an incredible amount of patience. At every distillery we visited they also offered Bourbon chocolates. These cream-filled chocolates sustained Marie for much of the day. At Buffalo Trace they also had a cream liqueur, kinda like Baileys, that she had a sip of.    

Jim Beam  

We departed Buffalo Trace and headed west to Jim Beam. This is the big time. They make Knob Creek, Basil Hayden, Booker’s, Baker’s plus several different varieties of their own Jim Beam label. I’ll tell you right now that Basil Hayden is, hands-down, my favorite Bourbon. I have since learned that the grain mix of Basil Hayden is heavy on the rye, which means I clearly prefer a ryed Bourbon to a Wheated Bourbon. I hosted a blind tasting in my home a couple of years ago. It was eye-opening in a lot of ways. I actually hosted two tastings. The first one was with all girls and the second one was with all boys – plus me. We tasted Maker’s at the first tasting and it ranked dead last on my list, which was surprising to me. When you do a blind tasting though, you aren’t influenced by the label, the price or the marketing. It’s all personal preference. In both tastings, my preference was Basil Hayden.   

Alas, they were not sampling Basil Hayden when we visited Jim Beam. We tasted their new cherry Bourbon. I really hope Bourbon doesn’t go the way of Vodka by infusing all manner of flavorings. Maker’s has a “mint julep” Bourbon that you can just pour over ice and, look! Instant Mint Julep. I’d prefer to add flavors to my Bourbon – if at all – on my own. We also sampled Booker’s, which weighs in around a whopping 125 proof . It is a little too high-octane for my taste, but since it has been aged for six to eight years it also packs a punch in the flavor department.  

Heaven Hill   

Heaven Hill is another big time distillery. They make Elijah Craig, Evan Williams, Old Fitzergerald, Fighting Cock, among other labels. I know, Fighting Cock. Kinda worth buying just for the label, but I didn’t.  

The visitor center at Heaven Hill is great. We didn’t go on a tour, but the displays alone tell a very good story. My favorite is the one about the use of charred, new oak barrels (the picture below is from Maker’s).  

Elijah Craig was a Baptist preacher and an early whiskey maker in Kentucky in the late 1700s. Some say he’s the first distiller of Bourbon. The story goes that there was a big fire in which a number of Craig’s oak barrels were burned. They weren’t completely ruined however, so Craig decide to use them anyways for aging his whiskey. The results were great and the rest – as they say – is history. 
We tasted one of the Evan Williams Bourbons, but it didn’t make much of an impression. I wish some of the bigger distilleries let you taste their entire portfolio. This is definitely something I would pay for. Bourbons have so many variations – single barrel, aged 4+ years, or made with different mash mixtures – yet the nuances are pretty subtle. I would have gladly paid to taste several Bourbons at one distillery, rather than the thimble full they give away for free.     

Four Roses and Wild Turkey  

Four Roses and Wild Turkey were nearly complete busts because we didn’t get to taste or tour either distillery. We did get out passports stamped though, which meant we were just one stamp away from completing the entire Bourbon Trail.    

Woodford Reserve

We screeched into the parking lot of the Woodford Reserve distillery about 30 minutes before they closed. Post time for the Derby was nearing and we wanted to finish up tasting so we could go watch the race (on the TV, sigh). The grounds at Woodford are beautiful, even on the grey, rainy day we were there.  

When we entered the tasting room we were immediately greeted by a super friendly woman working there. When she saw that we just needed their stamp to complete the passport, she was thrilled. We got a little personalized tour through the visitor’s center (I am smelling different ages of Bourbons below), a viewing of a short film and of course a taste of their Bourbon.

I have tried Woodford several times before and have always really enjoyed it. It has a rich flavor that is very well-rounded. It is the official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby so it was appropriate that on Derby day, just an hour or so before the big race , we were sipping Woodford and completing our tour of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

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Read Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Part 1

We drove into Kentucky on a beautiful spring day. Sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s. Perfect really. It was Friday and we were planning on heading to Churchill Downs in the afternoon for the Oaks Day races. These are held the day before Derby and raced with three-year-old fillies. Before that though, we wanted to squeeze in some Bourbon tasting.

We were staying in Kentucky on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Our plan was to visit the six distilleries on the official Bourbon Trail plus Buffalo Trace, since it was near our hotel in Frankfort. Sunday is a little tricky in this part of the country though. In some counties, alcohol is not served nor sold on Sundays, so if you want to taste and shop at every distillery you visit you need to plan accordingly.

Since every distillery offers a tour, we knew we’d have to be selective in which tours we did since taking every tour would eat up too much time. And really, once you’ve seen one tour you’ve seen them all right? We decided to tour one distillery and decided on Maker’s Mark. Plus, not only is it my mom’s favorite Bourbon, but at the distillery you can dip your own bottle into the signature red wax that top’s every bottle of Marker’s Mark.

The drive to the distillery was beautiful. The area of Kentucky between Louisville and Lexington is where most Bourbons – and most thoroughbred racehorses – are born. As you drive through the rolling hills (yeah, I expected it to be flat as a pancake too), you start seeing these large, distinctive warehouses dotting the countryside. These are the rickhouses, where the Bourbon is sent to age in new, charred, oak barrels for at least 2 years and on average 3-4 years, though some Bourbons are aged even longer, upwards of 15 to 20 years.

Maker’s Mark Distillery

Maker’s isn’t my favorite Bourbon even though the distillery tour is great. The free guided tours depart several times throughout the day and take you through the original buildings that the founders lived in, in to see the mash fermenting, past the copper stills, and to the bottling line. Seeing the bottling line, where they also dip the bottles in red wax for the seal was pretty cool. Hand. dipped. We got a little giddy.

At the distillery, they have a small rickhouse but most of their Bourbon is aged in rickhouses spread around the countryside. You can spot the rickhouses that belong to Maker’s Mark because they are painted a deep brown color, nearly black, with red trim. Most of the buildings at the distillery are also painted with this striking theme.

If you join the Ambassador’s Club (it’s free), you can get your name (along with a dozen or so others) on a barrel of Maker’s Mark and they will send you updates on the aging of your barrel. Then, when the barrel is ready to be bottled, you will be notified and can purchase a bottle of Maker’s Mark from your batch. We met some ambassadors on our tour and they said they have also been sent free swag. So I signed up.

Maker’s is a single barrel Bourbon. This means that all the Bourbon in one bottle comes from the same barrel. No blending. This isn’t to say that blending is bad. In fact, like wines, blending can actually result in a superior product. It’s all personal preference. Maker’s Mark doesn’t say exactly how long their Bourbon is aged however, but it is labeled Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, which means it cannot be aged more than four years. Some Bourbon’s tout exactly how long they’ve been aged while others wait until it matches their signature taste. Again – it’s personal preference.

How It’s Made

The tour was really informative and definitely educated us further on the Bourbon making process.

First, the grain is mashed and cooked with water. This must be at least 51% corn. The rest is usually a combination of wheat and rye. The exact proportion is up to each distillery, but as long as they use at least 51% corn, it is still on its way to becoming Bourbon.

After the mash has cooled, the yeast is added. This mixture then ferments for 3 to 4 days. At Maker’s this is done in large, open, wood vats. You should have smelled this place. It was like fresh-baked bread washed down with beer. This must be where carbs go to die. Or get eaten. By yeast.

After the mash has fermented, it is distilled. The old copper stills at Maker’s are beautiful. During distillation the alcohol is separated from the mash by heating the mash and collecting the vapor through a series of stills. Most Bourbon is distilled twice (other spirits, like Vodka may be distilled three or more times to increase the purity and alcohol content). We are still on our way to Bourbon, but at this point, it’s a clear distillatr known as “white dog.” Funnily enough, the week after we visited Kentucky, the New York Times had an article about the increasing popularity of White Dog. We tasted it once, but I still prefer Bourbon. For that though, you have to wait.

The White Dog is put into new, charred, oak barrels and sent to the rickhouses to age. The reason charred oak barrels are used is interesting…but we didn’t learn about it at Maker’s, so I’ll explain why later.

What we did learn is that rickhouses are usually 6 or 7 stories and are not temperature controlled. The barrels are rotated throughout the aging process, since the top of the rickhouse is often much hotter than the ground level. The Bourbon also evaporates during the 3-4 years it is aged. As much as 10% may be lost, but this is referred to as the “angel’s share,” so I guess we can’t complain too much.

Finally, each distillery’s team of tasters and distillers tastes from the Bourbon barrels throughout the aging process until it matches the signature taste (or age requirement) of that distillery. And then, it’s time to bottle.

This was definitely a highlight of the tour. Anytime I see a bottling line, I start humming the Laverne & Shirley theme song. You know the one, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!” And I want to stick a glove on top of a passing bottle.

They were keeping a close eye on us though, especially because of THE HOT WAX.

That’s the final step. After the mash has been made, fermented and distilled. And the barrels of White Dog have been aged (and rotated!), and the angels have had their share. Finally, Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is put into bottles, capped and slapped with a label and dipped into a vat of VERY HOT WAX and sent to a booze store or bar near you.

Soon, very soon, I will tell you about the other six distilleries we visited, why Maker’s is not my favorite Bourbon (it’s personal preference, sheesh) and why in God’s name they use charred oak barrels. Read Part 3 of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

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I read an article in the Chicago Tribune a few years ago about something called the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The country’s finest Bourbon distilleries are located in the heart of the Bluegrass state between Louisville and Lexington. Most of them are set-up for tastings and tours, and all of them have well-stocked gift shops. It’s basically a high-octane wine tasting trip and I wanted to go. I really wanted to go.

We are a family of Bourbon drinkers, so if Bourbon was being served at a family gathering (and really, when wasn’t Bourbon being served), I had an opportunity to tell my parents about the Bourbon Trail. The mister isn’t a Bourbon drinker, so getting my parents to go was probably my best chance to make the trip. I continued to remind my mom about the Bourbon Trail every six months or so, and about what a neat trip it would make.

My strategy worked. I talked about it so much that eventually my mom started talking about it like it was her own idea. It’s a cruel tactic I have employed before. There has to be some advantage to your parents getting older and forgetful, right?

My mom turned 70 in February and for her birthday she wanted to make a trip to Kentucky and Tennessee. We decided to make a big loop from Nashville to Louisville, then down to Memphis and back to Nashville. We planned the trip for early May so it would coincide with the Kentucky Derby and better weather. It mostly worked out…but more on that a little later.

Bourbon Basics

All Bourbon is whisky but not all whiskey is Bourbon. That was a purposeful typo. Whisky is the spelling used in Scotland for Scotch Whisky, but most Bourbon distilleries use the spelling with the ‘e.’ Spelling aside, Bourbon must meet the following requirements to be called Bourbon Whiskey:

  • It must be made with at least 51% corn
  • It can be no stronger than 160 proof
  • And it must be aged in new, charred oak barrels

Whisky – heck, all spirits – have been around for as long has people have figured out how to distill grains into a high-proof spirit. Bourbon however, is made with a unique blend of grains that give it a sweeter taste and has more of a vanilla or nutty flavor, thanks to the charred oak barrels it was aged in. I find it to be irresistable. Neat, on the rocks, in a Manhattan or other well-crafted cocktail, there is no wrong way to enjoy Bourbon. I take that back. Bourbon and Coke. That is wrong.

The Trail

The official “Bourbon Trail” includes six distilleries: Maker’s Mark, Heaven Hills, Jim Beam, Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, and Wild Turkey. There is a nifty little passport they give you at the first distillery you visit that you can it have stamped at all six distilleries you visit. If you get all six stamps, you get a free bottle of Bourbon. That’s not true. You just get a lousy t-shirt. But still. I love a challenge and I love Bourbon. I was ready to hit the road!

Continue to Part 2

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Let me be clear. I am NOT ashamed that I ate at Dick’s Drive-in last night.
I am ashamed because it was the best food I had all evening. Well, at least the best food I had that I remembered to photograph.

My Friday began at the gym. After that, I took the Metro downtown, and had about a 1/2 mile walk to the office. Figuring I had earned “a treat.” I stopped in at Boulangerie Nantaise. My friend Greg used to manage this organic, French bakery and I have enjoyed their pastries many times before. This time however, I thought I would try something other than my usual pain au chocolat and ordered an apple something-or-other. It looked promising and I clutched it in my paw all the way to the office.

Settling into work for the day, I got a cup of coffee and sat down at my computer. I was starving at this point and couldn’t WAIT to tuck into that pastry. Hmm, I thought. That dough is kind of salty. Hmmm. Not really that flaky either. And, what is that filling? Apple-y, but kind of mushy. Kind of like applesauce, but bad applesauce. Bleh. I ate about 1/3 and threw it out. Thankfully I brought a breakfast burrito with me too and was able to have that for my morning sustenance instead.

On to lunch…I didn’t bring one, but had hoped some of my office mates would be headed out to lunch. They weren’t. I did get invited to sit ’round the lunch table with them though. I surveyed the food I had stashed in and around my desk. A mango, (delivered in this week’s produce basket); some peanut butter; a can of sardines; almonds, white cheddar Cheez-its; and some Wasa crisp bread. So, I put together a random plate of fruit, fiber and protein and ate at my desk. I was too ashamed to eat this weird plate of food in front of my colleagues.

Finally…quitting time! Gavin was meeting me after work and we were going to meet up with some friends for drinks before heading to our friend Rachel’s apartment-warming party. She ordered BBQ for the occasion and I was saving up. Perfect Friday Feasting fodder!

Gavin was hungry for a snack and since we were going to end up at the Rob Roy, we decided on having a quick bite beforehand someplace in Belltown. We went to an old favorite or ours – La Vita e Bella Pizzeria. We remembered them having some pretty tasty food. Either they have gone downhill or our palates have greatly improved, because the pizza was terrible. Not photo-worthy. Not Friday Feasting worthy. Heck, it was hardly edible.

On to pre-funk cocktails. The Rob Roy (formerly the Viceroy) had some GREAT cocktails. I started with their signature – the Rob Roy, naturally. It is basically a Manhattan made with Scotch. Then, I had a Martinez. I read about this cocktail at finecooking.com, in a great article they had called Shaken or Stirred. Another great cocktail. Of course, I failed to to take pictures of either.

Finally, on to Rachel’s new Belltown flat. It is a super cute place in a great location. It smelled fantastic too, since she had ordered up BBQ ribs, chicken and hot links along with all the side dishes. I feasted and fêted , but totally FORGOT to take pictures. Grrr. What is that, zero for five!?

We called it an evening pretty early, since we had our own party to prep for Saturday morning. In a total lapse of judgement, we decided to make a stop on our way home at Dick’s Drive-In. Actually, in the back of my mind I kind of wanted to prove that I can eat a greasy late night burger and not feel sick which was the case at In-n-Out Burger. As I unwrapped my burger and prepared to take a bite, I remembered – it’s FEASTING FRIDAY – and quickly took a picture.

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Bourbon & Shame

On Tuesday night I was heading down to Capitol Hill to watch my friend Barb read at the Salon of Shame. The only problem is that first, I had a dental cleaning that I’d been putting off for months.

It is ridiculous really, I have dental insurance, so I should just go every 6 months since it is paid for right? Well, there is a new hygienist at my dentist’s office and she is kind of rough on my gums. I dread going to get my teeth cleaned. As I suspected – it hurt like HELL. I really need to floss more. Actually, I need to floss, period.

After the dentist, I needed something to numb the gums. The bitch hygienist wouldn’t even give me Advil! There would have to be Bourbon.

After some pre-funkage at a nearby bar, we headed to the Capital Hill Arts center to join the crowd for the Salon of Shame. The show was sold out and for good reason. It was a riot! The premise is that people (mostly women in the 30s) read from their childhood/teenage journals. Barb was definitely the highlight and not just because she’s my friend. She (like most women our age) had a massive crush on nearly every member of Duran Duran. And, she has the journal entries to prove it.

OK, not to diminish my enjoyment of the show, but I had another highlight that evening. The bar served Basil Hayden Bourbon. This is a really nice, small-batch Bourbon. In case you don’t know, Bourbon is American whiskey usually from Kentucky (though it can be from elsewhere in the US). It must be made with at least 51% corn, blah, blah, blah.

I like whiskey, but I have to say that I LOVE Bourbon. Basil Hayden in particular is smooth and slighty herbal with some light vanilla notes. I don’t really know how to describe it. Bourbon tends to be lighter & sweeter than say, Scotch. It doesn’t have the smokiness of Scotch whisky either. If you ever have a chance, give it a shot.

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