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Tuesday, November 19

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Feature Tue Mar 20 2007

The Power Of Positive Drinking

While it looks to be warming up some, it's still not quite gin and tonic weather yet. With their weight and more overt complexity, brown spirits are still the order of the day. While Knob Creek is a fine enough whiskey, if you dig a little deeper there are certainly some more interesting spirits out there. To find the following one doesn't even really need to dig all that deep. These are all available at Sam's and Binny's.

Rant: Knob Creek is, along with Booker's, Baker's and Basil Hayden's, part of a "small batch" collection. This I think is misleading. How small batch can Knob Creek be when it's available at most of the bars in town? They're also all made by Jim Beam.

Elmer T. Lee, though, is made by Buffalo Trace. Now, Buffalo Trace is by no means a small operation, but its production doesn't come close to matching Jim Beam's. Additionally, Buffalo Trace may not have the legacy that Beam does, but its whiskeys have the reputation of being some of the best. In addition to Elmer T. Lee (which is named for their master distiller emeritus), Buffalo Trace distills the esteemed Van Winkle and Blanton's.

I find Elmer T. Lee to be smoother and not quite as sweet as many other bourbons on the market. I recently conducted a staff tasting in which we tasted it next to Maker's Mark, hands down our best selling bourbon. The flavors of the Elmer, we all agreed, were much better integrated and quite nicely balanced. The wood especially, played well with the other flavors. I also noticed a high note (acid? heat?) in the Maker's that I had never detected before, and found it slightly off putting. At roughly the same price as the Maker's, I find Elmer to be a better bourbon.

At a higher price point, and from a much smaller distillery look for Noah's Mill. It sells for around $45 a bottle, which really isn't a bad price for a 15-year-old whiskey.

Time for a brief lesson on distilling: Spirits are generally distilled to around 60% alcohol (120 proof) and cut with water when bottled. It's not uncommon to see whiskeys bottled at cask strength. That is, without dilution.

Noah's Mill is one such whiskey. It is 57.15% alcohol. This is one of the things I really dig about this bourbon. Not the alcohol content per se, but that in spite of it it's surprisingly smooth. There is very definitely some serious heat, but it's not nearly as harsh as one would expect. I've tasted wines that at 14% taste much hotter than Noah's Mill. It's all about balance. Wine, like any other alcoholic beverage, that tastes too hot simply doesn't have enough going on to support the alcohol. The elements just don't add up. Noah's Mill also has a ton of killer black pepper on the finish. In addition to Sam's and Binny's, I've spotted it at Fine Wine Brokers in Lincoln Square.

The law stipulates that bourbon must be aged in new American white oak barrels. New oak barrels aren't cheap, so often times the used barrels are sold to distillers of other products. (Sometimes even to brewers.) Ron Zacapa Centenario is a Guatemalan rum benefiting from the economics of wood. It is aged in used bourbon barrels. The 15 year will set you back about $28 and the 23 year will is in the neighborhood of $40. The time spent in barrel has really mellowed these rums and let the flavors combine fairly seamlessly in to a harmony of nutmeg, cardamom and delicate molasses. It's a far cry from Bacardi, which tastes coarse by comparison. The best way to serve either one of these rums is neat or with a few ice cubes, as one would with a Scotch. And, although it's far from traditional, using one of these rums in place of the conventional white rum makes a kick-ass mojito.


In 1974 Jon Landau wrote for a now defunct Boston newspaper, "I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen."

Ladies and Gentleman, I have seen tequila future and it is Vida.

These are not tequilas to bury under lime and Cointreau. These tequilas beg to be sipped neat, allowed to speak eloquently and unadulterated in the glass.

Vida was officially launched in Chicago on February 28th at a party at Nacional 27 featuring cocktails designed by mixological savant Adam Seger. I was unable to attend the launch, but consider myself very, very lucky indeed to have tasted them earlier in the day.

All three of these tequilas lack the minerality common in most others, making them strikingly more feminine. Feminine does not mean delicate and frail. These are voluptuous and powerful spirits. These are, without a doubt, the best tequilas I have ever tasted. I didn't know tequila could be like this.

The blanco shows some very nice floral notes on the nose with some quite pleasant herby fruitiness on the palate and something bordering on briny towards the finish. The reposado, which spends six months in oak, picks up subtle vanilla from the oak, has an utterly fascinating texture and finishes with overtones orange zest. The añejo is, in the words of Beck, where it's at. Aged upwards of 18 months, it starts off with a nose of gorgeous coffee and caramel fragrances, but explodes into potent toffee, only to mellow out again. The nose just doesn't quit, continuing to evolve into spellbinding layers and nuances. It tastes as lovely as it smells with some really intriguing mint chocolate flavors, a fat, round texture and even some tannic elements.

These are sexy tequilas.

The layers and complexity in these tequilas come at a premium, though. The blanco was spotted at Sam's selling for around $52. And that's the cheap stuff.

So, do yourself a favor next time your at a bar or liquor store. Bypass the usual and branch out. There are some fantastic flavors out there if you'll only do the work and look for them.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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