Category Archives: whiskey

Baker’s Bourbon

bakers bourbon

A few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to meet Bobby “G,” Beam’s Master Mixologist, and we talked about whiskey and cigar pairings briefly. If you’d like, you can hear that interview on the podcast.

Bobby suggested that Baker’s Bourbon is a great cigar pairing, as the aging for Baker’s puts their barrels higher up in Beam’s rickhouses, creating a rich, bitter and quite spicy bourbon. Baker’s is a 7-year-old, 107 proof bourbon, too, bold enough to pair with even the boldest cigar as well.

Baker’s is shockingly smooth and easy to drink for being 107 proof. I’ve tried it with a bold cigar (Gurkha Red Witch) and a mild cigar (Arturo Fuente Dominican Seconds), and really enjoyed the interplay Baker’s had with both. The Red Witch is flavorful and Gurkhas tend to have lots of smoke output, so it was richness that was the stand-out in this pairing. The Fuente was a milder and earthier smoke, highlighting Baker’s nutmeg flavors. Alone as a nightcap, Baker’s spiciness is exceedingly clear: pepper and nutmeg are the standout flavors.

Baker’s is definitely a cigar smoker’s bourbon and those who prefer their whiskies spicy, like rye drinkers or even Four Roses drinkers, may want to give this bourbon a shot as well.

Hudson Four Grain Bourbon

hudson four grain bourbon

The Hudson line of whiskeys are distilled by Tuthilltown Spirits in the Hudson River Valley in New York. Every whiskey they create comes in a half-sized bottle that usually retails for the price of many full-sized craft whiskies. Hudson Four Grain Bourbon retails for about $45.

The 4 grains that go into the mash for this whiskey are corn, rye, wheat and malted barley – all common components of a bourbon, though usually a combination of only 3 of those 4. Hudson uniquely uses very small casks for their whiskeys, I believe maxing out at 14 gallon barrels. This means that Hudson whiskeys receive more barrel exposure than whiskeys in the “standard” bourbon barrel size of 200 liters (53 gallons), and this sets their flavor profile apart from many large-scale whiskies.

Hudson’s Four Grain ends up pretty complex, in fact, complex to the point of being inaccessible to some. HFGB is spicy, earthy, wet and sweet, which are reflections of each of the grains in the mash and the smaller barrels, too. We tried it on the podcast and I offered it to some whiskey-drinking friends, and the feedback went like this: whiskey drinkers/lovers really liked Hudson Four Grain Bourbon. Those who prefer a milder liquor found HFGB to be an overwhelming tasting experience.

So, a bourbon that whiskey lovers love? Seems a wise choice. I made a single cocktail with my bottle of HFGB – by the way, those little bottles go fast – a Manhattan. It was good, but I’d recommend this be reserved strictly as a sipper on ice (or maybe a touch of clean water). Its complexities are really quite a bit to savor, so sipping Husdon Four Grain on its own is my preferred way to drink it.

Basil Hayden’s Bourbon

basil haydens

I must confess that Basil Hayden’s has had me a bit dumbfounded since I first broke the seal on this bottle. This is my first time sipping Hayden’s, and so I drank it the way I like to drink lots of my bourbons: with a lot of ice.

I was disappointed. I found it to be watery and extremely mild on my initial tasting of it. Instead of writing off Hayden’s as a bourbon that I don’t like, I began to research it to see how I might be approaching this bourbon wrong.

I had the incredible chance to attend New Mexico Cocktails and Culture this past weekend, and one of the speakers was Beam’s Master Mixologist Bobby G. Basil Hayden’s is a Beam product, so I asked him about it. Bobby told me two things that were helpful: First, Basil Hayden’s is a very mild bourbon, so it should be sipped neat and not on the rocks. Second, it’s the Beam bourbon that has tested to be the most popular with women.

From there, I consulted my favorite bourbon book: Bourbon Curious by Fred Minnick. There is a summary of Basil Hayden’s overall: founded in 1992, owner by Beam Suntory, and named after a famous Kentuckian. But then, a little earlier in the book, under Tricks to Getting Used to Bourbon, I read: “My favorite starter bourbon is Basil Hayden’s, because it’s 80 proof and carries some nuances.”

There you go. Basil Hayden’s is a mild, approachable starter bourbon with notes of citrus (especially orange) and mild tea with basically no spice. Enjoying it neat or in a 3:1 Manhattan is a great way to ease someone into the world of bourbon.

Drinking the Derby

four roses and mint julep recipe

The Kentucky Derby is coming up Saturday – a celebratory event which usually marks the arrival of Spring and “spring time” bourbon drinks like the Mint Julep. I have 2 pots of mint in the backyard and they are full and ready to be julep-ized. As a refresher on how to make your own Juleps, you can see my Julep walkthrough here.

According to the Derby, “120,000 Mint Juleps are served over the two-day period of Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby weekend at Churchill Downs Racetrack. That’s a feat that requires more than 10,000 bottles of bourbon, 1,000 pounds of mint and 60,000 pounds of ice.”

So in light of the coming Derby this weekend, I was excited to receive a care package from Four Roses, one of my personal favorite cinnamon-forward Kentucky bourbons, then a copy of Michael Dietsch’s brand new book Whiskey: A Spirited Story with 75 Classic & Original Cocktails, which releases May 17, 2016 [Amazon link].

whiskey by michael dietsch

Much more than just a simple listing of recipes, Deitch devotes several pages to each cocktail and goes into the history and story behind each. It’s a beautiful hardcover book with excellent photography, designed cleanly and well-organized, with a good deal of cocktail pointers (whiskey or not). He says of the Mint Julep:

“With an origin in the 18th century, the boozy julep came along before American whiskey was widely available. And even when American whiskey was more available, the julep had become a drink of the genteel South, and in that time, gentlemen drank brandy and rum, not brash American whiskey.” (pp 103)

Enjoy a Mint Julep and enjoy Derby Day on Saturday! Cheers!

Whiskey Girl Whiskies

whiskey girl whiskies

Whiskey Girl is a line of flavored whiskies from Dark Corner Distillery in South Carolina and designed to appeal to female whiskey lovers. Currently available on the east coast, Whiskey Girl is available in 3 varieties: Apple & Maple, Butterscotch and Peach. Retailing at just under $30 a bottle, we had the opportunity to try both the butterscotch and peach versions of their whiskies on a recent podcast episode.

Based on a whiskey of corn, barley and wheat (without spicy rye), and at 35% alcohol, Whiskey Girl are very mild whiskies, indented to be easy to drink for everyone, I imagine. These are sweetened, too, though the level of sweetness seemed to be dependent on the specific flavor we chose. On the podcast, most drinkers preferred the peach flavor as it has a more whiskey-forward flavor profile and tasted less sweet than the candy-like butterscotch. Peach Whiskey Girl, we figured, would be delicious in iced tea, as it would flavor it, sweeten it, and booze it up.

Cocktails with Whiskey Girl will involve some creativity, but you should probably consider replacing a whiskey liqueur with these, and not a whiskey. I made a Manhattan with Whiskey Girl Peach in the place of rye, and the flavor balance was off. Cocktails with whiskey liqueurs as a ingredient (like Southern Comfort or Drambuie) would be the easiest to swap out for Whiskey Girl, so I tried it in a J.R.’s Revenge cocktail, which is usually made with Southern Comfort:

Butterscotch Revenge

  • in a mixing glass, add:
  • 1 1/2 oz bourbon
  • 1/4 oz Whiskey Girl butterscotch
  • 2 dashes of bitters
  • stir with ice and strain in a chilled cocktail glass

Wine-Finished Whiskies

slaughterhouse whiskey

Recently I discovered a little piece of the whiskey industry and decided to explore it a little bit: wine barrel finished whiskies. The two whiskies I tasted are distilled and aged as whiskey, then re-barreled by Napa Valley wineries in their used wine barrels and aged for a period of time in Napa.

Slaughter House is a product of Splinter Group in Napa, home of the Orin Swift family of wines. For Slaughter House, they barrel a 9-year-old Tennessee whiskey (distilled from 95% corn and 5% wheat) in their Papillon barrels (a red wine blend).

Slaughter House is bold and spicy , with a nose of apricot, berries and caramel followed by a flavor of cinnamon-and-sugar and marzipan. From the flavor of the whiskey, I have trouble detecting the wine’s contribution, though Slaughter House is certainly a solid whiskey when stood alone. With a price in the mid-$30 range, it’s a good buy for a solid spice-heavy 9-year-old whiskey.

amador whiskey

Amador Whiskey Co’s Double Barrel Bourbon is a blend of 3-10 year old Kentucky bourbons, then is re-barreled in Napa for 6 months.

Also a mid-$30-priced whiskey, Amador Double Barrel is barreled by the spirits division of Trinchero Family Estates. Chardonnay barrels were used for aging and the wine barrel contribution is much more obvious. It’s nose is floral and sweet corn, with a finish that is crisp and clean, clearly echoing the Chardonnay. Amador has almost no traces of spiciness, and is much milder start-to-finish than Slaughter House. I suspect that this flavor profile could translate to a broader appeal to more drinkers, too (ladies, I’m looking at you).

Whiskey is no stranger to barrel polygamy. Whether it’s something like these wine-barrel finishes, or larger brands like Angel’s Envy (finished in Port barrels) or Balvenie Double Wood, the depth of flavor that gets added through barrel exploration like this makes for some very delicious drinking.

Slow & Low Rock and Rye

Hochstadter’s in Philadelphia has a couple of rye-based drinks that I had the opportunity to try recently. The first is a bottled cocktail that was popular before Prohibition: Rock and Rye. Meant to be drunk neat or on the rocks, Slow & Low Rock and Rye is a base of straight rye whiskey, with added raw Pennsylvania honey, dried naval oranges, rock candy and bitters. Most similar to an Old Fashioned in flavor, the Rock and Rye is a bit more complex than that, I think mostly because the rock candy/honey sweetening components are a tad unfamiliar (maybe old-timey?) in their taste profile.

Slow & Low is not too sweet, though, and is perfectly appropriate for a straight whiskey drinker as it won’t overwhelm with sweetness. Really, the rye remains the most prominent flavor in the mix, with an assortment of milder, underlying flavors to balance out the drink.

At just over $20, this is most definitely a fine bottled cocktail at a great price. If you’d like to hear more about what we thought, we also tasted Slow & Low on a recent podcast episode.

Because of the solid base of rye whiskey in Hochstadter’s Rock and Rye, it’s no surprise that their regular rye whiskey is also an impressive bottle for your shelf. At $35, with a blend of ryes from 4-15 years procured from different parts of North America, Hochstadter’s Vatted Rye is a solid sipper and a strong base for cocktails as well.

A rye of this age and proof (100) should be heartily spicy and solidly tasty, with no evidence of the sour/sweetness of a too-young rye. Gladly, that’s exactly what Hochstadter’s delivers. This is an impressively delicious rye whiskey at a solid proof which will easily compare (and potentially beat) other $35 ryes.

iichiko Kurobin Shochu

iichiko kurobin shochu

Well, this is a first! We have never tasted (or covered) a shōchū here at Simple Cocktails, and it’s fun to continue to explore the world of distilled spirits.

Shōchū is a Japanese spirit distilled from barley, rice, sweet potato or buckwheat. In the case of iichiko, it is distilled from 100% barley, y’know, the same stuff that scotch is distilled from? iichiko retails for $30 and is the best-selling shōchū in Japan. This particular type of iichiko is Kurobin, which means black bottle.

As with anything, it’s always helpful to be able to compare a new distilled spirit to something else, and the best comparison I can make for shōchū is genever, a Dutch spirit which is also sometimes distilled from barley. There are several ways that shōchū is served, including the tea I tried it in, neat or on the rocks. The flavor of shōchū is malty, light and fruity. I tasted it (as pictured above) in the following ratio:

  • 2 oz iichiko Kurobin shōchū
  • 4 oz boiling water
  • 1 tsp sugar (to flavor)

This produces a malty liquor tea with a flavor that’s vaguely reminiscent of a light-tasting high-malt beer. There is a clear asian flavor to shōchū, too, a light freshness that I can’t associate with any particular flavor, but it’s definitely unique and something worth trying.


10th Avenue Tea Cocktails

10th ave tea cocktails

Tea cocktails are most definitely a thing, from teas designed specifically for cocktails (like the Owl’s Brew) to many ways of infusing tea into booze, even smoking tea into it. Tea can add two great dimensions to a cocktail: lightening the alcohol content or adding a plethora of flavors into a drink that you don’t usually get through alcohol and mixers alone.

10th Avenue Tea is a new tea company with a specific passion for the environment. Available in 4 flavors: Green, Chai, English and Tropical, 10th Avenue gives you a unique option for how to work your tea into cocktails, though: because their tea is concentrated and dry, you can adjust tea strength on the fly and mix drinks quicker than if you were using pre-made teas or teas you have to brew before you use.

I experimented a little bit with 10th Avenue and I think I’ve found the perfect ratio for using their tea in a near-unlimited variety of cocktails: 2 parts spirit, 1/2 part citrus, 1/2 part simple syrup, and then the tea, which I’ve been making with 1 oz of water. Here are the drinks in the photo above:

Midsummer Dream (by Greg Mays)

  • in a shaker, add:
  • 2 oz spiced rum
  • 2-3 shakes of 10th Avenue Tropical Tea
  • 1 oz water
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with a lime twist

Bourbon Bulldog (by Greg Mays)

  • in a shaker, add:
  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 2-3 shakes of 10th Avenue English Tea
  • 1 oz water
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with a lemon twist

Note I made the exact same drinks above but substituted Green tea for Tropical and Chai for English on a recent podcast episode. They also turned out great, but the Green/Spiced Rum drink was a runaway favorite. 

Tullamore D.E.W.

tullamore dew

Tullamore DEW is an actual, ancient whiskey. I say that because, particularly in the United States, Prohibition really short-circuited both the legends and history of all the old whiskey brands. Some refer to legends from long ago featuring George Washington and Lincoln, both many of our modern legendary whiskies (Bulleit comes to mind) are just that – modern.

But back to Tullamore. I always envisioned the dew on the grassy fields of the Emerald Isle when I heard that name, and I’m sure that’s intended, but the DEW in Tullamore is actually names for the original manager of the distillery: Daniel E. Williams. The bottle bears his signature.

Irish whiskies are somewhat of a forgotten element of the spirits world, at least to common folks. They’re an essential element of the Irish Coffee cocktail, but outside of that, it’s usually not called for specifically in a drink. Irish, in my opinion is a real gem though. While I’ve openly struggled with adapting my palate to scotch. The bourbon-Irish transition is an easy one. Irish whiskey is usually distilled more times (traditionally three times vs scotch’s double distillation), and almost never uses peat or smoke in the process. This results in a cleaner, less earthy whiskey that’s more familiar to an American palate.

Tullamore DEW, specifically, has some nice rich caramel with finishes clean and dry. I’ve been enjoying it on the rocks with all nature of holiday-season desserts: pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and pumpkin ice cream. It pairs well with buttery, flaky desserts like this and is a good companion for a cigar, too (because of its cool sweetness).

Ultimately, you owe it to yourself to try an Irish whiskey that’s not Jameson. Not that Jameson is bad in any way, but it’s prolific and just like “big brands” usually do, it appeals to the masses, and isn’t particularly unique. Tullamore DEW is a great example of a historic, classic Irish whiskey and you should definitely have a sip if you get the chance.