oldweller

Thirsty Thursdays: Building your home bar, part III

Jul 4, 2013
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The whole point of this series was to lead this horse to the brown water. Sure we can have visions of Graham Greene when sipping bathtub gin and start revolutions in Nicaragua with a tasty bottle of rum, but whiskey 1 is the choice of real drinkers.

As Max McGee, the Green Bay Packers tight end who caught the first ever Super Bowl touchdown, said, “When it’s third and ten, you can take the milk drinkers and I’ll take the whiskey drinkers every time.”

McGee famously went out the night before the Super Bowl and got hammered because he was a backup and didn’t expect to play. It’s likely McGee drank plenty of whiskey because for some folks it goes through their livers as easily as water. Some folks are born to drink it and some folks are born to drink milk. 2

Whiskey has a storied past which only emblazons the elitists in their praise and protection of it. Like most things cool, the cool people want to celebrate the exclusion of others. There’s a reason there are Scotch clubs in Scotland that charge people membership fees and are decorated with big fucking leather couches and smell of mahogany, imported Cuban cigars, and freedom—because rich people can actually smell freedom.

I was in Scotland about nine years ago, Edinburgh to be exact, and and two close friends took me to a club they belonged to. We tasted through about 10 Scotch whiskys and graded them as best we could. What I didn’t realize, having not been much of a connoisseur at the time, is that this booze has a character and culture all its own. Sure, vodka is part of the Russian identity—from Leo Tolstoy to Mikhail Prokhorov—it’s been quaffed by serfs, writers, and billionaires. Oddly enough, both vodka and whiskey appeared in written form in the same year, 1405. But whiskey’s journey is grander, from the shores of Ireland where the Gaelic word derived from “water of life” to prompting rebellions in America to the drink of choice on the frontier of Manifest Destiny.

Whiskey has grit and resolve and a history as colorful and complex as the booze itself. If  McGee didn’t know the story firsthand, he knew it in spirit. 3

Now that I’m done gushing about it, let’s stock our bar with brown water.

Rye

Read what makes a rye here.

When people think whiskey they often overlook ryes. Though the making of it has increased as whiskey has gained popularity. Generally ryes will be a bit spicier than bourbons. An Old Fashioned was originally intended to use rye, but bourbon eventually became the standard. It deserves a place at your table, however.

Old Overholt- A few ice cubes and a splash of water and you’ll be catching touchdowns in the Super Bowl. It’s perfect for mixing in a rye sour and that’s why we want this on the table: for mixing. A touch of spice and lighter than you’d think.

Templeton- Certainly Wild Turkey, Michter’s, Whistle Pig, Masterson’s, et al. could be listed here. With that said, however, two things about this whiskey make it intriguing for our shelf: the bottle’s shape—noting that aesthetics are a key component to how the shelf looks and feels 4—and the story behind this spirit. Made originally in Templeton, Iowa, it was said to be Al Capone’s favorite whiskey. As a Chicago guy, I can’t help but place it here.

Bourbon

Read what makes a bourbon here.

Since Prohibition ended this has been the darling of American whiskeys. And for good reason. It’s easy going, fun, and tasty which is also how I’d describe Zooey Deschanel.

Wild Turkey 101- No one would argue that this is a great whiskey. With that said, however, it has a bigger than life personality. This is what Hunter S. Thompson drank and if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for you. We can use it in Manhattans and we’ll get to our destination—the borough of Drunkenness—a lot faster for it. Plus it’s cheap enough that you won’t feel bad if someone wants a whiskey and Coke. 5

Old Weller 12-year- I pimp Weller at every turn and for good reason. It’s inexpensive and tasty. This 12-year will cost you less than 30 dollars and that’s a steal. As a wheated bourbon this will have a little more sweetness but it’s still complex.

Four Roses Single Barrel- Another inexpensive option and an aesthetically pleasing bottle. We need a single barrel to enjoy neat and this will do fine. The tour at Four Roses is one of the best in all of Kentucky. The old lady who gave us the tour had been their since Prohibition and I think she had an affair with Franklin Roosevelt, though that might have just been the booze talking.

Pappy Van Winkle 15-year- Any Van Winkle will do, but the 15 is beautiful and bottled at 107-proof so it’ll light your fire. It’s hard to come by and the exclusivity of the bottle alone will make you feel as rich and connected as Van Winkle’s cousins, the Winklevoss Twins.

Japanese Whiskey

Yamazaki 12-year- Made in the Scotch-vein, this, like Balvenie I mention below, will help bridge gaps for your bourbon drinkers afraid of other whiskey. I’m only going to add one here, though we could have an entire shelf dedicated to it. Yamazaki is a subtle single malt that’s perfectly balanced. No one is more meticulous than a Japanese person setting their minds to something and that fact shines in this whiskey. If Japanese people weren’t such gentle, non-confrontational folks I bet they’d make incredible bank robbers.

Scotch

This is an impossible task so I’m not going to pretend that we can do Scotch justice in a 300-word post. With that said, I’ll choose a whisky from each of the regions, excluding the Lowland since I have little to no experience with the limited amount of whisky produced there.

Balvenie 14-year (Speyside)- I’ve tasted through the entire Balvenie product line and it’s one of the best in my mind. I’m not a peaty kind of guy so this drinks light and has a bit of sweetness—I guess I never stray far from bourbon. It should bridge the gap for the folks who are new to Scotch.

Dalmore 15-year (Highland)- Think of a buttery orange with a hint of smoke. If you don’t like the sounds of that you’re probably not ready to drink with me.

Springbank 18-year (Campbeltown)- Campbeltown was once the epicenter of Scotch but now there are only three distilleries. Chief among them is Springbank, a whisky I have had the pleasure to taste on many occasions. 6 This has very subtle smoke—again my on again, off again aversion to peat—and big fruits. One of my favorites.   

Ardbeg Supernova (Islay)- There’s always a place for smoke and peat so why not bring the pain? After entering my Ardbeg cocktail competition, which I’ve yet to hear who won, I’ve been trying this whisky when I can. This stuff is loaded. It tastes like someone set fire to a pile of old barn wood and threw the stuff in a tub of ocean water to put the fire out. You’ll have to be in the mood and it won’t please very many people, but no one said drinking was easy.

Notes:

  1. In Scotland and Canada it’s spelled sans ‘e.’ I don’t see what the fuss is about, really, since the key is to get drunk and not pay attention to stupid rules. But, hey, knock yourselves out reading about it here.
  2. Jeffrey Lebowski is the only person who gets a pass on this.
  3. Pun.
  4. You think “feng shui” for booze would be called “feng shitfaced?” Let’s brainstorm before we decide on a name.
  5. I’ll likely ask them to leave the party.
  6. The luxury of working in the restaurant business is that I taste through a lot of products. Also to get through a shift sometimes I need to drink myself silly.

Kenneth Griggs is a writer and bartender living in Chicago, IL. He has hitchhiked through the Australian Outback; lived in a small fishing village in Japan; climbed Mount Kilimanjaro; and ran with the bulls in Pamplona. He spent six years as a feature writer for a daily and weekly newspaper and has two unpublished novels to his name. But his finest accomplishment is not yet sprouting a gin blossom nose.