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Could it be a WhistlePig?

scott

Funny story. A young handsome bow-tie-sporting fellow walks into a bar. Bartender says: Hey, didn't I see you on The Apprentice? Handsome guy says, Yeah, but did you hear the one about me losing a congressional bid and then sitting around for a year not sure what to do with my life and then in a stroke of inspiration, after hiking around in the rockies and being verbally assaulted by a cooky Frenchman, deciding I would buy a 250-acre farm in Vermont where I would grow my own rye and make rye whiskey at the highest level of sophistication possible? No, says the bartender. But can I have a dram? OK, so not a great punch line. But it is sort of fascinating, don't you think? It's one of these classic American tales of remaking oneself again and again, always in the pursuit of perfection. After trying his hand in a number of arenas, Raj Bhakta found the one thing that he apparently can do really, really well, which is run a whiskey business.

In 2010 he launched WhistlePig, so named after said earlier encounter with the Frenchman, who approached him on a hike from out of the blue and asked, in his heavily inflected Frenglish, Could it be whistle pig? He then made kissy noises and puckered his fingers in Raj's face. It so astounded Raj that he never let go of the moment, and just a few years later turned this strange encounter into liquid gold. How he went from that anecdote to a rye whiskey made unlike any other—well, that remains a mystery.

But he hired former Maker's Mark master distiller Dave Pickerell, and off they went. As of now, the whiskey is sourced from undisclosed Canadian distilleries, and is counted as one of the great found objects in the whiskey world. It's ten years old, made from 100% rye grain (very rare, due to the material properties of rye, which is more difficult to break down than corn or wheat), barreled first in new American Oak and finished in used Bourbon casks for softness, and finally bottled by hand at the WhistlePig farm in Vermont. They're distilling their own whiskey there too, made from estate-grown rye, but perfection takes time. Meanwhile, they've settled on curating one of the finest bottlings to hit the market this decade.

And now, after years of rooting around in New England, the WhistlePig is finally whistling Dixie! I for one think it's hitting every note.

WhistlePig "100/100" Straight Rye Whiskey — $75

Four Roses: Two Recipes

scott

Over the last several months we've been bouncing back and forth between a score of delicious barrel-sample bottles of Four Roses Bourbon. We narrowed it down to two, each a distinct recipe. Now you get to come taste both and pick a favorite (or not). It's like Choose Your Own Adventure, but with booze. In the past we've visited the distillery to select and purchase a private barrel, but this time, I have to say, it was pretty nice to have the factory come to us.

Fanatics will know about the ten proprietary recipes Four Roses uses (newcomers read here). Basically, they have two grain bills and five separate isolated yeast strains, which in combination give them a multitude of styles.

Quickly, they have one recipe that uses 35% rye (labeled "B") and another that uses only 20% rye (labeled "E"). The rest is more or less corn with a dash of malted barley. Their yeast strains are each labeled by a letter as well, and generally denote the sorts of flavors that one can expect them to produce.

OBSV

This is the recipe that is standard in their flagship "Single Barrel" offering. It's bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV) and is renowned for its balance of hardiness, sweetness and spice. Ever consistent, the OBSV is an old favorite. This time they sent us a total of ten samples (each from a different barrel) and eventually, after much discussion and delay, we picked a favorite.

As I've mentioned before, it's always amazing how different these barrels can be. I liken it to siblings in a family: certain prominent features persist, like wide-set eyes or a prominent nose, but each has a totally distinct personality. In my estimation this is pretty classic Four Roses Bourbondusty aromatics, rich fruit core, elegant spiciness and a lingering finish. But what set it apart is how all the elements come together in this barrel in nearly perfect proportion.

OESK

This is a recipe they reserve mostly for their older whiskeys. The barrel we chose came to us after twelve years, eleven months on the rack. That's some old ass whiskey! Because of its age and placement in the warehouse, and whatever other alchemy goes on in that place, this barrel lost over 70% of its original contents to evaporation. So in the end, it came out at 123 proof (61.5% ABV) and we only got 84 bottles from it. But I'm here to tell you: what it lacks in quantity it far and away makes up for in taste. Very complex.

Nose in the glass, I'm immediately overwhelmed by rich aromas of tobacco barn and creamed corn. The thing about this whiskey to note is that it's very high proof and yet eminently drinkable. The palate has an inviting sweetness that gives way quickly to a big spicy tobacco component. The flavors keep developing all the way through, ending with a slightly smokey and very dry, almost Scotch-like finish. Holy cow!

Come taste with us. Find what you like. It's free, casual & delicious. Saturday, November 16 3-5pm

Old-Made-New from Haus Alpenz

scott

Haus Alpenz spends a lot of time sourcing traditional spirits and aromatized wines from the oddest, most out-of-the-way climes. Vermouths from the rugged Chartreuse Mountains, Arrack from the islands of Indonesia, orchard-fruit liqueurs from the Danube Valley of Austria . . . to name a few. Their latest offerings prove still more is out there, just waiting to be unearthed and brought again into the vocabulary of American libations. Some of what we picked up has been newly created, while some of it has merely been revived from the lost decades.

Kronan Swedish Punsch

Swedish Punsch has been around for centuries, and actually grew in popularity in the first few decades of the 20th Century in America. That is, until Prohibition slowed it to a halt. The Diner's Journal wrote a nice piece about it when the brand first launched.

The liqueur — which also contains rum, sugar and spices — dates from Sweden’s exploring days. “The tradition goes back to the Swedish East India Company,” [owner of Haus Alpenz Eric] Seed said. “To mollify the sailors on board the ships, they let them dive into the Batavia arrack that they brought back from the East Indies. They would mix that with sugar and maybe a touch of the spice, and that grog they called their punch.”

It's just now become available to us in Tennessee, and we jumped at the chance. Kronan drinks like something between a well-aged rum and a spicy-soft whiskey. Perfect as a fall dram or a winter warmer.

Dolin Génépy des Alpes

You know the Chambéry, France-based Maison Dolin primarily for their set of three Vermouths: Dry, Rouge and Blanc. These have become staples in every cocktail bar across the nation, loved for their added nuance in cocktails and their low price. Their latest export is a return to an even deeper tradition, a génépy recipe developed by Maison Dolin founder Joseph Chavasse in 1821. Made with wormwood flower heads and other herbs that grow plentifully in the Savoy region of France, Dolin Génépy is in effect quite similar to Chartreuse (falling somewhere between the green & the yellow versions, in terms of sweetness and bitterness) and for a fraction of the price. As usual, Dolin has affordably delivered a product of exacting quality.

Cappelletti Vino Aperitivo

Cappelletti is a wine-based aperitif, one of the oldest of its kind still in production. It came into a certain fame in WWII when Austrian troops traveling through Trentino began adding Cappelletti to the local sparkling wine. They called it a "Spritz." New to the states, this Americano Rosso strikes a great balance between light, fruity, bitter and sweet. This offering had its American debut this summer. Serious Eats had this to say:

The Americano Rosso is a treat for restaurants who have beer and wine licenses and can't make cocktails with hard booze. It's bitter enough to stand in for Campari and other bitter liqueurs, so it should provide a little extra flexibility for low-alcohol mixed drinks.

The Scarlet Ibis Trinidad Rum

Originally created specifically for the folks at the East Village bar Death & Company, The Scarlet Ibis is a "bespoke blend of three to five-year aged Trinidad rums." The different rums are chosen specifically for their virgin cane source, which come from all over the various terrains of the island nation—lush mountains, rainforests and drier rolling plains. Each geography imparts a unique quality to the cane, and so the finished product is superbly balanced and rich enough to evoke the tropics, sip after neat sip.

Gentian Apéritifs

scott

A small coterie of old-made-new, apéritif wines and spirits—part of the surging trend in aromatized beverages like amari or vermouth—has recently re-captured the American imagination. Generally, apéritifs are drunk before a meal or just on a sunny afternoon, meant to stimulate your palate and your appetite through the percolation of a fresh, vibrant base alcohol over a blend of regional herbs. It's an old-world tradition turned meme by a recent resurgence in popularity amongst stateside bartenders and bloggers at large. The broader tradition of aromatizing wines and spirits includes both aperitifs and digestifs, but whereas the Italians tend to focus on latter (after-dinner drinks that aid digestian) the French tend to make lighter, brighter versions that are categorized in the former.

A taxonomy of the variations might look something like a network map, showing the relationship of each recipe to another by variables like base alcohol, primary aromatic ingredient, appropriate context, etc. But for now, let's just focus on a pair of gentian-laden apéritifs from France, two of the newest examples to hit Nashville.

Salers ($25)

Salers (pronounced sah-LEHRS) starts off as a neutral alcohol which is then steeped with the roots of Gentiane lutea, or Great Yellow Gentian. The gentian soak imparts a bitter quality that is balanced by the sweetness of the spirit base. It's yellowsih-white in color, about like the flower of the Gentian plant itself, and has a wild  that is as captivating as it is strange.

Bonal ($20)

Something about ordering Bonal (pronounced bo-NAHL)  just makes people stop and pay attention. It's got this deep ruddy color that catches the light like a well-cut gem. It's a mistelle base, meaning grape juice fortified with spirits, that is then aromatized with gentian and chinchona bark (quinine). Amazingly sumptuous, tart and slightly bitter with quenching, juicy quality that begs revisiting again and again. Pour it over ice with a wide slice of orange peel and summer takes on a suddenly bottomless sort of tone.

*If all that's not enough to tantalize you, wait to you see the bottles—super cool old-school labels replete with hand drawn botanical renderings.

Single Oak Project

scott

About a month ago, the Buffalo Trace Distillery issued its ninth release of what they call the Single Oak Project. The short version is that it's bourbon aged in barrels each of which is made from a single tree. The long version is available on the Project's website. Basically, experts from the distillery teamed with their oak tree farmers and their coopers (the folks who mill the wood and make the staves and barrels) and go romping through a Missouri Ozark forest in search of a few exemplary trees. Then they cooper the barrels, tracking all the crucial info along the way. Each selected tree is cut in half, and each half made into barrels using only the wood from that portion of that tree. Variations are recorded, like porousness of the wood grain, the length of seasoning time for the staves, the char level of the inside of the barrel, and so on. What results is wild variation in flavor—you'd be surprised what a difference these variables can make. Each bottle is labeled with the barrel number so you can record and upload your own thoughts and share with others. It's a social world out there.

Get a bottle, share with friends. Yours might be the world's greatest Bourbon.

Rhum Agricole

scott

First off, I'm going to go ahead and get it out there: Depaz Blue Cane Rhum Agricole is on sale right now for $25. It's usually a little closer to $35. But what is rhum agricole? And why is it spelled all funny? Well, it's made under French law and so carries the French name, which translates (obviously?) as agricultural rum. But rhum agricole upholds certain standards, primarily that it's made directly from sugar cane, and not molasses or any other pre-processed byproduct.

So what does that mean in terms of experience? Well, the rules of production for this style of rum lend it a distinctive dryness, a fullness of body and an earthy-tangy quality something akin to gamey, dry-aged meat. So, not your soft and syrupy white rums or your black and buttery "dark" rums. Something in between, and yet something totally different.

According to David Wondrich in his book Punch, it's all about the flavor termed "hogo."

'Hogo' was a term of art in the rum trade since at least the beginning of the eighteenth century, when John Oldmixon used it in his history of the Americas. Derived from the term for the 'high taste' of rotting meat, it could certainly be used pejoratively. But just as one cultivated the haut goût in pheasants and other game birds by hanging them for days before cooking them, so the hogo in rum came to be appreciated and even, to a degree, encouraged."

Today this style has largely been supplanted by the sweet rums dumped in great quantities into frozen drink machines that churn with unearthly fluorescence. But a few producers of the old style remain. The aged rums of Martinique, like Depaz Blue Cane Rhum Agricole and Rhum Clément V.S.O.P., definitely fit the bill. As do other rums of former French territory, like Rhum Barbancourt 8 y.o. from Haiti. And though the Demerara rums of El Dorado (especially the 3, 5 and 8 y.o. bottlings) are made from molasses, they too capture something particular to the history and soul of rum as it was first conceived.

The Rums

Depaz Blue Cane Rhum Agricole (Martinique) - $25 ON SALE Rhum Clément V.S.O.P (Martinique) - $22 Rhum Barbancourt 8 y.o. (Haiti) - $27 El Dorado Demerara Rum 8 y.o. (Guyana) - $24

Derby Day

woodlandwinemerchant

We've been making Mint Juleps all afternoon using whiskey from our barrel of Blanton's Single Barrel Bourbon. They're getting better and better with each iteration... whether the improvements are from gainful experience or, well (ahem) acclimation, you be the judge. Make one for yourself and let us know how it goes. Here's a little vine of our last expedition...

— WoodlandWineMerchant (@WoodlandWine) May 1, 2013

 

Here's the basic recipe:

+Pack a julep cup with ice to get it very, very cold. +Tear 6 leaves of mint, muddle with 2 tbl simple syrup. +Add 2 oz. Blanton's Single Barrel Bourbon. +Pack overflowing with crushed ice (think Sonic). +Break off 2 generous sprigs of mint, spank twice, stuff into the ice pack. +Add wide straw and serve.

Or for an interesting variation from cocktail wunderkind David Wondrich, see this page (scroll down to Louisville Julep).

For appropriate barware, check out cocktail kingdom. Or if you have any good suggestions (especially for any fancy spoon-straws) let us know.

Juneau what I'm sayin'

Tyty

The Savoy Cocktail Book is a tome compiled by Harry Craddock and published in 1930. Many of it's recipes still haunt the modern barscape and many classics are credited to Harry himself. The Alaska is a simple and delicious drink that appears in the Savoy's pages. Classically styled dry gins seem to show best  in this drink but tasty times can be had using just about any gin - or other spirit.  I found a happy balance using Plymouth and Regans' orange bitters but preferred it sans bitters. This is a boozy refresher and goes down quite easy especially when served as cold as possible.  

The Alaska

1.5 oz Gin - depending on gin slightly more or less might be needed to achieve better balance

.5 Yellow Chartreuse

2-3 dashes orange bitters

Stir ingredients together with ice (I like mine shaken hard. The little bits of ice seem to add to its refreshing qualities) and serve up in coupe or favorite cocktail glass.

Try replacing the gin with other spirits like tequila or bourbon and try other bitters for fun variants.

 

Certainly not the last

Tyty

This last week brought the arrival of some gins that I was excited to get to play with. Gin with laurel, sage and douglas fir? It certainly needs to meet up with ol' Mr. Chartreuse at some point. The Last Word is a classic and often cited as a favorite of many bartenders I've encountered. Easy to make and really gives you some complexity to ponder. Easy and delicious permutations are an added bonus.  

The Last Word (forest style)

1 part St. George Terroir Gin

1 part Chartreuse

1 part Marschino - Luxardo

1 part Lime Juice

Shake. Serve up or in your favorite sipper. Pour through sieve if you prefer an ice-bit-free tipple. Add a couple drops of celery bitters for some extra plant-y pop.

Try The Final Ward variant. Use whiskey (rye if you like)  in place of gin and lemon in place of lime. Boom!

 

On The Cusp

Tyty

Rounding out a several-week rock-block of Dolin Blanc brought me to this Boulevardier variant. It's been quite fitting for the back and forth Spring teaser we've been experiencing. It's at once savory and fresh, bitter and sweet - as much a compliment to both a chill and a warm afternoon sun bath. Dated to about 1927, this Negroni/ Manhattan aside is credited to Harry McElhone and mentioned in his book "Barflies and Cocktails". The history of such rediscovered classic cocktails are, for the most part, well documented with variants, prevalent and perverse — this is merely meant as a stepping stone, find what works for you. An excuse to experiment with a bit of experience and bias from someone who likes to make and drink drinks. Woodland Boulevardier

1.5 oz Old Weller Antique - try 2 oz for lower proof bourbons

1 oz Campari

1 oz Dolin Blanc

Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into chilled glass.

Express & garnish with lemon or orange zest on finished drink. A good homemade cocktail cherry is another good option. A spoonful of Amaro can add some weight and dimension if you're in the mood. Serve into chilled coupe or punch glass.

Notes on ingredients

Using a sweet or Italian vermouth makes for a richer and deeper cocktail that tends to lean more towards the syrupy side of things. Older, drier whiskey(s) can enhance the bitter quality of the Campari easily leading to harshness. Softer, younger whiskey helps keep things balanced with the higher (107) proof of the Weller gives it a little backbone. Aperol in place of Campari yields a less bitter and higher toned and refreshing sipper.