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Category Archives: Cocktails

Review: Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Year

Jim Beam Signature Craft is a 12 year old small batch bourbon that was released in 2013. I’m really over the terms “craft” and “artisan” to describe whiskey or anything else, but I digress. One thing I like from the start is the screw cap. Folks, there’s little wrong with a screw cap. A cork coated in a 1/4 inch of wax (with an ill designed pull tab) is overrated. I do enjoy being able to open the bottle easily.

Let’s get to it……

Beam Signature CraftJim Beam Signature Craft Small Batch Bourbon (12 Years), 43% abv (86 Proof), $40
Color: Medium Amber/Copper
Nose: Toffee, vanilla, cherry liqueur, cinnamon, and rich oak.
Palate: Right on point with the nose – caramel, spiced honey, cherry syrup and cinnamon spice. Nice backbone of oak throughout the sip.
Finish: Toasted almond, dried fruits, vanilla, and toasted oak.
Overall: Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 year is really well done. It’s harmonious, balanced and quite elegant (easy drinking too!). My one knock is the fact that it could be a bit under-proofed. However, considering Knob Creek Small Batch is in the lineage (and its a bit too oak driven to me), perhaps they got the proof just right with Signature Craft 12 year. It’s a beautiful whiskey.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: (8.9 Superb)

Review: Old Grand-Dad 114 Bourbon

Old Grand-Dad 114 is a high rye (recipe) bourbon that’s……well, the grand-dad to the 100 proof Bottled-In-Bond (BIB) version I reviewed a couple years ago. As I noted in that review, the “Granddad” pays homage to Basil Hayden. Mr. Hayden was well known for favoring more rye in his bourbon mashbill than was common (even today). While we don’t know the exact percentage of rye, it’s up there. The brand is owned, distilled and bottled by Beam.

Let me say before tucking in – it’s comforting to get the reviews flowing with something that is available to most, and a reasonable (sub $30) price point.

old-grand-dad-114-lOld Grand-Dad 114 Bourbon (Bottled in Bond), 57% abv (114 Proof), $28
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: This bourbon’s attitude is airy and effervescent even at full strength. Orange rind, burned sugars, honey, southern spearmint, touches of floral (orange blossom, honeysuckle) notes and grain (corn and dry rye). Pour and leave in the glass for a good 3-4 minutes. The initial alcohol blast quickly subsides and you can get to business.
Palate: Brief notes of honey, bitter orange, caramel and vanilla yield to warming spices (cinnamon, mint, white pepper). Barrel flavors and a bit of resiny grip lead to the finish.
Finish: Lingering finish of toasty oak, orange, and caramel sweetness.
Overall: OGD 114 is a very good bourbon and it’s different. It’s one of those whiskeys, like the 100, that you just don’t taste all the time. It’s NOT a heavy whiskey in terms of nose and flavor, but the proof nips in spots. Water is your friend, and it’s easily to dial this one into a comfort zone for you.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: (8.7 Very Good/Excellent)

Review: Henry McKenna Single Barrel (BIB) Bourbon

Happy New Year all. Once again I deeply appreciate everyone’s patience with me the last 6-8 months. Posts and reviews have been sparse, and I’m working hard to get things rolling on Sour Mash Manifesto. Thanks for sticking with the site.

Now, let’s get 2014 started off with a new review of a Heaven Hill brand, Henry McKenna Single Barrel (10 year old) Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon Whiskey. Henry McKenna was said to have brought his family’s whiskey recipe from Ireland in the 1830′s, and established a distillery in Kentucky in 1855. Heaven Hill procured the Henry McKenna brand from Seagrams and began producing this whiskey in the mid 90′s. Let’s take a further look shall we?

Henry-McKenna-HMSB-copyHenry McKenna Single Barrel Bottled In Bond Bourbon (10 Years), Barrel #1025, 50% abv (100 proof), $30/bottle
Color: Deep Amber/Russet
Nose: Caramel, golden raisin, rustic corn, vanilla, root beer, and firm oak.
Palate: Classic bourbon flavors of caramel, butterscotch, vanilla, golden fruits with some spicy zip (cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper). Sturdy oak backbone provides some structure. Concentrated, sharp with a beautiful mouth feel.
Overall: This is a satisfyingly delicious bourbon – straight forward in delivery, and rich with rustic character. There’s a healthy dose of spice and heat on the palate to give this bourbon a little pop as well. If you enjoy the Evan Williams Single Barrel vintage dated releases – this 10 year old Henry McKenna has similar DNA, albeit with just a tad less finesse and grace. Outstanding value.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.8 (Very Good)

Your whiskey stash is probably better than mine

Your whiskey stash is probably better than mine. “What!”, you might say. “You write a whiskey blog – how is that possible?” It’s possible because I drink the whiskey I buy. As in – I don’t hoard it. If I don’t like it, I give it away. If I love it, I drink it and especially share it with others.

You will find no more Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year in my cabinet because I got three bottles last year, planned on saving two, but the stuff is so damn good that I simply cannot force myself to keep it around. I bought two extra bottles of the Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch for 2012. I did so with the following mindset that I’m sure is familiar, “this stuff is great, and if I have two more bottles I’ll be able to savor and enjoy it for years to come.” Who am I kidding? This whiskey will be gone before the first tulip peeks its head above ground. And that’s just the way I am.

Yes, I’ve got some extremely good whiskeys around the house. Some you can find, some you can’t. Regardless, they’ll all be gone soon because I appreciate great stuff. The people that made these whiskeys didn’t do so for me to look at it for a decade. They did it for me to enjoy. And that’s what I do. Will I miss these bottles after they are gone? Yes, indeed, but they become a memory that is even better.

Drink your whiskey!

-Jason

Mint Julep Perfection: The Components

I mentioned in my earlier post this week that I am a purist for the most part.  That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the bizarre every now and again, but it does however drive my philosophy about a number of things.   Most notably food and drink.  We tend to over complicate stuff that is so perfect to begin with.  When it comes to cooking and making cocktails I start with great ingredients.  Then I showcase them as purely and simply as possible.

Mind you, there is no Mint Julep police out there.  You can go nuts with this if you so choose.  I’ll share with you some of my recommendations on variations that have worked well for me.  For now, let’s dive into the individual components that make up a perfect Classic Mint Julep.  At the end of this post I have included a video recipe to follow.  It was produced about a year ago, the sound is poor, but it’s a great recipe.  Supplemented with the information below, there is no doubt that if you follow these simple ideas, and execute well, you’ll be sipping the finest mint juleps on Derby Saturday (and hopefully every Saturday thereafter).

Let’s get started!

The Components for the Perfect Mint Julep


The Right Vessel:

The perfect vessel for a mint julep is creatively enough called…..a Julep Cup.  It’s usually made of stainless steel or pewter.  Stainless Steel is my preference because it’s a great heat conductor, pulling heat away from the contents in the cup.  This helps to create condensation on the outside of the cup that actually freezes with the proper application of ice (below).  This frost silver cup is not just dramatic to look at.  It’s also quite practical on a hot spring/summer day, helping to produce a colder finished cocktail.  Smarter people than me can tell you why.  I just know it works.

Where do you find a mint julep cup?  They are everywhere online (google it) and you can pay as little or as much as you  wish.  My one recommendation is to spring for stainless steel – you won’t be sorry.   However, DO NOT fret if you don’t have a Mint Julep cup.  It’s a unitasker that you’ll use for one thing and one thing only.  A simple rocks glass will work just fine. The thinner it is the better for proper frost buildup, but it’ll still taste fantastic regardless.  A mint julep in a rocks glass is a hell of a lot better than no mint julep at all.

The Perfect Mint:

Peppermint is to a mint julep what finger nails are to a chalkboards.  They don’t go together.  If you try to force the marriage, the results can be cringe-worthy.  A mint julep requires a much rounder, sweeter form of mint.  In short – spearmint.  If this is a little confounding, let me give you a practical example.  Head to your nearest supermarket or convenience store and purchase a pack of peppermint and spearmint gum.  Try both.  Which is sharper, spicier, and more intense?  I would imagine 90+% of you would say the peppermint.  And you’d be correct.  Sure the gum  probably contains artificial mint, but this little experiment drives home exactly what you’re dealing with in the fresh form.

Spearmint’s soft sweetness blends harmoniously with the bourbon, syrup, and ice.  And frankly it doesn’t taste like toothpaste.  My favorite types of mint for this purpose is red stem spearmint, and Kentucky Colonel.  Both are brilliant choices.  If you live in the Southeastern U.S., and purchase packages of mint from the grocery store, take note of a red stem on the mint sprig.  If you look closely in the picture above you may be able to make out the rhurbarb colored stem.  If you see that, you’ve got what you need.  If you have wild mint growing in your back yard, try a leaf.  Is it acrid, overly minty, or does it have a soft minty flavor to it?  Let your taste buds be your guide, but hopefully the above gives you an idea of what you are looking for.

The Ice is Right:

This is pretty easy.  You need good clean ice.  If your freezer produces ice with “off” freezer flavors, don’t ruin all your hard work and effort.  Go grab a good quality bag ice from the super market.  Once you’ve got clean, great tasting ice to work with, it’s time to get to crushing.  The perfect mint julep requires an almost snow cone-like powdery ice.  First, it chills the bourbon and syrup within much quicker.  Second, it helps with frosting the glass.  Think whiskey, mint, and simple syrup snow cone and you have the right idea for the ice consistency.  So how do you get that?  You can use a Lewis Bag if you have one.  If not (I don’t have one) you can simply use a good clean lint free tea towel.  Grab your ice, load it up in the tea towel, and gather everything up tightly (see below).

Once you have everything tightly gathered, begin bashing away with a meat cleaver or soft rubber mallet.  You can even use a rolling pin.  The goal is to turn that ice into powdery snow (see below).  The tea towel helps to wick away any moisture, leaving the ice dry and ready for making the perfect Mint Julep.  When I’m making mint juleps for the masses, I will spend a morning bashing away and reserving the ice in containers I can freeze until I’m ready to use.

Simple Syrup:

I am not a fan of watered down cocktails.  To combat this,  I use a simple syrup recipe that consists of a sugar to water ratio of 2 to 1.   Most use a 1 to 1 ratio.  To start, simply take 2 cups of sugar, add 1 cup of water, place in a medium saucepan, and bring up to heat over a medium flame.  Don’t use high of heat.  All you want to do is fully dissolve the sugar.  Once that happens, remove the simple syrup from the heat and reserve to the side.  You will need to cool it down to room temperature before making any mint juleps.  If you’d like to ramp up the mint flavor, here is a great opportunity to do so.  Grab a good 4-6 sprigs of fresh mint and add it to the hot simple syrup while it cools.  Much like steeping tea, you’ll infuse the simple syrup with even more mint flavor.  You can also make this well in advance (days if need be) and reserve in the refrigerator.  It’ll be ready when you are.  Remember, you can vary the sweetness you desire with just a bit more or less simple syrup.  Play with it to see what works for your tastes.

The Main Ingredient: Whiskey

I’ve said this a number of times already.  Each of these components is critical to the finished product.  However, because we’re using anywhere from 2.5-3 ounces of whiskey – this ingredient may be the most critical.  My preferences lean towards higher proof bourbons for a mint julep.  The additional proof takes longer time to water down with the ice and syrup, resulting in a stronger drink to start, but one that mellows more slowly than lower proof whiskey.

Now, if you don’t believe just how greatly a specific whiskey can influence the finished drink, I have another experiment for you.  Two bourbons I really enjoy using for a mint julep are Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon and Buffalo Trace Bourbon.  Because of the Four Roses’ healthy dose of fruity flavor, the resulting mint julep is more fruit forward.   It’s beautiful.  The Buffalo Trace is drier and more rustic, yielding an entirely different mint julep, but equally wonderful.  Pick your poison.

My “house” julep is made with Very Old Barton Bottled in Bond.  At 100 proof and with ample rye character and balanced sweetness, this makes a tremendous julep.   Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond, also 100 proof, adds a bit more rye zip.  What’s important to note is each of these whiskeys are below $30.  The last two I mentioned are well under $20.  Don’t break out the expensive stuff for mint juleps.  It’s not necessary.

If Rye whiskey is your thing – by all means give it a go.  I prefer bourbon in a mint julep, but a great rye adds a whole other dimension of flavor.  Give Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond, Sazerac Rye, and Wild Turkey 101 Rye (if you can find it right now) a try.

Mint Julep Variations:

I don’t make variants on the classic very often.  When I do, I keep it simple, introducing perhaps one, but no more than 2 additional components.  In the heat of summer, when peaches are at their finest, I’ll muddle a good chunk of peach, skin and all (lots of flavor there!), with the mint and simple syrup.  It’s pretty fantastic.  I have also not hesitated to add a couple dashes of bitters, or even muddled lemon wedge from time to time.  Feel free to play with this and add things you like.  I’m not a big fan of berries – it sounds good on paper, but the results I’ve found to be a bit inconsistent.

The Finished Mint Julep:

There you have it.  The components are pretty simple, but require just a bit of forethought and a little preparation.  I’ve included a photo of a finished mint julep below – a Kentucky Snow Cone.  Doesn’t that look incredible?

As mentioned to start this post, please check out my Mint Julep Video where I actually show you how to craft one.  Now get to making those mint juleps and let me know what you think.

Enjoy the Derby, and Drink your Bourbon!

-Jason

Mint Juleps Make Life Better

It’s Kentucky Derby time! Next Saturday marks the 138th run for the roses at Churchill Down in Louisville, Kentucky. I’ll be fortunate enough to be there for my first Derby. Hopefully it will be the first of many.

Derby week is always right about the time spring hits its stride.  That means it’s time to usher in warmer weather cocktails to cool those hot afternoons. I love that bartenders and mixologists are pushing the noble craft forward, but I’m also a purist. I don’t believe you can top a properly prepared classic cocktail made with great whiskey.  As I’ve stated numerous times, the mint julep is my favorite of them all.

Scan the internet and you’ll find countless articles and blog posts on the mint julep. Doing some research of my own I ran across articles claiming that Louisville, KY locals rarely drink mint juleps except for Derby week.  I sure as hell hope that isn’t true!  Last week a highly regarded whiskey writer called the Mint Julep a “special occasion drink”.   I certainly don’t believe that’s true, but if it is, then it’s a personal mission of mine to change that perception.

See, in my opinion, mint juleps are for drinking whenever the mood strikes you. Much like a great bottle of wine can turn a humble dinner into a great meal, a mint julep does the same for any hot afternoon. Mint juleps really do make life better. That’s not too dramatic I promise.  If you have never brought a frosted julep cup to your nose, inhaled its sweet, intoxicating mint and spirit aroma, and then felt your whole body cool as the elixer slid down the back of your throat, then you don’t know what you are missing.  And we need to fix that pronto!

So what do you need to know about the Mint Julep’s history? Well for starters it’s like anything else.  We always want to trace something back to a single origin, but history is messier than that. What seems most consistent is the term “julep” likely comes from the Persian word “julab”, which is literally a mixture of rose infused water. A broader definition might be simply that of botanicals and water.

At some point, the julep reference began to refer to medicinal concoctions of herbs and spirits.   I am sure someone along the way pulled a Mary Poppins, adding some sugar or syrup to “make the medicine go down” in a much more delightful way. These juleps, or at least the idea of them, made their way to the Southern United States.  Once here we applied our own bit of ingenuity to the cocktail (like we do with most things!).

Cognac or rum were the original spirits used to make a mint julep, but eventually Southerners substituted what they had – Bourbon and/or Rye Whiskey.  We owe the cocktails solidification into the bar keep’s arsenal to Kentucky Senator, Henry Clay.  Clay introduced the mint julep to bars in Washington D.C. some time in the early 1800′s. The rest is history.

I like history, but I like talking whiskey and cocktails more.   That’s why this week I’ll be breaking down each component in the classic Mint Julep, and telling you not only what I recommend using to make one properly, but also why each ingredient and technique is so important.  By Wednesday or Thursday you’ll be primed and ready for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, but most importantly for those ordinary hot afternoons.

Let’s make some juleps!

-Jason