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Archive for the ‘Bourbon’ Category

Wild Turkey

June 15th, 2011 by Aaron Goldfarb | 6 Comments | Filed in Bourbon

The beacon of lightly colored booze that kept us going night after night on my 30 Bars in 30 Days book tour was the frequent appearances of the special How to Fail Cocktail:

Bourbon, Grand Marnier, apple cider, and a splash of ginger beer created by noted DC mixologist Derek Wallace.

It was never stated in the recipe what was the “correct” bourbon to use and, no matter where we went–dive, upscale cocktail lounge, craft beer bar–we usually let the establishment’s bartender choose the booze.  Luckily, no matter where we went, all bars had the classic Wild Turkey and that’s what usually found its way into the cocktails.

Wild Turkey has some great literary roots.  It was the preferred drink of Hunter S. Thompson, makes frequent appearances in David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest,” and there always seem to be a bottle lurking nearby U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens on James Ellroy’s “Justified.”

I’ve become quick friends with the good PR folks for Wild Turkey and they’ve turned me on to several varieties from the Wild Turkey line, most notably Russell’s Reserve, American Honey, and the Rare Breed.  I even had a bull session with them over Turkey and BBQ last night at Hill Country, surely Manhattan’s best BBQ below 125th Street.

American Honey

I won’t lie, I wouldn’t be caught dead drinking this in public.  But, truth be told, I’ve fallen for it.  PR flack Brian was quickly able to assess the kind of person I am as we talked about the podcast and radio interviews I give sometimes.

“You ever ‘pre-game’ an interview?” he asked.

Damn, if he hadn’t nailed me spot on.

I DO pre-game interviews.  I’m so much more interesting with a few fingers in me.  And, quickly, American Honey has become what I pre-game with.  Just a little.  It’s so sticky and syrupy that after a few pours the bottle cap will be nearly soldered onto the bottle.  Packed with a honey and caramel-y sweetness, it goes down easy.  Perfect for a quick mid-day quaff.  To be clear, it is not bourbon.  It is a bourbon-based liqueur.  But I really dig it.  And chilled, it’s a revelation, a perfect dessert libation to coat your insides and prepare you for bed.  Why are college kids wasting their time taking shots of Jager when this is so much better?

Russell’s Reserve

This 10-year-old small-batch bourbon is soooo easy drinking at 90 proof.  It’s even master distiller Jimmy Russell’s “everyday” bourbon.  Thick and full-bodied, vanilla and sugar cane with a little cinnamon-y zing.  I could drink this all night.

Oh, and I did.

Rare Breed

Rare Breed is a beast.  Surely the most reasonably priced barrel-proof bourbon around at a mere $35 or so.  At 54.2%, Rare Breed truly separates the men from the boys, but it’s not as hot as you’d think.  Toffee and honey, with a creamy rye finish.

After a few Russell’s Reserves and a dessert shot of American Honey, I came home for a nightcap, with a determination to invent my own Wild Turkey cocktail.

What can I say, I had no choice but to name it after my short story collection, continuing the tradition of a cocktail for each of my books.

The Cheat Sheet

*2 parts Rare Breed
*1 part American Honey
*a generous splash of bitters (I recommend Fee Brothers)
*garnish with a cherry if you have one around the house (you don’t, and I didn’t)

It’s like a Manhattan except replacing the wussy sweet vermouth with something a little more potent.

And, it’s amazing.

Bourbon Blowout

October 20th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | No Comments | Filed in Bourbon

Man can not live on beer alone, but if you throw in some bourbon, he could probably live on that combined.  This post exists for no other reason than to show off the fact that I have tried pretty much all of the greatest bourbons in the world recently–all of which score in the A range–and so that I could offer some brief capsule reviews.  You should be so lucky to ever even sit in the same room as someone trying any of these.

Michter’s US-1 Single Barrel Straight Rye

This 41.7% ABV rye has a great smell and is incredibly smooth, no harshness at all.  Quite a buttery mouthfeel, the charred barrel flavors are pronounced too.  Quite nice.


Michter’s Single Barrel Bourbon (10 Yr Old)

This single barrel offering is quite drinkable at merely 92.8 proof and is packed with a smooth taste of oak, cherries, and sweet malts.  Complex and quite good.  Would be a nice place for a bourbon virgin to start sippin’.


Black Maple Hill

A solid 95 proof sipper, this small batch offering is woody and sweet, with pronounced tastes of green apple.


Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 15 and 20 Year

I blind tasted these two against each other and ultimately preferred the younger, hotter 107 proof 15 Year over the smoother 90.4 proof 20 Year.  But, don’t get me wrong, both are world class.  In fact, according to the World’s Spirits Championships–whatever the hell those are–these are THE two best bourbons in the world.  Both these bourbons use wheat, as opposed to rye, which make them sweeter than your typical bourbons, adding nicely to the oaked vanilla flavors in these incredibly complex sippers.

A+ and A+

A.H. Hirsch Reserve

This 16 Year old comes in at a relatively easy 91.6 proof, making it deliciously drinkable even for your friends that need to add ice and a frosty mug to every libation.  This exceedingly rare, and soon-to-be-non-existent, whiskey from the now-shut-down Michter’s Distillery in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, is packed with a pleasant assault of vanilla with underlying hints of maple and oak.  Probably the second-best bourbon I’ve ever had.


William Larue Weller

One of five from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, this uncut and unfiltered bourbon came in a little hot for my palate at 121.9 proof, but it’s still very good.  An incredibly smokey bourbon, I found little of my prefered vanilla sweetness.  It’s more just an assault of old man pipe, pepper, and perhaps some dried fruit.


George T. Stagg

This uncut and unfiltered bourbon is so scorching–coming in at 140.6 proof–that it is not allowed on airplanes due to flammability issues.  Oh, but despite being “no-fly,” George T. Stagg is no terrorist.  In fact, Stagg is the best bourbon I’ve ever had.  It burns your nose hairs as you sniff it, it makes you feel like Al Swearengen as you sip it, but my God is it shockingly complex and flavorful.  Another from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, this 15 Year old is packed with syrupy caramel and butterscotch and an oaky, tobacco smoked finish.  I cannot recommend it more.  Well worth whatever you have to pay to get even an ounce of it.


Old Grand-Dad

November 20th, 2008 by Aaron Goldfarb | 1 Comment | Filed in Bourbon, Country: America, Grade: A-

100 proof bonded

There was me, that is Aaron, and my two droogs, that is Batch and Wallace, and we sat in the suburban Philadelphia dive bar trying to make up our rassodocks what to do with the evening. The suburban dive bar sold OGD which is Old Grand-Dad 100-proof “bonded” bourbon whiskey, which is what we were drinking, full pint glass “triples” for only $4.50. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence. Or just get you drunk and belligerent and hitting on women.

My droog Derek had introduced me to the elixir back a couple of years ago. A bourbon connoisseur as much as a beer one, I’d never once considered plucking the gaudy orange bottle with a plastic cap (retail: $19.99 per fifth) off the shelves for a little sippy sip. But he insisted in a blind taste test I would find it as good as stuff that cost twice if not thrice as much.

I tried some neat and I had to agree it was viddy good, my brother, viddy good. An Ode to Joy! Some solid ass-kicking bourbon. Not overly complex, but flawlessly made. Potent rye with a nice little vanilla and caramel sweetness. Not for the faint of heart, but eminently drinkable for a man like me. OGD is so good it will never give you whiskey disk and its low hangover effects mean you’ll never awake the next day with a pain in the gulliver.

OGD instantly became Derek and my little secret. We’d patronize bars that stocked it, trumpeting their greatness to the Gods, while lambasting watering holes without the courage to shelve it. At the suburban dive bar, I spied a glowing construction cone-orange bottle on the bottom shelf. No, not the bottom shelf even, but rather the annex shelves all the way at floor level. What the bar considers the absolute dregs of the spirit world. I asked the barkeep for some and he reached for it, but it had been used so rarely, had not been poured from in who knows how many years, that some spillages had adhered it to the wood. Having to use his leg to brace himself, he grasped the neck of the bottle like it was the Sword in the fuckin’ Stone and pulled. After a few heaves he got the bottle up, it still connected to a slab of wood underneath.

After pouring our triples the bartender didn’t know what to charge us. No one had ever ordered one before and it wasn’t even on the computerized register. He had to go to the backroom and locate some dusty old book that had the bar’s drink prices handwritten up in it. I did a spit take when he told us $4.50, cheaper than even a bottle of the abhorrent Landshark Lager.

It was great as per usual and we killed the entire bottle, which gave us the gusto and gumption to push through the white trash Yuengling imbibers to go hit on the rare hot chicks at the Bose digital juke box:

“What you got back home, little sister, to play your fuzzy warbles on? I bet you got little save pitiful, portable picnic players. Come with uncle Vice Blogger and hear all proper! Hear angel trumpets and devil trombones. You. Are. Invited.”



The Manhattan

August 12th, 2008 by Aaron Goldfarb | 2 Comments | Filed in Bourbon

To paraphrase a line from Mac Davis, “Happiness is Kansas in the rear view.”

I had a wedding this weekend in Manhattan, KS for my old college roommate. I lived in a house of four on Euclid Avenue junior and senior years and now all the roommates are married save me. We used to have late night drunken debates back then about who’d be the last to wed. For some reason, 21-year-old boys hold it as a badge of honor to claim they will “never” marry. Thus, every one of the four roommates thought he would be the last to wed–if AT ALL. I probably argued the least on the subject, but I knew 100% I’d be the last to marry–if AT ALL. That’s just the way I am, hating to be tied down. Nothing to be proud of I suppose but my prediction was indeed correct.

Everyone says weddings suck and between ages 20 to 25 I wondered what the hell these people were talking about. Tons of free booze, and usually better than what I normally drank. Tons of free food, and usually better than what I normally ate. And tons of “free” woman, who, if not better than what I usually got, at least easier and more done up.

But, as Friedman said, “There are no free lunches.” And you pay in plenty of other ways: wasting an entire weekend in some crappy burg, air travel, gifts, wearing stuffy clothes, listening to bloviating clergypeople, speaking with old folks, exhibiting decorum, etc.

My wedding libation is The Manhattan. I don’t drink beer at weddings because the kinds they have inevitably blow, plus, I ain’t paying for the booze so I might as well get the priciest thing. A Manhattan will set you back $12-15 in Manhattan, NYC where I live. In Manhattan, KS it’ll set you back just a confused 19-year-old vested bartender who doesn’t know how to make the drink so you have to go behind the bar and explain it to her.

Then again, the Manhattan is an old school cocktail and thus no one knows how to make it any more, seeming to rather focus their “mixology” knowledge on crap such as Jaegar Bombs and pomegranate martinis. Fuck, it seems no one even knows what bourbon is these days. My friend Derek and I get a kick out of assembling a list of the funniest answers we’ve gotten to the question, “So, what kinda bourbon you got?

The most typical answer to that question is “Jack Daniels” which we all know is not a bourbon but, rather, a Tennessee Whiskey. I’ve gotten such other ludicrous responses as Crown Royal (Canadian whiskey), Jameson (Irish whisky), and Johnny Walker (Scotch). I think Derek claims someone once said Captain Morgan’s (rum), but I don’t exactly believe him. Then again, that is a brown liquor and it seems that some of these geniuses behind the bar are perfectly capable of not knowing the difference.

The only bourbon available at this wedding was something called Old Charter 8 Year. And it was heinous. Everything a bad bourbon can be, flavorless, astringent, no sweetness, bitter finish. It made for a terrible cocktail as it couldn’t even blend with the sweet vermouth and bitters. Yes, I was drinking a subpar Manhattan in subpar Manhattan, the joke writes itself.

As I walked through the reception, wincing at my crummy Manhattans, now nearing my thirties, I realized why weddings fucking suck..every single person is married or taken there except me, and no one drinks hard any more except me. Thus, I gotta find the one 65-year-old Scotch-drinking lush and hang out with him all night talking golf. Pray there’s some sexy divorcee or freakish widow if i want any chance of hooking up. Or just camp out at the finger foods table gorging myself on prosciutto-wrapped scallops.

Back in my early-twenties when I was actually having fun at weddings, I was always alone. Had to be alone. Had to have the chance to get involved in some potential craziness with no one holding me back from my pursuit. And craziness did usually follow and hookups were aplenty. Then, I got older, got a girlfriend, and began attending weddings with her. She was cool and the weddings were even more fun. I miss her immensely and this would be my first wedding flying solo in a year or two. I had to revert back to being a child.

But, I am no longer a child. I’m a 29-year-old man. After a while it gets depressing, drinking Manhattans while you stare off at happy couples schmoozing, canoodling, kissing, and dancing. My best friend, happily married, a beautiful baby at home. Another set of buddies, proudly discussing their new home purchase. Yet another set of pals waiting for the correct time to reveal they are pregnant without stealing the new bride’s thunder. I had a moment of envy.

But envy quickly became yawning boredom. And then, I realized why everyone hates weddings. Cause they aren’t allowed to have fun! Cause their significant other crushes their dreams! No way was that happening to me.

I walked through the reception hall, looking at all the couples, the husbands ordered by their wives to NOT have “one more,” the fiancees told by their fiances to quit dancing so crazily and flirting with other men, the men all but emasculated by their women, and the women kept in chains by their men. A smile came to my face and I looked down at myself. I may have been wasted but I was completely unfettered. The night was mine. Then, the strangest children’s song came into my head, one that had never made so much sense to me before, but now, singing Pinocchio’s theme as I crossed the dance floor, it seemed more apropos than ever.

I’ve got no strings
To hold me down
To make me fret, or make me frown
I had strings
But now I’m free
There are no strings on me

Hi-ho the me-ri-o
That’s the only way to go
I want the world to know
Nothing ever worries me

I’ve got no strings
So I have fun
I’m not tied up to anyone
They’ve got strings
But you can see
There are no strings on me

When I was finished, I sidled up to a young single bridesmaid. I asked her if she wanted to hear me tell a lie.


Throw into a metal shaker:

*2.5 parts preferred bourbon or rye

*1 part sweet vermouth

*several dashes of bitters

*a fistful of ice

Shake vigorously and put down in a rocks glass (I prefer sans ice) so as you are not walking around the reception hall sloshing your ruby red drink around. Quite possibly garnish with a cherry if you’re in the mood and secure in your manhood. You can also use the cherry stem later in the evening to demonstrate the dexterity of your tongue.

The Mint Julep

July 7th, 2008 by Aaron Goldfarb | No Comments | Filed in Bourbon, Country: America

hand-mixed by the author, using Old Grand-Dad 86 proof bourbon

I typically drink my booze neat but there are three cocktails I greatly enjoy, all bourbon based: Manhattans, Old-Fashioneds, and Mint Juleps*. The uninformed amateur will see me drinking (respectively) a bright red drink, a drink filled with fruit at the bottom like a Yoplait, and a drink laced with mint sprigs and immediately think I’m drinking something sissy. Little do they know. These potent potables are essentially 99% liquor, accented with just the slightest hints of added flavors.

My friend and his wife threw an afternoon grill party on Saturday and I was quickly enlisted as the ad hoc mixologist. With fresh mint aplenty, the favorite drink of Churchill Downs and Dr. Leonard McCoy would definitely be on the day’s drinking agenda.

There’s a modest debate about how to “correctly” prepare a julep. Many think the mint is only to serve as an aromatic garnish. As with all my vices, however, I think more is better. I rip a huge handful of mint sprigs from a bushel, carefully remove the stems as if preparing to roll a joint, and manhandle the mint, using my thumb and forefinger to press out and release the fragrant juices. I toss the pressed mint into a metal shaker along with two teaspoons of sugar, just enough water to dissolve the sugar (simple syrup is, in fact, a better ingredient to use if one is not as lazy as I am), a fist full of crushed ice, and three solid jiggers of bourbon.

We opted for Old Grand-Dad, the inexpensive but delicious bourbon favored by both bourbon connoisseurs and casual drinkers alike. Since women and Blue Moon drinkers were around, we had to select the 86-proof bottling, but were I drinking solo I would have probably chosen the 100-proof “bonded” or even the 114-proof barrel strength, assuming I wanted to be passed out before nightfall.

I shook up the first batch and poured the concoctions into rocks glasses. Most unfortunately, there were no silver or pewter glasses on hand as tradition calls for.

My first whiff absolutely floored me. It was like a stick of Trident spearmint mixed with pure bourbon. Delightful. And the taste was even more sublime. A perfect mix of tasty fresh mint and potent bourbon. I should have won an award for these beauties. Colonel Harland David Sanders would have surely given me a fist pound.

But did the other guests fete me and my delicious cocktails? Nope. In fact, the other guests (sans my hard-drinkin’ host) did not enjoy my drinks at all. I saw lots of grimacing faces upon first sips and lots of discarded three-fourths-full glasses within five minutes as people went back to their weak macrobeers. This always happens when I play bartender. I think I’m whipping up drinks perfectly palatable to the masses but I’m actually only making them ideal to my drunkard tastes. I wanted to yell at the other guests, “Do you want an adult cocktail or do you want a fucking glass of sweet tea?!”

Fuck ‘em, more juleps for me.

Yes, you better believe I walked through the apartment gathering and finishing off the untouched cocktails. The fresh mint was running low and though I’m not exactly Al Gore, I ain’t into waste. I downed several of the delicious mint juleps and soon made a fool of myself around the uptight company. What a pleasant way to spend a Saturday afternoon.


Throw into a metal shaker:

*2 tablespoons of sugar (branched with a drop of water)

*a half-dozen or so fresh mint sprigs (slightly hand pressed)

*3 jiggers of bourbon

*a fistful of ice

Shake so vigorously that 007 would be impressed and…serve.

*To a lesser extent and only on special occasions I will also drink margaritas, daiquiris, mojitos, gin & tonics, and Churchill martinis**, if we want to consider all of those to be cocktails.

**from wikipedia: “It is said that a ‘Churchill martini’ contains no vermouth, just British gin. The legend holds that Churchill would get as close to the vermouth bottle as to ‘look at it from across the room.’ This would make it very dry or a so-called ‘Churchill martini.’ On the other hand, some experts strongly object to this practice, arguing that a cocktail with one predominant ingredient is no cocktail at all, and furthermore, that the term ‘dry’ has nothing to do with the gin-to-vermouth ratio, but with the use of dry, white, French vermouth instead of sweet, red, Italian vermouth.”

Maker’s Mark bourbon whisk(e)y

June 4th, 2008 by Aaron Goldfarb | 1 Comment | Filed in Bourbon, Country: America, Grade: A-

45% ABV neat

Maker’s Mark is the bourbon that made me fall in love with bourbon. And it was a Tennessee—not a Kentucky—boy that taught me how to drink it. His wife had somehow talked him into hosting a snooty engagement party for my best friend and his wife. A party predominated by DC quasi-movers and pseudo-shakers. The kind of folks that don’t go to parties to engage in normal endeavors, i.e. getting wasted, eating free food, and trying to hook up. But, rather, go to schmooze about polling data and try to make “connections.” Bleh. The only alcohol available was sensible wines, a watered-down party punch, and the very few kinds of bottled beers that the sort of men who wear brass-buttoned blazers to a baseball game on a Saturday afternoon drink (Amstel, Heineken, Stella). I quickly became bored. There was nothing to do. I also quickly became the only person at the party that was wasted. I gravitated to the kitchen to drink by myself and maybe steal some expensive cutlery. There, I ran into the host of the party. A guy a decade my senior, and with a highly important chief of staff job I might add, but a dipsomaniac nonetheless. He too was bored by the party and quickly saw me as a brother-in-arms. He secretly invited me downstairs to his man cellar to sample the “good stuff”: his immense collection of bourbon.

I noticed immediately this his huge collection was dominated by these squat battles dipped in a gorgeous red wax. It was kismet as my host explained that this was his favorite brand of bourbon. He had even been down to Loretto, Kentucky and had personally hand-dipped a few of his own bottles. I was impressed. Then we got down to the drinking and I immediately fell in love. By night’s end we were both shitfaced and having a Colt 45 forty chug-off in the kitchen as the rest of the uptight party goers surrounded us in a mixture of both shock and awe, as if they were watching some underground cock fight. If I recall, my host got quite the talking to by his wife the next morning. I was still a single man so I got no talking to, except by myself as I woke up stripped naked in my hotel room with only a pile of minibar macadamia nuts covering me and my bedspread. Hotel’s price for the nuts? $19. Oh well.

It’s been nearly a decade since I fell in love with Maker’s. What to say about it? I still consider it a great “beginner’s” bourbon and I don’t say that as an insult. You’re not going to want to start a green bourbon drinker off with say a Blanton’s or a Booker’s. Too potent. Maker’s has a great sweetness and a very drinkable flavor, probably due to the fact that it isn’t aged like most other bourbons. It’s got a nice, cheap retail price too. I like it neat and it blends well in Manhattans too. I don’t drink it much any more—I prefer higher ABV bourbons like Baker’s—but it is still a great bourbon and it’s a guarantee that 99% of bars, restaurants, and probably even airlines will have it on their shelves.