Thursday, April 26, 2012

Road Trip Bardstown KY 2012

Arrived yesterday afternoon for the annual pilgrimage to bourbon mecca.  The kick off theme for this year is "Only damn good bourbon."  And good bourbon was on the table for sure.  I brought along to share with the group a single barrel non chill filtered 9 year Old Weller Antique along with a Julios Rock Hill Farms from 2010. 

The group just finished up a barrel tasting at Four Roses at Cox Creek.  They rolled out 10 barrels and unfortunately, almost all of them were very good.  Headed up to Lawrenceburg to the distillery for a group lunch with Jim Rutledge, Four Roses Master Distiller. 

So far, a great start.  Tomorrow, we'll be at Buffalo Trace.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Project: Bunker Relocation

For quite a few years now I've been collecting whiskey, primarily bourbon. To clarify, I mean a collection to drink, not to shelve or sell. Said collection has been sitting on storage shelves (as seen in the pic roll) in my basement storage room that whole time. Recently, I decided it was high time to put the collection out on full display. I had recently disposed of a pool table and ended up with a large space in half my basement that could serve as space for a Bunker Bar.

Now, let me state right up front that I am not a carpenter, cabinet maker or professional wood worker. What I am is an avid reader and tinkerer and have done small wood working projects over the years. The Bunker Bar is by far my largest endeavor.

The space selection for the Bunker was easy as I had a large wall to work with. I determined the center spot where the bar would go, marked the walls and laid out the base framing using standard 2x4 studs.

For the cabinets and bar, I used 3/4 inch oak plywood. When selecting the panels, I was somewhat picky looking for veneer that was detailed with unique grain patterns. For the trim I used solid oak 1x2 inch and 1x4 inch boards for the bottom and top trim.

The shelving units measured 4 ft wide, 7 ft tall and 18 inches deep. Due to the width of the shelving, I had to accommodate for weight and sag. Anything over 36 inches in length needs to have additional support. My design consisted of a honeycomb pattern for the shelves producing a cubby hole effect.

After building the initial cabinet frames, I cut panels that would sandwich the shelves between measured panels (as seen in the drawing to the left) which would provide support and accommodate for the 1x2 inch oak trim.

Going back to my opening statement that I'm not a professional wood worker, my first mistake was not checking to see if the wall was plumb; it was not which affected the bar cabinet forcing me to make shims and cuts along the way to ensure everything was level.

After everything was assembled, I began the staining process using MinWax Colonial Maple giving the wood a more reddish hue over the typical golden oak. At first I wasn't sure I liked it but as I progressed, the color started to grow on me. Now that it's finished, I really like the color overall.

After the staining was completed, I allowed it to dry overnight. I contemplated applying a second coat but I had allowed the stain to penetrate a full 15 minutes which allowed for a deeper color saturation. I used a shop vac to vacuum all the surfaces of the shelving and cabinet and then used a tack cloth to wipe down everything to ensure there was no debris left behind in preparation for polyurethane application.

I used a water based polyurethane for two reasons; smell and cleanup. I really can't tell that much of a difference in application or final finish between water and spirits based so I took the easy way out. When applying poly on wood for the first time, you will notice after drying that the wood feels rough to the touch like it needs sanding. This is because the poly soaks into the wood raising the wood fibers which causes the rough surface. Using a 320 no load sandpaper, I gently sanded all surfaces after allowing for the full drying time. After the light sanding, I repeated the shop vac and tack cloth process to remove all dust from the sanding. I applied the second coat of poly, allowed to dry and then inspected in order to determine whether I wanted to go for a third application. I decided to stop at 2 coats in order to avoid too much of a mirror shine from the wood as I was going for a more natural look.

After final very light sanding and clean up, it was time to start loading up the bottles. It took a couple of passes and moving bottles around to get everything to fit. My initial calculations on how many bottles would fit were slightly off but for the most part, everything fit on the shelves. I added a mini fridge that will hold some craft beer and the cabinet next to the mini fridge will eventually be converted to a humidor (later project). The last addition was a barrel from Four Roses that came from one of our barrel picks from last year.

The final touches included a leather couch and loveseat with ottoman, an "Ali Baba" throw rug and track lighting to illuminate the hoard. I'm happy with the overall results although there are some mistakes that I'm not happy with but I figured the bottles will keep attention away from the little things I did wrong. It was a fun project but quite a lot of work. In the end, worth the money and time investment.

1/18/13: Made a minor modification shown here.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Jameson 12 Year - Blind Tasting

I for one think the Jameson 12 year is a good solid pour. When I first tried this I was surprised at how good it was. I'm not sure why I was surprised but I didn't get the impression this was anything more than a pedestrian mass produced whiskey. Now the Jameson takes up residence on the bar.

Established in 1780 by John Jameson in Dublin, this brand is now one of the top selling whiskies in the world producing more than 30 million bottles annually. This whiskey is distilled in pot stills using malted and unmalted (green) barley and the results produce pretty tasty whiskey.

The Jameson beat out the Bushmills by a good margin but in fairness, the Bushmills is not age stated so potentially younger whiskey and is a blend.

95-100 Classic Whiskey 0
90-94 Excellent Whiskey 2
85-89 Very Good, Above Average Whiskey 5
80-84 Average Whiskey 4
75-79 Fair Whiskey 1
74 and Under - Pass on This Whiskey 0

For the most part, the tasting panel liked this selection and had some of the following comments:

"A nose of brown sugar, malt and pumpkin pie spice......looking forward to learning what this is because we'll probably buy some"

"Nose is forward and very attractive. White fruit, honey, roasted nuts, yeasty bread and creamy nuances. Sweet entry with apple and pear notes jumping forward. Honey, shortbread, buttery notes and apricots. Creamy mouth feel makes this whisky very approachable"

"This is a very nice whiskey but a little too timid for my taste"

"I can't really find much to like or dislike about this one. Just an easy drinker that doesn't warrant much thought"

"Nose is malt, mild leather with a sherry kicker. Nice"

"First sip hits the tongue like velvet with the sweetness dominating"

Last year the San Francisco World Spirits Competition award the Gold to Jameson 12 year. The label is widely available and and can be found in various sizes, the 750ml being the standard. Price is in the $40 range.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Go Whiskey Weekend..... I went

As I mentioned in a previous post, I attended Julio’s Go Whiskey Weekend about 6 weeks ago. There were three events with the finale on Sunday, February 26th listed as the “Grand Tasting”, and grand it was, oh and by the way….it was a free event.

For starters, Ryan Maloney, owner and proprietor of Julio’s Liquor (the J is not silent) has one of the nicest liquor stores I’ve seen. Living in Virginia (a controlled state) produces mediocre stores with mediocre liquor selections. The one slight variant here in my area is Total Wine does a decent job with their craft beer selections but there is room for improvement especially after perusing the beer aisle at Julio’s.

As a small business owner I have a number of marketing techniques I employ in order to generate foot traffic in my store and from this perspective, Ryan is spot on with not only this event, but the weekly events he holds at the store that covers whiskey, beer and wine when it comes to getting people in his store and strolling though the numerous aisle’s of drinking goodness. Wine? Not a problem, at least a third of the store is dedicated to that. Beer? Again, about a quarter of the store dedicated to that and spirits is another quarter. There’s also a fairly decent selection of tobacco ranging from canister pipe tobacco to cigars. So, getting folks in to taste whiskey is a great way to generate foot traffic, and ultimately purchases of whiskey during the tasting.

The size of Julio’s is impressive spanning over 10,000 square feet that includes wine and spirits tasting room as well as a basement space just renovated to handle larger events. The Grand Tasting on Sunday afternoon started at 1:00 and was to wind up at 4:00. We were warned there would be a line to get in and we weren’t disappointed. I decided to leave my coat in the car not wanting to hassle with carrying it around while trying to taste whiskey. We stood in line for approximately 20 minutes and at the front of the line was a Julio’s employee and a Westborough City Police Officer barking out for everyone to have their ID’s ready to display. Once at the front and displaying my valid ID, I was given a wrist band that had 10 removable tabs attached to it representing the number of samples I would be allowed to try.

Ryan provided a booklet to all participants of which I had received an advance copy. Because of that, I had taken the time the evening before to go through the list of 275 selections (yes, 275) and determine which ones I wanted to focus on.

Upon entering one was greeted with the sound of fighting cats… uh…..bagpipes. Each table was numbered which corresponded to a particular page in the booklet which listed what whiskies would be featured at each table. I spent some time just trolling around getting my bearings as the place was packed with other whiskey devotees.

As I began tasting through my various selections, I quickly realized why the wrist band had only 10 tabs to tear off…..tasting through that much whiskey obviously has its side effects. Some pours were meager while others were quite generous but in the end, I was able to taste through my selections while pacing myself over the course of 3.5 hours.

Some of the highlights of the tasting for me was the newly released Redbreast 12 year cask strength. It really blew me away how good it was. It’s a little pricy at the sale price of $65 but in my humble opinion, worth the cost. The Auchentoshan Three Wood was exceptional as was the new Bruichladdich “laddie” 10 year, Julio’s Rosebank 20 year and another Irish, Slieve Foy an 8 year a Cooley expression, and a new release from Amrut, Three Continents. These are but a couple examples of the tremendous lineup provided by the distilleries and resellers gathered at Julio’s.

A nice treat was to spend time talking with Al Young from Four Roses. He was kind enough to bring out the “under the table” soon to be released Limited Edition (at the time of the tasting) and I have to admit, it was pretty tasty. As some of you reading this may have noticed, most of my ramblings actually center around Scotch and Irish and very little about bourbon. I’ll admit this was done on purpose as I didn’t want to split the opportunity to taste some great whiskies between American and World selections. I’ve had plenty of bourbon over the years but the Scotch, Irish, Japanese and Indian whiskies have been taking up residence in my bunker at an increased pace of late so this was my one chance to taste through various expressions to get a sense of what else is out on the market.

One bourbon I will mention that I didn’t like was the Heaven Hill release of their Parkers Heritage Collection 27 year. This is one bourbon that I had on my list to try and I was disappointed which surprised me because I have liked those releases I’ve tried for the most part. To me, this release was way passed its prime.

This was a great weekend and I would encourage anybody in the Boston area that loves whiskey and has not attended the Julio’s events to make plans to do so. I enjoyed the weekend enough to make the trip again next year.