Tough Critic

Last night Nashville hosted the CMA Awards, which is generally an exciting event for a certain portion of the residents. Most of us natives couldn’t care less. And really, the Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years, and being as how hubs is a lifelong Cubs fan, we broke out the good bourbon (2014 Four Roses Limited Edition & EH Taylor Seasoned Wood) and watched hubs’ dreams come true. But I digress…

The hot topic at work this morning for the non-sports fans was how one of our bosses had gotten tickets to stand in the pit at the CMA’s. I’d tried to explain this whole native phenomenon to all my transplant co-workers previously when said boss got pee-herself excited to see Garth Brooks play for free downtown, but it must be an odd thing to hear that not only do I not care even one iota about either of these events but both are relatively unimpressive given that I’ve lived here my entire conscious life.

Things I probably should have added in clarification but would never because again, I’m from here… The first concert I remember was seeing BB King play the Ryman when I was maybe 4. We were backstage and I got to sit in his lap after the show. It’s one of my earliest memories and from a time when I was a little more easily starstruck. When I was 6 or 7 Bela Fleck outed me to my favorite musician at the time, Sam Bush, that I’d named the family dog after him. Sam Bush is a pretty legendary bluegrass mandolin player, and being little in Nashville, I was learning to play it myself. I would shortly thereafter give it up for piano and then violin, where I would end up at age 9 playing with my dad’s good buddy Mark O’Connor and his living room full of grandmasters. By the time I was 12 and my uncle was hanging out with Levon Helm, Dylan and the Stones, who were doing a spot of recording here and Levon spent a good drunken minute writing me a letter with of life lessons in the front of his new book…well, you can imagine stories got a bit less relatable to others and it took a bit more for me to get excited.

So I tried to nod and grin along and not sound like an asshat when I reiterated that I wasn’t all that interested and that yeah, tickets come up if you’re here long enough, and no way would I want to stand for the whole show even if I did go. And all of that was well and good until someone mentioned, “That Beyoncé and Dixie Chicks performance would have been cool to see though.” Excuse me, what?!?

Yeah so, every once in awhile Nashville surprises me with its inner weird coolness. I didn’t realize Dixie Chicks doing the Beyoncé song Daddy Lessons was even a thing, but I remember the same odd feeling when my mom’s country friend came over in his jeans and boots talking about I just got a cut on this song Amazin’ and Aerosmith is recording it. But this is way bigger than that. This is Beyoncé with some badass fiddle playing going on.

It’s rare that I’m sad about missing a show in Nashville. My husband and I both have seen many, many shows here and elsewhere. We love music, but we’re old now and don’t go out nearly enough anyway. This time…I feel like I missed something amazing. I’m a little bit impressed with my city. It’s always been a place with its own vibe, but that performance was a little bit magic! And I wish I had seen it in person.

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Other Reasons Why I Drink….

Let me first clarify that most of what I say is at least somewhat tongue in cheek, as with the above title. 

When I logged onto Facebook this morning, a memory popped up from several years ago when I was a teacher. At the time, my principal had passed away and a new regime was placed in charge. The ensuing power shift placed myself and several other union members and leaders in less than desirable positions and classrooms within the school. I commented on it and someone that I thought was my closest friend made an odd reply. 

At the time, I didn’t think too much about it. But as the new principal began to assemble her crew and plan outings wherein bartenders poured drinks into their mouths “like baby birds”, I naturally started to separate myself. I don’t think I was considered one of the cool kids even if I had wanted to be belligerent and inappropriate in public as a school teacher. Needless to say, we drifted apart. 

A bit down the road I found out that my “friend” had been the cause of my fall from grace, so-to-speak, in order to secure her own position within the group that would later be ousted due to scandal. I’m not sure what really happened, and I’d like to believe that at least half the stories aren’t true. But none of it is really my concern. 

All this to say, sometimes we never really know people. My husband once said to me, “we never know what we mean to other people.” Which, I think is really true. It’s so easy to feel like we know people that we interact with, in person or on social media, but there are few people in life that will ever really know us to our core. And those that do are the ones you hold on to. 

It’s hard to be an optimist in this world and even harder these days to interact well with others. Some days, it’s nice to just enjoy your own space- a big back yard, some furry friends, and a great pour of bourbon. 

And that’s enough…

The New Sol

So…I have attention issues. We can talk about that another time. What I’d like to talk about now is what I’d like to talk about in the future. Which all sounds very Inception-like, something I also might like to talk about later.

I started this blog wanting a way to chronicle my bourbon notes as my husband, Mr. Sol, and I were expanding our whiskey horizons. And as much as I love bourbon, I have other thoughts too. I’m a complicated lady, alright!?

This is me redirecting my little corner of the Internet to talk about whatever I want.

I have grown up in Nashville and as such am kind of an expert on the place. (Not really, because it’s growing into this huge crazy new thing. Seriously, where did all you people come from?!) I like to talk about the strange thing that it is to watch your once anonymous city grow into something far more popular and weird.

I’m kind of obsessed with my house which sits on an acre and currently sports two layers of tacky fruit basket wallpaper.  My husband and I are remodeling at our own pace, which typically involves a growler, maybe some cocktails. It’s definitely often interrupted by gatherings, which brings me to my next point.

I like to talk about food. We cook often at home. And we dehydrate our own snacks. And we grow herbs and maybe one day veggies. We might be somewhat crunchy.

But really, I’m just into that chill life, at home in Nashville, but kinda in the country, with the pets and the teen and all the bourbons.

The view from here is not that bad.

Eagle Rare Barrel Pick

I’ve been a longtime fan of Eagle Rare. It was one of the first bourbons that I really just loved myself. While hubs and I have been on this journey together, we do each have our own tastes and each have a few favorites that we enjoy more individually.

Eagle Rare is one of those bourbons that has a nice level of bite to it. The burn is important to me and something that some people mistake for a blind love of a higher proof. This is definitely not the case. To me, the perfect level of bite is like a warm blanket moving slowly from the front of mouth down the chest hitting you in the feels. Done right, it’s a great feeling. It’s a big part of what I love about whiskey. You don’t have to drink to get drunk or drink much to get a bit of a healing feeling to your soul. In fact, it’s one of those less is more kind of things, which I love.

Recently, one of our favorite local liquor stores bought a barrel of Eagle Rare and let BT Master Distiller Harlan Wheatley do the picking. The end result was phenomenal! I’d not bought much Eagle Rare in awhile and honestly had been a little underwhelmed the last time I bought a bottle, until this. When I saw a barrel pick, I couldn’t resist and have since gone back for several more.

Eagle Rare is a 10 year bourbon, but the oak taste is not overpowering or really even as present as the distinct taste of butterscotch or toffee and honey. BT lists notes of orange peel which definitely contribute to the perfect level of bite. However, this particular barrel pick is very similar to a Single Barrel Taylor from this past year’s release. The flavors are married perfectly for a full body that is complex but just solidly tasty. There’s a bit of spice, leather, and just enough oak to give you that fantastic bourbon flavor.

I’m a fan. And I promise I’m not paid by Buffalo Trace…. lol

Age is Everything

Enter rant at your own risk….

I keep meaning to branch out of KY on my bourbons. I’m a fan of TN whiskies but I consider them a breed unto their own. I hear good things about some newer bourbons and craft distilleries popping up around the country, but my general stopping point comes down to age. I don’t think you get to call it bourbon if it’s only been aged 2-4 years. I’m damn sure not paying $80 a bottle for something made in haste.

According to the official standards, you must age the bourbon for no less than 2 years in a white oak barrel. But, since when is the minimum of anything the best?! I was raised by a builder. My dad manages the building of major buildings and skyscrapers here in Nashville, and he’s always said there’s a reason quality costs more and that it’s worth the initial expense every time. I personally think 8 years is the sweet spot for aging bourbon, but that’s not a sticking point. When you consider the better, historically long-standing great bourbons of the world, they’re all aged for 6+ years, with the better bourbons being aged 12+ years. With the bourbon shortage, I understand a little less aging and support sending a product out at that 6-8 year window. But 2 years?! Camman!

With all the hipster hype surrounding bourbon right now, everyone’s wanting to get in the mix. I once shared with hubs my “If we ever got rich…” plans, to which he replied, “You know you’d have to wait 10 years to start a distillery, right?” This is especially problematic for me since I have attention span issues, but he’s got a point. This is something these newer brands are really compromising on. It’s one thing to start a distillery in 2008 and release a spirit 2 years later and try to call it bourbon. It’s straight out laughable to try to charge $80 for a bottle. In that time frame, you’re going to taste too much of the corn and not enough of the wood. It’s like buying moonshine from the strip in Gatlinburg- you can do it, but that’s just sad. And unfortunately, a craft distillery pretty much has to charge that much since they’re producing on such a small scale. This is why patience is a virtue, and getting into bourbon has to be one of those “If we ever got rich…” plans.

I’m sure one of these days, I’ll make it outside of KY, TN, and those few, proud, bold, aged in KY bottled in CA bourbons. In fact, I recently bought a bottle of Smooth Ambler Contradiction. It’s a newer brand with the good sense to take a two year rye and mix it with a nine year bourbon. Distilled and bottled in WV even. (I’ll let ya know how it goes.) We were at my favorite Nashville whiskey bar last weekend, William Collier’s, and the bartender had a very good point- “You have to respect a distiller willing to meet the BIB standards.” You have to respect the spirit enough to be patient and respect the buyer enough to charge what you have to for a product that’s worthy of the price-tag.

I support this branching out insofar as certain standards are being met. Past that, I’ll be happy to branch out a bit when these craft distillers start putting a little time and love into their products.

Sazerac Rye

My husband tells me I should branch out further from bourbon. But then he also drinks vodka from time to time, which is not a brown liquor and therefore dead to me.

He’s a big fan of rye and likes to celebrate Fryedays. Before we’d met, I’d never had a rye  to my knowledge, and to his mistake, he introduced me to rye with a 6 year Willet Reserve. It’s an absolutely exquisite whiskey and a top notch sample of the genre, so it pretty much rendered any further ryes inadequate. I know, I know- first world problems. Nevertheless, when your first sip of any liquor is the top shelf, you sort of develop a skewed expectation. As a result, I declared rye not my thing.

Until Sazerac Rye…

It was an easy sell for me since it’s comes from Buffalo Trace, whom I’m sure can do no wrong. It’s sometimes lovingly referred to as baby Saz as the BTAC Sazerac is considered the gold standard. However, the $30 price tag won over any complaints I might have made about giving it a try.

Sazerac Rye is more on the bourbon side than I had expected, which obviously was preferable for me. It reminded me of Hirsch, Basil Hayden’s, and some of the other rye heavy mash blends of which I am a fan. It has citrusy notes with a hint of spice. We’re talking pie spice, not Booker’s hot spice. The licorice presence stated on BT’s description is apt. Overall, it’s just a really refreshing whiskey without compromising on flavor or proof.

Sazerac definitely falls into the “new favorite thing” category. I recognize that it’s not the ryest of ryes, but it’s enough to inspire me to branch out a bit. Score one for hubs!

Just Breathe…

Sometimes hubs and I do not like the same bourbons.

Recently we debated the merits of Old Forrester 1897 BIB. When we first opened it, the smell was very fruity and hubs immediately declared it both tasty and, in his words, “bottled banana bread”, which he meant as a good thing. I declared it lighter-fluid-esque, which is what I call any whiskey that is completely lacking in any depth of flavor.

We’ve often noted the changes in flavor throughout the course of a bottle and especially after a bottle has a chance to breathe. I try to withhold judgment on a bourbon until we’re at least midway through a bottle. In the case of Old Forrester 1897, this was a good call. It’s been opened for a couple weeks now, and the flavor has really opened up. It’s on the lower end of the proof spectrum at 100. As such, there’s only a subtle burn that’s a nice change from time to time. I didn’t taste banana, but moreso, a deeper fruitiness and definite vanilla. Other reviews hint at an oak finish, which is somewhat present. Overall, a decent bourbon for $50.

They say that bourbon stays good forever as long as it’s not opened. The aging process stops once it leaves the barrel. However, a bit of a process happens as well when a bottle is opened up to breathe. When we initially open a new bottle, we tend to uncork for a bit before pouring a couple fingers each. From there, a week or two to sitting in our pie safe gives a more settled, fully developed flavor.

Patience is not my strong suit, but it’s good to sometimes just breathe. And in that time, something great happens to bourbon, which is in and of itself something great.

Colonel E. H. Taylor Small Batch

The bottle that started it all…

When my husband and I started dating, we had known each other for several years and were both whiskey drinkers. For our first anniversary, we decided to branch out of our standard Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, Elijah Craig rotation and try some new things together. Between the two of us, we had had a decent working knowledge of whiskeys, but we hadn’t crossed a certain bourbon line yet. We bought a bottle of Basil Hayden’s, which neither of us had tried before, and headed up to a cabin in Pigeon Forge for a weekend. We cracked the Basil Hayden’s along with a bottle of Veuve and proceeded to get a bit too tipsy to really notice the nuances of how great Basil Hayden’s really is.

The next morning after some bacon, eggs, and a nap, we decided to make the trek into Gatlinburg to sample the mainstream moonshine that’s now dominating the main strip of the mountain tourist town. My husband’s family is from West Virginia, so we tend to keep a little White Lightning on hand at home. We passed a little liquor store just before the busy part of the strip and joked that we should check out their selection. (The small town liquor store with Pappy on the shelf is our white whale, so to speak.) After walking the SUPER CROWDED strip and standing in line behind the oddest crowd of tourists, we finally had our turn to try miniscule shots of subpar, commercial moonshine in twelve fruity, crowd-pleasing flavors attempting to mask the distinct taste of lighter-fluid. But hey, it’s always fun to be a girl who can hold her liquor in such a setting.

Once we’d bought some souvenirs for the kiddo and abandoned the hope of getting through the line into the aquarium, we decided to pop into that little liquor store on the way back to Pigeon Forge. Alas, no Pappy on the shelf, lol. We did, however, find a bottle of E.H. Taylor Small Batch. If you’ve never encountered Taylor, it looks pretty impressive on the shelf, especially since it’s one of those brands that you sometimes have to ask for out of the back of the store where the allocated bourbons are hoarded. We knew enough to be stoked and buy one of the two bottles they had. We debated buying the second as well and later regretted not doing so.

We went about the rest of our day and after dinner decided to crack the bottle. We poured a couple fingers each and were pretty much immediately hooked. It’s simply a perfect, solid bourbon. Taylor Small Batch has a really subtle burn to it, with a smooth caramel finish. We were relishing our Taylor  just as the documentary “Bourbontucky” was coming on TV. We followed the Taylor with a pour of Basil Hayden’s, paying more attention to it’s taste this time as well. Stumbling through trying to pick out the complexities in the tastes of the two bourbons, we sounded slightly ridiculous, but we were hooked. We knew we were starting a bourbon journey.

As with most real bourbon lovers, you hit a point at which you want to taste them all. You want to pick apart each individual barrel and flavor and find that perfect tasting whiskey. We’ve collected and savored so many more fine bourbons since then and continue to try and find those special, hard to find, sometimes allocated bottles of goodness. At the same time, we still have a rotation of solid, tasty regular drinkers that are worth keeping on hand or buying on random occasion.

This blog is my attempt to catalog our tastings and give outlet to my love of bourbon. When you find a fellow barrel junkie, it’s an awesome moment of sharing your passion and mapping out locations to find the next bottle. So, I hope you enjoy the notes of our journey!