Friday, August 31, 2012
To coincide with the Labor Day holiday, I thought I would focus a bit on a good old American tradition, barbecue. Traditionally, the catchphrase among barbecue fans has been "low and slow." Famous barbecue pits across the south smoke their meat for days on end to get the softest, most tender, most smoke infused meat. But there is a new breed of barbecue technicians that thinks differently. Known as the craft barbecue movement, these young innovators are changing the way Americans do barbecue with an innovative cooking technique they call "fast and high".
I caught up with one of the darlings of the craft barbecue movement, Joe Pitts, and asked him about his method.
"Sure the big guys can do low and slow," he says, "they have time. I'm a start-up and I need cash quick. I don't have time to sit around waiting for the meat to get tender so instead, I ramp up the heat and cook it for 20 minutes, then off it goes."
Pitts is confident when confronted with those who are skeptical about his method, "I have a science and engineering background, and I've done numerous studies that show that the chemistry is the same. If you get the meat hot enough, fast enough, it's the exact same impact as cooking it low and slow like those fuddy duddies do. I can show you the research!"
Some barbecue fans have complained that the craft barbecue just doesn't taste as good. Pitts responds, "it's not that it's not as good; it's just different. Does it taste melt-in-your-mouth tender, juicy and smoky? No, but that's not what we're going for. Our barbecue is tough and sort of burnt tasting. It's a totally different flavor that people need to appreciate on its own terms. I'm not trying to do tender and smoky. I'm a rebel, and if you don't like tough and burnt, then you just don't get it."
A major innovator, Pitts also sells plates of completely raw meat with barbecue sauce. "I call it 'white barbecue,' and it's going to be the next big thing."
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Prichard's is a Tennessee microdistillery. Like many micros, along with making their own whiskey, they have been releasing whiskey sourced from the big distilleries. Prichard's Double Barreled Bourbon was their first product and is still their most widely known spirit. It is a Kentucky bourbon that is rebarreled in new charred oak, hece the monicker "double barreled."
Prichard's Double Barreled Bourbon, 9 yo, 45% abv ($60)
The nose on this has a strong dose of banana candy followed up by some lighter candy notes. On the palate, it's got a lot of those same notes, very sweet with a lot of candy. For being rebarreled in new oak it's surprisingly light in wood notes. The finish has a slight tinge of pine.
Overall, I'm not too impressed with this one. I've had previous bottles that I've liked, and it's possible that the bourbon changed, given that it's sourced, but I wouldn't run out and buy this one.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Still seeking a cool reprieve from the summer heat and seeking uses for my newly acquired bottle of Chartreuse, I've been experimenting with some non-whiskey cocktails. Today, another easy to make prohibition era classic, the Champs Elysées (recipe from the Savoy Cocktail Book by way of DrinkBoy):
1 1/2 ounces brandy
1/2 ounce Chartreuse
3/4 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Shake with ice, strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.
This is refreshing enough, but the brandy gets pretty overwhelmed by all of the other strong flavors, I bet this one would do better with a rye whiskey or maybe even gin.
Monday, August 27, 2012
Jaragua is an impressive looking orange adobe building on Beverly Boulevard west of Normandie. When it first opened a few years ago, I found it pretty unexceptional. Over the years, though, it's managed to really pick up its game. It's great to see a restaurant get better rather than worse over time.
The menu is pretty standard Salvadoran but everything is done well. I like the pupusas revueltas (with just pork and cheese) which are well stuffed such that every bite yields a lava-like flow of porky/cheesy goodness. They do a good pan con pavo (the traditional Salvadoran turkey sandwich), nicely fried yuca and they have salpicon, the dish of minced beef, mint and onions that is the Salvadoran equivalent of Thai larp. It's also a really nice place to sit and have a family meal, which is not something that can be said of all Salvadoran restaurants. It's definitely worth checking out.
There has long been a bar at the back of the restaurant, and I usually glance at it and find it, like the restaurant in olden days, pretty unexceptional, just a basic bar that never seems open, probably reserved for a later crowd who wants standard well drinks, sort of like the bar in every dim sum place in the San Gabriel Valley.
So I usually just ignore the thing, but the last time I came in for dinner, I glanced back and saw a bottle of Cynar prominently displayed on the shelf. Cynar is an Italian artichoke liqueur that is popular among the mixology crowd, but not something I expected to see at the long neglected Jaragua backbar. Seeing this, I scanned the shelf: WhistlePig Rye, Redemption Rye, creme de violette a host of bitters, a pot of fresh herbs. Something was amiss.
I strolled back and met Nancy Kwon, the new beverage director for the bar who said they were going to be renaming it the Copper Still and were already open from 8:00 pm to 2:00 am on Fridays and Saturdays, with a focus on prohibition era cocktails (natch!). While they are putting up a partition to separate the bar from the restaurant, you'll still be able to get pupusas at the bar, sort of like the Kibitz Room at Canter's, though without the divey feel.
I was there for an early dinner so I didn't get to try any cocktails, but I like the look of the place and it's a nice addition to the neighborhood, which doesn't have much in the way of craft bars. I'll report back once I check it out.
Jaragua & The Copper Still
4493 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90004
Sunday, August 26, 2012
Mother Dough (spelled hipster/ee cummings style with no caps - "mother dough") is a Neapolitan style pizzeria on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Feliz that's been getting a lot of praise, and while the pizza is generally good, the prices are way out of whack for what you get.
We orderd two appetizers. The sardine crostini, for $8, was two slices of bread topped with a single basil leaf and a white sardine with lemon juice and orange zest. It was fine, but very small. The charcuterie plate, on the other hand, was quite good with a variety of salumis, speck and other cuts.
The pizzas are the single serving, traditional Neapolitan style and range from $15 to $19 per pie. The Margherita pizza was quite good, with a thin, chewy crust, and a tangy sauce that went well with the gooey buffalo mozzarella. The sausage pizza was less interesting. The house made sausage sliced over the top was decent but not great, lacking much in the way of spice and it seemed like an afterthought, tossed on top without a sense of how it would meld with the sauce and cheese.
I must say I don't get the hype around this place (given there is an Umami Burger across the street, this may be the most overhyped block in LA). In the world of LA pizza, Mother Dough is pretty decent, though not fantastic. Unfortnately, the place is a terrible value. The prices at MoDo seem to average about a dollar more than Mozza, while the pizza is nowhere near as good as those revelatory pies, and the portions are much smaller. Of course, it's a lot easier to get a table at Mother Dough, so maybe you're paying for the privilege of being able to dine-in, sort of a reverse delivery charge. Still, I'll take Mozza2Go over a table at MoDo any day of the week.
In any case, while the food was decent, I had no desire to return.
4648 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Phone: (323) 644-2885
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Earlier this week, I took a stab at what I think are the three most underrated distilleries. Today, we look at the most overrated distilleries. I'm aware that I am committing a number of heresies with this list, so feel free to tar and feather me in the comments, and keep in mind, I'm not saying that the whiskey from these distilleries is bad, just that they don't quite live up to the hype.
Cooley. Whiskey geeks love independence and innovation, but sometimes those factors seem to take precedence over quality. Cooley, up until they sold to Beam earlier this year, was a darling of the whiskey geeks for its independent spirit (pun intended). They make not only traditional Irish blended whiskey, but also single malt, single grain and peated single malt whiskey. But for all their innovation, I can't say I've been overly impressed with many Cooley whiskeys. Just because you can add peat, doesn't mean you should, and Connemara may be the best example of that. Cooley's other whiskeys aren't bad, but they just don't seem to merit the attention Cooley gets.
Ardbeg. Ardbeg has made some legendary whiskies in its time, but what has it done for us lately? The standard line as it's been for a few years: Ardbeg 10, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan are good whiskies, particularly Uigeadail, but certainly not of the quality or sophistication of some of their earlier stars. This is understandable as they were closed for a period and, like much of the industry, are clearly dealing with a shortage of older whisky. What we do get, though, is several annual releases of non-age statement whiskies that seldom measure up to their standard offerings, and a relentless parade of choppers, rockets and other gimmicks. Nevertheless, peatheads still seem to fawn over every rollercoaster, alligator or whisky in space. It seems that Ardbeg's best days are behind it (or, hopefully, in front of it).
Stitzel-Weller. Like Ardbeg, Stitzel-Weller has made some amazing whiskey, but the hype of this closed Kentucky distillery has gotten way out of hand. I've had some fantastic old Stitzel-Wellers, but I've also had some mediocre ones, both recent and dusty. Between every bottle of pre-1992 Old Fitzgerald fetching at least in the mid-three figures on ebay and the regular hysteria around each Pappy release, the hype for this distillery is much more than it deserves.
Runners Up: Macallan, Dalmore and Bruichladdich.
Add your suggestions (or angry tirades) in the comments.
Monday, August 20, 2012
In the world of whiskey, there are some distilleries that are constantly on everyone's tongues and others that fly under the radar. Some deserve the praise heaped upon them, but others seem to have inflated reputations. Meanwhile, some of those that fly under the radar deserve more recognition.
This week, I will look at the three most underrated and three most overrated distilleries. In using these terms, I am referring to their perception in the whiskey geek community, not the population at large, which makes it a harder task. For instance, Jack Daniel's is clearly overrated by the population at large, but not by the whiskey lovers.
We'll start on a positive note, with the three most underrated distilleries (in no particular order).
Glengoyne. Lovers of sherried malts tend to gravitate toward Macallan, Glenfarclas and, lately, GlenDronach. All the while, Glengoyne puts out sherried malt every bit as rich as those heavy hitters, with a complex balance of sherry and wood and layers of flavor with unsherried versions are a delectable fruit salad. Unfortunately, the best of these, like the 1987 single cask, tend to be limited to the overseas market. Still, it seems that, recently, when I sip a new malt that really wows me, it's often a Glengoyne.
Four Roses. Four Roses definitely has a following, but it tends to exist in the shadows of the flashier Kentucky distilleries like Buffalo Trace and Heaven Hill. Four Roses is short on fancy packaging and ultra-limited special releases, but it consistently produces great bourbon from the ten recipes it has at its disposal and prices them fairly.
Charbay. Despite the booming craft distillery movement in the US (my complete distillery list is still regularly updated), the American microdistillery movement has yet to produce a recognized stand-out. Charbay is sort of an oddball even among the innovative craft distillers. Marko Karakasevic produces whiskey from finished beer, which includes hops, and releases it in small quantities. Many whiskey fans may get turned off by the high prices that Charbay whiskeys go for, but there is simply nothing else like those hoppy whiskeys, and while I might grumble about the $350 price tag, Charbay makes truly unique American whiskey.
Runners Up: Other distilleries I considered underrated include Midleton (though its reputation is growing), George Dickel, Bunnahabhain, Dallas Dhu and Glenfiddich.
Did I miss any? Add them to the comments.
Later this week: The Most Overrated Distilleries (and get ready for some whiskey heresy!)
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Cream of Kentucky Bourbon, 40% abv
This has a nice nose with plenty of old bourbon style candy notes. The palate has a nice richness to it with burnt caramel notes and just a bit of spice, though it turns a bit dull before fading without much more than a slightly woody finish. Still, pretty good stuff.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
The Last Word is a prohibition era cocktail that, as with many prohibition era cocktails, has been recently rediscovered. It was brought back by the Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle and apparently remains somewhat of a staple up there.
I didn't have any Chartreuse, an herbal spirit made by French monks, but it is a common ingredient so I decided to pick some up. It's a bit pricy but thankfully is available in 375 ml bottles, which will likely last you a long time given that it tends to be doled out by the half or quarter ounce in cocktails.
It's a lovely drink and very refreshing, equally sweet, sour and spicy, the perfect thing to sip on one of our sweltering LA afternoons.
Monday, August 13, 2012
Whiskey fans everywhere know that ebay has become everyone's favorite place to illegally buy and sell liquor at exorbitant prices. In celebration of this amazing underground whiskey secondary market, I thought I would give readers a preview of some of the great items I'll be putting on ebay in the coming months. Each one is a gem.
Very Very Very Very Old Fitzgerald, distilled 1763 by Pappy Van Winkle!!
This ultra-rare Stitzel-Weller collectors item is the oldest bourbon every made. It was handmade by Pappy Van Winkle of the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. This antique, tax stamped, Stitzel-Weller bourbon was acquired on a dusty shelf in Colonial Williamsburg. I had it personally authenticated by whiskey historian Mike Peach of the Indiana Historical Society. Of course, no one alive today has ever tasted it, but this is probably the best tasting bourbon in the world.
Rare Willett's Bourbon
This is a rare bottle of Willett's Bourbon bottled by the Willett Distillery in Kentucky. (Note, the fill level is slightly below the shoulder since I drank some of it before deciding it would be better to sell it).
3 Grams Cocaine in Decorative Pouch
Three Grams of 100% Cocaine contained in a beautiful decorative pouch.
This item complies with all ebay conditions:
– The value of the item is in the collectible container, not its contents.
– The container has not been opened and any incidental contents are not intended for consumption.
– The item is not available at any retail outlet, and the container has a value that substantially exceeds the current retail price of the cocaine in the container.
Alright everyone, get your checkbooks out, program your bidding robots and be ready for your chance at these excellent items!
UPDATE: Having received a number of weird and concerned emails about this post, I feel obligated to point out that it is satire! I am not actually an ebay drug dealer (or any other kind of drug dealer). Come people, get a sense of humor.
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
From the mailbag:
Dear Sku, can you tell me all of the wheated bourbons in current production?
Wheated bourbons or "wheaters" are bourbons that use wheat instead of rye as the secondary grain after corn. They tend to be very popular with bourbon lovers. As far as I know, these are the currently in production wheated bourbons.
Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond
Old Fitzgerald's 1849
Very Special Old Fitzgerald 12 year old
Parker's Heritage Collection 10 year old Wheated (2010 release but still available in some places)
Larceny (coming soon)
Jefferson's (McLain & Kyne)
Jefferson's Presidential Select (17 and 18 year old bottlings of bourbon from the Stitzel-Weller Distillery)
Maker's Mark (Jim Beam)
Rebel Yell (Luxco)
Van Winkle (Van Winkle/Buffalo Trace)
Old Rip Van Winkle 10
Old Rip Van Winkle 10/107
Van Winkle 12 year old Lot B
Pappy Van Winkle 15
Pappy Van Winkle 20
Pappy Van Winkle 23
Weller (Buffalo Trace)
WL Weller Special Reserve
Old Weller Antique
WL Weller 12 year old
William Larue Weller
Micro Distillery Wheaters
Arkansas Young Bourbon Whiskey (Rock Town Distillery, AR)
Blue Corn Bourbon (Don Quixote Distillery, NM)
Cody Road Bourbon(Mississippi River Distilling, IA)
Garrison Brothers Bourbon (Garrison Brothers Distillery, TX)
Smooth Ambler Yearling Bourbon (Smooth Ambler Spirits, WV)
If I missed any, please let me know in the comments.
Monday, August 6, 2012
In July, Whiskyfun, the grandfather of all whiskey blogs, turned a remarkable ten years old. It's mind boggling to think how many whiskey blogs have started since Serge first put finger to keyboard ten years ago or even since I started this blog, a little more than five years ago. The search term "whiskey blog" on Google yields a staggering 149 million results.
Given all of this blogging, it's not surprising that I frequently receive emails from people who are interested in starting a blog or want feedback on their blog idea. Since I've responded to this question many times, I thought I'd post my thoughts.
Dear Sku, should I start a whiskey blog?
Given the massive number of whiskey blogs, the most important question I always ask in response to this question is, why do you want to start a whiskey blog? As with anything, there are good reasons and bad reasons.
Good Reasons to Start a Whiskey Blog
- I want to share information and reviews with friends. Well, this is what it's all about. Not every blogger needs to have ambitions of global domination. Many blogs cater to a club or group of friends who want to share reviews or publicize club events.
- I want to learn about whiskey. You can learn about whiskey without a blog, but blogging, if you do it with care and take pride in your work, will force you to learn. You may even find yourself reading the SWA or TTB regulations in your spare time.
- I like writing. It should be obvious, but blogging is writing. No matter how much you love whiskey, if you don't like writing, you won't enjoy blogging, and why would you do something so thankless if you didn't enjoy it?
- I offer a truly new perspective on whiskey. For all the thousands of blogs out there, most of them are pretty similar, offering reviews and occasional commentary on various whiskeys. While reviews can be very helpful, some of the blogs I enjoy most are those that come at the subject from a different angle. For instance, I love the K&L Spirits Journal because it gives some insight into a retailer's perspective on the whiskey world. I'd love to see a blog from a distributor, someone who works on the floor of a distillery (as opposed to brand ambassador fluff), a cooper or someone else with a truly unique perspective.
Bad Reasons to Start a Whiskey Blog
- I want to make money! This is probably the worst reason to start a whiskey blog. Seriously, you are more likely to win the lottery than get rich on a whiskey blog. There are a few bloggers who have gotten industry jobs or freelance work from their blogs, but those are only the most prominent and well regarded bloggers. The very best scenario you can probably hope for is that, after a few years of tireless blogging, you get an occasional freelance gig that helps you pay your cable bill.
- I want to get free whiskey! This is the second worst reason to start a blog. It's true that there is an upper echelon of bloggers who get regular shipments of free whiskey, but you're not them. I've been doing this for five years, and I can count the free samples I've received on my fingers, and a good chunk of those samples were so bad they weren't worth writing about. Seriously, do you really think that because you have a url, some distillery is going to send you a sample of its new 50 year old? It's not going to happen.
- I want to start a blog for the everyday drinker that can't afford all the fancy, exclusive whiskeys in your snotty blog. I've got news for you, almost all whiskey blogs start this way, but you know what? Eventually, you'll taste all of the "everyday whiskeys" or you'll get bored with them. You'll be curious about what those more expensive, older, cask strength whiskeys taste like. Then you'll want to know what the whiskey from that famous closed distillery tastes like. Then you'll want to know what that whiskey tasted like 30 years ago, and before you know it, you'll be just another blogger reviewing high end, exclusive, snotty whiskeys.
After all of this, if you decide to start a whiskey blog, I would encourage you to read Oliver Klimek's 5 Tips for Whisky Bloggers at Dramming.com. Happy blogging!
Sunday, August 5, 2012
Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village is unlike any San Gabriel Valley Shanghainese restaurant I've been to. Located at the strip mall at 250 West Valley Boulevard in San Gabriel (the same strip mall that contains Beijing Restaurant), the decor can best be described as bordello. The color scheme is black and red with lots of black trim. The chairs are studded with buttons that look like diamonds. The whole place has a feel that you've stumbled back to a ninteenth century bordello or maybe an old Victoria era locomotive dining car.
The menu reminded me of an issue of one of those hair style books at a salon, nearly a full inch thick and packed with large color pictures. The size of the thing seems daunting until you realize that there are only two or three dishes on each page, though it spans from traditional Shangahinese dishes to a dim sum type menu to a vast array of dishes utilizing everything from frog to sea cucumber. The food though, is fabulous.
We split our order between recognizable Shanghainese favorites and dishes we were less familiar with. Among those more recognizable, the highlight was the shen jian bao, traditional Shanghainese pork buns. The buns were crisp and crunchy on the bottom, soft on top, and oozed juice when we bit into them. Xiao long bao were also very well done, certainly as flavorful as my other favorites at Dean Sing World. Spare ribs were rich and tender, though the sauce had less of an anise touch than I'm used to. Stir fried green beans were very good, but about what you would expect. All of these dishes were good, but the shen jian bao are the ones I would be certain to get on a return visit.
Of the dishes I was less familiar with, Old Alley Pork was probably the most intriguing. Served in a red clay pot, the dish consisted of nearly glowing red cubes of pork, equal parts meat and fat. The meat was tender and the fat had a surprisingly toothsome consistency which made you less conscious that you were eating a big hunk of fat. The whole thing was sweet and red. Buried in the pot along with the pork were strips of tofu and a hard boiled egg, all of it stewed in the same, nicely spiced sauce. This was a massively rich pork dish. There was an addictive quality to it, but I still couldn't eat more than about one hunk of pork (which was fine since a small order only comes with five pieces).
Also suprisingly good were the broad beans, big fava beans served in a slightly sweet broth that tasted of sesame oil and was dotted with scallions. The favas retained their texture and picked up all of the good flavors of the sauce. This is one I really couldn't stop eating.
To the extent that any of the dishes had issues, it was mostly in the direction of blandness. Braised three strings, while visually striking with strings of ham, chicken and vegetable, the whole thing doesn't taste like all that much. Similarly, pea shoots in broth were fairly bland, accented only with a bit of salt, it seemed.
This certainly isn't your typical San Gabriel Valley restaurant experience. The service is very formal, though the waitstaff is very polite and extremely attentive. We had a waiter staioned alongside our table for nearly the entire meal. And the prices here are higher than than usual as well (at least for the usual budget friendly SGV), more akin to a place like Sea Harbor than your typical Shanghainese joint.
It may be more of a special occasion stop, but Shanghai No. 1 offers a more refined take on Shanghainese with lots of good dishes and a few (shen jian bao, old alley pork, broad beans) that are really memorable. If you're a fan of Shanghainese, it's definitely worth a stop.
Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village
250 W Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Today, I go further down the bottom shelf with a comparisons of two Seagram's whiskeys. Seagram's was once a mighty Canadian beverage company with distilleries in Canada and the US, including Four Roses and LDI. It owned numerous brands including Crown Royal and also marketed spirit-friendly soft drinks such as ginger ale and tonic water. In the late 1990s, however, the company was bought out and sold into many pieces. Today Pernod Ricard, Diageo and even the Coca-Cola company own pieces of this once proud company.
The only whiskeys that still include the Seagram's name are two diageo blends: Seagram's VO and Seagram's 7 Crown.
Seagram's VO, 40% abv ($16)
According to David de Kergommeaux at Canadianwhisky.org, Seagram's VO is "produced at Diageo’s distillery in Valleyfield, Quebec, with some spirit components coming from other plants."
The nose is extremely sweet. It smells like artificial maple syrup. It tastes about like that too. It's syrupy sweet with maybe a slight spice in the background giving way to a vaguely vodka-like alcohol quality. The finish has some ginger. This is sort of a caricature of what I think of as bad Canadian Whisky, sweet without much else going on.
Seagram's 7 Crown, 40% abv ($13)
Possibly because of the Canadian heritage of the company, most people seem to think Seagram's 7 is a Candian Whisky, but it's an American blended whiskey. American blended whiskey must contain 20% straight whiskey and the rest can be neutral spirits (i.e. vodka), coloring and flavoring. The distillery isn't disclosed but for years the whiskey was distilled at LDI, the former Seagram's distillery in Indiana.
The nose is very vaguely whiskey smelling. That's about it. The palate is just foul. It's sweet and only tastes very vaguely of whiskey. It's sort of a generic whiskey taste, though it's more spicy than sweet so tasting blind I might have guessed that it was a really bad rye, but it doesn't have any really distinctive qualities. The major flavor is just alcohol. The finish is like the taste in your mouth after a bad hangover. There's just no reason to drink this.
Well, based on these, I would say the once mighty Seagram's name has definitely fallen on hard times.