Holy F**k! It was cold last week!

Last week, I ended up getting sick. It sucked. I hate being sick. Especially stomach bugs. They are the worst. But, this particular tummy bug happened to coincide with a truly once in a generation weather event. (You might have heard that we in the upper midwest ended up having a bit of a cold snap last week.) Well, sick or not, I wasn’t about to waste the opportunity presented.

Let me back up a bit. When I was growing up in Northern Wisconsin the adults in my dad’s family had a tendency to drink. A lot. There were cases of beer outside chilling in the snow outside the back door of every winter family gathering. Even in temps well below freezing. Early on, I noticed that the sodas and water would start to freeze a bit faster than those beers did. Not knowing anything about thermodynamics and relative freezing points yet, I didn’t realize that the alcohol helped act as an antifreeze and that the snow acted as a refrigerator but also acted an insulator to help shield that beer from the worst effects of the negative temperatures. The waters and sodas meanwhile were just stuck outside the back door, where there wasn’t any snow and so it froze.

But once I grew up and started learning about these things, I started to realize why the hard liquor that they turned to as evening rolled around never seemed to freeze, even after the beer had started to get a bit slushy. And of course once I got to be a fan of that hard liquor myself, I always wanted to see if I could get that liquor to freeze.

Yes, I am a geek in almost every way you can imagine.

So, last week when the temps were forecasted to be in the “Oh God, please don’t go outside” range, there I was. Outside with one ounce plastic cups of bourbon of varying proofs to see what would happen.

So yeah! I froze bourbon! It was that fucking cold at my house. I hated it. It caused all sorts of havoc in my attic. The dogs started pooping in the house due to not wanting to go outside (can you blame them?). And ultimately I’m just thankful my gas company was able to keep up with my furnace.

I never want to feel those temperatures again. Touching something that is -30° F causes a slight tingling pain in your fingers that lasts a little while. Take it from me, it is stupid and dumb and you shouldn’t do it.

I did learn a little bit though. Here are some photos from after the sun came up to show what happened to each of the bourbons.

As you can see the 80° proof froze solid. It was a bourbon-pop minus the stick. I wouldn’t lick it though. At -30° F you’d probably frostbite your tongue. 90° proof was a little more solid, but had a bit of liquid. And 100° proof was the slushiest of them all. I found it interesting that most of the color and flavor stayed with the water and was locked in the ice. I wasn’t expecting that. And yes, I tasted it after blowing on it to warm it some. It was very odd. Not nearly as pleasurable as a nice glass of neat bourbon though.

All in all it was a fun experiment. I wouldn’t wish for the temperatures to perform it again though.


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An excuse for hoarding: Whiskey Party Lights

I like camping. If you do it right, it’s a nice way to have a glass of bourbon around a campfire. If you do it wrong, it’s a nice way to have a sore back every morning. I used to prefer camping the wrong way. I slept in tents for years. Then I realized that I could still have the campfire, but sleep in a bed.

I recently bought a camper. Now I camp the right way. All the bourbon, none of the sore back.

When you buy a camper, strange things go though your mind. Things like: “I need all new utensils to eat with. The ones in my house aren’t nearly good enough to take outside.” And: “I think I should buy a truck.” And: “Boy, wouldn’t it be nice to hang lights from an awning.”

I had all of these thoughts at one point or another. Some I acted on, others I didn’t. One I acted on was the awning lights. I looked at a bunch of places to see if there was anything fun to be found. Guess what? There wasn’t. I mean some people like flamingos enough to hang them from an awning. Others like toy cars. But I’m a bit judgemental. And I assume others are too. If I was going to be judged for something, it should at least be something I liked. And so Whiskey Party Lights were born.

Here’s how I did it:

Step One: Gather all the minis you’ve been hoarding. I needed 50. (If you are a collector, turn back now. You might find this disturbing.)

Step Two: Drill holes in the caps. I found the easist way to drill some test holes in some test caps and find the one that fits best. You’ll want the fit to be snug so the bottle doesn’t fall off of your light. For my lights I needed a 25/64” hole. NOTE: Don’t even try this without a drill press. I do not want to hear reports of someone slipping with a handheld drill and destroying something important. Furniture, fingers, etc.

Step Three: Spray paint with clear paint. I tried about three different kinds and ended up using Krylon ColorMaster Acrylic Crystal Clear. Not only does it provide water restistance to those with paper labels, but it gives the bottles a frosted finish. This helps to difuse the light a bit and allows the bottles to act more like light bulbs. If you use Maker’s Mark, you may want to tape off the wax if you don’t want it frosted.

Step Four: Let dry. The paint I used took about an hour until it was able to be handled.

Step Five: Fit the bulbs into the caps. I used bottles with both metal and plastic caps. If I were to do it over, I would choose the plastic. The metal is thin and bends. So if you have a cool old dusty you want to use, you’ll need an alternate method of support. I used craft wire to wrap around the neck and hooked it over the wires. I did find that many bottles with metal caps would accept plastic so that is an alternative as well.

Step Six: Hang them up! I bought stainless steel party light hangers from Amazon. They have a clip on one end and a hook on the other. Now you're ready to sit under the glow of 50 LED whiskey lights, drink a bourbon and start on the next set.

My personal search for the next great Four Roses Small Batch recipe

I did something rather drastic last night. I started the night with ten different single barrel bottles of Four Roses Bourbon on the shelf and I ended the night with four different small batch editions of Four Roses bourbon. 

As I reached the halfway point of the bottles I reviewed last spring and started to get a hankering for something a little different, I realized that I was going to these bottles less and less. It’s not that there was anything wrong with them, but 7.5 liters of anything is going to get just a little old after a while. 

But then, I got a great idea. Inspired by a guy I know from twitter, I decided to start mixing them together to see if I could find the world’s next great small batch recipe. I was lucky on this one, every bottle was great on it’s own so I wasn’t trying to hide anything. Instead I was trying to tease out something that was more than the sum of its parts.

Not knowing where to start, I started with like yeast codes in equal amounts. I tried OESF and OBSF first and that was pretty good. Then I tried OESQ and OBSQ…that was terrible. I added an equal amount of OESF though and it was amazing. Something about that OESF caused all sorts of magic to happen.

Blend One: OESQ + OBSQ + OESF

Details: 57.5% ABV

Nose: Starts with pear and citrus. Moves to strong oak. then settles into a buttery caramel.

Mouth: Buttery caramel and vanilla anlong with an herbal spiciness. Almost basil.

Finish: Herbal with a hint of sweetness and a lot of spice. Nice and long.

Thoughts: Considering this was a desperate attempt to salvage a bad tasting mixture, it rocks my world that it ended up so good. I love that it takes three that many people react poorly to and turned them into something wonderful.

After that second experiment I decided that I needed to approach this from a different angle. I tried pairing like with like. Four Roses says that Q yeast is floral and so I tried pairing those with a fruity OBSV. It was ok, not great. I tried pairing OBSF and OBSQ. All my notes say for this one is: No. I tried opposites. OBSV and OBSK, fruity with spicy. That was pretty good, not awesome. 

I tried a few more ways without hitting anything great. As I was getting close to giving up, I remembered that I have a bunch of empty Limited Edition Small Batch bottles right there. And they have the recipe on them. First I tried recreating the 2009 that I loved so much. Two-thirds OBSK with one-third OESO. My notes for that say “Super Yum.” I tried the 2013 recipe, equal parts OBSV, OESK and OBSK. Same thing. 

Blend Two: OBSV + OESK + OBSK (Replica 2013 LE SB)

Details: 58.0% ABV

Nose: Very clean smelling, like a after a fresh rain. Ripe cherries, cinnamon candies and oak.

Mouth: Chewy caramel, citrus and a big load of spices: ginger, cinnamon, clove, etc.

Finish: oak, lingering bitterness and a long warmth

Thoughts: While I can’t say for certain that this is as good as the 2013 LE SB (literally, I refuse to crack my reference samples right now) it is amazingly good in it’s own right.

Inspired, I jumped back into it. OBSO + OESK + OESQ. Spicy, creamy, super yum! OBSO + OESF + OESK + OBSF? Amazing! Finally I decided to try the big one. All ten. It’d take a lot of measuing small amounts. Especially if I wasn’t going to end up with a pitcher full. Well, guess what? Now I want a cask strength Yellow Label released. It’s simply amazing what all those flavors do with one another. 

Blend Three: All Ten (Cask Strength Yellow Label?)

Details: 56.2% ABV

Nose: Ripe cherries, pear, allspice and black pepper.

Mouth: very supple mouthfeel. Sweet. Juicyfruit gum, oak and a tasty floral note.

Finish: Lingering floral flavors and a nice long heat.

Thoughts: I liked this one so much I took a little of each bottle and made my own 750 mL bottle of it.

And that’s what gave me the idea to start consolidating into various blends. I looked up the label for the 2014 Limited Small Batch and made one of those, came to about half a bottle. I made about 3/4 of a bottle of the Spicy, creamy, super yum I mentioned above. And then I was left with four heels. Having decided I wanted the shelf space I just mixed them together. While they didn’t turn out to be a super yum, the combination of one part OBSF, one part OESV, three parts OBSQ and two parts OESO was tasty enough. Especially since the recipe was a completely random event. 

Did I find the next great Small Batch recipe? Maybe I did. Maybe I've just had a lot of fun. Since I started playing with blending the Four Roses, I’ve tried blending other things. I’ve been desperately trying to mix something with the Rebel Yell that will make it something I can swallow without dumping the rest of the glass out. No go. I’ve mixed bourbon with Brenne. That was pretty damn tasty. I’ve done a few other things too that I now can’t remember. It opened my eyes up to another fun part of having so many open whiskies. If I look at them as the components of recipes, I have an almost infinte number of combinations to explore.

The disappointment and redemption of Fleischmann's Straight Rye

It’s mid-March 2013 and I’m about to embark on one of the most disappointing, and yet ultimately most interesting, hunts of my life: the hunt for Fleischmann’s Straight Rye. 

I discovered that Fleischmann’s Straight Rye existed, coincidentally, by finding out that it had been replaced. As Sazerac is wont to do, a statement that hinted at an age had been removed and replaced with a bit of nonsense in the same typeface. Straight Rye Whiskey had turned to Mash Rye Whiskey. 

A label change would not normally be enough to send me searching for a whiskey. But in the article, Chuck mentioned that it was the only rye made at the Barton distillery and that it is distributed only in Northern Wisconsin. Well, that’s home. And for the next few months every time I went back home, I checked the liquor stores to see if I could find it. And in October 2013, I finally did. 

Now, Fleischmann’s, whatever the spirit, is a bottom-shelf product. There is a vodka, gin, rum, brandy and blended whiskey to go along with that rye. But it’s an old name and was born from the same company that birthed the yeast that most baker’s are familiar with. That company was born in 1868. And along with being the first to introduce yeast sold in it’s modern form, they also were distillers. Wikipedia claims that they were America’s first commercial producer of gin but it’s Wikipedia, so take that with a grain of salt.

All that is to say that I really shouldn’t have expected a lot of this product. But, yet, I kind of did. I’d read good reviews of it. The forums at StraightBourbon.com had entire threads dedicated to singing its praises. It couldn’t be terrible, could it?

It couldn’t. It was not terrible. It was close to terrible, but not terrible. It was bad enough that I didn’t want to infuse it or cook with it for fear the flavor would come through. It made the only manhattan that I’ve ever dumped out. But it was better than say, Rebel Yell. So it sat on my shelf. For months. I tried giving it away as a curiosity sample, but felt bad doing it and more often than not cautioned the recipient to not drink it. What could I do? There is no way I can throw away a whiskey, yet it was taking up valuable space on the shelf. 

And so it sat. My excitement in a successful hunt turned to disappointment. At least until I traveled to Virginia and visited the A. Smith Bowman distillery (another Sazerac location). As a souvenir, my wife bought a bag of barrel char that she could stick in a container and smell every once in a while. They said if you dumped a tablespoon of whiskey in there every so often, it would retain the smell it came with. Now there was a use for that Fleischmann’s, but 1.75 liters would take a long time to disappear a tablespoon at a time. But it inspired me to try something. Aging bourbon in a second barrel is big right now. It could be another bourbon, a cognac, sherry or even rum barrel. I didn’t have a barrel, but I did have barrel char. And I had a lot of whiskey that I didn’t know what to do with. Hmmm…

I devised an experiment. I set up four mason jars and put a quarter cup of barrel char into each one. I then took added a cup of Fleischmann’s Rye, tightened the lid and put it into a closet, shaking it every day. I strained the first through a series of coffee filters after a week. The next was strained at two weeks, the third at a month and the final at 2 months. I also poured a four ounce sample to use as a control. The results were as follows:

Fleischmann’s Straight Rye Whiskey

Purchasing info: ~$12 for a 1.75L, Northern Lakes Cabin Stop, Hayward, WI (October 2013)

Nose: Silage/grain with hints of mint and cherry

Mouth: Thin, lightly sweet, hints of mint that feel medicinal.

Finish: Gentle with a faint charcoal aftertaste

Thoughts: This was an inexpensive curiosity. I can’t imagine using this for everyday drinking/mixing/cooking. Now that it seems to have been replaced by Mash Rye Whiskey, I doubt anyone other than the Straight Bourbon forum inhabitants will miss it.

Barrel Char Finishing Experiment 

Nose

  • Even after a week’s infusion, this doesn’t nose like the same whiskey. It’s sweeter, showing much more caramel. 
  • Not much difference between week one and two.
  • By one month, the silage from the control sample is gone and the cherries are back, but now they are chocolate covered. 
  • At two months, the cherries are not only chocolate covered, but dark chocolate covered and joined by rich caramel and char.

Mouth

  • A week made a lot of difference in the mouthfeel. It’s thicker and much sweeter. The bourbon influence is clear.
  • At two weeks, the silage flavors are gone. There is more cherry presence with hints of chocolate. Think of the liquid that runs out of the Christmas candy. It’s kinda cherry and kinda chocolate, but not quite either.
  • One month: Dark, rich and thick in the mouth. Cherry notes very pronounced with black pepper spice.
  • At two months this is like drinking a candy bar: toffee, coconut, nougat, chocolate. And of course that ever present cherry.

Finish

  • Week one: getting better
  • Week two: no real change
  • One month: The finish still has hints of the original medicinal mintiness but there is much more warmth and it lasts a lot longer
  • Two months: lingering spice and sweetness in the finish. After a bit the mint returns.

Thoughts

After a week or so, you start to notice that there is something interesting going on. It’s not there yet, but you know there is something. At about one month, it’s actually gotten to something I would drink on it’s own. the dichotomy between the thick, rich, spicy sweet mouth and the minty finish is very interesting. At two months, the flavors are even more complex, but they are starting to become muddied. If I were forced to chose one of these to bring to market, I’d go with the one month. 

I thought that this purchase was a bust. If this experiment hadn’t yielded something drinkable, I would have dumped it out and not thought about it again. But it turned out to be one of the most interesting redemption stories I’d ever witnessed. In fact, it was good enough that I poured the control and the one and two week infusions together and am reinfusing it. I’m starting at three weeks, but may let it go for another if it isn’t ready yet. I’m now actually quite excited about my bourbon-char finished rye whiskey.