Monday, August 30, 2010
My brother and I were the first to the main table of bourbon and had the chance to be the first guests to chat a bit with Bryson. Later on, we sat down to a fun, informative discussion led by Bryson on the art of creating bourbon, its comparison to other spirits and on a few of the bourbons that were being poured that day. Throughout the night, there was ample room to get a pour of bourbon, a glass of beer and a plate of food, making it a very comfortable event.
So what bourbons did we taste? We started off with what I was looking forward to most, the new edition to the Maker's Mark brand, Maker's 46. Not only did we get a nice looking commemorative glass to try it in (see right), we got the lowdown from Bryson about this recently released bourbon. As you may know, bourbon is made with over 50% corn with a variance of other ingredients, but not a large variance. Most bourbons contain malted barley and rye. Some bourbons substitute rye with wheat; Maker's 46 is one of them. It also gets its name because it was the 46th attempt at a new recipe, the first one being the original Maker's Mark. I don't know about you, but two released bourbons out of 46 attempts gives me the impression that the distillers are perfectionists and that's both admirable and noticeable in the smoothness of the 46.
From there, we went on to try some of the additional brands of Wild Turkey, such as their rye and 101. I was curious about the rye since rye whiskey is such a historic American liquor, yet it nearly disappeared and went unnoticed from most consumers for decades until its fairly recent strong revival.
I believe it was right around then that we sat down for Bryson's discussion after filling our glasses with Buffalo Trace, a very affordable bourbon that I'll be looking out for because it'll definitely give you bang for your buck. Bryson described the distillation process of bourbon, but a couple of the standout things that he stressed were:
1. Bourbon is an American spirit. Though it's often considered to be like Champagne and Scotch in that it has to be from a certain location (Kentucky) to be considered bourbon, small batch makers across the country are making bourbon and the name doesn't get twisted (except for Jack Daniels, which follows a different recipe and is thus, "Tennessee Whiskey")
2. You may look at a bottle of Scotch versus a bottle of bourbon and think, this bottle of Scotch has aged for 5x or more as long and naturally think the longer length of time creates a better result. Well that's obviously debatable but the reason for the difference in aging time is that Kentucky has a much warmer climate and spirits need warmth to absorb the wood barrels that they're aged in. You're not getting much warmth in any part of Scotland and that's the reason it needs to be aged for a longer period of time. Look at quality tequilas and rums in the same way.
3. Perhaps because of this fortunate climate in which bourbon is distilled (or less fortunate Scottish climate, depending on how you look at it) and the less time needed to make it, bourbon is an extremely affordable spirit, especially in comparison to other spirits. I hate to pick on Scotch again, but bottles of it can go for well over a couple thousand dollars, whereas one of the highest rated bourbons will cost you about $100. To put it in perspective, the world's most expensive Scotch runs for about $38,000, while the world's most expensive bourbon is a mere $350.
Some other bourbons that we tried: 1792, Blanton's and Four Roses. I wasn't big on the Four Roses Small Batch or Single Barrel, finding them a bit too harsh; I'd stick with Four Roses Yellow.
As for the beer, there were 4 breweries in attendance. Weyerbacher brought their Insanity, which is a barleywine aged in bourbon barrels. Stoudt's brought a Bourbon-aged Scarlet Lady. Yards brought a Barrel Aged Thomas Jefferson Ale. Last but not least, the Brew Works itself had a few beers to try, one of which fit the theme: a Bourbon Barrel Porter. The other two they had were an apple lambic and a stout, which was my favorite beer of the night.
Merchandise vendors were in attendance and I should mention that my brother had the good graces to buy me a bottle opener. Though the design and idea are obviously crude, "The Punisher" is actually a genius idea for busy bartenders to pry open 2 bottles at once, since the guy who makes them measured the distance that various bartenders hold two bottles between their fingers.
It was great to have attended a low-key, informative and fun event like this that combined bourbon, beer and food. Any fool could tell you that's a winning combination, so I hope to see similar events in the area in the future.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
I was lucky to respond quickly enough to get into the first round of this competition (which filled up in a couple minutes) with other brewers from across the country and was soon after presented with the 3 ingredients:
- Rye Malt
- Dark Belgian Candi Sugar
- Simcoe Hops
Rye Malt (1 lb)
Rice Hulls (1/2 lb)
Chocolate Rye Malt (1/4 lb)
Chocolate Malt (1/4 lb)
Steep and sparge. Begin 60 minute boil.
Munton’s Light DME (6 lb) (60 min)
Kent Golding Hops (1 oz) (60 min)
Dark Belgian Candi Sugar (1 lb) (60 min)
Simcoe Hops (1 oz) (10 min)
Irish Moss (1 tsp) (10 min)
Pitch Wyeast London 1028 Yeast.
Primary – 1 week
*Add 4 oz. oak chips once fermentation begins.
Secondary – 2 weeks
Prime in bottle with 8 oz. Light DME* – 1.5 weeks
All in all, I'm happy with how my beer turned out in terms of taste and aroma. I wasn't as satisfied with its appearance (not nearly dark enough, most likely due to the Light DME I used) and how it incorporated the 3 ingredients. I'm glad that I was able to test out oak chips, which I ended up soaking in bourbon before adding to the secondary. I definitely learned that doing this adds a LOT to the beer, some good information to have if I ever consider doing it again.
Pete was kind enough to put together a podcast of our tasting which was held recently via Skype, in which we tried everyone's beer, commented and decided on the winner, which turned out to be Joe's Drye American Stout. Though I worried how the oak/bourbon taste dominated my beer, it was extremely reassuring to hear that the other guys in the group, considering all of them were fairly experienced brewers, enjoyed its smell and taste despite the 3 ingredients being overpowered.
I was very happy to be part of this competition and think it's a testament to the open-minded and embracing ways of the beer loving and home brewing community (and the power of social media) that a competition like this was put together and open to anyone. We all had nothing but good things to say about each others beers while also learning and receiving valuable critique. Perhaps the best part of the competition was being able to taste what other brewers came up with: a Dunkelroggen (from Steve), a Belgian Dubbel (from Lee), a Baltic Rye Porter (from Chris) and a Drye American Stout (from Joe). Well done guys!
Round 3 was recently filled, but if you are interested in taking part in this competition, just sign up for e-mail alerts at Pete's site and make sure you respond to his e-mail ASAP for rounds 4, 5 or 6. I'm sure that, as long as Pete continues to be nice enough to commit his time to it, this will NOT be the first and last Iron Brewer competition. Good luck to Joe and everyone else in the championship round!