Bourbon Link – Alton Brown talks with Julian Van Winkle

Alton Brown, multi media foodie star, talks to Julian Van Winkle about Pappy, waiting lists, fancy bottles, and a bourbon tasting.  Note to remember – don’t let Alton and his flask near your Pappy!

Alton Browncast – Alton and Julian Van Wiinkle

Ballpark of the Week: PNC Park (Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates)

Ballpark of the Week: PNC Park (Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates)

Ballpark of the Week: PNC Park (Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates)

The first ballpark I will post about is PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and my favorite ballpark to visit to date.  Nestled on the North Shore of the Allegheny River, right around the corner from where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers join to form the mighty Ohio river, this ballpark lives up to all the hoopla that has surrounded it since it’s opening in 2001.

My opportunity to visit PNC came in the late summer of 2008.  My sister Denise was attending graduate school in Pittsburgh, and suggested it as an opportunity for my other sister Therese, girlfriend Jen and her to get together and enjoy an evening.  Pittsburgh (as was so often the case) was well out of the playoff hunt, and had begun a series of post-game concerts and fireworks for a week in August to boost attendance.  After some consideration – Collective Soul, Phil Vassar or REO Speedwagon – the latter was chosen and we planned for a Thursday night at the ballpark.

The drive in was a bit confusing – I have never failed to be absolutely lost in the confusing layout that is Pittsburgh (few know this, but Pittsburgh’s system of roads and highways was laid out by a drunken cat with a Spirograph).  I’m quite sure I drove over the same bridge several times, before finding a nice parking space across the river.  The walk from parking lot to ballpark was wonderful as we could see the stadium and the river, before entering at the left field entrance by the Willie Stargell statue.

The stadium looks right, with it’s steel beams, in the city that made so much of it for so long.  The fans on this night were excited and fun, and there was a nice spirit of camaraderie. The team was 11 games under .500 and playing the equally (at the time) hapless Reds, but the general atmosphere belied this and made it enjoyable.  I was concerned when I looked up and realized, our seats, in section 305, were upper upper deck, but again, I was in for a treat.

Despite it’s altitude, the view from 305 was outstanding.  PNC Park was built to be intimate, and it most certainly is.  We got a fantastic view of the field, and a magnificent view of downtown Pittsburgh across the river.  We settled in for the game, and watched several players who would make names for themselves in the future play (it was the rookie season for Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto, and the second for Brandon Moss).  The game was low scoring, and the pace move quickly as a summer Pittsburgh evening turned to night. Johnny Cueto…I think he comes up in Pittsburgh Pirate lore again later…

I walked around the stadium, and was impressed by the jovial easy-going nature of the crowd.  I did not hear vulgarities or even much heckling.  Again, that may have been due to the more family-friendly fireworks crowd, and the Pirates lack of success, but it was still nice.

Now I admit, I did not try the Primanti’s Bros sandwich that is so legendary around Pittsburgh…at least, not on this visit.  I found concession prices for other eats and drinks about on par with what I expected from other parks: dogs around $5, soda at $6, beer at $8.  More than anything, I was impressed by how I could walk around the stadium and see amazing views from every location.

Back up in 305, the game (and it’s lack  of offense) was starting to bore my sisters and Jen, but the skyline and conversation were not, and when the game ended at 10:00, we wandered down to the riverfront part of the park.  While the strains of “Keep On Loving You,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Take It On the Run” played from centerfield, we walked along the riverfront, watching the band over the fence and looking at the buildings in the distance.  The fireworks began, and the Pittsburgh sky lit up to the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of the crowd.

PNC Park became, and is still,my favorite MLB Park. As you’ll see, I’ve been to a few, and I’ll get to them all.  But it will take a pretty impressive park to knock this out of number one.

Dan’s scale (1-10): 9.2

Below are my stats.  I’ll post them for every park I’ve visited.  I include the big details, as well as who I visited with.  Lastly, I am a huge fan of throwback jerseys, and for every stadium I visit, I buy one of a player from that organization I admired as a kid, from watching them or reading about them.  So for every one, I will also list the throwbacks I’ve purchased for each.

PNC Park – August 14, 2008.  Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates

Date: Thursday, August 14, 2008, 7:05PM

Seat: 305, V, 8

Ticket Cost: N/A

Went with: Jen Weaver, Therese McKernan, Denise McKernan

Attendance: 35,439

Time of Game: 2:54

Linescore:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9    R H E
Reds    0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 1    3 7 1
Pirates 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0    1 8 0

Winning Pitcher: Johnny Cueto (8-11)

Losing Pitcher: Ian Snell (4-10)

Save: Francisco Cordero (23)

Jersey: Roberto Clemente (1971)

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Calumet Farm

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Calumet Farm

Ahh, What a bittersweet weekend. The name of this blog may be “baseball and bourbon,” but if you’ve read a few posts, you know that I am equally a football fan. Last night, my college – the University of Missouri – lost a nail-biter of a game in double overtime to South Carolina. This hurt as Missouri was in fifth place in the BCS, and could have been headed for a national title chance. When I woke up this morning, the loss still lingered. But with the Detroit Lions playing Dallas at 1 o’clock, and a new bourbon to try, hope sprung eternal.

The Detroit Lions. Oh what an exasperating team they can be. In my 36 years on this earth, I have been able to witness one playoff win. Optimism has been high this season, and the Lions have responded by playing the style of up and down, win one lose one football they have played most of my life. Today’s game against the Cowboys seemed particularly important, as losing would definitely move them to the far edges of the playoff picture.

The game was thrilling, but the ending…what an ending. Taking the ball 80 yards in less than a minute, with quarterback Matt Stafford diving in to score the winning touchdown with mere seconds on the clock: amazing. So maybe my newly uplifted spirits guided my review of this weeks selection, the Calumet Farm bourbon. But like the Lions, this drink was sweet.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Calumet Farms
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Calumet Farm

My take: Calumet Farm comes courtesy of a recommendation (like many of my selections) from the guys at Kakos in Birmingham, MI.  It’s a newer bourbon line, with the name from a farm well known for it’s Kentucky Derby winning steeds. I do not know the source of Calumet Farms, and it has no age statement. This one was right up my alley.

The nose was sweet – vanilla, corn, caramel.  

The taste is a little thin, but full of butterscotch, vanilla, caramel,charred oak and a slight, white pepper. It didn’t taste like an older bourbon, so my guess is that it’s 6 years or under. But it was still flavorful and smooth.
 And the finish – absolutely delicious, sweet and so very smooth.  I actually had  more than my usual first tasting because it was so smooth.  I should mention Jen found it a bit bitter, and she is less of a fan of smooth than I am (she likes single barrels more, where I am a bigger fan of blends).

I feel weird saying this about a bourbon that is so new on the scene, but I loved it.

Dan scale (1-10): 8.7

*Update – I have since been told that Calumet Farm Bourbon was a very limited run, and will probably not be available again after this year.  If you’ve heard something different, please let me know.  Otherwise, best gettn’ while the gettin’ s good!

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Early Times 354 Bourbon

This was a pretty cruddy day.  Last night, the Detroit Tigers lost the ALCS to the Boston Red Sox, those grungy, prospector-looking bums from Beantown.  It was a heartbreaker too – another late grand slam,  base-running bloopers by Prince Fielder, more bullpen implosions.  Then, just for good measure, the Lions choked away a game against the Cincinnati Bengals,  Brutal.  It’s only fitting that I sampled a brutal bourbon as well.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Early Times 354 Bourbon
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Early Times 354 Bourbon

This week, I tried another selection recommended for me by my favorite bourbon store here in Michigan, but the results left something to be desired.

The Early Times 354 is a re-entry into the United States market. Early Times was apparently the most popular bourbon in the US in the 1950s, and was (and is) wildly popular in Japan. In sampling it, I couldn’t help but feel it was a throwback to the rougher and tougher standards people had before the more recent small batch, single barrel preference was made.

All of that is a nice way of saying that, as a sipper, Early Times burned. It’s nose was harsh and primarily alcohol – I had to hold it for some time and at a further than normal distance to get a feeling for the notes of corn, cereals and a hint of spices. The taste I had a much more difficult time discerning. The alcohol was so strong, despite it’s being under hundred proof, that there wasn’t a lot of room for flavor. The finish was something out of an old western, where the hero takes a slug of the whiskey in the tavern and grunts. A slow, long burn.

The rest of this bottle will be mixed with Coke for parties, where it will harm no one.

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Penny Packer 80 proof Bourbon

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Penny Packer 80 proof Bourbon

It’s great times.  The Tigers are in the ALCS, the Lions have a winning record, and my main men Joe and Giovanni from Kakos Liquor have advised me of a few new bourbons to give a taste to.  The first one, which I took for a test drive this week, is Penny Packer 80 Proof.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Penny Packer 80 proof Bourbon
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Penny Packer 80 proof Bourbon

Produced in Kentucky, bottled in Germany. I’m not sure how that is remotely close to a good business model, but the amazing thing here is the price point: $18.  That means a fifth is cheaper than Beam or Jack.  But is it as good?  Sort of.

Smooth, vaguely sweet. Sips well, with hints of caramel and vanilla. No overpowering elements. Very clean finish. Not on par with the greats (a little bland) but no shame in it either, and I would think it would be great for bourbon mix drinks.

Dan scale (1-10): 7.3

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 year

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 year

And so it was that I found myself on the highway for a weekend of travel to the our-burbs of Philadelphia and back, to venture to that most strange of environments: my wife’s high school class reunion.  Not just any reunion either, but her sixteenth class reunion (her class did not have the more traditional ten or even fifteen year event).  A night of merriment with strangers whose sole connection is the tenuous relationship they have had with my spouse so long ago that had a child been born on the day of their last commiseration, said kid would be preparing for college themselves.  And atop that, it was on the night of game two of the ALDS is which the Tigers were playing the perpetually underdog Oakland A’s.  If ever there was cause for bourbon, this may be it.

Much to my surprise, this is not how events went down.  The reunion itself was quite pleasant and low-key, and I was introduced to several wonderful people I may not otherwise have met.  I found myself engaged in conversation with some truly interesting individuals, whose acquaintance I am pleased to have made.  Most importantly, my wife enjoyed herself thoroughly, and got to see many old friends.  And as a bonus,the event was at a sports bar, so I still got to see the game, even though a 1-0 loss was hardly what I wished for.

On the way back on Sunday, we stopped at a Pennsylvania liquor store, to pick up some new spirits.  One that caught my eye was the Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 Year, from West Virginia. A quick bit of research online told me that initial reviews were good, and that it would make a good Sunday drinker.  I picked up a bottle, and rambled on.

We headed west to visit with my mother-in-law in southern Pennsylvania, bottle in tow, and took a scenic drive through the Pennsylvania countryside.  The sky was blue and the day was a beaut.  When we finally arrived at her house, we gathered with more family in anticipation of a well-cooked meal, and broke open the bourbon.  Myself, Jen, her mother, her aunt and her grandmother (!) all poured a glass of the Smooth Ambler.  We were pleased.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 year
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 year

My take: The Smooth Ambler 7 year has a punch right out of the bottle.  At 99 proof, that is to be expected – the nose has some serious first-take burn.  Then, the alcohol gave way to earth tones, particularly rye, as well as cinnamon, nuts, oak and even a bit of mint.

The taste was loud and proud.  It starts with sweet spots of honey, charred sugar and caramel, and transitions to a pepper and apple rye.  And there’s that mint again.

The finish is long and hinted of coffee and more pepper.  Finally, a cinnamon and oak wash come over, as the finish dissipates.

This is a nice bourbon.  I enjoyed the rye characteristics, but I’ll admit it had a bit too much spice for my taste profile.  My wife, however, really liked it, as did my in-laws.  Therefore, my rating…

Dan scale (1-10): 8.4