Eric Felten, on The Daily Beast website today, writes an article about the popularity of “sourced” whiskey in the craft-whiskey industry. Worth a read – and consideration – when buying that next mystery $50 bottle of bourbon…
Ballpark of the Week: Wrigley Field (Home of the Chicago Cubs)
This year was the 100th anniversary of the opening of Wrigley Field, Chicago’s little baseball wonderland nestled in the middle of a true neighborhood and much heralded both for its authentic, old-time baseball feel, as well as the extraordinary amount of …um…losing… that has happened there.
In 2008, just one month after I had kicked off my “visit all of the ballparks” mission, my then-girlfriend-now-wife Jen surprised me with a trip to Chicago to see the Cubs play at Wrigley Field. Not only had she gotten the location, she had also (1) purchased bleacher seats (I had said I wanted to experience the park in the bleachers with the ‘bums’), (2) against their rivals the St. Louis Cardinals, and (3) in a pennant winning year, no less! This was a home run of a surprise, no pun intended. So in September of 2008, we loaded up the car and drove to Chicago to take in some baseball.
For those who don’t know, Wrigley Stadium is in the middle of a real Chicago neighborhood (Wrigleyville), so one of the first things to know is that parking is extremely hard to find and at a premium. Luckily, the ever prepared Jen was aware of this, and had not only gotten us a hotel a distance away, but plotted out the train lines so that we could get there bright and early. Which we did – wise decision, as it turns out people line up EARLY for the bleachers and day games. We joined a line full of reveling Cubs fans, and I don’t think it’s going to shock that many of them had begun the day’s drinking well before they got there. It was a party atmosphere and, when they finally opened the gates and we came pouring in, it stayed that way.
Immediately, Wrigley Field transports you into a different time (Fenway does this even more so, a point for another post). It feels incredibly small and comfy, and not overwhelming like many modern stadiums do. Most importantly, a sense of history just seems to seem out of every crack and crevise. The feeling that it’s bigger – bigger than you and me – and smaller at the same time. It’s just a game, just a sporting event. Grown men running around a grassy field. But it has meant so much to so many. I know I’m sounding like Terence Mann, James Earl Jones’ character from Field of Dreams, but as hokey as it seems, Wrigley makes you feel this way. There really is something to be said for standing in the same place to get a beer and hot dog where generations of fans have done the same thing.
That said, one of the first things you’ll notice is a small group of vendors and concessionaires than you are used to. It’s not that there aren’t plenty, but the concourse doesn’t seem like a shopping mall, like it does in most stadiums. We made our way to our seats, and stopped for the right food and drink for the experience: Chicago style dogs and Old Style beer. Wrigley has it’s share of specialty foods now, and micro-brews, but we were going for the fully authentic experience. Dogs and suds in hand, we wandered down to our seats.
Now, plenty has been said about the Bleacher Bum’s rowdiness and sometime lac of manners, but we did not experience any of that this day. The people around us were pleasant and cheerful, and pretty damn knowledgeable about their baseball! Not many other stadiums in America have their outfields fill up an hour before game time, but this one does. The temperature was just right – mid 70s – and there was a slight haze over the field. We watched the prep and marveled on the famous outfield ivy and the magnificent old scoreboard. While I admit, the Chicago dog was not my cup of tea, my wife still swears that it was the best dog she ever had.
The game itself was a bit of a sleeper. The Cubs clinched their division the night before, so they put in their “B” lineup this day. To be honest, I only knew a couple players on the Cubs roster that day (Kosuke Fukudome, Ryan Dempster), and the Cardinals roster wasn’t much better, although they had left in Albert Pujols. But it didn’t matter. For nine innings (that only took 2 1/2 hours), we soaked in the sun (it ended up reaching the mid-80s), enjoyed some of baseball’s best fans and ate a few too many Chicago Dogs.
Wrigley Field is a baseball Mecca, and a trip that any true fan of the game’s history should undertake if they can. As we left, Cubs “W” flag for win being hoisted high, I got the amazing feeling one does when they know they just crossed an item off of their ‘bucket list,’ and it didn’t disappoint. If you can, go soon, while they are still rebuilding. This isn’t a cheap park to visit when they are winning, but it’s a little better now. With
Dan’s scale (1-10): 9.1
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 added to my collection for each.
Wrigley Field – September 21, 2008. St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs
Date: Sunday, September 21, 2008, 1:24PM
Seat: BLCHR, GA, Seat 1462
Ticket Cost: N/A
Went with: Jen Weaver
Time of Game: 2:26
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Cardinals 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 7 1
Cubs 0 0 1 1 0 2 1 0 X 5 10 0
Winning Pitcher: Ryan Dempster (17-6)
Losing Pitcher: Braden Looper (12-14)
Jerseys: Ernie Banks (1968) and Ryne Sandberg (1984)
OK, two things:
1) As this summer has gotten busier and busier, I have not been good about posting regularly. I’m still sampling new bourbons, still reading about developments in the whiskey world and what not, but I’m not writing about it enough.
2) Despite the name “Baseball and Bourbon,” I hardly ever write about baseball! I named the blog Baseball and Bourbon because I planned on reviewing two of the things I enjoy the most: baseball parks and bourbons. However, I discovered two key facts early on – it’s difficult to visit new parks regularly, and it’s way more fun (and easy) to try new bourbons. This year alone, I have been able to visit one new park (Nationals Park), but will have gone on three separate trips to Kentucky for bourbon related events.
Both of these things will change now.
Not going to more baseball parks – time and money can prohibit that pretty severely. But introducing more baseball content. Reviews of baseball books, baseball movies, write-ups of parks I’ve visited in the past and just more baseball chatter will be a priority. My hometown Detroit Tigers are (again) serious contenders for the title, and I keep pretty well plugged in to baseball. Time to put it to type.
Secondly, I will include more bourbon reviews, but also, talk more at length about whiskey bars I visit, industry trends, and other whiskeys, especially ryes,
So let the fun begin!
Last night, after what has proven to be a particularly trying week in many regards, my wife and I sat down and opened a bottle that she had picked up a few weeks back out of curiosity.
OK, call this a spoiler alert, but I LOVED this bourbon. Ezra B (Brooks) 12 Year is a Heaven Hill distillery product, and while Heaven Hill makes some bourbons I have liked (Evan Williams, Elijah Craig) and some I haven’t, none have ever tasted quite like this.
While the Ezra B 12 Year is the classier bottle of the Ezra Brooks line, with its wax cap and ribboned label, it’s not obscenely priced. A little harder to find here in Detroit, it was still available at a store, and not only through third party sellers. We opened the bottle and poured a healthy amount into our glasses…
…wow, what a fantastic nose. Ezra B is 99 proof, but the nose didn’t burn of alcohol at all. Amazingly, it was a sweet, rich nose, with notes of vanilla, caramel, raisin, rum, pecans and wood. Not charred wood, mind you, but soft wood, like a new baseball bat. It was warm and inviting.
The taste was outstanding. First of all, Ezra B 12 Year is a thick mouth feel – like a melting butter. But unlike most thicker tasting bourbons, Ezra B isn’t full of those mouth-puckering tannins some people (not I) love. Instead, it’s incredibly smooth with a layered taste. It opens with a rich sweetness – raisin and ripe banana, toffee and caramel, before giving way to a warming but not overpowering spice.
The finish is soft and medium, and almost seems to come in waves, but not of spice or rye, but rather, that wonderful citrus taste.
This just became a favorite.
Dan’s rating: 9.3
Summer has finally come to Michigan, with heat, humidity and thunderstorms. What better time to continue with the blog about the Pappy For Your Pappy dinner and Kentucky trip?
As I mentioned in my earlier blog, I was feeling pretty ill the first day of our Kentucky trip, and by the time we left Four Roses, I was becoming very concerned: would this stomach bug keep me from the Pappy tasting and dinner at Buffalo Trace? I didn’t want to think about it, but the truth was, it was a real possibility. My wife and I discussed, and decided to keep on moving, make a trip to a few of Kentucky’s finer liquor stores in search of new hooch, then head to Wild Turkey to take in the sights and tastes.
This plan was doomed from the start. We drove to Lexington, to shop at the massive Liquor Barn store, and were able to procure a few spirits not available here in the mitten state (as well as a case of the outstanding Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale). We then backtracked to the Wild Turkey distillery, hoping to catch a mid-afternoon tour…
Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. We had just missed one tour, and would have to wait an hour for the next one. In my state, that did not seem like a great idea – certainly not with a delicious dinner and some Pappy Van Winkle waiting for me! Luckily, the Wild Turkey visitor center has a nice set of displays dedicated to the history of the drink, as well as the legacy of Master Distillers Jimmy and Eddie Russell. We wandered around the nice grounds and looked at the displays, until finally it was time to try to get a little rest and hope to feel better for the big event.
And in large part – it worked! I may have still been a little queasy, but when the time came to head to Buffalo Trace Distillery and have a dinner and tasting with the Van Winkles, I seemed to shake it off. I’ve been to the beautiful Buffalo Trace distillery before, so we decided to skip the tour this time, for restful purposes.
Now, one thing I’d really like to mention is how nice, personable and kindly every person we have ever met affiliated with Buffalo Trace has been. This year was no exception. As I mentioned before, the tickets for this year’s Pappy dinner were a popular item, and I’m sure they have more than had their hands full with it. But, just as last year, every person was sweet and wonderful, even remembering the names of my family members that had purchased us the tickets before check-in.
We made our way over to the Elmer T. Lee Clubhouse to find our seat, and have a cocktail before dinner. Just as last year, the room was adorned beautifully, with candles in Pappy Van Winkle bottles on every table, the tasting glasses out and poured, and tables numbered.
One of the great parts of a dinner like this is sitting and talking with other bourbon enthusiasts, and we certainly had a great time with that. Our table had wonderfully nice and interesting people, and we were pleased to find out we were sitting with Tim Beckelhimer and Larry Parece, who run The Bourbon Guys blog (http://www.thebourbonguys.com/). Over a lovely dinner of salad, asparagus and steak, we talked about what brought all of us to bourbon, what is available where we live (a father and daughter at the table came in from Louisiana and North Carolina, respectively), and our fondness for that rarest of drinks, Pappy Van Winkle.
Julian and Preston Van Winkle took the microphone, and led us through the tasting of each of this years tasting selections: the 12 year Family Reserve and the 15, 20 and 23 year bourbons. As always, they were amazing…with one exception.
The 20 Year Pappy Van Winkle, which no less than Preston Van Winkle referred to as “the one that put us on the map,” tasted…very weak. Like 40 proof week. Had someone snuck a sample and replaced the precious drink with water? We will never know…
But the other four were, of course, fantastic. Even the 23 was a little smoother than when I had last tasted it. Then they open up the floor for questions. It was very similar to last year (Any tips to finding Pappy? How does my state get more?), with a few new ones. One person asked the difference between Weller and Van Winkle, which both use an identical recipe. Julian explained that it was a matter of selection (all Van Winkles are sampled and chosen by the father and son team, and are stored uniquely in the middle of the barrelhouse), where as Weller takes the rest, and then blends their final product. There was talk about the theft (no one was ever arrested, and Julian suggested that no one would be, after police interest ironically dried up post-election)and the history of Van Winkle, Stitzel-Weller.
After the Q and A, the Van Winkles retreated back to the Buffalo Trace Visitor Center, where they were on hand to sign items, and answer questions. I said hello, and then we headed for the hotel. We had another big day ahead of us.