Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Virgil Kaine Bourbon and Ginger

“Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville train…”  So begins one of the most legendary songs in the rock lexicon, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” The song tells the story of the surrender of the Confederacy from the viewpoint of a southerner.  Written by The Band, released in 1969 and sung by Levon Helm, the American, southern drummer and singer in a band of Canadians who understood Americana as good as anyone.  This week is the fourth anniversary of Helm’s passing, so let’s raise today’s glass to him.  The fact it’s named Virgil Kaine makes it all the more appropriate.

imageDan's Bourbon of the Week: Virgil Kaine Bourbon and Ginger
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Virgil Kaine Bourbon and Ginger

Virgil Kaine (with a “K”) is also the name of a whiskey maker from South Carolina.  Founded by two acclaimed chefs, the idea was to take the concepts of molecular gastronomy and apply it to whiskey making.  While there are many examples of this today – Jefferson’s Chef Collaboration, for instance – the idea was more novel in 2011 when David Szlam and Ryan Meany decided to take a love of whiskey and culinary experimentation and start the company.

Their most recognizable product is the Bourbon and Ginger.  The process is unique: they start with a young sourced bourbon, heavy in rye (60-36-4 corn/rye/barley) and then infuse locally grown yellow hawaiian ginger.  Different sources mention the addition of other ingredients, including (potentially) cinnamon and vanilla.  After maceration, the bourbon is distilled a second time for refinement before being bottled and sold.  But how does it taste?

Dan’s take:

The nose is a cool customer.  There is obviously ginger, but not nearly as strong as I expected.  Similarly, there is light cinnamon, vanilla and a touch of baking spice.  What there isn’t is oak or strong bourbon presence.  The fact this is a young pour shows in the nose.  Still, it is a pleasant softness, that slightly reminded me of a glass of Vernors.

The taste is more aggressive with its ginger – it comes in right from the get go.  It has a freshness to it, along with a soft sweetness.  There is vanilla, and the light pop on the back of the tongue of cinnamon.  The vanilla is soft, and like in the nose, the rye bourbon is not harsh in the least.  I can understand why they are choosing to use a young bourbon – the taste retains the corn sweetness, but doesn’t overpower the gentle ginger notes with oak and burn.  It tastes like a cocktail, and a well mixed one at that.  I am curious how a wheated variation may taste…

Jen pointed out the same thing.  When we added soda water, it deadened the flavor too much.  The best way to enjoy it was neat or with a few rocks.  Straight, it drinks like a nice – albeit potent – cocktail.  If you like your whiskey with a touch of ginger, you cannot go wrong with this one.

This product does not seem to be available in Michigan, or many northern or western states yet.  I grabbed my bottles while in Atlanta and Asheville a few weeks back.  Hopefully, distribution will expand further as well.  It’s a fun addition to the liquor cabinet.

Dan’s Rating: 8.2


Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: George T. Stagg

A good start to the week – my beloved Detroit Tigers won the first of three against the division rival (and division leading) Kansas City Royals yesterday afternoon, closing the pennant gap to one.  The Detroit Lions beat up on the New York Giants last night on Monday Night Football to kick a new season off the right way.  And the temperature here in Detroit leads one to think autumn is right around the corner.  My favorite time of year.

For this week’s Bourbon of the Week, however, I return to those dog days of summer.  I was fortunate enough this year to accompany my lovely wife on a work trip to Los Angeles back in July.  It was a fantastic trip, full of sun, beaches, wonderful entertainment and great food.  We got to see Chris Isaak (a favorite of mine) at the Hollywood Bowl, and take in a show at the Comedy Store, including Marc Maron and Ralphie May. But, while LA has all the glitz and glamour, there is one thing it is definitely missing: bourbon.

Now, that’s not to say I didn’t find some good times and good bourbon.  A visit to the Dresden made me feel like I was in Swingers, and three fingers of Maker’s Mark certainly helped with that.  But from establishment to establishment, it was more of the same: Jim Beam, Wild Turkey and Makers.  No Buffalo Trace, no Woodford, not even Knob Creek.  Finally, I went online to find somewhere in this sprawling expanse to procure a glass of something…special.  And sure enough, I found it, in Hollywood, of all places.

The bar is called the Township Saloon, and I will review the bar itself in the near future.  It’s a cool, hipster-meets-divey bar on Sunset, away from the Hollywood hullabaloo, and on that Friday night, kind of quiet.  Perfect for sampling one of the rarest of treats, because they had George T. Stagg.

For some reason, I have been unable to locate a bottle of GTS in Michigan, even third party, and Kentucky has fared me no better.  So I was excited to take a drink of this much respected and crowed about product for myself.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: George T Stagg
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: George T Stagg (photo from Wikipedia, as my camera stopped working that night!)

Some say George T. Stagg is the best bourbon made – another fine member of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.  It’s age varies (I have been told the 2013 was 16 years old), and it is a proud product of Buffalo Trace mashbill #1.

It has a very high proof – 129 on this bottling – so a keeping a little ice handy isn’t a bad idea, although I first tried it neat.  After all the raving I’ve read, I was looking forward to trying it.

The nose took me a minute.  Like most high proofed bourbons, the alcohol sears a bit on first blush, and should be given a minute to breathe.  Then, the world opens on this glass.  There was a dark sweetness to it, toffee and caramel, but not overwhelmingly so.  Plum, raisin peeked through, maple sugar, and a soft oakiness that was dry and had a hint of tobacco.

The taste was dark as well.  The toffee remained, along with an almost dark chocolate character. There was a hint of bitter, like coffee, before giving way to a wood that seemed fresh.  It is a strong drink, so I added a few ice chips, and found the sweetness seemed to dissipate a bit, while the oak and slight bitter remained.

The finish was surprisingly short for such an aged and high-proof pour, although I did get hints of cinnamon on the back end.

Did I enjoy it? Thoroughly.  Is it in my top five?  Well, not this years, but that just gives me a reason to try again next year.

Dan’s Rating: 8.8


Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, Warehouse Liquor (Chicago, IL)

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, Warehouse Liquor (Chicago, IL)

This week’s bourbon and circumstances are pretty special.  I am in Chicago to celebrate my first wedding anniversary to my wife Jen.  We’re here for a long weekend, and living it up – hotel in the loop, meals at great restaurants like Everest and the Signature Room. Perhaps most fantastic, we’ve gone to two days of Riot Fest, an outdoor music festival at Chicago’s Humboldt Park featuring some of my all-time favorite bands, including (most importantly), the first American concert by The Replacements since 1991.

On Friday, we went to US Cellular Field and saw a White Sox-Indians game, which I will detail further in the future.  Then, it was to Everest, where I knew we were going to have a wonderful meal when the drink list included my all-time favorite bourbon, Jefferson Reserve 18 Year.  Saturday, it was all day at Riot Fest, where we took in Mephiskaphales, X, The Selecter, Dinosaur Jr, Guided By Voices, Blondie, Rancid and The Violent Femmes.  Set after set, we had a fantastic time on a uncloudy, beautiful day.  Jen was particularly fond of DeVotchka, a great gypsy-latin-eastern-european band that put on a particularly wonderful performance.  It’s not everyday you get to see the hora danced at a punk rock festival!  We closed the night on a Ferris Wheel, watching the Femmes perform their first album in it’s entirety.  It was a wonderful day.

Day three was wet. Wet and rainy.  We had a delicious brunch at the Signature Room, then we headed to Warehouse Liquors, which Yelp had advised us was one of the best bourbon shops in Chicago.  Yelp told no lies – this store is truly fantastic.  Their selection of liquors – not just bourbons – was amazing, and with so many new sights and bottles to choose from, it was hard to pick one.  After chatting with the man at the counter for at least one half hour, we settled on a bottle of Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, selected by and bottled for the store.

Back to Riot Fest, and the rain.  Bob Mould has been one of my favorite musicians for many many years – since his days in Husker Du and Sugar – so it was well worth getting a little wet to see a personal legend play. Best Coast was another new band I wanted to see and despite the cold and rain, they did not disappoint with their reverb drenched surfer songs.  Then, back to a rollicking set by Rocket From The Crypt.  We decided to stay at the Replacements stage to guarantee a good vantage point, so we watched the goth-punky AFI before the rain stopped, and The Replacements utterly rocked our world.  They played a set drawn from their whole repertoire, old to new. So many of my favorites were played I couldn’t have been more pleased, from “Bastards of Young” to “Achin To Be,” “Hold My Life,” and “Takin A Ride.”  And all of it with my beautiful wife by my side.  It couldn’t have been better.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Elmer T. Glee Single Barrel, Warehouse Liquor (Chicago, IL)
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, Warehouse Liquor (Chicago, IL)

Now, for the bourbon – the nose on this bourbon is full of rich, aromatic spices. Cinnamon, allspice, apples, it has it all.

The taste follows this with a spicy punch.  Tasty, and clean, this is a great bourbon. Pepper, oak char, that cinnamon, and a bit of vanilla helps with a long finish to boot.  This is the kind of bourbon my wife particularly likes.  We did notice one unique thing though, neither of us liked the changes adding ice chips made to it.  Instead of mellowing it a bit, it made the pepper pop more, and lost some of the sweeter notes.  Still, an absolute winner.

Dan scale (1-10): 8.3