Monday, November 8, 2021

GRAND CANYON DISTILLERY, WILLIAMS AZ

Jeannie and I have decided to limit our air travel this year, due to the perfect storm of COVID resurgences, airline overbookings and software glitches, among other things.

I had been doing some searches for local distilleries, and found a few in the Tucson and Flagstaff areas. One of the Flagstaff sites that popped up was actually a restaurant, with the distillery located in nearby Williams, Arizona and boasting a full bar and restaurant on site.




Their spirits seemed interesting, and the restaurant menu looked good to us (we lean towards the "Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives" types of establishments), and I thought this would be a nice dry run of a vacation that revolved around whiskey tasting. 



So one weekend in late August, we drove up to Williams on a Friday afternoon, checked into a hotel and took an Uber to the Grand Canyon Distillery (only a mile or so away, but since I was planning to sample whiskey, better safe than DUI).



The first thing that caught my eye was their selection of bourbons and whiskeys (and whiskies). I had assumed they would mostly carry their own product.



Since the purpose of the trip was to sample their in-house offerings, I started with a flight of  four of their spirits. I did not think to take a picture of the flight, and this was one of the first times I thought to capture pictures of the bottles.

I started with their bourbon, a wheated bourbon made with Arizona blue corn and aged 24 months.


Next up was Star Shine, a single malt whiskey that got a 91 rating from Whisky Advocate magazine.


For number three, I tried Bond Fire, another single malt finished in applewood-smoked casks. 


The fourth choice was difficult. The distillery offered a cinnamon whiskey, but I thought that would be too much like Fireball. They also offered whiskeys finished in IPA and Stout casks, but I thought that would be too much like the similar Jameson offerings.



So I landed on their Small Batch Cherry Vanilla Whiskey, which was quite nice-the flavor was subtle rather than in-your-face like many flavored spirits.

So after four generous pours, you may have thought I'd call it an early evening, but I decided to try a couple bottles off of their shelf.

I'd recently purchased an Amazon Kindle offering, '101 Whiskies To Try Before You Die.'

The advantage to the Kindle version is it is on my phone, so I had it with me in Williams. 

The disadvantage is that you can't check off what you have tried (or put in notes), which was what inspired me to start taking pictures of bottles.

Anyway, I tried a couple of the spirits on the list. First up was Michter's US1 Small Batch a Kentucky straight bourbon.



Some years ago, a friend of mine had given me some bourbon knowledge, and his take was that bourbon was so highly regulated that the only difference between the well and the top shelf was marketing.

In my mind that is only partially true-I have tasked enough high-end bourbon over the last few months that you can, quite often, see where the extra money is going, but an expensive bottle is not a guarantee of wonderful flavor, and terms like 'small batch' are not legally defined, and you run the risk that they may just be marketing fluff.

In this case, it was not fluff, the Michter's did not disappoint.

My last glass of the evening was Old Forester's-the book recommends what looks to be their basic bottle, and I tried their 1870 Original Batch, which was a bit of a step up, and tasted quite nice.



We also ate dinner sometime during all of this, and while I forget what we had, I know we both enjoyed it. 

Jeannie sampled a few of their beer offerings and liked them, so all in all we had a good night. and were glad to have made the trip.

If you ever pass through Williams, I highly recommend this place (although you should maybe plan to spend the night to enjoy their offerings safely).







Tuesday, October 5, 2021

MY BRIEF AFFAIR WITH MAGGIE

Jeannie and I booked a trip last year (2020) to Ireland through an outfit called Great Value Vacations. We have used them for international trips in the past-they are amazingly affordable and the trips have all been great.

Unfortunately, COVID hit, and the Ireland trip was cancelled. GVV's policy was no refund, but you could use the credit on a future trip. We booked a "future" trip in late 2020, and to no one's surprise, that was cancelled.

I booked a trip in August 2021, but decided to make it a US-based trip (thinking COVID was still making travel very iffy), and where we landed was a bus tour that went from Seattle, through Oregon and Northern California's Redwood forest, and finished in San Francisco.

While I have never been a fan of the idea of a bus trip, and having done one, am not sure I would do it again (I like being able to set my own schedule), it worked out well for this trip, as on the way to the airport, what had been a nagging ache in my lower back seemed to get worse, and by the end of our first day in Seattle (Friday), turned into extreme pain.


Day two in Seattle, it was even worse, and my self-diagnosis was a pinched nerve based on a prior one I'd had a decade or so ago. A phone call to my sister (who is an MD) confirmed this was probably the case, and she recommended anti-inflammatory and lots and lots of stretching.

However, walking anything more than a half a block was a challenge, and I am sure driving would have been worse, so I was glad this was a bus tour, although the condition did cast a pall on the trip.

We had lunch Saturday at an Irish pub (The Blarney Stone) across the street from Pike Place Market. Nice atmosphere and a pretty good whiskey selection.

I had a shot of Midleton Very Rare-this is an expensive shot of Irish whiskey (especially right next to Pike Place Market), but your taste buds will tell you that the money is well spent (although when you look at the receipt later in the day you may have some buyer's remorse pangs). 





After lunch, I was hobbling my way down the street about a block from the Pike Place Market (Jeannie patiently keeping pace with me), and while passing a Target store, I saw this vision of beauty in the window.



I told Jeannie I was going to pursue a relationship with this vixen, and went in (turns out the liquor store was not a part of Target) and bought the bottle.

Here is my theory. For decades, I kept a bottle of Jack Daniels in the house in the event of a toothache. Experience had taught me that JD did not really cure the toothache, but after a couple of shots, it did not seem to bother me as much. That logic worked the same way with pinched nerve paid-it was bad, and mostly manifested itself in my knee, but after a couple of nips at the bottle, I felt much better about the agonizing pain. I did not find out until a week later that I should have been taking a much stronger dose of anti-inflammatory, and the other passengers on the bus probably thought I may have had a bit of a drinking problem, but I was on vacation, so what the heck?

For the record, this is a basic bottle of whiskey ($20) and is in line with a $20 Jameson's bottle, very enjoyable. While I would not tell you to kill yourself trying to find it, if you came across it, I'd say it is worth picking up as a change of pace.

The whole point of this post is whiskey, so I am going gloss over how we got to Newport, OR, and just tell you that we did arrive in Newport on Monday afternoon. 

At around 2:30, we had a choice to get on the bus and check into the hotel, then come back to town for dinner, or stay in town and kill a few hours until dinner.

Looking across the street, I saw a sign for the Rogue Bayfront Public House, and knew that Jeannie would enjoy trying their brews (our tour guide had mentioned their beer) so we opted to stay on the waterfront.

I had to hobble to the bar, stopping a few times on the two block walk (very humbling, this experience). Imagine my delight when we got inside and I learned that Rogue brewing also distilled spirits!



I had a flight with a sampling of four of their whiskies, and while I liked all four, I thought the Dead Guy  and Rolling Thunder Stouted whiskies were the best.  I had a full pour of each just to make sure-I want this blog to be accurate, you know.

While I say I could live in a pre-cell-phone world, it is handy to be able to do things like Google your hometown liquor store to see if they carry the whiskey you are drinking (they do), but I saw the bottle on display, and it looked cool, and I bought it just in case the bottles in the retail environment did not have the same cool topper/cork (if anyone knows the proper terminology, let me know).


So now I had two bottles of whiskey on the bus...but this was only Monday, and I had put quite a dent in the bottle of Hellcat Maggies since Saturday afternoon...

Well we made out way down the Oregon coast, through the Redwood forests, and into San Francisco.

Our hotel bar had Pappy Van Winkle, but it was pricey and I still had some of the Rogue bottle to finish (having completed my liaison with Hellcat Maggie sometime on Wednesday) so I did not partake. 

Somehow, by Friday night, I was able (with Jeannie's assistance) to finish the Rogue Dead Guy bottle, avoiding the issue of how to get a bottle of whiskey into luggage without it breaking.



Saturday morning, we flew back to Phoenix. It has taken a couple of months, but the pinched nerve seems to be getting under control, and I have more whiskey adventures to blog about.


More to come!





Sunday, September 12, 2021

SHOW ME THE WAY TO THE NEXT WHISKEY BAR

For much of my forties, well into my fifties, I considered myself a bourbon man.

Then in April 2016, Jeannie (my then-lady friend and now wife) and I went to Ireland, and did a tour of the Jameson facility near Cork. 

We arrived for the tour early, and a gentleman of roughly my vintage offered me a complimentary shot of whiskey.

It was absolutely the best thing I’d ever tasted and I told him so. He told me it ought to be, the shot would normally cost thirty Euros. The whiskey was Midelton’s Very Rare Barry Crockett Reserve.




The same gentleman led the tour, and he was well-versed in the history of the Irish whiskey industry and the Irish distilling process. I wish I knew his name, because he introduced me to the pastime that would replace my music collecting addiction.

The tour finished up in a tasting room, and they gave us three small samplers- Jameson, scotch and bourbon (I forget the brands).

I LOVED the Irish whiskey. From that day forward I am an Irish whiskey man.

I bought a bottle of the Barry Crockett, and saved it for what would serve as my bachelor party (April 29, 2021)



On a later trip, I bought a bottle of 21 year Bushmills-that was saved for our wedding night (May 1, 2021)




It cracked me up when one of my cousins tried the Bushmill and slammed id down like it was a shot of Jack Daniels. I pointed to the bottle of Jameson’s and told him that was the slamming or mixing whiskey.

During the pandemic, I was not really spending much money on anything and started experimenting with more expensive whiskies. While I learned that you do not have to spend  a fortune for good whiskey, spending a little more pays dividends in taste.  

Ten years of aging also seems to be the sweet spot for taste, but is not a guarantee and that by no means is saying there is not good whiskey that is younger.

Now here is where I have to warn readers-I know what I like, but I am horrible at expressing why I do or do not like a whiskey. Since everyone’s tastes differ, my opinion should not drive your decision to try a whiskey.

I love the Barry Crocket bottle, for example, but the Bushmills was a bit of a disappointment to me-good, but not awesome (and it was pricey).

I tried Proper No. Twelve and did not like it as much as the basic Jameson bottle (sorry, Conor McGregor-I heard you beat up a critic of your label once...not sure if this will be enough to be on your hit list)

I found a brand called Kavanagh’s at the local Total Wine, and purchased a bottle of the 16 year (roughly $70) and so far it has been my all-time favorite (also, sadly, no longer available).




I am getting into whiskey late in life (pretty close to 60) and decided that going forward, I will try to only buy whiskey that I had not tasted before (unless, of course, I find another bottle of Kavanagh 16 year).

I have learned that it is far better to spend $25 on a shot rather than $200 on the bottle (especially if you find you do not like it). You can always buy a bottle if you love it, but there are far too many whiskies out there to have a bottle of each one.

I have also found that after three shots, if I want another, it is prudent to switch to the basic Jameson bottle because the more expensive stuff will be wasted on me at that point.

Often, I am quite content to enjoy just one shot, especially when I am doing the driving.

Of course, when it is my turn to pick our destination for an evening out, the depth of the bar's whiskey selection is a major factor.




I came across a book called ‘101 Whiskies To Try Before You Die’ and am using that as a bit of a guide, although I am not limiting myself to what is in that book.

Since this blog has been dormant for so long, and since whiskey has replaced my music hobby, I decided I would chronicle my whiskey adventures on this blog. 

 

 

 

 


HOBBY OR ADDICTION?

HOBBY OR ADDICTION?