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SUNDAY SERENDIPITY
10/24/2010
Sunday Serendipity
The Bourbon Revolution

By Stephen Eliot

I remember my first introduction to Single-Malt Scotch Whisky a good many decades ago. It was one of those genuinely eye-opening moments of discovery, and, over the subsequent years, I sipped and scribbled countless notes and found myself as enraptured with the complexities of the stuff almost as much as I was with fine wines. Bourbon and other American whiskeys, however, were in that era about as interesting as jug wines, and even though I recall the late Senator Barry Goldwater once commenting dreamy-eyed that then-President Richard Nixon had the “best damned Bourbon” he ever tasted, I never met one with which making an acquaintance was worthwhile - and I would like to believe that Republican politics was not a prerequisite to its enjoyment.

Well, as any fan of fine spirits knows very well, the world is a far different place now, and, in recent years, there has been as awakening in interest in fine American whiskey, Bourbon included, and there are myriad offerings of splendid, deeply-flavored, wonderfully involving examples to be had. Some regard Bourbon’s rise to respectability as a “renaissance “, but I am not sure that there is any golden age in the past that can lay claim to inspiring the new generation of new American whiskeys, but rather that there is a new, unprecedented demand for fine Bourbon quite unlike what has ever existed and that master distillers have finally found an audience and thus a market for what they do best. “Revolution”, it seems to me, would be the better word.

Among my personal heroes when talking about Bourbon, the father-son team of Parker and Craig Beam at Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky make some of the finest examples of this patently American tipple to be had. Their best, as is typically the case with other accomplished Bourbon producers, are single-barrel bottlings that have been given lengthy aging and individually selected for bottling. Their Elijah Craig 18 Year Old Single Barrel ranks among those Bourbons that I reserve for very special occasions (or particularly difficult days), but today I would like to give a special nod to their Vintage 2000 Single-Barrel offering under the Evan Williams label. Its combination of complexity, concentration, enveloping smoothness and remarkable balance adds up to the kind of late-evening sipper that, much like the most memorable wines, is the catalyst to contemplation and imagination, and its $26.00 price tag makes it an indulgence that comes without guilt. It is the kind of spirit that wants drinking neat, yet, when married in a three-to-one mix with Carpano Antica Vermouth and a couple of dashes of Fee Brothers Barrel-Aged Bitters, it will make a Manhattan that lifts a classic cocktail to new heights.

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