If I could make one bourbon related wish come true, it would be to taste all the different blends and varieties side-by-side. While I'm waiting for that to happen... I did manage to do a double tasting of Bulleit and Four Roses. These are widely available bourbons that you can usually find in the $15-25 range (for the lower price, you'll have to wait for a sale), and both are quite drinkable. I'll write up my tasting notes at the end of this post, but first, a little about each bourbon:
Okay readers, time for a vodka tasting!
I'm normally not that into vodka, besides the occasional martini, but these bottles were impossible to pass up. The Medea was being sold at Costco with a ridiculous flashing LED label (see the "Hi" in the picture? You can program that to say whatever you want). The idea of a light up vodka bottle seemed so gimmicky that I had to try it. I mean, c'mon... if it's terrible, the world needs to know!
Blue Ice was on the clearance shelf in the back of a Ralph's/Kroger's for seven bucks (always worth checking the clearance shelf!), so I grabbed it because why not?
Before we get into these particular vodkas, a word about vodka itself. "Vodka" comes from the old Slavic word for water (Maybe that's where the 'ol "Vodka in the water bottle" trick came from). Vodka seems to have originated in either Poland (shout out to my people!) or Russia, somewhere in the 14th century. It can be made from any type of plant that has a high concentration of sugar and starch. Examples include rye, corn, wheat, potato, molasses, soybeans, rice and beets. Vodka can be either unfiltered (more traditional) or filtered, often using a charcoal filtering process. Repeat distillation removes results in a cleaner product without flavors that are desirable in other liquors like whisky and bourbon.
Blue Ice is a potato vodka made from Idaho Russet Burbank potatoes, running about $20/bottle. It has won numerous awards, beating out many premium priced vodkas along the way, but its real claim to fame is that it is the first spirit certified "gluten free" by the U.S. government. Hopefully this gives you a moment of pause: "Aren't all spirits gluten free?" The answer is "Yes!" By virtue of the distillation process, even grain based liquors are gluten free, and this is nothing more than Blue Ice trying to gain a competitive advantage over their competitors.
Medea is a grain-based vodka from the Netherlands that runs about $30/bottle. Despite the slightly tacky flashing label, this is actually a decent bottle of vodka that has won several awards. It too is gluten free, although you won't find that on the label.
Nose: clean and light.
Taste: Mild, sweet vanilla.
Nose: warmer and rougher.
Taste: Light alcohol.
Recommendation: Both are good clean vodkas worth checking out.
Exploring the dark depths of my liquor cabinet this weekend, I made the happy discovery that I had two similar-but-different bottles of Evan Williams Kentucky Bourbon hiding in the shadows behind a nearly empty bottle of dry vermouth and a forgotten bottle of Amaretto that I still haven't figured out how to use.
Evan Williams (or Evan Williams black label) is a middle shelf whiskey most people are familiar with. As a straight Kentucky bourbon, it's aged a minimum of four years and is produced at the Heaven Hill distillery in Louisville, along with a number of other recognizable brands like Heaven Hill and Elijah Craig. Although some version of "Since 1783" appears on every bottle of Evan Williams, whiskey historians (yes, that is a job) have pointed out that it has not been operating continuously that entire time, and a more accurate date might be somewhere in the early 1900s. Because of it's affordable price point and (relatively) smooth flavor, Evan Williams black label is the second best selling bourbon in the world, following only the value priced Jim Beam.
This is a really fun match up between two single malt island Scotch whiskies. Laphroaig (La-froyg) 10 is the standard island single malt Scotch. If you want to know what people mean when they talk about "peat" or "smoke" in a whisky, ask for a dram next time you're out at the pub. It won't be cheap, and it's an acquired taste that many find initially unappealing. But like a dark cigar, if you put the time in to work your way up to it, you'll be richly rewarded.
Have you taken advantage of the buy 6, get 30% off wine deal at Kroger stores? (You can find this deal in many Kroger affiliates like Ralph's as well, although in some states the discount is only 15-20%). If not, you should. They tend to mark up their prices compared to Trader Joe's, so it's the only way I'll buy wine there. There's no real downside to buying 6 bottles at once. Even if it takes you a month or more to go through all of them, you can add a little style to your kitchen by displaying them with a nice wine rack.
My routine whenever I go to the store is to swing by the wine aisle just to check for sales. Frequently, you'll find an additional sale being offered on top of the regular buy 6 discount-- either a simple $2-3 coupon hanging off the neck of a bottle, or an additional buy 6 deal from a particular group of wineries offering you a discount on your total grocery purchase. As a result, I've picked up some halfway decent bottles of wine for under $6, and buying in bulk usually means I get a discount on gasoline too, discounting the bottles even more. Plus, buying 6 at a time encourages experimentation, and I've been pleasantly surprised by some random wines that I normally wouldn't even have considered. In my humble opinion, the buy 6, get 30% is not only worth it, it's the only way to buy wine at Kroger stores.
I was cleaning out the cabinet today and found two bottles of gin hidden in the back behind some sweet vermouth (anyone have a good cocktail that calls for this? I bought the bottle a long time ago, and haven't found a use for it yet). There wasn't much left in the gin bottles, really just an ounce or two, but it was just enough to do a side by side comparison.
First, a little background about gin. As Pasadena chef Onil Chibas mentioned in my interview with him, gin is one of the most interesting spirits available. If you're only familiar with widely available brands like Seagram's, Tanqueray, and Hendrick's (and the two I'm reviewing today), this may not be readily apparent. Gin and tonics aren't exactly the most fashionable drinks these days, and most people make their martinis out of vodka now. But gin offers a wide range of complexity and nuance for those willing to experiment.