Spirited Away: Chilled Bourbon


And now for something completely different.

I have to confess something. I love wine. I drink wine regularly, if not in volume (at least, not since the kids came along). My wife and I used to collect and, interestingly enough (to me, at least), wine is how I ended up spending a couple of years in a French culinary school.

In reaction to “all of that”, my wife implemented a couple of common sense rules about wine, some of which I’ve outlined in the Julia Rule. In short, she put me on a budget, but the net result (perhaps counterintuitively) was that the overall quality of our table wine went up — considerably. Nothing like a challenge to inspire a cheap bastard to greatness creativity.

Some years ago, I branched out to “the brown liquors”. I’m not sure why. I think it was a “yes, I’m man enough to drink Scotch”, though it all seems suspiciously hazy at this point. However it happened, I spent a happy decade sipping Lagavlin, Balvenie, Bunnahabhain, Talisker, Oban, Laphroaig, Glenmorangie and (many, many) more. I was, and still am, a Scotch-neat kinda guy. James, the valet, would bring out my white-tie tux, and sort me out; then, I’d grab a cigar from the humidor and head down to the leather-stuffed couches and the dark-wood-trim drawing-room, or perhaps pop in for a friendly little game of billiards with all my relatives at Downton Abbey, passing the evening in erudite conversation. Ahem.

I don’t know what happened, but somewhere along the way, Scotch got expensive. The Julia Rule kicked in, and I ended up going native — I made the switch to bourbon.

Bourbon is a poor American cousin to Scotch, but aside from some Old World snobbery, it’s really quite similar as a drink. In fact, the same kinds of gradation occur and at the higher end, the results can be wildly sippable — and yes, even without a mixer, or piles of crushed ice.

My current favorite bourbon? If I tell you “Woodford Reserve”, that should pretty much tell you that I’m a sipper and I have little or no tolerance for moonshine, or the wicked burn that can come from “poorly made” whiskey. And yes, I’m calling whiskey that burns like a house on fire “poorly made.” It should burn, yes, but no booze should remove your esophagus or feel anything remotely like pouring napalm directly into your duodenum. That’s just bad form. Anyway, yes, Woodford is definitely on the “smooth” side.

Other fun things I’ve found recently that turn my crank are Black Maple Hill, Noah’s Hill, and Evan Williams Single Barrel. They range in price, from $30-$50 a bottle, or about 2/3 to 1/2 of what a “good” (but not “great”) single-malt Scotch will cost. There are more great bourbons out there, and I do branch out, but thanks to some pointers from Positive Feedback’s Dave Clark, these are my current favs. I’ve recently started a kick on rye whisky (talk about “the burn”!); Templeton is proving to be very drinkable, with a nice syrupy texture.

So … long story … ah … long.

I like my bourbon chilled. Not freezing, but chilled. Which usually means “ice”. Which also usually means “watered down.” Now, if I wanted water in my bourbon, I’d have poured it that way, but there doesn’t really seem to be a lot of options here other than shoving the bottle into the freezer and maybe creating bourbon slushies (I don’t think bourbon can freeze in a regular, commercial freezer).

Well, one day I made the mistake of parking in front of the local rock shop. With the kids. Yeah. It was bad. Naomi nearly lost her darling little mind, zipping from tray to tray, “shopping”. Zach zoomed over to the fossilized shark teeth and spent several happy minutes cooing at them. Me, I found some Whiskey Stones.

There’s a lot of varieties out there. I have some from Terraforma, but a set of six Sipping Stones will be a bit cheaper and more than enough for a single drinker, but if you’re pouring for two, you may need a larger set. They’re all pretty much the same, and spring from the same idea — they’re all soapstone rocks you can stick in your freezer until you want you some chilled bourbon. Soapstone is non-porous and has no “taste”, so what you get is a glass full of bourbon-on-the-rocks (ahem) — and that’s it. No watery taste.

In theory, this works … perhaps a bit better, however, than in real-life. To get true chilling, you’ll need more than 3 per glass — two of them didn’t do a damn thing except look weird in the low-ball glass I tend to favor for my brown liquors. Three didn’t actually fit … until I poured myself a double. Ahem. Anyway, the energy exchange isn’t as great as it is with ice — so while they may remain cooler for longer, they simply don’t get my drink noticeably cold unless there are a lot of them.

The other option I found recently is giant ice cubes. I was at this bar recently — odd, for me — when I got my bourbon served nearly flush up against the glass with this big ass 2″ clear-ice cube squatting in the middle like some kind of champion sumo wrestler. Williams Sonoma sells some “King Cube” ice cube trays, but again, Amazon sells a knock-off from Tovolo that is about half the price.

The upside is that the cubes, being so big, tend to not melt entirely away by the end of your tasty adult beverage experience. I’m told that since there’s more ice, and since it’s all of a piece, it’ll all melt slower. Not sure about that, but what I do know is that the damn cubes do not precisely fit into my glasses.

The shape, coming out of the soft silicone molds, are also not quite regular — but since this is my third bourbon of the night, I’m no longer sure I give a damn. The cubes also tend to come out hazy (which are bubbles, apparently) from top to bottom. Clear would have been neater, but to get the cube entirely clear requires a much slower freeze than I have patience for, but I’ve been told that chilling in the fridge overnight first might help that, but probably won’t solve it. Time for a specialty ice maker? Pour me another, and let’s talk about that ….

I did find that pouring the bourbon over the King Cube did tend to melt it just enough so that the cube will “settle” into the drink by the end of the pour. A damn fine-looking drink, if you ask me.

But, sadly, much like the whole “shaken not stirred” controversy — shaking melts far more ice, so the resulting martini is heavily watered down — the King Cube will also heavily melt into your drink. If you don’t mind that — that is, you tend to prefer your bourbon “on the rocks”, then this will work out just fine. And truth be told, by Bourbon #3, this is probably not a bad idea.

Anyway, not sure any of these will really solve my issue, but I will soldier on in this endeavor, a coupla fingers at a time. But not tonight. I think I’ve had enough.