Oct 28, 2010

I don't always drink beer....

I don’t always drink beer……

As big a beer fan as I am, there are times, believe it or not, that I enjoy something besides beer. That something is normally an aged Rum, or Scotch. However, lately, I had been into trying bourbon. I had a few that I liked, but nothing that I loved. Well, then my In-Law’s toured the Jim Beam Distillery in Kentucky, and brought me back a sample pack of 4 single batch, highend bourbons. There was Knob Creek, Basil Hayden’s, Bakers, and Bookers.

Booker Noe

Bookers is bottled straight from the barrel, it is unfiltered, and barrel aged  from 7 to 9 years. It’s named for Booker Noe, Jim Beam’s great grandson, and master distiller from 1960 until the mid 90's. He first produced Bookers as holiday gifts for close friends and family, but it received such great feedback, he was talked into producing it for the public in 1988.

I had the first 3 in the pack, and liked them, nothing I loved, but I did enjoy them. Well, then the other night, I poured the Bookers into a scotch glass, and relaxed on our new back patio, to celebrate moving into our new house, with a good cigar, and a nice bourbon. I was saving the Bookers for last since that was the highest end bourbon of the pack, so I figured it would be the best, and man was I right!

It poured a deep rich amber color, and right away, I was a little excited.

Well, from the moment placed the glass to my nose, and took in the aroma of this bourbon, I was a fan! A very strong alcohol presence right up front, as you would expect, it is 130 proof after all. It wasn’t all you got though, there was a ton of caramel, and vanilla that was just enticing. I wasn’t surprised by the oaky notes coming out, but the hints of fruit I was not expecting. Man, I was looking forward to taking a sip!

The first sip was more then I was expecting, and I was expecting a lot! A strong, fruit presence, with a smoky oak, and tobacco flavor that was just everywhere. So smooth, and pleasant, surprising for a 130 proof spirit. It's finish was strong, and lingering, with a pleasant, clean flavor.

I can honestly say that this is the best spirit I have had in a very long time, maybe ever. I am actually going out this weekend, and picking up a full bottle, which, at $60 a bottle, is not something I will be doing often, so I’ll be sure to take my time with it, and make ever sip count!

So, if you are looking for a break from beer, or just a great glass to have with a great cigar, I can recommend no greater bourbon then Bookers, Go get yourself some, you will be displeased!!!

Sep 22, 2010

A None Beer related post.....

This past weekend, a friend of mine, Brad and I decided to take a day, and head deep into the Bradshaw Mountains in Central Arizona, and search for a number of “ghost towns” reported to be in the area.

After consulting a number of websites, I put together a route that I thought worked well for us, sites that we could reach in a normal, 2WD truck.
I learned later that day, these websites, are not always all that reliable when it comes to conveying information as to the location of the various sites we were looking for.

All we could find of Gillette
Our first stop was an old stage stop by the name of Gillette. A town founded in 1878. The town was originally started as the milling town for the nearby Tip Top mine, about 7 miles up the mountains from the site. It later served as a stage stop for the Prescott to Phoenix Stage Line. A fairly typical “old west town”, with several gunfights, murders and lynching taking place in the towns short history. The Earp brothers we said to have stopped here, and spent the night on their way to Tombstone.
Not much remains of the town site, even though, at its peak, a few thousand people called Gillette home. We were not successful in finding the ruins of the old Burfind Hotel, which is really the only remaining recognizable structure. Later I learned we were only about a quarter mile from that site. We did find remains of a bridge, as well as countless bricks, and timber. Hard to believe just 100 years ago, we would have been standing in a fairly sizable town.

Not having a lot of success finding Gillette, we thought we would head north, a few miles up I-17. We got off the freeway on the Horsethief Basin Rec site exit, and made our way towards Crown King. According to the website, there are several sites of interest along the way. First off, just 5 miles off the freeway, was Bumble Bee. Not what I was expecting in a “ghost town” I must admit. All the buildings we could see from the road, except for one, appeared to still be lived in. However, Bumble Creek just south of the town site was a beautiful example of a riparian environment. Lots of green!

Cleator Saloon
The next site, about 10 miles past Bumble Bee, was the “ghost town” of Cleator. Again, most of the buildings appeared to be lived in. However, there was a lot of evidence of long since abandoned mining operations. Old trucks, mine cart etc were scattered about the area. The highlight of Cleator however, was the saloon. A still operational saloon makes up the towns only noticeable business. A very authentic, somewhat run down building that you rarely see in Arizona. The building still maintained it connection with the old mining towns. We couldn’t see any evidence of any renovations to the saloon. The lady behind the bar was more the friendly, as were the 3 or 4 dogs roaming at will around (in and out) the property. Still being 10am, and not sure where the day would take us, we elected to forgo a beer (however tempting it was) and make our up into the mountains.
What followed was a about an 8 mile stretch of road that made its way up 3000+ feet of elevation, starting in the desert, and climaxing in the high pines of Crown King, some 6000 feet above sea level. An amazing drive, and the road is good enough for just about any car to make it up (we even pasted a Mustang on our way down).

Again the “ghost town” of Crown King was not at all what I expected. At this point, I was beginning to question as to weather or not I understood the definition of a ghost town. There was nothing ghostly about Crown King at all. In fact, quite the opposite. We actually a hard time finding a place to park. We finally squeezed into a spot, between a large pick up, and several ATV’s (ATV’s appeared to be the preferred mode of transport up here) and made out way up the road to the Crown King saloon.
Bar at the Crown King Saloon
This was one of those places you immediately feel comfortable in as soon as you step in. Although it was obviously full of “locals”, it was a very unthreatening, even welcoming atmosphere in here. We easily found a spot at the bar, and ordered Crown King Ale (made by Redhook, and a pretty decent beer I must say). This was one of the most enjoyable beers I’ve had. I was sitting 6000+ up, in a historic town, at a bar that was over 100+ years old! Turned out, the very bar we were sitting at was moved from the old milling town of Oro Belle in 1910, after the mill closed. This struck me, as Oro Belle was next on our list of stops. We enjoyed listening the casual, slightly intoxicated banter of the locals (and it was just barely noon!) for a time, while we enjoyed our beers, and explored the many historic artifacts hanging on or around the bar. After a few minutes, we settled up, and explored more of Crown King for a few minutes, then made our way south/west out of town, toward the aforementioned Oro Belle, some 4 miles away.

Road to Oro Belle

Oro Belle ruin

After a few wrong turns (one that turned out to be down an old fella’s mining claim, and he did not look happy to see us) we finally found Oro Belle Rd (Fire Road 191) and made out way, carefully down the hill. After some time, the road leveled out and cut across the side of a hill (almost a cliff). The road got increasingly more narrow to the point where we were getting worried we wouldn’t be able to find a place to turn around. After some exploration, we found a turn around, and decided we should do just that, since the road was getting worse and worse, and more and more narrow. As we were turning the truck around, I spotted some ruins just a little ways down the hill, so we parked, and made our way to some real ruins finally! They appeared to be a residence, albeit a good size one. The house looked down onto the old site of the long since vanished town site in the valley below. After enjoying a Bells Oberon and cigar at the site of the ruin, we made our way back.

Bumble Bee Creek
We tried heading back through Prescott but found the road to be a little too much for our truck to handle, so we made our way back through Crown King, back down the hill. Passing the now familiar sites of Cleator, and Bumble Bee. We did stop at Bumble Bee Creek, so named because the earlier settlers said Indians in this area were “as thick as bumble bee’s”. We spent some time at the creek bed, taking pictures and enjoying the company of a few cows roaming the area. What a gorgeous place for some camping we both decided! This strip of lush, greenery in the otherwise reddish brown desert is more then a welcoming site, and made a very peaceful end to our trip

Although I was a little disappointed that the “ghost towns’ we were seeking out turned out to be little more then authentic, historic sort of tourist trap, it was still a very rewarding trip. We found a few local watering holes that you only find a few times in a life time. These places are honest, genuine and comfortable, and well worth a day trip to experience not only their hospitality and warmth, but also the fairly recent history this region has to offer. Although the highlight of the activity in this area was little more then 100 years ago, it seems like ancient history, and hard to imagine my grandparents were alive while men still struggled with this harsh environment with little more then a mule, and pick ax.
If you have a day, and are looking for something to do, I suggest you head north, and take a drive up to Crown King. Bring you camera, a good pair of walking shoes, and leave your cell phone at home, and for a few hours, enjoy a small slice this great state has to offer, yet so little have get the privilege to experience.

Apr 14, 2010

Current Favorites...

Every now and then, you try a new you know from pretty much the first sip, that it is something special. This very thing happened to me last weekend when my lovely wife brought home a new beer for me to try. Sierra Nevada released a beer to commemorate their 30th Anniversary. Right off the bat, I figured it would be good, as SN is one of my favorite breweries, and I have a tremendous respect for what they do. Then I read the label First of all, it’s an Imperial Stout, one of my favorite styles. Then I see it’s collaboration with Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing out of San Francisco, whom many agree is the god father of the craft beer movement, and one of the most respected brewers in the country.

So, we opened it, and poured our selves a couple of glasses. It was almost pitch black, with a tan, kaki, fluffy head. It smelled of chocolate, little roasted coffee and hops.

From the first sip, this beer went directly to one of my top 5 favorites! It has a slight roasted coffee/espresso bean flavor, with a hint of chocolate and caramel roasted malt. A smooth beer, and easy to drink for its 9.3% abv. I immediately told my wife that I am going to get a few more bottles of this to store away, and that I hope the decided to put some of this in some barrels for aging, because this beer, after an 8 month to a year stint in a barrel, would be truly incredible.

I really feel like this beer is what can (and should) happen when true artists come together to produce something that is extremely special. My already great respect for both of these brewers only grew with each sip of this amazing beverage. I am going to have to stock up on this one, as I am not sure how long it will be available, but if you see it, buy it, even if you don't want it, I'll take it off your hands for you!

Jan 23, 2010

Barrel Aged Beers.

It really hasn’t been around all that long. In fact, it really just started to be in fashion since the mid 90’s, but hasn’t really taken off until the last 5 years or so. I’m talking about barrel aged, or “oak” aged beers.

Much like wine, some beers just get better with age. Normally, these beers are higher in abv, and quite strong (flavored) to begin with, something that is normally exaggerated with some time in a barrel.

Beers are normally aged in used bourbon or port barrels. Adding to their complex flavor profiles.

Over the last year, I’ve been lucky enough to try a number of these beers. Including Acadia’s Ship Wreck Porter, Great Divides Yeti’s Espresso Stout, Allagash’s Vagabond, Stone's Oaked Arrogant Bastard,  Deshutes Abyssand XXI Black Butte Porter, and so far, my favorite has been New Holland’s Dragons Milk. These are fast becoming some of my favorite beers!

What excites me about these beers, is their complexity, and range of flavors. As you would expect, there is a almost always a hint of oaky wood (in Dogfish Heads Palo Santo, the wood flavor is a very green wood flavor, almost cedar like), some port notes,  to sour apple/plum (in the case of Vagabond). They almost all have that warming, numbing effect in the mouth, (which I just love) due to the normally high abv (11% or higher in some cases). This also makes them a good after diiner beer, and a great beer for a chilly winters night (which is why I think I love Dragons Milk so much, I had it sitting by the fire in the cadin in northern Arizona).

I recommend seeking out and trying these beers to anyone that is serious about beer. They aren’t for beginners, as they are normally quite strong, and can be a little (or very) heavy. They are, however, quite balanced, and again, very complex.

If you like a more full flavored, complex profile, these are the beers for you. If you have tried a good aged beer, I would love to hear about it.