Liquor.com’s Noah Rothbaum Toasts With the Women’s Whiskey League

The League is reeling from a truly awesome night last night.  We were lucky enough to have Noah Rothbaum, Editor in Chief of Liquor.com, in our presence for a Whiskey 101 lecture and tasting.

Whiskey101

That’s the best part about the League.  We’re a bevy of ladies, and though our level of knowledge surrounding whiskey varies, we all share an interest in learning more.   And that’s part of the beauty of the whiskey category too:  even when you know a lot, there’s always more to know.  The category is dynamic, exciting and ever-evolving.  Much like our palates.  The more you know (and taste), the better you pick up on the nuances of these complex spirits.

Noah’s story is truly awesome.  He’s a seasoned spirits writer who has written for a wide variety of publications.  When we first met, he was the spirits guy for Men’s Fitness.  5 years later, he’s Editor in Chief and Founder of Liquor.com, a wonderful resource on the industry that, like our lecture last night, shares insight for spirits fans of every knowledge level.

We had a whopping 33 folks in attendance, and for the first time ever, we allowed our ladies to bring their significant others.  We usually talk about them anyway behind their backs at League, so we figured why not be able to do it to their faces for once.  And I have to say, the addition of some of the dudes in the room was really nice.  They asked poignant questions and shared a totally different perspective.  Let me be clear: we are a WOMEN’S league, so this is a once-a-year type thing, but it was a nice, refreshing change-up.

Now, much of what we covered has already been shared in previous posts (whiskey basics), but here are some of the biggest takeaways:

ON WHISKEY…

  • As we’ve said before, one whiskey isn’t necessarily better than another.  It’s all about preference (I hear my mother right now, she’s saying, “that’s what makes horse races”).  And that’s the beauty of the whiskey category (and the spirits industry on the whole): there are literally HUNDREDS of different whiskey styles (Bourbon, Rye, Tennessee, Irish, Scotch, Japanese, Indian, Single Malt, Blended, etc.) in every price category.  What works for some doesn’t do it for others.  I’m an Islay freak myself, but most of my girlfriends tell me I smell like the creepy old man at the bar everyone seems to recognize because he’s ALWAYS there and reeks of Marlboro Reds.  Whatever, I’m into it.

ON AMERICAN WHISKEY…

  • Bourbon is perhaps the most regulated of all whiskey types, and the U.S. government works rigorously to defend the category and encourage other countries to recognize it as a distinctive product of the U.S.  Bourbon cannot be Bourbon unless it’s made here at home.
  • Rye is the original whiskey grain.  It was rye whiskey that was made back when George Washington was a distiller (it was the predominant grain found along the East Coast).  Though we’ve seen a massive rye boom in the last few years, it is really our nation’s first whiskey grain.  Corn later became a primary the ingredient as it grew better in areas like Tennessee and Kentucky.

ON IRISH WHISKEY…

  • Don’t tell a Scotch purist, but the Irish claim to have created the first whiskeys when Irish monks brought distilling techniques to the Green Isle.

ON SCOTCH WHISKY…

  • We tend to forget that although we all focus on Single Malts, somewhere between 80 and 90% of all Scotch whisky sold is blended whisky.  Single Malts, while really great, are a tiny little drop in the bucket in the Scotch whisky industry.

 

Lastly, I leave you with a fun celeb fact that Noah shared with us.  As if we didn’t already love him enough, we love him more for knowing that the way to a lady’s heart is through her irrational fascination with all things celebrity culture.

Did you know that Isla Fisher, one of our favorite actresses, who also wins brownie points for her adorable Australian accent and self-deprecating humor, is named after my favorite island in the world, Islay?  

Like I needed a reason to love her more.  Lady Leaguers, I’m officially claiming this name for my first born.  I called it first, so don’t cross me…

Until next time, you can keep up on your whiskey knowledge by following Noah over at Liquor.com.

Whiskey & Fur: My Favorite Party of the Year

Right smack in the madness and merriment that is the holiday season lies my favorite party of the year, Whiskey & Fur.  Yes, that’s Whiskey, nectar of the Gods, and fur, and yes, th

The party has only two rules:

  1. You come in theme.
  2. We only serve whiskey (and water).

Now in year four, it feels a bit like the cocktail party that could.  Each year, we manage to attract a bigger crowd of wonderful friends and loved ones who mosey on over to toast to the holidays and sample all the goodies from my home bar—all the while decked out in their best furry garb.  We have a wide variety of themed imbibers–from ladies in their best roaring 20s getups, to flannel-clad hunting outfits, to attire that have been lifted straight from Foxy Brown’s wardrobe in the late 90s.  It’s a sight to be seen.

Once again, the wonderful Todd Richman, Brand Ambassador for Sidney Frank, graced us with his presence, tending bar with a selection of homemade libations.  Here I’ll share one of his delightful whiskey punches—a favorite among our guests, as well as some of my favorite holiday inspired treats: Salted Bourbon Caramels & Bourbon Pralines.

Happy holiday sipping!

Holiday Punch (Created by Todd Richman)

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups Cognac (I recommend using a VS)
  • 1 cup rye whiskey
  • ½ pint of dry curacao
  • 4 cups of apple cider
  • Club soda
  • Pear and/or apple slices, for garnish
  • Grated cinnamon, nutmeg and star anise, for garnish

In a punch bowl, add Cognac, rye, dry curacao and cider.  Top with club soda.  Add pear and/or apple slices for garnish, plus grated cinnamon, nutmeg and star anise.  Allow to chill for 30 minutes prior to serving.

Bourbon-Spiked Pralines

Bourbon-Spiked Pralines (adapted from Southern Living)

Bourbon-Spiked Pralines

(adapted from Southern Living, December 2011)

Makes 2 dozen

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups pecan halves and pieces
  • 3 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • ¼ cup bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

PREPARATION

  • Preheat oven to 350°. Bake pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through. Cool completely (about 15 minutes).
  • Meanwhile, bring brown sugar, and next 4 ingredients to a boil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes or until a candy thermometer registers 236° (soft ball stage). Remove sugar mixture from heat.
  • Let sugar mixture stand until candy thermometer reaches 150° (20 to 25 minutes). Stir in vanilla and pecans using a wooden spoon; stir constantly 1 to 2 minutes or just until mixture begins to lose its gloss. Quickly drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto wax paper; let stand until firm (10 to 15 minutes).

Bourbon Sea Salt Caramels

Bourbon Sea Salt Caramels

Bourbon Sea Salt Caramels

(from Bon Appetit, December 2013)

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ cup light corn syrup
  • 1 14- oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • ½ cup butter (unsalted)
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus sea salt for sprinkling on top

PREPARATION

Lightly coat an 8×8” baking pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper, leaving a 2” overhang on 2 sides; spray parchment.

Bring sugar, corn syrup, and ¼ cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cook, swirling pan occasionally, until mixture turns a deep amber color, 8–10 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and whisk in sweetened condensed milk and butter (mixture will bubble vigorously) until smooth. Fit pan with thermometer and return to medium-low heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until thermometer registers 240°. Remove from heat and whisk in bourbon and kosher salt. Pour into prepared pan; let cool. Sprinkle caramel with sea salt, cut into ¾” pieces, and wrap individually in parchment paper.

A FEW OF MY OWN NOTES

  • If you don’t already have a candy thermometer, go out and get one.  They’re all of about $10 and will keep the guesswork out of so many recipes moving forward.
  • Since candy can be a bit temperamental, I generally avoid doubling recipes.  For some reason, I can’t ever seem to get the same result when making party-sized batches.

St. Patrick’s Day Edition: An Irish Hello

Our Irish Whiskey Portfolio

Our Irish Whiskey Portfolio

It’s no secret that Irish Whiskey is a media darling these days.  According to the Distilled Spirits Council (and their PR director, yours truly), Irish Whiskey is the fastest growing spirits category, up nearly 400% in volume since 2002.  Last year, 2.2 million cases were sold here in the States.  It’s important to note that in terms of volume, the category remains small (2.2 million cases sold here versus the 17 million cases of bourbon sold last year), but the growth potential is massive.

As I explained to the Leaguers, the global spirits companies recognize the potential for the category and have made some major investments in Irish Whiskey over the past few years.  Beam bought the iconic Cooley distillery.  Pernod Ricard is in the throws of a massive distillery expansion.  They’re experimenting with new offerings, and are bringing several spirits to the U.S. that have previously only been available in and around Ireland.

So why the growth?  Quite simply, it’s because Irish Whiskey is a lovely little category that’s an easy spirit to consume.  Irish Whiskey is typically distilled three times, unlike its Scotch counterparts, which are distilled twice.   The Irish claim the third distillation creates a smoother, more balanced spirit that’s easier to consume.

Ok, now on to our sampling spirits.

Jameson Irish Whiskey

  • A Irish tasting wouldn’t be complete without Jameson, whose own success story deserves its own post.  Jameson leads Irish category growth, with by far the largest category brand share.  It’s owned by the good folks at Pernod Ricard, and the brand continues to grow rapidly, not just in the States but around the world.
  • Jameson is produced at the Midleton Distillery, located near Cork in Ireland.

Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey

  • A well-balanced Irish blended whiskey.  You may have heard of it by now, Beam (their parent company) just launched its first marketing push around the brand in time for St. Patrick’s Day.  Watch their “Tight Knit” TV spot here.

Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey

  • Owned by the good folks at Beam, this peated whiskey is my personal favorite (probably because it reminds me of a perfect blend of a smoky Islay Scotch and a nice smooth Irish whiskey).

Michael Collins Irish Whiskey

  • Owned by my friends at Sidney Frank, Michael Collins was my spirit of choice for our group’s Irish Toddy.  It’s well-balanced and served as an excellent base for our cocktail goodness.

If you’re ever lucky enough to visit, make sure you see as many of Ireland’s distilleries as you can (though in truth, there are only three major distilleries in Ireland, and Bushmills in Northern Ireland).  And until then, see below for a few of my favorite images from my trip there last September.

A very happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Slainte!

Red, White and Booze. An Inaugural, Patriotic Affair.

Our Inaugural Affair.

After forcing the Ladies of the League to save date weeks in advance, I then realized I had chosen a particularly important date: the night of the first presidential debate.  Since I love a good theme more than almost anything else in this world (with the exception, perhaps, of puppies, bagels and yes, my mom), we embraced the occasion.  In honor of the eve, we hosted a Red, White and Booze bash.

We aptly chose to celebrate all things American with our country’s most prized agricultural product and signature spirit: Bourbon.  Not only is this heavenly nectar my whiskey of choice, but it also felt like the perfect platform to kick off the League in style (with hair on our chests).

And given we were keeping with the election theme, Maker’s Mark was the perfect poison.  If you’re not aware, they have a kitchy and awesome Cocktail Party political campaign running right now.

It is no secret that Maker’s Mark is in my regular rotation of bourbons.  I love the whiskey’s sweet flavor profile and though it would make a great first choice for the League.  The good folks at Maker’s must’ve thought so too, because they sent some my way.

First and foremost, we went over the basics.  The League is comprised of ladies of varying whiskey knowledge levels—some are my girlfriends in the industry (writers and flacks like myself), some are generally just badass brown slugging gals, and some are just looking to learn a thing or two to keep their boyfriends on their toesSo we started with the basic definition.

A view from the distillery.

bour·bon  (bûr bn)

  • A distilled deliciousness and a distinctive product of the U.S.
  • Made from at least 51% corn (with the rest coming from barley, wheat and rye)
  • Aged in new charred oak barrels
  • Distilled to no more than 160 proof
  • Barreled at no more than 125 proof
  • Bottled at 80 proof or more
  • Barrel aged (if more than 2 years, it’s a straight bourbon)

And some basic myths:

  • Bourbon isn’t required to be made in Kentucky (though if you talk to the KY folks, they believe their Bluegrass state and its limestone-filtered water  imparts super powers special benefits)
  • Despite popular belief, barrels do not need to be American oak (just oak), but must be new and charred
  • It’s  only for dudes

Now that we were on the same page, we got to tasting, both Maker’s Mark and Maker’s 46 and in some handy dandy homemade Manhattans.

For those not in attendance, let’s recap:


Maker’s Mark

  • A crazy good small batch bourbon from Loretto, KY (owned by the good folks at Beam)
  • Known for its distinctive bottle and red wax stamp
  • Bottled at 90 proof (45% ABV)
  • Achieves its distinctive taste because of its mash bill, which contains corn, winter wheat and barley (and doesn’t include any rye)

Maker’s 46

  • Holy deliciousness
  • Achieves its flavor from finishing in French oak
  • Bottled at 95 proof (47.5% ABV)

And there you have it.  Our 101.  Great drinks, great company, and a great thirst for knowledge among the group.