This Weekend’s Whisky: Peach Mist

I often defend those who are considered snobs because some things simply are better than others, and the so-called snobs are telling the truth about it, even though their approach may be lacking in tact. With this in mind, I’ll remind readers that yes, I know that expensive whisky is almost always better than the cheaper stuff because of the time, effort, and ingredients involved. Talisker 30-Year-Old Scotch, for example, is simply sublime–among the best I’ve had–but it costs $350. What if you don’t want to spend $350 on a bottle of whisky, or even $35? Can you get a decent bottle of whisky for, say, ten bucks? Well, I tried one last night that I enjoyed, and I didn’t know the price while I was drinking it, assuming it was in the $25 ballpark. Nope, the new Peach Mist, from the makers of Canadian Mist, is smooth, balanced, and just sweet enough, and it only costs $10 a bottle, an excellent value. 

Peach Mist is among a trio of new flavored whiskys from Canadian Mist, which also includes Cinnamon Mist and Maple Mist, and honestly, I didn’t expect to like it very much. I appreciate the taste of whiskey on its own, and many flavored spirits tend to be too sweet and artificial-tasting for me. But I poured myself a small tumbler of it and added three ice cubes and was impressed from the start.

The medium-sweet peach flavor melded nicely with the austerity of the whiskey, creating a balanced drink perfect for sipping. But the best part is that it tastes like real peaches are involved, not some chemical-tinged peach flavor created in a laboratory, and not the cloyingly sweet taste of school cafeteria-style canned peaches in heavy syrup. No, I tasted peaches fresh from the green market, light, flavorful, refreshing, and almost fibrous in texture. The real deal. You could infuse your own peach whisky I suppose, but that sounds like a sticky proposition. Much easier to let the Canadians do the work for you. Ten bucks.  

Peach Mist is perfectly nice on its own, but it seems designed to be used in cocktails, like the Peach Tea-Ser (I know, they made up the name, not me). It’s a mix of Peach Mist and sweet tea, and probably tastes like spiked peach tea. I reckon you could use Arizona Iced Tea or Snapple, and if you poured it in a pretty glass and serve it with panache, people would think you spent a lot more on your cocktail ingredients than you actually did. 

So if you only have ten bucks to spend on a bottle of whisky, and you’d like something versatile enough to drink straight or mix into cocktails, Peach Mist is a good bet. I’m thinking of mixing up a big cooler of Peach Tea-Ser and taking it to the park this weekend. But I’ll probably think up a better name for it first. 

[BlackBook New York Nightlife Guide; More by Victor Ozols; Follow Me on Twitter]

Jefferson’s Presidential Select 21-Year-Old: American Whiskey Has Grown Up So Fast

Last week a padded envelope arrived at my desk containing nothing but a small bottle of whiskey with "Jefferson’s Presidential 21" handwritten on a white label. There was no note or press release, but I soon figured out that the bottle contained Jefferson’s Presidential Select 21-Year-Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey, the latest expression from Jefferson’s Very Small Batch Bourbon. Having recently tasted a selection of bourbons, I was eager to give it a try. What makes Jefferson’s Presidential 21 interesting to me is that American whiskey is rarely aged for 21 years. That’s upscale Scotch territory. Most bourbons are aged for less than ten years, and when you get to 12- and 15-year releases, you start seeing age statements, because it’s a big deal.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that bourbon is less refined than Scotch, of course, it just means that it ages faster. Whiskey aging is largely a function of the climate. Warehouses that store bourbon barrels tend to be located in Kentucky and Tennessee, places that have a wide temperature range, with torrid summers and chilly winters. The climate in Scotland is more moderate. So, while many other factors contribute to the flavor of whiskey, bourbon tends to lose its alcoholic astringency and gain the flavors of the oak barrels at least twice as fast as Scotch.

And here we have a 21-year-old bourbon. Is it comparable to a 42-year-old Scotch, and should we even care? I’m of the view that people worry a bit too much about the age of spirit while undervaluing other factors. All the same, it’s hard not to wonder, so I went home and poured a shot’s worth into a small tumbler. The aroma’s striking, with a pleasant spice note that’s quite an eye-opener. Taking a sip, I noticed lots of cinnamon and pepper that grabs the tongue before mellowing into flavors of butterscotch, honey, and dried fruit. And it’s very woody, with a dark color and vanilla notes from here to Louisville. To be sure, it’s mellow, but still brings the heat like a bourbon should. It’s bold and interesting and delicious neat, but it wouldn’t be a crime to drop an ice cube in the glass if that’s how you like your bourbon.

For comparison, I poured some Glenlivet Archive 21-Year-Old, one of my favorite single malt Scotches (and yes, I do have a quite well-stocked liquor cabinet). The big difference between the two was apparent right away: the flavors of the Glenlivet, which was aged for the same 21 years, were subtler and more complex. There’s all kinds of stuff going on in the glass, including many of the same flavors, but there’s a restraint to the Glenlivet where the Jefferson’s Presidential is outspoken. The Glenlivet whispers in the forest, while the Jefferson’s climbs a tree and hollers. (I didn’t have a 42-year-old Scotch on hand–my liquor cabinet’s not that good–but I’ve tasted a couple of 50-year-old Scotches at events before, and recall deep wood flavors that bring to mind the Jefferson’s, while being a bit softer with the spice.)

I refuse to pick a favorite, though, because I love bourbon and Scotch for different reasons, and, regardless of the age, they’re radically different beasts. But with summer coming, the feisty nature of the bourbon seems to suit the season of active days and sultry nights perfectly. It’s a shame I only have that one tiny sample bottle. Jefferson’s Presidential 21 is available in limited quantities at upscale liquor stores for $120 a bottle. Buy one and invite me over.

Sample both whiskey and whisky at New York bars like Whiskey Ward and the Brandy Library. For more drinking spots, peruse the BlackBook New York Guide.

[Related: Update Your Liquor Cabinet for Summer with Six Brilliant American Bourbons; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]

Update Your Liquor Cabinet for Summer With Six Brilliant American Bourbons

As the sultry days of summer approach, it’s important to update your whiskey collection accordingly. Don’t laugh, there’s a seasonality to this stuff that keeps you from falling into a boring routine. Scotches take the chill out of winter. Irish whiskies are perfect for welcoming the first green buds of spring. And summer, with its hot days and wild nights, calls for the sweet, fiery flavors of bourbon. (We’ll worry about autumn when it gets here. Rye, maybe. Or Japanese.) Befitting the casual season, bourbon is by far the most laid-back of all brown liquors. It’s affordable, accessible, and versatile. Drink it neat, add some ice, or dilute it with Dr Pepper. Nobody’s going to criticize you. Made from at least 51% corn mash and aged in new, charred-oak barrels, bourbon is the quintessential American spirit, so I spent part of my winter researching some of the best bottles that you might not be familiar with at various price points. Round them up, grab a friend and a couple glasses, and enjoy the ultimate American summer.

If you like the affordability of the most popular bourbons but are curious to try something different, pick up a bottle of Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. At just $25, it’s easy on the wallet, leaving you with enough cash for ice, lemonade, and red plastic cups. But don’t think mixing is a requirement. It’s smooth enough for sipping straight, with vanilla flavors and notes of dried fruit. The label’s cool too, and you can impress your drinking buddies by explaining that Buffalo Trace was the name for the ancient paths carved by migrating buffalo that led early American explorers westward.

Creeping upscale, Basil Hayden’s ($37) is a festive whiskey that elevates even the quotidian bourbon-and-cola to great mixological heights. With flavors of banana, vanilla, and pepper, it delivers a quick, satisfying hit with each sip, followed by a relatively ephemeral finish. Refreshing on ice, impressive in cocktails.

Don’t write off Tuthilltown Hudson Four Grain bourbon whiskey just because it’s from New York State. The addition of rye to the standard mix of corn, wheat, and barley gives it a spicy edge that would make any Kentucky distiller proud, while the rest of the cereals add a backdrop of smooth complexity. At $41 for a 375 ml bottle, it leans upscale (there’s the New York part), but it’s so flavorful that a little goes a long way.

Booker’s Bourbon ($50) is bottled at cask strength, from 121 to 127 proof, which makes it a punch in the face when you swig it neat, yet it’s still far smoother than many overproof whiskeys I’ve tasted. That said, it’s at its best when poured over ice and allowed to rest for ten minutes. That’s an eternity, of course, but one that rewards you with a bouquet of woody aromas and opens up a magical forest of flavors, from orange and honey to butterscotch and grass.

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked ($55) is unique in that it seeks to accelerate the whiskey aging process by transferring it from one oak barrel to another. The second barrel is toasted twice as long as the first, releasing the vanilla flavors from the wood and allowing notes of banana, pear, and port wine to develop. At this quality level it’s best enjoyed neat, or with one happy ice cube.

My favorite of the bunch also happens to be the most expensive, but not by much. Colonel E.H. Taylor Single Barrel Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey of Topmost Class ($60), from the Buffalo Trace distillery, is a classy pour. At 100 proof, it’s one of those a rare cask strength whiskey that you can drink neat without putting your fist through the wall. Sure, you’ll find some fire in your tumbler, but it gives way to flavors of cinnamon, birch, and the faintest wisp of cream, followed by a finish as long as its name. It’s at once rustic, classic, and upscale, and I’d love to see somebody order it as their bottle service spirit of choice at a fancy nightclub. Clear all those mixers off the table, just leave the water and ice. It’s nice to have something this upscale in the bourbon category. It’s loose and mellow like any of its contemporaries, just a bit more refined.

[Into experimenting with bourbon? Drop by a bourbon-centric bar or restaurant, like Manhattan’s Whiskey Ward or Brooklyn’s Fette Sau. Not suprisingly, some of the best bourbon bars in the country are in Louisville, Kentucky, so peruse BlackBook’s Louisville City Guide for a rail that’s right for you. It was compiled by Louisville.com’s Zach Everson, a bourbon enthusiast and longtime friend of BlackBook.]

Animal Fetishes at New Los Angeles Hotspots

Obama won. Weed won. Women won. Check and mate. Now, you’re either ready to celebrate, or you’re looking to inebriate. Might we suggest The Blind Donkey in Pasadena, the new whiskey haven, for either? From the guys behind The Surly Goat and The Little Bear (Animal fetish, anyone?), The Blind Donkey is a regal little place with brick, dark wood, and a chess board on every table. While you’re there drowning your sorrows or toasting your victory, order the triple-fried fries and consider signing up for the chess league.

Elsewhere, TLT Food has landed in Westwood, dishing out all the favorites they’ve been selling from their popular food truck, and Urban Garden opened its doors in the Fairfax District, warming the neighborhood with shawarma, lemon-herb rotisserie chicken, and some tasty vegan and veggie items.