Log Date

A whiskey adventure for you and me.

  1. Moving pictures

    The Kentucky Derby glorifies quite a few grand traditions, though mainly the exultation of vices. So gamble away! Based solely on names, I’m going for Golden Soul (Orb is another story) despite 30-1 odds. Lest we forget the Derby of 08, the year I chose Big Brown. (I mean, his lineage consisted of horses named Danzig and Northern Dancer.) Meanwhile, my folks invested the lion’s share of that year’s gamble on a horse who died on the race track

    So go against the odds, and look great while doing so. The Derby is a boastful event; you need to be well-tailored, adhering to some absurd class standard, and by all means: outhat everyone. 

    Whether you’re in Louisville or not, or avidly watching horses run in circles or not, you’re going to need a mint julep. If you’re in Churchhill Downs and presumably own a horse, you can reach into your bespoke seersucker and order up a Woodford Reserve julep. For a mere grand, a master distiller will mix and deliver a julep in some limited edition cup filled with freshly plucked mint leaves DUSTED WITH GOLD, sweetened by the most organic sugar Australia could offer, with ice imported right over from the Bavarian Alps, and whatever the hell GOLD-FILTERED MINERAL WATER might be. Then, as “My Old Kentucky Home” blares across the track, you can cheers to your skewed worldview and the southern persistence for madras I guess. 

    If you’re anyone else, really you should throw on a sundress or some shorts, take to a backyard, prepare any of these mint juleps or variations thereof, maybe live stream a few races for authenticity, and revel in the springtime with glorious bourbon. 

  2. Writing on the coaster

    What the hell is white whiskey anyway?

    This question keeps rolling in, as the bars keeps rolling out drinks with a “white dog” base. 

    Listen, it’s moonshine. 

    It’s baby whiskey fresh from the still, unaged. The barrels used for aging give bourbon its signature notes and flavors and, ultimately, its rich, distinctive hue. Bereft of that, you’ve got yourself a clear liquid flavored solely by the corn. 

    So no, this whiskey is not bootlegged from Uncle Bill somewhere in the yonder of the Adirondacks. It’s more than likely from your craft microdistillery — they’ve got something to put out on the shelves to stay afloat while the rest of the batch idles in barrels in the back. 

    Locally-minded bartenders plucked them on up, and began experimenting. Consumers took note, clamored for more. The trend is certainly reaching a swell, as major distilleries are now churning them out. Thus, moonshine is seeing a resurrection on bar menus nationwide. 

  3. Writing on the coaster

    Charm a Whiskey Girl // VIII: Light their fire.

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    Strike a match instead. Perhaps this should be prefaced with a rehashing of the perils of cigarette smoking: sour breath, yellowed skin, lung disease, dull teeth, a persistent cough. Sure. That’s all true. But those who smoke don’t seem to regard that as is. Least of all after a few drinks. So if you’re going to smoke, grab a few matchbooks on the way out to the curb. Maybe you conjure up 1950s rebels with an implacable Midatlantic accent and side combed hair and therein lies all the perceived charm, but whatever the case, it’s charming as hell. It even leaves the lingering scent of campfire in its wake. Listen, it’s long been a tried-and-true to move to ask someone for a light. But you know how to really up the ante? When they ask, let them draw their cigarette to their lips, step towards them generously, flick that match, cup out the wind from the flame, and melt a heart. 

  4. Writing on the coaster

    Holidays of Bourbon: St. Patrick’s Day

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    It’s oft-called Amateur Night for good reason; it might just be the most godawful drinking holiday yet. This year, it’s on a Sunday, which means it’ll begin Saturday, and maybe even Friday… just wait for the sea of green clothing to swell. Maybe it’s a good time in, I don’t know, some wayward pub on a hillside in Ireland. But in America, it’s a veritable brofest of crude tshirts under performance fleece, synchronized woo-ing, shamrock-emblazoned dollar store paraphernalia, and maybe a lot of vomit.

    It’s not all bad though! Just avoid ANY pub preceded by an O’ or a Mc, most sports bars, and for the love of god, Kegs and Eggs. Better yet, stay in with a handful of close friends. Try some bourbon variations of Irish coffee, set a fire that doesn’t engulf the whole damn town, listen to the sirens wail in the distance. In contrast to the absurdity on the streets, it’s the perfect night to get real cozy. 

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    Overheard from the brofest next door, assembled proudly in green hats at one in the afternoon: 

    • “Where’s your green, bro?” 

    • “Miller High Life! Yes! But wait, how many calories?” 

    • “Whoa!” 

    • “Who here is actually Irish?” 

    • “What do you spend your bucks on, big guy? Films?” 

    • “Whoooaa-ah!” 

    • “Heyo! Do you know Eric?” 

    “This is the seventh or eighth time you’ve met me.” 

    • “Punch me the right way!” 

    • “Pat, is this a shade of green?” 

    • “These are my camping sunglasses actually.” 

    Damn their voices carry. Just wait until they get a few rounds of Jameson pong in. 

  5. Still frame

    SIPS OF BOURBON: Fire in the Hole at Rock Bar, San Francisco
In the hunt for a worthy San Francisco dive, I was directed towards Rock Bar, a cozy little pub enough on the outskirts of the Mission that it’s probably considered Bernal Heights, and for the weekend crowds still stay mellow enough. All the necessary components are there: cheap, strong drinks; a pool table, a jukebox; a seasoned crowd of regulars and revelers alike. It’s glorious. (They even have kitsch — the place is festooned with literal rocks.) They still care about their liquors though, and the bartender made the hell out of my first Old Fashioned, which was all fine and well until I saw a sign for perhaps the greatest drink special I’ve ever encountered: 
Fire in the Hole 
Bottle of Schlitz 
Shot of Four Roses 
Piece of Charcuterie
$9 

Brilliant. I’m done. I’ve found my dive. 

    SIPS OF BOURBON: Fire in the Hole at Rock Bar, San Francisco

    In the hunt for a worthy San Francisco dive, I was directed towards Rock Bar, a cozy little pub enough on the outskirts of the Mission that it’s probably considered Bernal Heights, and for the weekend crowds still stay mellow enough. All the necessary components are there: cheap, strong drinks; a pool table, a jukebox; a seasoned crowd of regulars and revelers alike. It’s glorious. (They even have kitsch — the place is festooned with literal rocks.) They still care about their liquors though, and the bartender made the hell out of my first Old Fashioned, which was all fine and well until I saw a sign for perhaps the greatest drink special I’ve ever encountered: 

    Fire in the Hole 

    Bottle of Schlitz 

    Shot of Four Roses 

    Piece of Charcuterie

    $9 

    Brilliant. I’m done. I’ve found my dive. 

  6. Writing on the coaster

    Bulleit 10 & Bullitt

    SIPS OF BOURBON: BULLEIT 10-YEAR @ Bar 821, San Francisco

    Finally got around to ordering the Bulleitt 10-year at a little bar tucked away on Divisadero. $12 pour. Ordered it with an Anchor Steam. “I’ll need to see two IDs for two drinks,” the bartender tells me. I paused. She blinked. Maybe I blinked too. “Oh, is this all for you?” Ended up feeling strange on a Tuesday evening, said nevermind the beer. Drank the Bulleit, waited for my drinking partner, doodled aimlessly on a red napkin. Trying to find a dive in my neighborhood; this wasn’t it. No music, no personality really, neither cheap beers nor intriguing cocktails. The bourbon was excellent, sure, but not particularly some elevated experience from the tried-and-true every day Bulleit. One reviewer (ridelight/eatheavy, photographer of the above bottle) compared the two to 400 versus 800 thread count sheets — both decent, but you’ll be cozy all the same. Oh well. 

    Carried on down the road to The Page, where they have cans of Olympia to remind me of home, and watched Steve McQueen barrel through the 1960’s streets of San Francisco in this scene from Bullitt:

  7. Writing on the coaster

    Ode to Linda’s Brunch

    It’s noon already and everyone made vague plans to meet at noon for brunch and they were adamant about it you think and the daylight’s creeping on in and your phone beeps from the catacombs of your blankets somewhere — a simple emoticon of an egg in a frying pan, which you swear at one point was a much quainter egg cracking, though either no one believes or no one cares — and all that emoticon is asking you is to walk down the hill and order up comfort foods already but you know everyone is lost in the same depths of morning time as you are, squinting their eyes and pressing buttons that correspond with little images of eggs. 

    These are not the mornings for a proper brunch. You will not be meeting with ten of your colleagues at a reserved table that was hashed out over a string of emails. You will not be catching up with elders whom expect you to be appropriately groomed. You will not queue up anywhere on a sidewalk for over three minutes, maximum. No one you meet will have already completed a run this morning. No one will bring a kid. Nothing on the menu shall require some perfunctory google — no tobiko, brandade, basmati, romesco, raclette, treviso, poblano, julienne* bullshit. You will only bring whatever cash you have leftover from last night, crumpled in your pocket, and that will be enough. 

    You will go to what you know. 

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    You’ll layer up with whatever you find on or near your bed. You’ll waste six extra minutes scouring around for a hat. Then you will place sunglasses over your face, and be marginally surprised when someone recognizes you in them anyway, as though you honestly believed they rendered you indistinguishable. Maybe you’ll bring your dog, to compensate for that sad sleepwalk-stumble you did around the block at 8am. He needs the world now just as much as you do.

    It’s Linda’s because it always is. This isn’t the time to be making decisions, taking chances. It’s cheap, it’s central, and it’s some sort of homing beacon for wayward souls. You’ll bypass the dim bar room and head out to the patio, find a picnic table, order a pitcher of beef jerky Bloody Marys, pose the same weary question to your slowly amassing table: “When are they going to start serving pitchers of Gatorade?” Bodies will trickle in. A boy in shorts will say, “I wasn’t ready for whole pants.” At least three people will be greeted with, “Where did you go last night?” At most, this will elicit a slight chuckle as response enough. Someone will display their shattered phone, another their disorienting bruise. You’ll order too much food. Some rando will pick hash browns off of your plate when enough is enough. All movements will be in slow motion for awhile. But you’ll regain. 

    The coffee and the eggs and the sunshine will work their way into your bloodstream and voices will lift, days will be tentatively be planned. If it’s the summertime, it’s a direct route to the beach. In spring, everyone to the park. In winter, well, you are about to take a nap right now, sorry but it’s going to happen, so grab a few friends, put on some sitcom, fall asleep together and regroup in an hour. In fall, it’s a walk or a bike ride. Take the long route home with your dog, let him traipse through that volcano fountain or  lose his damn mind in a dog run. Your day has really only just begun. 

    You’ll wave goodbye, sort of, and no one will utter any sort of plan to do this again sometime — just wait a month or two, and eventually the same morning will come crashing in on all of you at once again, and there Linda’s will be.

    *These were just real items I lifted from the Foreign Cinema menu

  8. Writing on the coaster

    SIPS OF BOURBON: Knob Creek on the rocks, Puget Sound

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    In college, I took a summer job at this tourist trap of a restaurant on a pier along the Puget Sound. My job was to shuttle godawful overpriced vodka-guava-bullshit cocktails and various fried seafood to travelers, many of whom were about to embark on the floating all-you-can-eat buffet that is an Alaskan cruise. I didn’t mind, as volume was high, the money piled up, I got to be out in the long-awaited sunshine all day long, and my coworkers were alike — sardonic college students cashing in on the summertime. 

    Restaurants like this can and do gouge you because they can: because they have a great fucking view. This place did indeed. It overlooked the Sound and the glorious Olympic mountain range. A bulk of the job actually entailed being a tour guide, and answering a string of questions, usually with directional gestures: Where’s that ferry going? Bainbridge Island. Are those the Cascades? No, those are to the east. Is that really an active volcano right over there?? Yes, Mount Rainier is active and overdue, and you are viewing it from two hours north — it’s a monster. And also, where can we can get drunk tonight? Go left on 1st for the meat market, right on 1st for the moms and dads. 

    This only went awry once. I had thought I had built a good rapport with a troop of Midwesterners grabbing a few drinks before a Mariner’s game. That summer, a massive white orb had been tugged into the harbor. So after enough banter about swimming across the sound to Alki Point and thieving a sea plane from Lake Union, the table had fielded a familiar question: “What the hell is that?” It was, in fact, some sort of missile detection station being repaired by Boeing. What I answered, however, was, “Oh, that’s just our weather control station prototype. We’re working on our winters.” They all laughed uproariously and asked some wild questions about attacking other lands with storms. Then, more pointedly, How will a sudden lack of precipitation affect the ecosystem? Is it a broader control, or decided day-by-day? What other cities will have this technology available? I began backing away. There was no taking back anything now; I’d duped them. Did they believe me when I told them stealing Cessnas was so simple, since a kid from the islands did it all the time? Did they really think I caught their oysters myself that morning? 

    At the end of the day, I had put up with a lot of bullshit. I’d been undertipped, paid in dozens of coins. I’d been overtipped — once a guy had handed me a $20 for every vodka Red Bull I brought him, until I had to cut him off after five when he ripped up another $20 and drank it. I smelled vaguely like clam chowder and residual sweat and sunscreen. But, every night, we closed up the cabana, put down the umbrellas, and watched the sun die over the Olympics. 

    Cashing out, we were allowed a shift drink. It was meant to be a draft beer, probably. But when the upstairs bartender, an older gentleman, discovered my penchant for bourbon, he poured a different whiskey every night, some neat, some on the rocks, in a summers-long whiskey tasting. All the chaos of the day drifted away and, with a book and a sunset, I couldn’t imagine anything more calming than that first bourbon after a wild, warm day. 

  9. Writing on the coaster

    Book of Bourbon’s Whiskey Workout Plan

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    Listen, lesson learned: you can’t drink bourbon for a year and expect to keep in shape. Sorry. It’s made of corn and loaded with calories. (Roughly 105 for an ounce and a half pour.) But we know the heart outweighs the head here, so carry on drinking your whiskey. Here’s Book of Bourbon’s guide to staying fit or, at very least, alleviating some guilt: 

    1. Water yourself. It’ll keep you from overimbibing, dehydrating, and it’ll fend off a hangover the next morning so you can actually make it to the gym. 

    2. Don’t keep bacon in the house. You’re going to want it come morning time, and you’re going to make too much of it. Keep a stash of leafy greens for a less regrettable fridge raid. 

    3. Disregard bar food. Eat dinner (and do eat dinner) prewhiskey. Alcohol demands that your body metabolize it first, so the junk you put in afterward just sort of wallows around inside of you. 

    4. Avoid street meat. In Seattle, there’s a street specialty: a hot dog slathered in cream cheese, stuffed in a bun, and topped with assorted fried vegetables. At last call, for five bucks, this seems like a godsend. It isn’t. It’s a nightmare. Don’t. 

    5. Walk to the bar. If you can, that is. A shot of whiskey beforehand will keep you warm on the way over. (But don’t let it delude you; bundle up.) Then fret not over: a) calculating your remaining drinking hours before you need to drive, b) choosing poorly and driving anyway, c) fetching your car the next day, getting towed or ticketed or broken into, or even just remembering where the hell you parked. 

    6. Go dancing. There’s a form of dancing for everyone — this doesn’t necessarily require going into some bizarre club. Find a soul night, an 70s/80s/90s night, a mosh pit, a back alley jazz bar. 

    7. Or at least, stand. Stand tall; shoulder back, core engaged. You’ll look even better when you offer up your chair to someone else. 

    8. Wear heels. I’m kidding. Don’t do this. Maybe your calves will look great, I don’t know. But don’t do this unless you can walk without wobbling in them, or stash a pair of flats in your bag. 

    9. Join a gym. Seriously, just subtract one night out a month and put it towards a gym membership. Don’t join and go to one bullshit Zumba class a week though — aim for 3-5 workouts a week, a mix of cardio and strength training, and take some conditioning classes. Then treat yourself to a bourbon. 

    10. At least learn how to do a few basic body weight exercises: a squat, a lunge, a pushup. Then drop and do 30 before you go out to at least ease your mind. 

  10. Writing on the coaster

    The Book of Bourbon Whiskey Sour Test

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    There are many rubrics by which to judge a bar’s cocktail program. Many employ an Old Fashioned test, as it is the oldest and perhaps most venerable whiskey cocktail, but in my opinion that varies too much even from bartender to bartender. You could also peruse their custom cocktail menu and see what they’ve developed. Fair enough, though those were designed to be their well-honed standouts. Over the years, I’ve developed the Whiskey Sour test. Within that glass I’ll get all the answers I need. 

    I. THE WELL TEST 

    • If they are using some no-name-brand whiskey (not even specified as a bourbon), they don’t really give a damn about you, just your dollar bills. 

    -If they are using Monarch, just up and go. 

    • If they are using something like Old Crow or Evan Williams or Jim Beam, eh, it’s fine, your drink will be fine, whatever. 

    • If they are doing Buffalo Trace or Four Roses, they care. 

    • If they are using Bulleit or Maker’s or something midrange, they love you more than their bottom line. 

    • If they had their own custom barrel of bourbon bottled for their well, they love bourbon, and if you love bourbon, it’s love all around. 

    • If the well is something like Eagle Rare or the like, you’re probably in a hotel, and you will be paying $$$, and remember, it’s only a whiskey sour. 

    II. CHERRIES

    • Nothing says “I don’t give a fuck” like dropping a dyed-red ball of what was once maybe a cherry into your glass. 

    • Every dollar spent on brandied cherries is worth it and then some. (Also, you can make them at home.) They look great and taste even better. 

    III. SOUR MIX 

    • Rule of thumb: nothing from the gun. 

    • The sour mix obviously is the make-or-break for the sour. I’ve had some truly horrendous whiskey sours, that taste like a diabetes shake and leave a sick sugared coating on the teeth. A bottle of Sweet N’ Sour mix is a bad sign. 

    • A good whiskey sour will have lemon juice and sugar. 

    • You always know you’re in a good place when you see your bartender reach to juice a fresh lemon. (Also note: the wait time will and should be a bit longer, but be patient, and thank the lord they’re not dumping sour mix in your glass.) 

    IV. EGG WHITES

    • Whiskey sours should have egg whites in them, or at least your bartender should offer. 

    • Sometimes this is called “Boston Sour.” 

    • The egg whites add texture and balance out some of the sweetness, and your drink will take a few moments longer, since the egg white should be shaken properly. 

    V. PRESENTATION 

    • Garnishes: the cherry’s enough. A lemon rind will do. An orange or lime is excessive.  A few drops of angostura bitters is welcome. 

    • Glassware: Avoid the hurricane glass always. A martini glass looks comical. A whiskey sour really only belongs in an old-fashioned glass. 

    •Ice: either none, or a massive cube. 

    • If you drop a metal straw in there, forget it, I’m done, it’s you and me forever.

    VI. VARIATIONS 

    • A “Ward 8” uses rye, adds orange to the lemon juice, and substitutes grenadine for simple syrup. 

    Liberty invented the “Seattle Sour,” with coffee bitters and a topping of Manny’s Pale Ale foam. 

    A worthwhile whiskey sour: Buffalo Trace or similar; fresh lemon juice, simple syrup; brandied cherries; egg whites; in an Old-Fashioned glass. 

    So there you go. The whiskey sour can either be god-awful, or rather pleasant. It’s up to some key choices on the bar’s part that will tell you all you may need to know about their approach to the rest.