Buffalo Trace at the Copper Post
This was our first Bourbon Dinner. We loved the food pairings and didn’t even miss the wine.
Typically, when we attend a wine dinner, I usually feel like I’d like the host to “just gimme’ the facts and be quiet”. However, when it comes to Bourbon, Alice and I are both novices and learning that Jack DeMarr from the Sazerac Company would be our sqeaker, we hoped he would talk more than less. Jack is a wealth of knowledge and though he could talk for hours, he kept it extremely informative while being very frugal with the clock. Our host Mike, owner of Copper Post in Grand Haven and his chef Jeromey and his staff treated us to an awesome experience. We learned that so much about Bourbon is akin to all artisanal products in that locale (terroir), customs, traditions and legally defined practices demonstrate both a standard but also showcase the exceptions and individuality of each product.
Bourbon is defined as a distillate produced from at least 51% corn mash with smaller amounts of Rye, Barley malt and/or wheat using only Kentucky limestone water.* It must be aged a minimum of 4 years in American White Oak barrels. Most of these barrels hail from Missouri and Arkansas. Once assembled, the inside of the barrel is heavily charred creating a vanilla cream-like flavor from the comingling of the tree sap flavors with the flavor of charred wood. Most inexpensive Bourbons are aged in kiln-dried lumber. In the four years that the whiskey is in the barrels, it really only has a chance to absorb flavors and smells from the charred layer. However, most premium Bourbons are aged in air-dried barrels because in six, seven or more years of aging, the flavor of the staves themselves becomes more and more apparent.
Whiskey, in general, never seemed like an appropriate beverage to enjoy with a savory meal. Was I ever wrong! Tiny little sips during the entire meal (we had four wonderful courses) work as well as a glass of nice wine to marry and wash down the flavors.
Here is what we had:
Weller Special Reserve (90 proof / 45% ABV) served with Pan Seared Scallops worked together beautifully. The imaginative presentation that Chef Jeromy plated really made this very fresh lively Bourbon shine. Weller Special Reserve is a “wheated” Bourbon. In lieu of Rye, the producer uses wheat and ages it a full 7 years in air dried charred barrels. The result is a huge caramel vanilla maraschino bouquet and a brisk volatile taste impression. My score 95 points, my favorite of the evening.
Blanton’s Bourbon (93 proof / 46.5 % ABV) with Braised Short Rib again showed the chef’s knowledge of not only Bourbon but, pairings that made sense in a tasting/Bourbon dinner setting. The short rib meat was combined with ricotta in ravioli wallowing in a phenomenally delicious sauce. Although Blanton’s (aged 6 years) seemed just a bit too mild and subdued compared to the Weller, the pairing really brought out the best showing its rich broad mouth feel and crisp finish. Each edition of Blanton’s has a collectable bottle stopper with a jocky in a different pose. My score 88 points.
Old Weller Antique (107 proof / 53.5% ABV) served alongside of Lacquered Duck (below right) was much tamer than I would have expected. This is also a wheated Bourbon with the same aging regimen as the Special Reserve, but, bottled at 107 proof eliminating the extra addition of limestone water. I’m not sure if it was the duck pairing or just good balance, but, the higher alcohol was not really noticeable. It possessed a riper smell and darker color than the Special Reserve emphasizing caramel with less noticeable vanilla notes or brisk mouth feel. It is actually very easy to enjoy with food. My score 92 points.
Buffalo Trace Fortino’s Single Barrel Bourbon (90 proof / 45% ABV) and Tiramisu again worked well together. Instead of espresso and Amaretto, chef used this same bourbon to soak the pastry. Area retailers who are very serious about Bourbon are offered by the distillery an opportunity to bottle up a single barrel** that they like a tad better than the mass produced Buffalo Trace brand. Kelly, owner of Fortino’s, explained that she and Andy, Fortino’s manager, decided on this barrel due to its more prominent sweet smells and hint of local maple syrup in the finish. In the nose, hints of cherry and caramel stood out finishing with an smoky artisinal maple syrup-like note at the end. How could it not pair with the tiramisu? My score 90 points.
A. Brian Cain, the Michigan Vintner
*Certain parts of Illinois, Indiana and Tennessee have wells with the same type of water, however. Legally, Bourbon is not limited to Kentucky though most of the prestige Bourbon distilleries are located in Kentucky. In general, the words Kentucky and Bourbon are inseparable among Bourbon aficionados.
** They shipped the empty barrel to Mexico in which to age a batch of Corazon Tequila. It is at Fortino’s as I write. That’s only about 250 bottles, it won’t be there for long.