Bourbon leads straight to Kentucky

* The following article originally appeared in Saturday’s online edition of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Corn may not grow at all on old Rocky Top but they have managed to find enough just north of us to make some of the best American whiskeys, namely Kentucky Straight Bourbon.

Kentucky Straight Bourbon has several requirements for authentic production. These include being comprised and made from a majority of corn grain, a minimal aging of at least two years in charred oak barrels and no addition of artificial flavorings or colorings. The result is a pure bottle of American tradition that has survived the setbacks of both war and Prohibition. The following five bourbons are all produced at Kentucky’s legendary Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort.

E.H.Taylor Bourbon

If Kentucky Straight Bourbon had a post-Civil War godfather, his name would irrefutably be Edmund Haynes Taylor. One of the early architects in both modernizing and defining bourbon techniques and specifications, Taylor has been immortalized through craft production bourbons made at the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Its E.H. Taylor Jr. Collection includes a “Small Batch” bourbon that strikes a perfect balance between an ultra-polished, sweet-smelling whiskey and a brawny, flavorful one with a dead-on amount of edginess. Sumptuous aromatics of brown sugar and butterscotch infuse a glass of this attractively, amber-colored bourbon, leaving little room for second-guessing what your new favorite bourbon is likely to be.

Successfully combining Kentucky’s two iconic images — that of bourbon and horseracing — can be as simple and seductive as a fresh Mint Julep on Derby Day or as unique and commemorative as Blanton’s Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Blanton’s 93 proof is a golden, straw-colored bourbon with warm aromas of vanilla bean and caramel. Designated as the “Original”, Blanton’s Single Barrel (like all its distinguished bourbons) is topped with a Kentucky-appropriate, pewter-like stopper resembling a racing horse and jockey. There may be no better way to celebrate all things Kentucky than with Blanton’s at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

Aged for a sturdy 10 years, Eagle Rare Single Barrel reveals a dessert-like bouquet of banana-laden banoffee pie and a freshly caramelized crème brule. But don’t be fooled by all that post-dinner revelry; its underlying structure is one of leather and grass. And it is that very concept of being so well-rounded that makes the journey from rich aromas to rugged flavors an adventure in every Glencairn glass.

Similar in undertone to the Eagle Rare is Buffalo Trace’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Both are 90 proof and carry that same distinct delivery. But the Buffalo Trace separates itself from the crowd with a deeper richness of nut bread or heavy cake.

Finally, no tour of bourbon force would be complete without a mention of the Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel. Its golden color and lighter aromas produce a polished, rounded texture with subtle caramel notes.

Pasta Carbonara & Corbières

Carbonara

Ahh Carbonara! It’s like adding breakfast to pasta. This simple Italian recipe includes your pasta of choice. I prefer a bite-sized but meatier pasta (like the sea shell shaped Campanelle pasta you see here) as opposed to the vast array of tubular pasta that is traditionally used. Stirred in with Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano Reggiano, pancetta or any decent domestic bacon along with eggs and pepper, the Campanelle is a hearty, quick dinner fix and soul-soothing bowl of all that’s good in the food world, namely pasta, cheese and pork.

Corbieres

Look for a lighter red to go with the pork component in the dish. We chose a Corbieres to toe the line and also to counter some of the extra red pepper that was added. The Domaine du Grand Planal Corbières Cuvée Guy Roger (what a great name) is a light and relatively fruity blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Carignan.

* As a side note, for all the Bourbon lovers out there, my next newspaper column is on that very Kentucky-born topic and should be running in a not-too-far-off Sunday edition of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Hawk in the Heavens

Hawk in the Heavens
Nutty and dry with a wholesome savoriness, the Tentaka Kuni represents a step-up in class and in price from the usual restaurant variety of clunk that is served as sake or Japanese rice wine. Translated to “Hawk in the Heavens,” the mid-tier selection from Vine Connections, promptly soared in for a weekend visit including a nice pairing with this homemade Asian Beef Pho Noodle soup.

Easy to make, the Pho is a warm, brothy bowl of rice noodles, flank steak and a host of spices like star anise, cinnamon, thai chili, clove, ginger and mint as well scallions and bean sprouts. You can check out the unmodified recipe here.

Pho

Alsace G-wine & Soup du Jour

HugelGewurztraminer

If I only had a bottle of wine for every time I’ve stumbled trying to pronounce Gewurztraminer! You can hear how to properly say it by clicking on the G-wine Link. And it’s probably why I’ve heard more than one person call it the G-wine.

The Hugel Gewurztraminer comes from the much fought over strip of land between Germany and France, known as Alsace. Stylistically drier than say a Ste. Michelle Gewurztraminer from Washington State, the Hugel and other Alsace G-wines are often hooked up with spicier dishes because they have a touch of sweetness, their own spicy overtones and lively aromatics. The golden potato & cauliflower soup proved why so many foodies resort to a Gewurztraminer with such spicy fare. Cauliflower itself would most likely add enough pepperiness to the soup, but I couldn’t resist tossing in a dried Thai chili or two. The buttery texture and bright color of yukon potatoes create a bowl of warm, creamy and golden goodness.

GoldenPotatoeSoup

Man Salad & Chenin Blanc

ManSalad

Heavy clouds but no snow may be the weather story of the season for this dreary Eastern Tennessee “winter.” We can’t spring ahead but we can start dreaming of April. This healthy, but slightly heartier, salad carries some extra oomph with olive oil marinated portabella mushrooms, sweeter red bells and protein-rich eggs.

Although, this salad will keep you fuller for longer, you’ll still want to look for a lighter white wine to avoid overshadowing the delicate nature of greens. Anything from the Loire Valley like a Sancere, Vouvray or even Muscadet will do fine. I went with the American version of Vouvray and got a classic California Chenin Blanc.

Perhaps the flagship white in their collection, Pine Ridge Vineyards is well-known for their Chenin Blanc- Viognier blend. Lots of stone fruit flavors and crisp apple aromas surround this clean-finishing white. Its fresh and versatile nature is ideal for salads and day dreaming of not-too-far-off Spring evenings.

Pine Ridge Chenin

Fig & Basil Stuffed Pork Chops with a nice Chianti

Chianti

Renzo Masi’s Fattoria di Basciano continues to put out a mega-valued Chianti Riserva. Dried cherry and crushed red berry flavors, with a slight whiff of smoke and anise, superbly compliment this stuffed pork dinner.

Slowly grilled, the pork chop is sliced to pocket a filling of California figs, Genovese Basil, other spices and homemade bread stuffings – then finished in the oven.

Buon Appetito!

StuffedPorkChops

Not your grandmother’s gin

* The following article originally appeared in Saturday’s online edition of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Gin has the discouraging reputation as being the preferred spirit of an anachronistic era when taste buds were seemingly immune to the notion of wincing.

From its early Dutch and English origins, gin amassed the ignoble status as a cheap, easily available spirit that went from being “mother’s ruin” in England to the homemade American version in countless, Prohibition-era bathtubs. At times, its quality was so poor that it probably could have used a good scrubbing.

That being said, this herbal-inspired libation has moved well beyond its Swann Rubbing Alcohol predilections and into unique interpretations by numerous, modern-day gin distillers.

gin

A new favorite of mine comes from an Atlantic island just off Scotland’s western coast. The Botanist Gin boasts a whopping 31 botanicals, including 22 “native” botanicals from the island of Islay. With some heartier aromas, this 92 proof gin is a clean representation that receives my PDS award, or Pretty Damn Smooth. Excellent on the rocks, it also makes one of the better gin and tonics that I’ve had in awhile.

Not to be outdone, France’s Magellan Gin isn’t shy in displaying the “grains of paradise” that have encouraged its panache as a well-seasoned international traveler, including Iris flower, cardamom, orange peel, cassia and half a dozen other herbals. Named for the world’s most renowned explorer, Magellan is a floral, striking translation of gin with an exotically ice blue tint. Lovers of the juniper berry and aromatic style gin have to put this on their list.

The steep 94 proof Broker’s Gin from England carries the banner as a more traditional gin. Medicinal in nature with a focused delivery, Broker’s could have conventional gin connoisseurs showing their approval with a mere tip of the old top hat.

Also distilled in England is Martin Miller’s Gin. For those looking for a not-so-dry gin, Miller’s flavor profile of sweeter botanicals and a fruitier nature is unequalled. Blended with Icelandic water, Martin’s Gin makes for an ideal introduction to this oft-maligned liquor category.

Finally, if you’re part of the “buy local” movement, you won’t have to look to Europe or even outside of Tennessee to fill the gin supply line. In fact, the not-too-far-away Music City has its own melodic gin to sing about. The first thing you’ll notice about Corsair is its curious aroma. With heavier notes of coriander and cumin-like aromas, Nashville’s Corsair Gin (with a splash of club soda) makes a fantastic pre-dinner appetite builder. Also well suited for a slew of martini recipes, Corsair Gin carries that adaptable and exemplary modern-day swagger.

You say you want a resolution…

HealthyDinnerLet’s face it; the only thing that we’re going to read or hear about for the next few weeks is how to eat right in 2013. So for the sake of conformity and not wanting to sacrifice on flavor, I found this great dish from an on-line fitness mag. Colorfully filled with the healthy sweet potatoes, butternut squash, kale greens and black beans, this vegetable chili has a distinctive chocolate/cinnamon pseudo-mole sauce with a nice sweet-heat undertone.

Skip the parsnips (that’s just overboard healthy) and match up the dish with a nice spicy bottle of Amador County Zinfandel like Renwood or an aromatic and briery Dry Creek Vineyards Zinfandel.