Sunday, January 3, 2010

Eagle Rare Bourbon, a good drink for a cold night

I write this entry while I lay in bed under a stack of 3 comforters and a couple of blankets listening to a playlist of Bach 'cello suites, violin partitas, and preludes and fugues for the piano. The snow is falling outside my window in "Nor'eastah" style; the large, wet flakes blown by the wind almost perpendicular to the ground.  I'm very glad to be inside enjoying my night of reading while I sip on one of my favorite Bourbons, Eagle Rare.  It's the last of a bottle that I shared with friends at The Majestic on Christmas Eve.  It inspired some pretty fabulously frenzied frippery on that evening and tonight it's doing a good job of keeping my warm and toasty in my drafty Boston apartment.

Bourbon, in my opinion, is the greatest spirit produced in our country.  It is by law made from at least 51% corn mash, and is distilled and aged solely in Kentucky.  It has a rich history that is full of fact and fiction. Discerning between the two is fun while drinking it.  Elijah Craig, ironically a Baptist minister, is credited with the establishment of the first whiskey distillery in Kentucky. More than likely, it was a group of Irish and Scottish immigrants who brought whiskey-making technology to this country as part of their heritage from across the sea. Bourbon still has close ties with American culture today and is associated with the Kentucky Derby, one of our country's proudest  annual sporting traditions.  If you don't like your whiskey neat, try a Mint Julep, the signature drink of the Derby.  It's a timeless combination of mint, simple syrup, and Bourbon served up in a silver cup.  They are delicious and refreshing on a hot summer day and they make you feel classy when you're drinking them. The following is very comprehensive recipe taken from

Mint Julep

4 cups bourbon
2 bunches fresh spearmint
1 cup distilled water
1 cup granulated sugar
Powdered sugar
  1. To prepare mint extract, remove about 40 small mint leaves. Wash and place in a small bowl. Cover with 3 ounces bourbon. Allow the leaves to soak for 15 minutes. Then gather the leaves in paper toweling. Thoroughly wring the mint over the bowl of whisky. Dip the bundle again and repeat the process several times.
  2. To prepare simple syrup, mix 1 cup of granulated sugar and 1 cup of distilled water in a small saucepan. Heat to dissolve sugar. Stir constantly so the sugar does not burn. Set aside to cool.
  3. To prepare mint julep mixture, pour 3 1/2 cups of bourbon into a large glass bowl or glass pitcher. Add 1 cup of the simple syrup to the bourbon.
  4. Now begin adding the mint extract 1 tablespoon at a time to the julep mixture. Each batch of mint extract is different, so you must taste and smell after each tablespoon is added. You are looking for a soft mint aroma and taste-generally about 3 tablespoons. When you think it's right, pour the whole mixture back into the empty liter bottle and refrigerate it for at least 24 hours to "marry" the flavors.
  5. To serve the julep, fill each glass (preferably a silver mint julep cup) 1/2 full with shaved ice. Insert a spring of mint and then pack in more ice to about 1-inch over the top of the cup. Then, insert a straw that has been cut to 1-inch above the top of the cup so the nose is forced close to the mint when sipping the julep.
  6. When frost forms on the cup, pour the refrigerated julep mixture over the ice and add a sprinkle of powdered sugar to the top of the ice. Serve immediately.
In terms of flavor, you can expect a certain sweetness from Bourbon because of the relatively high amount of sugar naturally in corn as opposed to rye, wheat, and barley, the other grains commonly used for making whiskey.  It must be aged in charred new American Oak barrels which gives it signature vanilla notes.  The aging process takes place in special five-story unventilated brick buildings that essentially bake the barrels of aging whiskey in the hot summer months cooking the naturals sugars. The process is similar to that of "estufagem" used in making another of my favorite drinks, Madeira.  I often find caramelly crême brulée notes in Bourbon which I theorize are a direct result of the heat in the brick buildings.

Eagle Rare is a fine example of a good Kentucky Bourbon. The ten year bottling is everything you would expect and retails for around $30 to $35.  There is also a more expensive seventeen year bottling that represents a very unusual example of old Bourbon.  Buffulo Trace is the parent distillery which also bottles its own excellent Bourbon.  They have been in business since the 18th century and were even spared closing their doors during prohibition.  Eagle Rare was released by Buffalo Trace in the 1980's as a boutique single barrel Bourbon to compete on the emerging whiskey market led be a renewed interest in Scotch.

Here is a wonderful tasting note from The Spirit Journal for Eagle Rare 10 year that beats anything I could come up with me on my own.  I found it both accurate and amusing to read while enjoying my own tumbler full of the stuff. I hope you enjoy it too:
The bright honey/topaz color shows sparkling bronze core features impeccable purity; the early aromas include gentle grain, toasted honey-wheat bread, and tobacco leaf with aeration, the aroma quickly transforms into a pedal-to-the-metal Bourbon bouquet as evolved scents of ripe banana and charcoal tweak the olfactory sense in the middle stage whiffs -- fragrances of lanolin, almond butter, melon, and oil accent the toastiness beautifully -- it's a somewhat restrained, or better, understated aroma but I sense lots of power lying just beneath the surface; my, my, my, what have we here -- in the mouth, this oily, toasty beauty seduces the taste buds at palate entry with dry flavors of cereal grain and mild oak resin -- the mid-palate tastes explode on the tongue in unabashedly sweet and oily flavors of black raisins, grapefruit, charred oak, and candied almonds; the finish is long, corny sweet, moderately fiery, and lasciviously oily; easily one of the most tactile yet assertive and expressive Bourbons I've tasted in the last two years; fasten your seat belts.
Check out Eagle Rare 10 year for a delicious and inexpensive alternative to Scotch if you're in the mood for the brown liquor.  You'll be pleasantly surprised at the unique character of this great domestic treasure.  Let me hear back from you about your favorite Bourbon.  Please leave a comment below.

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