Monday, March 31, 2014

The Sandwich Files: Fried Bologna with Spicy Kimchi at Heirloom Market BBQ

Let's be honest, it's a pain in the ass to eat at Heirloom Market BBQ. Located in a former liquor store alongside I285, the parking is extremely limited and the lines are generally out the door. But when your order is called, it all seems worth it. My normal go-to is the spicy Korean pork sandwich, made with rib meat marinated in gochujang (Korean chili paste) and smoked to perfection. That sandwich has a new rival in this fried bologna sandwich special. 

The thinly-sliced bologna is fried and piled on a soft potato roll with Heirloom's spicy kimchi slaw. Kimchi pickles are served on the side. It sounds simple, and it is, but the bologna is a perfect fatty vehicle for the spicy funk of the kimchi. I finished mine in about four bites. Hopefully, this special becomes a mainstay.

2243 Akers Mill Road
Atlanta, GA 30339

Friday, March 28, 2014

Tasting "The General" With John Glaser at Empire State South

Empire State South held a tasting event on Wednesday with Compass Box Whisky Co. founder and whisky blender John Glaser. Glaser and Compass Box have taken blended Scotch to a completely new level since the company was founded in 2000. Initially an aspiring wine maker, Glaser got his start in the scotch industry working for Diageo, which owns blending giant Johnny Walker. As Glaser told me at the ESS event last night, he saw an opportunity to bring the same craft approach that had infiltrated the wine industry into the blended scotch industry. He pitched the idea to the Diageo folks, they passed, and Glaser took the leap and formed Compass Box.

The details of the ESS event has already been discussed by my buddy Richard of Whisk(e)y Apostle, so I won't repeat them here. I will, however, echo Richard's praise of Glaser, who was passionate, engaging, and came across as a guy who realized how cool of a gig he has. That is not necessarily the norm with these types of events.

The highlight of the night, without a doubt, was the surprise taste of "The General" that Glaser poured for me and my Georgia Bourbon Society friends. The General is a recently released and extremely unique "blend of blends" released by Compass Box, which is selling for a whopping $300. As Glaser explained, The General is made up of two blended scotch whiskies of unknown provenance, both of which were blended early on and then put back into casks to age. The first cask, acquired from a whisky broker, was 33 years old and the second cask, purchased from Gordon and MacPhail, clocked in at a whopping 40 years old. The two casks were then blended and bottled at cask strength, which is only 53.4% ABV due to its age. Basically, this is whiskey geek porn.

The General is by far the oldest whiskey (of any type) that I've ever tasted. The pour I had was only an ounce or so, so I won't attempt any detailed tasting notes. I will say that this is fan-freakin-tastic whisky, which has an incredible antique nose of polished wood, leather and old library books, a woody and complex palate, and a long satisfying finish. Hopefully, I will be able to acquire a full bottle to give it the attention that it deserves, but that may be easier said than done. Only 1,698 bottles were released worldwide (told ya Glaser is a nice guy!).

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Atlanta's Best Double-Stack Burgers (Part 2) - Grindhouse and H. Harper Station

We came strong out of the gates last week with the Meatstick from One Eared Stag, which will be tough to top. This week, we take a look at burgers from local chain Grindhouse Killer Burgers and Reynoldstown cocktail destination H. Harper Destination.

"The Beltline Burger" at H. Harper Station
(904 Memorial Drive SE)
Housed in the old Atlanta & West Point Railroad Freight Depot, H. Harper Station has a great vibe and is one of the better cocktail spots in town. And like other great cocktail spots, they have a double-stack burger, appropriately named the Beltline Burger. Although I've had drinks here several times before (Jerry Slater created the very awesome Bitter Southerner No. 1), this was only my second time ordering food. It was brunch, and I was desperately in need of a burger and a Guinness.

The Meat: Painted Hills beef per the menu, and roughly 4 oz. per patty. I'm guessing the meat is chuck, but our bartender didn't know and apparently couldn't find out. The patties had a good char at the expense of juiciness.

The Bun: The ubiquitous H&F bun. Hard to go wrong there.

The Cheese: Melty American goodness.

The Toppings: House-made B&B pickles, griddled onions (more like a sauteed onion relish), bibb lettuce on the side (which I didn't add), mayonnaise, and ketchup on the side.

The Verdict: 85/100. Everything about the burger tasted good. The meat was seasoned well, the cheese was melted nicely, and the toppings were good. The toughness of the meat, which was helped by copious amounts of mayo, puts this well below Atlanta's best, though. Pro Tip: skip adding bacon to the burger for an extra $2, which was overly crispy and otherwise ordinary (we pulled it off).

The "Apache Style" at Grindhouse Killer Burgers
(Sweet Auburn Curb Market location)
(209 Edgewood Ave)
With locations near my office and house, Grindhouse is on my regular rotation. I also spent several hours at the airport location on a recent layover. Burgers can be ordered as singles or doubles, and guests can add their own toppings or choose one of their pre-designed burger styles, which in my experience is the way to go. The "Grindhouse Style" is the most classic (lettuce, onion, American cheese, pickles, Grindhouse sauce), but my personal go-to is the Apache Style.

The Meat: Two 4 oz. patties, made with a blend of brisket and chuck from a North Carolina producer. The patties have a decent crust and are a bit thicker than some of the others around town (see Bocado), which helps keep them extremely juicy.

The Bun: Soft potato roll from a bakery called Martin's in Pennsylvania. Squishier than the H&F bun pretty much everyone else uses.

The Cheese: Pepper jack, not quite melted enough, but the spice works perfectly with the roasted chiles.

The Toppings: Roasted New Mexico green chiles and grilled onions.

The Verdict: 87/100. I'm going to like pretty much anything with roasted green chiles and pepper jack, and this is no exception. The burger itself is as juicy as almost any in town, but the beef lacks the beefy flavor that the best double stacks in town have. Head-to-head, though, the juiciness puts the Apache Style a step above the Beltline Burger.

Previous Ratings
"The Meatstick" - One Eared Stag (97/100)
"The Caboose" - Stationside (80/100)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Goodbye Lillet, Hello Kina L'Avion D'Or

Kina L'Avion D'Or is a relatively new version of an old style of apértif known as a a quinquina (or kina, for short) released by Tempus Fugit Spirits, a company known for sourcing and creating historic products. The L'Avion D'Or -- or "Golden Airplane," in tribute to Louis Blériot's 1909 flight across the English Channel -- is absolutely fantastic on its own or in pretty much any cocktail that calls for Lillet, such as the Vesper or the Corpse Reviver No. 2 (see recipes below). You see, Kina Lillet, as it was known until 1986, contained far more quinine than the sweeter, less bitter Lillet Blanc that exists today. Kina L'Avion D'Or is now thought by many to have replaced Cocchi Americano as the closest thing we have to Kina Lillet. I can't speak to that, as I haven't tasted the old Kina Lillet, but I do find that that L'Avion D'Or makes a much more interesting cocktail than the current Lillet Blanc. (Shoutout to the nice folks at H&F Bottle Shop for turning me onto this stuff.)

The history of quinquina is one of pragmatism. As with many alcoholic products, kinas were developed for medicinal reasons. In the first half of the 19th century, malaria was a major problem for French soldiers and colonists in North Africa. The primary treatment was quinine, which was extracted from the bark of the South American cinchona tree. Apparently, quinine was so bitter that nobody could get it down, so the French started creating fortified wines containing quinine to make it more palatable. (The British started drinking gin and tonic, which also contains quinine, in colonial India for the same reasons.) So, as with so many other things, quinquina started out as medicine and proliferated to the larger drinking culture.

In France, these apéritif wines are drunk by themselves or over ice with soda water and a slice of citrus, which makes perfect sense as a pre-dinner apéritif. Made with Cortese grape white wine infused with cinchona, orange peel, wormwood, and other spices, the Kina L'Avion D'Or is full of flavor and nuance but without the alcohol punch of a strong cocktail that might make you forget to make dinner. 

The L'Avion D'Or also takes cocktails -- especially gin cocktails -- to another level. Pretty much any recipe that calls for Lillet can be improved with this stuff. It can also act as a bolder and more interesting stand-in for dry vermouth. I'm also itching to try this in a white (er, yellow?) negroni. Store this product as you would vermouth. With an alcohol content of only 18%, it should be kept in the fridge and drunk within 4-6 weeks.

Here are two adaptations of classic cocktails that showcase the L'Avion D'Or.

Corpse Reviver No. 2
Adapted from the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930)

"Four of these taken in swift succession will 
unrevive the corpse again" - Harry Craddock
- 1 oz. Gin
- 1 oz. Cointreau (I used Pierre Ferrand Dry Orange Curaçao)
- 1 oz. Kina L'Avion D'Or (in place of the Lillet Blanc)
- 1 oz. Lemon Juice
- 1-3 Dashes of Absinthe (I used St. George)

Combine ingredients in cocktail shaker and add ice. Shake and double strain into a coupe. Garnish with Luxardo Maraschino cherry.

Invented by James Bond in Ian Fleming's Casino Royale (1953)
Adapted by H&F Bottle Shop
"I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink's my own invention. I'm going to patent it when I can think of a good name." - James Bond in Casino Royale, Ch. 7 ("Rouge et Noir")

- 1.5 oz. Beefeater Gin (I used Plymouth)
- 1 oz. Sobieski Vodka (I used Cathead)
- .5 oz. Kina L'Avion D'Or (in place of the Kina Lillet)

Combine ingredients in cocktail shaker and add ice. Shake and strain into chilled martini glass.  Garnish with lemon twist.

*Note - If you want to stay true to the Bond version, use "three measures of Gordon's [gin], one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel."

Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday Cocktail: The Reengineered Bourbon and Coke

It is your favorite drink from college, all grown up. Featured recently in Garden & Gun, the Reengineered Bourbon and Coke has all of the familiar flavors of the classic, but correctly proportioned. A sweeter wheated bourbon with some wood influence works best here. The recipe calls for Makers 46, but Weller 12 would also do nicely. The Coca-Cola syrup is ridiculously easy to make and keeps nicely in the fridge, and using only a quarter ounce of syrup keeps this drink from being overly sweet. 

This cocktail is probably too fussy to make at a tailgate (or to sneak into a football game), but it will do just fine for the NCAA tournament games on TV this weekend.

Reengineered Bourbon and Coke
Adapted from Garden & Gun and Stephen Dennison

For the syrup:
- 1/4 cup cane sugar Coca-Cola 
- 1/4 cup sugar (caster sugar works best)

For the cocktail:
- 2 oz. Makers 46 or other wheated bourbon
- 1/4 oz. Coca-Cola Syrup
- 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
- Lemon twist (or Maraschino cherry) to garnish

For the syrup, put the Coke and sugar in a small saucepan over low heat.  Stir until dissolved. Cool and refrigerate.

For the cocktail, combine the bourbon, syrup, and bitters into a cocktail shaker with ice. Stir for 30 seconds (G&G says to shake but this turns the cocktail cloudy) and strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with lemon peel or cherry and serve.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Whiskey Review: Wild Turkey American Spirit

Wild Turkey American Spirit is a limited edition 15 year old bottled-in-bond bourbon released in 2007. There were 12,000 bottles released, and I found one of these in the wild a couple years back at the original $100 price tag. Generally, I am skeptical of Wild Turkey's limited releases, most of which have been fair at best. This one, however, was widely regarded as one of the best (the Tribute being the other), and I keep hoping to taste something from Wild Turkey that comes anywhere close to the 1980s 12 year old split label bottling I've had. My brother and I opened this bottle last Thanksgiving, and I haven't revisited it since. Before I finish it, here is the review for posterity's sake.

Price: $100(ish)
Proof: 50% ABV (100 Proof)
Age: 15 Years
Mashbill: 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley.
Color: Dark amber

Nose: Classic bourbon profile. Maple, roasted pecans, stewed cherries, leather, and vanilla . A pleasant mustiness like the smell of old library books.
Palate: Lovely oily quality. Rich corn sweetness at the front with toffee pudding and cinnamon spice, which gives way to loads of dry oak and pepper.
Finish: Dry and warm. Although the finish is long, there is very little sweetness that lingers. A little spearmint at the end.

Overall: B+

American Spirit is not overly complex, but it is a really good sipper. There isn't quite enough sweetness to match the wood, but until Wild Turkey decides to quit screwing around and release a 12 year old bourbon domestically, this is about as good of a Wild Turkey as you'll find. Sadly, that says a lot about the quality of the whiskey Wild Turkey is putting out these days.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Atlanta's Best Double Stack Burgers (Part 1) - One Eared Stag and Stationside

Sometime after the H&F ten o'clock burger blew up, restaurants all over the city started putting classic diner-style double stack burgers on their menus. These places have taken a classic double quarter pounder with cheese style burger and reinterpreted it with top notch ingredients and expert preparation. This style has everything I want in a burger. Made well, these burgers are super juicy and cheesy with great crust and have the perfect bun-to-meat ratio. I love these burgers so much that I recently declared that I must try them all. Yep, all of them. For science.

Well, this is gonna take a while. So far, I've counted over fifteen double stack burgers around the city. I'm going to work my way through them and and rate each of them from 1 to 100. I'll revisit burgers I already know and love and try any new ones I can find. I'm not limiting myself to traditional versions with only cheese onion and pickles, but the burger has to be in the thinnish double cheese burger family to receive consideration.

To start things off, I went with a burger I've had and one I haven't: The Meatstick from One Eared Stag in Inman Park and The Caboose from Stationside on the West Side.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Irish Whiskey Showdown: Powers John's Lane vs. Redbreast Cask Strength

Today we compare two of the most well received Irish whiskies available in the states, Powers John's Lane and Redbreast 12 Cask Strength. Both are 12 year old single (pure) pot still whiskies made by Irish Distillers at the Midleton Distillery. Both are matured in a combination of ex-bourbon barrels and Oloroso sherry casks. Both are non chill filtered. With all of these similarities, I was really interested to taste them side by side.

First, a little history. Irish Distillers has a great comeback story. By the late 1960s, demand for Irish whiskey was nearly non-existent. In order to survive, the John Jameson & Son, Powers & Sons, and the Cork Distillery Co. merged in 1966 to create Irish Distillers. The old distilleries were closed and operations were consolidated a facility in Midleton (Cork County), where the New Midleton Distillery was built in 1975. The company was purchased by Pernot-Ricard in 1988. Today, Irish whiskey is the fastest growing whiskey category in the U.S. market, and Midleton produces many of the most highly regarded whiskies within that category, including Redbreast, Powers, and the Green and Yellow Spots. (Yellow Spot is not yet available in the U.S.)

The Redbreast Cask Strength and the Powers John's Lane are single pot still (f/k/a pure pot still) whiskies, meaning they are distilled from a combination of malted and unmalted barley (single malt scotch uses only malted barley) and in a copper pot still rather than a column still. The pot still is known for imparting round and creamy quality that I really enjoy.

Okay, enough history. Let's taste 'em.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Cocktails and Oysters at Kimball House

I finally made it to Kimball House last weekend. It was the first stop in a long night of eating and cocktails in Decatur. The place hits all the right notes, and the bar program is really exceptional. The marble bar is 30-or-so feet long and is backed by library shelves (equipped with ladder). Many of the bartenders are recognizable from their stints at other cocktail destinations around town, and the drinks are creative and tasty. I was particularly fond of the New Tokyo, which somehow managed to use Ardbeg 10 year old scotch to make a lightly smokey but refreshing drink with the addition of pear brandy, lime, ginger, and yuzu.

To go with the great cocktails, there is a raw bar with one of the most extensive oyster lists I've ever seen in Atlanta or otherwise. Each variety on the menu has helpful tasting notes like "face full of seawater" or "sweet, zesty, and super balanced." The accompaniments are smartly limited to lemon and a dropper full of mignonette, which do not overpower the oysters. I prefer my oysters on the briny side, and our bar waiter recommended the Puffer's Petite's (Wellfleet, MA), Island Creek (Duxbury Bay, MA), and Potter's Moon (Potters Island, RI). All three were insanely good. I will be back.

Left to Right: Sazerac, New Tokyo, Pecan Old Fashioned
Kimball House
303 East Howard Ave.
Decatur, GA 30030

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Sandwich Files: The Aporkalypse Now from Muss & Turner's

Muss & Turner's in Smyrna has a huge list of great sandwiches on their lunch menu, the most popular being the Big Green Egg grilled burger. For today's sandwich, however, I went with something off of the "Divine Swine" section of the menu:  The Aporkalypse Now.

This lunch-only Thai-inspired sandwich comes on a soft, french bun (the same bread used for the burger) that is toasted on the flat top. The bun is smeared with cilantro mayo, and piled high with warm, thinly-sliced pork loin. The pork is topped with a slaw made with cucumbers, cabbage, red onion, and cilantro. A cup of "spicy nam prik" made with fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, sugar and chiles is provided on the side for french dip style dunkage. The sandwich is not very spicy, but overall the Aporkalypse Now is a solid sandwich.

Muss & Turner's
1675 Cumberland Parkway
Smyrna, GA 30080

Friday, March 7, 2014

Friday Cocktail: The Kirkwood

Today's cocktail, the Kirkwood, is a variation on the Red Hook that was created by Atlanta's own Miles Macquarrie, formerly of Leon's Full Service and now at the uber popular Kimball House.

The Red Hook (named after a Brooklyn neighborhood) is part of a series of derivative cocktail riffs based on the Manhattan and was named one of the 25 most influential cocktails of the past century by Imbibe magazine in 2010. For the Red Hook, Milk & Honey's Vincenzzo Errico replaces the Manhattan's sweet vermouth with the spicier Punt e Mes vermouth and adds Maraschino liqueur.  For Macquarrie's variation named after the the great East Atlanta neighborhood, he replaces the Red Hook's Maraschino with the bitter and herbal Cynar and adds St. Germain elderflower liqueur and grapefruit bitters for brightness. 

A fantastic cocktail worthy of a great Atlanta neighborhood.

The Kirkwood

- 1.5 oz. Rittenhouse Rye (or other high proof rye)
- .5 oz. Punt e Mes 
- .5 oz. Cynar
- .5 oz St. Germain
- 2 dashes grapefruit bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir 30 seconds and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with grapefruit peel.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Whiskey Review: Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond (DSP-KY-1)

So why review a whiskey that everyone already knows and loves? Because the Rittenhouse in stores now is completely different whiskey than the stuff that was on shelves a few months ago. After Brad Kaplan of Thirsty South (a great blog) joked Monday night on Twitter about the whiskey-geekiness of comparing the new DSP-1 Ritt to the old DSP-354 stuff, I figured I owed it to my inner geek to take a closer look.

A little background: Rittenhouse is a Heaven Hill brand that was distilled at the old Heaven Hill Distillery (DSP-KY-31) until November 1996 when the place was destroyed by fire. After the fire, the company bought and relocated to the old Bernheim Distillery (DSP-KY-1) but did not produce any rye there until 2008, which is what is now hitting the shelves. The Ritt we've been buying for the last several years was distilled for Heaven Hill at Brown-Forman's Early Times facility (DSP-KY-354).

So, what's the difference? Potentially a lot. It is true that the Brown-Forman and Heaven Hill whiskies were both distilled with the same mashbill, yeast, and under the same conditions. Whiskey is a strange thing, though. Each distillery has its own distinct characteristics, and the differences can be quite noticeable. See, e.g., Buffalo Trace distilled Pappy Van Winkle.

So, how is the new stuff?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Fear and Loathing at the Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival

Do you love beer, bourbon, and BBQ? Do you also love fighting through large crowds of 22 year olds attempting to power-drink their weight in Fireball and Four Loko? Yes? Then hopefully you were at Saturday's Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival at Atlantic Station.

Lured by the promise of warmer weather and a shared love of all three elements of the event, a group of us decided to check it out. It was an interesting experience, to say the least.