On Chill Filtering and the Aberlour A'Bundah

Categories: Booze

Photo by Nath Pizzolatto
An unfiltered, cask-strength whiskey, the Aberlour A'Bundah is richly colored from its time aging in sherry casks.
Not too long ago I started noticing that some Scotches were described as "non-chill filtered." Aware of how marketing and branding works, at first I paid this no mind. I figured it could be essentially meaningless, similar to vodkas that brag about how many times they're distilled, as if past a certain point the drinker will notice anything, or, for Mad Men fans, how Don Draper came up with Lucky Strike's "It's toasted" slogan. But the more I noticed it, the more I became curious as to what it meant, so eventually I did my research. I was surprised: It's actually pretty important, and for a serious whiskey lover, it's pretty inexplicable.

Without getting into the science of it, what you need to know is that chill filtering is a process that filters out certain particulates, esters and other compounds, in the whiskey after it's aged. The purpose of this process is so that the whiskey does not become cloudy after sitting on a shelf for a while. It's simple marketing.

Some of you might be asking, "What's wrong with filtering something?" while others of you are nodding along and seeing where this is going: Those particulates are the result of the aging process, and by and large, they're what flavor the whiskey! Filtering them out is essentially diluting the flavor and undoing the hard, long work of the aging process. Why people would choose to neutralize the flavor of their whiskey for appearance's sake is beyond me, but I suppose in marketing, image and perception matter more than quality.

Now that I knew this, I couldn't look at whiskeys in the same way. From what I could tell, all the major, notable labels didn't advertise that they didn't chill-filter their whiskeys. I had to assume they did, until I found out otherwise; this list of major scotches included my beloved Macallan 12. With that in mind, I set out to find a Scotch with a similar profile to the Macallan, but that explicitly was not chill-filtered. I settled on the Aberlour A'Bundah, and bought a bottle at Spec's to try it.

Photo by Nath Pizzolatto
For a comparison of color, I've placed the Aberlour next to the Glenmorangie 10 and the Macallan 12 (in the decanter).
My biggest reservation about buying the A'Bundah is that it has no age statement, so I really have no idea how old the bottle I bought was, or how quality was maintained from batch to batch. But what sold me on it was, first, that it was matured entirely in Oloroso sherry butts, similar to the classic Macallan line and something that's rare (even many sherry-finished Scotches only spend a short time at the end of their maturation in those barrels). Second, it was not only unfiltered, but it was bottled at cask strength. These two facts meant it was about as "pure" and close to the original spirit straight from the barrel as it could be. It wasn't cheap, around $85 a bottle, but I figured that bottled at over 60% ABV, I could cut it with water to a more drinkable strength and make it go a long way.

Here are my tasting notes for the A'Bundah:

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[Video] Working Out Livers and Legs at the Brew Mile Houston

Categories: Booze

Beer and running are good friends. Sure, people may argue over the science of whether or not that post-run beer will actually help you out any, but any positive science is really just a bonus; you drink the beer because after a run you've earned it.

As such, it should come as no surprise that beer runs are a thing. Is a mid-run beer just as good as a post-run beer? That's the kind of question you can only answer through experimentation, and what better place to try some beer run science than The Brew Mile, a magical place where beer is waiting for you every 1/4 of a mile.

And so Houston got their running shoes and, in some cases, costumes, and ran that magical mile, drinking their beer along the way, their final stop the open bar party at the end.

And it was for a good cause too.

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Triniti Offers Us Sanctuari -- and Great Cocktails

Photo by Christina Uticone
Bitter, Brown, & Stirred on the left; Debutante on the right.
The only people busier than the bartenders at last week's opening of Sanctuari Bar at Triniti were the valets. Were there more people pouring through the front door than cocktails into glasses? It's entirely possible -- by 8 p.m., after our media preview had ended, the new bar space was wall-to-wall with patrons, wait staff were carrying glasses on trays held high above the crowd, and the valets were playing a pretty intense version of Tetris in the parking lot.

If you haven't been to Triniti in a while, Sanctuari Bar is certainly a good reason to return. A newly redesigned bar and lounge--courtesy of Dennis Brackeen Design Group--transforms the space, with a leather banquette and slipper chairs providing cozy seating at low cocktail tables that practically beg you to show up early for your dinner reservation.

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Starting a Liquor Cabinet: Scotch

Categories: Booze

Nath Pizzolatto
These four Scotches are an affordable way for a beginner to start a diverse, quality collection. (We didn't get a chance to photograph all of the bottles while they still contained Scotch.)

I've spent the past year drinking a lot of whiskey, as I decided to become, if not an expert on the subject, at least someone who could plausibly offer recommendations to others. Much of my work has appeared here in the Press, although I've done plenty of it on my own time as well.

As I moved along from drinking bourbon and other American whiskeys to Scotch and single malts, I became fascinated by the differences offered in flavor and texture among Scotches, depending on where they are made, how they are aged and whether the malted barley is roasted over a peat fire before distillation. (Most people think of peat when they think of Scotch, but a significant number of Scotches are not peat-smoked.)

Recently, this got me thinking about what I would recommend to someone who's just starting to drink Scotch. Here, I've put together a "starter" selection for someone interested in a Scotch collection but who doesn't know where to begin. For around $200 in total, you can get a bottle (750 ml) of all of these Scotches, each expressing a different approach to its craft.

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The Pumpkin Beer Taste Test, Part 2

Categories: Booze

Photo by Nath Pizzolatto
In Part 2 of our pumpkin beer taste test, we take a look at the stouts and dark beers. Check out what we had to say in Part 1 about the lighter pumpkin beers.

Fewer beers qualified for our stout/dark tasting than our ale competition, which is no surprise. Even so, the sheer number of strong, heavy, and dark beers we found available for our taste test is a testament to how many craft brewers are jumping on the pumpkin beer wagon and taking the opportunity to make a serious beer this time of year.

Included in our taste test were four beers from Houston-area breweries. (To my knowledge, a local brewery didn't come out with a lighter ale, at least not anywhere we searched.)

Alaskan Pumpkin Porter
Buffalo Bayou Whiskey'd Pumpkin Spice Latte
Crown Valley Imperial Pumpkin Smash
Karbach Krunkin Punkin
Kentucky Pumpkin Barrel Ale
No Label Nightmare on 1st Street
Rahr and Sons Visionary Brew Pumpkin Ale
Saint Arnold Pumpkinator 2014
Samuel Adams Fat Jack Double Pumpkin Ale
Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin
Southern Tier Warlock
Uinta Crooked Line Oak Jacked Imperial Pumpkin
Wasatch Black-O-Lantern

The first thing I wanted to say is that none of these beers were bad: They all had their own appeals, and unlike the ale selections, where a number of the beers tended to be too indistinguishable, these each had distinct characteristics: some tasted more of pumpkin, whereas in others the spices were dominant. Some of them were dark or even medium-brown ales (the Kentucky entry could have fit into the ales discussion), and some were double-digit ABV, dark stouts. Some had sweeter finishes, some had boozier ones. But they all had some merit.

Onward with some discussion of specific beers, and the best overall.

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The Pumpkin Beer Taste Test, Part 1

Categories: Booze

Nath Pizzolatto
As many of the pumpkin beers as we could gather into one photo. Not pictured: Wasatch Black-O-Lantern, Rogue Pumpkin Patch, and Buffalo Bayou Whiskey'd Pumpkin Spice Latte.
In 2012, I had the bright idea to gather as many pumpkin beers as I could find and hold a taste test. I split half a dozen or so pumpkin beers with my girlfriend and my buddy Joey.

Last year, we acquired ten beers. Another friend accompanied us, and I took detailed tasting notes. I decided the Saint Arnold Pumpkinator was the best overall, but the Wasatch Pumpkin Ale was the best for easy and regular drinking (as great as the Pumpkinator is, it's still a heavy, specialty beer, not one you'll want to have three or four of out on a patio on a crisp fall day).

This year, we decided to go all-out, get as many as we could find, and have a party. We had so many that I had to split this article in two; one to discuss ales and the other for stouts and other heavier, stronger beers. With 27 beers in total*, we did our best to grab one of every type of pumpkin beer we could find, with a variety of ales, stouts, and other beers from all across America (and one from Belgium). Multiple breweries released more than one variety of pumpkin beer; this was most often done with one as an ale and the other as a stout, such as with Wasatch and Southern Tier.

(* - We tried 28 in total for the taste test, but we were not able to acquire the Buffalo Bayou Whiskey'd Pumpkin Spice Latte at the same time as the others.)

Comparing them all across the same scale seemed silly, as a 5 percent easy-drinking ale is a much different animal than a 10 percent stout or oak-aged heavy ale. So I've split this comparison into "light" and "heavy" beers. Some of the "light" beers are still relatively heavy in alcohol, but are here based on body and style (or even just because the brewery released an even darker, stronger pumpkin beer, as in the case of Southern Tier Pumking).

Without further ado, here are some highlights from the former.

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A Preview of the Whole Foods Post Oak Store with Dinner, Beer, and a Chat

Photo by Joey McKeel
An overhead shot of the food and beer served at the dinner. Dave Ohmer, Whole Foods brewmaster, is third from left.
Next month, a new Whole Foods Market location is opening in the Galleria area that promises, for the time being, to be the biggest Whole Foods in Houston. Inside Whole Foods Post Oak will be the company's first brewery-- according to Whole Foods, the first in-store brewery of any kind in the grocery industry.

As a preview of the features available at the new location, we were able to have a media dinner with the brewmaster at the Whole Foods Market Brewing Company, Dave Ohmer. The meal was from the new location's Souvlaki Greek venue and paired with beers chosen by Ohmer. We also got to speak to Ohmer about his plans for the brewery.

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Reserve 101 Gets the First Bottle of Glenmorangie Pride 1978 in America, and for $750 a Shot, It's Yours

Categories: Bar Beat, Booze

Photo by Chuck Cook
The Glenmorangie Pride 1978 in its specially designed packaging and crystal bottle (and next to it, a bottle of Glenmorangie 25).

You may remember back in February that I wrote about Reserve 101's acquisition of a bottle of Glenmorangie 1963, a 25-year whiskey forgotten in the corner of a warehouse for many years until it was discovered and bottled. That bottle, though it retailed for $550 a shot, sold out in 66 days, inspiring Reserve 101 owners Mike Raymond and Steve Long to seek out another rare bottle from Glenmorangie's collection.

On Monday, it arrived: The Pride 1978 is Glenmorangie's oldest current expression, aged for 34 years. Reserve 101's acquisition is the first bottle of Pride 1978 to make it to America. First aged for 19 years in used bourbon casks made from American white oak, the single malt is then transferred to Bordeaux Classe' Grand Cru casks for 15 more years of aging (which also marks the longest "extra maturation" period of any Glenmorangie spirit). Raymond and Glenmorangie Global Master Brand Ambassador David Blackmore were generous enough to let us sample both the Pride 1978 and, for basis of comparison, the Glenmorangie 25.

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It's Wingtoberfest Time Once Again, Time to Vote for Your Favorite Chicken Wing

It's time to once again line up to be among the first 200 people who'll get to taste and rate the wings from six Houston restaurants in this year's Houston Press Wingtoberfest -- for free.

On Wednesday, October 22, the following restaurants will battle for the honor of being named this year's Octoberfest winner: Dosi, Bonfire Wings, Sticky's Chicken, H-Town StrEATs, Dry Creek Cafe and Little Bitty Burger Barn.

And just to make things even nicer, we've gone ahead and paired the wings with a specific Saint Arnold beer.

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Garrison Brothers' Spring 2014 Single Barrel Bourbon May Be Their Best Yet

Categories: Booze

Nath Pizzolatto
I couldn't hold out on trying it long enough to get a picture of the full bottle. Also, the star is supposed to be silver to match the wax, but mine fell off.

I'm a big fan of the Garrison Brothers distillery and their bourbon, as you may have read in one of my recent articles. I am particularly fond of this bourbon not merely because it was the first true bourbon distilled in Texas and represents our state well, but because it's really unique among bourbons I've tried. Despite the wide variety of small-batch brand names available to bourbon drinkers these days, the bourbon world is relatively lacking for diversity, as many of these labels belong to a handful of conglomerate bourbon producers or otherwise source

As a result, many bourbons are made from only a handful of recipes, and thus tend to contain similar characteristics. Bernie Lubbers suggests there are basically only three unique mash bills http://www.whiskeyprof.com/theres-only-3-general-bourbon-recipes-yall/ ; this GQ chart better breaks down the connections between bourbon labels. http://www.gq.com/life/food/201311/bourbon-whiskey-family-tree (This is why you can buy Weller 12-year for $25 and not really be much worse off than if you located a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle [check year]). They all tend to start with caramel and that hint of mouth-smacking sweet corn liquor; the recipes with rye tend to give way to spicy, peppery notes, while the ones with wheat finish smoothly, allowing more vanilla flavors to come through.

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