Better Budget Bourbon

GREEN VS BLACK EVAN WILLIAMS

Two years ago I walked into a bar and declared, “I’m going to learn to understand whiskey better!” I should pause and mention that my experiences with whiskey at this point in my life were Jameson, whatever manner of Scotch got served at weddings, and random shots of rail selections at questionable bars. Since then I’ve become no expert, but I do have a better grasp on what I like within the incredibly popular Bourbon branch of the whiskey family tree. Top shelf, I’m into Blanton’s, and I like the 10 year Bulleit a lot. I also enjoy Bulleit’s standard offering (which what started me on quest for understanding), and Buffalo Trace is pretty good as far as upper mid-level selections. Wild turkey isn’t bad, but Jim Beam is a better replacement in what I consider standard class, and then there are some guilty pleasure bottom tier guys like Rebel Yell (it comes with a free paracord bracelet…prizes and trinkets!).

One brand that I have yet to mention is Evan Williams. I really like Evan Williams for a lower-middle of the road choice. It’s good over ice, it has big flavors that cut through if used in cocktails, and it carries a low price tag. Thing is, there’s a few different kinds of Evan Williams, and before this writing I had only sampled the black label variety. Now, mind you, I had witnessed the green bottle variety used at bars and stocked alongside a white label “bottled in bond” variety (which for the sake of this discussion will be overlooked), but always picked up the black label when making my own selections. Well not today, not today. Today I grabbed a green label bottle AND a black label bottle, so that I may compare and contrast in the name of nonessential whiskey blogging. So let’s get to it.

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Right away you’ll note the ABV is different with black label coming in at 43%, and green at 40%. It’s also interesting to note that the wording on the labels is the same, with the lone exception being that the neck of the black variety says “Extra Aged”, while the green omits this designation. This type of vague description makes we wonder just how much “extra” actually is. Upon pouring some out side by side, it’s evident that the green variety is lighter in color, which would make sense since its aged less than the black. It also has less of the oaky smell that the black variety has, which again, makes sense (the black label variety also burns the nose a bit, while the green does not). Sipping black label you get corn and oak flavors, a little vanilla and caramel, with an itty-bitty rye aftertaste and not subtle, but not overwhelming bite, basically it’s a strong, no-frills bourbon. The green label on the other hand is like its little brother. Milder up front, almost sweet, with undercurrents of what it may have been if left in the barrel a while longer (its got a little oak flavor, not overpowering in any way), and minimal if any bite. Now, not being privy to the differences in mash bill between the two (if any), I’d be so bold as to say that the recipe is probably about the same, with the main difference being age. I’m aware that I could probably look up the mash bills, but aren’t some things better left to mystery?

Black
Black
Green
Green

So where then are we left? What to make of the green label? Well, you probably know someone somewhere who makes questionable whiskey decisions – like drinking all manner of weird “flavored” whiskey varieties (honey, cinnamon, mint? blah blah blah). Tell them to stop it, and jump on board the bourbon with training wheels, Evan Williams green label. It’s not bad, and it’s a great mild introductory point to the world of bourbons at a low price point (it’s a buck less than black label at my store, which is already a stellar deal). On top of all that, your questionable friend will no longer appear to have the drinking disposition of a college freshman. Me, I’ll be sticking with the black label.

I’ll be back on Wed. to spin a yarn about a biscuit familiar to millions.

Your host,

Charlie Mewshaw

St. Patrick’s Day 2016 – Guinness Nitro…IPA?

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What fresh hell is this?! Guinness, simultaneous purveyors of great stout, and renowned keepers of world records, have chosen to dabble in not one but two new angles of departure from the expected on this beer offering. The nitro thing has been cruising along, gaining momentum in recent years, and I can see why. Nitro beers are exactly as the ad-men say, smooth, somehow creamy in texture (not in a gross way), and they come with a great sense of novelty because you know, it’s different. Addressing the other curveball (for Guinness), it goes without saying that IPA-mania, while still going strong, has likely already reached its zenith. We’re now seeing small breweries becoming more adventurous, and offering up more than just hop-forward choices that taste the way weed smells, so the introduction of another IPA to the market now is odd. The lingering thought I still can’t wrap my head around is the “why” on this product. I mean, maybe if they were looking to diversify their beer portfolio beyond what’s already there, Guinness could have created a sub-label or something, but no, this is GUINNESS Nitro IPA. Premium brand, unexpected variety. I would like to have been in the room for that pitch. I imagine a dozen Irish folks dressed like characters from Boardwalk Empire yelling at each other, because in my mind, that’s the way the things would be done at the ol’ Guinness factory. Old timey fancy clothes, thick accents, and yelling, lots of yelling. Kind of like human-adult sized leprechauns.

Inspection of the sixer reveals instructions for the user, really goofy instructions to pour at a 45 degree angle. If you need to be told not to dump your beer into a glass at a 90 degree angle, you should probably go somewhere else, because truly, there is nothing here for you. Go, now….

How to pour a beer, because we're all idiots apparently.
How to pour a beer, because we’re all idiots apparently.

Ok, now that we’ve rid ourselves of that guy, lets open a can. Upon opening one up, you’ll hear the little widget starting kicking out its precious nitrogen to give the beer its “creamy” texture. While pouring your beer within the limits of the aforementioned guidelines you’ll notice it does a really cool settling thing (just like it was draught!) I know this isn’t anything new, and widget cans have been around a long time, but I still think they’re neat. Need a quick explanation of how they work? Here’s a diagram I stole:

Secret tip: the air ball is filled with leprechaun farts. Leprechauns fart nitrogen.
Secret tip: the air ball is filled with leprechaun farts. Leprechauns fart nitrogen.

The important part is not the packaging, marketing, or any of that, but really whether or not this beer is worth drinking. So I cautiously raised my glass, took in a mild hoppy aroma and took a swig. Through the thick Guinness-esque head came EXACTLY what was marketed, a smooth nitro IPA. This may be one of the few times a product has been spot on perfect to its marketing description, and you know what, it’s a good beer! It’s not scorchingly hopped, but the IPA flavor is definitely there, almost citrus and floral like with a dry finish. It’s not particularly heavy, so it doesn’t leave you feeling like you can’t have a few. The nitro element is definitely at the forefront of the experience, with the expected creamy smoothness. The only real drawback is that for a few bucks more than the price ($9 a six pack), I can get plenty of mixed twelve pack options and explore a bit more.

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Look ma! Just like on TV!
Look ma! Just like on TV!

If I had to guess, I would say this is likely a limited time release. I doubt that the Guinness Nitro IPA will be around a few years from now, and I doubt I’ll revisit it more than once or twice due to the cost (there’s really just better values out there), but I have to admit that at the end of this beer, I’m going for another.

Join me Friday when I discuss my favorite cheap bourbon!

Your host,

Charlie Mewshaw

Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen

Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen in Chapel Hill, North Carolina is a place of legend. Only open from 6:00am (7:00am on Sundays) until 2:30pm, this is definitely not a late-night drunken diner, this is a proper breakfast spot. Famous long before its appearance in 2013’s Johnny Knoxville romp Bad Grandpa (though the publicity didn’t hurt), SBK’s morning magic has been happening in a diminutive structure akin to a shack along E. Franklin St for decades (with its founding location actually being in Louisburg NC). Although they advertise as drive through only, I have witnessed people walk up to the little door on the side and order. This doors bears a sign that says “limit 3 people at a time”, and I suspect that this method of transaction is for SBK VIPs in the know only. We entry-level biscuiteers queue up in our cars along the length of E Franklin, sometimes with the line blocking a lane of traffic for a quarter mile, all the way to Estes Dr. It’s one of those things that when first observed, signals to the uninitiated that if people are willing to do that, it must be worth it…and it is.

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From their website...

For the sake of this discussion, the heart attack in a bag that I chose was the “Bad Grampa” (note the alternate spelling from the film title – prior to the movie it was called something else entirely, but you know, gotta capitalize!). This monster of questionable morning decisions consists of three pieces of bacon, an egg, an amazing hand breaded fried chicken breast, and a thick cut slice of cheddar cheese, all sandwiched within the goodness of a large Sunrise biscuit. This could easily feed two reasonable adults, or one glutton, and all of this is yours is for a mere $7.40 after tax. There are more menu options that some might describe as sensible, but why even pursue that line of thought. Presented in a plain white paper bag, on this occasion I was also gifted hash browns which are usually reserved for the combo – bonus, everything’s coming up Milhouse!

Plain White Bag.
Plain White Bag.

Getting down to brass tax, let us closer examine the experience this thing brings to your face:

After being wrapped up and squished in the bag, the beast comes in at a little under 3” tall, and between 3.5 to 4” wide. This range highlights the fact that since the biscuits are made from scratch there are some discrepancies from piece to piece in diameter, no assembly line here. It’s also worth noting that this meal in sandwich form has got some serious heft to it.

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Don't look it in the eye.
Don’t look it in the eye.

I’m quite sure I could pitch this thing like a brick through a window. The biscuit itself is impressive in that it is has a fluffy, buttery texture that belies its structural integrity. It’s not a crumbly mess, yet not an overly doughy ball. This holy-grail recipe is said on the SBK website to have originated with proprietors grandmother, who birthed seventeen children and lived to almost 100. The underside of the biscuit has a subtle crunch to it, but is not burnt, and has a texture bolstered by the crunch of the fried chicken. The aroma as it nears your face is a combination of smoky, buttery bakery goodness, and that famous Sunday smell of someone frying chicken. The flavors that match the aroma all cut through on first bite, and in my opinion are complimented by a little hot sauce. The cheese is almost unnecessary with the amount of flavors going on here, but not unwelcome. About halfway through you’ll start to wonder what you have done, and if you can finish. The answer to this of course is that you have supported a locally owned business, taken part in a long standing local tradition, given yourself an unparalleled biscuit experience, and yes…you will finish, because you won’t be able to help yourself. Upon consumption you’ll proudly tell everyone that will listen of what you have done.

I know that this is a biscuit focused entry, and I could end here, but I really really really want to point that SBK also offers a kale and vegetable sandwich. Yes. You read that right, a kale and vegetable sandwich. WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND GOES TO SBK AND ORDERS THE KALE SANDWICH?! My brother-in-law, that’s who. It was a sad day when after we waited in line for probably 20 minutes while I espoused all the aforementioned traits of this culinary adventure that upon reaching the ordering intercom, he blurts “I want the kale sandwich! On wheat!” When the orders came, and he saw the mistake he had made, I offered a trade. He began acknowledging his awful choice, and I believe considered my offer, but much to his credit he owned his mistake and begrudgingly ate his choice, lying in the bed of leafy greens he had made. To that end, I must publicly thank him for taking in this affront to the biscuit overlords, because without him I wouldn’t be able to let the world know that SBK makes a kale offering for even the most discerning of tastes. So when you want some SBK and someone says “there’s nothing there for me” you can answer with resounding authority that SBK has something for everyone.

Come back on Wed. and read about a special St. Patrick’s Day treat you can get yourself.

Your host,

Charlie Mewshaw