In the Spirit

Lock and Key

A very special birthday gift

By Tony Cross

One of my favorite traits that my best friend, Charles, possesses is his ridiculous knack for always making me laugh with his acutely dry sense of humor. That, and he can dish up killer Mexican food.

Before he was married, we lived together while working at the same restaurant. During our friendship, I developed a fondness for cocktails and used him as a guinea pig. Charles has always been very particular about what he drinks; he would (and still does) shoot straight with me when testing my humble cocktail creations. Over the course of the past seven years, I have never understood his disdain for mescal; how he always holds his liquor better than me (he’s had nine more years experience, mind you); and why he prefers The Black Keys to The White Stripes.

On the flip side of things, Charles has turned me on to a few things himself: Modelo Especials with a back of ice-cold blanco tequila, Mad Season, and close-to-freezing Ketel One vodka with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice in the morning. When we were roommates, the ritual every year for birthdays and the holidays was the same: a nice bottle of booze. Usually it was high-end tequila or bourbon. However, there was a catch when I was on the receiving end of the gift giving. Every time I looked, my bottle of spirit seemed a little lower. I even made the mistake of asking my girlfriend at the time, “Have you been drinking my tequila?”

Oh, boy. Wrong. She exclaimed, quite matter of factly, “It’s Carter!” (OK, he goes by Carter. Charles is his government name.)

Many birthdays later, I don’t worry quite so much about anyone getting into my booze — unless you count my pup, Daphne, who on paper is extremely smart, but in reality is so, so dumb. When I arrived home one night last month, I could see in the distance, on my kitchen counter, a bottle of liquor that looked very familiar. It was Jefferson’s Reserve bourbon.

I had previously owned a bottle of Jefferson’s, but they have quite the selection, so I almost flew across my kitchen to see which one Carter had gifted me. In all, the distillery currently has 13 different offerings, everything from their flagship Jefferson’s Reserve, to their Jefferson’s Ocean series (barrels of Jefferson’s Reserve that sit, or rock back and forth, rather) on a ship for many months, each voyage crossing the equator four times and stopping at around 30 ports. They even bottle up their own barrel-aged Manhattans.

However, it was one of Jefferson’s Cask Series that ended up on my kitchen counter for my birthday. Actually, it was a week late. Ten-plus years of friendship, he still has a key to my pad and can’t get my birthday right.

There are five different whiskey experiments in the Cask series: Grand Selection Chateau Suduiraut, Sauternes Cask Finish, Grand Selection Chateau Pichon Baron Cask Finish, Groth Cask Finish, and the one now on my counter, the Jefferson’s Pritchard Hill Cabernet Cask Finish. Each cask-finished style starts with either the Jefferson’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey or the Jefferson’s Reserve, and fills up old wine barrels. They usually “hotbox” the barrels for the first few months, and then let them sit for another four.

The hotbox method involves increasing temperatures up to 120 degrees, in turn, bleeding out the wine from the barrels into the whiskey immediately. Afterward, it marinates, balancing the flavors of wine and whiskey. The Pritchard Hill starts with the Reserve whiskey, originally using a 15-year-old bourbon that makes up 50 percent of the mash bill (I’ve read that it’s a slightly younger aged bourbon these days), and then three more bourbons are added (anywhere from 8 to 18 years old). They take this Reserve bourbon whiskey and age it for one year in freshly dumped French oak casks that contained Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon.

The end result is very tasty, indeed. The barrels that bleed into the whiskey add notes of berries, chocolate, espresso, vanilla and clove. It’s not in your face; it’s subtle. Take your time with this whiskey — add an ice cube and let it open up. This isn’t a mixing bourbon, but if you must, just do an Old-Fashioned, or something where the other ingredient(s) will be minimal. Actually, I don’t care. Do what you want, but I’ll leave a recipe for an Old-Fashioned below.

There’s plenty of my newly gifted bourbon left. I have a decent collection of spirits in my kitchen closet and some, I could’ve sworn, used to be more than half full. Carter has had a key to my place for years. Alas, I better enjoy this bourbon while I can.

Old Fashioned

2 ounces Jefferson’s Reserve Pritchard Hill

1/4 ounce rich demerara syrup

1 dash Angostura bitters

3 drops Crude “Big Bear” coffee and cocoa bitters

Orange peel

Combine all ingredients except orange peel in an ice-cold mixing vessel. Add ice and stir until proper temperature and dilution occur. Strain over ice in a large rocks glass. Express oils of an orange peel over the cocktail and add into drink.  PS

Tony Cross is a bartender who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.

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