What is it about Rum and Bitters? By: Warren Bobrow (Cocktail Whisperer)

What is it about Rum and Bitters?

May 1, 2012

I’m quite fond of white rum.  It’s got the stuffing to stand up to mixers and to cocktail bitters.  A couple weeks ago I received a sample bottle from the R. St. Barth’ Rhum company.  I told them I’d like to try their product and if I liked it, I would write something about it.  The same holds true for all the spirits I receive as samples.  If I like it, we can see the results, if not, well, I’ll leave that to you.

Sitting in front of me is a medium glass.  I’ve added a couple of coconut water ice cubes and some drops of a couple of bitters- most divergent in styles.  The Bitters, Old Men, Macadamia Bitters and the Bitter End Thai Bitters to be exact.  And yes, I received them as samples as well.

But as simplicity is my guide, I wanted to taste this Rhum before I did any cocktail augmentation.  That means, taste the Rhum, right into my glass.  Then- experiment a bit.

The St. Barth Rhum is stylistically more akin to the Rhum Agricole of the island of Martinique.  Now there are some that will disagree with me- and that’s fine.

This is a gorgeous Rhum Agricole.  Smacking of fresh sugar cane and white flowers, the slight salty bitterness guides me to adding some augmentation.

Truly nothing is needed but time in the glass and fresh citrus fruit.  Maybe a splash of Cane Sugar Syrup?

No, it doesn’t taste like Martinique, what it tastes like is Guadeloupe Rum.. That is what it is!  Sure it says St. Barths’s on the label, and that’s where the company is from.

I think real estate is too valuable on St. Barth’s for growing cane.  Having spent a few weeks on St. Barth’s, it’s a magnificent place, brimming with French tourists in various stages of undress.

A harbor filled with mega-yachts, moored stern in, the European way.  It’s a veritable Rhum fueled holiday!

The town of Gustavia is filled with the wealthy and the super-wealthy.  You come here to soak up the sun and dream away the afternoons!

St. Barth’s has long been a clearing port for fine Rhum from the surrounding islands.  You can get anything there virtually tax-free as long as it says RUM on the label.

I learned about the truly high end Rhums of Martinique while enjoying a “Cheeseburger” in paradise and washing it down with a Rhum Punch.  Each restaurant on St. Barth’s makes their own version of the Rhum Punch.  Usually it is Rhum Agricole, with infused herbs, fruits, spices and syrups.

The St. Barth’s Rhum Agricole would make the perfect base as a Rhum Punch.  But I digress.

Today’s cocktail is ever so simple and delicious!

The Grilled Rhum Slingback


Rhum St. Barth

Grilled orange rounds (about 3 per drink)

Fresh Lime cut into 8th’s

Coconut Water Ice

Bitter End Thai Bitters

Bitters, Old Men Macadamia Bitters

Freshly picked Kentucky Colonel Mint



Freeze Coconut water into ice cube trays

Chill short cocktail glasses with regular ice and water- let sit then pour out when glasses are very cold

Muddle the grilled orange rounds with the mint and the limes in a cocktail shaker

Add 2 Shots per person of the Rhum St. Barth to a cocktail shaker with the grilled orange/lime/mint muddle

Add the bitters, three drops of the Bitter End Thai, then 5 drops of the Bitters, Old Men-Macadamia Bitters

Stir to chill and combine well

Pour out water and ice from your short cocktail glasses

Add a couple of coconut water ice cubes

Strain the Rhum Agricole St. Barth’s mixture over the coconut water ice cubes

Garnish with an un-grilled orange slice and splash with seltzer to finish

So what is it about Rhum and Bitters.  Are they a marriage of like-minds?  I think so.  Depending on the variety and scope of your bitters of course.

I want you to experiment with flavor! That’s what brings you deeper into your cocktails.


Close your eyes and dream of Eden Rock.

On Whisk(e)y: Tasting Tullibardine Aged Oak Edition + Balblair 1991 from OKRA Magazine

WARREN BOBROW grew up on a biodynamic farm in Morristown, New Jersey. He is a reluctant cocktail/wine writer and a former trained chef/saucier.




There was a time in recent memory that I would walk into a liquor store and look wistfully at the selections of rum, vodka, gin and bourbon.  I would walk right past the Scotch whisky as if it were something from another lifetime.  My memories of Scotch whisky come at a high price for me.  Unfortunately, when I attended private school, Scotch was just about the only thing that we drank.  I remember a particularly blurry evening when an overly enthusiastic parent of a party-thrower was meting out veritable coffee mugs filled to over-flowing with the fruits of his investments.  This gentleman who is now gone, invested heavily in Scotch whisky casks.  At the end of the 30-year period there was the option to either sell the casks at a huge profit, or drink them.  He preferred the latter and shared them willingly.

In college I didn’t enjoy Scotch.  My college roommate often had in lean times a bottle of Johnny Walker Red, and in flush times, a bottle of the Black.  I suppose that I just didn’t get it about Scotch.  Single malt included.  The flavors were lost on me.  I made no effort to enjoy it again until less than a year ago.

Since my passion is rum and, of course, bourbon writing- I thought why not branch out a bit.  Find some way to learn about Scotch by asking for and receiving gorgeous samples from the distilleries.  And so I did.  And my bar grew and grew with exotic offerings from distilleries around the globe.

Sitting in front of me right now are two such bottles.  They were given as samples, thank you very much.

As I have said previously, if I do not like a spirit, I will not write about it.  These expressions caught my mind’s eye, my sense of taste and in turn opened my palate.

The Tullibardine Aged Oak Edition says right on the label, “Best Procurable”.  That statement of quality did not taint my first impression of this spirit.  I should have imagined a statement about the casks before reading the ad copy.  The small words fine, rare, smooth & mellow are more important to me.  They express exactly what my first taste said.  A sip is creamy and lush all at once.  The mouth-feel is creamed corn baked into a pudding on the finish.  The start is a touch of oak, a bit of cane sugar

(Do they use bourbon casks?)

Midway through swallowing this very small dram I discover the taste of peat, but not too much.   There is a burn, but again, it’s metered and it doesn’t overpower the nose.  The alcohol level is a fine 46% by volume, not too much, yet not 80 proof.  After drinking a few of the raw cask expressions from Blackadder a few months back I’ve looked at anything less than 120 proof as “not too much”.

Turning the back of the bottle, I see that, indeed, they used bourbon casks.  The company uses casks that date back to 2003 and the youngest casks are five years old.  They detect citrus in the mouth, yet I detect caramel corn, grilled peaches, German eiswine and charred hoe-cakes made with charred grain instead of corn.  This is an elegant slurp and I beg that you seek out a bottle.  Tullibardine is not like the Scotch I’ve tried recently- it is much more American in approach. This must be from the bourbon oak.  I think it will appeal to a drinker, like myself who is still learning how to enjoy Scotch whiskey.

Balblair 1991

The Balblair is like a history lesson.  There comes a time when every imbiber seeks out the very best expression of the spirits that they can afford.  The Balblair from 1991 will not disappoint.  I’m gazing, no, peering into a dram of this whisky as if it was a veritable swimming pool of honey.  The aroma fills the room.  Freshly cut citrus, honey, heather, tarragon and bubbling spring water is the first thing I sense.  This is a gorgeous dram of history.  I suspect that each year of this liquid gold is different- as different as the grains taste from fog to fog, year to year.  The earth gives off a fragrance that is immediately recognizable on the first sip.

There is smoke, yes, but it dissipates very quickly upon swallowing.  The alcohol level is a bit less than that of the Tullibardine, but it actually tastes a bit hotter on the finish.  The oak – used bourbon oak – the same.

I’ve gone on record to say that I love rum-aged in Scotch whisky cask so maybe I’m learning to love Scotch whisky aged in bourbon cask?  I think so!

There is freshly made whole grain pancake batter in the nose and a finish of the outdoors, saline, lively and crisp.  I’d say this was a single malt whisky for the spring and summer months.  It’s lightweight and it makes you thirsty for more.  Plus, the relatively low alcohol level will not wreck you completely if you choose to take a glass or two as an aperitif!

I don’t recommend ice in this dram, just sprinkle a bit of branch or spring water over the top.  Sure, you can keep a bottle down in the wine cellar.  I enjoy drinking my Scotch from 45 to 56 degrees.  As it gets warmer, it changes and I like that change.  This is an extremely easy to drink Scotch Whiskey.  The first flavors are of freshly cut citrus fruits, toasty vanilla sugar that’s been muddled with cinnamon sticks- there’s some brown butter in there along with some grade B maple syrup.

My friend Hunter Stagg gave me some simple syrup made from Lemon Thyme the other day.  The mid-notes of the Balblair is pure lemon thyme and simple syrup.  I’m impressed to the range of flavors in each sip.  I must recommend sprinkling some spring water over the top of your dram.  It will release the emotions in every sip.

If you have a sprig of mint, or lemon thyme, slap it against your hand, sniff it deeply and have a sip of your dram.

It’s a lovely way to spend the afternoon.  Sitting and sipping fine whisky.

Canadian Goose in the Window Cocktail



Royal Rose Syrup sent me a little package under the cover of darkness a couple days ago. This new flavor is strawberry and fennel. Immediately I started to shiver. Strawberries plucked fresh from the field, glistening with the morning dew and fennel grasping at the air and reaching for the sky. They have my attention immediately.

So please from my twisted “Cocktail Whisperer” sensibility, allow me to introduce the Canadian Goose in the Window Cocktail. What kind of name is that? Well, all day the geese have been circling outside in the wind without landing. They swoop by the window momentarily blotting out the light. They are huge and out of control.

Maybe they got into something and it made them crazy? Who knows.

The basis of this drink is a strawberry and the herb driven element- a burst of fennel twisted around a simple syrup made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup.

But what should follow? In this case all I can think about is White Rum from Atlantico. Their Platino Rum or Ron Artesanal is just gorgeous stuff. If you can find a bottle it is a thing of rare beauty. Combined with the sweetness from tiny plump strawberries and tied together by strands of fennel, this is a dream cocktail if you are thirsty. Crushed ice makes it a slushy and bitters from a recent discover called Bitters, Old Men completes the picture. I chose their Smoke Gets in Your Bitters, so named for the ingredients that include Lapsang Souchong tea and the essences of Prickly Pear…

Exotic meets exotic in a firing squad on your palate of sweet to savory to gorgeous.

If you have more than two of them, watch out!

Get a car service. Don’t drive. I warn you.

Canadian Goose in the Window Cocktail
4 Shots of Platino Ron Artesanal (Rum)
Royal Rose Simple Syrup of Strawberry and Fennel ( Soon to be released… I hope!)
Freshly Squeezed lime and lemon juices
Grilled Strawberries or ones roasted in a cast iron pan until just charred
Fennel for garnish

Muddle a couple of grilled strawberries with the fennel
Add Simple Syrup or Simple Syrup of Strawberry and Fennel plus the muddled strawberries.. it’s up to you how intense you want this drink
Add 4 shots of the white Rum (Platino)
Shake and strain into a tall cocktail glass filled with crushed ice
Garnish with Fennel and a tall colorful straw

Drip a few drops of the Bitters, Old Men Smoke Gets in Your Bitters over the top and sip carefully

This recipe makes one cocktail of blinding strength or several smaller ones with lesser capacity for blindness!

Vodka Without Hangovers? Say it isn’t so?

Say it isn’t so?


Perfectly pure Vodka? What a claim. Can your spirit make that same claim? Well there it is. Right on the label. Certified by the United States Government. NO IMPURITIES in this Vodka.
Now, I’m not usually a Vodka drinker. Far from it. I mean, if someone pours me a Vodka and grilled muddled grapefruit, I’m certainly going to drink it.
There used to be a bar near South Station in Boston named the Blue Sands. It’s gone now, along with most of the patrons, young and old. I suppose they met their demise through drinking rock-gut Vodka mixed with grapefruit juice. 80 cents for a small juice glass. You could get absolutely wrecked for about five bucks.
Drinking Blat on the other hand… the uber-elegant Vodka imported from Spain is not the same thing. This is contemplative Vodka. Vodka with flavor all its own. You wouldn’t want to cover up the intriguing aromatics of fresh herbs and citrus zest with uncertain mixers.
I received a bottle last night and immediately set to testing the theory- not for the lack of a hangover, but to unleash the flavors hidden within this crystal clear spirit.
What makes this Vodka so unique? I’m not sure- but I would say, seek out a bottle. And don’t cover up the aromatics too much.
Don’t be afraid to drink it on the rocks, or with a twist. Perhaps you’d like to mix it simply like this?

The Door Opener Cocktail
2 Blood Oranges, sliced into rounds and then seared until crunchy on the flesh
2 Shots of Blat Vodka from Spain
A few shakes of Angostura Bitters
A squeeze of Milagro Agave Syrup

Muddle a couple of the Blood Orange rounds in a cocktail shaker
Add a some ice
Add the Blat Vodka
Add the Bitters
Squeeze a bit of Milagro Agave into the mix
Shake and strain into a shallow coupe’ glass

Whip your Bellini into Shape! by: Cocktail Whisperer, Warren Bobrow

Whip your Bellini into Shape!

Like many of the great liquid legends of cocktail artistry, the greatest drinks seem to have the largest legends behind each pensive sip.  None hold as much mystique and intrigue as the Bellini.  I love the Bellini for what it is not.  It is not sugary sweet.  It is not trendy.  It is not difficult to make.  What a Bellini is and what it has become- is history in the glass.  I’m holding a bottle of Powell & Mahoney Peach Bellini cocktail mixer in my hands and I seek greater inspiration from the whiff of tiny white peaches and the “not too sweet” finish of “summer in a glass.”

This is very sophisticated juice- worthy of the finest sparkling wines or mixers.  To say that summer is only as far away as a bottle of Powell & Mahoney is not too far of a stretch.  You cannot physically force summer upon the outside world, but inside your cocktail glass it can be summer any time you open a bottle and mix a drink.

The original history of the Bellini has been told and re-told over the decades.  Venice, Italy- the famed “Harry’s Bar” and freshly picked white peaches, gently pureed and then strained with a touch of pure cane sugar makes the best cocktail.  What I do know about the Bellini is that a proper Bellini must be prepared with the best possible ingredients.  The Peach Bellini mix that I hope you have a chance to try is exceptionally refreshing in a glass, served plain as well as with a bit of freshly drawn seltzer.  You can make a brilliant Bellini with the sparkling wine of your choice- or any of a multitude of other ingredients.

The classic preparation includes Prosecco but yours might be something else entirely.  The hit of dry fizz to the savory sweetness of creamy, white peaches can be described simply as, memorable and essential!

My parents took me to Italy when I was in my early teen years.  They did not forbid me to taste alcoholic beverages- quite the opposite in fact, there was always wine on our table at home and more wine when traveling in Europe.  Our trip to Venice was one of the highpoints of my childhood.  We took a water-taxi to the famed glass factories of Murano where many of my cocktail glasses were crafted.  I do believe and my mind’s eye recalls many unique flavors on that trip so many decades ago.

I remember it was brutally hot on this summer trip to Venice.  The glass factories are not air-conditioned and my young thirst was only compounded by the lack of water or even wine as I recall.

To blow glass, vast amounts of fire is necessary, hence the furnaces glowing nearly white hot.  Images and feelings such as these never left my mind, watching glass blown by talented artisans in a time honored method has reverberated in my memory since those days.

It’s no coincidence that the vessels that hold my cocktails are hand-blown, some from Italy, others from crafts-people trained in Italy.

There is a certain polished elegance to real Murano glass that cannot be duplicated any place else in the world.

The glass galleries of Venice are located in vast palazzio that echo with history.  Millions of dollars of glass sculptures sit next to more humble reminders of the glass-blower’s craft.  The hushed elegance of these living museums is further exemplified by the serving of Bellini cocktails, many served in glasses blown just for this purpose.  You don’t have to drink a Bellini in a Murano hand blown glass, but it wouldn’t hurt!  As I mentioned it was one of those days in Venice that the air stood nearly still and the humidity rose off the canals in vast sheets of penetrating, rippling heat.  My parents were served tall (hand-blown) glasses of peach nectar with fizzy Prosecco poured over the top.

Of course I held my hand out for one to sate my young thirst.  I can picture the sweet, yet tangy flavor of white peaches, the staccato of the Prosecco and the glass emptying itself down my throat in one fell swoop.

“Yes please, may I have another?”

With this quality product, made in “Micro-Batches” by Powell & Mahoney, you too may duplicate the utter dream-state of being in Venice.  If it’s not summer where you are, turn up the heat in your home and find yourself a glass that befits a drink of the highest quality.  And try not to duplicate the seven deadly sins, unless you want to!

In my most twisted fashion, I’ve created a cocktail that befits the classic flavors and memories of Venice, and those of Carnival, when the city is masked in intrigue and passion.

This cocktail is firmly based on the classic history of white peach nectar and Prosecco, but in keeping with my twisted sensibility I’ve taken the path less followed and twisted things up quite a bit.

You may find after several, if you have any clothes left on they will be gone soon, hence the name the Seven Deadly Sins. ( Sette Peccati Capitali)

Ingredients for several clothing and mind liberators hence the name Sette Peccati Capitali:

1 shot glass of Tenneyson Absinthe

1 shot glass of Aviation Gin from House Spirits

1 shot glass of Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur

4 shot glasses of Prosecco or any dry sparkling wine (It need not be Champagne, just light and refreshing)

3-4 shots of Powell & Mahoney Micro-Batch All Natural Cocktail Mixer

Bitter End Curry Bitters

1 cup Grilled Orange Juice (Slice oranges into rounds, grill over fire or sear in a pan then juice)


In a cocktail shaker, fill 1/4 with ice

Add liqueurs except for the sparkling wine

Add Powell & Mahoney Peach Bellini Mixer

Add a couple of ice cubes to each glass

Shake and strain into champagne glasses or long cocktail glasses

Add exactly three drops of the Bitter End Curry Bitters to each glass

Add the grilled orange juice, about 1 shot per drink

Add a couple of splashes of Prosecco to the glasses that contain the liqueurs, the peach Bellini nectar and the Bitter End Curry Bitters

Fully experience this cocktail by having several!

(I won’t be held responsible for your actions!)



Photograph by Warren Bobrow with the Leica M8/Summicron F2 50mm

Kilbeggan (The Oldest Operating Distillery in the World!)

Kilbeggan (The World’s Oldest Distillery)

April 4, 2012

Is the world’s oldest distillery in Scotland?  If you said yes, then you are incorrect.  The oldest operating distillery is in Ireland.

I’m quite fond of Irish Whiskey.  You may note that Irish Whiskey is not spelled Whisky like in Scotland.  Irish Whiskey has the addition of the E at the end in a fashion similar to the way Whiskey is spelled in the United States.

Why?  I believe through my research that the extra E is meant to discuss a higher quality spirit that those without the E. This was a historic reasoning that had something to do with quality of a specific spirit. I don’t care to discuss the personal history, you can do that yourself.  This history pit country against country.  It was certainly not inclusive.

Oh, they spell Whisky without the E in Scotland.  Whatever.  I think that the exclusion or inclusion of the letter E is confusing to the consumer.  But like any interesting puzzle the historical reasoning is out there on the web.


Back in the late 80’s I had chance to travel to Ireland for the first time.  This lush country, with gorgeous,1000 shades of deep green vistas set against limitless skies. This is where passionate crafts-people, embrace the ancient methods of distillation.  The distillation arts in Ireland harkens back to a time when living off the land actually meant something.

I was fortunate to stay in Dublin- a young, raucous city filled with vivid splashes of color and light set against dark skies and brooding classical architecture.  It’s a magical place- well geared to intellectuals and also thirsty entrepreneurs.  There are authors and artists from all over the world that make their way to Dublin to study, to drink and to make history.  You can go into dozens of bars, listen to traditional music and meet poets, dreamers and best of all, drinkers.

The pubs are filled with lads and lassies who come to seek solace in a fine pint of dark and a glass of uisce beatha or water of life.  The pubs of Dublin and her denizens make this city go round and round.

I tasted Irish Whiskey for the first time at the historic horseshoe bar at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin.  I was immediately hooked on the friendly, yet potent sweet water.

Ireland has amazing farmland well suited for growing grain.  The soil in Ireland is rich in many of the nutrients necessary to grow grains. Grain just happens to make excellent many alcoholic finished products.

You have a thirsty country, much rain- generally miserable weather in the winter… Made even more lovely with a finished product made from fermented grain.

With grain comes distillation- and with distillation comes Whiskey.  Irish Whiskey, is a unique product.  It tastes like no other Whiskey in my opinion and it helps me dream.  Dream you say?  Drinking Irish Whiskey for me- unlocks a liquid history of searching for round-towers and seeking lovely wool sweaters woven in specific ways to identify the wearer.  Irish Whiskey is part of the deeper social thread but is easily enjoyable in a lovely Irish Coffee.

I have the ingredients, but it’s just 8:53 in the morning.  Not a good time to start drinking when a man has writing to do!

Ireland is no stranger to the craft of distillation as witnessed by Kilbeggan.  Their handsome bottle reads 1757.  No, this is not a misprint. 1757 is when the distillery was established.  And 1757 means that this spirit is from the world’s oldest operating distillery.  Not surprising to me. Kilbeggan is a new brand to the United States although by the bottle not so new to the world!  Kilbeggan uses a 180 year old pot still.  I believe a pot still gives great character to a spirit.  There has to be something said to the distillation vessel.  It must contain memories of some sort.  It’s not just cold metal.  It has a soul.

But does this make the spirit within the handsome bottle good?  I think so.  Please let me tell you about my thoughts.

Open the tall narrow bottle, classically finished in dark lettering over a pale yellow label.  There is a hint of maroon and gold highlighting some important facts about the distillery.  Several places on the bottle the numbers 1757 appear.  The distillery is quite proud of their lineage and heritage.

Open the top and pour a healthy portion into a glass that resonates with you.  From very moment that the magical liquid hits the glass I can smell the aroma of honey and hand-scythed grains.  There is a bit of smoke way off in the finish, but nothing like drinking Scotch.

The beginning of the mouth-feel is peppery fire from the 80 proof spirit.  The aroma of Kilbeggan is haunting and centering in the room.  I want to have a taste.  It’s soft, creamy in the mouth and quite beguiling on the top of my palate.  Flavors of toasted nuts, fleur de sel, caramel and Irish Soda Bread (with extra raisins) predominate.

Add to this a healthy slathering of creamy yellow Irish butter, still warm over the toasted Soda Bread.  This tiny slurp of Ireland just goes on and on with a multi-minute finish.

This is very sophisticated stuff.  I’m especially enjoying the aroma in the room.  Bacon fat, maple syrup and hot tea.  Yum!

As a food writer I love to give the literary connections to flavors I’ve tasted in my childhood.  This directional ability seems to translate well to the world of spirits writing.

As a cook, I find it interesting, to identify many of the flavor profiles that are available in spirits.  Sure they all have brooding alcohol, that’s the point!  People drink for pleasure.  It tastes good and some even have a kick!

Flavor has everything to do with it.

Irish Whiskey is Irish history in every sip.  For me to taste creamy butter melting over a thick slice of freshly toasted Soda Bread is to encourage you to find a bottle of Kilbeggan.


Two Cocktails For Kilbeggan

1. The Sheep in the Road cocktail- meaning that group of sheep don’t appear to be getting out of the road!

Makes two rather lovely cocktails


6 Oz. Irish Breakfast Tea- chilled

4 Shots Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey

Local Honey Simple Syrup (1:1 ratio of Honey to water, heat, then cool. refrigerate)


To a cocktail shaker add the Kilbeggan and the Irish Breakfast Tea

Add 4 Tablespoons of the Honey Simple Syrup

Garnish with a lemon round and a sprig of mint


2. The Cow in the Road Cocktail- meaning, there is a cow in the road up there, watch out!

Makes two cocktails of bewildering strength from the use of warming liquids, you won’t taste the alcohol, so please be careful.


Freshly Whipped Cream flavored with Kilbeggan

Hot Chocolate (your choice)

4 Shots of Kilbeggan

Sugar to taste


Make your hot chocolate and add to pre-heated mugs

Add the Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey

Sip and when the cow jumps over that wall, know that there is a pub just up the way.  Someone will come to the pub and tell you to move your car!



2 Shots of Kilbeggan

Glass (preferably clean)

no ice

a bit of cool water


PreparationMoisten your brow with the water, drink the Whiskey and have another





Pre-1960 Bourbon tasting notes

Tasting Notes: Pre-1960 Bourbon

  WARREN BOBROW grew up on a biodynamic farm in Morristown, New Jersey. He is a reluctant cocktail/wine writer and a former trained chef/saucier.



Photo Credit: travelingmcmahans; creative commons

My grandfather, a Yankee like myself, truly enjoyed Bottled in Bond, 100 Proof Bourbon Whiskey.  I didn’t know about his passion for Bourbon because he never drank it around me and he never ordered it in a restaurant. Usually he ordered an extra dry Dewers Rob Roy.  For many years I only thought he drank Scotch whisky. What I didn’t know at the time was that his true passion was Bourbon.

My grandfather owned his own company and one of the things that people would give him at Christmas time were some very special bottles of Bourbon.  These bottles remained hidden from me for many years.  After he died I learned from my grandmother that there were several nice looking (from a design perspective anyway) bottles of pre-1960 Bourbon in a hidden compartment of the bar.

She went on to tell me that she was going to pour out the contents (the historic Bourbon) and turn them into flower vases, because the bottles were so pretty.  I got over to her home as quickly as I could.  She showed me the hidden compartment in the bar.   Inside there were several bottles of Bourbon from the 1940’s to the late 1950s. These bottles of Bourbon had rested, in the dark, away from my youthful fingers since he placed them there and forgot about them.

These remaining bottles are a liquid history of the last of my grandfather’s Bourbon collection.

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Truth be told, as a “damned” Yankee, I know the true value of these ancient spirits.  Not as an investment in dollars, but as a flavor-driven window into my family’s past.  The bottles that I hold in my hand are a history of flavor.  This is a specific type of history that could never be duplicated today, primarily because the people who crafted the contents of these historic Bourbon bottles are now long gone.  The ingredients used today are similar, but the Whisky is different because each sip holds liquid ghosts belonging to the past.

Tasting notes:

Old Forester “Bottled in Bond” Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky.  100 proof. This bottle has been filled and stamped under the provisions of sections 5008 and 5243 of the Internal Revenue code.

Set into wood 1954. Bottled 1959.

A gentle, almost cedar nose gives way to candied orange peel, sweet jasmine flowers and caramelized pecan. The brooding heat burns the tongue.  With a texture almost as thick as maple syrup, the freshness and liveliness of this Bourbon hasn’t changed a bit since entering the bottle over fifty years ago.  Charred notes of Anson Mills stone ground grits stuck to the bottom of an ancient cast iron pan is the next thing tasted as I rolled a few precious drops around my mouth.  The soft, mineral finish goes on and on, revealing itself with another slow burn as if the bottom of the glass was aflame.  This Bourbon, when served with a bit of Kentucky Colonel mint from the garden, awakens ghosts from one’s grand-pappy’s generation.

Ancient Age.  Date uncertain due to the loss of the tax stamp, estimated somewhere between 1945-1950.  Space Age in design, this Mid-Century modern bottle is filled to just over a pint in liquid.  Marked straight Bourbon Whiskey.  The bottle reads: carefully distilled according to the finest old traditions. 86 proof.  Marked Full Six Years old. Distilled and bottled by Ancient Age Distillery Co., Frankfort Kentucky.

Warm aromas of sweetly delineated, hand-hewn oak- remind me immediately that Bourbon Whisky is not Scotch Whiskey or Tennessee sippin’ Whisky.  One reason for certain is the lack of smoke, peat and saline in the nose.  Normally, I find these flavors to be overpowering.  I suppose I just don’t understand Scotch.  The nose of this Bourbon Whisky resembles a liquid caramel candy.  A burst of fire from the nearly 90 proof alcohol makes itself known then a finish of fleur du sel and freshly cut herbs like thyme and tarragon.  This Bourbon, although “only” 86 proof, acts on the palate like one almost double the potency. In fact it resembles in many ways the potency and grip of some un-cut corn whiskies I’ve tasted recently.  Each slurp reveals sharply aromatic Asian spices with a razor sharp finish that exposes itself on the back of the tongue; with a nearly 2 minute long finish!  This Bourbon tastes nothing like the roughness of the neither 1952 Old Forester, nor does is resemble the overly oaked  “modern-style” of the 1955 Old Grand Dad. With a crumbled leaf of Kentucky Colonel spearmint this Bourbon really opens up, revealing its wood-driven flavors as a contender for a (very rare and expensive) mint julep.  This Bourbon has all the stuffing for a drink made with its primary ingredient over a half-century old!

Old Forester 1952. Bottled in Bond in 1957. Freshly baked charred- corn “hoe” cakes are smeared with melted, sweet strawberry butter. The first flavors take a bit to get used to.  Sweet is usually a flavor more akin to Canadian Whisky or Irish Whisky.  Freshly brewed sweet iced tea reveals itself- then flavors of caramel corn and cinnamon laced red-hot candy folded into a mug of boiling hot water, Asian spices and sugar cane lurk in the background.  The backbone of alcohol is a sudden wake up call to the throat.  It BURNS!  A glass of this Bourbon has amazing heat for spirit almost sixty years old!   The 1952 taste as lively a drink in the glass as a 2002 bottle of Knob Creek Bourbon!  It’s just amazing how little the alcoholic power has diminished over the past half century!

Old Grand Dad “Head of the Bourbon Family” 1955. Set into bottle 1959.  Part of a more modern and new style of Bourbon Whiskey, this is a roughly hewn, heavily oaked version of the classic drink.  It’s just amazing to me how much Bourbon has evolved during the late 1950’s.  The soft almost billowy quality of the Bourbon is ever-present, yet the finish is much sharper, but it lingers on the tongue for several minutes.  The 1959 bottling is more akin in many ways to Four Roses or Pappy Van Winkle with an almost lemon oil, citrus tinged mouth-feel.  The oils from the cask rise to the surface creating an illusion of a rainbow.  Each sip is laced with banana, vanilla bean, toasted corn bread, the char from well- seasoned cast iron pan and brook trout cooked in that pan with a handful of toasted hazelnuts thrown in at the finish.   An Amaretto-liqueur nose predominates.  The finish is like the first day of golden sunshine, streaming into the windows after a spring thunderstorm.  This is serious stuff and it deserves a drop or two of branch water to release its secrets.  The next flavors are like authentically seasoned Thai food served Thai spicy.  Flavor before heat is the mantra of this Bourbon.  A few sips signal the essential drink to take the edge off the afternoon or evening like none of your neighbors have ever imagined or enjoyed.

These bottles are a bit less than ½ full … As much as I want to share them with well- meaning friends, I know that once they’re gone, they can never be replaced.

I’ll be drinking small glasses from these bottles without any mixers from now on.  Well, maybe with a few drops of some sweet, local branch water flicked over the surface to connect these liquid history lessons with the flavor driven memories of the past.

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3 Responses to “Tasting Notes: Pre-1960 Bourbon”

  1. prufrock

    October 28, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    What a great find! I love having a window into the past, in any way that I can. And to have that connection to your granddad is a sweet thing indeed. I was able to get a cache of a grandparent’s booze about twenty five years ago, too. Cognac, B&B, some Scotch…. and I was excited to compare them to contemporaries. But they were pretty much the same; I didn’t know at the time that spirits stop aging once they are bottled, so I was all worked up for a big taste explosion! But, alas… that 8 year-old whisky that had been bottled in 1958 was still just an 8 year-old whisky. It did have a bit of funkiness, but not necessarily in a good way.

    Still, the thrill of opening something that had last been opened by someone long dead held a thrill for me, and I enjoyed sharing their liquor. During the Republican Convention in 2008, a very old bar in St Paul reopened for the week. The owners’ family had been keeping the place pretty much as it had been since the 40s forever, though it hadn’t been open since… maybe the 70s? 80s? Anyway, they brought ought some Old Forester and Ancient Age and others and were selling them at low prices. It was cool to see the old labels– nostalgia for a guy who started tending bar back in the 70s. But the whiskey was pretty bad. It wasn’t bonded, just normal proof, and they might had been spouted for God only knows how long. Still– it was really cool.

    I did read somewhere that Tequila and Mezcal actually do change in the bottle, though I guess it is just a mellowing rather than added complexity. Not my cuppa tea, though.

  2. HahlerGirl

    August 1, 2011 at 7:26 am #

    What a swell bourbon rememberance. You certainly saved an important liquor legacy and did your “Old Grandad” proud. Thank you to sharing!

  3. Cocktail Cloister

    July 24, 2011 at 9:08 am #

    Liquid ghosts indeed. What a pleasure, Warren. Thanks for sharing!

Martin Miller’s Gin. (you could say that I’m a BIG FAN)


Warren Bobrow’s Cocktail Hour – The Gin Twist



Martin Miller - hotelier and maker of Martin Miller's London Dry GinMartin Miller – Bon viveur and maker of Martin Miller’s London Dry Gin via www.luxist.com


I’m sitting in front of the fireplace right now. Also in front of me are over 15 bottles of Artisanal Gin. My new favorite is the London Dry Gin from Martin Miller’s Gin. This is truly exotic stuff. The London Dry is in a low, squat bottle. Upon opening the handsome bottle I detect immediately the scent of cucumbers. Not just any cucumber but an especially aromatic variety. This Gin doesn’t need to be mixed- it’s got all the stuff right inside. I’m absolutely blown away by the softness of the nose- coupled with that unmistakable aroma of the cucumber. I got to thinking- when was the first time that I smelled this quality of Gin? Hendrick’s does a cucumber scented Gin that I like, very much. This Gin from Martin Miller is a very sophisticated and dare I say sensual slurp of liquid pleasure. The cucumber is right there in the foreground. You cannot miss it. I’m almost shocked by the depth of the vegetable aroma and flavor. White flowers follow up immediately- those little tobacco flowers. Then the attack of herbs and spices come quickly into view. The initial distillation happens in England. The blending occurs in Iceland with pristine glacial water as the adjunct. I’m just blown away by the finish- it goes on and on and… on .

I thought I introduce a new cocktail to Modenus this week. Gin and Citrus come to mind. Charred grapefruit juice, Maraschino Cherry liquor and a chiffonade of Thai Basil. What? Fresh herbs in a drink? Why not?

To make this cocktail you must be ready to take your palate to another place. In this case, the drink is Martini-like but not a Martini. Sure it has Vermouth, but Carpano Antica is the Sweet Vermouth (instead of dry) and there is the slightly charred grapefruit bringing up the rear.

I love working with great ingredients and you should too!

The Gin Twist

Makes two invigorating cocktails for whatever you desire at the end of the day.


Martin Miller’s London Dry Gin

Carpano Antica

Cucumber chunks

Bitter End Thai Bitters

Lime hunks

Grapefruit chunks

Fresh mint

Seltzer water like Perrier Pink Grapefruit

Chiffonade of Thai Basil


To a cocktail shaker filled ¼ with ice add some charred grapefruit. (sear grapefruit segments in a sauté pan until nice and colored on all sides, then muddle with fresh mint and the cucumber, lime and grapefruit chunks until they release their essence about 3 minutes or so. Add to the shaker the Carpano Antica Vermouth (about a shot) Roll the Thai Basil into a cigar shape, and then slice on the bias to release the aromatic oils. Add to the shaker.

Add the Martin Miller’s Dry London Gin and the Maraschino Liqueur. ( 1 shot)

Shake and strain into a coupe’ glass and garnish with a flamed peel of orange peel. Top with a home cured cherry. Add a splash of seltzer water to finish.

Slurp away to a freezing cold and wet spring in old England.

The Single Barrel from Jack Daniel’s is world class in every way

On Whiskey: Macallan Single Malt v Tennessee Sippin’

Features, On Whiskey | November 15, 2011 by admin | 0 Comments

WARREN BOBROW is the On Whiskey columnist for OKRA. He grew up on a biodynamic farm in Morristown, New Jersey. He is a reluctant cocktail/wine writer and former trained chef/saucier.


A quick, yet highly focused tasting of the Macallan Single Malt Scotch vs. 2 offerings of Tennessee “Sipping” Whiskey

My old friend Becky once told me that she’d “rue the day” that I called Tennessee “sipping” whiskey bourbon. She said that only a “damned Yankee” would be confused enough to call Jack Daniel’s bourbon.

Tennessee “sipping” whiskey is not bourbon. The char, smoke, and charcoal filtering make Jack Daniel’s unique in the dichotomy of whiskey. There is the rub.  The smoke, the char, and the power.

Macallan, on the other hand, is an extremely fine Scotch whisky. The most immediate difference between Tennessee whiskey and Scotch whisky is not that one is spelled with an e, and the other without- but the terroir, or taste of the place.  Scotch just tastes different.

I recently received a bottle of Macallan whisky and set to comparing this benchmark 12 year old single malt whiskey against the very American slurp of whiskey.  What I discovered is quite profound.  The Tennessee whiskey is every bit as sumptuous and delicious as the kindred cousins from across the pond.

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select

Notes of fire-toasted pecans give way to a smoky, peat-laden mid-palate.  Flavors of sweet cream and sweet vanilla gelato enrobe your palate with sharper notes of scorched toffee and treacle pudding.  This is a very sophisticated slurp of liquid American History.  The finish goes on and on and right into the robust 94 proof finish.  The price is usually about forty-five dollars and is worth every sip.

Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey

Lighter in color than the Single Barrel Select, this whiskey is more akin to a blended Tennessee whiskey. The high price is from a double application of the “Lincoln Country Process.” In other words, filtering the spirit through charcoal- twice for a more mellow taste.  The barrels are charred and often make their way to Scotland at the end of the aging process.  Like what you taste? It rests in the cask for about four years.  Be prepared to fork over about twenty- five dollars for the pleasure.

Macallan Highland Single Malt Scotch Whiskey (12 year aged in Sherry Oak Casks from Jerez, Spain)

Pure lust is the first thing I taste when I drink Macallan Sherry Cask Scotch Whisky.  The nose is smoke, peat and wet wool shorn from sheep accustomed to living outdoors.  There is a fire burning in the fireplace in the cottage and it is a slow burning peat fire – smoldering and giving off little bursts of wet soil; charred wood; more wet wool; sweet toffee; and a lingering, charming, dried fruit finish.  The Sherry nose is immediately apparent through the attack of sweet/spicy and the sophisticated elegance is long lasting in your glass.  There is no doubt that this is Scotch whisky (spelled without an e) The taste of the place – oily, salty, and dripping with history – will stay on your palate for minutes, leading to hours to the eventual finish.  Twelve years in the barrel only means one thing- a classic single malt passion.   I wouldn’t say that I prefer the Scotch whisky to the Tennessee sipping whiskey.  What I will say is that they are very similar in nose, follow, and finish.  You can expect to pay about fifty dollars for the pleasure.

Which one is better?  I’ll leave that to you.

I will say that the Single Barrel from Jack Daniel’s is world class in every way.


Pappy Van Winkle (My article “on Whiskey” for Okra Magazine in New Orleans)

On Whiskey: Pappy Bourbon

On Bourbon, On Whiskey | February 1, 2012 by admin | 2 Comments

TwitterWarren Bobrow is the Food and Drink Editor of the 501c3 non profit Wild Tableon Wild River Review located in Princeton, New Jersey. He attended Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. He has published over three hundred articles on everything from cocktail mixology to restaurant reviews to travel articles. In addition to OKRA Magazine, Warren writes for Williams-Sonoma’s Blender Blog and Foodista.

Photo by Warren Bobrow

There comes a time in everyone’s drinking history that they aspire to seek the very best that money can buy.  Be it a bottle of wine, a bottle of Port- or in my case a bottle (or two) of Bourbon.  The Holy Grail for my drinking history was reached about five years ago when I received several bottles of pre-1960 Bourbon.

To some, present company included, the gift of a bottle of Bourbon is a high honor.  When FedEx arrived yesterday bearing a rather large box, hailing from Kentucky- I knew something special was inside.  Carefully unwrapping the bottles, their inner glow revealed themselves as the extremely rare and utterly profound bottles of Pappy.

But what is Pappy?

Those of us who follow the art and history of making bourbon aspire someday to be able to taste the liquid charms of Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon.  It’s not inexpensive stuff- I don’t want to quote prices, but you can look that up.  Is this a considerate gift to someone who appreciates the very best?  You can bet your last nickel on it.  But I will tell you, you need to rub your nickels together and hope they meter out a bit more than the amount needed to wet your lips with this magical elixir. There are few bottles of anything distilled that even approach the charm and subtlety of Pappy.

Pappy is not for everyone- just as a bottle of a First Growth wine may not please everyone.  Good taste comes at a price.  But good taste is tough to come by since very few bottles are produced each year.  If you see some on the shelf at your local bar,  it must be a very special place because most people don’t even know about Pappy.

They call their method of making their bourbon “wheated. ” This means the process uses corn, wheat, and, barley instead of corn, rye and, barley.  Pappy ages gently and produces a softer finish than its peers on the bourbon shelf.   They say it ages more gracefully. I say it is unlocked history in your glass.

I would also go so far to say that each taste unlocks more than just memories of the past.  The deeply aromatic flavor of this bourbon helps you create new memories of the present through the finely tuned craftsmanship of the past.

Tasting Notes:

Pappy Van Winkle 15 year- is it me or is the 15-year more powerful than the 20 year?  Well, first let me tell you what’s on the label.  It reads very clearly 107 proof.  The first things I taste are wild gathered acorns on the nose- followed closely by the unmistakable scent of saddle leather.  The heat of the 107 proof touches every part of my mouth and the finish just goes on and on.  This is not your typical Bourbon and cola sip- I think if you were to mix it you’d be on your own.  I’m not suggesting any mixing.  Ok, maybe a sprinkle of Branch.  But that’s it.

Pappy Van Winkle 20 year- Soft dew coated white flowers give way to the flavor that only time in the barrel can give- it’s soft to the tongue- easy to savor- easier to swallow and images of charred wheat bread smeared with sweet butter and apricot jam come into view.  This is very sophisticated stuff- certainly not for just anyone.  In fact just anyone can buy it, but good luck finding it.  Extremely rare.  Entire websites are dedicated to finding out when the next batch will be released- doubtful that you can find it?  Well, you’re halfway there.  The way that this liquor is made- they do so little of it- wealthy people just buy it up.  Again, I’m not telling you how much it costs- but a healthy part of your mortgage payment will just about cover the price of admittance!

Not everyone will like the softer, rounder flavors of Pappy 20.  They might say, save your money and buy one of the overly oaked barrel aged Bourbon varieties that clog the shelves of your local spirit shop.  To me, many of them just taste the same.

Let me tell you- and you can quote me on this.  Pappy 20 and the 15 year old versions are things of rare beauty.  I drank my tastes in a small glass with a polished hunk of Maine granite. (Frozen in the freezer overnight)  You really can do what you want with it as far as mixing or adding ice- but I don’t recommend it- just like I’d never add crushed ice to a glass of the uber-expensive white wine named Le Montrachet. And some people like to do that too!

Of course you can do anything you want, after all it’s your hard-earned money that purchased a bottle.

I’m just saying that it’s just not recommended, so I’m not making any mixing suggestions.  Of course if you want to sprinkle some freshly gathered Branch water over the top, please feel free to do so.   And do so with reverence.

But please enjoy with restraint and create your own memories!