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Best Weekend Food Events: NYC Chilifest, Edible Games, and Beer Galore

New Guest Chef Sandwich, Genuine Superette, 191 Grand Street, Friday through the next couple of months

For a limited time, Genuine Superette is offering a new Wagyu brisket sandwich developed by Chicago chefs Paul Kahan and AJ Walker. The sandwich — which includes horseradish cream cheese, smoked onions, mustard, and lettuce — is served on a pumpernickel roll and is available for both lunch and dinner for $13.78.

New Brunch, The Bennett, 134 West Broadway, Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m./11 a.m to 8 p.m.

Say goodbye to blizzards and grab a sangria, spritz, or mimosa cocktail at a brand-new brunch this weekend. Meaghan Dorman is offering eight new brunch cocktails to go along with a menu that includes a chocolate-sprinkle-and-butter sandwich, banana pancakes, and meatballs with fried eggs and polenta.

Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ Festival, The Tunnel, 608 West 28 Street at 11th Avenue, Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Sure it might be cold outside, but venturing out for beer, bourbon, and plenty of hot ‘cue has its obvious rewards. This event has all three  — 60 beers, 40 bourbons, and too many pounds of pork to count. A limited number of tickets ($99 per person) are available at the door for the second session, which starts at 5:30 p.m.

NY Chilifest, Chelsea Market, 416 West 16 Street, Sunday, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The halls of Chelsea Market will be filled with something other than tourists this weekend. Chili fanatics are invited to sample tastes from over twenty different restaurants; Toro and The Brooklyn Star are just two stops on the fest’s trail. Rye cocktails and beer will also be available. Ticket options start at $50 for all-you-can-eat chili and $60 if you want to add booze; reserve them here.

Meal of Fortune, Babycastles Gallery, 137 West 14th Street, 2nd Floor, Sunday, 7:30 p.m.

Whether you’re a gamer or someone who enjoys edible art, this pop-up restaurant at Babycastles Gallery has something you won’t find most weekends. Chef Theo Friedman of Theory Kitchen, along with a few video and digital artists, came up with four courses of experiential dishes like a bowling alley with 3-D printed salt and pepper shakers that season food when they’re knocked over, and a conveyor belt that rolls out edible dice. Tickets are $37.40 per person — there are still some available for Sunday. Reserve them here.

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The Ten Best New York Beers of 2015

There was a time, not so long ago, when compiling a list of the city’s best beers was a breezy task, merely a matter of cataloging the limited amount of good grog the five boroughs had to offer. Things have changed. Drastically. As of 2015, the Tri-State area is brimming with micro-breweries, dozens of which released ales and lagers worthy of inclusion here. If you are currently drawing breath within the five boroughs, congratulations: There’s never been a better time to be a craft beer fanatic than right now.

Listed below are the top ten reasons — a selection of releases from throughout the year demonstrating how the scene continues its ceaseless climb. Ever upward, New York.

10. Flagship Brewing – Metropolitan Lager (5.6% ABV)

As a fairly uncontroversial style, lager often fails to captivate the attention of “loud” beer lovers. That’s a shame, as a brewer’s steady hand is never so apparent as in a gentle, nuanced offering. Staten Island showed the craft crowd how it’s done with its Metropolitan Lager: a smooth-bodied refresher with a beautiful balance between Old World malt and hops. No single ingredient takes center stage, yet each provides a pivotal supporting role in every sip.

Superf*cking Yawn
Superf*cking Yawn

9.Threes Brewing – Superfucking Yawn (9.5% ABV)

There’s IPA, and then there’s IPA! Entering a supremely dense field of highly hopped craft ales, Gowanus’s favorite brewpub knew they had to bring theirs with a bang. Mission accomplished. This explosive hop bomb with undertones of tropical fruit and sticky pine resin hits you hard. As it should, with its elevated alcohol content, hovering near double digits. But any brewer with a lone limb can dump endless amounts of hops into a batch. Setting Superfucking Yawn apart is its floral aromas, whisper-light body, and a satiating juiciness that lasts for days in the finish. Nothing sleepy about any of that.

Revenge of the Emu
Revenge of the Emu

8. Cuzett Libations – Revenge of the Emu (5.4% ABV)

It was quite an eventful year for brewers Chris Cuzme and Mary Izett. The two prominent members of the local craft scene formed their own brewery, tied the knot, and took a trip to Australia to explore the fermented flavors of the Southern Hemisphere. The voyage Down Under informed the couple’s second release, a sessionable blond ale named after the outback’s most notorious flightless bird. Revenge of the Emu was fruit-forward, hinting at white grapes and passionfruit. Reining in the sweetness was a dry blanket of kölsch yeast and pilsner malt. A thoughtful and complex arrangement suggesting a bright future — professionally and personally — for the newly minted husband-and-wife brewing team.

Seeking Alpha Triple IPA
Seeking Alpha Triple IPA

7.Captain Lawrence – Seeking Alpha (11% ABV)

Unapologetically bitter from start to finish, Seeking Alpha was the beer New York hop-heads were waiting for. When it hit shelves this past February, it didn’t stick around for long. Which is appropriate, as IPAs are meant to be consumed fresh. The name of the beer itself refers to the alpha acids responsible for bitterness. Yet Seeking Alpha was almost as much about its dank, citrusy aroma, courtesy of a dynamic bouquet of four separate hops, including bold Citra and assertive Tomahawk. A faint two-row malt backbone teased out dryness upon the discerning tongue. Be on the lookout for its return later this winter.

Long Island City's finest
Long Island City’s finest

6. Transmitter Brewing – H1 Zinfandel Harvest Saison (6.5% ABV)

Saisons are on the rise. Complex, with hints of fruit and funk, they come equipped with many of the characteristics to make connoisseurs gush with glee. And no one in this part of the world has the style on lock like the folks at Transmitter. In 2015 they flexed their muscles with this crisp, effervescent ale, aged in oak alongside a hearty dose of zinfandel grapes. The resulting liquid was brimming with berries, tannins, and any number of adjectives commonly associated with high-end wine. Although H1 will never be precisely replicated, if you missed it, learn from your mistake: When Transmitter releases a saison, you grab it, and you don’t let go for quite some time (the style ages gracefully in the bottle).

 

Finbacks aging in their Queens barrelhouse
Finbacks aging in their Queens barrelhouse

5. Finback – Plumb and Proper (6.3% ABV)

With a rapidly evolving sour-beer program, Finback brings serious street cred to the Queens craft scene. Originally brewed near the end of 2014, this dark and tart offering became considerably more accessible after a bottle release in August ’15. Made with plums and wild yeast, there are notes of brown sugar and molasses to accompany an unexpected smokiness. A creamy mouthfeel is accentuated by ever-so-slight carbonation. For those seeking a bold drinking experience, Plumb and Proper is not to be missed.

A taste of the dark side
A taste of the dark side

4. Carton Brewing – Irish Coffee (13% ABV)

Carton Brewing (out of Atlantic Highlands, NJ) continues to push craft beer in an unexpected direction with ingredient-forward releases, designed to emulate all sorts of food and drink heretofore unassociated with suds. In 2015, they tackled the classic combination of caffeine and whiskey, their Irish Coffee evoking the familiar flavors of its namesake. There’s an immediacy of mint on the nose, followed by acidic, roasted bean notes that are first to hit the tongue. The darker elements soon fade, however, revealing oak, hazelnut, and cream in a lengthy finish. And that creaminess will leave you coming back for more. To find a beer this smooth containing this much alcohol defies imagination. Par for the course for a brewery proving themselves as the Willy Wonka of craft.

Double Negative in the barrel
Double Negative in the barrel

3. Grimm Artisanal Ales – Barrel Aged Double Negative (10.2% ABV)

Overflowing with oak, vanilla, dark chocolate, caramel, and anything else needed for a delicious dessert, Double Negative is the pinnacle of what a bourbon-barrel-aged beer can offer. The jet-black stout, produced by Brooklyn husband-and-wife gypsies Joe and Lauren Grimm, was injected into Heaven Hill casks in 2014, where it rested patiently until ready for 22-ounce bombers last winter. Some could come close, but you won’t find a more well-rounded imperial stout in the land. And after winning a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival this September, Double Negative now has the hardware to prove it.

Whole lotta hops
Whole lotta hops

2. Other Half Brewing – Street Green (7% ABV)

It’s hardly a secret how Other Half Brewing has ascended the ranks to claim the mantle of New York’s Greatest Craft Brewery: hops. A whole helluva lot of them. Although the all-star operation on the outskirts of Carroll Gardens excels at any number of more esoteric styles, they attract the greatest fanfare for consistently producing the freshest, fiercest IPAs in this part of the world. With so many of them deserving inclusion on this list, the primary reason why Street Green edges out the rest is because it’s, well, the freshest and the fiercest. Brewed with an ungodly abundance of Amarillo, Simcoe, Galaxy, and Equinox hops, Street Green hit cans just last month, reeking of grapefruit, pineapple, and kiwi juice. It flogs the palate in a wondrous, tongue-tingling tropical bath. You’re gonna want to sit down for this one.

1. Greenpoint Beer and Ale Company – Pendulum (6.1% ABV)

This one-off from early 2015 was a wild ale like none other. Brewed entirely with Brettanomyces, an unruly yeast commonly associated with funkier notes, Pendulum relied on a variant called Brett C. This offshoot strain endowed the beer with juicier esters, arriving as over-ripened citrus fruit on the tongue. Best yet, these tonalities tangoed effortlessly with the resiny hop strains at its core. In the aroma, and in the mouth, Pendulum provided an unforgettable drinking experience. Brewers of Greenpoint Beer: On behalf of New Yorkers everywhere, please bring this beer back in 2016!

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Featherweight’s ‘The Cleaner’ Cocktail Teams Gin and Bourbon

Creating cocktails off the beaten path sits just fine with Featherweight’s (135 Graham Avenue, Brooklyn; 646-257-0946) Johnny De Piper. Tucked away under a large mural of a boxer, the bar itself is a testament to the obscure — a feather marks a nondescript door, which is the only indication of the warm environment inside.

Cut from the cloth of the Milk and Honey school of bartending, the bar offers a selection of updated classics, one of which is known as “The Cleaner.” Although it sounds more like a boxing moniker, the name is actually a subtle reference to the film Leon the Professional and a similarly dangerous, yet pleasant drink.

“It’s a play off the Hitman [cocktail]. It has the same kind of weird flavors going on,” De Piper says. Those flavors have a lot to do with the use of Virgil Kaine high rye, which the bartender notes has a grassy, floral profile that works well with Aviation gin. Gin and bourbon may not be the most common tag team, but De Piper notes that the addition of high rye helped give the drink “a backbone.” He originally started out using just gin, but found the drink needed to be punched up a little. Once he confirmed the pairing would work well together, allowing each spirit to shine without overshadowing one another, De Piper was able to add flavors he loves such as maraschino, ginger, and fresh lime.

“Maraschino is just such a weird ingredient to me. It’s like nothing else,” De Piper says. He might not have all of the words to describe its flavor, but De Piper’s use of the cherry liqueur balances the cocktail. After all, even tough-sounding drinks named after fictional contract killers need to have some slight, unexplained sweetness to them.
 
De Piper feels that the drink is bold, and its non-traditional ingredients make it more appealing than the tried-and-true standard classics. “I think it’s a little more adventurous. Gin pairs well with a lot of other things, but you rarely ever see it with bourbon,” he explains.

The Cleaner by Johnny De Piper of Featherweight

1 ounce Virgil Kaine high rye
1 ounce Aviation gin
3/4 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur
1/2 ounce ginger syrup
Angostura bitters

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Shake and strain into a chilled glass. Top off with a few dashes of  bitters.

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A Sipping Rum for Whiskey Lovers

Rum is a spirit saddled with a certain reputation. Spring break, tropical beaches, brightly colored cocktails adorned with miniature umbrellas. It’s not exactly terrible imagery to be associated with, but it also denies the liquor a sense of seriousness. Elevating its stature is a new wave of sipping rums washing upon the shores of the city. Among them is Parce (pronounced ‘par-say), a rum brand started by NYC native Jim Powers and his brothers three years ago. The story of how a former A & R man from Geffen Records entered the booze business with his family, by way of Columbia, is almost as intriguing as the barrel-aged liquid they are putting in the bottle.

“My background is in music,” Powers told the Voice. “I started the independent record label Minty Fresh in the ‘90s. I visited Colombia for the first time about five years to visit a brother, Patrick, who lives in Medellin and to check out the music and cultural scene there. I was not prepared for the stunning beauty of the country, and kindness of the people.”

Soon thereafter, Jim invited his other brother, Brian, to join him in South America, so the three siblings could collaborate on a business designed to (legally) share the beauty of Colombia with the rest of the world. Their brainstorming sessions often occurred over glasses of finely aged rum. A lightbulb went off: “We felt we could create and introduce a rum that you could simply enjoy neat by the fireplace in a New York winter as well as make an outstanding cocktail.”

As avowed whiskey enthusiasts, the brothers landed on a blend of 8 and 12 year old spirits, aged exclusively in ex-American whiskey barrels, to impart notes of toasted oak, vanilla, and cinnamon, familiar to traditional bourbons. “We enlisted the help of a Bogotá father son duo as our Master Blenders, Arthur Fernandes and Brojen Domecq Fernandes, who have a combined total of 50 years working with rum,” explains Powers. “The rum style is uniquely dry with a bourbon-like nose because every drop of Parce is aged in whisky barrels at least as long as the statement on the bottle. As our rum ages, some naturally evaporates, we don’t top off with younger rums to replace the evaporation.”

The elegantly-packaged 8-year-old Parce hit shelves in New York earlier this year. Priced at $30 a bottle, it’s a veritable steal for a finely crafted spirit. Its older brother, the 12 year, brandishes a deeper burgundy body, a lingering, complex finish and a $50 price tag. Both bottles are great gift ideas for the bourbon lover in search of something slightly outside their comfort zone.

“Many times when pouring samples we’ll invite people to try our rum and they will quickly say ‘I’m not a fan of rum, I only like whiskey’,” notes Powers. “After they pick up our whiskey notes on the nose, they give it taste, and then more often than not, they end up buying a bottle.”

For a taste of how rum can supplant whiskey in a classic cocktail, seek out the Parce Old Fashioned at TRIX in Williamsburg. Leyenda in Boerum Hill takes a more avant garde approach, working the rum into a bitter and smoky negroni variation, featuring mezcal and moscatel sherry. 

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Mulled Wine Warms Up a ‘Moose Is Loose’ Cocktail at the Randolph

The Randolph (349 Broome Street; 212-274-0667) bar is known for its selection of beer, coffee, and cocktails, yet it was the previously unexplored world of wine — and Family Guy — that inspired one of co-owner Dave Plate’s favorite seasonal cocktails. The bar’s team recently hired a sommelier, which led them to think about new ways to serve wine. As Plate says, “this notion of a wine cocktail just started to seep into the consciousness of the menu.”

While they were developing a fall-focused cocktail list, Plate and his partners were drawn to red wine. They ended up choosing a full-bodied Australian shiraz because it seemed more representative of fall than other types. Plate remembered a mulled wine cocktail he enjoyed in Canada, which likely included whiskey. His beverage director then suggested adding mulled wine syrup to a popular drink at the Randolph — the gold rush.

When the Randolph first opened, it conjured the spirit of former clandestine cocktail lair Milk and Honey (currently Attaboy). One of the former partners of Sasha Petraske’s influential spot brought over the recipe for the gold rush — which traditionally includes bourbon, honey syrup, and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. “Whenever there is bourbon, I immediately think honey and lemon,” Plate explains.

Boiling the shiraz reduces it to a syrup, which brings out the grape’s inherent tasting notes of black currant, cinnamon, and peppercorn. (The bar opted to add extra cassis for more currant flavor.) Because of the mulled wine, Plate says, the drink has a higher alcohol content than you’d expect in a wine-based beverage — it’s essentially “the antithesis of a light, summery cocktail.”

While the drink does have some bite to it, the idea of calling it “The Moose Is Loose” came about for a few reasons: The drink that inspired Plate in Canada was named the “Caribou,” and there was an epic TV scene from Family Guy involving a “moose doing stuff for money” that served as a sign. Ultimately, it was a co-worker’s nonchalant uttering of the phrase “the moose is loose” that gave this cocktail a place in the Randolph’s history.

The Moose Is Loose by the Randolph

2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce mulled wine reduction*
One barspoon of cassis
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce honey

Add ingredients into a shaker and shake. Strain into a glass filled with ice. Optional: Garnish with cinnamon and bay leaf.

*Mulled wine reduction:
Pour three bottles of shiraz into a pot. Add freshly ground black peppercorns, cinnamon, bay leaves, simple syrup, and three big handfuls of cassia bark. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the volume is reduced by half.

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Bill Baker’s Merges Craft Beer With Cocktails in Williamsburg

Williamsburg hardly leaves you wanting for liquid craft of any kind. The neighborhood is awash in bespoke cocktails, local liquors, and microbrews of every conceivable variation. Yet, against all odds, when Bill Baker’s (364 Grand Street, Brooklyn; 718-734-8890) opened earlier this month in the shadows of the BQE, the ambitious new gastropub revealed a niche they intend to fill: beer cocktails.

In addition to a rotating selection of four house-made session ales, their menu is sprinkled with a half-dozen spirits-based drinks, each topped with its own style of suds. Ms. Ellen’s Blackberry Bourbon, a fruit-charged whiskey smash incorporating a Belgian sour into its body, is tasty enough to earn praise as our “beer” of the week. And now for something completely different…

Because of its carbonation, beer must be treated like soda water when introduced into a mixed beverage. That means pouring it over the top to avoid agitating those baby bubbles, preserving a refreshing spritz in every sip. Even more challenging, however, is landing on the right flavors. Craft beer typically avoids blandness — one of the many reasons we cherish it so. But that also makes it trickier to shack up with proper suitors. Beverage director Mark Romano is a beer guy — he lives and breathes every style, old-world and new-. He worked closely with the head bartender to arrive at the optimal brew to float atop each of their $12 cocktails.

Ms. Ellen's Blackberry Bourbon Beer Cocktail
Ms. Ellen’s Blackberry Bourbon Beer Cocktail

Some pairings are obvious: The coriander and orange notes of their house-made wit, for example, are a natural fit for a whiskey-sour send-up. In the case of the Ms. Ellen’s, though, it requires a sophisticated tongue — not to mention a brave bar staff — to support the marriage of muddled mint and bourbon with Cuvée des Jacobins, a dependable Flemish-style red ale. The common ground is found in the blackberry, bridging the caramel sweetness of Bulleit bourbon with the tart notes of the beer. It really ties the whole thing together.

Romano also oversees the balanced house brews offered at Bill Baker’s. The early standout is a light-bodied porter, crafted over a generous allotment of Madagascar vanilla beans. It only hints at sweetness, bringing more of a crisp refreshment than most folks associate with this particular style; a dark beer for light-beer drinkers. Like all of the beers made here, it hovers at around 5.5 percent alcohol.

And while you’re at the bar, don’t forget to snag a few unique pub snacks. The addictive sriracha- and butter-blasted popcorn is served gratis when you order drinks, so you’d be foolish to avoid it. But seek out the house-made chicken liver pâté; it’s savory and unctuous, and it tangoes gracefully with Ms. Ellen’s defining characteristics of sweet and sour. Nothing on the food menu is north of $15, and the sixteen beers on tap average $6 a pint. Beyond the beer cocktails, Bill Baker’s apparently wants to introduce Williamsburg to another forgotten concept: affordability.

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The State of New York Whiskey Welcomes a New Era

There was a time not so long ago when the words “New York whiskey” would raise eyebrows, or even elicit laughter. That time was as recent as 2005, when there was nary a commercial producer to be found in the Empire State. My, what a difference a decade makes. Today, the New York whiskey scene is no laughing matter — it’s developed into one of the most prolific regions of production in the country, featuring solid examples of every variety of brown spirit imaginable.

“In the decade since the first Hudson whiskey flowed from the stills at Tuthilltown, New York craft whiskey has not only exploded, it’s really made a mark,” says Han Shan, Hudson Whiskey Ambassador. Establishing itself as the state’s first bourbon makers since Prohibition, his brand had to lobby Albany to help change the laws. Hudson Whiskey founder Ralph Erenzo pressed lawmakers to pass the Farm Distillery Act in 2007, which allowed farms to establish distilling operations on-site and produce up to 35,000 proof gallons for $250. Notably, the legislation also legalized direct sales to the public — as long as the spirits sold contain at least 75 percent New York agricultural product.

“The ability to sell direct to public means the ability to leverage tourism and get off the ground without having to ID and contract with distributors, an insurmountable obstacle for a lot of small craft producers.” And so the Great New York Whiskey Boom was born.

“From Brooklyn to the Hudson Valley to the Great Lakes, we’re making world-class whiskey in the Empire State. Bourbon, rye, malt whiskey —  you name it — and it just gets better every year,” Shan points out. To wit, there’s Long Island Spirits out on the North Fork, producing a wine-barrel-finished bourbon as well as a unique single malt distilled from a barleywine ale. Their double-casked Rough Rider imparts essences of berry fruit from the wine casks to go along with the hints of vanilla and caramel more familiar to a properly aged bourbon. Retailing at under $40 a bottle, it easily holds its own against any similarly priced Kentucky export.

And speaking of Kentucky exports, when Hillrock Estate Distillery, just south of the Catskills, launched their operation in 2012, they tapped a notable bluegrass veteran as their master distiller. Dave Pickerell, formerly of Maker’s Mark, applied a Solera technique to their bourbon, which uses fractional blending to ensure that every batch ready for bottling includes a portion of the eldest spirit in the system. When it launched, it became the first Solera-blended bourbon on the market. They continue that innovative approach with their very own peat-smoked single malt, due to hit the market before Christmas.

If you can’t wait that long, Hillrock’s Hudson Valley neighbors, Harvest Spirits, just launched John Henry, a two-year-aged single malt. Sourcing local, sustainably farmed grain, the scotch-style whisky is as complex as it is environmentally friendly. Bottles priced at $60 are now popping up at liquor stores across the city.

Further upstate, Brian McKenzie of Finger Lakes Distilling has excelled at crafting a flavorful take on a traditional Irish-style whiskey. His Pure Pot Still whiskey sells for around $45 in the five boroughs. “It’s mostly the mash bill that determines the taste profile of the Pot Still whiskey,” McKenzie points out. “The unmalted barley that dominates the recipe really creates a unique flavor. Most Irish whiskeys are triple-distilled, but we elected to double-distill our Pot Still to preserve more of the flavor.” Rich in body, with a bittersweet, tea-infused spice in the finish, it evokes the Old World while maintaining a modern edge.

In fact, all of the great whiskeys pouring out the barrels in New York today balance a respectful nod to traditions of the past while incorporating something interesting and new. As New York whiskey evolves at a rapid clip, these products are a harbinger of an unprecedented era of aged excellence in our near future.

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Grab this Collectible Belmont Stakes Bourbon to Commemorate Horse Racing History

History was made in Hempstead last Saturday, as American Pharoah became the first Triple Crown winning thoroughbred in 37 years. Of course, it’s hard to separate horse racing from that other American pastime so intricately bonded to it: bourbon drinking. To commemorate the event’s 147th rendition, Knob Creek — the official whiskey brand of the Belmont Stakes — released a limited edition bottle in several markets across the country, including New York.

Given the momentous outcome of the race, these specially-labeled bottles have become history themselves, flying off the shelves of local liquor stores. If you come across the blue-checkered package, don’t be so speedy to crack it open; it will likely be worth more on the mantle than it will in the snifter.

To be sure, apart from that colorful label, there’s nary a difference between the special release and traditional Knob Creek bourbon. Both are respectable, 100 proof whiskies aged in Jim Beam’s Kentucky barrelhouses for no less than 9 years. Until last weekend, both were priced in the neighborhood of $35 per 750ml. Expect that price to go up in the case of the Belmont bottle, as supply becomes increasingly scant.

Remember that in the world of bourbon, how a bottle is perceived drives the pricepoint far more than the actual juice itself. Look no further than ‘Pappy Van Winkle‘ as proof positive. The world’s most sought after American spirit commands prices north of $2000, a phenomenon commonly referred to as “Pappy Mania.” Yet it’s produced at Buffalo Trace Distillery, where the exact same whiskey (save 2-3 years of barrel-aging) can be purchased for well under $100 when it comes in a bottle dressed in a less-hallowed label.

Will the 2015 Belmont edition Knob Creek ever ascend to the rare stratosphere occupied by the whiskies Van Winkle? Hell no. But people always want what they can’t have, particularly when it comes to good bourbon. And given its now-historic subtext, the special release Knob Creek might soon be as uncommon as a Triple Crown winning racehorse.

In any case, Knob Creek bourbon is an excellent Kentucky export and can be enjoyed neat, to highlight it’s bold flashes of oak and vanilla, or in a mixed drink, such as the Belmont Jewel, the race’s official cocktail. The painless combination of 1 1/2 parts bourbon, two parts lemonade and one part pomegranate juice is a sweet way to celebrate American Pharoah’s crowning achievement in our own backyard.

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Canadian Whisky Gets a Makeover in Alberta Rye Dark Batch

Canadian whisky is back in a big way. Fresh off the heels of Mad Men‘s memorable series sendoff, Don Draper’s drink of choice is riding a wave of renewed relevance. But don’t buy into the show’s not-so-subtle sales pitch for Canadian Club. This isn’t the Sixties. Today’s drinkers demand flavor, and thankfully, new and notable brands from our neighbors to the north are delivering like never before. Perfect example: the recently released Dark Batch from Alberta Rye. An innovative blend with complexity to spare, its entrance into the contemporary drinking scene makes it the right product at the right time.

 

In the current bourbon renaissance, the reputation of Canadian whisky has faltered, and for good reason. The Canucks aren’t nearly as strict with their national spirit as we are stateside. Their “whisky” can — and often does — contain large amounts of neutral grain spirit, stripped of rich flavors as a result of being distilled at a higher proof than bourbon and scotch. Even more damning, they are legally allowed to introduce up to 9.09 percent of just about anything into the blend, including caramel coloring. No wonder, then, it’s historically been derided as “brown vodka.”

Fighting back against these harsh stereotypes is Alberta Distillers Ltd. They produce some of the world’s only large-scale whisky distilled from 100 percent rye grain. In fact, at the moment they age about half a million barrels of it. Some of that juice is fancy enough to have migrated into the States disguised as American “small batch” rye, sold at a hefty premium. So it should be seen as a significant bargain that essentially the same stuff is now available for just under $30 a bottle in the form of Alberta’s Dark Batch.

And remember that 9 percent leeway Canadian whisky affords itself? Well, rather than blending in artificial additives, Dark Batch takes advantage of that space for improvement, adding 8 percent Kentucky bourbon and 1 percent sherry to expert effect. With sweet notes of vanilla, cinnamon, and dried stone fruit, Dark Batch is a Canadian rye fit for a bourbon connoisseur.

It’s currently behind the bar at Barn Joo (893 Broadway; 646-398-9663) in Manhattan, and in Fort Greene at Lulu & Po (154 Carlton Avenue, Brooklyn; 917-435-3745). Also populating liquor shelves across town, its widespread availability is a cause for celebration given its price point and mixing potential.

Dark Batch’s careful integration of spiced grain with gentle sweetness meets its ideal foil in ginger beer. Top 1 part spirit with 2-3 parts soda, add a dash of bitters, and finish with an orange wedge garnish to truly accentuate what makes this whisky so compelling.

Pop culture will forever help shape drinking trends, for better or worse. But Dark Batch makes me hopeful that Canadian rye is no passing fad. To thumb your nose at a whisky this tasty, at a price this good, you’d truly have to be a mad man.

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What’s the Best Whiskey to Use in a Mint Julep?

The 141st racing of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday guarantees the weekend will be awash in funky hats and Mint Juleps. But we’re not here to discuss questionable wardrobe choices. The official cocktail of the world’s most famous horse race is a straightforward mashup of bourbon, mint, and simple syrup, traditionally served in a silver cup on crushed ice. It’s refreshing, easy to make, and deserves recognition beyond the one day of the year when everyone is Googling its recipe. Of course the quality of the drink is directly proportional to the horsepower of the bourbon used at its core. And there’s one whiskey in particular that packs more mustard than a thoroughbred in the home stretch: Maker’s Mark Cask Strength. If you want to add a jolt to your Julep, consider this bourbon as a base.

When whiskey comes out of the barrel after years of aging, it typically clocks in at upwards of 60 percent alcohol. Traditionally that percentage has been ‘proofed down’ to a more manageable 40 (80 proof) before the juice hits the bottle. Only in recent years has the bourbon market seen the proliferation of cask strength releases, which are kept at the very same proof at which they left the wood. Maker’s Mark unveiled its own last year to considerable fanfare. Although it hovers between 108 and 114 proof, Maker’s Cask Strength remains as endearingly drinkable as its 80 proof counterpart. There is the trademark sweetness of the brand, courtesy of its wheated mash bill, and a subtle heated spice picks up before the finish line.

Although a bourbon enthusiast will be happy to drink Maker’s Cask Strength neat, or perhaps with a drop or two of water to enhance its wheated characteristics (and proof it down to taste), it plays surprisingly well in a mint julep.

Bottles, which look deceptively like original Maker’s, retail for around $40, and they’ve recently been spotted on the shelf at Astor Wines and Winfield Flynn, as well as countless bottle shops across Brooklyn.

If you’re planning to order the classic Kentucky cocktail at a bar, head to the Flatiron Room in Manhattan or Char No. 4 in Cobble Hill; both places keep Cask Strength on heavy rotation. If you’re fixing a drink for friends and family, make sure you gently slap the mint prior to mixing to maximize its aromas.

And don’t be afraid to drink this cocktail throughout the summer months. They call the Derby the fastest two minutes in sports, but julep season ought to last far longer than that.