For many, the holiday season is a time of cheer, thankfulness, and family fun. For those of us who have chosen to live away from our families, it is a time when there’s extra stress in planning meals, sleeping arrangements, and activities for said long-distance family who come to visit. My parents decided to descend upon our house for ten days of holiday “bliss” so Drew and I decided it was the perfect opportunity for a whiskey-based social experiment.
My parents are not what you’d call foodies, nor are they choosy about what they drink. Their favorite meals are chicken fried steak and red macaroni with fried potatoes. Drew and I eat French food at least weekly and have T-bones with bourbon every single Saturday, so shopping to accommodate the varied taste is always a little tough.
When we talk about their drink choices, my dad is a man of simple tastes. His go-to beverage after a hard day at work is an ice cold Bud Light. If he dips his toes into the whiskey stream that Drew and I so often drink from, it’s Crown Royal and Coke, although he does often revel about his young days of being a pool shark in Dallas where Weller was abundantly available… as a well drink. My mother doesn’t typically drink, but it’s a Cuba Libre cocktail when she chooses to imbibe.
With this background in mind, let’s talk about the logistics we chose for the tasting. Drew and I planned a four-course tasting dinner with different types of whiskey and explained some of the basics about tasting whiskey to my dad. We printed out copies of the Bourbon Flavor Wheel and told him how to complete it for each round that we sampled. It took a few tries on the first whiskey to get the hang of it, but by the end of the dinner he was picking up some interesting flavors. The pairings, cocktail recipe, and tasting notes are below.
1st Course: Cheese Board paired with Willett 4 year Rye
Cheese board inclusions: Bleu d’Auvergne, Havarti, Smoked Wisconsin Cheddar, Bourbon Bellavitano, toasted almonds, and fresh blackberries.
Surprises from the group’s Bourbon Flavor Wheel completion: Everyone picked up heavy grain and rye flavor immediately. Dad picked up some spice notes, but couldn’t decipher which. Drew and Amanda picked up clove and spearmint.
Dad was most surprised about the difference in smell with mouth open versus mouth closed.
2nd Course: Miso Scallops with oyster mushrooms and asparagus paired with Jameson Black Barrel
Surprises from the group’s Bourbon Flavor Wheel completion: Dad picked up grain flavors that ended in corn. Drew and Amanda both got intense cereal flavor and toasted wood.
3rd Course: Grilled T-bone steaks and bourbon glazed carrots paired with Wild Turkey Longbranch
Surprises from the group’s Bourbon Flavor Wheel completion: We all got a nice nutty flavor. Dad and Amanda picked up walnut and Drew picked up pecan. This is one of Drew’s favorite bourbons, and his wheel shows the complexity that he loves about Longbranch.
4th Course: Bourbon glazed pecan pie paired with the Bumble cocktail
Since this one was a fairly sweet cocktail that we paired with dessert, we didn’t complete the wheel, but the drink and the pie were both a hit with the group. Amanda created this one as a play on eggnog.
Bumble cocktail recipe
- 2 oz Wild Turkey 101
- 1 oz Tuaca
- 1 egg white
- 1 packet Splenda
- Nutmeg (for garnish)
Add all ingredients to a shaker filled with ice. Shake thoroughly until the egg white is fluffy and use strainer to pour into a small martini or margarita glass. Garnish with fresh nutmeg.
Initial experience goes a long way in determining our likes and dislikes. The old adage goes: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” We were able to prove that wrong with this bourbon pairing dinner. I don’t know that my dad is quite ready to switch from beer to bourbon but he now at least “Respects the Juice” and doesn't just think of bourbon as a cheap date one throws down their gullet for a quick buzz. Pairing dinners with loved ones are a great way to spread the bourbon love. Try one the next time you have family and friends over, and you just might gain some converts to the brown water. At the very least, you will have provided a memorable, eye-opening experience.