Sunday, June 21, 2009

Beer Bourbon, and BBQ at National Harbor

The world's best bourbon was on display at the 2009 Beer Bourbon, and BBQ at National Harbor, as well as Tennessee whiskey, rye whiskey, rum, tequila, and cognac. Then there was beer - from local brewers to California and all the way from Thailand. If that wasn't enough, there were informative seminars regarding these products as well as music and an entertaining bean eating contest.

But for us, the focus was bourbon - and what a selection. We started at the Maker's Mark tent where a long line had already formed to have their glasses dipped in the trademark red wax. We had just received our Maker's Mark Ambassador cards in which we will post soon on the perks associated with this membership - plus updates on our personally labeled bourbon barrel. But getting back to the Maker's Mark, the distillery really produces a unique bourbon based on its grain composition and warehouse strategy.

Moving on, most of the major premium brands were represented: Blantons, Bakers, Bookers, Hancock, and Elijah Craig. Our all time favorite, Black Maple Hill was not available - but our next two favorites Pappy Van Winkle and Old Rip Van Winkle were. On a good day, a single Blanton's would be compeltely satisfying, but on this glorious afternoon we went nuts. Many of the brands are hard to find, 1792 Ridgemont Reserve, Noah's Mill, Rowan's Creek, and Rock Hill Farms to name a few. That's the beauty of this festival - if you find a jewel, get your local supplier to order it. Unfortunately - or fortuinately - we didn't even get through the entire selection of bourbons or even to the Jack Daniel premium whiskeys.

But one whiskey we couldn't overlook were the Wasmund brands from
Copper Fox Distillery. Rick Wasmund has been producing an interesting Single Malt Whisky for number of years now out of his Sperryville Virginia distillery. The interesting flavor is partly the result of using apple and cherry wood chips, along with oak, to smoke the malt. We have learned over the years to add at least a drop of water to a glass to enhance the aroma and deaden the alcohol and we learned that Mr. Wasmund explicitly produces the whisky to that affect. For that's how he normally likes his Scotch. As an added bonus, he was pouring his latest creation: Wasmund's Rye Spirit. Basically rye grain alcohol, no barrel aging, but remarkable smooth. However, he recommends using this spirit as a blending agent, as in a Bloody Mary. And look out for a future Single Barrel Whisky - coming in a future release.

One a final note regarding spirits, the promoters organized a series of excellent seminars designed to give attendees a rudimentary understanding of Tequila, Rum, Cognac, and Bourbon. We hope to publish a similar series, starting with Tequila after we have a chance to discuss the topic with Jaime Salas, National Tequila Ambassador. But it was nice to have other spirits represented, particularly the Cruzan Gold - I needed a taste of the tropics.

Because of our fascination with bourbon, we were not able to concentrate adequately on the many outstanding beers. We didn't even bother approaching some of our favorite brands - the Clipper City and Heavy Seas brands; the Sierra Nevada ESB and Summerfest; Dogfish Head Raison D'etre and 90 Min IPA; and the Pyramid Hefeweizen. Instead we sampled brands we had never tasted and found a few worthy to compare to those above. Particularly the Belgium style beers from Brewery Ommegang. The Ommegang Witte Ale is unbelievable; the quality of an import but at a lower price. Our new summer beer. This was by far our favorite and we probably overstayed our welcome sampling over and over and over again. Look out Cooperstown, a road trip is coming.

From out of Thailand we sampled Singha Beer, a lager beer made from barley but with a little hopiness for this style. I, ts a refreshing beer, with a touch of sweetness. Wonder how it pairs with spicy Thai food? That's probably easy to find out since this beer is currently only available in Thai restaurants; but they hope to expand distribution to beer stores in the near future.

Moving closer to home, we found a replacement to our Topper's Hop Pocket that has gone AWOL since the days of Old Dominion Brewpub. Clay Pipe Brewing Company, from Westminster Maryland, produces a hop infested Hop-Ocalypse India Pale Ale. The beauty of this beer is that the hop characteristics are refreshing and not overly bitter. Like the Hop Pocket, this beer is versatile - good with lunch or just to guzzle after mowing the lawn. Another local brewery we discovered was Delaware's Evolution Craft Brewing Company. They brewery is only a few months old but they already have a nice Pale Ale. Plus they are practically on the route to Ocean City - just deviate a little north of Salisbury and purchase tax free beer. Sales tax that is. And finally there was a nice English style brown ale from Lake Placid Brewing, the UBU Ale. This beer was refreshing even with the heat.

All in all, the Beer Bourbon, and BBQ festival series is worth every cent - whether held in Maryland, Virginia, or elsewhere. The only complaints at this event was the result of holding the event in a parking lot, the asphalt gets hot, and the long lines for the bbq. Otherwise, we look forward to next year's sampling of fine bourbon and beer.
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