Saturday, January 23, 2016
Anyone who knows bourbon knows that the best place to drink it in Madison is in the bowels of the Italian Workmen’s Club on Regent. Said cozy domain is the home of the Greenbush Bar, a proud, but common sort of place, illuminated all year long by Christmas lights and densely-filled with the heavenly aromas of pizza which feed the hungry Greenbush denizens in a near constant stream from open to close.
Cindy and I had been out a bit early in the evening and knowing the Greenbush closes long before Wisconsin bartime, we quickly headed down to the bar. There we started on a bourbon flight that bordered on fantastic.
The first bourbon we picked was the Buffalo Trace 1997 Experimental Double-Barrelled. This bad boy was given the traditional Buffalo Trace treatment for four years and then re-barreled in 2001 for more oak punch. The result is a success, in our opinion- a bourbon full of caramel and cinnamon (notes of the natural spice, not Fireball fake syrup) with a whole lot of oak sweetness on the finish. At 90 proof, this is a bourbon aching to be opened up with water, especially for those who may chafe at its over-woodiness.
The second bourbon we tried was Jefferson’s Ocean, a different kind of bourbon which is aged on boats in a tropical climate thereby accelerating the aging process. The bourbon enters the wood easier during the heat of the day and the motion of the ship. At night the barrel contracts, expressing more of the now-wooded whiskey. The result is an interesting savory bourbon that isn’t exactly salty, but has a brine-like character that is hard to describe. I wanted to say it had some vegetal flavor, but Cindy disagreed; the finish was full of oak, sweet and hints of brown sugar. At $200 dollars a bottle, I doubt I’d spend that kind of money on this bourbon.
The last bourbon we had was the Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Sour Mash. It delivered the yeast on the nose and, on first sip, brings the toasted oak and vanilla-caramel that Buffalo Trace is known for. The finish trails off pleasantly to bread sours, wood, and a hint of tobacco. I would be hard pressed to find three bourbons as distinct as these for the value that the Greenbush provides. Shhh, though! It’s hard enough to get a place at the bar now!