It is 10 PM, I am in a cabin, and sipping my third Negroni from a coffee cup. No, this is not the typical evening. Let me explain.
It was a very good night on the dock. Panfish were plentiful, and a couple of bass also hammered the popper I chucked with my fly rod. To surprise, my stationary rod —a beat-up Okuma spinning combo I got years ago— had not landed a channel catfish, as it had in days before. No, a snapping turtle chomped on the cut bluegill I had put out. I probably have made 100 casts to this corner of the lake. Never had I caught a turtle. And here it was clomping across the boards and hissing at me with a hefty circle hook half out its vicious beak.
All in all, the night felt like a culmination of my fishing experience at Punderson Lake, 150 acres of beautiful water and cut into the earth by a glacier thousands of years ago. So why not celebrate with a beverage?
The beer was gone; likewise the tonic. The only elixirs in the fridge were mostly empty bottles of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. I had had gin on ice straight the previous night. A Negroni it was. Again.
Whoa, what a big, delicious stout! This chocolate-y and mildly toasty brew weighs in at 9% ABV. Pour it and let it warm to 45 degrees or more to enjoy the wonderfully round, full taste. (Rating: Excellent)
Sitting on my desk is a tumbler of bourbon. Its deep amber color shines out through the dewy glass. Tom’s Foolery is its whimsical name. It is 90 proof (45% alcohol by volume), and tastes of corn, apple, vanilla and barrel char. It is a little fiery, despite being being aged 3 years. A new whiskey from Kentucky, you may wonder? Nope, this bourbon is from Chagrin Falls—Ohio.
It is a common misperception that bourbon “by law” can only be made in Kentucky. As this bottle shows, bourbon can be made anywhere in America. Federal regulations declare: “the word ‘bourbon’ shall not be used to describe any whisky or whisky-based distilled spirits not produced in the United States.” These same regulations require bourbon to be made from a recipe that uses not less than 51% corn as fermentables, and that the whiskey be aged in barrels made from new oak. That is all.
Kentucky, for certain, has a good claim as the birthplace of bourbon. As whiskey expert, Chuck Cowdery notes in “Bourbon Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey,” The state was shipping its whiskeys down the Mississippi River to New Orleans 200 years ago. “Bourbon,” as best we can guess, is a monicker that folks back then used to refer to the hooch coming from the great swath of Kentucky that was then part of Bourbon County.
These new makers of bourbon frequently break from the common mold. Tom’s Foolery is aged first in new oak barrels (per the federal regulations), then finished in casks that formerly held applejack, the potent apple-based booze. Grass Widow (91 Proof/45.5% ABV) is distilled in Indiana, then spends its last aging days in barrels that once held Madeira, a fortified red wine. The effect is a very un-bourbon bourbon. Grass Widow has a corn sweetness, but also is fruity and a bit herbal tasting. Missouri’s Pinkney’s Bend Distillery offers bourbons aged in stout beer and port wine barrels.
All of which means that I should not feel bad that this bottle —and glass– of Tom’s Foolery is nearly empty. There are many more new bourbons to try.
This is a really pleasant stout. It is not monstrously alcoholic, like Brooklyn Brewery’s Chocolate Stout (10% ABV). This Cleveland-made beer is a around 5.5%, and offers slightly sweet notes and aromatic delight: oats, roast, and creme. The often-harsh beer fans who post at BeerAdvocate.com like it a lot. And so do we. The six-pack we bought for $10 at Giant Grocery disappeared in a few days. (Rating: Very Good) You can enjoy it straight from the fridge, but do try to let it warm to 40 or 45 degrees, which releases the flavors.