George Dickel – The Other Tennessee Whisky

Bottle of George Dickel Whiskey

I first discovered Dickel’s on the Nashville stint of our road-tripping honeymoon.   We’d taken a day trip out to visit the famous site of Mr Daniel’s whiskey in Lynchburg, and on the winding country roads that took us back into Nashville, we clocked a small sign for George Dickel’s distillery which pointed down a narrow track into some woods .  It piqued our curiosity but it was too late in the day to explore, and we had plans to visit Nashville’s famous Whiskey Kitchen that evening (plus it did cross our mind that it could be a horror film-style plot to lure unsuspecting tourists to their death).

Later that evening we were inhaling copious amounts of bourbon glazed wings and other delights in the Whiskey Kitchen and decided to explore their ‘flights’ of bourbon and whisky.  Lo and behold, we were poured a taster of George Dickel’s black label (no.8).  It was far and away our favourite whisky of the night, beating off competition from much higher priced offerings, including some small batch and single barrel whiskies.  Dickel’s is smooth, sweet and mellow, with a hint of smokiness and makes for a beautiful sipping whisky.  Make sure you have it at room temperature, and with a small drop of water to take the alcohol edge off so you can actually taste the whisky.

You can source George Dickel in the UK from The Whiskey Exchange – our favourites are the No. 8 and the No.12 (pictured above), but they also stock the rye, sour mash and the barrel select varieties.

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Drinks Cabinet: Ron Zacapa Rum

Ron Zacapa Rum

If you’re ever in Berlin it would be remiss not to visit the palace of all things afternoon tea and patisserie: Café Einstein. Its two cafes are featured in every guidebook going and its opulent surrounds are as exquisite as its cakes, but a lesser known hidden treasure lies up the back stairs of the Stammhaus location on Kurfürstenstraße.

I’d scribbled something about an upstairs bar in the margins of my lonely planet guide having seen a reference to it online, but only after poking around in the entryway looking confused did we find an unassuming wooden staircase that led up to the most impressively stocked drinking den I’ve ever had the pleasure of patronizing.

Behind the bar at Bar Lebensstern

beind the bar – just a small snapshot of the drinks in stock

As we entered and took our seats a the gleaming mahogany bar and gazed at the line upon line of back-lit spirits, the barman, dressed immaculately in traditional waiter’s uniform, leaped in the air, cheered, and then apologised profusely. It wasn’t our arrival that caused such a reaction, but (as he surreptitiously revealed) the Champions League final he was secretly watching on a laptop hidden behind the bar. The whole of Berlin was buzzing about the match as it was the first time two German teams had gone head to head in the final (Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund), and every bar and coffee shop we walked past had leigons of fans glued to TV screens to cheering for Dortmund (Berliners having adopted the underdog).

The refined gentleman’s club feel of the establishment would clearly have been ruined by a big screen TV (which probably explained why we were one of only 3 groups in there that evening) but the flash of a muted laptop screen was like catnip to the men in the room.  Within a few seconds a mini crowd had gathered to watch the last 20 minutes (Ste included, obviously) and the barman was nervously positioning the laptop on the bar, hoping the manager wouldn’t drop by….

[continues after the cut]

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The Tequila Evangelist

Ocho Blanco tequila

Most people associate tequila with salt, lime, shot glasses and wincing, but when I was in Melbourne in 2012 we got into a conversation with an enthusiastic barman in a Mexican restaurant called Mamasita who introduced me to another side of the spirit.

He was an enthusiastic advocate for good quality tequila, and his bar was impressively stocked without a regular bottle of Jose in sight. He actually supplied free tasters of the tequila in the pursuit of converting us ( it always pays to sit at a bar on an early midweek night with a bored barman). I had to admit – it was nothing like the burning lighter fluid I’d had before. This was sipping tequila of the highest quality, and it turns out it can be rather pleasant in its unadorned state.

We were also educated on the various types; from Blanco, the lightest, through Reposato (‘rested’) to Anejo (‘aged’) which is the richest and served in snifter glasses.  Strict reprimands were given for for drinking anything other than 100% agave, and it was interesting to learn that (like whisky) you can get Lowland and Highland tequilas – the former tend to be more herbaceous and the latter sweeter and more floral.

the bar at Mamasita

studying the tequila menu at Mamasita

When I returned home I checked out the trusty Whiskey Exchange website. They didn’t have any of the particular types we tried but I chose this reasonably priced bottle, which I admit was based partly on the write up, and partly on the rather lovely minimalist modern bottle design which towers elegantly above the golden bourbons and rums on our drinks cabinet.

Ocho Blanco is incredibly smooth, bright and clear with a nice citrusy kick and just enough sweetness to take the edge of if sipped neat. We shall be having some with these Mexican tacos this weekend. If you fancy giving it a try you can buy it here.

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