Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Four Roses Bourbon At jm Curley

Give thanks to the Japanese for making Four Roses Kentucky bourbon available in the U.S.

Yes, that sounds odd but it is the truth. For an explanation, and a further background on Four Roses, please read my two prior articles: Four Roses Bourbon: Back in the U.S.A. and Four Roses Bourbon: A Unique Distillery. I've previously visited the distillery as well as met Jim Rutledge, their Master Distiller. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet and drink with Al Young, their brand ambassador, historian and archivist at a media luncheon at jm Curley. We enjoyed a bourbon cocktail and four bourbons, including the Yellow Label, Small Batch and two different Single Barrel offerings. All were worthy bourbons.

Al Young, pictured above, has been involved with Four Roses for many years and gave us a history lesson of the brand. Though I had heard much of it before, I was intrigued to learn that the iconic photograph of the sailor kissing a nurse on V-J Day in Times Square included a Four Roses sign in the background. That sign, which blinked on and off, was prominently placed in Time Square until 1948. The brand's name once was about as common as Coca Cola and Kirin, which now owns the brand, would like to bring the bourbon back to its former popularity in the U.S.

Four Roses has produced about 100,000 cases so far this year, with three more months to go, which is better than last year's case production of about 82,000. They still do not use any GMO corn, sourcing their corn from southern Indiana. They also obtain their rye from Denmark and malt from Minnesota. Looking toward the future, one of their big questions is whether rye whiskey is a fad or not. To get involved in producing rye, it would take an investment of at least seven years, so it would be a risk however Al believes rye is likely here to stay.

The Four Roses Yellow Label is excellent for cocktails and Al looks for a cocktail "..where you don't lose the whiskey." I fully agree with that sentiment, that in a good cocktail you still should get the flavor of the alcohol, like whiskey. It is easy to mask the whiskey but then you could have used any type of alcohol in such a cocktail. Instead, find flavors to complement or contrast with the whiskey, rather than try to conceal it.

This event was also the first time that I visited jm Curley, located on Temple Place. Previously, I have heard much positive feedback about this restaurant and bar, and just somehow never found my way down there. However, after my luncheon, I am going to make sure to return again soon as I enjoyed a very pleasant experience there. Though many might see it as primarily as a bar, it certainly doesn't give short shrift to its food.

When you enter jm Curley, you'll notice the large, well-stocked bar to the left and numerous tables against the right wall. It has an inviting ambiance though you probably don't realize that there is a second bar and restaurant hidden in the back. Behind a curtain, and without any accompanying signage, is a small "steakhouse," a more intimate dining area with its own small bar. This is where our bourbon lunch took place, and it is quieter and more private than the outer bar area.

Their lunch menu is small, including only two salads, three sandwiches and two sides. The salad/sandwiches are priced $7-$10 and the sides are $2-$2.50. The dinner menu is larger, with their four main entrees priced $14-$22. There is a bit of a Southern flair to some of the dishes.

Before lunch, we started off with a version of a Scofflaw cocktail, prepared by Kevin Mabry, the Bar Manager at jm Curley. The cocktail used the Four Roses Yellow Label, a Spanish Cava, dry vermouth, and some pomegranate juice. It was served from a punch bowl, didn't hide the taste of the bourbon and wasn't overly sweet. It is the type of cocktail that probably would be very popular during a holiday party.

We began lunch with a couple appetizers (though these are not on the regular lunch menu), including their Cracka Jacks, caramel candied popcorn with bacon and roasted peanuts. Crunchy, with a sweet, smoky and salty taste, these were an addictive snack. They are not as sweet as commercial Cracker Jacks, which is a good thing. These would be a fine bar snack.

The other appetizer were Fried Pickles, zesty dill house pickles with a creole mayo. It seems difficult to make good fried pickles, based on all the poor examples served at numerous restaurants. The most common problem seems to be that the coating gets too soggy, or that the pickles are too thick. These though were a winner, with a thinly sliced pickle covered by a nice fried coating which was not soggy in the least. The crisp outer coating complemented the crisp pickle and I think I devoured at least half the basket. Another excellent bar snack.

I selected the BBQ Pork sandwich, which usually comes with cheddar, griddled onions, slaw, jamama sauce, and bacon atop local sour dough. For mine though, I chose only the cheddar and bacon and they had no issue accommodating me in this regard. The sandwich was accompanied by skin-on, hand cut fries. This was a hearty and savory sandwich, with tender pork, slathered in an appealing sauce, complemented by the sharpness of the cheese and the saltiness of the bacon. The grilled sour dough also added to the tastiness of the sandwich. I'd order this again in a heartbeat, and despite all the cracka jacks and fried pickles I ate, I still managed to finish my sandwich. I wasn't thrilled with the fries as I am not really a fan of the more shoestring-like fries. I prefer a heartier fry. There was nothing wrong with the taste of the fries, and they were cooked to a nice crispness, but they are just not my preferred style.

We ended our lunch with a tasting of jm Curley's special Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon. They designed their own bourbon recipe for a personal barrel and it was 123 proof! Though that sounds intimidating, the bourbon comes across as very balanced, and you wouldn't guess the alcohol content from the taste. It is no where near as hot as you would expect, coming across instead as a smooth and spicy bourbon, an impressive spirit that you need to try on your next trip to jm Curley.

Check out Four Roses Bourbon at your local liquor stores and bars, and also check out jm Curley, for lunch, dinner or drinks. Maybe I will see you there.

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Anonymous said...

How about a story on Elmer T Lee Bourbon

Susan Holaday said...

jmCurley does a great job- the first time I sat down at the bar, Kevin greeted me by name! We'd met four years before when he was at Bar Americain at Mohegan Sun. How impressive is that - and how exemplary of what bartending is all about.
The Four Roses lunch was excellent, explaining the brand's history and where it is now. Al Young was entertaining and informative and the bourbons, so well worth tasting. Many thanks!