What I drank on my 50th birthday. And why.June 9th, 2010
Well, it was actually my 50th birthday–plus one day. My birthday was this past Monday, June 7th, but I didn’t celebrate until yesterday due to a nasty stomach virus on Monday. I waited 50 years. I figured I could wait one more.
Here’s the line-up. (In order of consumption, left to right, in the picture on the left. Click on the picture to get a larger view.) These were enjoyed over several hours during the evening with friends. I’ll tell you a little bit about what I drank, why I drank them, and how they tasted.
Framboise Boon Lambic (1986 Vintage)
I love Belgian beer and have been to Belgium several times touring their breweries. (I was a beer writer long before I became a whisky writer.) This was our aperitif beer, and what we enjoyed with our cranberry walnut salad. For those of you not familiar with lambic beers, they are spontaneously fermented beers, a Belgian specialty, aged in barrels, often with fruit added (in this case raspberries), traditionally bottled in champagne bottles and corked, and age very well. This one is one of my favorites. I purchased a case when they were brought into the U.S. back in the 1990s. It’s my last bottle, and it was still stunning. It has softened over the years (yes, you read correctly–it’s a 1986 vintage), and the raspberry influence has calmed down, but the balance of flavors and complexity were still there. Belgium’s answer to the finest champagne.
Chateau Lafite Rothschild (2001 Vintage)
Rather than going with the legendary 2000 vintage (which is still too young to drink for this First Growth Bordeaux) I opted for the excellent, yet more approachable, 2001 vintage. And it did not disappoint. After two hours of decanting and breathing, this gem of a wine was bold, yet complex, with great structure, solid tannins, and held up well with the amazing meat loaf (this was not your mother’s meat loaf, mind you), chipotle corn salad, grilled vegetables, and twice baked potato.
Chateau Rieussec Sauternes (2001 Vintage)
I would pay just to smell this outstanding dessert wine. It’s from the classic 2001 vintage, and I understand why the Wine Spectator rated this a perfect 100. Even my wife Amy enjoyed it, and she doesn’t like dessert wines. Sweet? Yes! But very elegant and floral, with complex fruit and just enough acidity to cut through the sweetness. We enjoyed it on its own, and then along with a variety of desserts (creme brulee, Key Lime cheese cake, and Belgian chocolate) just to see how they interacted with the wine. I decided that this lovely Sauternes was just perfect on its own, and needed no accompaniment.
A. H. Hirsch Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey (18 years old, 46.5%)
This is a whiskey blog, so I better start talking about whiskey.
And yes, this is not a typo on the age statement. For those of you who thought the legendary A. H. Hirsch (a.k.a. Michter’s) bourbon was only sold at 16 and 20 years old, think again. I purchased this rarity at Park Avenue Liquor in NYC back in the early 1990s. There appears to be a label behind the label that’s showing. From what I remember, I believe Herb Lapchin (who used the be the whiskey guy there at the time) told me that the whiskey was originally labeled as a 17 year old, but by the time the whiskey was finally bottled, it was past its 18th birthday so they slapped an 18 year old label over the original label. That’s what I remember, but I can’t say it is 100% accurate. Maybe someone from Park Ave can chime in here?
This whiskey is mellow, soft, and sweet with plenty of molasses and maple syrup to go around. A soothing whiskey, and very much a digestif. I have bottles of the 16 and 20, but none open right now. Eventually, I would like to compare this 18 year old to its two siblings.
(A side note: the cork fell apart when I opened it. I had to decant it, take out all the cork pieces, and re-cork it with a new cork. Some advice to the newbies here: save some of the corks from the bottles you empty. You might need them down the road.)
Longrow, 19 year old, 46%
We left the dining room and retired to a glowing campfire out back. The sun had just set, the wood thrushes were finishing their songs for the evening, and the stars were beginning to shine brightly.
I purchased this classic peated Springbank back in the early to mid 1990s at Sam’s Wine’s & Spirits in Chicago, from the legendary “Joe C.” (Rest in peace, my good friend. You will never be forgotten.)
Yes, this was a last minute change. You will recall I was contemplating drinking a 1973 vintage Longrow, which didn’t have an age statement. Well, I eventually opted for this one. This one is the opposite of the 1973 vintage. It’s a 19 year old, but there’s no vintage statement. (I’m not sure why some of the whiskies from the legendary 1973 and 1974 vintage Longrow, had age statements but not vintage declaration, why some had the vintage declaration but no age statement, and why some had both. Perhaps someone from Springbank is lurking out there and can answer this question?)
Regardless, I was completely blown away by this whisky. A complete stunner, and my favorite drink of the evening! Complex, dynamic, bursting with peat-infused brine. This is why I fell in love with Springbank’s whiskies, and why I fell in love with the peated Longrow. Indeed, this is why I fell in love with whisky! ‘Nuff said.
Thomas Hardy’s Ale, 150th Anniversary Edition (1987 Vintage)
From the legendary Eldridge Pope Brewery, in Southwest England, which I toured in the early 1990s, to the chagrin of my wife, who was with me for the duration. (Sorry, Amy.) I have a friend (Roger) who used to work at Eldridge Pope (and also at the Eaglesomes shop in Campbeltown where he helped me score the two legendary “Green” Springbanks. It’s a small world, isn’t it?)
Roger is the one who gave me this bottle when he came to visit me in the mid 1990s. He got it when he worked there. In fact, he helped me source many vintages of Thomas Hardy’s Ale, and I still have at least one bottle from most vintages, including the original 1968 vintage.
Unlike standard Hardy’s, this one actually had a cork stopper, not metal. Roger told me that it had a cork when he gave it to me, so I had been aging it on its side to keep it from drying out, but the cork still crumbled to pieces when I opened it up.
I’ll be honest with you. I’ve tasted over 25 different vintages of Hardy’s, and this is the finest one I have ever tasted. An absoluted stunner! The sweetness had softened. There were undertones of delicate sherry, cherry stones, and pit fruit. An alcoholic beverage that transcends category. It is what every Thomas Hardy’s Ale aspires to be, but rarely is.
Finally, we finished the evening, admiring the buring embers of the fire, with a Partagas Series D No. 4 Reserva 200o Vintage cigar, which I purchased on a trip to the Caymans two years ago. I slowly sipped some more Hardy’s, reflecting on 50 years of life.
As Jimmy Buffett sang: “…some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic, but I’ve had a good life, all the way.”
Here’s to the next 50, my friends…