“Hot and smoky.” That was the description for Wild Turkey Rare Breed, the first whiskey we tried at the 2014 Bacon and Bourbon Expo at Astor Center.
This was the sixth year of the sold-out celebration highlighting these uniquely American ingredients. Set to coincide with Valentine’s Day, past weeknight events have received criticism for long lines, small pours and not enough bacon during the short two hours. This year it took place on a Saturday afternoon, with the addition of a second timed entry that seemed to remedy prior complaints. (The slightly higher price ($59/pp) required a proper fix.)
There were 14 tables with over 40 types of bourbon, rye, whiskey and even a King County Distillery moonshine to sample. Craft producers were featured, as well as bigger names such as Four Roses, Jefferson’s and Evan Williams. The clear focus was on small batch and single barrels, a recent trend in whiskey production.
The smooth but spicy Riverboat Rye, from the makers of Redemption, won us over when it was described as “what you’d get, if you ordered a rye before Prohibition.” After tasting all the samplings from Michter’s, we confirmed that their Rye was still our favorite. Also a highlight was Breuckelen’s Local Rye, which had a nice smokiness to it, while Van Brunt’s Stillhouse American Whiskey defied true whiskey categorizations and was unlike anything we’d ever tasted — almost tea-like.
But local doesn’t always mean better, as we learned after trying the Hudson line of whiskeys we frequently bypassed at the liquor store because of their hefty prices. Our avoidance was justified as the taste of metal was left in our throats. That was easily washed away with a sip of the Henry McKenna 10 Year Single Barrel – a smooth Kentucky bourbon that’s hard to find.
Of course, you still had to be quick to snag a bacon tasting flight as it came from the front kitchen – but there was plenty to go around if you were patient.
Tender Belly’s Dry Cured Maple was our favorite. The three craft cocktails (the Ole Faithful Punch, a citrusy Smash and Grab Job, and the Overlook Old Fashioned) were a little sweet to go with Neuske’s Wild Cherry Wood bacon, but paired better with Broadbent’s Pepper or Tender Belly’s Habanero bacon.
In the back room, Fatty Cue supplied pulled pork sandwiches with a spicy slaw and Fish Palm sauce. The whole roasted suckling pig was a nice touch to their presentation.
For “dessert,” samples of Mast Brothers chocolate actually paired nicely with the “Yearling” – a honey-noted bourbon from Smooth Ambler. The year of aging allows it to come to market faster to meet the increased demand for bourbon.
Afterward, you could purchase almost everything available for tasting just down the stairs at Astor Wine & Spirits at 15% off retail prices. It was a good thing we managed to have one last bite of the passed buttermilk biscuits laden with Neuske’s Applewood Smoked Pepper-Coated bacon to help soak up some of the alcohol before braving the snowy walk back to the subway- armed, of course, with a few bottles of whiskey to warm us up.