Some of the earliest memories I have are of my brother. I remember living in Pacifica, hammering on his drum set like a 3-year-old god of rock and listening to Rush so often that some of my first coherent statements were the opening lines to Tom Sawyer. I can recall the first time I spent the night at his bungalow, and we stayed up all night watching the Highlander movies. I was even with my brother when I found out Kevin Spacey was Keyser Söze.
The Brother has been such an integral part of my life because he’s always tried to expose me to as many different things as is humanly possible; he still sends me music every so often that he thinks I need to listen to.
So two years ago, the first time he came to see us after I’d began working for Spec’s, I decided to drown him in my work. We tried a plethora of different alcohols that week, culminating in a visit to Downing Street with some friends for my birthday.
Fast-forward 630 days or so, and here he is at our house to do it all over again. When we would talk on the phone in the past, it was always about music – what are you listening to, what’s new, that sort of thing. Now, it often times revolves around whisky – what are you drinking, what do I need to try, etcetera; the man has become educated.
The Brother lives in Minnesota, so for this visit, I went out and tried to procure things he wouldn’t be able to find back home.
Friday was very casual. The Brother’s flight had been delayed, which pushed back my drinking plans. When he finally arrived at the house, I opened a bottle of Scotch – Inverleven 1991 – to start his visit the right way. Inverleven was a Lowland whisky produced from 1938 through 1991 at the Dumbarton distillery. While Dumbarton is still around producing whisky for Ballantine, the Inverleven brand no longer exists. The Brother and I caught up over a few glasses and called it an evening.
Saturday evening revolved around finding a place to watch the Stanley Cup Finals. The Brother may live in Minnesota, but he was born in Chicago, and thusly had a bit of a rooting interest in the Blackhawks. We ended up going out for wings to watch the first two periods and then returning home to watch Chicago lose in overtime. I tried to soften the blow by breaking out an inexpensive Burgundy, but that didn’t work. So we switched to Rye.
When we were in California earlier this year (a trip that, I swear, I am writing about…), we visited BevMo – the Spec’s of the Golden State. While poking around, I saw a few bottles of Michter’s Single Barrel Rye. Michter’s never stays on the shelves very long at Spec’s because it’s fantastic and we get a tiny allocation, so I decided to pick up a bottle to take home.
The appeal of Rye lies in its subtlety. It isn’t sweet like Bourbon or smoky like Scotch, but at the same time has more character than Canadian or Irish whiskies. Michter’s has undertones of spice and dried fruits, and is VERY mellow; it is quite simply the best Rye I’ve ever had.
Feeling right with the world, The Brother and I adjourned to the back yard for a nightcap, switching to Scotch (Aberfeldy 21) and partaking in cigars (he a Liga Privada T52 and I a Padron 1964 Anniversary). The Aberfeldy Distillery produces the primary whisky used in the Dewar’s blends, but it also turns out small batches of single malt Scotch. The 21 lacks some of the complexity one would associate with a whisky that’s spent more than two decades in wood, but its easygoing nature makes it a nice accompaniment to a full-bodied cigar.
We originally planned on grilling steaks Sunday night, but we instead decided to do more of an informal tapas-style dinner. We gathered an assortment of meats, cheeses, olives and bread with a mind to showcase a few bottles of good wine.
A few hours before we began assembling dinner, I opened the 2004 Leoville Poyferre that was to be the evening’s main event.
Disappointed but undeterred, I switched plans and decided to go with a white Bordeaux instead and serve a domestic red with dinner.
The first bottle I opened was a 2009 Chateau Carbonnieux blanc. Graves is my favorite of all the Bordeaux AOCs. There are a multitude of different expressions in terroir lending themselves to so many different winemaking styles that it’s almost impossible to not come across a wine you love. Carbonnieux’s rich minerality and not-quite-bracing acid make for an easy drinking wine that is beautiful with more-acidic cheeses.
Once we finished the Carbonnieux, I opened a 2007 Paradigm Cabernet Sauvignon. If there existed a list of the most famous winemakers in the world, Heidi Peterson Barrett would be close to the top. Such stature might come from her associations with such wineries as Screaming Eagle, Amuse Bouche, Lamborn, Dalla Valle or La Sirena. Or perhaps it has something to do with the fact that her husband, Bo (of Chateau Montelena), was one of the people responsible for bringing international cachet to Napa wines in the 1976 Judgment of Paris.
Whatever the reason, Barrett IS famous, and is certainly one of the best winemakers in the world. And for more than two decades, she has been serving Paradigm in that same capacity.
The Paradigm Cabernet was excellent; fruit-forward yet reserved with a huge nose, it was showing very well. Sometimes, batting .500 is a good thing.
We finished dinner, tied one off with a half-bottle of Angelo di San Lorenzo (from the Petra winery, detailed in my trip to Italy) and went to bed.
Everyone was worn out Monday night. We decided to go to Ruchi’s for Micheladas and Mexican food. Aside from the bebidas alcoholicas y las telenovelas, Ruchi’s has the best green sauce in all of Houston. When someone from out of state visits Texas, they need to have Mexican food for at least one meal; we checked off that box and went home for some top-shelf margaritas.
I’ve had a great many margarita mixers in my life. Of course, the best way to make a margarita is by doing everything from scratch, but I can’t remember the last time I got excited about juicing an entire sack of limes just to make one cocktail. The best mixers I have found come from Republic Spirit Blends. For one top-shelf margarita on the rocks, I use one part Herradura Añejo, one part Grand Marnier and three parts of Republic’s Classic Lime. Shake 13 times over ice and you’re in business.
After the margaritas started to kick in, we decided it was time to pass out for a little while.
We spent the morning driving around Houston, trying to figure out what else needed to be done before The Brother left to go home.
Me: “We need to go to Downing Street tonight.”
The Brother: “Hey, listen, we don’t have to go to Downing Street if we don’t have time; it’s not that important.”
The Brother: “I would like to go to Downing Street.”
Downing Street is the Mecca of Houston for whisky lovers. Check this out. They don’t have everything, but they aren’t far off, either.
Upon arrival, I ordered our first round of whiskies: Nikka 12 and Glenkinchie 12. I took the Nikka because I love Japanese whisky. Although traditionally made in the same way as Scotch, Japanese whiskies generally have more noticeable floral aromas as they are not weighted down with heavy notes of peat. The Glenkinchie – a Lowland Scotch – I ordered for The Brother, since he loves the smokier whiskies of the south.
Next came a round of Dalwhinnie 15 and Jura Superstition. The Dalwhinnie, from Scotland’s Highlands, was mildly peated and almost sweet. The Superstition, on the other hand, was much more austere. We added a few drops of water, which opened up a host of aromas and took the Jura from great to amazing.
I decided to wrap things up with a Chimay while The Brother had a Caol Ila 12, and that was that. We left to get Whataburger (at The Brother’s request) and spent our last few hours together planning all the things we will get to next time.
The Brother left the next day, time having flown by far too quickly. I miss him, and I can’t wait to do this all over again.