Smoque BBQ and Bells Porter

I spent a month and a half in Eastern Tennessee this year. I had plenty of BBQ when I was down there. When you think of Tennessee BBQ, you probably think of Memphis style with Tomatoes and Vinegar style sauces.  Tennessee is a long state, and I was about a 6 hour drive from there. The BBQ by me was a mixture of Memphis and North Carolina. Whatever it was, it generally came out of shacks with a smoker next to the shack. It was delicious, but it was the not the best.

The best came when my fiancé was looking through the Check, Please! website for some place to go. Check, Please! is a TV show on the local Chicagoland public TV station WTTW in which 3 local residents pick their favorite restaurant. Then all three – along with the host Alpana Singh – go to the restaurant and critique it in a round-table discussion.

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Quite honestly you don’t think very much of a BBQ in Chicago.  It’s generally tasty, but not outstanding or extraordinary. It is semi-known for sweet sauce and ribs. I’m not the biggest fan. From what I read about Smoque before we went, they were really known for their Texas style dry rub brisket, and that is what I went for. I also got the slaw, the fries, and the baked beans.

First the fries. They were good, but nothing outstanding. Next time I will get the mac and cheese, which from my one-bite sample, was outstanding.

The slaw – which comes with all the plates – was very good. It had an acidic bite to it. Really unlike any of the very sweet slaws I usually get and I never enjoy.

The fork tender Texas style brisket was better than anything I ever had in Tennessee. There was a side of  Carolina sauce that was tangy and delicious and made a great pairing with the dry rubbed brisket. It’s funny. The place is supper busy and small, so we got it to go. On the wall of the restaurant you saw all the notoriety the place had, including a little plaque from Check, Please! Prominently displayed was a big signed picture indicating that Diner Drive-In’s and Dives   featured the place on their show. This is a show where the host, Guy Fieri, drives around the country and find’s the title places. While watching the Real Deal BBQ episode we ate the food, because no TV goes better with food, than food TV.

Now the baked Beans. Quite simply the best baked beans I have ever had in my life. They smelled like you put your head inside the smoker, because as I learned in the Diner’s Drive-In’s and Dives, they are actually put in the smoker. It was delicious and actually reminded me of the New Holland’s Charkoota  Rye Doppelbock.

Unfortunately I did not have any of that particular beer at hand, nor any smoked beer at all. I did have Bell’s Porter, which has a decidedly coffee flavor. More so than the Aloha Brewery’s Pipeline Porter I also have, despite being made with Kona Coffee. I think the problem is that the intense smokiness overpowered even the porter, and I quite honestly can’t see a better partner to the BBQ than a smoked beer. Maybe not one that is so smokey as the Charkoota Rye, but a smoked one nonetheless. The sweetness of the dobblebock would work nicely with the tangi-sweetness of the Carolina sauce. Next time I will be more prepared.

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Whiskey 101

Yesterday I went to a Whiskey 101 class from the company I Wish Lessons. I know this Blog is about beer, but what is whiskey but distilled unhopped beer aged in barrels. No wonder it is my favorite hard liquor. There has to be a reason that Michael Jackson wrote and talked (and drank) about both Beer and Whiskey.

I wish lessons has a number of food and drink classes, where they bring in an expert coach in the field. My fiancé actually bought the class from Groupon over a year ago, with the intention of taking the craft beer class. I put off actually signing up for a class until the expiration date on the Groupon was upon me. Over a year later I realized that a basic craft beer class probably isn’t going to be very informative to me, so, loving Whiskey and all, I went with that one, and I was not disappointed.

Sorry about the lack of my usually large amount of pictures, but all the learning left no time for pictures.

The class was held at Maeve (which means “She Who Intoxicates”) and for the life of me I could not remember the name of the expert coach they brought in so I searched the interwebs and found it was Chuck Cowdery. He worked in marketing for the distilled spirits industry for much of his life, but now mostly teaches and writes.

We tasted four different Whiskey’s: Jameson, Johnny Walker Red Label, Jack Daniels, and Templeton Rye while Chuck talked about all sorts of things Whiskey. He definitely knew a lot, and I learned a lot.

I learned that diluting the Whiskey with water actually allows you to taste the Whiskey better, because unlike a beer which rarely has an ABV above 10%, Whiskey is about 40% alcohol and that can really blunt your taste buds and tire them out quickly.  It definitely worked for me.  I tried the Jameson first without dilution and then with some, and tasting the Jameson after dilution really brought out the caramel characters for me. I’ll definitely order Whiskey and Water more often from bars, although the last time I ordered one from a bar, I ended up with a shot of Whiskey and a glass of water. I think I need to frequent better bars.

I never realized how Blended Whiskeys were blended. I kind of just assumed it was Whiskey’s of different ages that were blended, kind of a young Lambic is blended with an aged one to blunt some of the sourness. I was completely wrong. A blended Whiskey from across the pond like Jameson or Johnny Walker will have a certain percentage of single malt whiskey made from 100% malted barley. The rest will be from what I think I remember was called a grain whiskey, made from some cheaper grain. The more expensive Johnny Walker label colors will have a higher percentage of single malt.  On the other hand a blended Whiskey from the US (like Seagrams), is whiskey blended with Vodka.

This must have been the first time I have ever tasted straight Johnny Walker, because I wasn’t prepared for the smokiness. Kind of reminded me of the New Holland Chatrooka Rye Smoked Doppelbock in smokiness (if not in much else).

Speaking of Rye, those who are fans of the blog probably know I love the spicy pepperiness that Rye gives to beer, and the Templeton Rye was my favorite. The grain bill is about 95% Rye and the Whiskey was originally meant to be a flavoring Rye for cheaper blended Whiskey’s.

That’s just the tip of the Whiskey Iceburg that you get into in this class.

If you ever get a chance to take an I Wish Lesson you should go for it. I wholeheartedly recommend the Whiskey 101 class. Learn a bunch about Whiskey and drink some at the same time, how can you beat that? You might want to wait for a Groupon or a Living Social Deal as they can be over $50 for a 1 hour class, but once you get one you are hooked. I purchased a Mixology 101 class at the end of the Whiskey 101 class (at their in-class deal rate of course).