Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Some Pappy Van Winkle, A Little Oil Poached Halibut, and A Redesigned Nissan Sentra and Pathfinder: Just Another Day in Napa

You may find it odd that I often don't know exactly where I am going to end up when embarking on one of my auto events. This is particularly true when they follow one another in machine-gun succession as they have this past month or so.

I tend to be more concerned about departure times and departure airports -- am I leaving from Atlanta or Greenville/Spartanburg? -- than I am about exactly where I will end up. I also must fuss over the number of days I will be gone so my underwear count reflects those needs. I often have to make some sort of special arrangements for switching cars with the vendors that do that for the car companies.

All of this effort concentrated in logistics doesn't afford much time to dwell on the specifics of my destinations.

So I was both surprised and pleased when my West Coast Nissan trip for the redesigned Sentra and Pathfinder took me to Napa Valley.

Actually we spent the first night in San Francisco and piloted our way to Napa on the the Sentra ride-and-drive the next day.

The Solage Hotel and Spa in Calistoga -- our Napa quarters -- is located on the Silverado Trail, the Valley's main drag through the region's wineries. I glimpsed the Silver Oak tasting room with my nose pressed against the passenger window as we made a couple of passes by it. Raymond Winery -- another favorite of mine -- was also nearby. I didn't get there either.

Guest rooms at Solage are actually stand-alone cottages. Arranged in a rat-maze layout that would confound a Sacagawea-less Lewis and Clark, the cabins assigned to my driving partner and me defied locating even with a map of the grounds. I had visions of the Donner party and was glancing around for a rock in case I had to make dinner out of my buddy if the going got really tough when a helpful resort employee pointed out my cabin immediately behind me. She then walked my buddy to his cottage.

By the third or fourth time I made the trek to and from my cabin to get to the restaurant or hospitality suite, I had the route mastered.

After dropping my gear off in my cottage, I accidentally stumbled across Nissan's hospitality suite. It was my intended destination, but only dumb luck got me there the first time I went looking. It was there I learned that the resort's bar had on hand some Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. Arguably the world's best whiskey and certainly the world's best bourbon, it is all but impossible to find.

Crafted at the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery near Frankfort, KY, it is produced in such small quantities that the number of bottles distributed to some states can be counted on your fingers. A bottle of 23 year old can cost northward of $300. Quite frankly, the only way to score a bottle is to make some liquor-store owner your best buddy and hope he receives one of the precious bottles allotted to his area, and doesn't want it for himself.

The distillery's motto: We make fine bourbon. At a profit if we can. At a loss if we must. But always fine bourbon.

I love these guys!

Upon hearing that Pappy's was available at the bar during an afternoon conversation with Tom Smith, director of marketing for Pathfinder, I kidded him that his expense account was going to take a beating after dinner that night. He laughed politely and then collapsed into a chair to phone his banker.

Dinner was at the Napa Culinary Institute of America occupying the old Christian Brothers winery building. After learning how to prepare Oil Poached Halibut  from Chef Steve Ruggenberg -- as humorous as he was instructive -- we adjourned to the Barrel Room for an outstanding dinner.

Then it was back to the Solage's bar for a nightcap.

Our group numbering 20 or so congregated on the patio. I walked inside and asked the bartender to pull down the three bottles of Pappy's on hand so I could photograph them. As you can see, they had a bottle of the 23 year old, the 20 year old and the Rye. I returned to my glass of Taylor 20-year tawny port outside.

As I sat be-essing with some of my comrades in arms, the siren call of 23-year Pappy rang in my ears. You should have a good idea how this bit of the story ends. Needless to say,  I did perform the "happy boy" dance to the shock of my peers.

I'm not a professional taster -- a gifted amateur, yes; a professional, no -- so adequately describing the taste of this light-brown elixir is beyond my meager talent. But I can tell you that the main flavor was caramel and it was as smooth as Howie Mandel's head.

People standing seven or eight feet away said they could smell it; it was so full bodied and rich.

Speaking of rich, I won't tell you what that two ounces cost, but at $300 plus a bottle, dispensed in 2-ounce portions in a high-end resort settled in one of the most exclusive regions of the country, I'll let you do a little math in your head. Needless to say, it was a lot.

Having just sampled Woodford Reserve's Double Oak Bourbon -- a fine bourbon in its own right -- the week before at a Buick program in Louisville, I can say that Pappy's is worth every penny of its premium price.

When finished, I carried the empty glass back to my room. The next morning before heading to breakfast, I sniffed the empty tumbler; the rich nose was still present and the exceptional taste came flooding back.

Calling this magic liquid "orgasmic" isn't an overstatement. It's just that damn good.

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