Kentucky Bourbon Trail

I remember very clearly the first time I saw something about barrel aged liquor.   I was in a subway in New York and there was poster advertising about how Jack Daniels is clear before it goes into the barrels.  After years of aging, it took on the colors of the barrel and came out a light brown.  I was in my late teens so I was more interested in Burnett’s Vodka and Bacardi Limon at the time, but this alway stuck with me.

Anyone who has drank a significant amount of alcohol with me knows that I’ve been a Gin man for quite a while now.  This was my sort of my graduation from shitty alcohol in my late teens and early 20s to something a little bit more sophisticated.  My curiosity for the culinary world began to drift into the alcohol I was drinking.  It was interesting to me how different brands seemed to have different spices and how you could pair it with things like cucumber and enhance the taste.  I began drinking my alcohol straight (or neat), or on the rocks without a chaser.  Alcohol became less of something that just gets you fucked up and more of a new world to explore.  About a year ago I starting drinking and enjoying Bourbon, which you could probably say has sent me down an alcoholic rabbit hole of exploration.

I have written a couple posts about my food travels through Kentucky, but the real reason I drove five hours through the worst state in the country (Ohio) was to gain a first hand education on American Whiskey, specifically Kentucky Bourbon.  The more I tasted and the more I read about this spirit the more I wanted to see how it was made, the people that make it and taste it directly from the source.  I planned out visits to six distilleries in five days and what resulted from it was a deep appreciation for all things Bourbon.

Now I’m not going to make this a post where I go into great detail and give a “review” about each distillery I traveled to.  I will say that I visited Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey, Four Roses, Jim Beam, Makers Mark and Woodford Reserve.  The thing I want to do with this post is share history of Bourbon, a little bit of the process and try to help you understand why I now have such a deep appreciation for something that seems like just another liquor that you buy in a bottle.  I’m also going to try and do it in a way that is interesting to you.  I hope I can help you appreciate the next drink of bourbon that you try and if you haven’t had Bourbon before, maybe it will motivate you to try it.

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So what is Bourbon anyways?  It’s actually very simple.  Bourbon is a Whiskey made out of a combination of at least 51 percent corn, malt(grain), wheat and rye.  The percentage of corn is very important, as you legally cannot call what you’re making “Bourbon”, unless it contains a minimum of 51% corn. That is the first legal requirement we will get into.  From there, everything is ground up and mixed with water.  This step is why 95% of Bourbon in the United States is produced in Kentucky. Kentucky’s rivers and lakes are covered in massive amount of limestone.  Limestone acts as a natural filtration for iron and produces iron-free water that is perfect for Bourbon.  You may bring up that there are plenty of places in the world where this much limestone exists as well, which brings us to our second legal requirement for Bourbon.  It must be produced in the United States.  You take grain and cook it in water. The water extracts the sugars from the grain and puts them into solution. This mixture is called the mash.  Next, adding yeast consumes sugar and releases alcohol through the process of fermentation. The mash ferments until it reaches approximately 11-12% alcohol. At that point, the alcohol kills the yeast and the fermentation process stops.

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It is then ran through a giant still, think of it as a giant copper chimney, and heat is applied to the bottom which separates the solids from the clear (the alcohol evaporates) and gives you what distillers call white dog, but the rest of just call moonshine.  This clear grain alcohol typically ranges from 125 proof all the way up to 160 proof, which brings us to our third legal requirement.  The white dog cannot be distilled to more than 160 proof and cannot enter the barrels at more than 125 proof.  Distillers use water to alter the proof throughout the process.

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Now we enter the fourth legal requirement for Bourbon — It must be aged in new, charged oak containers.  That’s right, a Bourbon barrel must be set on fire for a period of 15-55 seconds and may not be used to age Bourbon a second time.  The barrels are then placed in a large warehouse filled with other barrels for different periods of time, typically four to six years.  Depending on which floor the barrel sits on, the Bourbon will taste different due to pressure and humidity.  The liquid enters the crevices of the barrels in the Summer and is then expelled in the Winters.  Think of a ten year Bourbon has having the liquid enter and leave the barrel ten times.  There is no legal requirement on how long the bourbon sits, but the more expensive Bourbons sit for decades.  Bottles of a 23 year aged Pappy Van Winkle can go for $5,000 if you can find it.  The fascinating thing about that price tag to me, is it is made the same exact way a $20 bottle of Buffalo Trace is made — a combination of corn, wheat, rye and mash, then aged in oak barrels.

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Just like Jack Daniels told me all those years ago, the clear liquid leaves the barrels as a light brown liquid that can legally be called Bourbon, as long as it is as least eighty proof when it enters the bottle for sale.  This is the fifth, and final legal requirement to sell Bourbon.  These legal requirements are why you will never see a low alcohol Bourbon, fruit flavored Bourbons or clear Bourbons.  You may see a bourbon blended a flavor additive, but it is illegal to add any flavoring or coloring during the distilling process.  What you’re seeing is basically moon shine taking in flavors from the wood which gives is a deep, sweet flavor depending on the type of oak the distiller used and the amount of time the barrel was allowed to burn.  If you’ve ever had Makers Mark 64, you are tasting French oak that is added to give you a smoother taste than American oak. The long char opens the pores in the wood to add the sweetness.

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So if you actually read all that you might have a deeper appreciation for your next glass of Bourbon.  What you’re drinking is the product of hundreds of years of perfecting, potentially a decade or more of aging and generations of people working to create the perfect American Whiskey.  What’s more amazing is there is absolutely no waste when it comes to Bourbon production.  The leftover corn mixture is sold to farmers to feed livestock and the barrels are sold to make other types of Whiskey and barrel aged beers.

I will leave you with this.  The production, the history and the science are absolutely fascinating parts of something you could see as so simple.  Even more interesting are the people responsible for the production.  Master Distillers dedicate their lives to producing something that may turn out to be a complete waste of time but they won’t know for five to ten years while it ages.  Generations of families have been employees of distilleries and see it as their family calling to work for the business.  So much time, love and tradition go into the industry in Kentucky.  The perfect example of this is Freddie Johnson, a third generation employee of Buffalo Trade Distillery and led my two hour tour throughout the facility.  Even if you didn’t appreciate all of this, I hope you will read his story.

All Bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is Bourbon.”

Dad’s Favorites Deli

Whenever I’m in a different state on vacation, I typically will look for places that I probably will never have the chance to eat at again — Or at least not be able to find within 100 miles of home.  I’ll start out by reaching out to anyone I know in the area then I’ll move on to the internet trying to find anyone in the area who is writing about food. Sometimes I’ll simply do a search on Instagram for pictures of the food in the area and follow up with a search about the restaurant’s story.  I prefer smaller places owned by some guy that decided one day that he was going to sell his food for a living. I think the story behind the food is almost as important as the food itself.

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Enter Dad’s Favorite Deli, where a guy that cooked for family and friends for years decided to open up a little deli in 2008 in a random strip mall next to a gun shop and sell sandwiches, soups and his cheese spreads.  Now when I say random strip mall, I mean that when you GPS it you’re led directly into a fence.  From there, you must figure out for yourself that you must drive all the way around the fence (not into it, Michael Scott) and around a strip mall.  After navigating to the front of the mall, you must look for the small sign pointing you in the direction of a hallway that shares a gun shop, a jewelry store and a coin laundry.  In this hallway, sit five or six small tables and an open door all the way at the end.  Here, from 11am-3pm Mon-Fri, Dad is open for business.

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When you walk in to the small shop, the first thing you realize is Dad himself is making your food.  There are a number of other employees but how many places can you go anymore where the owner is the one putting everything together and making sure your order is done correctly?  The mystery location, the hallway and the presence of Dad make this such a better experience than going to some mass-produced sandwich shop where their only goal is to finish out their shift.  Care seems to be put into ever tray that goes out of their little assembly line style kitchen.

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Everything I read before my visit said the Asiago Pot Roast Sandwich was the way to go. This is exactly what it sounds like — pot roast and Dad’s Asiago Cheese Spread on French bread with a red pepper sauce for dipping that could probably making anything taste delicious.  Seriously, that red pepper sauce is like crack.  I ate there two hours ago and I’m still thinking about the taste.  The beautiful part of this sandwich is the lack of bullshit.  Four ingredients make up this sandwich, not one of them a “special” ingredient, but all four are done perfectly.  The bread is soft with the smallest bit of crunch to add some texture, the pot roast is tender and the cheese adds a slightly smokey bite.  The red pepper sauce tops it all off and adds a little tangy bite.  Since I’m on my way to obesity I added a soup which for today was Mexican corn chowder and was equally as great as the sandwich.  This entire meal cost me eight bucks.

Aside from the Pot Roast Sandwich Dad also offers seven other sandwiches, two soups made daily and macaroni and cheese.  Every menu item uses a different version of his cheese speads, which you can order in the shop or through his website.  On Tuesdays, he serves several different kinds of Tacos, in addition to the normal menu.

I absolutely love places like this.  Some guy enjoyed cooking food for family and friends and bravely decided he would give it a go to do it professionally.  This is what makes food so great — trying someone’s creations and knowing that they took a risk to serve it to you. There’s nothing flashy or special about Dad’s Favorites from the outside but once you avoid running into the fence and pass through a hallway filled with people eating his food, it’s quite obvious that Dad has created something special here.  I can’t recommend it enough.

Cajun in Kentucky

Hey guess what, I’m beginning another post with a question that I have no way of finding your answer to.  Remember back in March where I made the statement that food vacations are the best vacations?  No? well maybe you should go back and read that post before this one.  Yes?  Well, lets get started on another installment of John drives really far away and eats literally everything.

This time around I’m in Kentucky with six days of planned culinary checkpoints.  Not just that, but I’m visiting five bourbon distilleries in those six days. I’m in Lexington and Louisville — with stops at Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey, Makers Mark and Jim Beam.  I will also be making stops at three breweries before the week is over.  I guess if you wanted to come up with a catchy title for this vacation, you could call it John Consumes Kentucky.

So after five hours of driving, I decided it was time for me to establish myself within the Kentucky food scene.  Time to let the people of Lexington know that John Moors doesn’t fuck around when it comes to food.  Actually, I walked to a little Cajun-Creole joint called Bourbon n’ Toulouse I had been reading about on the intrawebz to get myself into some NAWLINS cuisine.

Here’s where I say that I know what you’re thinking, when you’re probably not thinking it at all, just so I can bring up something.  NOW I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE PROBABLY THINKING.  John, why on earth are you eating Cajun-Creole food in Kentucky?   Well, during my research before this trip I kept seeing people talking about this little joint called Bourbon n’ Toulouse.  Word on the street is back in 2004, a retired elementary school teacher spent every dime he had to open this place up with a basic business plan of serving some damn good food.  Apparently this model has worked, as everyone I talked to that is familiar with the Lexington area recommended it.

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Bourbon n’ Toulouse is a little spot, a step up from a hole in the wall, that has about ten tables inside with a large counter where you order your food.  Behind that sits a table with twenty or so various hot sauces that you are free to bring to your table.  All food is served on styrofoam plates with plastic forks.  I went with a half and half, meaning I got to order two different entrees.  My choices were chicken étouffée, which is basically a spicy roux gravy with shredded chicken next to their chicken, shrimp and sausage gumbo, which is apparently cooked for two days (!!!!).  There are ten or so other options that you can pick from including jambalaya, chicken chili, red beans with sausage — and if you’re not into any of that there is also a BBQ menu with pork, chicken and chili dogs.

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If you’re ever in the Lexington area this is probably your spot.  The spice in the food goes deep into your soul, which is that way Cajun food is supposed to do.  Portions, as you can see, are plentiful, and I can respect any joint that served their food with styrofoam and plastic wear.  The people there are friendly and are glad to help with any questions about the area.  The guy taking my order recommended a BBQ place which I will be going today.

More to come tonight, as John consumes Kentucky/Gets really fat.  Also, I’m in a bit of a rush so I didn’t proof read any of this.  If you see any mistakes, please let me know and I’ll get them fixed.  If you don’t see any, I either did a really good job writing this or someone already gave me a heads up.

Korean Shortrib Tacos

I’m going to begin this post with a question because it makes things feel more interactive even though there’s no way for me to find out what your response is to the question.  I guess that makes it a rhetorical question?

Have you ever walked into a restaurant you’ve been to several times and find a new menu item that completely puts that restaurant over the top?  Like, you’ve been there and had a few good meals but it was never a place you would go out of your way to return to?

That happened to me yesterday.  I was getting work done on the Miracle Whip (my white 2013 Ford Focus) and I needed to kill a couple of hours.  Rather than sit in the lobby and watch Harry Potter on their 24″ TV, I walked over to Ashley’s Beer & Grill, which has always been a good option in Westland but never a place I would go out of my way to visit for whatever reason.  Don’t get me wrong, I always have a good meal here and they have an amazing beer selection — But for whatever reason, I only eat here about once per year.

I looked over the menu for several moments until my eyes stopped on one of my favorite things.  Korean Tacos.

Korean Short Rib Tacos: Grilled bulgogi short rib, roja sauce, cilantro-green onion-lime relish and kimchi slaw.

I yelled across the restaurant at the waitress to immediately bring me these tacos.  Just kidding, I didn’t do that.  When the waitress returned I asked very nicely if she could bring me a plate of these delicious sounding Korean tacos and wondered…. Could Ashley’s do it?  Could they create one of my favorite dishes and offer it a mere two miles away from my house?

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The answer is YES.  Absolutely yes.  These Korean tacos are as legit as they come — And that’s not one of those things where I just make a blanket statement about how great something is with zero credibility behind it.  If I am eating ANYWHERE and Korean tacos are available, I pull the trigger.  I’ve had Korean tacos in five different states.  I KNOW Korean tacos.

Everything about these things work.  The bulgogi is plentiful and salty, the cilantro-lime slaw is fresh and doesn’t give you any kind of overpowering fruit flavor, the kimchi adds a vinegary tang and the roja sauce..  Holy shit, the roja sauce.  The roja sauce is SPICY.  So spicy I finished two large drinks while eating these tacos.  The best part is the spice level is not indicated ANYWHERE on the menu.  That means whoever is running this place is expecting people to assume that if you’re ordering Korean tacos you know they’re going to be spicy.  That’s exactly how it should be.

So if you’ve had Korean tacos before and have high expectations, go and get these.  If you’ve never had Korean tacos, go and get these.  If you’re a big fan of ground beef tacos with lettuce and not a lot of spice, please return to this site when you’ve improved your food game.

I see you Ashley’s.  You’ve stepped it up with these.  I will be back.

Ashley’s Beer and Grill is at 7525 N Wayne in Westland, MI

Chicken Chip Nacho Supreme

I previously wrote about Taco Bell’s newest shot at creating weird menu items and getting people like me to write about them for free advertising – Naked Chicken Chips.  Naked Chicken chips are essentially just triangle shaped chicken nuggets with a small amount of spice added.  I’m not sure why Taco Bell insists on calling their latest chicken products “Naked” but I gave them a shot and found them to be quite underwhelming.  The chips themselves were soft and soggy, the spices we’re non-existent and the nacho cheese dip should be replaced with Volcano sauce.

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So I did what any Taco Bell loving citizen would do.  I customized it and made something absolutely ridiculous.  I took their bland chicken chips and turned them into a Nacho Supreme.  A Chicken Chip Nacho Supreme.  Chicken topped with ground beef, refried beans, cheese and sour cream.  This was easily one of the best things I have eaten at Taco Bell in the last five years.  I can’t say much for the presentation, but holy shit the flavor.

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So yeah, if you’re hungry at this moment, don’t have anything going on and don’t really care for your physical well-being or health in general you should go and get one of these.  They will probably look at you strange but it’s worth it in the end.

Why Does McDonalds Coke Taste So Good?

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There are very few things people can agree on anymore.  Some people think Donald Trump is the perfect person to make this country great again.  Some people think that he’s a lunatic and we are headed toward the apocalypse.  North Korea believes that they need nuclear weapons to defend themselves from the United States.  There doesn’t seem to be any sort of common ground for anyone to stand on to start to build a general understanding of each other anymore.

I think there is one thing that we can agree on:

McDonald’s Coca-Cola is on another level.

I’m sure the majority of us have found ourselves, one time in our lives, taking a drink of a large Coca-Cola at McDonalds and wondering “How the hell do they make this so good?”. After all, it’s the same recipe everywhere right?  How has McDonalds figured out how to make something that tastes the same every other place taste so much better?  Has McDonalds and the Coca-Cola company come to some kind of secret agreement where they get a better version of their product?  Turns out, the secrets are out there and I’m here to give you the answer you have been looking for your entire life.  The mystery ends now.

In 1955, Ray Kroc came to an agreement with the Coca-Cola company to make them their official beverage supplier and McDonalds has been their biggest customer for years. Coke sales teams are prohibited from selling syrup to other restaurants for less than what McDonald’s pays, even if that means losing business to Pepsi-Cola.  Coca-Cola even has a separate McDonalds division.  The two companies have helped each other’s growth would neither would be as huge as they are today without the other.

With that partnership, McDonalds takes their Coca-Cola seriously.  Very seriously.  Every aspect of their Coke end game is looked at carefully — from how it gets delivered to their restaurants, to how it is delivered to customer’s mouths.  They have guidelines for each of their restaurants to follow to ensure that customers are getting the best Coca-Cola possible and damnit, it seems to be working.

The Delivery

First, McDonalds has their Cola-Cola delivered in large stainless steel containers.  Anyone who has worked in the food industry knows that soda is usually delivered in large plastic bags within cardboard boxes.  The stainless steel containers maintain freshness and preserve the ingredients inside.   This also allows the syrup to stay cooler during delivery.

The Filtration

Second, McDonalds invests more money in their water filtration process than other fast food establishments.  Specifically, their water goes through a double filtration process before it goes in your cup.  They call this the “gold standard”.  If you ever want to taste the purest water you’ve ever had go and try the tap water at a McDonalds.

The Temperature

Third, McDonalds takes the temperature of their soda very seriously.  The tube that runs from the refrigerator unit in the back of their restaurants all the way to their drive through window is properly insulated and continuously has water running through it to achieve a temperature just above freezing.  This cold temperature is essential for peak C02 levels which ensures the crispy, bubbly taste of Coca-Cola and stays carbonated for longer than other restaurants.  The syrup is also pre-chilled before it goes into your cup. The addition of ice into your cup and ice melting is also taken into account with the syrup-soda ratio.  If you ever get a Coke at McDonalds with no ice, expect a much sweeter drink than you’re used to.

The Straw

Finally, ever notice the size of the straw at McDonalds?  That’s not an accident.  The bigger straw apparently allows the Coca-Cola to reach more of your taste buds.  Taken a step further, McDonalds straws seem to be popular among a different community of Coke consumers.  Just ask this subreddit.

 

The Taco Stand

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If you judged me by what I cook, my tattoos and the food I talk about most you could probably come to the conclusion that my first love for food is BBQ.  In reality, if I could have any choice any food for any meal I could easily come up with four or give different Mexican joints I would go to.  I say joint because your typical Mexican restaurant isn’t my idea of good Mexican food.  Large menus with tons of options are great but when I think of GREAT Mexican food I think of small places with a few chairs, usually shared with a grocery store and a basic menu with the items that they have perfected from their hometown.  No sizzling trays of fajitas being walked past your table every five minutes, no jumbo margaritas, just the essentials with your choice of meats.  I recently came across a joint in Allen Park called The Taco Stand Taqueria, which could not be any more of the epitome of what I love about Mexican food.  No bullshit, just a one page menu and great Mexican food.

I’m always on the lookout for little Mexican joints and had seen The Taco Stand on a few different lists that suggested it met all criteria of greatness.  It took seeing a share from Mr. Chris Baker to really push me over the edge and get over there the next day.  When you pull up to the Taco Stand, it’s not one hundred percent clear on exactly what you do to get your food.  There are a few benches with screen windows in front of them and you eventually find yourself in front of a screen door that leads you to a small space where you can order your food.  The entire kitchen is opened up in this area so you can see exactly what is going on.  I could see a guy prepping pork fresh for other customers’ orders and goddamn was this exciting for me.

The menu is as basic as you can get — tacos and quesadillas with your choice of five different meat varieties, two burritos, tortas, Carne Asada fries and few sides.  That, boys and girls, is what a taco stand menu should look like.  Choose what meat you want and what delivery device you would like to surround it.  None of this fajitas sixteen different ways, bullshit.

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Now being the fat man that I am, I had my eyes on the tortas but I had to get a couple of tacos.  If I posted something about a place called “Taco Stand” and didn’t get any tacos, I would fully expect all of you to close this site out and never return.  I started with two Asada tacos that were everything a great taco should be — a delicious, slightly crispy corn tortilla filled with seasoned meat and topped with fresh cilantro and onions.

Now before I continue this post, I have to go on a little side rant here.  Recently, I have discovered what I believe to be the greatness of the taco and I have been able to put it into words.  For the longest time, I believed what made a great taco was the meat. Deliciously crispy, yet juicy carnitas.. Pastor seasoned perfectly with a little fruityness.. That has to be the obvious reason for a delicious taco, right?  Wrong, I say.  The greatness of a taco is defined by the reason for its delicious changing.  After I eat a taco, sometimes I am thinking about how great the onions were.  Sometimes I’m thinking about how well the fresh cilantro tied everything together.  Sometimes I’m thinking about how great and crispy the tortilla was and how it acted as the perfect delivery device.  Other times, yes, I’m thinking about how great the meat filler was.  In reality, all of these ingredients shine together and create the perfect food combination.  If you really think about it, great tacos are like the 2004 Detroit Pistons championship team — A perfect combination of players with a different player stepping up every night.

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Now the tacos here are great.  But the tortas.  Holy shit, the tortas.  If you’re unfamiliar with the torta world, it basically takes what you would get with a taco and turns it up to an eleven.  A torta is basically a Mexican submarine that can house the same ingredients of a taco but because it’s supported by two pieces of bread all kinds of ridiculousness is possible.  I would explain more on the greatness of tortas, but someone has already done that for me in a post entitled The Torta is the Best Mother Fucking Sandwich Ever.  This torta is Al Pastor, onions, cilantro and avocado, This was one of the better sandwiches I have ever had.  Normally tortas can be messy and require a fork to pick up the remains off your plate but I was able to eat this entire thing in the front eat of my car with no issues. Seriously, get the torta.

Here’s another beautiful thing – This entire meal cost $9.00.

The Taco Stand is located at 5038 Allen Road in Allen Park.  You should go there.