Whiskey Fit For A King

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Contributed photo

What do you get when you combine a bunch of food and beverage lovers, a beautiful venue and exquisite whiskey? One hell of a SOME KINDA GOOD Tuesday evening! The high was 96 degrees in the Lowcountry, without a cloud in the sky. We met on the roof of Stars Rooftop and Grill Room in downtown Charleston on historic King Street for one reason: to explore two new variants recently introduced by Crown Royal Canadian Whisky. Here I would meet Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, the brand’s first-ever blended rye whisky, and Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel, a drink which pays homage to the brand’s signature smoothness.

The crowd turned out in true Charlestonian fashion -- dressed for a proper night on the town.
The crowd turned out in true Charlestonian fashion — dressed for a proper night on the town.

During cocktail hour, waiters circulated the rooftop with trays of summer tomato-mozzarella skewers and shaved salmon crostini with capers and cream cheese. I met other marketing professionals and beverage connoisseurs, among them Susan Lucas of King Street Marketing Group, representatives from The Local Palate, Taneka Reaves and Johnny Caldwell of the Cocktail Bandits (super fun girls!) and Robin Rodriquez of locally owned Egan’s Spirits.

Meet Brandon Verkaik and Bud Huber, the two mixologists who created the four signature cocktails of the evening: Holy City Brunch Punch, Royal Shandy, The Light Dimmer and Wild Flower Whiskey Sour. I can’t wait to share one of the recipes with y’all! Choosing a favorite of the four cocktails is a bit like being partial to your best friends or family members…you appreciate them each for what they bring to the table. If I had to choose one though, I’d pick the Wild Flower Whiskey Sour. This drink features Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, known for its oak flavor with spicy notes of vanilla and a hint of butterscotch.

For the guided whiskey tasting portion of the event, we made our way into the air-conditioned (thank you, Jesus!) Wilkinson Room on the second floor of the restaurant where we were enlightened by Master of Whiskey Stephen Wilson. At one point, this guy asks if anyone in the room is a fan of country music. Are you kidding!? Without hesitation I raised my glass and in my sweetest Southern accent, said with fervor, “You can’t be a whiskey fan and not love country music!” He later asked how we enjoyed whiskey best, and I told him “To the tune of George Jones.” Is there any other way? Maybe a Jack Daniels audience would understand this better. 😉

Master of Whiskey Stephen Wilson teaches us how to sniff and taste the libation for its full pleasure.
Master of Whiskey Stephen Wilson teaches us how to experience the libation at its fullest. Contributed photo. 

I was pleased to learn Wilson first discovered Crown Royal Deluxe in none other than the beautiful Savannah, Georgia. Here’s a guy who grew up on the Tennessee Virginia line, and says he “fell into” a career as a Master of Whiskey and now works for Diageo, the company who owns Crown Royal. He said, “There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy whiskey. Good conversation over a glass of good whiskey is what it’s all about.” Sounds like we share the same philosophy! He taught us that Crown Royal was first created as a gift for the King and Queen of England to celebrate their visit to Canada in 1939. The iconic purple bag which the whiskey is purchased in is a concept from the original packaging! It was developed to suit the royal occasion and outfitted with gold drawstrings, a tradition that continues to this day.

A decadent chocolate cake in the form of a whiskey bottle! What's not to love?
A decadent chocolate cake in the form of a whiskey bottle! What’s not to love? Contributed photo

The attention to detail at this event was unmatched! Dessert was a moist, rich chocolate cake shaped like a bottle of Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye whiskey. Who knew eating whiskey could be fun too? HA!

Tastemakers sampled three varietals during the evening: Crown Royal Deluxe, Northern Harvest Rye and Hand Selected Barrel.
Tastemakers sampled three varietals during the evening: Crown Royal Deluxe, Northern Harvest Rye and Hand Selected Barrel. Contributed Photo

I’ll leave y’all with this: A refreshing concoction suitable for any summertime happy hour, courtesy of the mixologists mentioned above. Thanks to Taylor Strategy for an evening really well done, and a valuable education on the top-selling Canadian Whiskey in the United States.

This is the best whiskey sour I've ever had.
This is the best whiskey sour I’ve ever had. Contributed Photo

Wildflower Whisky Sour

2 oz. Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

1 oz. St. Germaine

.5 oz. Yellow Chartreuse

1 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice

.5 oz. Wildflower Honey Syrup

Stir together ingredients. Serve over ice and enjoy!

New Flavors with Nashville Friends: A Food Adventure at The 404 Kitchen

wpid-0329142036.jpgThe 404 Kitchen
Nashville, Tennessee 

The older I become, the more I realize that so much of life is about our experiences. When I auditioned for ABC’s cooking competition reality show “The Taste” last year, I couldn’t have predicted the friendships that would result and never would have imagined I’d be hanging out in the Music City with the co-owner of an award-winning food truck eating chicken liver pate and drinking cocktails with smoked bacon. I’m talking about my friend, Carlos Davis of Riffs Fine Street Food. You may have seen him on the Cooking Channel’s Eat Street or featured in the Nashville Scene. He’s the coolest Caribbean I know, with a local, inside perspective on good eats. On a chilly Saturday night in early spring, Carlos and I reunited for the first time since we’d both hopped on a plane Southbound from Burbank, California in September 2013. Carlos showed me around a Nashville neighborhood known as the Gulch, and introduced me to The 404 Kitchen, led by Chef Matt Bolus.

wpid-0329142033.jpgAs noted on The 404 Kitchen’s website, the restaurant is “Housed in a former shipping container…and offers a modern take on classic European cuisine with an emphasis on local, seasonal fare, including herbs grown on the rooftop garden.”

A semi-finalist in the Best New Restaurant category of the 2014 James Beard Awards, The 404 Kitchen features indoor and outdoor seating to accommodate 56 guests for dinner, Tuesday through Saturday.

We decided to forgo the entrees all together and jump right in with Starters and Cocktails. We took our seats at the bar where Carlos quickly pointed out The Nearest Green, a libation featuring Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, Laird’s Rare Apple Brandy, Benton’s Smoky Mountain bacon and citrus infused Tennessee honey. It had every flavor going for it–fruity, smoky and sweet. Who wouldn’t love a cocktail including bacon? I was all in, and it didn’t disappoint. When I had finished sipping the cocktail, I shamelessly ate the bits of bacon in the bottom of my glass with a spoon to which Carlos commented, “You would be weird if you didn’t!”

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The next order of business came in the form of Crudo, an appetizer of Cobia, blood orange, fennel, bee pollen (that’s right, bee pollen), pistachio and vidal ice vinegar. Now, I grew up in Blythe, Georgia and Twiggs County farm country. My folks and I didn’t eat quite like this. I had no idea what the majority of these ingredients were, but I tasted them with gladness and what a refreshing combination! I learned that Cobia is a type of fish. I loved the crunch of the pistachios and fennel. The vinegar and citrus flavors gave every bite a noteworthy kick. As for the bee pollen, I was at a total loss.

wpid-0329141912.jpgStarter number 2 was delivered on a butcher block: Kennedy Farms Chicken Liver Pate, served with whole grain mustard, pickled radish and the Lowcountry’s popular benne wafers. A pate is a mixture of cooked ground meat and fat minced into a spreadable paste. Nothing about that sounds appealing to me, and by the looks of it, you’d think it came directly from a Spam can. Tasting chicken liver pate was another first for me, and the truth is, I really liked it. Reminiscent of humus in texture, its flavor was rich and herbaceous. When the dish came out, I looked directly at Carlos and said, “Alright chef. Teach me how to eat this.” He took a healthy portion of the pate and spread it on the wafer, then topped it with a bit of the spicy ground mustard. I asked, “What about the radish?” to which he informed me it was a palate cleanser. Makes sense! This home cook surely enjoys having chef friends.

wpid-0329141932a.jpgNext up came my pick for the evening, and my favorite of all: 14 Month Aged Benton’s Country Ham served with buttermilk biscuits, Tennessee whiskey jelly and red-eye gravy. In the moment the plate came, Carlos tweeted, “#CountryHamAndBiscuits @The404Kitchen. @SKGFoodBlog just squealed.” It was true. I had church with this appetizer. The biscuits were perfection, the country ham was salty and sliced to the perfect thinness, and the jam? I can’t. I could have turned the red-eye gravy ramekin up and drank it, but civility got the best of me.

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With each new dish, the bartender switched out our silverware and brought new small plates. Lastly, we tried the Burrata featuring celeriac, grapefruit, black truffle, pine nuts, leeks and calabrian peppers. Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. Smooth like butter, I’d never known a cheese could be elevated to such heights. Other Starters on the menu that night featured Lamb Sugo, Winter Squash Soup and a 3 Cheese Plate. Entrees included Rabbit, Cioppino, Swordfish, Pork Ragu and other mind-boggling dishes. Dining in a place like The 404 Kitchen reminds me of just how much I have to learn about the world of gastronomy.

We wound the evening down with dessert. The grand finale was brioche bread with bittersweet chocolate, and a banana nut loaf alongside cold ice cream. With a daily changing menu, this is a place I could return again and again.

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With clean plates and full hearts, we left The 404 Kitchen satisfied, anticipating the next great food adventure. From the service to the atmosphere, topped only by the food, The 404 Kitchen was Some Kinda Good, and the perfect spot to catch up with my culinary pal. After all, good food and good company is what it’s all about.

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