We’re going to try something different today. Honestly, I feel like when the subject of conversation is bourbon, or whiskey on the rocks, I’ve said about as much as I can say over the course of 5 years and as many posts on the subject. In an effort to freshen that up a bit, I’ve decided to interview a friend of mine, who happens to own a few cocktail bars/restaurants here in Atlanta. I won’t be doing this regularly, but this seemed like a good time to inject some freshness into the TIP, if you know what I mean.
Julian Goglia is one of the owners of The Pinewood in Decatur, GA and in January of 2016, opened up a new restaurant, The Mercury, inside of Atlanta’s shopping behemoth, Ponce City Market. When I met Julian almost 10 years ago, he was working at a pharmacy, and we would go on group bike-ride/pub crawls together. Last night, after closing down the night shift, Julian and I walked across the street to Book House Pub, and I asked him a few questions about Whiskey.
I think we all start out drinking cheap booze, and eventually figure out that good stuff exists. Was there a distillery, or cocktail or, a bar that made you really appreciate spirits more?
When I was too young to have legally been drinking, I drove my motorcycle up to Louisville, Kentucky to visit a girl I was dating. And we went to this little bar, Ramsi’s Cafe on the World. I want to say that this was like, 10 years ago. So we go in there, and my girlfriend was friends with the bar manager or something, and so I don’t really know what to order and I just asked for a beer. “Any beer! Whatever you got!” I didn’t know what the fuck I was ordering. So I think he brought me a glass of St. Bernardus Abt 12. And I was just like, “oh my god, I don’t know what this is. This is crazy.” And this is also right around when “real” absinthe became legal again, and so later he served me absinthe for the first time. And it was just a situation where, I was like, “I don’t know what this is, but I just had like, one beer, and this green licorice stuff, and now I can’t drive home.”
That really was the one point where I felt like I was trying something and I had no point of reference for what I was drinking. I didn’t know shit about any of those things. And that stuff was just new and different for me, and was my first exposure to that world of beers and spirits.
But also, here’s the problem with fancy whisky. I remember so many times where people would be like, “Hey, here’s a pour of… Macallan 25 year, or whatever.” And you know that it’s fancy, and that it’s supposed to be pretty cool, but you don’t really know what it is. You don’t have the vocabulary or understanding for it yet. So, I remember a lot of those situations. Where this high end thing was lost on me because I just didn’t understand what I was drinking. But eventually, you know, you get to the point where really knowing about stuff, and comparing different spirits you’ve had, and knowing the different processes kind of changes how you approach new things, because you know what to look for. And now I’m the guy who’s pouring it for other people, and they might not know how to approach it either, and you can tell that because they’ll come back with something like, “oh, that’s smooth.”
(from a drunk friend sitting near us): “So smooth. Like my cock. HAHA…Oh shit!? Are you recording something?!”
You have taught some small courses at your other bar, The Pinewood, about whiskey and bourbons. What sort of topics did you cover? What was the goal of the classes? What did you hope the attendants would take away from it?
The biggest thing in the classes is trying to cover distillation. And demystify that. What it is and what the grains are. Like corn and rye coming through. And so we talk about it in terms of bread, like rye bread has that spiciness and that earthy taste to it. And bourbon, it’s made with corn, it’s gonna be sweeter than that. And so I try to make it as simple to understand about what distillers are doing. Because, I almost feel like people who work in distilleries are thought of as like, some weird witch doctor. Like, we have to go to these tasting events sometimes, and companies will talk about their product like “Well we triple distill, and you know, charcoal filter, then we coal filter, and you know, it’s just copper pot, double still, 100 percent artisanal small batch.” And so they just use terms that for most people doesn’t make a goddamn lick of sense. So we try to relate all of that stuff to things that people can understand. So, like, alcohol boils at a lower temp than water, if you’ve got something that has water and alcohol in it, you just heat it up and that will cause the two things to steam up and separate from each other. That’s distillation. And obviously there’s more too it, but that’s really it. And people get that and don’t feel like we’re trying to impress them. And we also try to talk about different countries, and how the difference in the natural resources of like, Ireland and Scotland make for different products and flavors. So we just try to cover a little bit of history on why people do what they do. Everybody wanted to get drunk, but we can’t grow barley very well in America, so we did something else. Rye was considered a weed in Europe, but it isn’t considered that way here. Yeah. We just try to use the classes to simplify things for people, not to bog them down with details.
Are there any common misconceptions that you hear from patrons about whiskey & bourbon?
We get so many questions that are like, “So, is bourbon a whiskey? Or is it, well, what’s the difference between whiskey and rye? And what does ‘high rye bourbon’ mean? And you said bourbon has corn, but this says it’s got wheat in it. And like, Scotch, is not a bourbon, but is it, like, well, is Irish a whiskey?” And so yeah, for some people, it’s like witch doctor talk. They don’t understand how it fits together. So that’s how the classes help. I break down the simple stuff. “Here’s what’s in this spirit and here’s why. Obviously there is more to it, but we can talk about that NEXT time, because this is just a 101 course. All you have to know is that these laws over here define what makes this whiskey American or Scottish or Irish, and here’s why we do it this way.
Are there any bourbons that you’re really digging right now?
So, here’s something interesting, that I think a lot of people don’t understand about pretty much every industry, from wine to beer to and spirits and all sorts of other companies. Like if you go to Wal-mart, and you buy something that is labeled “Wal-Mart Tomato Sauce”, Wal-mart didn’t make that. They didn’t. And same goes for some beers out there. Distributors will buy product from someone and repackage it and bottle it or whatever. With whiskey, like, Jim Beam basically distills two bourbons. They make a high rye and a regular. So you’ve got Old Grandad and Basil Hayden, and then you’ve got everything else. And of course after you distill it, it gets treated differently. The way the barreling happens makes a difference and where it gets put in an aging house, but it all starts out from the same stuff. And a lot of the differences are really just in how the product gets marketed. So this bourbon is prohibition style and it has this bootlegger theme going on, and then this one has this frontier, western cowboy thing, and this one is this New York cocktail branding, and this one is the every-man good ol’ boy thing. But it’s all coming from the same place. And again, that happens with all sorts of stuff, but I just don’t think that many people know about that.
So for me, like, Thirteenth Colony, is a pretty young brand from here in Georgia, and it’s only like, two years old. It’s two year old whiskey and it’s great. So I’m drinking it. It’s affordable and it’s well made. And as soon as they get some history under their belt, they’ll probably have some older products that are going to be even better. And so, I like the little guy. The problem usually with the little guy, is that for me and you to go make whiskey right now, we have to buy a still, we have to buy the barrels or go through the process of making our own and get a place to store them, and then all the permits and taxes. The bigger guy is able to do all of that more efficiently. The product that we make, like a 10 year bourbon, versus the 10 year bourbon coming from Jim Beam, the Jim Beam product is going to cost so much less. So when you can find a small company that is doing it themselves and is able to basically, eat the cost, and make a consistent product that doesn’t cost much more than the big guys, those people really stick out to me. There’s a bunch of em, all over the place.
Drunk Story Time: What is the drink that has treated you the worst over the years? How did it do you wrong?
I try not to be the kind of guy to get really drunk and embarrass myself, but here’s something I can say. The biggest thing I run into on a regular basis, and I’ve talked about this recently with a lot of people, is that cocktails are basically 3 ounces of booze in a tiny little glass. And like, they’re really easy to drink. And then you have another one. And now you’ve had 6 ounces of booze in two tiny little glasses. The glass is basically 2 shots worth of alcohol. And so you do that again, and you’ve basically had 6 shots of alcohol, and you’ve only had 3 cocktails. And you just shouldn’t be driving anywhere. So for me, now, when I’m out, I’m basically drinking whiskey and water. I’ve got my whisky, which is great. Everybody loves that. And the volume in the glass is more, cause of water and ice, and so I’m drinking it nice and slow, and it’s only one shot worth of booze, and I’m staying hydrated. Because with cocktails, they’re so tasty, and I’m just drinking like 7 or 8 of them, and then I’m in trouble. But the whiskey and water, you can pretty much drink as many as you want, because it’s got the whiskey, but you’re also staying hydrated…
I don’t think that the science probably would support that claim. I don’t think you can drink as many as you want. But I will concede that adding water to your whiskey when you’re just out partying is probably smart for other reasons.
Eh. You’re probably right.
Cold Brewed, iced coffee.
Pepperoni and Mushroom pizza.