The Striped Pig: Boston Liquor Folklore

striped pigI have an original copy of an obscure centennial celebration publication that was printed in honor of what is now the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston, MA.  Originally Hyde Park was its own town, first settled in 1856 and incorporated in 1868. It joined or shall I say was absorbed by Boston in 1912.

The 65 page 1968 publication does not give credit to any of the authors of the articles, only recognition of the centennial committee is given. Future Mayor of the city of Boston, the late Thomas Menino, is in one of the photographs of committee workers. Odd that they spelled is last name incorrectly.

As 2018 is the 150th centennial of the founding of Hyde Park, nostalgia of my former neighborhood had me reading through the old publication.  In it I found a quarter page piece written about the origin of “The Striped Pig” tale. I googled “The Striped Pig” and found a number of references to its supposed origin as well as bars and a distillery so named.

I have no idea who wrote this particular piece or if it was lifted from some other earlier publication. For the sake of old folklore I am adding this article to give a nod to my home town and to supplement the mention of “The Striped Pig” found on Google. Here it is in its entirety, as exactly printed in 1968:

“Upon The High Road”…THE STRIPED PIG

In all the wealth of yarns about Hyde Park’s adventurous, imaginative past, none shows more clearly the poignancy and flavor of American life in the early days than the story of “The Striped Pig.”

The incident is place by reputable historians in a Readville setting on the broad plains between the Neponset River and the tracks of the Old Boston and Providence Railroad. “The Striped Pig” is one of the most talked of episodes in the long and troubled record of the sale and serving of alcoholic beverages in America (as many persons in the liquor trade today will testify). It gave rise to legal controversies and arguments all over the land, and there are many collectors of antique curios who insisted that this was the original inspiration for the subsequently popular piggy bank. The man responsible for “The Striped Pig” remains unknown to posterity. Some say he was an itinerant Connecticut Yankee.

The time was September 11, 1838, when Readville as a remote village outpost of the thriving town of Dedham. A muster was being held there by militia men from a wide area, and apparently it was a gala event for the early chronicles say it had all the characteristics of a carnival.

The Massachusetts General Court had previously passed a law which prohibited the public sale of spirituous liquor in quantities less than 15 gallons, so here, on a late summer day on the sunbaked plains of old Readville, had gathered several thousand stalwart American war veterans, militia men and their friends with nothing but water, to wet their whistles. They could not buy a drink, they could not buy a pint, they could not buy a gallon.

Since very early morning the crowds had been passing, with scant notice, a tent with a sign outside portraying a huge pig of the common, farm yard variety except that it sported a full set of zebra-like black stripes. The price of admission to see this curious beast was around six cents, which might be worth forty cents today.  It took the soldiers some little time to realize what an interesting animal this was, but, when the word got around, the line formed on the right and on the left, too, for the solicitous exhibit of the Bengal hog was handout, free of charge to his paying spectators, an optical stimulant of old New England rum, the better to see the interesting spectacle.

“The Striped Pig” captured the fancy of the whole nation, and it brought down bitter denunciation of the temperance folks. Later, the head bartender of New York’s famous Hotel Astor invented a drink in honor of the local porker. The contemporary theatre exploited the episode for years. A Boston song writer, Thomas Power, gained wide recognition with a tune on the subject which accompanied the following lines: (in part)

“In Dedham now there is a great muster

Which gathers the people all up in a cluster;

A terrible time, and what do you think

They’ve found a new way to get something to drink.

A Yankee came in with the real nutmeg brand,

Who has sold wooden clocks throughout all the land,

And he it on a plan a little bit slicker

By which he could furnish the soldiers with liquor.

They would not allow him to sell by the mug

Unless he could furnish a fifty-gallon jug.

And as folks wouldn’t drink in a measure so big, 

He got out a license to show a “striped pig.”

I raise a glass to those who drank before us and to those who preserved the history of the early days of Hyde Park, Massachusetts.

If you are interested in more about Boston and liquor, there is a great book well worth reading by Stephanie Schorow called Drinking Boston.

 

 

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Wedding Whisky

Hosting a small family wedding in the back garden is a refreshing pause from life’s hectic, non-stop pace. With my passion for whisky, a tasting naturally found its way into the weekend festivities. The bride and groom gave input to the four whiskies to be tasted. To make the tasting extra special in honor of the occasion, I wanted to select an unopened bottle. An unopened bottle would also be cracked for a toast during the wedding celebration. And, being at my home, neither I nor any of the tasters had to worry about driving. In all, we were exuberant but not over indulgent. (The conga line is another story!)

The four whiskies were each selected for a specific reason:

Kavalan: The Symphony Expression was chosen because it is an excellent whisky and is an Asian whisky of which most had not heard of before the tasting.  And, the bride is Asian…a whisky that gives a nod to Eastern cultures.

Triple Eight Distillery, Nantucket, MA: Scott’s Notch 12 YO, a private edition, was chosen because a cask was purchased as a wedding present a friend presented to her new husband in 2001. An oh so sweet moment.

Balcones: Brimstone edition was chosen because the bride loves it. Easy enough.

Ellenstown, Islay: The 12 YO expression was chosen for its cask strength and peatiness that could counter balance the unusual flavor of the Brimstone. The bride and groom lean towards peaty whiskies.

Eight of us tasters began the evening with Scott’s Notch. Buying a newly filled cask as a wedding present is a great story. We toasted to our bride and groom. Scott’s Notch is rich in color, pungent caramel and vanilla on the nose, and with a hint of salt on the palate along with a touch of bourbon sweetness. Unfortunately, it was bottled by Triple Eight without the alcohol content on the personalized label. Triple Eight Distillery 12 YO single malt is a gold medal winner. The Notch stands up to its counterpart.

The tasting and toasting moved on to the Kavalan. In a previous blog I wrote about its silky vanilla nose, a touch of brininess and fruit finish. A “woody taste” thought a few of the tasters. The cask strength at 58.6% is not overwhelming. I don’t add water, but others might.

The Brimstone, always an outlier, stunned the tasters, all while the bride was brimming with pleasure from this Texas blue corn expression. I wrote about it some time ago as the “whisky that changed my life.” Nothing tastes like it – love it or hate it – there is no in between with this heavy hitter at 53% alcohol.

The formal tasting ended with the little known Ellenstown 12 YO, another cask strength at 52%. After the Brimstone it came across as soft and smooth with the Islay peat mellowing out the palate. It became the favorite of the evening.

What I find fascinating about tasting a variety of whisky flavors is how each impacts the other.  Even when tasted slowly over the course of an evening, what is harsh  becomes smoother, flavors undetected become apparent, and new favorites emerge. I just love it!

I encourage you to try three or four very different whiskies to get a sense of how whiskies interact with each other.

On to the wedding…while the cake was being served, I opened a bottle of Ardbeg’s Dark Cove.  Peat and smoke was the preference at the tasting and of the bride and groom. Dark Cove has the expected Islay peat but doesn’t knock you over.

A garden wedding, a whisky tasting, family savoring the day given over to love and away from the often harsh world….a precious memory to hold.

I raise a glass to the special moments in life!

My Lobster Rolls Summer

As a New Englander who spends much of the winter in sunny, warm Florida, by spring I am pining for a local lobster roll. This May began my summer quest to find the most satisfying lobster roll of the summer of 2018.  I sampled and savored nine rolls in between whisky tasting adventures, fundraisers and a wedding bachelorette celebration. Whisky being my first passion.

As hectic as the summer often felt, as hot as it was, I can’t complain. Who could with so much lobster enjoyed and whiskies shared with family and friends! (A totally different blog…when I can get to it!)

Back to the lobster rolls. I asked “North Shore Eats” on Facebook for recommendations for the “best” around.  The response was immediate, with several establishments garnering lots of praise.  I selected by three categories: Most recommended, never tried before, and no more than an hour or so drive.

My notes are fairly sparse (well, I was busy eating while writing) but my ranking simple: A = best, B = great, C = average but decent. All the lobster rolls I consumed were within this range. Along the way I discovered what I prefer in a lobster roll, which may not be preferred by everyone. Just like my passion for whisky….I know what I like and I know that opinions on the best are as diverse as the number of whiskies produced.

Like whisky, I prefer bold taste throughout my lobster roll. Bring on the mayonnaise, lettuce, onion, and celery. None of the rolls this summer went over the top with these flavor additions, that is neither good or bad, though. I was open to all versions!

First stop was Belle Isle in Winthrop, MA. It was early in the season and the prices were still high at $30. It came with fries and was very lightly seasoned. I added (heresy) a scoop of tarter sauce to ramp up the flavor. Large portions of lobster and killer view. Rank = B

The following week two of us decided to head up to Salem, MA to Longboards. We ate at the bar because of a brisk wind off the water. This lobster roll came with tater tots and a dipping sauce. Again I used some of the sauce for the lobster.  The roll was warm yet the tots so-so. The lobster portion was smaller than Belle Isle and the price $22. Rank B-

Longboard

Three of us decided to drive farther north to Salisbury Beach, MA and eat right on the water at Sea Glass. It was cold and raining but the restaurant quite nice – you know, white table cloth. The lobster came on a crusty roll with butter and celery and onion, and a side of potatoes. The portion was more than Longboard but less than Belle Isle. The price $20. I managed to find room to indulge with a chocolate molten cake for dessert. Yum. Lobster rank B+.

A few weeks of recovery went by, then I decided to make my own lobster roll.  The price had dropped to $4.99 per pound – we bought eight! My concoction included grilling a brioche bun in a bit of bacon fat, lobster mixed with a touch of mayonnaise and chopped onion, lettuce,  with salt, pepper and chili pepper.  I do love my own cooking. No apologies. No rank.

homelobsterroll

Next stop on the quest was to Beverly’s Anchor. Loud and busy on a Sunday afternoon, a few guys playing pool, channeling dive bar. I ordered a Fat Tire beer to accompany my lobster roll on the classic buttered hot dog roll that came with loads of hot-off-the-fryer fries. The price vs portion was great – a mere $19.50. Rank B.

Clearly I was finding it difficult to give a poor ranking to any of the first five lobster rolls I ate. I felt something was missing – couldn’t get a handle on it. The quest continued.

The Blue Marlin in Essex, MA was the first stop in July. I ordered a chocolate martini, because, well, why not. My side kick ordered a Sangria. The lobster roll came with fries and coleslaw, and was that a hint of mayo? This was the first lobster roll that clearly had a whole tail. It was rich with the taste of the sea and the portion huge.  Definitely my favorite. (Martini effect?) Rank A-.

But! Summer was over, more lobster was to be had.  Company from Atlanta visited for a weekend and so the view of the ocean was a must.  Off to Salem, MA again, this time to Sea Level and its second floor view.  The lobster roll was the smallest of the summer, but the presentation was the visual best – with coleslaw and house made chips. It did have mayo and celery on a toasted hot dog roll, but average.  If it had been my first lobster roll of the summer I might have thought more of it. Rank C+

SeaLevellobster

August became a month of non-stop activities.  We were hosting a small family wedding in our back yard. Lots to prep for that, family coming to stay, food to taste, whisky to line-up for a tasting. Busy. Family and friends came from as far as Israel, Switzerland, New Mexico, Georgia and North Carolina. Lobster rolls, clam chowder and fried clams from Kelley’s on Revere Beach was requested by the bride. A family tradition when visiting. I actually had never had a Kelley’s lobster roll, and I must say it wasn’t half bad. I wasn’t totally paying attention while eating this one because of all the wedding hoopla going on at that moment. If pushed to rank it, I say a C, at least. Not sure of the price.

Kelleyslobster

Labor Day weekend was upon us in a hurry. Time for the last lobster roll. Off to the Windward Grille, Essex, down the road from the Blue Marlin. Good size portion of lobster a tad under seasoned, and half of the steak fries sadly were overcooked. The price was right at $17.50 and at best I rank it a B, mostly because of the good size portion.

There you have it, my lobster rolls summer. My top rankings:

  1. Blue Marlin, Essex, MA
  2. Sea Glass, Salisbury Beach, MA
  3. Belle Isle, Winthrop, MA

I appreciate all the recommendations from fellow lobster fans. Food adventures are a great way to have easy summer road trips!

 

Best Buys and Big Bucks Favs

 

thepoursMy Best Buys and Big Bucks Favs are an ever evolving list; one that I take great pleasure in creating. Tasting new products, seeking out the unusual from near and far, and sharing with others, are what fuel my passion for whisky. The past year was no exception. Something new to taste locally as well as while traveling!

I was in Park Avenue Liquors in New York City during a long weekend getaway. Park Avenue Liquors was an in-country bucket list dream come through. While taking in the vast display on the ceiling high shelves standing next to me where two suit-and-ties, one was asking the other about what to purchase for a gift. A few were pointed out with the response “He’s not worth that much.” I chuckled to myself because the whiskies what were pointed out were in the under $100 range. Hmm, not a close pal.
Park AveThat being said, the whisky market does have a whisky for every price range and palate. Under $50 whisky doesn’t necessarily translate to poor quality whisky. I have four such decent whiskies that I tasted for the first time during the past year that I am pleased to share.

If you are stocking your whisky cart for the first time and don’t want to break the bank, my current recommendations:

  • Highland Park Magnus at 40% offers a touch of smoke, full-bodied flavor with a touch of sea brine
  • Glen Moray Chardonnay Cask NAS at 40% is perfectly nice and easy to drink
  • Paul John Brilliance from India at $46% offers the “this is different” moment with a sweet fruity and hint of lemon on the palate
  • Dickel Rye for the base of a cocktail. It is a soft rye that won’t overpower and blends well in a Manhattan or Old Fashioned.

On the flip side of the whisky price range are the three big bucks whiskies that stood out on the eighty plus whiskies that were new-to-me during the past year.  The price range is $175 to about $400 – and, yes, big bucks is a relative term.  The three are not in any special order – they all scored a 3+ out of a possible 4.  I always purchase two of the “4” scored bottles. One to drink and share, and one to tuck away. There were no “4” scores the past year, which I find curious. I’ll have to ponder that a while.

My Top Three Big Bucks tastings of the past year:

  • Springbank 19 YO Fresh Port Cask at 52.4% has a beautiful nose of chocolate and warm Port, the palate is almost thick. Amazing!
  • Glengoyne 25 YO at 48% is a true sherry bomb. Lovely!
  • Chapter 7 (Independent bottler, Switzerland) 19 YO Small Batch of 2 undisclosed Highland casks. Where did the pineapple notes come from? And there’s so much more flavor bursting forth.

Chapter7

Wherever you are on your whisky journey, savor the pleasure of a fine dram; pause a moment and take in your good fortune of being able to raise a glass.

I raise a glass to health, happiness and prosperity for my fellow whisky enthusiasts!

Virginia Distillery: Yup

Continuing my foray through the recent Sarasota, Florida, Whiskey Obsession Festival tasting this afternoon with two expressions from the Virginia Distillery. (Excellent web site from which to get all the particulars.) Gabriel Urrutia, the Southeast Market Manager, generously filled my nip bottles to the brim. Thus affording me enough for several tastes.

 

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Gabriel scores with this jacket

 

 

I went into this tasting totally blind.  I knew nothing of the distillery and chose it simply because I could try two different expressions. When trying whiskies new-to-me, I prefer to sample at least several expressions in order to get a feel for the product…  ‘cuz ya know, not all new whiskies are yummy.

Virginia DistilleryI tasted the Port Cask Finished Virginia-Highland first. Wow. This is a blended whisky at 46% alc. The web site states, “The Virginia-Highland Whisky series is made from 100% malted barley. The Virginia Distillery Company marries single malt whisky made on-site in Virginia with aged malt whisky from Scotland.” What I didn’t realize at the time of tasting is that this is the flagship whisky for the series.

Notes: The color is reflective of the port casks. It tastes like big alcohol at first, then rich with the port coming through, hints of chocolate and a deep flavor overall.

Westland Distillery has an intensive and comprehensive whisky wheel, which I used for this tasting.  Gourmand is the term I think best fits this Port Cask Whisky.

Welcome to the big leagues! I rate this expression a 3 out of 4 points. Buy this whisky.

The second taste was the blended Chardonnay Cask Finished Virginia-Highland Whisky at 46% alc. It is lighter in color and flavor. I got citrus and dough. On the Westland wheel I see it as Fruity. While the Port Cask pairs well with dark chocolate, the Chardonnay not-so-much. I hesitated but still rate is a 3- out of 4 points.

Next up will be two Balcones expressions straight outta Texas.

Tasting new whiskies is indeed an adventure. I raise a glass to adventures!

 

Whiskey Obsession: Heaven

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Whiskey Obsession in Sarasota, Florida recently wrapped up its Sixth Annual Festival. The offering included four days of whiskey tasting, pairing, dinners, master classes, VIP tasting and an incredible general tasting. If only I could have attended all the sessions, but reality heartily laughs at my wishful thinking. I eagerly attended the VIP tasting and the general tasting on Friday the 13th. Hmm, Friday the 13th – I got nothin’. But whisky notes, I do have.

 

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The Single Cask Nation shirt grabbed lots of attention. 

 

This year I brought some sample bottles with the hopes that a few of the pours would make their way in so I wouldn’t have a tired palate, and I could pick and choose how I wanted to taste and compare the whiskies. Seven expressions made their way home with me while I tasted six different expressions during the evening. I prefer to complete each taste and rarely sip and then pour out. Waste not want not.

This blog edition primarily focuses on the samples, which I tasted over the course of a few days.

Raj Sabharwal (2017 Global Whisky Ambassador, High Commended) was my first stop during the VIP session. I actually wanted to simply pull up a stool and stay planted for the evening. The selection was varied and deep, but knowing I had a specific quest in mind I limited myself to two pours to bring home.

After nosing the seven sample bottles, I decided to compare Raj’s English Whisky Company Single Cask Release – Peated, Jamaica Rum Cask Finish @ 57.8% alc. with the Bruichladdich Port Charlotte @ 57.8% alc.

I admit that I eyed the Port Charlotte early on during the tasting and knew that it would be my last pour of the night. I like to end the night with PEAT. Lucky me also secured a sample to take home.

The Port Charlotte has an oily nose that transforms to a smoky, earthy palate that lingers on the finish. When I tasted it at the event, I rated it a 4 (top score.) Would the 4 hold up after tasting the English Whisky?

The English I poured at home. It has a candy nose with a touch of buttered popcorn – the rum comes through on the nose. The palate was more of a hay then medicinal hit finishing with a pleasant earthiness.  I was quite pleasantly pleased with this whisky and gave it a solid 3 out of 4. After the English I went back to the Port Charlotte then back to the English again. The Port Charlotte lost ground and the English gained momentum during the comparison tasting. After much thought though the Port Charlotte still edges out the English…but not by much. Could be that I am partial to Bruichladdich whiskies!

Next comparison Virginia Distillery Company, Port Cask Finished, Highland Whisky and Virginia’s Chardonnay Cask, Highland Whisky….

 

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Gabriel Urritia, Virginia Distillery Southeast Market Manager.

 

In the meantime, I raise a glass to the world of whisky and all its enthusiasts.

 

St. Patrick’s Tasting Surprise

 

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Blurry photo…pre-tasting!

 

Every year I plan an informal whisky tasting for my friends at the Friday Night Happy Hour at our condo club house. This year was no exception, and the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day was the perfect venue. Bring on the Irish!

Knowing that the tasters would be there for the fun both before and after the tasting, I avoided purchasing the high-end Irish whiskies on the market. Now, that doesn’t mean that the whiskies selected would not be quality products. I am a firm believe that there is a whisk(e)y for every taste and for every budget.

 

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Still blurry!

Eleven enthusiastic tasters stepped up to the challenge, while another dozen or so cheered them on!

The first taste was of Concannon Blended at 40%. The bottle states that it is distilled and matured in collaboration with Cooley Distillery. Not a bad start!  The funny thing is I bought this bottle from the discount rack at Total Wines – I really bought blind.

I find this whiskey light and creamy and one to reach for when looking for easy drinking. The bottle states that it is matured for a minimum of four years. The price is right for sure.

The second taste was of The Sexton at 40% – one that I tried a few months ago and mentioned in a blog. The Sexton is a single malt, new to the market and bottled in a unique bottle (to say the least.)

Bushmills Sexton1As with the Concannon, The Sexton is a lower priced bottle that can found at most stores for under $30.  I actually chose The Sexton because one of the tasters is named Sexton – unfortunately no relation to the whiskey. It has a bit more bite than the Concannon.

Lastly we tried an Irish whiskey that stands above many of its competitors. One that I always have in my liquor cabinet – Redbreast 12 YO at 40%.  Its spicy, complex, and finishes with a wonderful smile. This bottle runs about $60.

The eleven finished their tastes, scored their preferences using the following scale:

1 = never buy this    2 = maybe buy this    3 = buy this one    4 = buy two, hide one

The results:

Concannon score: 30    Sexton score: 26    Redbreast score: 21

Yes, surprising. The group went for the easy drinking dram. Just goes to show that tastings are never a slam dunk for the well-known higher priced whiskey. The Redbreast did not score a single “4”. Perhaps tasting the whiskies in a different order might make a difference. something to think about.

I raise my glass to drinking whatever whisk(e)y one enjoys!