Whiskey Tasting Night – The Violet Hour, West Didsbury

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As many of my readership can attest, this is a lady who likes the odd tipple, and there’s no tipple this lady likes more than Woodford bourbon (well, maybe some champers, but that’s no surprise is it?).

So when good friend and the man with the BEST job in the world mentioned he would be conducting a Woodford/American whiskey tasting night at The Violet Hour in West Didsbury, how could I not pop along and show him my support by eagerly listening to his wisdom and tasting ALL the drinks he made. What a great friend I am hey?

The Violet Hour – wonderful photography from Carl Sukonik/The Vain Photography

Premise of the night was very simple, Tom Vernon, the American Whiskey Ambassador for Bacardi Brown Foreman would introduce three of his brands; Gentleman Jack, Woodford and Jack Single Barrel by giving us a (large) measure of each to taste/savour/down. Then we’d get a classic cocktail made from each (and be shown how to make them too – now I’m going to look like a PRO at Christmas) and plenty of history, anecdotes and tasting notes along the way.

Not all these drinks were mine… (are you sure? – ed)

We were first introduced to Gentleman Jack, a Tennessee whiskey, NOT a bourbon; this is Jack Daniels given the posh treatment – gently mellowed in charred oak barrels for two years then re-mellowed through a unique charcoal filtering process (did you know the Jack Daniels distillery is the ONLY distiller with their own cooper – ie. they make ALL their own barrels? (See I was listening/not getting too pissed. Really. Promise.). Indeed it was pretty smooth, with that oakiness as a slight warm burn on the back of the throat and a good mouthful of stone fruits as well.

Gentleman Jack was given the whiskey sour treatment – very simply just whiskey (obviously), mixed with sugars, bitters, the sharp bite of lemon and some egg white to give you a nice creamy mouth feel (oi! I’m talking about booze you rude people!). See the bottom of the blog post to make your own whiskey sour.

Tom doing his thang – again thanks to the amazing Carl Sukonik/The Vain Photography

Next drink was my favourite EVER – a Woodford. Even without Tom’s spiel I can tell you that this bourbon is a far more punchy and layered little number as it contains much more rye than the Gentleman Jack (18% compared to Gentleman’s 8% – ok, I didn’t know the percentages until I got Tom’s informative chat). Woodford is full of toffee and maple notes (that’s why it makes such a good caramel for morning pancakes!) with some peppery, anise flavours to really perk it up at the end. Even though it’s more punchy, it has less of an aggressive nose/throat than the Gentleman Jack due to the aging processes it goes through.

The Woodford was turned in to one of my top ten favourite cocktails; the quintessential prohibition drink that’s gone through a massive resurgence lately, the stately and sophisticated (and darn right boozey) Manhattan. The story goes it was created at the Manhattan club for Winston Churchill’s mother – how it was when she was pregnant and in France, no one knows, it’s been lost in the mists of time…

Woodford Manhattan and terrible photo

The last whiskey of the night was the Jack Single Barrel – that’s the super posh stuff that Jack Daniel’s makes. As it says on the tin (ok bottle), this is a single barrel bottling; each batch is created from ONE single barrel (approx 250 bottles). This whiskey has oodles of flavour and a much higher abv (45%!) thanks to it being stored in the Angel’s Roost – the top of the warehouse where the temperature differences are more pronounced, thus meaning the whiskey has had more interaction with the wood; the whiskey sucking in and absorbing all those charred oaky tannins and being softened by its interaction with the wood.

Each batch of Jack Single Barrel differs from the each other depending on what time of year it was made, where it has been stored in the warehouse and what the weather has been like whilst it’s been in the barrel (yes, even little nuances like that make a whole lot of difference); each batch will have different tasting notes, different characteristics and different complexities – this batch was silky soft and mellow with burnt toffee and charcoal notes coming through on the finish. A smooth, complex and extremely exquisite drink, poo poohing those toffee noses who look down on American Whiskey as a second rate drink – and this little tipple nearly, ever so nearly knocked Woodford down from its lofty perch in my esteem (don’t tell Woodford though…).

For the Single Barrel a very special, simple drink (that actually takes a little time and quite a bit of care to make properly) that can actually claim to be one of my very favourites and one of the very first cocktails ever created in them good ol’ days; an Old Fashioned (yeah that one in Madmen. No I haven’t watched Madmen. Yes I know I’m probably missing out. Thanks.) – whiskey, sugar syrup, bitters and a little twist of orange. Tom’s version = perfection.

Thanks to Dan (left) and Tom for a wonderful, fun evening

The Violet Hour is a perfect little hideaway that has recently opened on Burton Road in West Didsbury – whilst I lived there (yonks ago whilst at Uni – not telling you how long that was), it had always been a derelict butcher shop, a broken down blot on the blossoming Burton Road scene. Thankfully owner/manager Dan had a vision to create a bustling little bar with a great selection of quality drinks and (soon to come) warming stews and creative nibbles (think home made pork scratching and gourmet popcorn, yum) – the pared back brick work and warm lighting creating a friendly, welcoming space – if you like a proper drink, this is the place to go.

So how much did supporting my friend (er don’t you mean filling your boots with a ton of booze? – ed) cost? Pretty reasonable actually – for three (large) tasting measures, three exceptionally created cocktails (Tom is pretty skillful in that area) and more canapes than I could actually eat, I only had to shell out £15. I think it was more than worth it and will be booking myself and anyone who will come with me (and who wouldn’t? Booze and food and ME hey?) on to the next spirit night The Violet Hour hosts (apparently there will be lots – check their Twitter and Facebook for more info/before they all sell out!).

All eagerly listening to Tom in the lovely surroundings of The Violet Hour –
again from Carl Sukonik/The Vain Photography (who has a brilliant eye, check him out!)

The Violet Hour, 236 Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester M20 – FacebookTwitter – 0161 434 9521

Ps Thanks to Carl Sukonik of The Vain Photography for letting me use his beautifully shot photos and for sparing you any more of my out of focus/blurry attempts. Check out his website and twitter for more info about how you can book this highly talented/lovely chap.


How to make a Whiskey Sour like Tom Vernon aka the jammiest man in the world

60ml Gentleman Jack
2 tsp sugar
20ml fresh lemon (and no, it is NOT acceptable to use the stuff in a bottle. EVER.)
Bitters to taste (get creative, there’s a wide variety of bitters out there)
Egg white from one egg (save the yolk for your hangover cure the next morning…)
Cocktail shaker
Lowball glass with ice cubes in
Cheeky grin – optional

1. Pop all the ingredients bar the bitters in a cocktail shaker and shake about a bit dry ie. NOT with ice (don’t just shake the shaker with nothing in, that’s not how you make a cocktail).

2. Whilst shaking, regale people with anecdotes/facts about whiskey you have learnt from this blog – or in Tom’s version, with amazing tales from having the best job in the world where you just get to talk a lot about whiskey, drink a lot of whiskey and fly out to America every three minutes (not that I’m jealous or anything).

3. Pour in to a low ball/old fashioned glass (the little short, squat ones) over ice and shake some bitters in over the top – you can prep the glasses by sugaring the rims if you want to be ultra professional.

4. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel and serve with a winning smile. Lapping up praise – optional.

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