Ah, New Orleans. Joie de vivre! The joy of life!
I love the city of New Orleans. It’s literally one of my favorite places on earth, and quite often, I pine for it….I dream about it. It calls to my heart, beckoning me home. My relationship with New Orleans goes back centuries. My x5 Great-Granddad was born near Versailles, Ky, but the family relocated to southern Indiana, where they set up a farm and eventually a freight hauling business. His son, William was a veteran of the Mexican War, and spent the years between that conflict and the Civil War growing the business, running flat boats down the Mississippi, heavy with cargo, hauling Indiana corn and barrels of Kentucky’s finest whiskey to the houses of ill-repute in the French Quarter. At the outbreak of the Civil War, William raised a regiment of Indiana farm boys and was commissioned as a Captain. They marched south, fighting all the way through Louisiana, finally arriving in New Orleans, and were part of the force that conquered the city. William kept his command headquarters near the river until 1866, at which point he resumed his flat boat business hauling Bourbon to Bourbon Street, as well as raising “blooded horses”. That’s some life.
The city is in my blood, just like bourbon. I know that, and I get down as frequently as I can. One of my favorite things about New Orleans are the smells of culinary excellence that emanate from hot kitchens throughout the city. Nowhere in the country is food as good as it is here. Fresh vegetables being chopped and the Holy Trinity cooked into a roux, savory seafood gumbo and jumbalaya bubbling in a cast iron pot. Popping, sizzling alligator sausage browning in the skillet, hot french bread piled high with meat into a gigantic muffalatta. Beignet’s covered in powdered sugar at Cafe Du Monde. But my absolute obsession is the one treat that is not easily duplicated anywhere else, the New Orleans candy kitchen pumping out hot dollops of caramelized sugar and pecan, soft and thick, nutty and sweet. The Praline, pronounced “Praw Line”. They are irresistible. The best part is, you walk into the store, and there is always a sweet face that greets you saying, “you want a prawline sample, baby?” Well yes, yes I do. I hit them all. The Candy Kitchen, Aunt Sallies, Southern Candy Makers, Leah’s, Lorretta’s, Laura’s….on and on, you get the picture. They are all slightly different, but none more or less amazing that the others, as long as they are fresh. Gotta be fresh. Those dank toasty pecans sweating inside that buttery sweet sugar. Oh Lawdy. I assume these are the hors d’oeuvre’s that are passed out while you are in the queue at the gates of heaven.
I ask myself, why has no one ever transformed this confection into a decadent drink? Well, apparently Drew and Willett were way, way ahead of me.
Simply put, the incredible 22yr old C12B is nothing short of a liquid pecan praline candy. Sweet and aromatic.
Keep in mind that at 135.8 proof it’s a hot little beast, so for me and the purposes of this taste, I found that a few drops of Kentucky limestone filtered spring water and 17 minutes of air will bring this juice into the perfect state of drinkability. As per usual, doctor it to suit your taste.
The color of the C12B is dark and golden. but it sparkles and glimmers…like the Mississippi at dusk, when the sun is going down, and the lights off the Crescent City Connection bridge mingle with the neon glow of the French Quarter, shimmering off the rippling black water.
The nose is well-rounded and super sweet, identical to the moment you break through the plane of the entrance at Southern Candy Makers. PRALINES AND PECANS! Sugars melting and cooking, stirred within an inch of their life. The musky pecans sit in buckets, waiting for their moment to be dumped, adding a sort of desert aggregate that binds the candy concrete together. I find the heaviest scent of the copper kettle burnt sugar and pecans comes when I hold the rim of my glass closer to the tip of my nose. Any closer to your nostrils and the high alcohol content will bite you, but good. I could inhale this creole perfume forever, and it puts me right there in the Vieux Carre.
The flavor continues this party. The sweetness jumps right out of the glass, kissing you on the lips on the way by, whispering “Laissez les bons temps rouler!”….Let the Good Times Roll. The pecans are more pronounced and vanilla that wasn’t as apparent in the nose is right in there. The grains are coming out, like pie crust. BOURBON PECAN PIE. It’s utterly delicious, an easy drinking ultra-aged barrel proof bourbon. How wonderful is that?!?!
My notes say: “My heart is beating, longingly, to be sitting in Jackson Square, strolling at a relaxing pace past the artists and fortune tellers. Listening to the gentle clip clop of horse-drawn carriages pulling their fares along Decatur. A loose affiliation of young ragamuffin brass players and a bass drum form a crude-yet-perfect second line band, marching jovially, playing beyond the limits of their instruments for tips. The Natchez steam boat sits like a grand old wedding cake bobbing in the river, its steam calliope toot-tooting, echoing through the alley ways.”
This is fertilizer for your soul’s happiness, cultivating smiles. You see? This is what an epic bourbon can do. Put you in your favorite places, favorite moments.
The finish is not the typical sizzle, and it would be insulting to compare it to a “burn”. It’s more, explosive… A volley of howitzers fired from Washington Battery. It’s best described as fireworks, a BOOM and fade, followed by another BOOM and fade. Each blast is discernible from the previous one. Big and bold, pop after pop. As it travels over the top of my tongue, heading towards the throat, I give a couple of short exhales and inhales to feel the full extent of the alcohol in my nose. That’s the money, good Cajun jalapeno’s that have been baked in brown sugar. And then it drifts away…….like the Mississippi river, or the revelers that party into the night, throwing beads and living for the moment, slowly wandering into the sunrise, towards the river walk, disappearing into the light, ready for sleep.
I love Willett Family Estate bourbon…..