El Gato Negro is to step back in time with an exclusive evening of social (and secret) drinking pleasure to toast Repeal Day on December 5. The day when Prohibition – a ban on the manufacture and sale of alcohol – came to an end in 1933.
Food and wine aficionados are invited to take part in the clandestine event, which will be held in the acclaimed Black Cat – the upstairs bar at the top of the heritage building with Manchester’s only retractable roof. Treasures sourced from local antique dealers, add character and vintage glamour – a perfect Prohibition hideaway.
Guests can shake their tail feathers behind blacked out windows to live swing band The Prohibition Swing Club or sit back and take in the speakeasy flavour with specially created cocktails. The exclusive cocktail menu will include the Bee’s Knees, a delicious blend of Tito’s Handmade Vodka, wild blossom honey and orange blossom, the White Water Rickey, a chilled mix of Buffalo Trace Bourbon and homemade strawberry iced tea soda and the Branca Brew, a dark blend of Fernet-Branca, fig liqueur and dry lager.
Though the full recipe is a secret, Fernet is made from a number of herbs and spices. It was handily classified as ‘medicinal’ during the Prohibition era, cementing its popularity in San Francisco and elsewhere. Do like the San Franciscans do this Repeal Day and give your merrymaking a healthy makeover.
The intimate event at the Black Cat starts at 1900. No booking is required, but access is recommended via the backdoors on South King Street in order to elude prying eyes. Discounts will be offered to those who have secured the secret passcode or to those in 1920’s glad rags.
Some of you may have come across this day. It’s a celebrated event as it marks the occasion of the repeal of Prohibition in the United States, accomplished with the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution on December 5th 1933. It’s with this historic day in the history of alcohol production that Old Forester bourbon made its mark this year as the brand is officially the longest running bourbon on the market today (144 years) and is the only bourbon to be bottled pre, during and post prohibition.
It’s astonishing then that I’m only just sitting down and really taking a look at the brand. So here goes.
Old Forester originates back to 1870, and is the brain child of George Garvin Brown, a gentleman who based himself on Main Street (322 W. Main Street to be exact), the center of Louisville’s whiskey economy through the early 20th century. George sought to have America’s first bottled bourbon; not only sold in sealed glass bottles, but each made according to Brown’s 1870 Original Batch process of batching barrels from three distilleries to create a consistent flavor profile.
In 1897, Bottled in Bond Old Forester was presented at 100 proof in sealed bottles to comply with the legal regulations specified by the U.S. Bottled in Bond Act of 1897. This followed the legend that involves Old Forester and the now classic cocktail ‘Old Fashioned’, where it was deemed that the local Louisville’s Hometown Bourbon was used in the 1880’s.
In 1910, Old Forester Old Fine Whisky robust small batch was created on Whiskey Row, but in 1920, Prohibiton begins and saw many distilleries close. But the company, now named Brown-Forman after being originally named J.T.S. Brown and Bro., applies for and receives a federal license to continue producing Old Forester for medicinal purposes. 4 years later, Old Forester operations move from Whiskey Row to 18th and Howard streets in Louisville, and in 1933, Prohibition is repealed. Old Forester production is increased and, as mentioned, today Old Forester is the only bourbon continually distilled and marketed by the founding family before, during and after Prohibition.
1935 saw the Old Forester barrel entry proof established at 125 proof to comply with new post-Prohibition federal standards for distilled spirits, and in 1941, an Old Forester plant begins producing industrial alcohol to help World War II efforts.
1946 saw the purchase of the Bluegrass Cooperage, which today is known as the Brown-Forman Cooperage, to make Old Forester whisky barrels. To this day it’s the only cooperage owned by a major distiller!
In 2002, Old Forester celebrated the 156th birthday of founder George Garvin Brown with a limited-edition Old Forester Birthday Bourbon™ on his birthday, Sept 2. A year later, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon receives the title of American Whisky of the Year at WhiskyFest New York and in 2015, Old Forester Mint Julep is named Official Drink of the Kentucky Derby®, a race starting back in 1875.
So what makes Old Forester stand out to the other bourbons available?
Well the 86 proof version, or the one you are likely to see in many a bar, is twice distilled and uses a grain recipe of corn, rye and malted barley. You also have the Signature 100 proof which uses only a selection of barrels available, and the original 1870 batch which see’s select barrels from three warehouses, each barrel originating from a different day of production, with a different entry proof and a different age profile, then batched together.
But how does the 86 proof fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes –
Old Forester – 43%
Floral notes of tobacco and vanilla on the nose, with a subtle orange zest coming through slowly. Thick on the palate, with a good kick of oak, fudge and caramel to begin-with, turning to a lively, fresh butter and orange finish that’s long, slightly sharp and offering hints of honey.
A great dram to be enjoyed on its own, but what about a twist on a Blood and Sand perhaps using Old Forester, spiced pineapple and vanilla as recommended by Massimo Zitti of Cane and Grain in Manchester? Or maybe the Kentucky Derby favourite?
60 ml Old Forester
25 ml Simple Syrup
8-10 mint leaves
3 mint sprigs, for garnish
Rub 8-10 mint leaves along the inside of a mint julep cup. Pack mint julep cup with crushed ice. Pour bourbon and syrup over ice. Swizzle with swizzle stick or bar spoon. Top with ice and garnish with 3 generous sprigs of mint. *Make sure to slap mint and insert straw into ice near mint.
A recommended bourbon for sure when it comes to stocking your drinks cabinet. The brand offers a liquid that is unique to the American industry, and with its versatility, it really shows off how bourbon would have been enjoyed not only today, but back in the 1800’s too.
* Thank you to Massimo Zitti of Cane and Grain in Manchester for showing off some of his Old Forester bourbon cocktail skills to me.*
Prohibition. A term that most of you would know if you ever looked at the history of a brand, a category or indeed even your own family. Prohibition came about in the US back in 1919, which meant that America banned the manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors. As with anything you take away, it makes you more determined to produce it, with the culmination of illegal stills, mass smuggling by Bootleggers and the underground speakeasy running rife during the twenties and thirties.
The brand that we’re focusing on here though is Bootlegger – a nod to the smugglers of the illicit booze over the state lines within America. It is believed that the term ‘bootlegging’ originated during the American Civil War, when soldiers would sneak liquor into army camps by concealing pint bottles within their boots or beneath their trouser legs. It’s also believed that the term was popularized when thousands of city dwellers would sell liquor from flasks they kept in their boot leg all across major cities. Even though the Prohibition Act was revoked back in 1933, the legend of it lives on, and Bootlegger has been created to honour the less legal side of it all.
Bootlegger is designed to evoke the un-aged ‘moonshine’ whiskey produced illicitly during Prohibition. Entirely un-aged, but has a ‘oak tincture’ added, which gives a slight yellow colour to mimic the effect of the barrels that would have been used to transport moonshine. Bootlegger is a combination of distilled English and French Winter Wheat and is housed within a bottle designed in line with the Prohibition era.
Launched in 2012, it is promoting itself as a sipping spirit, so lets see how it fares –
Sweet vanilla and oak builds on the nose and carries onto the palate with hints of spice. A little vanilla, with a creamy texture that reminds me of Cornish ice cream. Honey flavours come through near the long, lingering and slightly dry end.
They’re right, I could sip that all day long. But I’d also recommend it within one of these –
40 ml Bootlegger
12.5 ml Grand Marnier
12.5 ml Sugar Syrup
12.5 ml Lemon juice
2 dashes of bitters
Champagne to top
Raspberry to garnish
Shake Bootlegger, Grand Marnier, bitters, lemon juice and sugar syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain into a coupet. Top with Champagne and garnish with a raspberry.
A rather versatile drink, with a nod to quite possibly one of the most important pieces of the drinks trade history. One to impress your friends with, under the table of course.