“I lieb ya, I lieb ya, I lieb ya baby. Now lieb me alone.”
Adolf Hitler’s first line in the fictitious musical “Springtime for Hitler” – the phony production at the heart of “The Producers” – marks the pivotal moment when the previously pearl-clutchingly aghast audience begins to see the performance in a new light – a trashy, tasteless comedic romp to be enjoyed and not overthought.
I had a similar moment of reframed clarity on a recent trip to Las Vegas. A town Lorenzo St. DuBois – the acid-camp Jim Morrison-esque actor who is cast as Hitler, wonderfully played by Dick Shaw – would fit right into. It was my first trip to Sin City, and was booked more as a gateway to Death Valley National Park than a “Vegas baby” weekend. I was more than a little apprehensive, as I wasn’t really sure Vegas was for me and it turned out that my apprehension wasn’t ill-conceived.
Having been dropped off at the wrong hotel in the middle of the strip at 8 PM, after an 11-hour flight, my first inclination was to leave immediately. The thick smell of weed and the sight of staggering masses hoisting aloft Fat Tuesday frozen cocktail bongs whilst randomly screaming words like “vacation,” “Vegas,” and “yeeaah” left me feeling anxious, exposed, and painfully British.
And then, after locating the right hotel and finding a safe space for a couple of beers, I began to see things differently. I’d been taking the place – and myself – too seriously. Much like the high-minded audience watching Springtime for Hitler, once I realised it was all a big trashy, tasteless joke, I was able to relax and give myself over to it. I would even go as far as saying I had fun. Derived largely from voyeurism rather than participation, but fun nonetheless.
But after a while voyeurism starts to get a bit creepy – who’d have thought – and I was also keen to try some American whiskey whilst in town. Shamefully, I know next to nothing about the rich world of bourbons, ryes, and American malts but the more I read – mainly here on Malt – the more I find myself drawn to the evocative names and flavours on offer. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to spend some time with The Boss Hog or Pappy Van Winkle?! (maybe not The Boss Hog V, reviewed as “whiskey for rich idiots” on Malt last December).
Hoping to steer clear of overpriced and/or poor-quality booze, I sought out some expert advice. Thanks to Taylor’srecommendations, and everyone on Twitter who kindly suggested Vegas whiskey spots to visit, I had a list of pours and places to pursue. Oak and Ivy – an off-strip whiskey and cocktail bar that feels a million miles from the main street mayhem – was my favourite. Thanks to @vidiot_ and @Bourbontruth for the heads up 🙌
I ordered a flight of three whiskies to kick things off. A Four Roses Single Barrel, a Wild Turkey Rare Breed and a Wilderness Trail 6 year old. The barman rewarded my selection with a nod of approval and the man standing next to me at the bar commented, “nice pick.” At least, that’s what I think he said.
I’d be lying if I said I’d got my head around the laws and characteristics that govern the different styles of American whiskey. Some stuff is simple enough, a single barrel doesn’t require too much understanding, whereas mashbills, “straight”ness, and proofs require a bit of extra reading for the uninitiated.
Assuming that the majority of readers here are very much initiated, and in keeping with the “drink it, don’t overthink it” vibe of Las Vegas, I’ll skip straight to the tasting.
First up was the Wild Turkey Rare Breed, bottled at 58.4% ABV.
Wild Turkey Rare Breed – Review
Available from Master of Malt for £55.
Colour: Black tea.
On the nose: Unbelievably rich and sweet. Full of butter and oak with a hint of coconut. It really builds a sense of anticipation that something special is about to happen.
In the mouth: Wow. To be honest, I was expecting a bit of burn due to the age and ABV. How silly of me. It really picks up where the nose left off. More rich, sweet goodness. Sticky toffee pudding, caramel, dates, and thick molasses. Banana, pineapple, and coconut intermingle with the candy and buttery flavours, with a hint of mint and spice underneath, to create a wonderfully luxurious and layered experience.
In hindsight, I probably should have started with one of the other more delicate whiskies before diving into this big beast. But maybe it’s fitting for Vegas to go big early. My only reservation was whether it was in fact a little too sweet; maybe a one and done kind of whiskey at the end of a meal. I shall find out soon enough, as I picked up a bottle at duty-free on the way home.
Next, the Four Roses Single Barrel, bottled at 50% ABV.
Four Roses Single Barrel – Review
Available from Master of Malt for £45.
Colour: Apple juice.
On the nose: Much lighter and more delicate than the Turkey. More citrus fruits and floral notes upfront, with vanilla toffee and honey bringing up the rear.
In the mouth: Actually, much more body and weight than the nose suggested. The floral and citrus notes still lead but the toffee and caramel flavours are much more prominent. There’s a slight astringency balancing out the fruits and a distinct liquorice note at the back of the mouth that builds on the finish.
A subtler and more delicate affair, with lots of depth and layers of interest. Probably should have started with this one. Would have also picked up a bottle to take home had it been available in travel retail.
(verging on 7, with the extra point for great value vs hyper-inflated NAS Scotch madness)
Lastly, the Wilderness Trail 6-year-old
Wilderness Trail 6 Year Old Bourbon – Review
Available on Amazon for £100.
Colour: Somewhere in between the Wild Turkey and the Four Roses.
On the nose: I wasn’t expecting that. Dusty, almost cheesy-smelling first hit. Close to what the French might call sous bois. It’s earthy and vegetal. I had reservations.
In the mouth: All of the dusty, woody mustiness is present but much more enjoyable than I feared. Like turning milk or sourdough starter, there’s a slight sulphuric meatiness to it that’s quite addictive. Ash smoke builds over time, and the meaty flavour develops into a sweeter maple-cured bacon. Citrus fruits start to emerge underneath but never quite break through.
Maybe it was the comparison with the previous whiskies, but this felt very different. I was sure I was going to dislike it based on the nose, but actually found it quite interesting. I’d be intrigued to try it again on its own to see how it changes. In no way a bad whiskey but it came bottom of the three for me.
With a point deducted for the price point; double the price of the Four Roses Single Barrel? That doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s better value closer to home.
Now safely back in London, I feel a slight pining for the sunny days sipping whiskey off-strip in Vegas. I won’t be booking a return trip anytime soon, but I will be carving out a weekend window to watch “Casino” and drink a Wild Turkey. Well, “Casino” or “The Producers.”
My condolences on being hit with a wall of weed stench upon your arrival. I am very sensitive to that and even a sniff of it on the breeze seems to stay in my nose for a long time. A very big downer.
Given that, it is odd that I have the opposite problem when it comes to Wild Turkey and especially Rare Breed, of which I have a bottle open at the moment on the bar. I get very little on the nose except alcohol, and a bit of caramel and oak once past that. At full strength the alcohol overpowers any flavors it may have on the tongue. A bit of water does allow some things to emerge, but I never get the array of flavors you describe. I’m not saying you are wrong because I know it and other WT offerings are beloved by many who can experience those notes as well. I just have never been able to find them. A conundrum.