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Southern Stories
Jan 27/17

Distill My Heart, It’s a Lovely Young Bourbon Posted by: Aaron Stearns | 0 Comments

The mayor of the little town I grew up in was a golf cheat.

I know this because from the time I was 12 years old until I graduated from high school, I was his regular caddy in his Saturday (9 a.m.) and Sunday (noon) foursomes at the Saw Palmetto International Golf and Senior Activity Center (SPIGASAC). And as such, I not only witnessed the man improve his lie and foot-wedge his way off the pine straw countless times, I actually aided and abetted his dishonesty by carrying in my pockets several identically marked Titleist reds, one of which I would always manage to find in a convenient spot whenever his honor sliced one into the woods.

(“Musta richocheted,” Mayor would mumble whenever fortune smiled. I still mutter those words whenever I, in the course of my daily adventures. encounter something I consider too convenient to be true.)

Being the mayor’s “boy” caused me to suffer a few indignities.

First of all, he was one of those dried-up little guys who compensated for his lack of physical presence by buying the largest green and black leather Wilson Staff bag he could find and jamming it with about 30 clubs (even though he only hit his driver, five wood, seven iron, sand wedge and putter), two different styles of extendable ball retrievers, an extra pair of Foot Joys, a full set of rain gear (including those stupid rain gloves you’re supposed to soak before pulling on) and an umbrella you could park a Volkswagen Beetle under. Top it off,  he had his name emblazoned on the side in six-inch gold script letters that would have embarrassed Liberace’s costume designer (and maybe even John Daly).

I had to muster that abomination upon my wee shoulders for at least 36 holes every weekend, and sometimes three or four times a week in the summer.

And Mayor expected me to read his putts, wipe down his wedges and to give him yardages accurate down to the inch (not that it mattered; everything more than 140 yards out was a five wood for him). And when he got to the ninth tee he made me sprint ahead to the clubhouse (which at least allowed me to hand off the monster bag to one of my fellow caddies for a hole) and meet him on the green with two gin and tonics (and usually a six-pack of Dixie for his playing partners).

Which is, Doc, why I, to this day, detest colorless alcohol.

Also, because Mayor was a screaming narcissist, he only played balls marked with the number 1, and so when he dispatched me to the pro shop to fetch him a fresh dozen, I had to open at least four boxes (more if I happened on one of those freak boxes that contained 5s, 6s, 7s, and 8s) to obtain four sleeves of 1s. This perturbed Chester the golf pro (known around our caddy shack as “Chuck Chuck the golfing …” oh never mind, ladies might be present) who had a touch of what we didn’t recognize in those days as the OCD and was a Democrat besides, who didn’t like my messing with his inventory.

While Chester was putatively my boss, he served at the pleasure of the Greens Committee, which was dominated by Mayor and his G.O.P. cronies. So he unhappily tolerated my rummaging through his stockroom and, on days when Mayor did not play, took whatever passive-aggressive revenge upon me as he thought he could get away with: Such as making me loop for the granny group that went off just before noon on Tuesdays when it was hot.

My ladies were sweet, but murderously slow and frugal — they split a caddy, so I would trudge up and down SPIGASAC’s hilly little goat track carrying two lavender and periwinkle Hot-Z bags for five and a half hours for a couple of quarters and a peck on the cheek.

But I am not one to dwell in negativity.

I must admit Mayor was good to me. Looking back, maybe he thought had to be, for I knew his secrets (which really weren’t secrets, everyone knew about the man’s moral turpitude and forgave him because he couldn’t play Molly Hatchet on the radio anyway).

He always paid his golf debts, and, being somewhat insecure, and thus inclined to overtip, allowed me the means to buy my first three cars. And when I graduated, he got me an appointment with our congressman that helped me win a Huey P. Long scholarship to a certain land grant university. And when he died, all those long decades ago, he left me in his will a set of lightly used Ben Hogan Director irons (I had to reshaft them; Mayor played with noodle flexes), a brass-headed Acushnet Bullseye putter I used on bent grass greens (until global warming or whatever made it impossible to keep bent grass greens in the South) that still stands in the corner of my office and a check for $500 that I wish I’d never cashed. (But at the time, probably saved me from a desperado lifestyle.)

I guess I loved that man. Even though he was a Republican. And a cheater.

Which brings me around (finally, I know, Miss Editrix) to this month’s lesson. Which is that cheating doesn’t necessarily make you such a bad person, and that maybe we shouldn’t worry so much about the letters of the laws we make. Maybe we should seek more the spirit of the thing.

For instance, there’s this one cheater bourbon I like a lot. They make it in Arkansas, which is going to put some of you Kentucky people off right away — but hold that thought just a second, Colonel.

Phil Brandon has this place in Little Rock called Rock Town Distillery — they’ve been at it about four years now. They make Brandon’s Vodka and Gin, and a moonshine product, but they only got my attention a couple of years ago when they released a product called Arkansas Young Bourbon, which through the virtue of science I don’t understand (but philosophically probably isn’t much different from my slathering Vaseline all over Mayor’s clubfaces to inhibit his slice), is aged just three to six months instead of the years other distilleries take.

Now I have always been inclined to believe that the longer an alcoholic beverage is aged the better, but that’s not always the case. The good folks at Jim Beam never age any of their products longer than nine years, because they feel like that’s about all any charred oak barrel can really take.

Part of the reason that Arkansas Young Bourbon can come to market so fast is that the mash is aged in small 5- and 10-gallon barrels rather than the 53-gallon ones traditionally used. While I can just about understand that this means a smaller volume of liquid comes in contact with a proportionally larger cask surface, I try not to worry too much about technical stuff.

Still, because it’s not aged two full years, Arkansas Young Bourbon is eligible for the “straight bourbon” appellation. It’s also distinguished by the fact that it contains no rye, because rye isn’t grown in Arkansas. (Or wasn’t, I’ve heard through the grapevine that Brandon intends to start growing his own.)

Instead the mash is made of native corn and soft wheat. It is produced in a very small batch; only 114 cases were bottled on first release. It carries a big-boy price tag — suggested retail is $24.99 for a 375-ml bottle. Though, it’s now sold in a 750 ml version, for about $35.

And I try to keep it around. It’s an impressive sipping whiskey that, with its floral, cognac-y nose with the merest hint of vanilla and deep corn-fueled fire, compares with Beam’s super premium Booker’s. (Which is a bit more robust then the 92 proof AYB.)

You can drink it how you want. I like a little ice, or at least a trickle of branch water, to open it up, but it’s nice neat too. (But I don’t care if you make vanilla Old-Fashioneds or mix it with squid ink or baby spinach or whatever it is you hipsters do these days.)

Arkansas Young isn’t the only bourbon (or if you prefer, bourbonesque brown liquor) to curtail its aging progress — they’ve got this one they make in Ohio called Cleveland Whiskey that they age for about a week. It’s “finished with an oxygen enriched, accelerated process,” a trade secret, they say. I haven’t tried it yet but I’ve heard both good and bad about it. I might make it up to Parma or Westlake and pick up a bottle.

Maybe it’s cheating, or maybe it’s just progress.  Hell, I don’t know anymore. And maybe I don’t care as much either. I like big-headed titanium drivers and GPS golf watches too.

Says here I hit that one 328 yards. Must have ricocheted!



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