The following review contains words like ‘penis’ and may not be suitable for adults.
“For in the Resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in Heaven.” - Matthew 22:30
As the above Biblical reference makes clear, angels–sort of like Justin Bieber–are gender neutral. They are neither men nor women, and neither will you be when the Second Coming happens, during which Jesus will say, “Criminiddly, people—where’d all this styrofoam come from?”
Angels are, therefore, immune to Freud. In other words, no penis envy, no womb envy, no chest hair envy and no actually liking When Harry Met Sally envy. What’s an incorporeal semi-divine theophanic messenger to do?
Drink bourbon, that’s what.
Distillers and winemakers are often sloppy sentimentalists to begin with, and with a tot or two of the fruits of the day’s labor under their belts, they start using maudlin terms like ‘angel’s share’ to describe evaporated booze.
After alcohol is made, it often undergoes a prolonged nap inside wooden barrels, imparting it with various chemical properties and flavors. Way back in the day, casks were used primarily as vessels for storing and transporting the product—the auxiliary benefits were secondary, and often unintended. A classic example is Retsina, Greece’s strange, turpentine-flavored wine. Two millennia ago, the Roman writer Columella recommended sealing barrels with pine resin, and the Greeks played copy-cat by using sap from their Aleppo forests to coat amphorae. Retsina is an acquired taste, no doubt, but the Greeks certainly acquired it—the weird stuff is popular to this day.
Barrels are porous, which is why they work: The slow permeation of air through the wood allows a multitude of subtle, positive changes to occur within the wine or spirit and, for the most part, at exactly the right speed. At the same time, a naturally-metered level of evaporation occurs, so that at the end of the aging process—whether it’s six months or six years—slightly less drink comes out than went in.
In humid conditions, the evaporation is primarily ethanol; in drier climates, it’s water. Either way, the ‘missing’ portion of liquid is known, colloquially, as ‘The Angel’s Share’.
Lincoln’s Thinkin’ Drinkin’
All of that is a rather convoluted way of explaining why Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson’s latest release—an exquisitely smooth and flavor-crazed bourbon that spends up to six years in charred white oak (3-4 ‘alligator’ char, whatever that means) and another six months in used port barrels—is called ‘Angel’s Envy’.
As public relations nonsense legend has it, Henderson—who spent forty years with Brown-Foreman before breaking rank and founding Louisville Distilling Company in 2005—sat down with a bunch of angels and offered them a bit more than their fair share provided that they improve what they left behind. There’s more, but I won’t bother because it’s sort of copywriter idiotic.
The liquor, however, is not. Bourbon, a peculiarly American breed of spirit, is made primarily from corn (51% by law) and aged in charred, new oak barrels, giving it an extremely appealing smoky sweetness unlike any other whiskey in the world. It’s a myth that bourbon must by law come from Kentucky—any state can produce it. But worldwide, most trade agreements allow that anything called ‘bourbon’ must be born in the U.S.A.
Bourbon is not to your taste?
Bite me—that’s like saying, ‘I really don’t think red goes with white and blue.’
In order to produce Angel’s Envy—which Henderson refers to without abash as his ‘masterpiece’—he and his team have pulled out all the corks, opting for the Cadillac of corn (non-GMO), the YES Roadster of yeasts (an exclusive strain, evidently developed by Henderson himself) and the Bentley of barrels (air-dried Bluegrass Cooperage for the initial 4-6 year run and 60 gallon vintage port barrels for the finish). To step even further away from Jim Crow (seriously—Jim Crow invented the sour mash process prior to inventing drinking fountain signs), Henderson ‘batches’ Angel’s Envy 12 barrels at a time, unlike his competition, which may sniff ‘n’ swirl up to a hundred barrels during the end game. Obviously, this allows Henderson a much more contemplative opportunity wherein he can bottle only that bourbon which he feels meets or exceeds whatever Sts. Gabriel or Rafael might expect.
Other OCD-sounding eccentricities that Henderson employs during the production of Angel’s Envy include filtering through ‘activated carbon’ rather than via the cheaper ‘chill filtration’ process; also, aging the barrels on the top floor of the warehouse to ensure that the evaporated portion is more water than booze.
Of course, if I’m an angel—arch or otherwise—and I wind up with Adam’s Ale instead of Henderson’s Hooch, I’m going to develop one holy mother of a shoulder chip—which may be where the term ‘Hell’s Angels’ originated.
Anyway, at around $45 per fifth, Angel’s Envy is a burly, brawny paradigm, containing every nuance that bourbon buffs crave—maple, orange, vanilla and pepper—but it extends the running track far beyond the Churchill Downs grandstand. Present in varying degrees of obviousness are cloves, heathery honey, cinnamon, malt, mint and a host of warm late-summer smells, like caramelized apple and ripe peaches. The finish lasts long on the palate—longer, in fact, than it takes to run the Kentucky Derby—and is toned with succulent vanilla and pie spice.
This is a sipping spirit, meant to be savored with nothing more than a cube of ice and, perhaps, the classic bourbon mixer, ‘branch’—the pure water that distilleries use to bring their product down from a whopping 130 proof to a more manageable two-digit potency. In Angel’s Envy, this is 86.6 proof.
That said, the question goes begging: Why in the world does the Angel’s Envy literature offer a series of truly obnoxious cocktail recipes? A ‘Chicago Sour’, for example, contains egg white and red wine; ‘Stand and Deliver’ requires an odious-sounding Balsamic reduction along with pink grapefruit juice.
Help me out here. Would you spend $45 dollars on a Master Distiller’s masterpiece, then add grapefruit juice, let alone vinegar?
And the worst is yet to come: The ‘Angel’s Tongue’, made with Yellow Chartreuse, Maraschino Liqueur and Sweet Vermouth.
Maraschino Liqueur? Chartreuse?? This, my brothers and sisters, is a bizarre, anti-American, anti-logic, anti-bourbon attitude.
And it is somewhere that angels not only fear to tread, they refuse to—although granted, these days most of the cherubim are relying upon designated treaders.