On Bourbon

I knew I was in trouble the moment I stepped off the plane in Auckland.  At six something in the morning, in the wrong hemisphere, I found myself at the duty free shop face to face with overpriced bottles of Kentucky’s less than finest bourbon.  Why, oh why did I bother to look?  Maybe it was my jet lagged mind trying to connect with something familiar.  Maybe it was the women handing out the free chocolate at the door. Most likely it was because I had to walk right through the duty free to get to customs.  Funny how they arrange that.  Whatever the reason, there I was staring at a sobering reminder of what I already knew.  The ready supply of top shelf bourbon at low prices doesn’t exist in New Zealand.  I thought to myself, “This is going to be a long year.”

My friend Eric had warned me about the bourbon conundrum.  If I wanted to drink some good stuff, I better bring my own.  So I did, one bottle of Rowan’s Creek single barrel.  Really?  One bottle? Was one bottle enough for twelve months?  Seeing the selection and price at the duty free shop in the airport of the country’s biggest city the answer was simply ‘No’.  But would it be that bad?  Bourbon whiskey has become a world wide phenomenon, surely I could refill with some Maker’s Mark or, in a pinch, Wild Turkey somewhere in kiwi land.  Besides with summer coming on, I won’t be drinking that much bourbon.

My spirits didn’t improve much after a week in the country.  As we popped in and out of bottle shops, I again found myself wandering by the liquors.  The selection and the price where less than spectacular.  I just didn’t know if I could bring myself to pay upwards of $50 NZD for a bottle, only 700mL,  of Jim Beam or Southern Comfort.  I had graduated from Beam before I graduated college, no way could I revert.  Forget Maker’s, that was the stuff duty free dreams were made of.  In the retail stores I was faced with some well brands and some new labels including something called Woodstock.

Bad idea, awesome bumper sticker.

A troubling trend in New Zealand is the sale of what I’ll call pre-mixed cocktails.  Maybe its because 18 year olds can legally drink, but whatever the reason this stuff seems pretty popular.  You can buy your gin and juice, vodka and lemonade and worst of all bourbon and cola.  There are several bourbon varieties like Diesel, Kentucky State and Woodstock.  Seems you can get your favorite bourbon all done up with cola.  One stop shopping saving you the trouble of playing DIY bartender.  I’d liken it to walking into Big Daddy’s there on the corner of Woodland and Euclid and being able to buy Beam and Coke married into one on your way to Commonwealth Stadium.  Now that is a scary thought.

In the name of scientific research there was a taste test conducted with the Woodstock Boubron & Cola.

With less sugar, and less alcohol by volume, the Hard Cola tasted every bit as bad as regular.  Theory confirmed, rubbish indeed.

Speaking of mixing, any good Lexantonian knows that certain carbonated drinks go well with bourbon.  OK, only one.  Ale-8 One.  Commonly called a Jitter Speedball or a Kentucky Cocktail, Ale 8 and bourbon are delicious and decisivley Kentucky.  When I discovered L&P I knew I had to try it with bourbon.  The result was…interesting.  And while I won’t be pouring many Kiwi Speedballs during my stay here, I can say I tried to bring two cultures together.
Not quite like home.

So here I am three and a half months and 8,541 miles from the Commonwealth into this adventure nursing a self imported bottle of bourbon.  Luckily I’ve discovered Liquorland.  Their bourbon selection is nothing to sneeze at.  Jim Beam, Old Crow, Wild Turkey, Bulleit, and Bookers.  Of course at 73 bucks for Bookers my wallet would probably give way to Old Crow, a frugal option at $39.  After all this is New Zealand, not Liquor Barn.  Its going to be a long year indeed.


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