4.17.2011

White Dog vs. Vodka Part Two: The Bumpass Hound Showdown

In order to have a successful showdown, the cocktail choice was crucial. It needed to really accept white whiskey and highlights its unique flavors. The Albino Old-Fashioned was one option, but it seemed too easy. I also considered the White Manhattan, but it didn't really suit my mood at the time. The more I think about it, though, I am sure it would provide interesting results. Instead, I chose the Bumpass Hound.  To date, the Bumpass Hound is my favorite way to get white dog into a cocktail. This lighter version of the Toronto, one of my absolute favorites, really showcases one of the way that white whiskey can really excel in a cocktail. Even as the unaged whiskey plays a supporting role, it accents the aged rye well, lightens up the bolder elements, and still manages to bring its unique flavor to the mix.

Jim Romdall's recipe, which I found on Paul Clarke's blog cocktailchronicles.com, calls for an unaged primarily rye-based whiskey, specifically Wasmund's rye spirit. I, unfortunately, don't have any unaged primarily rye-based whiskey. Instead, I will be forging ahead with an unaged primarily wheat-based whiskey, Death's Door from Wisconsin. The different grain base compounded with the Death's Door's lower proof (Wasmund's is cask strength) will result in a very different Bumpass Hound that will lack heat and spice. But since I don't have a rye-based full-flavored vodka, I didn't think it would matter that much. This exercise is really just for the sake of my curiosity, not to prove some sort of scientific hypothesis. Besides sometimes you just have to make due with what you have.

Bumpass Hound (Jim Romdall, via cocktailchronicles.com)

2 ounces rye
1/2 ounce unaged whiskey
1/4 ounce Fernet Branca
1/4 ounce simple syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir in an ice-filled mixing glass. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Fernet Magnoberta, Pikesville rye and Death's Door white whiskey. Because I ran out of simple syrup (for shame!) I used Chinese five spice syrup, which added an interesting dimension.

On the nose, the orange oils completely dominated the aroma. The first sip was characterized by the spicy flavor of the rye, though the orange oils were present as well. The dry herbal/menthol notes of the Fernet in combination with the flavors of anise and Sichuan peppercorns from the syrup then usurped control. The bitters came through at the end of each sip and resonated through the aftertaste mingling with the menthol of the Fernet. As with the Toronto cocktail, a pleasant sweetness helped to keep the rough and tumble elements in order. The Bumpass Hound was not quite as deep and flavorful as a Toronto, though, and thus was a nice change of pace. 

Death's Door white whiskey is notoriously light and subtle, at least in comparison to the other white whiskeys I have tasted. Part of this is due to its heavy wheat grain bill, part of this comes from the distiller's vision . Unfortunately, this means that it becomes a bit lost in the Bumpass Hound. It is not initially detectable but stands out primarily because of the way it softens the other elements. It almost seems to dilute them without sacrificing any proof. As Paul Clarke noted in his post on the Bumpass Hound, a milder white whiskey doesn't make the same drink that the overproof rye spirit does. The milder white whiskey he references is a corn-based one, but it seems that a wheat-based white dog provides similar results. In retrospect, I wonder if I should have bumped up the amount of white whiskey to account for its non cask strength status. Another time perhaps. Its funny how this sort of exercise tends to raise more questions than it answers.

Vodka Bumpass Hound (a blasphemous adaptation!)

2 ounces rye
1/2 ounce vodka
1/4 ounce Fernet Branca
1/4 ounce simple syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir in an ice-filled mixing glass. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.


Notes on Ingredients: For comparison's sake I used all of the same ingredients, except for the very full-flavored vodka, Ebb & Flow.

Not surprisingly, this drink retained the same powerful aroma of orange oils. However, the scent of the malted barley spirit also made its presence known. It was apparent early on that the vodka had totally changed the makeup of this cocktail; both in terms of aroma and taste. It would not be covered up. The barley came through strongly on the first sip and provided a formidable match to the spicy notes of the rye. Perhaps this struck me because I tasted the vodka version second, and the white whiskey version was still very present in my taste memory.  Like the previous Bumpass Hound, this drink was exceptionally smooth but seemed a touch sweeter flavor as the vodka's vanilla notes carried through. The Fernet and various spices were strongest throughout, but like the white whiskey version, dominated the aftertaste. Even with the pronounced vodka flavors, this drink was quite pleasant and still balanced.

Ebb & Flow vodka is a 100 percent malted barley spirit that has a ton of flavor--especially when you compare it to other vodkas on the market. In a drink like the Bumpass Hound, even the other overwhelmingly bold flavors can't push it around. This is commendable for a vodka. Usually it is used as a supporting ingredient, even when it is the base. But then again this is no ordinary vodka. Regardless, I was pleasantly surprised by how well it stood up to the other flavors, like a force to be reckoned with.

Conclusions:
Perhaps it wasn't really fair to use the Bumpass Hound for this showdown. I should have at least guessed at my own bias. Unsurprisingly, I found both versions compelling and interesting, but in different ways. I am sure that the Fernet and rye had more to do with this than either the vodka or the white dog. The logical next step would include making more Bumpass Hounds using the same recipe but with a less assertive grain-based vodka and a bold-flavored white whiskey to really offer some other points of comparison. But we'll save that for another day.

Only the hard question remains: which version did I enjoy more. If I have to pick, I liked the Bumpass Hound aberration with vodka better. It surprised me at the time, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. The vodka version was balanced and had bigger flavor If the white whiskey version had wowed me with flavor, I am sure my conclusions would be different. Considering the fact that most white whiskeys are funkier in general, a bold vodka with very clean flavors wouldn't stand a chance. Well at least not with my palate. But as of today, vodka has won the Bumpass Hound Showdown.

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