All ABCs Are Not The Same

Living in an ABC state generally means a lack of selection and variety. Seeing the inside of some of the larger ABC stores in North Carolina may make you think that statement is false. Go to one of the smaller stores or stores in a smaller county and see what the selection is like.

I have recently been taking advantage of my neighbor to the north, Virginia. Yes, it is an ABC state, but they have at least modernized their system. For example, in North Carolina, you can order something not carried in stores (as long as it is in the state’s approved inventory), but only by the case. In Virginia, you can order anything in system, a single bottle at a time! And you can have it delivered to a store of your choice in the state (about an hour from my house). Virginia also has the advantage of online inventory for every store, so you can see what’s there before making the trip.

No one expects North Carolina to do away with the ABC system, but at the very least they could modernize the system to work more like the Virginia model. Quite a few of my recent purchases are thanks to VABC.

Sip Bourbon: Revisited

As an update to my previous post on sipping bourbon, I find it much easier to consume by adding a couple of ice cubes. I guess its the same as adding water, but a little at a time as the ice melts. The alcohol burn is greatly reduced, and more of the flavors seem to come through.

With this in mind, and after adding more bourbons to the mix, here is my current ranking of the bourbons I have tried, from least favorite to most favorite. These are only my opinion, and subject to change with the next bottle.

6) Woodford Reserve: I get a lot of alcohol burn and the spice and oak are very strong
5) Knob Creek: Spicy, more than I think I like, but I can see how people would like it if spice is your thing
4) Maker’s Mark: Was highly recommended and I like the sweetness, but the burn was more noticeable than some others
3) Evan Williams 1783: Relative mild alcohol burn, some sweet, some spice, but maybe a little mild
2) Larceny: The sweetness brought by the wheat was nice and the alcohol burn wasn’t too bad
1) Evan Williams White Label Bottled-in-Bond: Even with the higher proof, the burn was, manageable, the oak was prominent, as was the corn sweetness, and the touch of rye still gives some spice.


Sip Bourbon? You can do that?

After a little progress trying to sip rums neat, I thought I’d revisit Bourbon. Now, mind you, I NEVER thought I’d be traveling towards this crossroads again, waiting for the devil to appear at midnight.

But dark rum and I are now friends and dark rum has some of the same characteristics of my mortal enemy of old, whiskey.

After one too many YouTube videos proclaiming how sweet and smooth various bourbons were, I decided to make a great sacrifice and try some.

I already have one, Evan Williams 1783, that I bought for mixing. But the purpose of this endeavor was to find something I could sip straight or over ice. To be fair, I hadn’t tried the Evan Williams straight. I also had a miniature of Larceny that was attached to a full size bottle of something else.

At my last visit to the ABC store, I asked the manager what he recommended. Without hesitation he said, “Maker’s Mark“.

I had learned that Maker’s was a wheated bourbon and that was supposed to yield a sweeter spirit.

Back to the web. I ended up with a list, and on the next trip, picked up miniatures of Knob Creek, Maker’s Mark, and Woodford Reserve. To be clear, Knob Creek and Woodford aren’t wheated, but they are popular bourbons in their price range.

Did I mention that bourbons seem to be pricey? A 750ml bottle of anything above the bottom shelf goes for $30 and up! Even the three miniatures ran me $12 and change!

My goal was to only sample each, so I poured 1/4 oz of each into separate glasses. I let them sit for a couple of minutes. I took in the aroma from each and tried to see what I could take away.

The aroma of all of the samples was sweet. Not surprisingly, corn. And some alcohol. Maybe a bit of oak. I’m not one who can start listing all of the fruits and spices. I get corn and some oak.

So, let the sipping begin! Again I find that the alcohol overwhelms my taste buds before I can get much. I had read to add a few drops of water and to let it sit. Doing so does  allow me to taste more than the alcohol, but I’m back to some sweetness, some corn and some oak. Not bad, since corn and oak should be in a bourbon.

I also read that being careful not to breath in helps with the alcohol burn. True, but even with these steps, I can only take a couple of sips before my tongue is numb. A few minutes later, try, try again.

With Evan Williams 1783 in the comparison, I learned some good news about my lack of sophistication. I can buy cheap bourbon and it tastes the same to me as something twice the price!

Along the same lines as my rum, I tried each with Coca Cola.

Makers, more burn, even with the cola. 1783 was quite good, with the oak forward. The Knob Creek and Woodford both added a peppery spice kick.


I have mentioned, in more than one post, that I’ve never been able to drink alcohol straight.

It could be the cold, or it could be the products, but I’m sitting here sampling Appleton Estate Signature Blend and Plantation Grande Reserve 5 Year. I’m able to sip both, although the Appleton is a bit harsher.

I’m quite surprised. This gives me hope that some higher end bottles might actually be good when sipped straight!

Favorite Rums – November 2018

So, as I’ve had some time to try more rums, mostly in cocktails, and occasionally on the rocks, a few favorites have risen to the top.

Dark Rums
Plantation Original Double Aged Dark. To me, this is one really good, funky rum. It is sweet, so that might work for some people.

Gold or Aged Rum
Both Appleton Estate Signature Blend and Plantation Grande Reserve 5Y are really good in cocktails. I’m going to give them another go over ice. Update: I’m actually able to drink (sip) the Plantation 5Y and it is rather pleasant!

Spiced Rums
As always, it depends on what you’re looking for. For me, Bacardi Oakheart is my favorite spiced rum. Captain Morgan Private Stock is very good, but is much sweeter and that, in some cocktails will lead to an overly sweet drink.

Light Rums
Let’s face it, light rums are almost always going to be mixed. I’ve tried Bacardi Superior, Cruzan Light, and The Naked Turtle. So far, I like them starting with the Turtle, then Cruzan, then Bacardi.

Drink what you like, like what you drink…

ABC State, Redux

After re-reading my Living in an ABC State post, I wanted to clarify a few things.

First, I realized, especially after adding a photo of a nearby ABC store to that post, and the interior of it in the post Intro, that showed a massive wall of vodka.

The first visit that I made to an ABC store did have an entire wall of vodka, impressive, but much smaller than that of the article photo. The entire store was perhaps 24′ x 24′.  The new store in my area is probably 48′ x 80′, but it is one of the largest. Out of curiosity, I stopped into a store in an adjacent county. This store was probably closer to 20′ x 20′ and very little variety.

Second, and to the point of the post, is the limitation imposed by the state. That of choice. To be sure, the large store pictured, has an enormous amount of product. However, if you want something that isn’t in the ABC system, you can’t just drive across town to another store that chooses to stock that alternate item. You can’t buy it. That is unless you go out of state to buy it.

I am incredibly happy to live near the pictured store. They have a friendly and helpful staff. The manager is actively stocking items in this store that, while on the state list, might not be on the shelf at smaller stores. But even he is limited in terms of variety.

As a final example, I was looking for blackberry brandy. The ABC system lists one: Mr Boston Blackberry Brandy. Its on the shelf. If you can manage to find and read, or watch one of the rare reviews, you would not want to spend your money on Mr Boston Blackberry Brandy. But again, in the ABC system, no variety, no choice.

Living in an ABC State

If you live in a state with privately owned liquor stores, you probably have never heard of an ABC Store (Wikipedia link). These are state run and controlled liquor stores. This, in addition to backward blue laws (Wikipedia link) can prove to be very frustrating to people who have lived in more progressive states. Blue laws were spawned by religious groups who among other things, try to prohibit alcohol sales, especially on Sunday. As of this writing, 12 states still have these laws in place.

In an ABC state, state and county boards determine what items will be carried and set the price! This is certainly true of my home state of North Carolina. And that, as they say, is that. You can’t mail order liquor from out of state. And if the item you’re looking for isn’t on the list, then it won’t be going in your cocktail. One might also be fortunate enough to live close to a non-ABC state that borders an affected state.

Many of the state run stores are relatively small (especially in less populated counties), with quantities of the same products, but less in the way of variety. I live near the capital, so I at least have the advantage of some larger stores that do have a relatively good stock and some variety. The recently built store near the Lair is pretty massive compared to others in the area.

A large state-run ABC store in my area

As an example of the impact of these state and county restrictions, I was researching (of course I was) banana liqueur online. I found a blind taste test and the testers had narrowed the results to a couple of brands that tasted like real banana, and less like an artificial banana candy flavor. There were six options in the review. Number of options available in North Carolina ABC stores? One. And none of the six that were named in the review. Even more bizarre is that North Carolina sells quite a few DeKuyper products in North Carolina ABC stores, yet the DeKuyper Creme de Banana is not stocked. The brand on the shelf is Arrow.

This is played out over and over in North Carolina. In my research for a White Rum recommendation, Doorly’s pops up in reviews and recommendations. In non-ABC states it’s sold at Total Wine for god’s sake! Nope, not available in North Carolina. Occasionally, there are discussions about overturning the ABC system in North Carolina, but it seems fairly entrenched.

Maybe a trip to South Carolina one of these days to see what a privately run liquor store looks like…