WARREN BOBROW (this article was published February 20, 2013)
I have no doubt in my mind that SFQ “San Francisco-Style” Barbecue Sauce is my pick to accompany a plate of pork ribs from Hoeffner’s Meats in Morristown, New Jersey. But it is really more than that. The back-story is a trip to Portland, Oregon, where I met the owner of the company and discussed mezcal.
Mezcal? What does this fire-driven spirit have to do with barbeque sauce? Well for one, bourbon. Bourbon whiskey is the paste that binds conversation. But what does bourbon have to do with mezcal? Perhaps the smoke and the char that comes from the barrels in bourbon. With Mezcal, the char comes from smoking the agave over pinion wood. And as everyone who loves barbeque knows, that sweet, smoky flavor comes from being cooked, low and slow, over natural wood charcoal.
It is this flavor of the char that brought me back to the reason that I write this column in the first place. It is because of the bourbon whiskey.
The Buffalo Trace Hot Box: Toasted Barrel project is a gorgeous example of how commerce has not gotten in the way of flavor. No, this is not inexpensive; I think the price will be about 50 bucks for a 375-mL bottle. What it will offer is liquid BBQ. I’ve tasted a bunch of BBQ sauces recently. My usual go-to is Slather from South Carolina. But I promised I would write something about SFQ and it took tasting the right bourbon whiskey and eating the right ribs to do it. These ribs came from good local pork. I soaked them in the SFQ sauce overnight, then roasted them low and slow for a couple of hours at 225 degrees- since it’s too cold out to cook over charcoal. I’d never get the heat necessary at 15 degrees Fahrenheit to cook them.
The Hot Box Toasted Barrel Bourbon is an experimental process that takes the raw ingredients- the barrel staves, they are steamed for a period of time at 133 degrees Fahrenheit. The staves are then assembled into barrels and filled with Buffalo Trace Rye Bourbon, Mash#2. They rested for 16 years and 8 months until the distiller deemed them ready to drink.
Fast forward to my 50ml. sample…
Tasting notes. I’ve always believed that bourbon needs food to be enjoyed completely. If food is not around get some if you are going to drink anything in the realm of 90 Proof. You’ll never taste anything after a few glasses. I found deep, creamy flavors of maple sugar candy, enveloped with a veritable cotton candy pillow of sweet rye syrup and clotted cream. The Hot Box Toasted Barrel is perfect for BBQ like SFQ because of the liquid chocolate, dark coffee and red wine enrobed spice elements of the sauce. I don’t need to tell you that this sauce can also be used just also for dipping your wings into…It’s that good!
An extra heavy barrel char makes up the #7 Heavy Char. Rolling in at 90 Proof, my 50ml. sample was gone far too fast. Can I get some more please? The first flavors are of Pechter’s Rye Bread, but in a juicy, liquid format. The color is deep brown- almost as brown as the chocolate in the SFQ BBQ Sauce! The age of the whiskey at 15 years and 9 months is long enough to impart a deeply sensual color to the normally lighter final product. I’m darned thirsty!
There is a very dark, yet golden hue to this bourbon. Notes of dried fruits and caramelized sugar coated nuts predominate in each metered sip. And there weren’t many of these with such a small bottle, (hint hint)….
The Heavy Char is just that. Glistening with smoky dark wood and dripping with the sugar from the sweet oak staves, enrobed in fire, this rye is just screaming to get your attention. It finished nearly bone dry, yet covered in sweet globules of, dare I say, barbeque sauce. Maybe it was the excellent SFQ Sauce that was speaking to me, but I don’t think so. The Heavy Char is gorgeous stuff and quite potent too!
As I swish it around my mouth, the sweetness of the char grows deeper and more enticing with every second. A sip is like the first step of a racehorse off the line at the Oaks Day races. Full of anticipation for victory and the sweetness of a Kentucky turf race-course.
Barbecue is like this too. Truly great barbecue needs bourbon. Pork ribs dipped in SFQ sauce is truly great eating. Thank you to my friend Michele Manfredi for making this barbecue sauce a reality with my rye whiskey. And thank you to Steve Hoeffner for selling me a plate of good local ribs to cook with this gorgeous sauce.
And the Buffalo Trace #7 heavy char?
This is World Class rye whiskey my friends. Seek it out.