Kids: let me tell you about the most magical food festival of them all--not some overplayed clustertruck, but the Southern Foodways Alliance's annual symposium in Oxford, Mississippi. The SFA, of course, is an awesome organization devoted to celebrating and documenting Southern food, and their symposium is a mix of the academic and the down-home cookin': lectures, conviviality, and more food and hooch than you can shake your moonshine bottle at.
Tickets are next-to-impossible to attain (you gotta be a member to go, and this year's symposium sold out in 12 minutes), but I was able to sneak in as a guest by lecturing on how Mexican barbecue traditions (barbacoa estilo Hidalgo, mixiote, cochinita pibil) will soon influence the South's 'cue religion because of the Reconquista. The SFA organizers gave me a bottle of Collier and McKeel Tennessee Whiskey as a gift, and I was thrilled: not just because of the free booze but because their choice validated a purchase that I made of the stuff months ago in Crossville, Tennessee, that I drank up in a week.
Tennessee whiskey, of course, is the country cousin of bourbon, and while Orange County bars are wonderfully awash in bourbon, not enough bartenders stock Tennessee whiskeys beyond Jack Daniels, namely because so few brands are commercially available. While Benjamin Pritchard's and George Dickel are fine, any enterprising bars (hell, Memphis at the Santora!) should load up on the Collier and McKeel. The boutique distiller filters their whiskey through sugar maple charcoal, a highlight of many Tennessee whiskeys that makes the end product smooth, sweet, and smoky and pretty straightforward.
But Collier and McKeel has more nuances than the Great Smoky Mountains--a spice that lingers at the end, a faint, honey-esque sweetness throughout, the aroma of the sour mash from whence it came. It's a spectacular drink that matches up to my beloved Woodford Reserve--hey, maybe the two can do a Vols versus Vandy fight over my liver?