A Perfect Fall Pairing: Yahara Bay and Nutkrack
By Wendy Allen | Photos By Jim Klousia 0
My first inhale of Yahara Bay’s 3rd Gear Bourbon Old Fashioned was a bit surprising. If I’d seen the label, it would have tipped me off, but I had received a few drams in a Mason jar, and thinking I’d been given a bourbon, I was slightly taken aback at what I perceived to be highly unbourbonlike behavior.
The aroma of honey was immediate and strong, but then I was confused. Mulling spices? No, that can’t be right. But yes. It smelled strongly of cinnamon and cloves and sweet citrus, with even a hint of pumpkin, dark berries and new leather bringing up the rear. It drinks a bit like a mead, with its strong, mouth-coating honey flavor and very little whiskey burn. The spices drift up the back of the throat, and there’s a bit of orange tucked in behind it all.
Turns out, 3rd Gear is a ready-made bourbon old fashioned cocktail—hence the name on the bottle. (Silly me.) The dark fruits I sensed were Door County cherries, expertly blended with the other ingredients prior to bottling. I’m glad I didn’t know anything about this drink before tasting, because I can honestly say that it really does taste like a boozy old fashioned. Liz Dueland at Yahara Bay says, “Because it is a pre-batched cocktail, it is very convenient when entertaining. Rather than taking time to muddle cherries and oranges, etc., as you would for a handmade old fashioned, we do it for you. Just add ice and soda. Focus on your guests!”
On a whim, I tried the 3rd Gear with another new product that’s hit Madison in the past year: Nutkrack Caramelized Pecans. With no humility whatsoever, I proclaim that I have found this fall’s go-to pairing.
According to owner and chef Eric Rupert, the creation of Nutkrack was “a happy accident.” While making candied pecans one day, he accidentally put them in the wrong pot. Realizing the mistake, he fished them out and spread them on a pan to cool before tossing them. As he was cleaning up the kitchen, he tried one on a whim and realized they were pretty darn good. “Fast forward the hour it took me to clean up,” says Eric, “and suddenly the whole pan is gone, and I remember wishing there were more. I even wandered around the building to make sure I was the only person there because it didn’t make sense that one human, especially me, would eat a pound and a half of pecans.”
After a decade of watching friends similarly eat them with joy and then look around in confusion upon realizing they were all gone, Eric decided to launch Nutkrack with his eldest son, Kellan.
Nutkrack uses only pecans, sugar, oil and sea salt, which sounds pretty common, but it’s the method that makes Nutkrack completely unlike the sticky-sweet candied pecans of Grandma’s day. “It’s really easy to make Nutkrack poorly to mediocre, but it’s tricky to make it really well,” he says.
For Eric, starting a business and working for himself is nice and all, but there’s much more to this endeavor than pecans. “I’ve been driven my whole career to make people’s day a little better, a little brighter. Oftentimes, when someone is experiencing something delicious, they remember who they were with, what the weather was like. They remember details. I want to take them back to a memory.
“Pecans are North America’s only native nut. We produce 90 percent of the world’s pecans, and they were a vital food source for Native tribes for a long time, but the pecan market has been dropping off. Older Americans recognize that pecans are special—think about all those old recipes and the memories they hold—but younger folks don’t as much today. I’m helping people get excited about them again.
“I feel like this is my path. I’m 55 and make a gazillion mistakes every day, but I’ve always known when I wasn’t really on the right path. This feels exactly right. Most weeks I’m working around 100 hours a week, and I have no regrets. I have energy.”
If you try this pairing (and please, please do), use the sip-taste-sip method to gauge the differences before and after. Take a sip of 3rd Gear and allow it to coat your tongue and mouth. Then, chewing a nut a couple times and sipping again, notice how the 3rd Gear makes every toasty, nutty, caramelly and salty flavor in the Nutkrack even more prominent, and the fall spice notes in the 3rd Gear join the party without overpowering the music.
Suddenly, my Mason jar was empty, and my pecans were gone. It was over much too soon.
Find Yahara Bay 3rd Gear Bourbon Old Fashioned Whiskey at Metro Market and Festival Foods. YaharaBay.com
Find Nutkrack Caramelized Pecans at Nutkrack’s retail location at 2086 Atwood Ave., Madison, Metcalfe’s Market – Hilldale, and numerous small shops around Madison. They will also ship anywhere by ordering online at Nutkrack.com.