The Philadelphia Burger Club visits World Cafe Live’s: Bourbon & Burgers (and other fine spirits)
by Brett Lauter
You don’t need to twist my arm to convince me that an event combining burgers and bourbon is going to be a good time. My girlfriend and I were more than excited to visit The World Cafe Live in Delaware to attend their Bourbon and Burgers (and other fine spirits) event, on behalf of The Philadelphia Burger Club.
Oddly enough, the night started off on a great foot when I got to park right outside for free. For me, that’s always a sign of good things to come. Walking into The World Cafe Live, we were inundated with the sound of live blues rock by Karmic Repair Company, the band chosen to accompany the event. We were quickly seated and presented with a cocktail to enjoy before the event began. The cocktail was delicious – combining a 10 year-old rye, plum bitters, and sweet vermouth. The night was off to a great start and I was ready to eat. My only complaint, however, was that the band was much too loud for an event such as this. It was clear that it was going to be slightly difficult to discuss the burgers and bourbon over the band.
Before we could finish our drinks, our host informed us that the event was about to begin. We were presented with a tasting glass, which amounted to about a shot, of Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon. The aroma of the bourbon had very strong pepper notes, as well as a slight scent of honey. The taste very closely resembled the aroma, with a lingering pepper flavor that hit the back of my throat and stayed there. I found the Basil Hayden Bourbon slightly harsh, the pepper flavor seemed to mask the other, more delicate flavors of honey.
As soon as I finished my first sip, I was presented with our first burger. It was a ground chuck burger stuffed with bleu cheese and topped with fresh prosciutto and applewood-smoked cheddar on a sourdough roll.
While I was eagerly awaiting for the event to start and browsing the menu, this burger in particular had me the most excited. I instantly loved this burger. The creamy and tangy bleu cheese combined with the salty crunch of the prosciutto was fantastic. In some situations, the flavor of a burger’s other ingredients can be masked by a strong topping like prosciutto. However, in this situation, the limited use of prosciutto complimented the burger with its crunch, contrasting the smooth texture of the bleu cheese. What was overpowering about the bourbon alone was now enjoyable when combined with the burger. The pepper of the bourbon mellowed by the tang of the bleu cheese and prosciutto. This combination was going to be difficult to beat.
Before I could finish my burger, I was already being presented with our next whiskey: Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey. The first thing I noticed about this whiskey was the extremely strong smell of dried fruit, specifically the scent of raisins. This quality was not only present in the whiskey’s aroma, but also in it’s taste. The Dad’s Hat, along with the initial and delicious taste of raisins, had that signature spice of rye whiskey, which I find very enjoyable. The second burger was then quickly brought out to our table.
This burger was described as a slow-braised lamb burger with tobacco onions, goat cheese, and scallion aoli on a black onion roll. The first thing I tasted was the onion soup flavor of the roll, which isn’t the first thing I usually notice when enjoying a burger, and I found it a bit overpowering. However, the onion roll did go nicely with the goat cheese and the tobacco onions. As for the burger its self, I thought it could have been hotter and I think it would have been much better on a different roll. I love lamb and having a roll with such a strong flavor made it difficult to taste the meat. Being that most of the flavor came from the burger’s roll and toppings, that was really the only thing I had to compare the whiskey to, and I thought it well with the dried fruit taste of the whiskey.
I was very excited to try the next whiskey, Booker’s Single Barrel Bourbon. This was a 125 proof single barrel Kentucky bourbon, which at this point, was an alcohol content I was alarmed with. For a bourbon, I found Booker’s to be extremely smooth, similar to a single malt scotch. This smoothness was something I had never before experienced in a bourbon. The taste of the Booker’s wasn’t nearly as unique as the previous whiskey, with subtle notes of vanilla, oak, and charcoal.
Up until this point, I couldn’t say I’d ever had a great chicken burger and frankly, I wasn’t sure such a thing existed. I love chicken, but it’s not the most flavorful meat and definitely not the type of burger I’d choose off of a menu. This third burger, however, converted me. The chicken was combined with rosemary, honey, and apples and was topped with arugula coated in a red wine vinaigrette on a sundried tomato roll. Upon tasting it, the burger had a strong taste of cinnamon and apples, a tried and true combination, and was incredibly juicy. It went excellently with the Booker’s Bourbon’s subtle vanilla flavors. The sweetness of the chicken and apples paired perfectly with the bourbon, making it the best combination of the night. It could have been the music of the Grateful Dead which was playing over the PA now that the band had finished for the night, but I’m going to give the credit to an excellent burger and an even better bourbon.
While I’m sure many people enjoy the earthy and smoky flavors that come with certain whiskeys, I’ve always found that it overpowered and masked the other flavors. Both the aroma and taste of the High West Campfire Blended Whiskey was so smoky that I found it hard to discern other flavors. I did get a slightly sweet and honey flavor, but beyond that I found it difficult to sense anything else.
Before even tasting either the whiskey or its paired burger, it was obvious why the combination was chosen. The flavors of smoke and bison just seem to go perfectly together. The final burger featured ground bison, sweet onion jam, and swiss cheese on a 5 grain roll. Out of all the burgers, I thought this one in particular focused on the meat the most. The bison was excellently cooked and was not at all overpowered by the normally strong taste of swiss cheese and the sweetness of the onion jam. Usually when I’ve had a burger topped with any kind of jam, I find it enjoyable, but at the same time out of place. I wonder whether or not it could have been replaced with something a bit more subtle. With this particular burger though, I thought it went great, contrasting and cutting the smokiness of the whiskey.
At this point in the night, after five tastings of whiskey and four burgers that were much larger than I anticipated, I was essentially useless. Overall the event was excellent and although there were whiskeys and burgers that I found less enjoyable than others, I could certainly appreciate the thought behind their pairings and the effort that went into creating them. My only overall complaints with the event were the band being unnecessarily loud and the feeling that I was being slightly rushed through the tastings. Barring that, the staff was excellent, the burgers were delicious, and each whiskey was unique and new to me. I enjoyed myself thoroughly and I’d encourage anyone to attend an event like this at The World Cafe Live in Delaware, or in our Burger Club’s home of Philadelphia, if they have the opportunity.