Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Willett Family Estate 2 Year Rye

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Well, first of all, Happy Halloween! Once more it’s the time of year with ghosts and goblins, tricks and treats.  Children dressing scarily and wondering through your streets collecting candy.  I hope you and yours enjoy it this year.  It’s also deep into autumn, with the harvest coming up, and I like to think of all the corn, the wheat, the ryes that will soon be mashed and distilled into my favorite treat – whiskey!

Secondly, congratulations to the San Francisco Giants, who last night won their third World Series in five years.  I feel like the Giants are our adoptive team, as my wife Jen and I went to see them during our honeymoon in 2012.  Particularly amazing was the performance of Madison Bumgarner,  I’m glad I watched this series through to the end!

And now…on to bourbon.  Or in this case, rye.

The Willett name has a long and storied history, going all the way back to pilgrims who arrived in the US in the 1600s.  The Willett family has been responsible for bourbon distilling in Kentucky since the 1860s, and has played an important role in much of the great bourbon legacy there.

In the 1930s, the Willett family started the Willett Distilling Company on the family farm in Bardstown, Kentucky, and it still sits there today.  Willett, which later changed it’s name to Kentucky Bourbon Distillers(1984), made bourbons on the family farm up until the 1970s.  At that time, during the oil crisis, they made the decisions to have their whiskey brands made elsewhere and age and bottle them (or just bottle them) onsite.  This allowed them to convert their production facilities to make gasahol fuel.  This venture did not work out, however, and by the 1980s, the Willett location was only used for it’s warehouses and bottling.

Several brands are released under the Kentucky Bourbon Distillers name – Johnny Drum, Kentucky Vintage, Rowan’s Creek, Noah’s Mill among others.  They also do aging and bottling for a few other brands, including Corner Creek and the sought after Black Maple Hill.

In the mid 2000’s, the family started work to reopen the Willett production facilities, and by 2012, they barreled the first of their new products.  And in 2014, they unveiled it at last – the Willett Family 2 Year Rye.

I was down in Kentucky in June and visited Willett, and was lucky enough to land a few bottles of the brand new, Willett produced two year rye.  So how’d it taste?

Dan's (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Willett Family 2 Year Rye

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Willett Family 2 Year Rye

My review:

107 proof – that was the strength of my Willett 2 Year Rye – a nice barrel proof number.  And Willett certainly knows bottling – their Still Pot Reserve has won awards for it’s beautiful bottles, and their ryes come in beautiful bottles adorned with the family seal as well.  In short, it’s a lovely bottle.

It has a nice gold color, and the nose is fantastic.  There is a definite fruitiness in the nose – I picked up cherry, citrus and a hint of raisin.  The woodiness reminded me of something other than oak – more like a cedar or even a Christmas pine.  I soaked it in, and found some vanilla.  What shocked me the most was the lack of a burn.  Despite the high proof, this pour didn’t smell like pure alcohol, and had a surprising richness.

I’ll admit, my first sip was jarring.  The nose had put me to sleep, and I took perhaps too big of a drink, forgetting the high potency of the proof.  But even as I coughed a bit, caught off guard, I noticed how smooth it was going down.  My next drink was more restrained, and I got a good feel for this rye.  It was softer than a 2 year has any right to be, with a great range of flavor that belies it’s age.  It had an earthiness to it, and I thought mint rose to the top, along with a maple.  I didn’t note the usual pepper or cinnamon ryes have – it’s probably too young to have really soaked that in from the wood – but there is far more citrus than I would have ever expected.  Overall, it’s rather sweet.

And it has a nice finish to boot.  Not the longest finish, but smooth and lingering where a touch of spice mixes with an earthiness (that is probably the biggest tip off to it’s age).

On the whole, I’m not as big a fan of ryes as I am traditional bourbons.  But for this Willett entry, I’ll make an exception.   It doesn’t have the ‘graininess’ of a young rye – that taste that lets you know that some of this whiskey has never touched the side of a barrel.  Instead, I would have thought upon blind taste that it was at least four, and maybe even six or eight years old. What really intrigues me is what these barrels will taste like in a few more years!

Dan’s Rating: 8.5

Ballpark of the Week: Kaufmann Stadium (Home of the Kansas City Royals)

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Ballpark of the Week: Kaufmann Stadium (Home of the Kansas City Royals)

Look, let’s get the obvious out of the way: you are probably saying “hey Dan, funny we haven’t seen you post in two weeks, since you declared your Detroit Tigers favorites to win the American League!”  Yes, that’s true.  You might say, “That timing seems a bit suspicious, like you decided to lay low and avoid the mockery and derision that would come your way!”  Yes, point taken.  You might say, “Hey Dan…” but at this point, I would punch you.

It’s true, we lost.  To a Baltimore Orioles team that beat our bullpen like rented mules and made our hitters look like children swinging wiffle bats.  It was upsetting, but I’m over it.  Watching that same Orioles team get out-ran, out-fielded and out-hit by this never say die Kansas City Royals team was truly something to see.  So this week, I look to 2013, when I was lucky enough to visit the lovely stadium and fountains of Kaufmann Stadium.

It was the best kind of event one could hope for – we were headed into Kansas City for the wedding of my wife’s friend Mike, and the Royals were on a home stand.  I had gone to the University of Missouri and have friends in the St. Louis area, so an agenda took hold – we would fly from Detroit to St. Louis, visit some friends, then rent a car to drive from St. Louis to Kansas City (stopping in Columbia for old times sake) before enjoying a weekend of wedding fun, BBQ food and a Royals game.

The plan worked flawlessly.  My friends were wonderful, the weather was perfect and the drive – roughly four hours straight – was great too.  We stopped in Columbia and I showed my wife my old dorm, the famous Mizzou columns, even stopped for a bite at Shakespeare’s Pizza. We arrived in Kansas City, checked into our lovely hotel downtown, and got ready for the game.

The first thing an out of towner might notice when driving to visit Kaufmann Stadium – or it’s next door neighbor Arrowhead Stadium – is that they are seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  Right off of I-70, both stadiums are set in the middle of a massive expanse of parking spaces, with little else to see.  As we pulled in, it was a bit disorienting – nothing but concrete as far as the eye could see.

Now while this may kill the distinct Kansas City flavor from the environs, it allowed for something else: tailgating, and lots of it! I’m not used to seeing people tailgate before a baseball game, much less a June game between two teams headed for the basement, but there were people with grills and food going everywhere.  Furthermore, it was “Girls Night Out,” a promotion geared towards female baseball fans, and they were out en masse.  Pink Royals jerseys, pink hats and high pitched cheers abounded.

I bought my tickets through StubHub (I like to see if I can get better seats from a season ticket holder looking to unload them than from the team site and, whoopee, it worked!), so I picked them up from Will Call, where the Royals employees were wonderfully nice.  Tailgating, Ladies Night, Friday or not, there was no way this game was selling out.

Our seats were fantastic.  The third base line, a few rows back.  We had a perfect view of the entire ballpark.  The famous Royal crest in the outfield with it’s massive scoreboard.  The fountains around the outfield, erupting at intervals.  This stadium, despite it’s early 70s birthday, really is a relaxing, comfortable place to watch baseball.

Perfect seats

Perfect seats

As the night went on, we watched a low scoring affair.  We wandered the park, and were impressed with the sight-lines one can get from almost anywhere within.  Particualrly cool was standing in the outfield by the fountains, watching them go off from close and looking over the lush outfild grass.

The Kaufmann Stadium fountains really are beautiful

The Kaufmann Stadium fountains really are beautiful

We tried a few different BBQ concessions, but none had quite the taste of real Kansas City BBQ.  The real surprise of the night came in the 7th inning, when the concessionaires announced it was “dollar” time, and all hot dogs, soda cans (Pepsi products) and peanuts/popcorn was now, yes, $1.  I have to humbly report that I may have scarfed down four hot dogs and three sodas at this point, because I’m a midwesterner who can’t refuse a value.  I’m willing to bet that, with their team in the Series now, $1 hot dogs are harder to find at Kaufmann than a Royals fan who didn’t jump on the bandwagon in August.  I’m just kidding.  Well, sorta.

Because that was the only downside to my visit.  The park is absolutely beautiful.  I love the huge Royal crown, the 13 story scoreboard. The concessions were a value.  The fountains are amazing.  The post game fireworks on Friday were impressive. The game was even very good, with two small ball teams going at it.  But the fans weren’t, at least not in large part.  There was the enthusiasm that came with the ‘Girls Night Out’ promotion, but not a lot of cheering or booing going on.  As an observer of the AL Central, I noted how, even this year, in the midst of a pennant chase the Royals weren’t selling out.  There are great and knowledgeable fans in Kansas City, no doubt.  But compared to their cross state brethren in Cardinal fandom, they have a long way to go.

That said, Kaufmann was a beautiful park and I would go back in a heartbeat.  Especially if it was to see the Tigers top them again.

Dan’s scale (1-10): 8.7

Below are my stats.  I’ll post them for every park I’ve visited.  I include the big details, as well as who I visited with.  Lastly, I am a huge fan of throwback jerseys, and for every stadium I visit, I buy one of a player from that organization I admired as a kid, from watching them or reading about them.  So for every one, I will also list the throwbacks I’ve purchased for each.

Kaufmann Stadium – June 7, 2013.  Houston Astros at Kansas City Royals

Date: Friday, June 7, 2013 7:10PM

Seat: 115, D, 3-4

Ticket Cost: $28.00 each (purchased from StubHub)

Went with: Jen Weaver McKernan

Attendance: 24,808

Time of Game: 2:58

Linescore:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Astros 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 9 0
Royals 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 2 X 4 9 0

Winning Pitcher: Kelvin Herrera (3-4)

Losing Pitcher: Wesley Wright (0-2)

Save: Greg Holland (11)

Jersey: George Brett (1985)

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Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Jack Daniels Sinatra Select

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Oh, Frank Sinatra.  There are few voices in music I enjoy more, few people who’s interpretation of a song I respect more.  In short, there are few vocalists who I enjoy more.  The legend of his connection to Jack Daniels whiskey, “the nectar of the gods,” is well documented and very, very cool.  Long before Jack became the libation of choice for rock and rollers, it was three fingers and some rocks for the swingingest cat that ever put on a fedora to take a Las Vegas stage.

My introduction to Frank came many years before my introduction to Jack, courtesy of a Christmas record (Christmas Songs by Frank Sinatra).  A regular in my house at the holidays, I quickly found his versions of the holiday classics to be my favorites.  As I got older, I purchased an anthology on CD (Sinatra Reprise: The Very Good Years) and it was official – I was a full on fan of Ol’ Blue Eyes.  I started to get all of the albums I could – and believe me, there are a ton.  My favorite era, though, has always stayed that 1955-1969 era, starting with In The Wee Small Hours, and ending with My Way.  Songs For Swingin’ Lovers, Come Fly With Me, September of My Years and on and on, all of them brilliant.

I discovered Jack along the way as well, and throughout my 20s, it remained my drink of choice.  Smooth but punchy, a little bite but flavorful, good with Coke or straight, Jack Daniels was a staple of mine, at bar or home.  Later, when they put out the even smother Gentleman Jack, it took over the coveted position as my favorite cocktail drink.  As a fact I will detail in a longer post sometime in the future, it was my love of Jack Daniels that started me down the path of Bourbon, as a great friend noted my love of Jack and pointed me in the direction of Kentucky whiskey.

The past few years, the team at Brown Forman (owners of the Jack Daniels brand) has introduced a number of specialty releases to their trademark product.  They also embraced the relationship between Ol’ Blue Eyes and Old No. 7 and developed a marketing campaign around it including radio and television advertising.

With this in mind came the Jack Daniels Sinatra Select special release – a unique, limited and (very) pricey tribute to the Chairman of the Board.  I coveted a bottle, and at my birthday, received a wonderful gift from my wife and her family: a bottle of the treat.  So how did it taste?

Dan's (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Jack Daniel's Sinatra Select

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select

First of all, I do not judge the value of a bourbon (or in this case – whiskey).  If it is one thing I’ve learned in this crazy, often inflated market, it’s that value can only be determined by the individual.  I don’t know that a bottle of anything is worth $1,500 to me, but plenty of folks clamor on Craigslist to grab a bottle of Pappy for just that.  I am far more likely to point out a great deal or value than the opposite.

I bring that up, because the Jack Daniels Sinatra Select is very pricey.Around $175+ in stores, and far more online.  Is it worth it?  That is completely dependent on the collector.  Personally, I’m glad to have it.

The packaging is beautiful, with a case and small book detailing the Sinatra-Jack history.  There is also an ‘invitation’ to the Jack Daniels Country Club, As the website explains:

Founded by Frank Sinatra, the Country Club was only for his closest friends. When Frank once arrived in England decked out in classic British style — gray flannel trousers and a dark blue blazer with a crest — the local media went into a tizzy to determine just what royal house the crest represented. It became clear upon closer examination the crest was crossed golf clubs and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s surrounded by the words: “Jack Daniel’s Country Club.” Frank had commissioned the patch for himself and a few close friends, and had them added to custom-made blazer.

Also, the bottle is a one-liter size (instead of 750 mL), so there is more pour.  The Sinatra Select is aged in casks that have had grooves put into the barrel staves. This allows for more alcohol to stay in contact with the wood itself (increases surface area).

The nose shows this.  Outside of being a sharper alcohol smell than the regular Jack (it’s 90 proof, as opposed to the typical 80), there is a thick wood, as well as smokiness and a hint of tobacco.  Just like Frank would have liked it.

The taste puts you on your heals a bit.  It does not have they typical Jack smoothness.  It is immediately husky, with that oak flavor prominent right from the start.  There are touches of orange peel and molasses, but the wood and some accompanying black pepper take over quickly and remain well into the finish.

The finish itself is on the short size, and smoother than the taste would have you anticipate.  But the biggest item of note is that this whiskey tastes dry! Jack Daniels Sinatra Select has the tannins and dryness that would typically be associated with gin or red wine.  It wasn’t unpleasant, but seemed like a negative aspect of the stave grooving.

The drink is cool, just like it’s namesake.  And it’s fun – and a fine collector piece.  As a glass to have on the regular, you might want to grab some Gentleman Jack or regular Number 7.

Dan’s Rating: 7.7

Ballpark of the Week: Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Home of the Baltimore Orioles)

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Ballpark of the Week: Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Home of the Baltimore Orioles)

Tonight, the American League Central Division Champion Detroit Tigers start their fourth consecutive American League Divisional Series with a match-up against the AL East champion Baltimore Orioles.  Since the Tigers are my hometown team, it’s not hard to figure out where my rooting interests lie.  And while this season was grueling, with the Tigs not clinching the division until the season’s last day, we in Detroit are feeling pretty good about our chances.

I will admit, however, that I regularly root for the Orioles in their division.  Like the rest of the world not living in the five boroughs, I despise the Yankees.  Once I had a sympathy for the Red Sox and their unbeatable curse, and cheered joyously as they won that memorable title in 2003.  That dissipated quickly as Sox fans became unbearable in the years since, and I now only root for them when they play the Yankees.  If Tampa Devil Ray fans don’t exist, why would I acknowledge their team? And the Blue Jays…well, I don’t really dislike them, but they have to make the playoffs for me to root for them.  That makes the Orioles the lesser of five evils, I guess.

Those days are over.  Tigers in three! four!

That said, I was able to visit Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 2012, My wife had a work conference in Washington DC in June, including a couple of evening events, so I used the opportunity to rent a car and drive north to catch a game.  Particularly fortuitous for me, my wife’s uncle and cousins – Maryland natives – were happy to meet me at the game and make it a night at the ballpark!

The drive in was less than ideal – while DC and Baltimore may be separated by few miles (40 or so), the drive time between the two is a bit on the slow side.  I’m sure natives to the area are well aware of this – unfortunately, I was not.  When I did arrive in Baltimore, however, I was pleased to find how easy it was to get to the park!  There is ample parking, thanks to a nicely developed area of hotels and convention centers nearby, and was parked and ready to go in no time.

Driving in from DC, I noticed the large crowd of people in Orioles gear between a statue of Brooks Robinson and a few bars names Pickles and Sliders across the street from the stadium.  I wandered over for a bite and to catch some local flavor – and I did.  In particular, I’ve developed a taste for ‘Baltimore Wings,’ which are the local take on traditional Buffalo Wings.  Baked in butter and rubbed with Old Bay seasoning, they may be my favorite wings in the world now.  People hung out and talked baseball, but I snapped a pic in front of the Brooks Robinson statue, and headed over to the large main gates to get a feel for the place.

In front of the Brooks Robinson statue

In front of the Brooks Robinson statue

Upon entering the park from Camden and Eutaw, the first thing you notice is how the stadium feels like an older park than it really is.  This is, of course, by design.  After years of demolishing our baseball cathedrals in favor of bland, round, all purpose stadiums (like Three Rivers or Veterans stadiums), Oriole Park at Camden Yards was a much heralded return to the classics.  Set in an actual part of the city (as opposed to far-flung suburbs), built with brick and iron and as a part of it’s surroundings (the warehouse overlooking the park from center to right field).  It revolutionized ballparks, and while it has borne many imitators (including Comerica Park here in Detroit), it is still very unique.

Strolling along the bricks above the outfield, I had to stop into the famous Boog’s BBQ.  Boog Powell, slugging hero of those late 60s and early 70s Oriole teams, has a BBQ stand/tent here, and it came highly recommended.  An additional treat – Boog was there that day, and I got to shake his hand, get an autograph, and chat for a few minutes with a Baltimore legend!  And the BBQ was delicious too.

Boog Powell's delicious barbeque

Boog Powell’s delicious barbecue

Our seats gave us a great view of the park – it really is a beautiful sight.  I was there during an interleague matchup, and many fans from Pittsburgh were there as well, so there was a good spirited taunting going on in the stands.  A high scoring game, we were able to see everything clearly, and despite it’s throwback style, Oriole Park has plenty of modern game-watching amenities: great scoreboards, clear public address, ball, strike and pitch speed sensors throughout.

Steve Pearce and Mark Reynolds both hit shots our way, and we even thought we might have a chance at catching Reynolds.  The O’s scored early and often, and the game was fun for the hometown fans.  At one point, I headed up to the picnic tables in centerfield to grab some crab dip and waffle fries – a local favorite – and found out OPaCY is one of the few ballparks in which you can bring your own food and drink (provided the drinks are sealed)!  A walk down Eutaw was particularly enjoyable, as you watch the game on the one side, and check out the bars and souvenir stands inside the warehouse on the other.

Now, it did take me almost two and a half hours to get back to DC after the game, but that didn’t dampen my fun.  Oriole Park at Camden Yards is a beautiful park, and another must see for baseball fans!

Dan’s scale (1-10): 8.7

Below are my stats.  I’ll post them for every park I’ve visited.  I include the big details, as well as who I visited with.  Lastly, I am a huge fan of throwback jerseys, and for every stadium I visit, I buy one of a player from that organization I admired as a kid, from watching them or reading about them.  So for every one, I will also list the throwbacks I’ve purchased for each.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards – June 14, 2012.  Pittsburgh Pirates at Baltimore Orioles

Date: Thursday, June 14, 2012, 7:06PM

Seat: Section 82, Row 4, Seats 13 – 17

Ticket Cost: $34.00 each (purchased from team site)

Went with: Phil, Kenny, Ashley & Tara Daniels

Attendance: 29,995

Time of Game: 3:06

Linescore:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R  H   E
Pirates 0 0 0 0 3 2 0 0 1 6   10 0
Orioles 4 0 1 5 0 1 0 1 X 12 16 0

Winning Pitcher: Tommy Hunter (3-3)

Losing Pitcher: Erik Bedard (4-7)

Save:

Jersey: Brooks Robinson (1966)

A trip to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival – Tasting and Gala

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This year, I have been fortunate enough to head down to Kentucky for three separate bourbon related events.  In February, my wife and I went to Louisville to take in the second ever Bourbon Classic, a fantastic celebration of bourbon and its culture.  In June, we headed back to tour some distilleries and attend the “Pappy For your Pappy” tasting dinner with the Van Winkle family at Buffalo Trace Distillery.  And last week, we headed down for the The Great Kentucky Bourbon Tasting & Gala.

The Kentucky Bourbon Festival is a yearly event in Bardstown, Kentucky in the heart of bourbon country.  It started small in 1992, and has grown every year, as a week long full celebration of all things bourbon.  There are barrel making exhibitions, events for families, kids, tours of Bardstown, mixology lessons, cooking demonstrations – this is a full scale celebration!  As the week goes on, there are nightly events for the bourbon faithful – dinners and dancing, country and bluegrass concerts, all culminating in the big event, the Gala – a black tie affair.  It was for this event my wife surprised me with tickets, and for this event we headed down.

We stayed in Louisville, in the 21c Museum Hotel, which had treated us so well during the Bourbon Classic.  On Friday night, we had dinner at Proof on Main to celebrate our 2nd Anniversary, and the food (and drink) was outstanding!  One of the greatest parts was their offering of bourbon tasting flights:

Proof on Main Bourbon Flight Menu

Proof on Main Bourbon Flight Menu

I went with the KY Bourbon Distillers Flight, as it offered three products I cannot find in Michigan, the Johnny Drum Private Stock, the Rowan’s Creek and Noah’s Mill.

KY Bourbon Distillers Flight

KY Bourbon Distillers Flight

We’ve sampled the good from Chef Levon Wallace‘s kitchen before, and this time was every bit as fantastic and delectable as expected.  Dining in Louisville is an exceptional experience, and Proof on Main may be the best of the bunch!

Saturday, we did some exploring of the stores between Louisville and Bardstown, looking for new, limited or fun bourbons that we can’t attain in Michigan, and finding a few of note.  Particularly wonderful were the people of Old Town Wine and Spirits – they had a fantastic collection of spirits, particularly bourbon.  After some perusal, I noticed they had two different store choice barrel strength Four Roses selections.  I asked a gentleman about the differences, and he was wonderful enough to not only walk me through it, but to taste each.  And by taste…I mean he poured me a glass of each.  That is hospitality!  With some new bourbon’s purchased, it was back to the hotel to get gussied up for the big Gala event.

Now, I will be the first to admit, wearing a tuxedo is not exactly a point of comfort for me. By my count, I have worn one five times in my life: senior prom, standing up in three friend’s weddings, and now the bourbon tasting and gala.
Dressed in my best James Bond impression, and with my wife looking stunning in a new dress, we headed to Bardstown.

Jen and I at the Bourbon Tasting and Gala

Jen and I at the Bourbon Tasting and Gala

The first surprise was the location. Having not been to the festival, it came as a bit of a shock when we pulled into the parking lot of what appeared to be a massive distribution or warehouse facility. There was no doubt, however, that it was the right place to be, as the parking lot was full of shuttle and tour buses, and elegantly dressed people got out of cars to line up for the event. We took our place in line and soon enough the doors opened.

A welcoming site outside the Bourbon Tasting and Gala

A welcoming site outside the Bourbon Tasting and Gala

Inside the first massive room we went into lay a bourbon lovers delight. Each of the major represented distilleries had bar setups around the outside walls. Each one was unique and different. Upon entry, each attendant was given a bag – this would be where we would stash our collected goodies as the night unfolded.

A room full of beautiful people and beautiful bourbon!

A room full of beautiful people and beautiful bourbon!

Each distillery had a full selection of their products available to drink. Most would serve your drink of choice in a glass specially made for the occasion, which you were to keep (by storing in the aforementioned bag). Most of these individual bars would also have a choice of mixed drink cocktail, ice, water, or to have the drink neat.

In the center of the room was a long spread of hors d’oeuvres.

Bourbon Festival ice sculpture

Bourbon Festival ice sculpture

Our first stop was the Blanton’s bar. Always a favorite of mine, it seemed a great way to get the night started! We sipped our drinks, and moved around. Wild Turkey had a backdrop for guests to have their red carpet style photo taken. They also had perhaps the most ornate bar, practically a saloon set up there where I was short to procure a glass of the Russell’s Reserve I love so much.

In addition to a wonderful set of cocktails and a beautiful display, Makers Mark had an ice luge, where I enjoyed a glass of Makers 46, chilled in this most fun way possible.

Maker's 46 from an ice luge

Maker’s 46 from an ice luge

After some food, & a wonderful conversation with former Maker’s Mark and now Bardstown Bourbon Company master distiller and Kentucky Bourbon Festival Hall of Fame member Steve Nally and his lovely wife, we made our way over to the Heaven Hill set up, where Jen enjoyed a Ezra Brooks smoothie , and I indulged in a pour of Evan Williams Single Barrel.

Cheers!

Cheers!

Buffalo Trace had the most elegant glasses of the evening, with a raised Buffalo etched in the side. Ridgemont Reserve 1792 served a bourbon orange cream drink that would certainly fit as a dessert on any fine menu.

Ridgemont Reserve 1792

Ridgemont Reserve 1792

By the time I wandered up to the Jim Beam bar, we had only been there for about an hour and a half. I asked the bartender for a glass of my favorite Jim Beam product, the Jim Beam Black 8 Year. When he asked if I wanted a single or double, I laughed and said the night was so young I better keep it a single. He quickly responded that the night was so young, it was early enough for a double!

Bulleit had their 10 year bourbon available, and I spoke with one of their representatives about the recent reopening of the Stitzel-Weller distillery under the name that had occurred that week. It is certainly on the short list of places I want to visit soon.

The line at Four Roses was intimidating – they were also offering photographs – so I visited Michter’s and grabbed a few more munchies just as the lights flashed to usher us into the main room where dinner was about to be served.

They have a bag check so we wouldn’t carry around the impressive number of glasses we had collected during the evening, and we entered the large room for dinner.

The dining room part of the evening...

The dining room part of the evening…

As you might imagine, a room sitting what I estimated to have been seven or eight hundred people for dinner would be massive. And it was. There was a stage set up on the far side of the room, where the toast and a few short speeches would be given. Later in the evening, this would also be the bandstand for the dancing part of the night. We found our table, to the far side from the stage and took seats.

We were seated with two lovely groups. One group of four had come in from Atlanta, Georgia. One of the groups gentleman was celebrating his 50th birthday, to celebrate at the Bourbon Festival. What a fantastic idea! There was also a young couple from Cincinnati, Ohio at our table as well. With a bottle of Ridgemont Reserve at each table to toast with, we enjoyed talking to our fellow tablemates while eating our salads. I was particularly overjoyed to find out our new Georgian friends where sports fanatics as well! We talked about baseball at length, as well as SEC football. To my dismay, my Missouri Tigers fell that afternoon to the Indiana Hoosiers, a rather embarrassing loss.

By this point, we all had noticed the lack of climate control in the facility. The temperature outside hovered around 85, and inside the lack of air flow had begun to take its toll. Many a brow was sweaty, and for the men, our tight collars and ties became slightly oppressive.

As the toasts and short speeches began, we found we were too far on the other side of the room to be able to discern what was being said. The sound system was not clear enough for us to here the toast itself, or any of the comments of Wild Turkey master distiller Jimmy Russell who had showed up and made some comments of his own. Unfortunately, all we could hear was a sound more similar to the teacher from a Charlie Brown cartoon.

By the time the delicious dinner was served, we dug in. A band playing Motown and classic soul favorites struck up, and some revelers, including ourselves, went to dance for a bit.

Time to dance!

Time to dance!

The gala goes on until 1 in the morning, but by 11, the heat had taken its toll and Jen and I were ready to retreat the distance back to Louisville. We bid our new friends farewell and safe travels, and beat the path back to Louisville, for a good night’s sleep.

Overall, the bourbon tasting and Gala is a fantastic event, and one I believe we will return to in the future. Next time, we would like to take in more of the entire Bourbon Festival. And hopefully it’s a few degrees cooler…

 

Wait, did Derek Jeter do something last night?

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I’m kidding of course.  This baseball season has been the ‘Season of Jeets,’ to a degree I certainly think has been ridiculous.  There was the initial wave of adulation and reflection…

followed by a understandable backlash…

…followed by last night.  In his last game wearing Yankees Pinstripes, Jeets hits a walk off single to win the game for the Yankees.  Surely Joltin’ Joe and The Kid smiled down from the heavens.

I hate the Yankees, like most rational thinking baseball fans in this day and age not living in the greater New York Metropolitan area (or unabashedly front-runners, who are probably moving over to Mike Trout Angels jerseys as we speak).  That doesn’t diminish, however, The Captain’s legacy.

Derek Jeter was a constant, a great player, a sure-fire hall of famer, who exuded class even in an era when the Yankees payroll became as bloated as C.C. Sabathia at the Old Country Buffet.  He’s one of the few stars of the Steroid Era to not be under suspicion – and that includes many of his pinstriped teammates (we see ya’ A-Rod, Giambi, Rocket and Petite).  He was a great player.

Now with that said, I would invite those heaping attention to take a second and look at the career statistics of one Alan Trammell, who also played a 20 year career in one place.  Detroit may not be the Big Apple, but Trammell was part of a record setting double play combo, and the glue that held the Tigers together for 20 years.  He wasn’t quite as good offensively as Jeter, but was better defensively, and with a comparable WAR and advanced sabermetrics, maybe some light could be shed on his career before it’s too late for him to be enshrined in Cooperstown.  Down the hall from Jeets – two great shortstops who were leaders on the field.

Congrats to #2.

#freesimmons

Dan’s Bourbon Review of the Week – Jefferson’s Ocean: Aged At Sea

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We are here in Kentucky, for the third time this year, for a bourbon event.  Today, we will visit the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown for a bit, before returning to Louisville and gussying ourselves up for a the The Great Kentucky Bourbon Tasting & Gala tonight.  MY wife has a lovely dress picked out, and I will actually be in black tie – an event slightly less rare than Haley’s Comet.  I’ll be posting more about it tomorrow, but for today, it’s the review of a bourbon I wanted to try for a while – the Jefferson’s Ocean: Aged At Sea.

Dan's Bourbon Review of the Week - Jefferson's Ocean: Aged at Sea

Dan’s Bourbon Review of the Week – Jefferson’s Ocean: Aged at Sea

Now, the story of the Jefferson’s Ocean is as interesting as anything.  A few years ago, Jefferson master blender Trey Zoeller put a limited number of aged barrels on a ship, and let it sail around the world.  Upon it’s return, they sampled and bottled it, and Jefferson’s Ocean was born.  The reviews were good – some pointed out that the temperature fluctuations and rolling motion of being on a ship gave it a truly unique taste, while some even pointed out an almost briny salt water taste deep within.

With that success, Zoeller dispatched 60+ more barrels of bourbon for a 6-month trip on a container ship.  The bourbon is reportedly 6-8 years old, and details of it’s source or blend aren’t known.  As the ship (and stored barrels) crossed the equator four times and stopped on four continents, the whiskey rolled in the barrels, increasing it’s contact time with the wood and slightly agitating not unlike a washing machine.  The process is pretty cool, but the question is – “Is the bourbon any good?”

My answer is absolutely yes.

The nose was one of the sweetest I’ve ever experienced in a bourbon.  Rich caramel, vanilla, brown sugar and a hint of what almost reminded me of banana creme wafted from the top.  Oak woodiness around the edges, but the smell of this liquor made me anticipate a rum like sweetness.

Two things struck me immediately at first sip: (1) this bourbon is far sweeter than I had expected, and so very smooth; and (2) the very thick mouth feel.  This bourbon has an almost creamy, sweet feel, and rolls almost like a liqueur across the tongue.  Again, caramel, vanilla, a touch of maple syrup blends with a touch of non-bitter spices and the oakiness of a well aged bourbon.  Others have noted a salt or brine touch on this drink – I did not get that at all.  I did get a good dose of dried or candied fruit, particularly citrus.

The finish was very smooth, and the longer it sat in the glass, the more sweet it smelled.  I don’t want to give the wrong impression – it’s not sweet like a rum or soda.  But it definitely is for the sweeter palate, and that’s perfectly fine with me.  I found it to be delicious.

Dan’s Rating: 9.0

Ballpark of the Week: Fenway Park (Home of the Boston Red Sox)

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Ballpark of the Week: Fenway Park (Home of the Boston Red Sox)

I am not even close to forgiving the Boston Red Sox for beating my beloved Detroit Tigers in the ALCS last year. The fact that they eventually won the championship makes things a little better (if you’re gonna lose, might as well lose to the champ), but not nearly enough to soften the wounds.  To be totally honest, with the exception of 2004 and their vanquishing of the Yankees, I can’t remember ever rooting for the Red Sox.  And just for extra emotion, I grew up with the New York Mets as my “B” team, so I remember 1986 for all the right reasons.

All that aside, even I have to admit that the long and storied history of the Beantown team can give me goose bumps – from Babe to Foxx, Pesky and Rice to Pedro and Youk. I always had a reverence for Ted Williams as well – as a kid who loved the statistics of baseball, I was wowed by the way Williams could post such amazing numbers AND serve in two wars.  So when my brother-in-law offered us tickets to the Sox game of our choice as a Christmas gift, we were elated for the opportunity.

As luck (and his generosity) would have it, we got to enjoy even more.  The game we had selected was a Yankees-Sox game on a Saturday afternoon in May, but he did us one better and also got us tickets to see the Red Sox play the Anaheim Angels on the Thursday night we arrived in.  We migrated from his Back Bay apartment to the ballpark and it was every bit as great as advertised.

As we walked to the hallowed park that first night, we found ourselves being enveloped, block by block, by Red Sox fans and the first notable difference between this and other parks was apparent: because (like Wrigley Field) this old park was in a neighborhood, it wasn’t just a matter of people walking the short distance from a parking lot to the park.  Instead, people walked through neighborhoods.  It was communal, and fun.  It felt like what baseball was supposed to be.

By the time we got close, every Irish bar had the Dropkick Murphys blaring and the smells of a baseball game were everywhere.  By the time we turned from Brookline onto Yawkey Way, it was on.  There were street vendors with carts and just about every kind of pick-up-and-carry food imaginable. I became particularly infatuated with the stadium kabobs, and ate what seemed like three or four of them.

We wandered in the stadium, and were surrounded by baseball history.  Like Wrigley, it was apparent from the first second that this was a throw back to an earlier time.  The bricks, the smells (good and bad), how…small?…everything seems compared to the modern behemoth stadium.  Now, that feeling of nostalgia for a time before you were ever born (pre-stalgia?) lasts right up to about the time you go to buy something, when you realize that this beer would have cost a 1920 cobbler his months income.  But its still very very special.

Our first game, we sat down the first base side, and the seats were amazing.  We watched a high scoring (if slow moving) game, where the Sox took it to the Anaheim Angels, even after Dice-K gave up 4 runs early.  Most amusing was the Japanese gentleman behind us who shouted at Daisuke what we could only imagine were words of encouragement or terrible curses the entire time he was pitching.

The tradition of Red Sox nation is well known around the world now – singing along with Sweet Caroline, The stadium was full from first to last pitch, and with the Standell’s Dirty Water blaring, it was an amazing time.

We came back two days later, in a misty rain, to see the real deal – Yankees v Sox.  Because it was a nationally televised game, it had a later than normal start time, which allotted us more time to spend at the grand old park.  We strolled there leisurely in the mist, and decided to wander around the entire park this time (not just Yawkey Way).  We were wandering down Landsdowne, behind the Green Monster, when what sounded like a shot rang out, and my wife dropped to the ground in a heap.  There were audible gasps from the people in the Green Monster seats looking down at the street below.  I was stunned – I had no idea what had happened.

Now, a Boston native might know right away.  In that beautiful, completely asymmetrical and oddly shaped park, if a ball clears the Green Monster…it hits the street below.  In the clip here, Melky Cabrera hits a homer over the wall that breaks a car windshield.  Well, it just so happened that batting practice was taking place inside the park and someone put a charge into a ball that happened to clear the fence,but not my wife.

Within a minute, she was back on her feet and a few of Boston’s finest were there to make sure she was ok.  A kid on a bike came up to us with the ball that had struck her, and offered it to us (we told him he could keep it, but he smiled and said ‘I get tons of them out here!’ and showed us a small bag of baseballs), so we pocketed it and headed into the park, where we could at least see flying objects beforehand.

The seats my brother-in-law had gotten us were amazing, and we got some Lobster Rolls and Sam Adams, and had a blast.  CC Sabathia was chased early, but the Yankees persevered and emerged victorious.  And we had a second great time at the ballpark.  We visited the Ted Williams plaque, and walked through the concourse.  Again, just like Wrigley, it felt like history.  The fact everything was wet from the rain added a mustiness that reminded us of the age of the park as well.

As for Jen – well, she ended up with a bruise on her chest that looked like she had been hit by…well, a baseball that had been projected 400 feet through air and space.  But she healed, and we had the baseball – and the great memories.

Dan’s scale (1-10): 8.9

Below are my stats.  I post them for every park I’ve visited.  I include the big details, as well as who I visited with.  Lastly, I am a huge fan of authentic throwback jerseys, and for every stadium I visit, I buy one of a player from that organization I admired as a kid, from watching them or reading about them.  So for every one, I will also list the throwbacks I’ve purchased for each.

Fenway Park – May 6, 2010.  Anaheim Angels at Boston Red Sox

Date: Thursday, May 6, 2010, 7:12PM

Seat: Field Box 18

Ticket Cost: N/A

Went with: Jen Weaver

Attendance: 37,639

Time of Game: 3:43

Linescore:
               1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9     R   H E
Angels    4 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0    6   9  2
Red Sox  0 0 2 0 5 4 0 0 X   11 11 0

Winning Pitcher: Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Scott Kazmir (2-2)

Save:

 

Fenway Park – May 8, 2010.  New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox

Date: Saturday, May 8, 2010, 3:11 PM

Seat: EMC Club

Ticket Cost: N/A

Went with: Jen Weaver

Attendance: 37,138

Time of Game: 3:56

Linescore:
               1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9     R   H E
Yankees   0 0 2 1 3 0 2 4 2    14 17 0
Red Sox   0 0 3 0 0 0 0 0 0      3  8  1

Winning Pitcher: Alfredo Aceves

Losing Pitcher: Clay Buchholtz

Save:

Jersey: Ted Williams (1939)

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Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: George T. Stagg

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A good start to the week – my beloved Detroit Tigers won the first of three against the division rival (and division leading) Kansas City Royals yesterday afternoon, closing the pennant gap to one.  The Detroit Lions beat up on the New York Giants last night on Monday Night Football to kick a new season off the right way.  And the temperature here in Detroit leads one to think autumn is right around the corner.  My favorite time of year.

For this week’s Bourbon of the Week, however, I return to those dog days of summer.  I was fortunate enough this year to accompany my lovely wife on a work trip to Los Angeles back in July.  It was a fantastic trip, full of sun, beaches, wonderful entertainment and great food.  We got to see Chris Isaak (a favorite of mine) at the Hollywood Bowl, and take in a show at the Comedy Store, including Marc Maron and Ralphie May. But, while LA has all the glitz and glamour, there is one thing it is definitely missing: bourbon.

Now, that’s not to say I didn’t find some good times and good bourbon.  A visit to the Dresden made me feel like I was in Swingers, and three fingers of Maker’s Mark certainly helped with that.  But from establishment to establishment, it was more of the same: Jim Beam, Wild Turkey and Makers.  No Buffalo Trace, no Woodford, not even Knob Creek.  Finally, I went online to find somewhere in this sprawling expanse to procure a glass of something…special.  And sure enough, I found it, in Hollywood, of all places.

The bar is called the Township Saloon, and I will review the bar itself in the near future.  It’s a cool, hipster-meets-divey bar on Sunset, away from the Hollywood hullabaloo, and on that Friday night, kind of quiet.  Perfect for sampling one of the rarest of treats, because they had George T. Stagg.

For some reason, I have been unable to locate a bottle of GTS in Michigan, even third party, and Kentucky has fared me no better.  So I was excited to take a drink of this much respected and crowed about product for myself.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: George T Stagg

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: George T Stagg (photo from Wikipedia, as my camera stopped working that night!)

Some say George T. Stagg is the best bourbon made – another fine member of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.  It’s age varies (I have been told the 2013 was 16 years old), and it is a proud product of Buffalo Trace mashbill #1.

It has a very high proof – 129 on this bottling – so a keeping a little ice handy isn’t a bad idea, although I first tried it neat.  After all the raving I’ve read, I was looking forward to trying it.

The nose took me a minute.  Like most high proofed bourbons, the alcohol sears a bit on first blush, and should be given a minute to breathe.  Then, the world opens on this glass.  There was a dark sweetness to it, toffee and caramel, but not overwhelmingly so.  Plum, raisin peeked through, maple sugar, and a soft oakiness that was dry and had a hint of tobacco.

The taste was dark as well.  The toffee remained, along with an almost dark chocolate character. There was a hint of bitter, like coffee, before giving way to a wood that seemed fresh.  It is a strong drink, so I added a few ice chips, and found the sweetness seemed to dissipate a bit, while the oak and slight bitter remained.

The finish was surprisingly short for such an aged and high-proof pour, although I did get hints of cinnamon on the back end.

Did I enjoy it? Thoroughly.  Is it in my top five?  Well, not this years, but that just gives me a reason to try again next year.

Dan’s Rating: 8.8

 

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