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

 

Happy Bourbon Heritage Month!

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As summer rolls to a close, the kids head back to school and the pennant races heat up, September is the gateway to my favorite season of the year: autumn.  College football kicked off last weekend, pro football this weekend, and we all know that with fall comes the new 2014 releases by our favorite distilleries.

September is also National Bourbon Heritage Month, and I can think of no better place to celebrate this year than in the Bluegrass State itself.  So this year, my wife and I are headed back to Kentucky (the third time this year!) for the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in a couple of weeks.  I could not be more excited.  We have our tickets to some events, and I look forward to blogging about it all when I get back.

So please, pour three fingers of your favorite, and join me in celebrating this country’s best spirit – to bourbon!

A nice pour for National Bourbon Month!

A nice pour for National Bourbon Month!

Sourced Bourbon – A good article to read…

Eric Felten, on The Daily Beast website today, writes an article about the popularity of “sourced” whiskey in the craft-whiskey industry.  Worth a read – and consideration – when buying that next mystery $50 bottle of bourbon…

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/07/28/your-craft-whiskey-is-probably-from-a-factory-distillery-in-indiana.html

Ballpark of the Week: Wrigley Field (Home of the Chicago Cubs)

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Ballpark of the Week: Wrigley Field (Home of the Chicago Cubs)

This year was the 100th anniversary of the opening of Wrigley Field, Chicago’s little baseball wonderland nestled in the middle of a true neighborhood and much heralded both for its authentic, old-time baseball feel, as well as the extraordinary amount of …um…losing… that has happened there.

In 2008, just one month after I had kicked off my “visit all of the ballparks” mission, my then-girlfriend-now-wife Jen surprised me with a trip to Chicago to see the Cubs play at Wrigley Field.  Not only had she gotten the location, she had also (1) purchased bleacher seats (I had said I wanted to experience the park in the bleachers with the ‘bums’), (2) against their rivals the St. Louis Cardinals, and (3) in a pennant winning year, no less!  This was a home run of a surprise, no pun intended.  So in September of 2008, we loaded up the car and drove to Chicago to take in some baseball.

For those who don’t know, Wrigley Stadium is in the middle of a real Chicago neighborhood (Wrigleyville), so one of the first things to know is that parking is extremely hard to find and at a premium.  Luckily, the ever prepared Jen was aware of this, and had not only gotten us a hotel a distance away, but plotted out the train lines so that we could get there bright and early.  Which we did – wise decision, as it turns out people line up EARLY for the bleachers and day games.  We joined a line full of reveling Cubs fans, and I don’t think it’s going to shock that many of them had begun the day’s drinking well before they got there.  It was a party atmosphere and, when they finally opened the gates and we came pouring in, it stayed that way.

Immediately, Wrigley Field transports you into a different time (Fenway does this even more so, a point for another post).  It feels incredibly small and comfy, and not overwhelming like many modern stadiums do.  Most importantly, a sense of history just seems to seem out of every crack and crevise.  The feeling that it’s bigger – bigger than you and me – and smaller at the same time.  It’s just a game, just a sporting event.  Grown men running around a grassy field.  But it has meant so much to so many.  I know I’m sounding like Terence Mann, James Earl Jones’ character from Field of Dreams, but as hokey as it seems, Wrigley makes you feel this way.  There really is something to be said for standing in the same place to get a beer and hot dog where generations of fans have done the same thing.

That said, one of the first things you’ll notice is a small group of vendors and concessionaires than you are used to.  It’s not that there aren’t plenty, but the concourse doesn’t seem like a shopping mall, like it does in most stadiums.  We made our way to our seats, and stopped for the right food and drink for the experience: Chicago style dogs and Old Style beer.  Wrigley has it’s share of specialty foods now, and micro-brews, but we were going for the fully authentic experience.  Dogs and suds in hand, we wandered down to our seats.

Now, plenty has been said about the Bleacher Bum’s rowdiness and sometime lac of manners, but we did not experience any of that this day.  The people around us were pleasant and cheerful, and pretty damn knowledgeable about their baseball!  Not many other stadiums in America have their outfields fill up an hour before game time, but this one does.  The temperature was just right – mid 70s – and there was a slight haze over the field.  We watched the prep and marveled on the famous outfield ivy and the magnificent old scoreboard.  While I admit, the Chicago dog was not my cup of tea, my wife still swears that it was the best dog she ever had.

The game itself was a bit of a sleeper.  The Cubs clinched their division the night before, so they put in their “B” lineup this day.  To be honest, I only knew a couple players on the Cubs roster that day (Kosuke Fukudome, Ryan Dempster), and the Cardinals roster wasn’t much better, although they had left in Albert Pujols.  But it didn’t matter.  For nine innings (that only took 2 1/2 hours), we soaked in the sun (it ended up reaching the mid-80s), enjoyed some of baseball’s best fans and ate a few too many Chicago Dogs.

Wrigley Field is a baseball Mecca, and a trip that any true fan of the game’s history should undertake if they can.  As we left, Cubs “W” flag for win being hoisted high, I got the amazing feeling one does when they know they just crossed an item off of their ‘bucket list,’ and it didn’t disappoint.  If you can, go soon, while they are still rebuilding.  This isn’t a cheap park to visit when they are winning, but it’s a little better now.  With

Dan’s scale (1-10): 9.1

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 added to my collection for each.

Wrigley Field – September 21, 2008.  St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs

Date: Sunday, September 21, 2008, 1:24PM

Seat: BLCHR, GA, Seat 1462

Ticket Cost: N/A

Went with: Jen Weaver

Attendance: 40,551

Time of Game: 2:26

Linescore:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9   R H  E
Cardinals  1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0   1 7   1
Cubs          0 0 1 1 0 2 1 0 X  5 10 0

Winning Pitcher: Ryan Dempster (17-6)

Losing Pitcher: Braden Looper (12-14)

Save:

Jerseys: Ernie Banks (1968) and Ryne Sandberg (1984)

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Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Ezra B 12 Year Old Bourbon

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OK, two things:

1) As this summer has gotten busier and busier, I have not been good about posting regularly.  I’m still sampling new bourbons, still reading about developments in the whiskey world and what not, but I’m not writing about it enough.

2) Despite the name “Baseball and Bourbon,” I hardly ever write about baseball! I named the blog Baseball and Bourbon because I planned on reviewing two of the things I enjoy the most: baseball parks and bourbons.  However, I discovered two key facts early on – it’s difficult to visit new parks regularly, and it’s way more fun (and easy) to try new bourbons.  This year alone, I have been able to visit one new park (Nationals Park), but will have gone on three separate trips to Kentucky for bourbon related events.

Both of these things will change now.

Not going to more baseball parks – time and money can prohibit that pretty severely.  But introducing more baseball content.  Reviews of baseball books, baseball movies, write-ups of parks I’ve visited in the past and just more baseball chatter will be a priority.  My hometown Detroit Tigers are (again) serious contenders for the title, and I keep pretty well plugged in to baseball.  Time to put it to type.

Secondly, I will include more bourbon reviews, but also, talk more at length about whiskey bars I visit, industry trends, and other whiskeys, especially ryes,

So let the fun begin!

Last night, after what has proven to be a particularly trying week in many regards, my wife and I sat down and opened a bottle that she had picked up a few weeks back out of curiosity.

Ezra B 12 Year Old Bourbon

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Ezra B 12 Year Old Bourbon

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Ezra B 12 Year Old Bourbon

OK, call this a spoiler alert, but I LOVED this bourbon.  Ezra B (Brooks) 12 Year is a Heaven Hill distillery product, and while Heaven Hill makes some bourbons I have liked (Evan Williams, Elijah Craig) and some I haven’t, none have ever tasted quite like this.

While the Ezra B 12 Year is the classier bottle of the Ezra Brooks line, with its wax cap and ribboned label, it’s not obscenely priced.  A little harder to find here in Detroit, it was still available at a store, and not only through third party sellers.  We opened the bottle and poured a healthy amount into our glasses…

…wow, what a fantastic nose.  Ezra B is 99 proof, but the nose didn’t burn of alcohol at all.  Amazingly, it was a sweet, rich nose, with notes of vanilla, caramel, raisin, rum, pecans and wood.  Not charred wood, mind you, but soft wood, like a new baseball bat.  It was warm and inviting.

The taste was outstanding.  First of all, Ezra B 12 Year is a thick mouth feel – like a melting butter.  But unlike most thicker tasting bourbons, Ezra B isn’t full of those mouth-puckering tannins some people (not I) love.  Instead, it’s incredibly smooth with a layered taste.  It opens with a rich sweetness – raisin and ripe banana, toffee and caramel, before giving way to a warming but not overpowering spice.

The finish is soft and medium, and almost seems to come in waves, but not of spice or rye, but rather, that wonderful citrus taste.

This just became a favorite.

Dan’s rating: 9.3

A trip to visit Pappy…and Four Roses, Willett, Wild Turkey…Part Two

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Summer has finally come to Michigan, with heat, humidity and thunderstorms.  What better time to continue with the blog about the Pappy For Your Pappy dinner and Kentucky trip?

As I mentioned in my earlier blog, I was feeling pretty ill the first day of our Kentucky trip, and by the time we left Four Roses, I was becoming very concerned: would this stomach bug keep me from the Pappy tasting and dinner at Buffalo Trace?  I didn’t want to think about it, but the truth was, it was a real possibility.  My wife and I discussed, and decided to keep on moving, make a trip to a few of Kentucky’s finer liquor stores in search of new hooch, then head to Wild Turkey to take in the sights and tastes.

This plan was doomed from the start.  We drove to Lexington, to shop at the massive Liquor Barn store, and were able to procure a few spirits not available here in the mitten state (as well as a case of the outstanding Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale).  We then backtracked to the Wild Turkey distillery, hoping to catch a mid-afternoon tour…

Bourbon Aisle at the Liquor Barn

Bourbon Aisle at the Liquor Barn

Wishbone at Wild Turkey

Wishbone at Wild Turkey

Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.  We had just missed one tour, and would have to wait an hour for the next one.  In my state, that did not seem like a great idea – certainly not with a delicious dinner and some Pappy Van Winkle waiting for me!  Luckily, the Wild Turkey visitor center has a nice set of displays dedicated to the history of the drink, as well as the legacy of Master Distillers Jimmy and Eddie Russell.  We wandered around the nice grounds and looked at the displays, until finally it was time to try to get a little rest and hope to feel better for the big event.

And in large part – it worked!  I may have still been a little queasy, but when the time came to head to Buffalo Trace Distillery and have a dinner and tasting with the Van Winkles, I seemed to shake it off.  I’ve been to the beautiful Buffalo Trace distillery before, so we decided to skip the tour this time, for restful purposes.

Buffalo Trace Distillery

Buffalo Trace Distillery

Now, one thing I’d really like to mention is how nice, personable and kindly every person we have ever met affiliated with Buffalo Trace has been.  This year was no exception.  As I mentioned before, the tickets for this year’s Pappy dinner were a popular item, and I’m sure they have more than had their hands full with it.  But, just as last year, every person was sweet and wonderful, even remembering the names of my family members that had purchased us the tickets before check-in.

We made our way over to the Elmer T. Lee Clubhouse to find our seat, and have a cocktail before dinner.  Just as last year, the room was adorned beautifully, with candles in Pappy Van Winkle bottles on every table, the tasting glasses out and poured, and tables numbered.

A Well Dressed Table

A Well Dressed Table

One of the great parts of a dinner like this is sitting and talking with other bourbon enthusiasts, and we certainly had a great time with that.  Our table had wonderfully nice and interesting people, and we were pleased to find out we were sitting with Tim Beckelhimer and Larry Parece, who run The Bourbon Guys blog (http://www.thebourbonguys.com/).  Over a lovely dinner of salad, asparagus and steak, we talked about what brought all of us to bourbon, what is available where we live (a father and daughter at the table came in from Louisiana and North Carolina, respectively), and our fondness for that rarest of drinks, Pappy Van Winkle.

Julian and Preston Van Winkle took the microphone, and led us through the tasting of each of this years tasting selections: the 12 year Family Reserve and the 15, 20 and 23 year bourbons.  As always, they were amazing…with one exception.

The 20 Year Pappy Van Winkle, which no less than Preston Van Winkle referred to as “the one that put us on the map,” tasted…very weak.  Like 40 proof week.  Had someone snuck a sample and replaced the precious drink with water?  We will never know…

But the other four were, of course, fantastic.  Even the 23 was a little smoother than when I had last tasted it.   Then they open up the floor for questions.  It was very similar to last year (Any tips to finding Pappy? How does my state get more?), with a few new ones.  One person asked the difference between Weller and Van Winkle, which both use an identical recipe.  Julian explained that it was a matter of selection (all Van Winkles are sampled and chosen by the father and son team, and are stored uniquely in the middle of the barrelhouse), where as Weller takes the rest, and then blends their final product.  There was talk about the theft (no one was ever arrested, and Julian suggested that no one would be, after police interest ironically dried up post-election)and the history of Van Winkle, Stitzel-Weller.

Julian and Preston Van Winkle

Julian and Preston Van Winkle

After the Q and A, the Van Winkles retreated back to the Buffalo Trace Visitor Center, where they were on hand to sign items, and answer questions.  I said hello, and then we headed for the hotel.  We had another big day ahead of us.

A trip to visit Pappy…and Four Roses, Willett, Wild Turkey…Part One

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Two weeks ago, as I posted here, I was lucky enough to be the recipient of a fantastic gift from my family: tickets for my wife and I to travel to Kentucky and go to an event titled “Pappy For Your Pappy.”  The event is exactly what the title insinuates – over Father’s Day weekend, it is a dinner at Buffalo Trace Distillery where Julian and Preston Van Winkle join those lucky diners in the Elmer T. Lee Clubhouse to sample Pappy Van Winkle through the meal.

With a birthday so close to Father’s Day, my sister and mother presented us with tickets as a birthday gift last year, and we enjoyed the event so much that we relished the opportunity to go back.  That said, the Pappy craze, not close to slowing up, made it such a hot ticket that this year, one had to enter a raffle just to get the opportunity to buy tickets!  My sister was fortunate enough to be drawn, and so they presented us the tickets as a gift and sent us on our way.

Last year, we spent the time exploring distilleries and the local area.  We toured Woodford Reserve (which I will recap in the future here), and Lexington Kentucky, and spent a lovely evening staying at Shaker Village.  This year, with the event on Friday (as opposed to Saturday), we revised our plans a bit: we headed down Thursday evening, staying in Harrodsburg (at the lovely Beaumont Inn), and made plans to visit the distilleries at Four Roses, Wild Turkey, Willett, and Buffalo Trace, as well as *gulp* zip line in caverns under Louisville.

There was only one problem – my stomach disagreed.  I awoke Friday with a case of stomach flu that turned my mood as dour as the cloudy, rainy weather.  But it didn’t dissuade us from trooping forward – we headed over to Four Roses to tour the beautiful facility.

Four Roses Distillery

Four Roses Distillery Visitor Center

And beautiful it is – the uniqueness of a Spanish Mission style set of buildings against the rolling Kentucky backdrop certainly makes you feel just a little out of place.  As you might imagine, there are roses everywhere, and so we parked our car and headed on inside.

Visitor Center and Gift Shop at Four Roses Distillery

Visitor Center and Gift Shop at Four Roses Distillery

Bourbon is huge business here in Kentucky, and the distilleries all know it – the gift shops in every place I’ve visited rival those of any National Park or recognizable tourist site, and Four Roses is no exception.  Their Gift Shop is large and full of every product you might want, including bottles of their yellow label, Small Batch and Single Barrel products.  Like most other distilleries, there were no available bottles of the more rare and sought after specialty pours, like cask proof, anniversary editions, etc.  But it was a pleasant place to spend an hour while awaiting our tour (there is also a nice pavilion outside).

The tour itself starts with a video explaining the history of Four Roses, and to those who know, it is a unique history indeed: Four Roses was arguably the most popular bourbon in America for many decades (interesting fact – the large advertisement behind the kissing sailor/nurse Times Square V-J day photo? Four Roses!). In 1943, it was purchased by the Canadian Seagrams company, and in the mid-1950s Seagrams shifted the bourbon sales to emerging markets in Japan and post war Europe, while abandoning Four Roses bourbon altogether in the United States.  Unfortunately, though, they continued the name Four Roses, but changed the product to a low quality, blended neutral grain whiskey.  I was unaware of that history myself until I gave my father a bottle of Single Barrel Four Roses last year for Father’s Day.  He enjoys a good whiskey, but is not particularly a drinker, and one day mentioned to a friend that I had brought him a bottle.  His friend scoffed and suggested I was trying to kill him with a bottle of rotgut!  My father had to inform him that those days of horrible product are passed.

Visitor Center, Gift Shop and Tasting Room at Four Roses

Visitor Center, Gift Shop and Tasting Room at Four Roses

In 1995, Four Roses brought in Jim Rutledge as Master Distiller and, in the early 2000’s, thanks to some sales and acquisitions, Seagram sold Four Roses to Japanese company Kirin, who have restored the reputation and quality of the Four Roses label and returned product to American shelves (while eliminating the offensive rotgut).

The tour then started in earnest, where our guide explained that Four Roses uses two main mash bills, and utilize five different proprietary yeasts.

Two different mash bills –

75% corn, 20% rye, 5% malted barley
60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley

Crossed with five different proprietary yeast strains:
V – delicate fruitiness
K – slightly spicy character
O – rich fruitiness
Q – floral essence
F – herbal

making a total of ten different casked bourbons. Four Roses uses single story barrel houses (at a different location).  After the film and walk through, we started the tour.

The tour group outside the Four Roses Distillery

The tour group outside the Four Roses Distillery

In front of Four Roses Distillery

In front of Four Roses Distillery

Control Room of Four Roses Distillery

Control Room of Four Roses Distillery

The proprietary yeasts at work

The proprietary yeasts at work

Fermentation

Fermentation

Mash fermenting to become Four Roses Bourbon

Mash fermenting to become Four Roses Bourbon

The tour itself takes about 45 minutes, and is a good glimpse inside a medium sized Bourbon producer.  The barrels are filled and stored offsite, so it really is only distilling taking place here, and while they certainly take it seriously, it isn’t as ‘craft’ as Grand Traverse was, nor as large as Wild Turkey.

Four Roses Copper Still at work

Four Roses Copper Still at work

Up close and personal in a copper still

Up close and personal in a copper still

After walking through the fermenting, distilling and preparation processes – they fill up tanker trucks to deliver to the store houses an hour away – we headed inside for the best part: tasting!  There, we enjoyed all three available bottlings, thanked our guide, and moved on down the road to Wild Turkey.  Stomach bug be damned, there was bourbon to taste!

In our next post – it’s Wild Turkey, and dinner with the Van Winkles!

My old Kentucky home…

I am in Kentucky once more, my wife and I lucky enough to be going to the “Pappy for your Pappy” dinner and tasting event with Preston and Julian Van Winkle at Buffalo Trace Distillery. This is our second year, and we are mixing in a little bit more of the Bourbon Trail this year, with visits planned to Four Roses and Wild Turkey, as well as a few other stops.

I will be posting a few items as we go, and a recap next week… Let the good times roll!

A Visit to Grand Traverse Distillery!

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It’s been a little quiet around here at Baseball and Bourbon, although not for a lack of activity.  In the last month, I’ve taken a few short trips, and have a few more coming up.  A visit to Maryland and Washington DC last month allowed me to both hunt down some bourbons and ryes that I hadn’t been able to find in Michigan, and take in a ballgame at Nationals Park in DC. Next week, I’ve been lucky enough to (thanks to my sister and mother) procure tickets to the Pappy For Your Pappy event at Buffalo Trace for the second year.  Lot’s of exciting things to write about! But more immediately, my wife and I spent last weekend in Northern Michigan for the wedding of our friends Brandon and Julie.  In between the fudge on Mackinac Island and some para-sailing, we had a chance to visit the Grand Traverse Distillery in Traverse City!

Dan in front of barrels of Grand Traverse Whiskey

Dan in front of barrels of Grand Traverse Whiskey

I’ve sampled the wares of the Grand Traverse Distillery several times, including making their bourbon my Bourbon of the Week in August of 2013.  I’m also fond of their Cherry Flavored Whiskey as a fun mixer.  So when we decided to visit Traverse City, Michigan as part of our trip, a stop in seemed in order.

The tasting room at the Grand Traverse Distillery

The tasting room at the Grand Traverse Distillery

The first thing that will surprise you on visit is that the Distillery has a less than picturesque location.  That is to say it’s in the middle of an industrial park on the outskirts of Traverse City, in a less-than-glamorous warehouse looking building.  I was afraid I had taken us to the wrong location, but upon walking in, knew that I had been correct.  Through the front doors is a lobby/gift shop/tasting room, with a bartender on call to mix a cocktail, give you distillery information and ring up your purchase or tour.  My wife and I each had a cocktail (mine whiskey, hers gin), and we awaited the start of our tour! Now, one thing of note right away is that Grand Traverse DOES actually produce their own bourbon (as opposed to sourcing it).  There are very few distillers in Michigan who can say that (if any?), so as you step into the modest size warehouse their still is all the more impressive. Not only is the Grand Traverse Distillery distilling their own spirits, they use almost exclusively locally sourced grains to do it – their corn, wheat, rye, and obviously cherries, are all locally sourced, The entire area is small enough to take it all in visually in a few minutes, but the step by step walk-through tour is much more in depth.  Our guide showed us where the grains are delivered, the fermenting process, and their copper still, where they make a variety of different products (whiskey, vodka, gin, and hope to introduce a rum soon).

Grand Traverse fermenters

Grand Traverse fermenters

...then, on to the copper still!

…then, on to the copper still!

There is goodness cooking in there!

There is goodness cooking in there!

When explaining their bourbon, it was pointed out that all of their barrels use a number 4 char, and, the average barrel age is about 3 years (although there are some they are holding on to for later release).  The barrels are all stored in the warehouse, which is only moderately temperature controlled (some heat in winter), but they do not rotate or move barrels between sealing and opening.

Grand Traverse Bourbon barrel, charred at a #4

Grand Traverse Bourbon barrel, charred at a #4

Barreled up

Barreled up

After a 45 minute tour including a question and answer, we retreated back to the tasting room to sample some of the Grand Traverse spirits.  I thoroughly enjoyed the Ole George Rye, and while I still find the Grand Traverse Bourbon a bit rough and tumble, it is still a good quality.  It is a higher rye content than I like in my bourbon, but for those who like spicier notes, it’s a solid choice. They are opening a new tasting room in downtown Traverse City, to match ones they have in other cities around Michigan.  The tour was very enjoyable, and well worth the time and money.  Good job Grand Traverse Distillery – keep doing it well!

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