The hunt for ‘Unobtainium’ – Pappy Van Winkle – Part Two

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Back in November, I did the part one of a post about the hunt for “Unobtanium” – Pappy Van Winkle.  Coming off of another fruitless season of hunting for Pappy (and several other ‘collector’ bourbons), I wanted to share some of my experiences.  Judging from the readership stats, I seem to have stumbled upon something, because that post is the third most popular one I’ve put up this year.  I chose to hold off on the second part until now because I had a few irons in the fire, and wanted to be able to report fully and honestly if my alternate plans to procure some of the mystical elixir worked.

I can now report they did not.

Not that this bourbon hunting season has been fruitless.  I have been able to find the Parker’s Heritage Wheated, the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, the Woodford Reserve Sonoma, the Maker’s Mark Barrel Proof and the Black Maple Hill 6 year, all to try and report on soon – good or bad.  Nor was Pappy the only thing I struck out on.  Like most, I was wholly unable to get my mitts on any of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, the 2014 Old Forester Birthday Release, Angel’s Envy Cask Strength or quite a few other sought after bourbons.  But it is Pappy, above and beyond all else, that seems to captivate and frustrate the masses (and often, myself), most of all.

So today I write about some other methods you can try to get the impossible: Secondary markets and Liquor Control states.  Maybe your luck will be better than mine.  I certainly have my doubts.

I want to be sure to state one other fact as well: media sources love to report how Pappy Van Winkle is ‘impossible’ to find, how it’s scarcity is the great equalizer, where billionaire CEOs and bourbon-loving bus drivers are equally perplexed.  That is not the truth.  If you want to but Pappy, there are plenty of places to find it.  As I post this, there are 12 listings on the Detroit Craigslist page for Pappy, the highest being $1,700 for a bottle of 23 year (the lowest being $250 for a bottle of 12 Year).  The concept that no-one can get it is an absolute myth.  The truth is very few can afford to get it except for retail price at an honest store.

Currently, my collection has four bottles of Van Winkle products.  I have a bottle of the 15 Year, that my sister kindly gave me as a birthday gift in 2011, before insanity truly took hold.  Out of respect for the gift, I’ve never asked details, but it’s my understanding she bought it on the secondary market from another state (Illinois, I believe), for a high but not unreasonable price.  I have a bottle of 10 Year that I bought through the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board website, a bottle of 12 Year I bought from a local Metro Detroit store (by winning the chance in a raffle), and a bottle of 20 Year that I bought from a seller on Craigslist, along with some other choice selections, when I was in Kentucky early this year.

As I detailed in my earlier post, I struck out with my local vendors.  I frequent about six different stores around Michigan. Two didn’t receive any Pappy at all this year.  Two more put it up for sale at astronomical prices ($1,500 for a bottle of 23 Year, for example, a bottle that sells for $250 retail).  And the last two sold it to people for the prices they offered – still exceeding $1,000 per bottle.  It’s an unfortunate game, but one detailed quite nicely in an article posted earlier this month on The Daily Beast.

“Pappy has become a prime example of a certain kind of product that economists called a “Veblen good.” Named for the sociologist of the “leisure class,” Thorstein Veblen, these are luxury items that defy the normal workings of the Law of Demand. Normally, when the price of a product climbs, the demand slips. With Veblen goods, the demand does the opposite, growing as the price goes up. In part this is because the person buying the Veblen good gets what economist Harvey Leibenstein called “conspicuous consumption utility.” And Pappyphiles have been nothing if not conspicuous.

But Veblen goods also function because price stands in as a measure of quality—if you can’t tell what the best whiskey is, but you very much want to be seen drinking the best whiskey, then you choose a very pricey spirit. The more expensive it becomes, the better it must be, which in turn makes it more desirable. But note the embarrassing logic of Veblen goods: they appeal to those unable to determine quality based on the evaluation of the product itself—it’s the stuff of those less than savvy folks who need price as a proxy.” – Full Article Here

Now, I’m not quite ready to go full backlash yet.  I still think that in my experience, Pappy Van Winkle is one of the best bourbons I’ve had.  But I would be dishonest if I did not admit that so much of the allure, even to me, is the scarcity of it all.  That’s why I found myself standing on a freezing downtown Louisville street corner last year, buying a bottle of Pappy 20 from a complete stranger from a Craigslist post.

The Secondary Market

And there are plenty of people on both Craigslist and boozehound websites, happy to sell you a bottle for your first-born child and a few thousand dollars.  Like I stated earlier, it’s all about how much you are willing to pay.  Yes, it is a transaction that may well be illegal in your state.  Yes, it may lead you to make an exchange of paper bags in the darkest corner of a parking garage.  And yes, it will almost definitely mean you handing over an obscene amount of money for a bottle that will potentially then be too invested in to actually open.  But it can be done.  But buyer beware – like any other exchange of the sort, it is at the least potentially illegal, and at most, dangerous.

There are a good number of Pappy Van Winkle “fan” groups on Facebook.  While a good number of the participants will undoubtedly be clueless DBs looking for a venue to brag, there are good, decent bourbon fans, and often, they will be looking to sell (or at least trade).  If you can stand posts and posts of people showing their “collection,” it might be a wise place to put your effort.

If money is no object, there are some websites that offer bottles as well.  They often make the Craigslist prices seem reasonable – a quick look today showed me bottles of 23 Year going for as much as $3,000.  I won’t post any of their names here, because I don’t want to encourage such scalping, but know that they are out there.

Liquor Control States

I’m going to quickly mention this because its fresh on my mind.  Most states have privatized liquor distribution – the state has laws, but the importing and distribution is left to private companies/persons.  A few, however, have state run Liquor Control Boards.  In these states, it is the state government itself that orders, prices and distributes liquor (and often, beer and wine).

Pennsylvania is one of these states, and my wife happens to hail from there.  She has quite a few family members there as well, so we visit several times a year.  I have been able to find some products in Pennsylvania unavailable in Michigan. More importantly, when Pennsylvania gets a particularly popular (and limited) product in, they keep it as only purchasable online.  This works for me because I can order something, and have it delivered to my mother-in-law’s house, where she will hold it until we next meet.  This has worked for me a few times and been a nice avenue.

When it comes to PVW, and to a lesser degree, BTAC, however, it has been an epic fail.  Last year, the email went out that PVW 15 Year was available.  I logged in, bought a bottle, and then found out 3 days later their site had malfunctioned and I would actually NOT be getting any.  I was upset, but I work in technology, I know that once in a while bad things can happen.

This year, the PLCB doubled down.  When the BTAC collection went up for sale, their email blast system mysteriously stopped working, so only those informed ahead of time or following them on Twitter were notified.

Last week’s PVW release went even worse.  After weeks and weeks of teasing it, and knowing that users were circling the site like sharks in the water, they released the PVW last Thursday…and watched the site crash.  And crash again.  The next 30 minutes was a comedy of errors, where the site and app couldn’t stay online for more than seconds at a time.  Within 30 seconds of the site being back up, I had a cart with three bottles of the 2014 VW release in it.  But when I went to check out – crashed again.  Meanwhile, the PLCB was posting on Twitter how products were still available, only increasing traffic – nevermind that by the time they were posting, the system was telling everyone it was sold out.

For a government agency to run something as simple as an e-commerce solution and decent bandwidth in 2014 is disappointing.  Immediately, the Social Media lanes were filled with people complaining, and rightfully so.  In truth, I have seen almost no-one posting about being successful, which makes the lack of transparency the PLCB operates with a little more suspect, and begs the question – who got the 1,000+ bottles?

There is talk of them changing the way they handle PVW sales.  I certainly hope they do.

My advice?  If you have that much money to spend on a bottle and you don’t mind the price, go for it.  I’ve been lucky enough to drink all 6 major VW releases, and haven’t had a bad one yet (OK, I admit, I find the 23 year to be way too oaky and woody for me).  If you just want a great pour, there are plenty of other ones out there worth your consideration.

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Berkshire Mountain Distillers Cask Finished Bourbon – Founders

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Hello, and happy Thanksgiving! Hopefully you had a great one, with food, family, friends and, of course, bourbon.  My wife and I brought a bottle of Old Weller Antique to Thanksgiving dinner ourselves, and it certainly went over well.

Back to talking bourbon, and this week, it’s all about a new one appearing at shops all over Michigan – the Berkshire Mountain Distillers Cask Finished Bourbon, Founders Edition.  Berkshire Mountain Distillers (BMD) is not a name we are familiar with here in Michigan, so it’s drawn particular note.  Add in the fact that this bourbon is finished in Kentucky Breakfast Stout beer casks from the much beloved Michigan beer maker Founders, and it’s bound to turn some heads.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Berkshire Mountain Distillers  Cask Finished Bourbon - Founders

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Berkshire Mountain Distillers Cask Finished Bourbon – Founders.  Note, that is a Founders Breakfast Stout in the photo, rather than the Kentucky Breakfast Stout, which is very hard to find this time of year.

First, to find out more about the Berkshire Mountain Distillers and this drink, I went to their founder, Chris Weld.  Chris let me know that Berkshire Mountain Distillers (which is in western Massachusetts) first distills their own bourbon and ages it for 4 years, before moving it to the finishing barrels.  Their blend is heavy on the corn – 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% barley (half of that is malted barley).  They are finishing bourbons in barrels from 10 or so of the best small distillers in America, including Sam Adams (Boston), Big Sky (Montana), Cigar City Brewing (Tampa Bay, FL), Full Sail (OR), Hale’s Ales (Seattle, WA), Brewery Ommegang (NY), Smuttynose Brewing Company (NH), Terrapin (GA), Tröegs (PA) and Founders in Michigan.

Berkshire Mountain Distillery has won some awards, and their bourbon is certainly no slouch.  But even I was a bit confused about taking a bourbon after 4 years in the barrel and finishing it for 9 months in a different bourbon barrel that had held stout beer in between…

To get a good feel for the Founders beer and what it adds, I went to good friend and founder of Good Pour (a beer lovers appreciation and events group), Dave Cicotte.  Dave is a fan of the Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, and gave me a review of the Founders KBS (and some useful beer knowledge to boot):

“When…poured in a snifter or tulip glass (around 55-58 degrees), the aromas of chocolate and coffee come to life. You’ll get a hint of the oak bourbon barrels when

Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout

Founders Kentucky Bourbon Stout. Photo courtesy of my Justin Ables, Good Pour contributor

nosing KBS in the glass, but you’ll get the full effect on the backend when tasting. The way it hits my palette is coffee, chocolate, bourbon, finished with the smokiness of the barrels. To intensify the flavor and get the best of both worlds, I like to (with any specialty beer) take a sip, swallow, and then exhale out of my nose. I know it sounds silly, but talk about getting the full effect of specialty beer! I also like to take my time with KBS and other imperials.

As the beer temperature starts to catch up with the temperature of the room, it begins to take new form. You’ll get different flavors along the way. I’ve begun to notice the higher the temperature, the more bourbon flavor you get. However, going beyond 70 degrees doesn’t interest me, and of course I don’t sit with a thermometer, so it’s more of a guessing game at the exact temperature. However, according to some studies (check out beergraphs.com) show that beer temperature, when in a room at a stable 70-71 degrees, will increase throughout an hour at an average rate of about 3.2 degrees every ten minutes, while alternating between holding the glass by the stem and setting it on a table/not holding it.

Getting into pairing KBS with food, I made sure to enjoy it with my thanksgiving dinner. My favorite pairing was with the stuffing. My mother in law makes an amazing mushroom stuffing that includes a little spice, cranberries, pine nuts, and a few other secret ingredients. Although I enjoyed KBS with my main course, I also saved some for desert, which happened at about the 68 degrees. I paired it with homemade flan… and it was amazing! It’s hard for me to pick my favorite beer, but I have to say KBS is up there for me. at least in the top five.”

So with all the knowledge I could put together, how is the bourbon?

Dan’s Take:  The nose of the BMD-Founders is very sweet, rich with caramel, corn, hints of vanilla and a fruitiness of raisin.  What I didn’t notice was the scent of stout beer that is usually up front in beer finished bourbons.  There was the subtlest hint of hops and barley, but so slight that it might have fooled me if I was tasting blindly.

The taste was a bit different.  The sweetness faded a bit, giving way to the cinnamon spiciness of rye.  The Berkshire Mountain Distillery bourbon is a very, very smooth pour, and even with the stout finish, it holds up here.  The sweetness that is there is more of a chocolate variety, with a touch of deep butterscotch.  Finally, there is the stout beer, adding a bit of bitterness to the taste.  Part coffee, part dark chocolate, it is definitely in the background, and far from overwhelming.

The finish is a little more of that dark chocolate with a bit of toasted…pine?

We liked the Berkshire Mountain Distillery-Founders, although the price point ($60+ in Michigan) is a bit high, especially with more and more finished bourbons available for less.  More than anything, BMD Founders is smooth.  Nicely done.

My rating: 7.8

Read more from Good Pour here: Good Pour on Facebook  Good Pour on Twitter

Thank you to Chris Weld of Berkshire Mountain Distillery and Dave Cicotte of Good Pour.

The hunt for ‘Unobtainium’ – Pappy Van Winkle

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

In 2009, I entered the recording studio with my band (Desolation Angels) to record our second full length album.  We had chosen a famous Detroit studio, and were lucky enough to work with a great engineer in John Smerek.  For the first two days, we worked at a prodigious rate, laying down drums, bass and guitars for a dozen songs.  As we capped off the second day, a bottle of whiskey was passed around.  John, from behind his control board asked me “Are you a fan of bourbon?”

I replied that I was, although my knowledge was limited to Beam, Maker’s Mark and the occasional Woodford Reserve.

“Then I’ve got one for you to try!” he said, and began to tell me about a bourbon I could find at a store local to me, so wonderful it would make me a full-on bourbon aficionado.  That it tasted of caramel and vanilla, and was so smooth it could almost be an after-dinner drink.  The conversation ended soon thereafter, and I forgot about the recommendation.  I was relatively broke at the time, and if I wanted something that smooth, Gentleman Jack would have to suffice.

That bourbon was Pappy Van Winkle.

Two years later, after we had two recording studios close beneath us, John and I met again to mix the neverending album, now in year two.  As we drank Jack Daniels, he asked me if I ever went to the store and bought the Pappy he recommended.  I told him I had not, but that it would most assuredly make my list now.  And it did.

This began my search for the ever-elusive, now legendarily hard-to-find Pappy Van Winkle.  In the three and a half-years since, the hunt for “Pappy” has led me to meet wonderful people, sample amazing bourbons and truly become an educated bourbon fan.  It also has brought me anger, sadness, frustration and driven me to the brink of madness.

When John first suggested I try it, PVW was another respected, higher-end bourbon readily available at finer stores, even here in Metro Detroit.  By the time I actually went looking, it’s popularity was on the rise.  Stores were out of it, but thought they’d get more in that spring or fall.  The Rip Van Winkle website listed stores that carried it…and none of them were mad if you called!  Sure, Anthony Bourdain and the tv show Justified had talked about it, but there was still…a hope.

Since then I’ve learned there are other bourbons just as good, sometimes better.  That, while Pappy and the Van Winkle line are guaranteed to be great, the difference between a bottle of Pappy 15 and Weller or Blantons or Elmer T Lee is hardly worth the days spent searching or the obscene amounts of money the bottle costs – if you find it.  Yet, I continue to look, because I can’t seem to help myself.

So over the next few posts, I’m gonna talk a bit about the hunt for Pappy.  Not the actual product itself, but the hunt, because at this point, Pappy is more of a myth than reality for most people.

Now, there are all kinds of ‘experts’ on the web and posting boards, letting you know the “best” way to get some of the magic known as Pappy Van Winkle.  And for some people, these methods may have actually worked.  But the truth is usually much different.  For example:

Prescribed Method: Make friends with your local liquor store proprietor, so that you are the first one he/she calls when the Pappy comes in.

This makes logical sense – you find a store that has the selection you like with an owner and workers you enjoy chatting with, and give them your business.  When that time rolls around, of course they tip you off to come by and purchase a bottle of this rarest of rewards.

How it actually works: You go to as many stores as possible, eliminating the ones that you know will never get Pappy Van Winkle.  This isn’t easy – a store can have an excellent supply of hooch, but never get the PVW because they didn’t buy a single barrel of Buffalo Trace this year, or didn’t purchase the 500 bottles of Mr. Pickles Magic Elixir Vodka, made from dry-rot potatoes that caused blindness in focus group participants, that the distributor was trying to unload.

You find a few that you know get the good stuff, and then realize half of them are staffed by miserable hipster douchebags who ride to work on unicycles so they can carefully groom their handlebar moustaches in the open.  DON’T try to befriend them – you may think you have a connection, but the truth is that they will view Pappy as “mainstream,” and the first time you let them know you covet it, you will lose their shallow, fickle ‘cred,’ and they will feel no remorse in handing the bottles they get over to a bottle flipper just to spite you.

Narrowed down, you might find a great store or two.  This is where hearts really get broken.  The truth is, unless you are buying multiple bottles a week, you probably aren’t one of their most valuable customers.  I once stood at the counter of a local store I frequent talking with the owner and his brother for an hour about new ryes coming out, and it wasn’t until I got back to my car that I realized that I had watched almost $7,000 in business go on while I stood there.  People buying thousand dollar scotches…one gentleman picking up 4 kegs for an event…my $75 bottle was insignificant.  Not surprisingly, after a year of frequenting that store, when the Pappy came in, I ‘just happened’ to miss it.

A different store got in 3 bottles of Pappy 23 year and did offer them to me…for $1,500 a bottle.  This, while I was checking out with $400 of bourbon in my hand.

One local store I love and frequent explained it to me like this: “If someone came in and offered you a ton of money for your car – more than it possibly warranted – wouldn’t you have to sell it to them?”  He explained this as an analogy for why he was quietly moving his Pappy 23 for $1,000 to someone who inquired.

In four years, I have been able to purchase exactly one bottle from a store, and it was due to a raffle system in which hundreds entered for a chance to buy one of three bottles.  I’m not saying befriending your local shopkeeper isn’t a good idea – it’s a good idea regardless of Pappy.  They can order special products, tell you when new stuff is coming out, and be a wealth of knowledge.  But to those spouting platitudes about how Pappy is easy to get if you make friends with the store, I laugh.

Next time, I’ll talk about the secondary market.  Brace yourself…

Ballpark of the Week: AT&T Park (Home of the San Francisco Giants)

Tags

, , , , , ,

Ballpark of the Week: AT&T Park (Home of the San Francisco Giants)

In September of 2012, I married the beautiful and talented Jen Weaver here in suburban Detroit, Michigan, in a ceremony that we had spent over a year putting together.  It went off beautifully, and our months of DIY work was complete with both of us satisfied with how well it had gone.  The day after the wedding, we embarked on our honeymoon: a trip up the California coast.

Our trip was to begin in San Diego, with a couple days there, before moving up the PCH to Santa Monica, Big Sur, Monterrey and finally, San Francisco.  We planned all kinds of events for our week – parks, historical sites, shopping.  And for that Friday, we decided we would take in a San Francisco Giants ballgame at AT&T Park.

The trip started off bumpy, with my wife getting food poisoning from the destination airport food.  But she shook it off well and, with a convertible Mustang, the first couple days were awesome.  Then, swimming in the ocean at 6:00 in the morning in Santa Monica, she broke my foot.  Not intentionally, of course, but her kicking out into the waves one way met my kicking towards the beach, and my foot looked like it had been hit with a hammer.  Refusing to go to the hospital on our honeymoon, I pressed on, pain-be-damned.  That night, at a resort in Big Sur, I waited until she left the room and pressed hard on the swollen foot and felt the bone snap into place.  I assumed that meant it had just been dislocated, and we journeyed on.

It wasn’t dislocated, of course.  We didn’t know until I saw the doctor when I got home, but the foot had actually been broken in two different places.  My doctor said that setting my own broken bone was one of the toughest things he had seen…and one of the dumbest.  I got lucky and it went back together, but it could have gone horribly awry.

I tell this tale only to lay the pretext for our trip to the ballpark.  By the time we got to San Fran, my foot was swollen and I could barely walk.  Luckily, our hotel was a short half-mile or so from the ballpark, but hobbling along on one leg, it felt like one hundred.  The game was against the San Diego Padres, and as we got closer and closer, the streets and sidewalks filling up with fans, I have never been happier to arrive at a park.

From the outside, the brick facade of AT&T park is reminiscent of Camden Yards.  There are the usual statues of Giants greats outside, and plaques on the walls.  Being a Friday night in a year where the Giants had already clinched a playoff spot, the crowd was enthusiastic and exuberant.

When picking our seats, I had researched online to find the section and area that would give us the best view, not only of the game, but of the beauty of San Francisco.  Section 304 looked like a winner, with a dramatic vista of San Francisco Bay, the Bay Area bridge and overlooking McCovey Cove (where kayakers and boaters camp out to hit a home run clearing the wall in right and landing there in the bay).  We headed up to our seats, stopping to take a look around the stadium as we went.

The sightlines of the field in the lower concourse were quite nice – one of the best things about newer parks is the ability to keep an eye on the game while getting concessions.  We had been informed to be sure and get Gilroy Garlic Fries, so that was stop number one, along with some dogs.  We were astounded by the concession selections.  SanFran is known as a foodie paradise, but the fact it extends to their ballpark is truly awesome.  There was seafood, veggie and vegan options, traditional ballpark food – even wine offerings that helped to remind that Napa was just a short drive away.

We made our way up to our seats, and were truly impressed by the view.  Oakland over the distance, the field spread out beautiful in front of us.  It was absolutely breathtaking.  The seats around us began to fill, and we were even more surprised to note that everyone around us were season ticket holders, and knew each other!  In fact, it wasn’t until the 3rd inning that we found out one middle aged couple next to us had been divorced for a decade, but still shared a love of the Giants – and their seats.

As the sun set and the game started, the famous San Francisco chill began to move in.  As my new wife began to shiver, those around us (who by this point had inquired and then congratulated us on our nuptials) shared their blankets with her.  We talked baseball, the Giants, marriage, Detroit, more baseball, Buster Posey, Barry Bonds, Los Angeles, beer and baseball for nine innings with these awesome fans.  I am always proud of how knowledgeable my hometown (Detroit) and adopted hometown (St. Louis) are about baseball, but I found these Giants boosters to be as smart as any of them.

When we finally got up to leave, they wished us well as we walked along the right field fence and looked out into the chilling waters in the cove (a baseball had actually been hit in, by Chase Headley scoring the Padres only run).  Poetically, we stopped in the gift shop to purchase stuffed animals.  My wife and I both have nicknames for each other, and it just so happened that the Giants did too.  Like Pablo Sandoval, I’m the panda. Like Brandon Belt, my wife is the giraffe.

I thought of that trip and the wonderful fans this year when the Giants won their third title in five years.  What a lovely park.  What a lovely time.

Dan’s scale (1-10): 9.3

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.

AT&T Park – September 21, 2012.  San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants

Date: Friday, September 21, 2012, 7:20PM

Seat: 304, B, 9, 10

Ticket Cost: $34.00 each (purchased from StubHub)

Went with: Jen Weaver McKernan

Attendance: 41,728

Time of Game: 2:58

Linescore:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R  H  E
Padres 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0  1  7   0
Giants 0 0 0 1 1 3 0 0 X  5  11  0

Winning Pitcher: Ryan Vogelsong (13-9)

Losing Pitcher: Casey Kelly (2-2)

Jersey: Will Clark (1989); Willie Mays (1951)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey

Tags

, , , , , , ,

So, the word is another Polar Vortex is headed down, and we can already feel it here in Michigan.  There is a serious chill in the air, and the briskness plus the earlier nightfall serve as a reminder that winter is right around the corner.

What better time, then, to try out a bourbon that comes to us from the snowy slopes of the Rocky Mountains – Breckenridge Bourbon from Breckenridge, Colorado!

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey (photo taken at the National World War II Memorial)

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey (photo taken at the National World War II Memorial)

Now, Breckenridge has been on the scene for a few years now, ever since it placed top three at the 2011 International Wine and Spirits Competition (in England).  This has led to some pretty loud claims of excellence, and a close eye on their methods.

As origin stories go, Breckenridge has a pretty darn good one.  They tout the pure, melting Colorado snowmelt they use in proofing as one of their unique qualities – a shot across the bow to those who believe only Kentucky limestone water can make a proper bourbon.  The award put them in a rarefied air as well, drawing comparisons to BTAC-grade products.

What is very clear is their rye content.  Breckenridge uses a 56/38/6 corn/rye/barley recipe.  This certainly falls on the higher side.  What is less clear is how Breckenridge comes to be.  While some of their bourbon seems produced at their distillery proper (where they keep a custom 700 gallon Vendome combination Pot still, amongst others), they do reportedly source as well, and blend the native and sourced bourbon, before proofing it with their unique Colorado water at one of the highest altitudes of a distillery in the world.

So, with a great story like this, what about the taste?

I purchased my bottle in 2013, and it is different in that it is a Single Barrel selection (from Kakos Liquor in Birmingham).

It certainly has a healthy amber color, and the nose was sweet and spicy.  I noted a very hearty corn, but also raisin, hints of butterscotch and honey.  and a touch of citrus.

The taste was not as sweet as the nose.  It was remarkably smooth, if obviously a bit on the young side (there is no age statement, but 3 years has been the buzz on the internet).  It has a medium thick mouth feel, and the corn lives up front, alongside a slight tingle of rye.  There was almost no presence of oakiness, and the back end was exactly what I’d expect from such a rye content – cinnamon, pepper and the slightest touch of leather.

The finish, now thats where things got weird.  It has a shorter than expected finish – the smoothness slides the taste away quickly.  MAybe that’s because of youth.  But both Jen and I noticed a bit of aftertaste, not unpleasant, but not easily identifiable.  Was it minerals from the runoff snow?  Was it a thicker mouth feel than it seemed?  Do I need to wash my bourbon glasses better?  It wasn’t the last – we tried different glasses.  Jen jokingly called it a ‘splenda aftertaste – like diet bourbon!’ and that was a little bit what it was like.  Unique.

All in all we liked it – it was smooth, and clean.  Maybe it’s effective marketing creating preconceptions, but it tasted cleaner as we thought of that snow melting.  It’s a bit young, and a higher rye than I traditionally like, but it was a very good pour.  I do have a curiousity what it will taste like if it’s left in the barrel for four to eight more years…

Dan’s Rating: 8.2

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

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

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)

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

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)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Tags

, , , , , ,

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)

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

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)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.