Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Parker’s Heritage 8th Edition – Wheat Whiskey (13 Years Aged)

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The past few years, I have largely sat out the fall release extravaganza in the bourbon/whiskey world.  Following them online can be great fun, but knowing so few would make it to Michigan precluded me from searching for them.  Outside of the obvious Pappy Van Winkle and Buffalo Trace Antique Collection releases being hard to find, rarely have I seen an Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, a Parker’s Heritage or a Elijah Craig 21-22-23 on shelves here in the great Mitten state.

THis year was different, both in selection and my personal hunt.  I decided to go after more of this year’s fall releases, and was pleased to find that many more were coming to Michigan, albeit in very very small numbers.  And earlier this month, when the Bourbonr Blog posted their poll winners for the best of the 2014 Fall releases, I was proud to say I was able to hunt down half of them, including 5 of the top 10.

So now it’s time to start sampling them, and I opened with an absolute doozy – the 8th Edition of Heaven Hill’s Parker’s Heritage, a 13 year old Wheat Whiskey.  And in a word, wow.

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Parker's Heritage 8th Edition - Wheat Whiskey (13 Years Aged)

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Parker’s Heritage 8th Edition – Wheat Whiskey (13 Years Aged)

The Parker’s Heritage label was started by Heaven Hill in 2007 to pay tribute to their Master Distiller Parker Beam.  Parker Beam (and yes, he is of the Jim Beam family) has been with Heaven Hill since 1960, and been the Master Distiller there since 1975.

The first Parker’s Heritage, in 2007, was an 11-year old cask strength.  Every fall since then, Heaven Hill has issued another limited edition, small bottling of a unique whiskey to pay tribute to Parker.

This year, it is a 13-year old Wheat Whiskey, made from the initial barrels of Bernheim Wheat Whiskey.  Bernheim is bottled at 7 years old, so this years P.H. has an extra six years in the barrel – and these barrels were on the top floors of Heaven Hill Rickhouse Y. It has a minimum of 51% soft winter wheat in the mashbill, and to top that off, it was bottled at cask strength and without cold filtering.  This years Parker’s Heritage is the closest thing you can get to drinking it straight from the barrel.  But how was it?

Dan’s Take:

The nose jumped out at me with a real serious burn. And why not – at 127.4 proof, it had better! I let it sit for a minute and tried again, but it was still hot and not giving away anything.  A little water and things were looking up.  There was a deep honey and caramel, and a tang of what I would describe as citrus.  The wood notes were muted, but I got a hint of baking spices and even a fresh biscuit-like smell.

The taste was outstanding.  The first sip was heavy in the oak and baking spices I would expect from, well, a cask strength 13-year old wheat whiskey.  But unbelievably smooth.  The wood taste wasn’t tannic either – there wasn’t a bitterness, just a smooth woodiness and spice.  The sweeter tastes – vanilla, a touch of toffee candy – swirled around as the thick pour subsided into a soft but lingering finish full of cinnamon and clove, and again a biscuity goodness.

The first taste was so good, in fact, that I dove directly into another – and again, it was fantastic.  To have such a sweet nose, a complex taste full of character but not overpowering with bitter or tannins, and a medium, smooth finish that ends dry like coconut and oak, but not harsh in any way.

The Parker’s Heritage 8th Edition is one of my favorite whiskies of all time.  Perfectly blended and delivered.  It just makes me all that more sad that it will not be available again.  Well done, Heaven Hill.

Dan’s Rating: 9.5

Master Distiller Parker Beam was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig Disease, several years back.  In addition to a portion of Parker’s Heritage sales going to ALS research, you can visit his ALS Promise Fund page here, and support a great cause for a legendary man.

The incomparable Ernie Banks

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I, along with so many others, was saddened this weekend to learn about the passing of Ernie Banks.  Banks, “Mr. Cub,” passed away on Friday at the age of 83.  Growing up, I loved the stories of Banks and his absolute love of the game. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest of all times, and as so many have said, he will be missed.

It’s a great day for baseball.
Let’s play two!

http://www.npr.org/v2/?i=381529306&m=381529307&t=audio

Ernie Banks - Mr. Cub

Ernie Banks – Mr. Cub

My write up of a trip to Wrigley Field here.

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon

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Rough week here in the “D,” losing Max Scherzer to the Washington Nationals.  It’s bad enough they fleeced us on the Doug Fister deal a year ago, now they are just getting greedy.  I’m especially sad to see him go, because aside from being a Cy Young Award pitcher, he was a fellow Mizzou guy.  Oh well, sounds like the perfect excuse to go and drink the troubles away.

And there are increasingly more and more places to partake of the finer things (namely whiskey) as the “bourbon boom” continues.  Here in Detroit, we have become home to several start-up distilleries.  In the next couple weeks, I’ll discuss them – and their corresponding tasting rooms – at greater length.  This week, I ventured to one of the hipper new distilleries – the Detroit City Distillery.

The Detroit City Distillery opened last year in Detroit’s historic Eastern Market.  Only the second licensed distillery to open in Detroit in 80 years (the first was Two James, which we will discuss soon), it was the brain child of a group of close friends with a passion for booze and urban revitalization.

They began by distilling their own vodka and whiskey, as well as preparing for gin, which will be out ‘soon.’ But what about bourbon?

Bourbon is one of the trickier offerings for any start-up distillery.  There are laws and rules regulation how bourbon has to be prepared, aged and bottled.  I won’t break them all down here (a good explanation can be found here), but the hardest one is the aging.  For a bourbon to be called “straight bourbon,” it has to have spent at least two years in the barrel.  If it’s younger than four years, it must have an age statement on the bottle.  So to make bourbon, a new distillery has to sink the money into storage, and barrels, grains and equipment and…wait.

There are, of course, ways around this.  The most popular way is to “source” bourbon, buying from another (often mass quantity produced) distiller and bottle/label it with the new brand name.  Many of the newer distilleries in Michigan are doing this, and Detroit City Distillery is too – sort of.

For their Two-Faced Bourbon, DCD is taking a five year old sourced bourbon and blending it with their own very young (6 month old) house made bourbon, in a 51%-49% mix – hence the name “Two Faced.”  Since their bourbon is locally sourced (including corn from St. Clair County here in Michigan), it is truly reflective of their own recipe (which is high in rye), but has some of the age of an older bourbon.

DCD is very open about this process, unlike other distilleries that are sourcing and a little less forthcoming about it.  And stopping into their speakeasy style tasting room in Eastern Market, one needs only look at their artisan cocktail list to see they are trying to do something both retro and inventive, with a great deal of respect paid to the craftsmanship.

The entrance to the Detroit City Distillery

The entrance to the Detroit City Distillery

With my good friend Eric Oliver joining me, we sat down at the bar to try the bourbon, as well as a few other drinks.  The long bar is impressive – it is made of reclaimed wood from another Detroit building – and the soft lighting and exposed beams set a nice ambiance.  Glasses were poured, toasts were made, bourbon was consumed.

 

 

 

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon

Dan’s take:

Right from the nose, this dog has some bite.  While only 94 proof, the first scent was hot, almost like a high-proof rye would be.  Given a minute, the heat started to part and opened to an unsurprising corn and spice.  There were hints of almond and a touch of toffee, but the prevailing smell was corn.

The taste was softer than I expected.  Fiery on the front, the bourbon has those high-rye pepper notes, with a touch of cinnamon and allspice, but the younger corn seemed to temper it well.  Nutmeg and a slight bitter – almost coffee – were present.  It had a thin mouth feel, almost watery, but that works to it’s advantage – thicker would cause the spice to linger too long.  There was a soft sweetness as well, part corn and part caramel.

The finish was hot but not lingering.  There was a pepper to the finish, and it was the first time I detected a touch of oak. Most of all, there was that ever-present corn, soft and subtle.

The recipe for Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon seems good – it was not overly simple, and blended nicely with the older sourced bourbon.  As a sipping whiskey, it could use more aging to add complexity and depth.  As a main ingredient in some of the totally unique cocktails they are preparing at their tasting room, it works very very nicely.

Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon is not yet available at distributors, but will be soon.  The price point – like most micro-distillers – is still on the higher side ($50 for 750mL), but there is something to be said for buying local now, isn’t there.

And the Tasting Room is well worth a visit!

Dan’s Rating: 7.5

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Angel’s Envy Rye

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First of all…Happy New Year!  Hopefully you had a wonderful holiday season, full of merriment, joy and bourbon.  I most certainly did, so much so that I’m just now saying Happy New Year on the 12th of January!  I would be lying if I didn’t admit that part of the delay in posting a blog was due to football – between my Missouri Tigers winning a New Years Day bowl and my beloved Detroit Lions losing a game to the Dallas Referees Cowboys, I’ve been wrapped up in football fever.

One of the best things about being emotionally invested in football this time of year is gathering with friends and coping with the nervousness of a tight game by sampling a new whiskey or two.  And that is exactly what we did as time ran down on the Lions-Cowboys.  We opened a bottle of Angel’s Envy Rye and tried something new.

I first had Angel’s Envy Rye last year at the Bourbon Classic.  I admit, by the time I sampled it, I had partaken of a few other whiskies and my palate wasn’t quite as clean as I’d like for a review.  But even then, I knew there was something very different about this pour.  It took a little longer for the A.E. Rye to make it to Michigan, so in May I purchased a bottle while in Maryland to have for myself.  This seemed the perfect opportunity to try it.

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Angel's Envy Rye

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Angel’s Envy Rye

Few bourbons have grown on me like Angel’s Envy has.  When I first reviewed it last year, I thought it remarkably smooth and clean – and a little dull.  And I still think that it is one of the less complex bourbons I’ve had, in that price range anyway.  But given the choice between a glass of Angel’s Envy and most other readily available bourbons, I have found I will choose the Angel’s Envy consistently. That has even included Kentucky Derby day!  So what of this Rye?

I remember trying it at the Bourbon Classic and thinking “this is like candy!”  And why not – Angel’s Envy Rye is finished for “up to 18 months” in Plantation XO Rum casks.  So they take a rye whiskey, and then age it for a year and a half in rum casks before bottling it at 100 proof.  Sound interesting?  It certainly tastes interesting.

Dan’s Take:

Angel’s Envy Rye comes in the same style attractive bottle as its sister.  It’s a little pricier ($60-80), and a little harder to find.  I have read from others that it is an MGP/LDI sourced rye, so it shares characteristics with Bulleit. And let’s skip to the chase – if you like your rye whiskies tough, spicy and hot, this isn’t the one for you.  But if you like something with some sweetness, read on.

This rye has a nose that’s as exotic as the trip these barrels have seen.  There is little of the typical whiskey bite – rather, a sweet bouquet of orange peel, brown sugar, coconut and pear melt with a soft rye scent of clove, cinnamon and allspice.  This smells sugary, much more like a rum than a whiskey, and it’s light and pleasant.

The taste has a lot going on.  It has a thickness to it, creamy and buttery but with many of those same rum characteristics.  Honey and cinnamon, with a touch that could even be pineapple.  The toasted oak is very light, and the rye doesn’t fully blossom until the back of the palate.  The higher proof also shows through, and it does have a bit of a bite in the back end (if only because it started so sweet).  Make no mistake, it tastes like whiskey, not rum, but the typical pepper of rye is far offset by the sweetness that envelopes.

The finish is, admittedly, a bit confusing.  The rye notes are there, with their spice and slight burn, but there is the thickness of rum as well.  The sweetness, so nice in the sip, is a bit muddled in the finish.

I like sweet drinks, and I like mellower whiskies, so I rate this one with a pretty big caveat – this is not your grandfather’s rye.  It may share a recipe with Bulleit or Dickel, but the finishing makes it wholly unique.  This is a great whiskey for a summer night, I believe (or a winter night you want to pretend).  As a taste profile, it might even be closer to the glut of “flavored” whiskeys on the market – but it has a few things none of them seem to: it’s made of a solid product to start, and the flavor is much more natural than any maple or honey additive found in one of those products.  So my rating is for someone who, like me, has a sweet tooth now and again.

Dan’s Rating: 8.1

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel

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Happy holidays! Hopefully you all had a wonderful holiday season as we did here at Baseball and Bourbon, sipping fine bourbon by the fire with loved ones.  We were spoiled here, with a few new bourbons finding their way into our tasting collection as well as some well loved regulars. I can’t wait to pop the cork on all of them, and today I start with a bottle of Col. E. H. Taylor Jr. Single Barrel.

EH Taylor is one of the many labels produced by our friends at Buffalo Trace.  Taylor himself has been referred to as the “father of modern bourbon,”  due to his strict adherence to better bourbon and whiskey aging practices and his importance and influence in getting the “Bottled in Bond” Act of 1897 (the Act required that spirits labeled as “Bonded”or “Bottled-in-Bond” must be the product of one distiller at one distillery during one distillation season. It also required that bonded spirits be aged in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least four years and bottled at 100 proof).

Taylor also bought and expanded a distillery on the Kentucky river that survives today as… Buffalo Trace!  So when BT launched it’s E. H. Taylor line of whiskeys, it was made up of spirits aged in the actual Taylor warehouses and using the Taylor recipes.

There are a collection of Taylor products – Small Batch, Single Barrel, Barrel Proof, Straight Rye – all of which are aged in the famous Warehouse C on the Buffalo Trace campus, and most considered exceptional.  So how does this stories bourbon hold up?

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel

In short, spectacular.  The Col. E. H. Taylor Single Barrel that we sampled was a complex and impressive pour.  There is no barrel or batch information on the packaging or bottle, so I can’t note which bottles it shares traits with.  There is also no age statement – an internet search came back with anything between 7 and 12 years.  Armed with…surprisingly little knowledge, we dove ahead.

(Ed. Note – Buffalo Trace media relations has let me know that the 2014 E. H. Taylor is “between 9-10 years old”)

Dan’s Take:

First of all, the color is quite dark, and made me wonder more about the age.  It was a deep amber, more akin to a 15 year old than a 7.  It caught me off guard, to be honest.

The nose kept me off guard.  There was a sharp bite to the nose – while 100 proof is obviously pretty potent, it had the alcohol burn of a barrel proof.  I backed off a bit, and found myself swimming in the scent of vanilla, cinnamon, toasted oak, a hint of butterscotch and, present and growing as the glass opened, black licorice.

The taste presented what the nose hinted to.  As a small sip, the EH Taylor Single Barrel has a thick almost creaminess to it, with a good push of corn and buttery caramel on the front.  The middle opened up to a spiciness that belies it’s relatively low rye content – cinnamon, all spice, even a bitter dark chocolate, with a peppery, spicy finish.

With a larger sip, the front burns a little more – again that 100 proof seems more like 120 – and while it retains the buttery sweetness in the front, slight bitter in the middle (more oak and tobacco is evident that in the small sip) it has a very long and potent finish, with oak, spice and a hint of peppermint.

The Col. E. H. Taylor is not the most of anything – not the sweetest, or spiciest, or most complex.  But it is a well rounded bourbon, easy sipping and very smooth.  Perfect for a fire and maybe ushering in the new year?

My rating: 8.5

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

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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

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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

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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)

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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)

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