Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Eagle Rare 17 Year-Old

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Eagle Rare 17 Year-Old

The explosion of bourbon popularity has led to many things: one one hand, there is a massive array of new, innovative and exciting brands and makers growing larger by the day. On the other hand, many products are harder and harder to find.

Another one of the advantages is the number of bourbon, or whiskey, themed bars popping up.  Here in Detroit, where the bourbon does not flow as freely as in Kentucky, this can mean a connoisseur (or at least a well read poseur) has a possibility of trying a spirit that would otherwise remain unavailable to them.

Last week, my fellow musician/bourbon-loving friend Jeremy Porter mentioned a bar that had opened in my neck of the woods and had a particularly noteworthy collection of whiskeys:  The Butter Run Saloon is St. Clair Shores, Michigan.  A quick look at the website caught me off guard – 84 different bourbons.  An amazing selection, even more surprising that it happened to be in the relatively sleepy burb I grew up in.

Butter Run Saloon: 84 different bourbons
A bourbon list of note – Butter Run Saloon: 84 different bourbons

Partially, my surprise was in my notion of what kind of bar would host such an elaborate selection – at least here in Detroit.  I shuddered while images of skinny-jeaned, ironic t-shirted hipsters gleefully threw down this week’s leftover vintage bicycle money on glasses of Pappy Van Winkle while discussing the day’s English Premier League scores and the latest London Grammar release.  This was not the case, in fact, it was almost the polar opposite.

The bar is a quiet, working class pub style restaurant/bar, that just also happens to have an amazing selection of bourbons (as well as over 100 scotches).  It serves good burgers, good onion rings, and Angels Envy Cask Strength (?!?).

Since there were a good number of drinks on this list I have not had the ability to hunt down for myself, I decided to try one that has been on my list for some time.  A big fan of the Eagle Rare 10 year, it seemed a good idea to try the Eagle Rare 17 Year-Old.  I was not disappointed.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Eagle Rare 17 Year-Old
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Eagle Rare 17 Year-Old

I love Eagle Rare – partially because I love the variations that I have gotten from this straight bourbon, but have not been able to get my hands on a bottle of the 17 Year, hard as I have tried (and I have tried, believe me).  With a glass in my hand, it was everything I love about the 10 year, but even more.

My take: The nose of this glass was deep, and incredibly complex and varied.  At first, I could make out fruits and a bit of spiciness. Baking apples and cinnamon, raisins and orange peel.  A charming array that slowly, as the glass opened, turned into warm leather and oak.

The first sip surprised me – it had a silkiness to it, and the smoky oak taste, but it wasn’t harsh at all.  Rather, it was gentle despite the tannin, and not bitter at all.  Raisins and almond were there before a soft leather presented itself upon the long finish.

To me. this was a magnificent drink.  Full of character and flavor, but not too harsh or biting.  Smooth, but not weak.  A top five, to be sure!

Dan’s Rating: 9.3

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Artisan Spirits Black River Bourbon Brewers Whiskey

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Artisan Spirits Black River Bourbon Brewers Whiskey

Some days, you can’t wait to get home and pour a nice glass of bourbon to celebrate a job well done. Other days, it’s a nice relaxing way to end a hard days work. But sometimes, sometimes you need that drink, to help you remember that the working day is over and to remind your self that your toils are not for naught.

Now, dear reader, I hope that most of your days fall into the first category, with a few in the second. But when those third kind of days arise, that may well be why God gave us bourbon in the first place.

Now Monday and Tuesday weren’t so bad, not really. Just the kind of days where little fires sprung up all day, and there never seems to be enough water to put them all out. Luckily for me, at days end I was in luck: I had brought a new bottle of bourbon into work to ask our staff photographer (and my good friend) Mike Tesh to take a picture of it for this website. Seeing as how it was days end, after all, I certainly saw no harm in sharing some of this new drink.

I’m also lucky to work at a place with a few like minded individuals. So without further ado, I also grabbed fellow bourbon enthusiast Josh McAllister and Katie Gleason to join us.  Today’s bourbon of choice came to us from the New Holland Artisan Collection, a collection of which I have tried several different brandings already. Just a few weeks back I spoke to the fun of their Beer Barrel Bourbon, and I’m hoping to get a review posted in the next couple of weeks about one of my favorite whiskeys made by them, the Zeppelin Bend.

Today we tried the smaller batch Brewers Whiskey they have named Black River Bourbon.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Artisan Spirits Black River Bourbon Brewers Whiskey. Photo by Mike Tesh
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Artisan Spirits Black River Bourbon Brewers Whiskey. Photo by Mike Tesh

The Black River bourbon bottle states it was pot distilled and aged in new American oak, as all bourbon should be. From what I have read, it is my understanding that they barrel this whiskey in smaller barrels to accelerate the aging process. I may have my doubts about the successfulness of aging a bourbon more quickly by changing the barrel size. That said, we all poured a small glass, and went to work, albeit in a more utilitarian setting then I am accustomed to.

Josh, myself and Katie try a little bourbon
Josh, myself and Katie try a little bourbon

Our take: if you have read this blog before, you know I have a pretty simple way of judging and rating Bourbons by my palate. First, I try all Bourbons straight. No ice, no mixing, just straight from the bottle to the glass. If a bourbon is impressive in a glass by itself, then it needs no mixing. My favorite Bourbons are all ones that could be had in a glass, neat.

It needs proves to be harsh, or unimpressive, then I will add in a few chips of ice. There are certainly wonderful Bourbons that really don’t become themselves until there is a little ice added. Woodford Reserve, for instance, never tastes right to me without a few rocks in the glass. Woodford may not be my favorite bourbon, but it is certainly a good bourbon and a very nice pour.

If those two methods haven’t given me enough to impress, I will try a bourbon in a mixed drink. A Manhattan, a whiskey sour, etc. Personally I rarely like mixed drinks, so that really is a last method of finding something I like about any particular bourbon. Again, there are fine Bourbons that go well in Manhattans that I wouldn’t necessarily drink straight or on the rocks. But if I had to mix you too enjoy you, you aren’t going to rate very high with me.

Unfortunately, the Black River Bourbon falls somewhere between that second and third category. It’s nose was relatively unimpressive.  There was the strong scent of corn, with an undercurrent of oak. I could pick out raisins, and some earthy tones, but mostly it was the corn and wood.

The taste could only be described as young. The mouth feel was very thin, and as Josh had pointed out to me quickly, there was an emptiness of body. The predominant taste was that of Oakwood. There was a subtle hint of cigar box, some light nuttiness and a general burnt sugar that never grew into something greater, like molasses for brown sugar, but rather, stayed with a slight singed taste.

The finish was mellow, and again the wood returned. There was nothing disagreeable, or unpleasant about this bourbon. Just unremarkable. As we drank our second set, we all agreed: there wasn’t much to say negative about this bourbon, there just wasn’t anything that positive to say either.

Not all efforts are winners. Buffalo trace, four instance, takes big risks with their Single Oak Project, and their experimental bourbon line. If this is an effort that New Holland is using to refine their process, the good news is they’ve made a quality bourbon. It just isn’t anything special. Not yet anyway.

As for us, well, as Josh and I joked, the worst day drinking bourbon at work beats the best day not!”

Dan’s Rating: 6.9

Bourbon Classic Day Two: Day-drinking

Bourbon Classic Day Two: Day-drinking

Saturday morning opened with clouds in Louisville, but that did not put a damper of any kind on the Bourbon Classic, or our trip in general. We woke up relatively early, and went to meet a gentleman from whom I purchased a bottle of Weller 12 Year (unavailable in Michigan) for later review.

I would like to say this about Kentucky – I have now met with several third-party “craigslist” style sellers to procure bottles not available, or hard to find, in Michigan – and have found there is a genuine friendliness in these exchanges that I have not found anywhere else.  Maybe it’s just better manners, but my wife and I were chatted up, about bourbon and life in general by every ‘collector’s market’ person we met.  Here in Michigan, the same transactions are tense as a TV drug deal, and all of the friendliness too.

We wondered over to a store called Vault Liquor and added a few more bottles of more accessible bourbon to our hall with the help of the friendly gentleman behind the counter of this round, strangely set-up store.

From there, it was back to the Classic, and it did not disappoint.

Master Distillers & Brand Legends: Wes Henderson, Angel's Envy; Fred Noe, Jim Beam; Harlen Wheatley, Buffalo Trace; Tom Bulleit, Bulleit Bourbon; Daniel Preston, Cacao Prieto Artisan Distillery; Colin Spoelman, King's County Distillery; Willie Pratt, Michter's; Dave Schmier, Redemption Bourbon; Drew Kulsveen, Willett; Jimmy Russell, Wild Turkey
Master Distillers & Brand Legends: Wes Henderson, Angel’s Envy;
Fred Noe, Jim Beam;
Harlen Wheatley, Buffalo Trace;
Tom Bulleit, Bulleit Bourbon;
Daniel Preston, Cacao Prieto Artisan Distillery;
Colin Spoelman, King’s County Distillery;
Willie Pratt, Michter’s;
Dave Schmier, Redemption Bourbon;
Drew Kulsveen, Willett; Jimmy Russell, Wild Turkey

The Classic kicked off with a panel discussion where some of the biggest and most famous Master Distillers, as well as some younger up-and-comers, talked frankly about bourbon trends, tastes, the future of the industry, how to maintain quality but be inventive, and many other topics.  It was extremely fun, but also incredibly informative.  Some of the things I noted:

  • They all were in agreement that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with micro-distilleries or start-up labels outsourcing the actual alcohol production, but that the quality comes into question depending more on which supplier they use, and how involved they were in the recipe (as opposed to buying bulk leftovers).
  • They also agreed that there is an incredibly high demand for all bourbon right now, so it will be very hard and expensive for new micro-distilleries to start.
  • Fred Noe from Jim Beam said he truly doesn’t anticipate any changes to the Beam model, recipe or productions once the Suntory purchase is finalized, and that it has the most to do with expanding markets, not changing products.
  • Jimmy Russell, the legendary Master Distiller from Wild Turkey, pointed out the changing demographics of the bourbon audience.  “It used to be old men, going into the backroom at the bar, and having a cigar…playing poker,” he said, then pointing out the audience is now as diverse as the brands themselves.
  • There was some disagreeing over whether or not the aging process could be hurried or enhanced by other methods.  Most of the panel felt strongly that you can’t rush aging and attempts to do so are failures.  Daniel Preston, from Cacao Prieto, disagreed, and pointed to investments made in limestone mines where the barrels can be heated and cooled daily, and therefore, aged faster.  This was met with much skepticism.
  • A reminder that, as bourbon is an aged process, true market research is difficult – higher production today takes years to hit the market, and if the market is slower, there can be significant financial loss.

We left this fun session and went to the first of our breakout sessions, Bourbon Flavors with chef Ouita Michel of the Holly Hill Inn.

Chef Ouita Michel, Holly Hill Inn, walks us through bourbon taste profiles
Chef Ouita Michel, Holly Hill Inn, walks us through bourbon taste profiles

Now, I had expected this session to be more about recognizing flavors in bourbon itself, but it was more of a lesson in taste pairings between bourbon and food.  Using a variety of different tastes, and Woodford Reserve bourbon, we sampled and noted how sharing each sip with a food taste enhanced the overall experience.

Food pairings with Woodford Reserve
Food pairings with Woodford Reserve

As we sampled dark chocolate, Parmesan cheese, orange, dried cherries, hazelnuts and sorghum, we tasted Woodford and enjoyed.

Next, it was a more formal food session with Albert Schmid, National Center for Hospitality Studies, Sullivan University.  Here, Chef Schmid walked us through some do’s and don’ts of cooking with bourbon, and showed us two recipes that we then got to sample – a bourbon chicken and Woodford Pudding.

Albert Schmid, National Center for Hospitality Studies, Sullivan University
Albert Schmid, National Center for Hospitality Studies, Sullivan University

Both were delicious (we got to sample each), and when it adjourned, it was time for the Ultimate Bourbon Experience.

This is an amazing thing – there is plentiful delicious food – beef tenderloin, pork tenderloin, corn pudding, sausage stuffed mushrooms, and on and on – and you walk through the lobby and main areas with a bourbon glass, getting samples from and chatting with representatives from almost all of the major and many smaller distilleries.

For review purposes, this isn’t the best way.  But for sheer enjoyment, most definitely! We started at Angels Envy, sampling the A.E. Rye, then moved on to the Western Spirits display, makers of the Calumet Farm bourbon I’ve spoke highly of.  To be honest, the representative there was not very helpful in talking about the bourbons, and didn’t particularly seem interested in it.  Disappointing, but I had a drink of their Lexington bourbon and moved on.

Nelson’s Green Brier distillery has a great story, and it was a pleasure hearing Charlie Nelson tell it.  The Belle Meade bourbon was distinctive, and I hope to get a bottle to review here in Michigan soon.  From there we wandered longer, stopping for a bite, then a drink. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Prudence dictated we head back to our hotel at a decent enough time to take off for home bright and early (to prepare for a Super Bowl party we host), but I cannot say enough great things about this event.  It was truly a great time, and I hope to return next year.  Fantastic.

bourbon. Mmmmmmm
bourbon. Mmmmmmm

Bourbon Classic Day One: Cocktails for two

Bourbon Classic Day One: Cocktails for two

After a month of anticipation, I am here in Louisville Kentucky for the Bourbon Classic, and so far it has been tremendous fun. We got in late afternoon yesterday, with enough time to check into the beautiful and unique 21c Museum hotel, and get ready for the event itself starting at 7:00.

Welcome to the Bourbon Classic
Welcome to the Bourbon Classic

This is the Bourbon Classic’s second year, and the presentation last evening was fantastic. For last night’s sampling and competition, several different bourbon brands pared up with some fantastic chefs and mixologists to prepare small plate tastings and cocktails.

Each distillery/chef had a table serving area, and visitors were free to walk up to each one and try the dish, cocktail, or ideally, the pairing of both. The bourbons represented some of the best and most well known in the industry: Angels Envy, Jim Beam, Woodford Reserve, Buffalo Trace, Michters, Blantons and Wild Turkey. We started out on the far side of the convention hall, with Angels Envy, who served up a beef satay with green chili grits, a deviled egg, and paired it with a Boulevardier cocktail. A delicious pairing for, A.E. and Chef Terry French (winner of the Food Network’s “Extreme Chef” contest in 2012).

Chef Terry French at the Angel's Envy table
Chef Terry French at the Angel’s Envy table

The treats kept coming – Highlights included the Sable Manhattan mixed by Issac Fox of Volare using Jim Beam black (delish!), Woodford Reserve and Chef Bobby Benjamin paired up for a chicken and waffles that was truly breathtakingly good, and the work of Blantons and Proof on Main Chef Levon Wallace.

Chef Levon Wallace of Proof on Main pairs with Blanton's
Chef Levon Wallace of Proof on Main pairs with Blanton’s

Now, my love of Blanton’s is known to readers, so it’s hardly shocking I would find this to be my favorite pairing. But the taste of Chef Wallace’s Lamb scrapple with red eye hollandaise and cornbread fried in duck fat, paired with a Blantons based Fancy Free was the highlight for Jen and I. Both were delicious, and went together so nicely, that we had to give Chef Wallace our compliments – and it was our great pleasure to find him to be a fantastic guy to boot! Suffice to say, we look forward to eating at Proof on Main next time we are in Louisville, and enjoying the fantastic foods.

Chef Levon Wallace talks with Jen and I
Chef Levon Wallace talks with Jen and I

After the first pass through, many of the brands and chefs started rolling out second options, and dear reader, that’s where my notes fall off. We met some wonderful people, like the aforementioned Issac Fox and Chef Wallace, and made some new friends. We spent a good portion of the evening chatting with Gregory and Chris, two very nice gentlemen from Virginia who headed here for a bit of a college reunion. We also met a pair of ladies who are are close to launch on a Bourbon-lifestyle centered website, and who kindly directed us to some other local cuisine to try.

Today is day two, with some learning sessions and more tastings this afternoon and evening. We drove around Louisville a bit today, procured some future bourbon of the week bottles, and ate lunch at the fantastic Garage Bar. We’ve met some wonderful people – from knowledgeable collectors who have helped me augment my own, to the chefs, restaurant managers and people here at the hotel, so far everyone has been fantastic. On to day two!