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

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

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

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

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

Four Roses Distillery
Four Roses Distillery Visitor Center

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

Visitor Center and Gift Shop at Four Roses Distillery
Visitor Center and Gift Shop at Four Roses Distillery

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

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

Visitor Center, Gift Shop and Tasting Room at Four Roses
Visitor Center, Gift Shop and Tasting Room at Four Roses

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

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

Two different mash bills —

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

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

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

The tour group outside the Four Roses Distillery
The tour group outside the Four Roses Distillery
In front of Four Roses Distillery
In front of Four Roses Distillery
Control Room of Four Roses Distillery
Control Room of Four Roses Distillery
The proprietary yeasts at work
The proprietary yeasts at work
Fermentation
Fermentation
Mash fermenting to become Four Roses Bourbon
Mash fermenting to become Four Roses Bourbon

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

Four Roses Copper Still at work
Four Roses Copper Still at work
Up close and personal in a copper still
Up close and personal in a copper still

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

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

My old Kentucky home…

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

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

A Visit to Grand Traverse Distillery!

A Visit to Grand Traverse Distillery!

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

Dan in front of barrels of Grand Traverse Whiskey
Dan in front of barrels of Grand Traverse Whiskey

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

The tasting room at the Grand Traverse Distillery
The tasting room at the Grand Traverse Distillery

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

Grand Traverse fermenters
Grand Traverse fermenters
...then, on to the copper still!
…then, on to the copper still!
There is goodness cooking in there!
There is goodness cooking in there!

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

Grand Traverse Bourbon barrel, charred at a #4
Grand Traverse Bourbon barrel, charred at a #4
Barreled up
Barreled up

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