Summer has finally come to Michigan, with heat, humidity and thunderstorms. What better time to continue with the blog about the Pappy For Your Pappy dinner and Kentucky trip?
As I mentioned in my earlier blog, I was feeling pretty ill the first day of our Kentucky trip, and by the time we left Four Roses, I was becoming very concerned: would this stomach bug keep me from the Pappy tasting and dinner at Buffalo Trace? I didn’t want to think about it, but the truth was, it was a real possibility. My wife and I discussed, and decided to keep on moving, make a trip to a few of Kentucky’s finer liquor stores in search of new hooch, then head to Wild Turkey to take in the sights and tastes.
This plan was doomed from the start. We drove to Lexington, to shop at the massive Liquor Barn store, and were able to procure a few spirits not available here in the mitten state (as well as a case of the outstanding Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale). We then backtracked to the Wild Turkey distillery, hoping to catch a mid-afternoon tour…
Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. We had just missed one tour, and would have to wait an hour for the next one. In my state, that did not seem like a great idea – certainly not with a delicious dinner and some Pappy Van Winkle waiting for me! Luckily, the Wild Turkey visitor center has a nice set of displays dedicated to the history of the drink, as well as the legacy of Master Distillers Jimmy and Eddie Russell. We wandered around the nice grounds and looked at the displays, until finally it was time to try to get a little rest and hope to feel better for the big event.
And in large part – it worked! I may have still been a little queasy, but when the time came to head to Buffalo Trace Distillery and have a dinner and tasting with the Van Winkles, I seemed to shake it off. I’ve been to the beautiful Buffalo Trace distillery before, so we decided to skip the tour this time, for restful purposes.
Now, one thing I’d really like to mention is how nice, personable and kindly every person we have ever met affiliated with Buffalo Trace has been. This year was no exception. As I mentioned before, the tickets for this year’s Pappy dinner were a popular item, and I’m sure they have more than had their hands full with it. But, just as last year, every person was sweet and wonderful, even remembering the names of my family members that had purchased us the tickets before check-in.
We made our way over to the Elmer T. Lee Clubhouse to find our seat, and have a cocktail before dinner. Just as last year, the room was adorned beautifully, with candles in Pappy Van Winkle bottles on every table, the tasting glasses out and poured, and tables numbered.
One of the great parts of a dinner like this is sitting and talking with other bourbon enthusiasts, and we certainly had a great time with that. Our table had wonderfully nice and interesting people, and we were pleased to find out we were sitting with Tim Beckelhimer and Larry Parece, who run The Bourbon Guys blog (http://www.thebourbonguys.com/). Over a lovely dinner of salad, asparagus and steak, we talked about what brought all of us to bourbon, what is available where we live (a father and daughter at the table came in from Louisiana and North Carolina, respectively), and our fondness for that rarest of drinks, Pappy Van Winkle.
Julian and Preston Van Winkle took the microphone, and led us through the tasting of each of this years tasting selections: the 12 year Family Reserve and the 15, 20 and 23 year bourbons. As always, they were amazing…with one exception.
The 20 Year Pappy Van Winkle, which no less than Preston Van Winkle referred to as “the one that put us on the map,” tasted…very weak. Like 40 proof week. Had someone snuck a sample and replaced the precious drink with water? We will never know…
But the other four were, of course, fantastic. Even the 23 was a little smoother than when I had last tasted it. Then they open up the floor for questions. It was very similar to last year (Any tips to finding Pappy? How does my state get more?), with a few new ones. One person asked the difference between Weller and Van Winkle, which both use an identical recipe. Julian explained that it was a matter of selection (all Van Winkles are sampled and chosen by the father and son team, and are stored uniquely in the middle of the barrelhouse), where as Weller takes the rest, and then blends their final product. There was talk about the theft (no one was ever arrested, and Julian suggested that no one would be, after police interest ironically dried up post-election)and the history of Van Winkle, Stitzel-Weller.
After the Q and A, the Van Winkles retreated back to the Buffalo Trace Visitor Center, where they were on hand to sign items, and answer questions. I said hello, and then we headed for the hotel. We had another big day ahead of us.