A trip to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival – Tasting and Gala

This year, I have been fortunate enough to head down to Kentucky for three separate bourbon related events.  In February, my wife and I went to Louisville to take in the second ever Bourbon Classic, a fantastic celebration of bourbon and its culture.  In June, we headed back to tour some distilleries and attend the “Pappy For your Pappy” tasting dinner with the Van Winkle family at Buffalo Trace Distillery.  And last week, we headed down for the The Great Kentucky Bourbon Tasting & Gala.

The Kentucky Bourbon Festival is a yearly event in Bardstown, Kentucky in the heart of bourbon country.  It started small in 1992, and has grown every year, as a week long full celebration of all things bourbon.  There are barrel making exhibitions, events for families, kids, tours of Bardstown, mixology lessons, cooking demonstrations – this is a full scale celebration!  As the week goes on, there are nightly events for the bourbon faithful – dinners and dancing, country and bluegrass concerts, all culminating in the big event, the Gala – a black tie affair.  It was for this event my wife surprised me with tickets, and for this event we headed down.

We stayed in Louisville, in the 21c Museum Hotel, which had treated us so well during the Bourbon Classic.  On Friday night, we had dinner at Proof on Main to celebrate our 2nd Anniversary, and the food (and drink) was outstanding!  One of the greatest parts was their offering of bourbon tasting flights:

Proof on Main Bourbon Flight Menu
Proof on Main Bourbon Flight Menu

I went with the KY Bourbon Distillers Flight, as it offered three products I cannot find in Michigan, the Johnny Drum Private Stock, the Rowan’s Creek and Noah’s Mill.

KY Bourbon Distillers Flight
KY Bourbon Distillers Flight

We’ve sampled the good from Chef Levon Wallace‘s kitchen before, and this time was every bit as fantastic and delectable as expected.  Dining in Louisville is an exceptional experience, and Proof on Main may be the best of the bunch!

Saturday, we did some exploring of the stores between Louisville and Bardstown, looking for new, limited or fun bourbons that we can’t attain in Michigan, and finding a few of note.  Particularly wonderful were the people of Old Town Wine and Spirits – they had a fantastic collection of spirits, particularly bourbon.  After some perusal, I noticed they had two different store choice barrel strength Four Roses selections.  I asked a gentleman about the differences, and he was wonderful enough to not only walk me through it, but to taste each.  And by taste…I mean he poured me a glass of each.  That is hospitality!  With some new bourbon’s purchased, it was back to the hotel to get gussied up for the big Gala event.

Now, I will be the first to admit, wearing a tuxedo is not exactly a point of comfort for me. By my count, I have worn one five times in my life: senior prom, standing up in three friend’s weddings, and now the bourbon tasting and gala.
Dressed in my best James Bond impression, and with my wife looking stunning in a new dress, we headed to Bardstown.

Jen and I at the Bourbon Tasting and Gala
Jen and I at the Bourbon Tasting and Gala

The first surprise was the location. Having not been to the festival, it came as a bit of a shock when we pulled into the parking lot of what appeared to be a massive distribution or warehouse facility. There was no doubt, however, that it was the right place to be, as the parking lot was full of shuttle and tour buses, and elegantly dressed people got out of cars to line up for the event. We took our place in line and soon enough the doors opened.

A welcoming site outside the Bourbon Tasting and Gala
A welcoming site outside the Bourbon Tasting and Gala

Inside the first massive room we went into lay a bourbon lovers delight. Each of the major represented distilleries had bar setups around the outside walls. Each one was unique and different. Upon entry, each attendant was given a bag – this would be where we would stash our collected goodies as the night unfolded.

A room full of beautiful people and beautiful bourbon!
A room full of beautiful people and beautiful bourbon!

Each distillery had a full selection of their products available to drink. Most would serve your drink of choice in a glass specially made for the occasion, which you were to keep (by storing in the aforementioned bag). Most of these individual bars would also have a choice of mixed drink cocktail, ice, water, or to have the drink neat.

In the center of the room was a long spread of hors d’oeuvres.

Bourbon Festival ice sculpture
Bourbon Festival ice sculpture

Our first stop was the Blanton’s bar. Always a favorite of mine, it seemed a great way to get the night started! We sipped our drinks, and moved around. Wild Turkey had a backdrop for guests to have their red carpet style photo taken. They also had perhaps the most ornate bar, practically a saloon set up there where I was short to procure a glass of the Russell’s Reserve I love so much.

In addition to a wonderful set of cocktails and a beautiful display, Makers Mark had an ice luge, where I enjoyed a glass of Makers 46, chilled in this most fun way possible.

Maker's 46 from an ice luge
Maker’s 46 from an ice luge

After some food, & a wonderful conversation with former Maker’s Mark and now Bardstown Bourbon Company master distiller and Kentucky Bourbon Festival Hall of Fame member Steve Nally and his lovely wife, we made our way over to the Heaven Hill set up, where Jen enjoyed a Ezra Brooks smoothie , and I indulged in a pour of Evan Williams Single Barrel.

Cheers!
Cheers!

Buffalo Trace had the most elegant glasses of the evening, with a raised Buffalo etched in the side. Ridgemont Reserve 1792 served a bourbon orange cream drink that would certainly fit as a dessert on any fine menu.

Ridgemont Reserve 1792
Ridgemont Reserve 1792

By the time I wandered up to the Jim Beam bar, we had only been there for about an hour and a half. I asked the bartender for a glass of my favorite Jim Beam product, the Jim Beam Black 8 Year. When he asked if I wanted a single or double, I laughed and said the night was so young I better keep it a single. He quickly responded that the night was so young, it was early enough for a double!

Bulleit had their 10 year bourbon available, and I spoke with one of their representatives about the recent reopening of the Stitzel-Weller distillery under the name that had occurred that week. It is certainly on the short list of places I want to visit soon.

The line at Four Roses was intimidating – they were also offering photographs – so I visited Michter’s and grabbed a few more munchies just as the lights flashed to usher us into the main room where dinner was about to be served.

They have a bag check so we wouldn’t carry around the impressive number of glasses we had collected during the evening, and we entered the large room for dinner.

The dining room part of the evening...
The dining room part of the evening…

As you might imagine, a room sitting what I estimated to have been seven or eight hundred people for dinner would be massive. And it was. There was a stage set up on the far side of the room, where the toast and a few short speeches would be given. Later in the evening, this would also be the bandstand for the dancing part of the night. We found our table, to the far side from the stage and took seats.

We were seated with two lovely groups. One group of four had come in from Atlanta, Georgia. One of the groups gentleman was celebrating his 50th birthday, to celebrate at the Bourbon Festival. What a fantastic idea! There was also a young couple from Cincinnati, Ohio at our table as well. With a bottle of Ridgemont Reserve at each table to toast with, we enjoyed talking to our fellow tablemates while eating our salads. I was particularly overjoyed to find out our new Georgian friends where sports fanatics as well! We talked about baseball at length, as well as SEC football. To my dismay, my Missouri Tigers fell that afternoon to the Indiana Hoosiers, a rather embarrassing loss.

By this point, we all had noticed the lack of climate control in the facility. The temperature outside hovered around 85, and inside the lack of air flow had begun to take its toll. Many a brow was sweaty, and for the men, our tight collars and ties became slightly oppressive.

As the toasts and short speeches began, we found we were too far on the other side of the room to be able to discern what was being said. The sound system was not clear enough for us to here the toast itself, or any of the comments of Wild Turkey master distiller Jimmy Russell who had showed up and made some comments of his own. Unfortunately, all we could hear was a sound more similar to the teacher from a Charlie Brown cartoon.

By the time the delicious dinner was served, we dug in. A band playing Motown and classic soul favorites struck up, and some revelers, including ourselves, went to dance for a bit.

Time to dance!
Time to dance!

The gala goes on until 1 in the morning, but by 11, the heat had taken its toll and Jen and I were ready to retreat the distance back to Louisville. We bid our new friends farewell and safe travels, and beat the path back to Louisville, for a good night’s sleep.

Overall, the bourbon tasting and Gala is a fantastic event, and one I believe we will return to in the future. Next time, we would like to take in more of the entire Bourbon Festival. And hopefully it’s a few degrees cooler…

 

Wait, did Derek Jeter do something last night?

I’m kidding of course.  This baseball season has been the ‘Season of Jeets,’ to a degree I certainly think has been ridiculous.  There was the initial wave of adulation and reflection…

followed by a understandable backlash…

…followed by last night.  In his last game wearing Yankees Pinstripes, Jeets hits a walk off single to win the game for the Yankees.  Surely Joltin’ Joe and The Kid smiled down from the heavens.

I hate the Yankees, like most rational thinking baseball fans in this day and age not living in the greater New York Metropolitan area (or unabashedly front-runners, who are probably moving over to Mike Trout Angels jerseys as we speak).  That doesn’t diminish, however, The Captain’s legacy.

Derek Jeter was a constant, a great player, a sure-fire hall of famer, who exuded class even in an era when the Yankees payroll became as bloated as C.C. Sabathia at the Old Country Buffet.  He’s one of the few stars of the Steroid Era to not be under suspicion – and that includes many of his pinstriped teammates (we see ya’ A-Rod, Giambi, Rocket and Petite).  He was a great player.

Now with that said, I would invite those heaping attention to take a second and look at the career statistics of one Alan Trammell, who also played a 20 year career in one place.  Detroit may not be the Big Apple, but Trammell was part of a record setting double play combo, and the glue that held the Tigers together for 20 years.  He wasn’t quite as good offensively as Jeter, but was better defensively, and with a comparable WAR and advanced sabermetrics, maybe some light could be shed on his career before it’s too late for him to be enshrined in Cooperstown.  Down the hall from Jeets – two great shortstops who were leaders on the field.

Congrats to #2.

#freesimmons

Dan’s Bourbon Review of the Week – Jefferson’s Ocean II: Aged At Sea

Dan’s Bourbon Review of the Week – Jefferson’s Ocean II: Aged At Sea

We are here in Kentucky, for the third time this year, for a bourbon event.  Today, we will visit the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown for a bit, before returning to Louisville and gussying ourselves up for a the The Great Kentucky Bourbon Tasting & Gala tonight.  MY wife has a lovely dress picked out, and I will actually be in black tie – an event slightly less rare than Haley’s Comet.  I’ll be posting more about it tomorrow, but for today, it’s the review of a bourbon I wanted to try for a while – the Jefferson’s Ocean II: Aged At Sea.

Dan's Bourbon Review of the Week - Jefferson's Ocean: Aged at Sea
Dan’s Bourbon Review of the Week – Jefferson’s Ocean: Aged at Sea

Now, the story of the Jefferson’s Ocean is as interesting as anything.  A few years ago, Jefferson master blender Trey Zoeller put a limited number of aged barrels on a ship, and let it sail around the world.  Upon it’s return, they sampled and bottled it, and Jefferson’s Ocean was born.  The reviews were good – some pointed out that the temperature fluctuations and rolling motion of being on a ship gave it a truly unique taste, while some even pointed out an almost briny salt water taste deep within.

With that success, Zoeller dispatched 60+ more barrels of bourbon for a 6-month trip on a container ship.  The bourbon is reportedly 6-8 years old, and details of it’s source or blend aren’t known.  As the ship (and stored barrels) crossed the equator four times and stopped on four continents, the whiskey rolled in the barrels, increasing it’s contact time with the wood and slightly agitating not unlike a washing machine.  The process is pretty cool, but the question is – “Is the bourbon any good?”

My answer is absolutely yes.

The nose was one of the sweetest I’ve ever experienced in a bourbon.  Rich caramel, vanilla, brown sugar and a hint of what almost reminded me of banana creme wafted from the top.  Oak woodiness around the edges, but the smell of this liquor made me anticipate a rum like sweetness.

Two things struck me immediately at first sip: (1) this bourbon is far sweeter than I had expected, and so very smooth; and (2) the very thick mouth feel.  This bourbon has an almost creamy, sweet feel, and rolls almost like a liqueur across the tongue.  Again, caramel, vanilla, a touch of maple syrup blends with a touch of non-bitter spices and the oakiness of a well aged bourbon.  Others have noted a salt or brine touch on this drink – I did not get that at all.  I did get a good dose of dried or candied fruit, particularly citrus.

The finish was very smooth, and the longer it sat in the glass, the more sweet it smelled.  I don’t want to give the wrong impression – it’s not sweet like a rum or soda.  But it definitely is for the sweeter palate, and that’s perfectly fine with me.  I found it to be delicious.

Dan’s Rating: 9.0

Ballpark of the Week: Fenway Park (Home of the Boston Red Sox)

Ballpark of the Week: Fenway Park (Home of the Boston Red Sox)

I am not even close to forgiving the Boston Red Sox for beating my beloved Detroit Tigers in the ALCS last year. The fact that they eventually won the championship makes things a little better (if you’re gonna lose, might as well lose to the champ), but not nearly enough to soften the wounds.  To be totally honest, with the exception of 2004 and their vanquishing of the Yankees, I can’t remember ever rooting for the Red Sox.  And just for extra emotion, I grew up with the New York Mets as my “B” team, so I remember 1986 for all the right reasons.

All that aside, even I have to admit that the long and storied history of the Beantown team can give me goose bumps – from Babe to Foxx, Pesky and Rice to Pedro and Youk. I always had a reverence for Ted Williams as well – as a kid who loved the statistics of baseball, I was wowed by the way Williams could post such amazing numbers AND serve in two wars.  So when my brother-in-law offered us tickets to the Sox game of our choice as a Christmas gift, we were elated for the opportunity.

As luck (and his generosity) would have it, we got to enjoy even more.  The game we had selected was a Yankees-Sox game on a Saturday afternoon in May, but he did us one better and also got us tickets to see the Red Sox play the Anaheim Angels on the Thursday night we arrived in.  We migrated from his Back Bay apartment to the ballpark and it was every bit as great as advertised.

As we walked to the hallowed park that first night, we found ourselves being enveloped, block by block, by Red Sox fans and the first notable difference between this and other parks was apparent: because (like Wrigley Field) this old park was in a neighborhood, it wasn’t just a matter of people walking the short distance from a parking lot to the park.  Instead, people walked through neighborhoods.  It was communal, and fun.  It felt like what baseball was supposed to be.

By the time we got close, every Irish bar had the Dropkick Murphys blaring and the smells of a baseball game were everywhere.  By the time we turned from Brookline onto Yawkey Way, it was on.  There were street vendors with carts and just about every kind of pick-up-and-carry food imaginable. I became particularly infatuated with the stadium kabobs, and ate what seemed like three or four of them.

We wandered in the stadium, and were surrounded by baseball history.  Like Wrigley, it was apparent from the first second that this was a throw back to an earlier time.  The bricks, the smells (good and bad), how…small?…everything seems compared to the modern behemoth stadium.  Now, that feeling of nostalgia for a time before you were ever born (pre-stalgia?) lasts right up to about the time you go to buy something, when you realize that this beer would have cost a 1920 cobbler his months income.  But its still very very special.

Our first game, we sat down the first base side, and the seats were amazing.  We watched a high scoring (if slow moving) game, where the Sox took it to the Anaheim Angels, even after Dice-K gave up 4 runs early.  Most amusing was the Japanese gentleman behind us who shouted at Daisuke what we could only imagine were words of encouragement or terrible curses the entire time he was pitching.

The tradition of Red Sox nation is well known around the world now – singing along with Sweet Caroline, The stadium was full from first to last pitch, and with the Standell’s Dirty Water blaring, it was an amazing time.

We came back two days later, in a misty rain, to see the real deal – Yankees v Sox.  Because it was a nationally televised game, it had a later than normal start time, which allotted us more time to spend at the grand old park.  We strolled there leisurely in the mist, and decided to wander around the entire park this time (not just Yawkey Way).  We were wandering down Landsdowne, behind the Green Monster, when what sounded like a shot rang out, and my wife dropped to the ground in a heap.  There were audible gasps from the people in the Green Monster seats looking down at the street below.  I was stunned – I had no idea what had happened.

Now, a Boston native might know right away.  In that beautiful, completely asymmetrical and oddly shaped park, if a ball clears the Green Monster…it hits the street below.  In the clip here, Melky Cabrera hits a homer over the wall that breaks a car windshield.  Well, it just so happened that batting practice was taking place inside the park and someone put a charge into a ball that happened to clear the fence,but not my wife.

Within a minute, she was back on her feet and a few of Boston’s finest were there to make sure she was ok.  A kid on a bike came up to us with the ball that had struck her, and offered it to us (we told him he could keep it, but he smiled and said ‘I get tons of them out here!’ and showed us a small bag of baseballs), so we pocketed it and headed into the park, where we could at least see flying objects beforehand.

The seats my brother-in-law had gotten us were amazing, and we got some Lobster Rolls and Sam Adams, and had a blast.  CC Sabathia was chased early, but the Yankees persevered and emerged victorious.  And we had a second great time at the ballpark.  We visited the Ted Williams plaque, and walked through the concourse.  Again, just like Wrigley, it felt like history.  The fact everything was wet from the rain added a mustiness that reminded us of the age of the park as well.

As for Jen – well, she ended up with a bruise on her chest that looked like she had been hit by…well, a baseball that had been projected 400 feet through air and space.  But she healed, and we had the baseball – and the great memories.

Dan’s scale (1-10): 8.9

Below are my stats.  I 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 authentic 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.

Fenway Park – May 6, 2010.  Anaheim Angels at Boston Red Sox

Date: Thursday, May 6, 2010, 7:12PM

Seat: Field Box 18

Ticket Cost: N/A

Went with: Jen Weaver

Attendance: 37,639

Time of Game: 3:43

Linescore:
               1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9     R   H E
Angels    4 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0    6   9  2
Red Sox  0 0 2 0 5 4 0 0 X   11 11 0

Winning Pitcher: Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Scott Kazmir (2-2)

Save:

 

Fenway Park – May 8, 2010.  New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox

Date: Saturday, May 8, 2010, 3:11 PM

Seat: EMC Club

Ticket Cost: N/A

Went with: Jen Weaver

Attendance: 37,138

Time of Game: 3:56

Linescore:
               1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9     R   H E
Yankees   0 0 2 1 3 0 2 4 2    14 17 0
Red Sox   0 0 3 0 0 0 0 0 0      3  8  1

Winning Pitcher: Alfredo Aceves

Losing Pitcher: Clay Buchholtz

Save:

Jersey: Ted Williams (1939)

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Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: George T. Stagg

A good start to the week – my beloved Detroit Tigers won the first of three against the division rival (and division leading) Kansas City Royals yesterday afternoon, closing the pennant gap to one.  The Detroit Lions beat up on the New York Giants last night on Monday Night Football to kick a new season off the right way.  And the temperature here in Detroit leads one to think autumn is right around the corner.  My favorite time of year.

For this week’s Bourbon of the Week, however, I return to those dog days of summer.  I was fortunate enough this year to accompany my lovely wife on a work trip to Los Angeles back in July.  It was a fantastic trip, full of sun, beaches, wonderful entertainment and great food.  We got to see Chris Isaak (a favorite of mine) at the Hollywood Bowl, and take in a show at the Comedy Store, including Marc Maron and Ralphie May. But, while LA has all the glitz and glamour, there is one thing it is definitely missing: bourbon.

Now, that’s not to say I didn’t find some good times and good bourbon.  A visit to the Dresden made me feel like I was in Swingers, and three fingers of Maker’s Mark certainly helped with that.  But from establishment to establishment, it was more of the same: Jim Beam, Wild Turkey and Makers.  No Buffalo Trace, no Woodford, not even Knob Creek.  Finally, I went online to find somewhere in this sprawling expanse to procure a glass of something…special.  And sure enough, I found it, in Hollywood, of all places.

The bar is called the Township Saloon, and I will review the bar itself in the near future.  It’s a cool, hipster-meets-divey bar on Sunset, away from the Hollywood hullabaloo, and on that Friday night, kind of quiet.  Perfect for sampling one of the rarest of treats, because they had George T. Stagg.

For some reason, I have been unable to locate a bottle of GTS in Michigan, even third party, and Kentucky has fared me no better.  So I was excited to take a drink of this much respected and crowed about product for myself.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: George T Stagg
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: George T Stagg (photo from Wikipedia, as my camera stopped working that night!)

Some say George T. Stagg is the best bourbon made – another fine member of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.  It’s age varies (I have been told the 2013 was 16 years old), and it is a proud product of Buffalo Trace mashbill #1.

It has a very high proof – 129 on this bottling – so a keeping a little ice handy isn’t a bad idea, although I first tried it neat.  After all the raving I’ve read, I was looking forward to trying it.

The nose took me a minute.  Like most high proofed bourbons, the alcohol sears a bit on first blush, and should be given a minute to breathe.  Then, the world opens on this glass.  There was a dark sweetness to it, toffee and caramel, but not overwhelmingly so.  Plum, raisin peeked through, maple sugar, and a soft oakiness that was dry and had a hint of tobacco.

The taste was dark as well.  The toffee remained, along with an almost dark chocolate character. There was a hint of bitter, like coffee, before giving way to a wood that seemed fresh.  It is a strong drink, so I added a few ice chips, and found the sweetness seemed to dissipate a bit, while the oak and slight bitter remained.

The finish was surprisingly short for such an aged and high-proof pour, although I did get hints of cinnamon on the back end.

Did I enjoy it? Thoroughly.  Is it in my top five?  Well, not this years, but that just gives me a reason to try again next year.

Dan’s Rating: 8.8

 

Happy Bourbon Heritage Month!

As summer rolls to a close, the kids head back to school and the pennant races heat up, September is the gateway to my favorite season of the year: autumn.  College football kicked off last weekend, pro football this weekend, and we all know that with fall comes the new 2014 releases by our favorite distilleries.

September is also National Bourbon Heritage Month, and I can think of no better place to celebrate this year than in the Bluegrass State itself.  So this year, my wife and I are headed back to Kentucky (the third time this year!) for the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in a couple of weeks.  I could not be more excited.  We have our tickets to some events, and I look forward to blogging about it all when I get back.

So please, pour three fingers of your favorite, and join me in celebrating this country’s best spirit – to bourbon!

A nice pour for National Bourbon Month!
A nice pour for National Bourbon Month!