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

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

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)

Ballpark of the Week: AT&T Park (Home of the San Francisco Giants)

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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Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey

So, the word is another Polar Vortex is headed down, and we can already feel it here in Michigan.  There is a serious chill in the air, and the briskness plus the earlier nightfall serve as a reminder that winter is right around the corner.

What better time, then, to try out a bourbon that comes to us from the snowy slopes of the Rocky Mountains – Breckenridge Bourbon from Breckenridge, Colorado!

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey (photo taken at the National World War II Memorial)
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey (photo taken at the National World War II Memorial)

Now, Breckenridge has been on the scene for a few years now, ever since it placed top three at the 2011 International Wine and Spirits Competition (in England).  This has led to some pretty loud claims of excellence, and a close eye on their methods.

As origin stories go, Breckenridge has a pretty darn good one.  They tout the pure, melting Colorado snowmelt they use in proofing as one of their unique qualities – a shot across the bow to those who believe only Kentucky limestone water can make a proper bourbon.  The award put them in a rarefied air as well, drawing comparisons to BTAC-grade products.

What is very clear is their rye content.  Breckenridge uses a 56/38/6 corn/rye/barley recipe.  This certainly falls on the higher side.  What is less clear is how Breckenridge comes to be.  While some of their bourbon seems produced at their distillery proper (where they keep a custom 700 gallon Vendome combination Pot still, amongst others), they do reportedly source as well, and blend the native and sourced bourbon, before proofing it with their unique Colorado water at one of the highest altitudes of a distillery in the world.

So, with a great story like this, what about the taste?

I purchased my bottle in 2013, and it is different in that it is a Single Barrel selection (from Kakos Liquor in Birmingham).

It certainly has a healthy amber color, and the nose was sweet and spicy.  I noted a very hearty corn, but also raisin, hints of butterscotch and honey.  and a touch of citrus.

The taste was not as sweet as the nose.  It was remarkably smooth, if obviously a bit on the young side (there is no age statement, but 3 years has been the buzz on the internet).  It has a medium thick mouth feel, and the corn lives up front, alongside a slight tingle of rye.  There was almost no presence of oakiness, and the back end was exactly what I’d expect from such a rye content – cinnamon, pepper and the slightest touch of leather.

The finish, now thats where things got weird.  It has a shorter than expected finish – the smoothness slides the taste away quickly.  MAybe that’s because of youth.  But both Jen and I noticed a bit of aftertaste, not unpleasant, but not easily identifiable.  Was it minerals from the runoff snow?  Was it a thicker mouth feel than it seemed?  Do I need to wash my bourbon glasses better?  It wasn’t the last – we tried different glasses.  Jen jokingly called it a ‘splenda aftertaste – like diet bourbon!’ and that was a little bit what it was like.  Unique.

All in all we liked it – it was smooth, and clean.  Maybe it’s effective marketing creating preconceptions, but it tasted cleaner as we thought of that snow melting.  It’s a bit young, and a higher rye than I traditionally like, but it was a very good pour.  I do have a curiousity what it will taste like if it’s left in the barrel for four to eight more years…

Dan’s Rating: 8.2