It’s opening day, folks, a good day for getting a good glass of bourbon or a fine mixed bourbon drink, and watching your favorite baseball team start a fresh new season! The Detroit Tigers are lucky enough to start their season in Miami this year, staving off the unseasonable 20 degree cold we are enjoying here, at least for a few more days.
For me, my loves were always the New York Mets, and most of all, my hometown Detroit Tigers, and while hope springs eternal, let’s welcome in a new year and season with the legendary hall of fame broadcaster for the tigers, Ernie Harwell, who would bless each new season with this short poem:
Well, first of all, Happy Halloween! Once more it’s the time of year with ghosts and goblins, tricks and treats. Children dressing scarily and wondering through your streets collecting candy. I hope you and yours enjoy it this year. It’s also deep into autumn, with the harvest coming up, and I like to think of all the corn, the wheat, the ryes that will soon be mashed and distilled into my favorite treat – whiskey!
Secondly, congratulations to the San Francisco Giants, who last night won their third World Series in five years. I feel like the Giants are our adoptive team, as my wife Jen and I went to see them during our honeymoon in 2012. Particularly amazing was the performance of Madison Bumgarner, I’m glad I watched this series through to the end!
And now…on to bourbon. Or in this case, rye.
The Willett name has a long and storied history, going all the way back to pilgrims who arrived in the US in the 1600s. The Willett family has been responsible for bourbon distilling in Kentucky since the 1860s, and has played an important role in much of the great bourbon legacy there.
In the 1930s, the Willett family started the Willett Distilling Company on the family farm in Bardstown, Kentucky, and it still sits there today. Willett, which later changed it’s name to Kentucky Bourbon Distillers(1984), made bourbons on the family farm up until the 1970s. At that time, during the oil crisis, they made the decisions to have their whiskey brands made elsewhere and age and bottle them (or just bottle them) onsite. This allowed them to convert their production facilities to make gasahol fuel. This venture did not work out, however, and by the 1980s, the Willett location was only used for it’s warehouses and bottling.
Several brands are released under the Kentucky Bourbon Distillers name – Johnny Drum, Kentucky Vintage, Rowan’s Creek, Noah’s Mill among others. They also do aging and bottling for a few other brands, including Corner Creek and the sought after Black Maple Hill.
In the mid 2000’s, the family started work to reopen the Willett production facilities, and by 2012, they barreled the first of their new products. And in 2014, they unveiled it at last – the Willett Family 2 Year Rye.
I was down in Kentucky in June and visited Willett, and was lucky enough to land a few bottles of the brand new, Willett produced two year rye. So how’d it taste?
107 proof – that was the strength of my Willett 2 Year Rye – a nice barrel proof number. And Willett certainly knows bottling – their Still Pot Reserve has won awards for it’s beautiful bottles, and their ryes come in beautiful bottles adorned with the family seal as well. In short, it’s a lovely bottle.
It has a nice gold color, and the nose is fantastic. There is a definite fruitiness in the nose – I picked up cherry, citrus and a hint of raisin. The woodiness reminded me of something other than oak – more like a cedar or even a Christmas pine. I soaked it in, and found some vanilla. What shocked me the most was the lack of a burn. Despite the high proof, this pour didn’t smell like pure alcohol, and had a surprising richness.
I’ll admit, my first sip was jarring. The nose had put me to sleep, and I took perhaps too big of a drink, forgetting the high potency of the proof. But even as I coughed a bit, caught off guard, I noticed how smooth it was going down. My next drink was more restrained, and I got a good feel for this rye. It was softer than a 2 year has any right to be, with a great range of flavor that belies it’s age. It had an earthiness to it, and I thought mint rose to the top, along with a maple. I didn’t note the usual pepper or cinnamon ryes have – it’s probably too young to have really soaked that in from the wood – but there is far more citrus than I would have ever expected. Overall, it’s rather sweet.
And it has a nice finish to boot. Not the longest finish, but smooth and lingering where a touch of spice mixes with an earthiness (that is probably the biggest tip off to it’s age).
On the whole, I’m not as big a fan of ryes as I am traditional bourbons. But for this Willett entry, I’ll make an exception. It doesn’t have the ‘graininess’ of a young rye – that taste that lets you know that some of this whiskey has never touched the side of a barrel. Instead, I would have thought upon blind taste that it was at least four, and maybe even six or eight years old. What really intrigues me is what these barrels will taste like in a few more years!
Ballpark of the Week: Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Home of the Baltimore Orioles)
Tonight, the American League Central Division Champion Detroit Tigers start their fourth consecutive American League Divisional Series with a match-up against the AL East champion Baltimore Orioles. Since the Tigers are my hometown team, it’s not hard to figure out where my rooting interests lie. And while this season was grueling, with the Tigs not clinching the division until the season’s last day, we in Detroit are feeling pretty good about our chances.
I will admit, however, that I regularly root for the Orioles in their division. Like the rest of the world not living in the five boroughs, I despise the Yankees. Once I had a sympathy for the Red Sox and their unbeatable curse, and cheered joyously as they won that memorable title in 2003. That dissipated quickly as Sox fans became unbearable in the years since, and I now only root for them when they play the Yankees. If Tampa Devil Ray fans don’t exist, why would I acknowledge their team? And the Blue Jays…well, I don’t really dislike them, but they have to make the playoffs for me to root for them. That makes the Orioles the lesser of five evils, I guess.
Those days are over. Tigers in three! four!
That said, I was able to visit Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 2012, My wife had a work conference in Washington DC in June, including a couple of evening events, so I used the opportunity to rent a car and drive north to catch a game. Particularly fortuitous for me, my wife’s uncle and cousins – Maryland natives – were happy to meet me at the game and make it a night at the ballpark!
The drive in was less than ideal – while DC and Baltimore may be separated by few miles (40 or so), the drive time between the two is a bit on the slow side. I’m sure natives to the area are well aware of this – unfortunately, I was not. When I did arrive in Baltimore, however, I was pleased to find how easy it was to get to the park! There is ample parking, thanks to a nicely developed area of hotels and convention centers nearby, and was parked and ready to go in no time.
Driving in from DC, I noticed the large crowd of people in Orioles gear between a statue of Brooks Robinson and a few bars names Pickles and Sliders across the street from the stadium. I wandered over for a bite and to catch some local flavor – and I did. In particular, I’ve developed a taste for ‘Baltimore Wings,’ which are the local take on traditional Buffalo Wings. Baked in butter and rubbed with Old Bay seasoning, they may be my favorite wings in the world now. People hung out and talked baseball, but I snapped a pic in front of the Brooks Robinson statue, and headed over to the large main gates to get a feel for the place.
Upon entering the park from Camden and Eutaw, the first thing you notice is how the stadium feels like an older park than it really is. This is, of course, by design. After years of demolishing our baseball cathedrals in favor of bland, round, all purpose stadiums (like Three Rivers or Veterans stadiums), Oriole Park at Camden Yards was a much heralded return to the classics. Set in an actual part of the city (as opposed to far-flung suburbs), built with brick and iron and as a part of it’s surroundings (the warehouse overlooking the park from center to right field). It revolutionized ballparks, and while it has borne many imitators (including Comerica Park here in Detroit), it is still very unique.
Strolling along the bricks above the outfield, I had to stop into the famous Boog’s BBQ. Boog Powell, slugging hero of those late 60s and early 70s Oriole teams, has a BBQ stand/tent here, and it came highly recommended. An additional treat – Boog was there that day, and I got to shake his hand, get an autograph, and chat for a few minutes with a Baltimore legend! And the BBQ was delicious too.
Our seats gave us a great view of the park – it really is a beautiful sight. I was there during an interleague matchup, and many fans from Pittsburgh were there as well, so there was a good spirited taunting going on in the stands. A high scoring game, we were able to see everything clearly, and despite it’s throwback style, Oriole Park has plenty of modern game-watching amenities: great scoreboards, clear public address, ball, strike and pitch speed sensors throughout.
Steve Pearce and Mark Reynolds both hit shots our way, and we even thought we might have a chance at catching Reynolds. The O’s scored early and often, and the game was fun for the hometown fans. At one point, I headed up to the picnic tables in centerfield to grab some crab dip and waffle fries – a local favorite – and found out OPaCY is one of the few ballparks in which you can bring your own food and drink (provided the drinks are sealed)! A walk down Eutaw was particularly enjoyable, as you watch the game on the one side, and check out the bars and souvenir stands inside the warehouse on the other.
Now, it did take me almost two and a half hours to get back to DC after the game, but that didn’t dampen my fun. Oriole Park at Camden Yards is a beautiful park, and another must see for baseball fans!
Dan’s scale (1-10): 8.7
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.
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.
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.
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.
1) As this summer has gotten busier and busier, I have not been good about posting regularly. I’m still sampling new bourbons, still reading about developments in the whiskey world and what not, but I’m not writing about it enough.
2) Despite the name “Baseball and Bourbon,” I hardly ever write about baseball! I named the blog Baseball and Bourbon because I planned on reviewing two of the things I enjoy the most: baseball parks and bourbons. However, I discovered two key facts early on – it’s difficult to visit new parks regularly, and it’s way more fun (and easy) to try new bourbons. This year alone, I have been able to visit one new park (Nationals Park), but will have gone on three separate trips to Kentucky for bourbon related events.
Both of these things will change now.
Not going to more baseball parks – time and money can prohibit that pretty severely. But introducing more baseball content. Reviews of baseball books, baseball movies, write-ups of parks I’ve visited in the past and just more baseball chatter will be a priority. My hometown Detroit Tigers are (again) serious contenders for the title, and I keep pretty well plugged in to baseball. Time to put it to type.
Secondly, I will include more bourbon reviews, but also, talk more at length about whiskey bars I visit, industry trends, and other whiskeys, especially ryes,
So let the fun begin!
Last night, after what has proven to be a particularly trying week in many regards, my wife and I sat down and opened a bottle that she had picked up a few weeks back out of curiosity.
OK, call this a spoiler alert, but I LOVED this bourbon. Ezra B (Brooks) 12 Year is a Heaven Hill distillery product, and while Heaven Hill makes some bourbons I have liked (Evan Williams, Elijah Craig) and some I haven’t, none have ever tasted quite like this.
While the Ezra B 12 Year is the classier bottle of the Ezra Brooks line, with its wax cap and ribboned label, it’s not obscenely priced. A little harder to find here in Detroit, it was still available at a store, and not only through third party sellers. We opened the bottle and poured a healthy amount into our glasses…
…wow, what a fantastic nose. Ezra B is 99 proof, but the nose didn’t burn of alcohol at all. Amazingly, it was a sweet, rich nose, with notes of vanilla, caramel, raisin, rum, pecans and wood. Not charred wood, mind you, but soft wood, like a new baseball bat. It was warm and inviting.
The taste was outstanding. First of all, Ezra B 12 Year is a thick mouth feel – like a melting butter. But unlike most thicker tasting bourbons, Ezra B isn’t full of those mouth-puckering tannins some people (not I) love. Instead, it’s incredibly smooth with a layered taste. It opens with a rich sweetness – raisin and ripe banana, toffee and caramel, before giving way to a warming but not overpowering spice.
The finish is soft and medium, and almost seems to come in waves, but not of spice or rye, but rather, that wonderful citrus taste.
Now, the Russell’s Reserve 10 Year came highly recommended by my co-worker, friend and fellow bourbon enthusiast Josh McAllister, who mentioned how he had sampled it not too long ago and it immediately became one of his favorites. I know Josh to have good taste, so it made my short list as well, and soon enough, an opportunity to sample it came up. The company I work for often has a few international interns at any given time, and we were lucky enough to have Cecile, who came to us from France, in our department. On her last day a few weeks ago, we decided to have a toast to bid her Bon Voyage at our weekly meeting. Spies were dispatched to find her drink of choice, and it was reported back that she was a fan of Wild Turkey. Perfect.
The Russell alluded to in the name Russell’s Reserve is none other than legendary Master Distiller Jimmy Russell (as well as his son, Associate Distiller Eddie Russell), the man behind Wild Turkey. Jimmy Russell is a legend, and I was fortunate enough to hear him speak at the Bourbon Classic this year in January. So Russell’s Reserve, which claims to be Jimmy’s hand picked small batch, should truly be the representation of his son and his combined 85 years of experience. The website also mentions that they cut it with water less than other bourbons before barreling, and that “Russell’s Reserve is matured in barrels with the deepest #4 char, or “alligator” char, ensuring the maximum flavor and colour is developed during aging.”
So I bought a bottle and, as our weekly meeting wrapped up, poured glasses for those hearty souls to toast the outgoing Cecile, off to new adventures!
My take: Wow. There is everything to love about this bourbon. The availability (here in Michigan, I’ve seen RR at local Meijer stores – I’ve seen Blanton’s and Elmer T Lee there too – so it’s not too hard to find), the price point (between $28-$33 here in Michigan), the bottle (classy) and cetainly not the taste.
The nose was warm and inviting, with notes of caramel and vanilla. Enough sweet cinnamon showed through to make me anticipate a ‘popping’ taste (more on that in a second), and the age and char showed through with a deep, distinct air of toasted oak.
The taste was also warm, but I didn’t get the jarring taste of burned wood that I anticipated, nor a spicy ‘bite,’ but rather, a smooth soft woodiness mixed with a slight sweet vanilla and caramel taste. I will reinforce the word ‘smooth,’ because I was taken aback with just how smooth this was, not too thick a mouth feel, but not thin in anyway. Alongside the oak and vanilla, there were the sparkles of cinnamon, but minus the roughness that sometimes follows it.
The finish was clean and soft, if a little short. I was impressed all the way around and, if Wild Turkey or Mr. Russell ever put out a barrel strength, I would sincerely love to try it. It’s not a perfect 10, but for what it is it’s an A in my book.