Recapping WhiskyFest Chicago (Day Two) – The Main Event

Recapping WhiskyFest Chicago (Day Two) – The Main Event

There was a moment. More than a moment, actually, maybe a full minute. It may even have been two. I stood in the middle of the Hyatt Regency Chicago ballroom at sometime around 7:00 on a Friday night in March, and I was speechless. Overwhelmed, even.  My wife waited patiently for an answer, before she asked again: “what would you like to try next?”  I slowly gazed around the room, the dozens of whiskey makers booths, each one holding bottles and bottles of whiskey.

Some I had tried many times and liked. Some I had not cared for. Some I had just never gotten around to. But this was still in the midst of the VIP hour, so there were many that I had never seen, tried, and probably never would again. My head cleared, my focus sharpened. My head turned, as I watched one of the most impressively surreal acts of normalcy I could imagine.

Julian Van Winkle – pappy of Pappy so to speak – slowly walking by, unapproached and seemingly anonymous, completely absorbed in the consumption of a potsticker.  Now I’m sure Mr. Van Winkle goes about unrecognized on most days – at the gas station, at the 7-11, maybe even the restaurant. What makes this scene so weird is that, as he walks by, contemplating the mysteries of quality pan-Asian buffet, 100 people wait in line at a booth bearing his name for a slight, tasting pour of his whiskey. A whiskey most of them have never had, and many won’t again.

As he dabs the napkin to his mouth, I turn back to my ever-patient wife, who is quite eager to sample the next specialty. “Let’s go try the Michter’s 10 year.”

This is WhiskyFest Chicago 2016.

As I mentioned in my last blog, WhiskyFest, put on by Whiskey Advocate magazine, is the big show. I don’t know if Chicago was the first, but it certainly seems that way. I’ve been to plenty of bourbon specific events in Kentucky and Michigan, but when my wife was able to score us tickets as a surprise Christmas gift (and VIP tickets to boot), I knew it would be bigger than anything I or we’d gone to yet.

WhiskyFest tickets aren’t cheap – if you get them when they go on sale, they are upward of $300. $400 plus for VIP. This year, it’s my understanding all tickets sold out in the first hour, so price isn’t exactly an issue. And by the time you get them from a reseller like StubHub or EBay – look out.  So the expectations are high, and understandably so.

In the months and weeks leading up to the event – March 18th this year – the information begins to trickle out: what brands to expect, what new products will be unveiled, what speakers will be there. But it’s that first one, the whiskey list, that is most anticipated.  I found myself visiting every day, looking to see what would be in the offering.

WhiskyFest is also not limited like the bourbon events I have frequented. Scotch – no favorite of mine – is extremely well represented. Ryes, Irish, Canadian and Japanese whiskey is there too. There are a few whiskey barrel aged beers. Even a rum or two snuck in. In all, hundreds of things to try. Not all in one night, however.

We showed up for VIP registration a half hour early, and found a line of dozens already ahead of us. When registration did start, we were each given a canvas bag with water, swag (pens, coasters), a Glencairn glass and a lanyard. There was a meat and cheese hor d’oeuvres table to snack on. But the snackers were few. Instead, people lined up at the doors.

And by people, I mean men. Unlike the bourbon events or the whiskey tasting the night before, this crowd was almost exclusively male. No judgement here, just noting…

The advantage of a VIP ticket was two-fold: you get to enter the tasting ballroom an hour early, and many brands have special limited pours for the VIP group. WhistlePig, for example, was offering VIPs a taste of their yet unreleased 15 year old rye.

Once the doors flew open the race was on. There was a feeling of the Oklahoma land rush as people made bee lines for any one of the hundred booths showcasing their most sought after tastes. Buffalo Trace filled up quick, with long lines looking for a taste of their VIP offerings: Pappy Van Winkle 23 year, 1792 Port Finish and George T Stagg. We stood back and pontificated for a moment before deciding on a Hibiki 17 year Japanese Whiskey.

Over the course of the next 4 hours, my wife and I wandered around the massive ballroom. First, we tried VIP whisky so, some of which I’ve noted below. When I had my moment of being overwhelmed half an hour in, it was at the realization that we had already sampled 5 impossible to find drinks in 30 minutes.

The room is a large ballroom, where each bourbon maker has a booth – not unusual for a trade show, which is kind of what WhiskeyFest is. Each booth, ranging from as simple as a folding table and sign to large, elaborate setups, with full bars and ornate woodwork, has a few people pouring their wares for the line of Glencairn glass holders.  There are a mixture of reps at each booth, from attractive models who look like they are on loan from an auto show, to more knowledgeable brand reps, to owners like Van Winkle and Master Distillers like Wild Turkey’s Jimmy Russell.  The connoisseurs discuss the brands and selections with the reps as they get their pours, and hopefully get some knowledge about what they are drinking.

Each booth has water available – keeping hydrated and rinsing out glasses is definitely encouraged here – as well as a bucket to catch the pour outs.  Like a wine tasting, the concept is that a whiskey is tasted in a small one ounce quantity, then spit out into the bucket.  This rarely happens, however. As the night went on, I saw almost no-one (including myself) waste the drink…although a few of the drinkers certainly got wasted.

Along with hydration, WhiskyFest goers are also encouraged to eat and eat well.  There are four main walking buffet areas, with two sets of diverse food, from vegetables and au gratin potatoes to sushi and roast beef.  It’s a nice spread, and the easy access allows for nibbling throughout the night.

At 7:30, the general admission doors opened, and the crowd number jumped exponentially.  Very few of the booths had lines over 5 minutes (with the exception of the Van Winkles), which was nice.  I had tried 9 whiskeys at that point, and by night’s end at 9:30, was at 26.

I won’t review the whiskeys here – for those I was particularly fond, I added a few notes below, and will follow up with a more detailed review later.  I also left the bourbon and rye comfort zone and tried a few others, to mixed results.

I had a fantastic time at WhiskyFest.  People were mostly very nice.  My wife and I talked with two different couples – one that had been married for many years, and one that was still in their relationship infancy, but both were having a great time.  We met a man from Michigan enjoying his third trip there, with whom we commiserated about local liquor stores.  And there were a couple of women who had won the tickets, and were having a great time introducing themselves to whiskey we spent some time talking and walking with.  For the whiskey nut, this is almost a bucket list item.  Even for the casual drinker, I would think the variety alone would make it a worthwhile trip.  There are a number of other things going on here as well – speakers from Whiskey makers, and tasting flights.  THis year, they seemed to be Scotch-centric, so I stuck to the main room myself.

Below are a few notes on a couple drinks that impressed me the most.  They should ideally each have a detailed review in the next 6 months.  There is a good chance I will return next year and take it in again, but for now…

WhistlePig 15 Year and 12 Year Old World – If you like the acclaimed 10 year rye, this should be for you. Personally, i  respect the 10 year, but it’s a little gruff for me, and the 15 year only heightens that. Much more pleasing to my palate is the Old World 12 Year, finished in different wine barrels, including Madera. The finishing puts the slightest sweetness on the rye, adding whole new complexities beyond the spiciness.

Jack Daniels Single Barrel, Barrel Proof (131.0 tried) – Cliched? Yup. Late to the trend? You bet. But man, did I find this version of the veritable favorite delicious. Jack Daniels is a classic, and this hints at how great it is in its purest form. It’s hot, but still has all the good Jack Daniels traits, namely

New Holland Zeppelin Bend and Zeppelin Bend Reserve – I have long been a fan of the Zeppelin Bend whisky, even if it is a little young, because of it’s remarkable smoothness. The new, longer aged Zeppelin Bend was even smoother, and when it hits the market later this summer, I look forward to grabbing a bottle.

High West Yippee Ki-Yay Rye was unique and befitting the High West brand – rye whiskey finished in wine barrels (catching a trend?) that takes that respected High West rye and adds a sweetness that wins in nose and finish.

The list (of whiskeys I sampled):

Hibiki 17 Year

WhistlePig 15 year Rye

Jefferson’s Groth Reserve Bourbon

New Holland Zeppelin Bend Reserve

New Holland Pitchfork Wheat

Russell’s Reserve 10 year Bourbon

Michter’s 10 Year Bourbon

1792 Small Batch Bourbon

High West Yippee Ki-Yay Rye

Elijah Craig 18 Year Single Barrel

Elijah Craig 23 Year Single Barrel

The Pogues Irish Whiskey

West Cork 10 Year Single Malt

Parker’s Heritage Malt Whiskey

Old Forester 1897 BiB

Jack Daniels Single Barrel Barrel Proof (131.8 proof)

Stagg Jr. (127.3 proof)

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

Jameson Black Barrel

Jameson Caskmates

Hudson Four Grain Bourbon

WhistlePig 12 Year “Old World”

Bookers “Oven Buster” Bourbon

E. H. Taylor Single Barrel

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength

Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey

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Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: A.D. Laws Four Grain Straight Bourbon

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: A.D. Laws Four Grain Straight Bourbon

Today, we drink bourbon in celebration of the victors of Super Bowl 50.  Just like the Broncos that vanquished the Carolina Panthers last weekend, our spirit of choice hails from Denver, Colorado.

The Laws Whiskey House in Denver, Colorado takes great pride in their trade as craft distillers.  The whiskies they produce are distilled from (mostly) local grains: the corn is from Wisconsin, but the barley, rye and wheat come from Colorado.  Laws Whiskey distills the juice and ages it themselves, before bottling and selling.

The Laws distillery makes traditional straight bourbon, but for today’s taste, it’s the unique A.D. Laws Four Grain Straight Bourbon we’re trying.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: A.D. Laws Four Grain Straight Bourbon
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: A.D. Laws Four Grain Straight Bourbon

Now, bourbon by it’s legal description has to be made of at least 50% corn.  What makes up the other (up to) 50% is usually distillers choice.  Barley usually makes up a small percentage, with the rest being either a rye (spicier) or wheat (smoother).  Making a whiskey utilizing all four grains can be extremely tricky, as it involves balancing many flavors. Hence, there are very few four grain bourbons on the market.

It would make sense, however, that a craft distillery, with very good control on the source products they use, like Laws Distillery would be perfect to try this.  The Laws website is full of focus on the craftsmanship and patience employed.  Now their AD Laws Four Grain Bourbon is available throughout the country.  So how does it rate?

My take:

On first nose, I was surprised at the lack of sweetness.  There was an oak and leather, and a tinge of tobacco.  I also pulled a lot of baking spices that caught me off guard.  The Four Grain Bourbon is three years old, so I expected the sweetness of corn, but even after sitting out for a bit, the smell was allspice and oak, with a slight hint of dried raisin.

The Colorado distiller boasts that their whiskey ages year round, unlike Kentucky whiskey which ‘sleeps’ in the cold winter.  The fluctuations in Colorado mile high air supposedly keeps the whiskey maturing year round. I admit I was sceptical, but the nose certainly didn’t seem like such a young whiskey.

The taste was surprisingly mature too although not as tannic as the nose hinted at.  The leather and oak were most prominent, with a subtle tickle of spice, more clove than pepper.  But there was some sweetness now, albeit as a secondary flavor, with a hint of vanilla and the slightest bit of honey.  The mouth feel was medium – neither watery or creamy – and the youth of the drink showed through more in the second half, and subsequent drinks.  An ice cube opened up the flavor a bit, leaning toward the savory and added a bit of pepper.  It did taste young, like the individual elements weren’t fully absorbed, but it did taste like it was quality made.

The finish was medium, and had a bit of harshness to it.

Overall, its a unique and quality product by a craft spirit house that obviously cares about their product.  It is also refreshing to drink spirits that are more about the product and less about the story.  That said, this wouldn’t be a daily drinker for me – a bit too bitter, and a bit too young.  But kudos to Laws Distillery for their dedication to fine craftsmanship, and daring.

Dan’s rating: 7.8

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: John E. Fitzgerald Larceny

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: John E. Fitzgerald Larceny

It’s been a long summer for a baseball fan here in Detroit.  The Tiger’s have personified mediocrity this year and, with the small fire sale that we had last week (trading off David Price, Joakim Soria and Yoenis Céspedes) and the surprise dismissal of team architect Dave Dombrowski, we’re settled in for a pennant chase-less autumn for the first time in quite a few years.

It’s at moments like this one can turn to drinking – luckily for me there is a cabinet full of nice bourbon’s for me to try and write about, regardless of the Tigers score.  So we get back into the swing of things with a taste of Heaven Hill‘s wheated entry, Larceny.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: John E. Fitzgerald Larceny
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: John E. Fitzgerald Larceny

For those familiar with the blog, you know that I am a sucker for ‘wheated’ bourbons – that is, bourbons that use wheat instead of rye in the distillation.  Now of course rye or wheat are used sparingly in the distillation of bourbon proper anyway, but wheated bourbons have a more sweet, rounded flavor without much of the spicy punchiness rye brings as a grain.  Most of my favorite bourbons – W.L. Weller, Maker’s Mark, even Pappy Van Winkle (and the famous Jefferson Presidential Select 18 year) have been wheated bourbons.  So Larceny has an advantage right off of the bat.

Larceny is Heaven Hill’s entry into the wheated bourbon market, and they did so with a heaping helping of bourbon history and lore.  John E. Fitzgerald was a Treasury agent, responsible for watching and approving of the manufacture and storage of bourbon.  As the only man with the keys to the rick-houses, Fitzgerald supposedly had quite the palate, and would choose the finest barrels to…pilfer…whiskey from.  The distillery owner, S.C. Herbst, and many years later it’s purchaser, Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle, honored the crooked agent with discerning taste with the brand name “Old Fitzgerald.”

Old Fitzgerald, to which “Pappy” introduced the wheat, was produced by the Stitzel-Weller Distillery until, the brand was sold in the early 90s to Heaven Hill.  In 2012, Heaven Hill began bottling Larceny as an homage.  A true “small batch” consisting of 100 barrels of 6-12 year old wheated bourbon bottled at 92 proof, they sent Larceny into the market, albeit limited.

Larceny is, for example, still largely unavailable in Michigan, and it was only on one of my trips to Kentucky I was able to wrangle a bottle of the very affordably priced ($26) bourbon.  So how did it taste?

Dan’s take:

Right off the bat, Larceny has a nose that declares its wheated mashbill.  There is maple syrup, and a nice oakiness right from the start.  Let the glass sit for a few, and it opens up a little more to a butterscotch, toffee and even a hint of honey.  Blending with the oak, it makes for a nose that leans into a deep sweet aroma.

The taste was a little sharper than I anticipated – despite the lack of rye, the first sip had some bite to it.  The mouth feel was thinner than I expected for the recipe and age – it wasn’t thin like a young bourbon, but didn’t have the creaminess I expected.  That said, it had a great flavor – toffee was in front and strong, with tiny sparks of cinnamon behind it (which owed it’s presence to age instead of rye).  The drink was very smooth, and the toffee/vanilla with a little grit brought a smile to my face.

The finish was shorter than I expected, but very nice and smooth.  All in all, I enjoyed Larceny very much, but I suppose that’s not a surprise.  And for the price, I found it to be right on par with Maker’s Mark, and close to my beloved Old Weller 107.

Dan’s Rating: 8.3

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Mad Buffalo Thunderbeast Baby Buffalo Bourbon

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Mad Buffalo Thunderbeast Baby Buffalo Bourbon

I am extremely lucky in the fact that, because of my and my wife’s jobs, our situation and our hobbies, we get to travel a bit.  And aside from all of the usual joys of traveling – new places, sightseeing, and different foods, among others – we get to try regionally specific bourbons.  Trying something specific to a particular area is one of the things we enjoy the most, and with the explosion of regional distilleries in the past few years, the new things to try are more plentiful than ever.

I’ve focused on Michigan bourbons, Vermont bourbons, New York, Massachusetts, Colorado, among others.  Today, I turn my sights to Missouri.  I went to college there, long before the whiskey renaissance was in swing, and returned recently for a good friends nuptials (more on the drink we shared at a later time).  I was pleased to see how many new and locally crafted whiskies there were (as opposed to sourced/bottled/labeled).  With that in mind, I picked up a bottle of something I had never seen before, and took it home with me to try: Mad Buffalo Thunderbeast Baby Buffalo Bourbon.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Mad Buffalo Thunderbeast Baby Buffalo Bourbon
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Mad Buffalo Thunderbeast Baby Buffalo Bourbon

First thing first – Mad Buffalo distillery has renamed itself since creating the bottle I purchased, going by Coulter & Payne Farm Distillery.  A little bit of research explains why – this is truly a family endevour, and the names are representative of the family lines that both moonshined in Appalachia and farmed in Missouri.  The family decided to make the Union, Missouri farm into a distillery in 2011.

Right from the get-go, they created a “ground to glass” model, the ultimate in sustainability.  They use only non GMO grains, and plant, grow and harvest all of the ingredient crops right there on the farm, before distilling them and even barreling them in wood made from trees growing on the farm as well.  This is the ultimate in artisan craft, and is respectable in every way.  Currently they are making a variety of whiskies under the Coulter & Payne name, as well as a vodka and moonshine under the “Crop Circle” moniker.

So how is the juice?

Right off the bat, there is obviously something different about this bourbon.  At 80 proof and an age statement of “under 4 years,” it has a youth and lightness in the nose – strong corn, a touch of caramel and vanilla and a little maple.  But there is something else, something…floral.  Almost perfume-y. There is an air of fresh mowed grass, and flowers, something distinctively earthy.  It certainly confused me for several minutes and gave me pause.

The taste did not clarify things.  Again, the corn was in front, with a soft sweetness expected in such a young drink.  There was a soft caramel, a secondary note, and the mouth feel was not particularly thick, and more watery.  As it spread out along the taste buds, however, there was a strange sort of bitterness to it that brought to mind certain kinds of bitter greens like spinach.  It was earth, and my wife and I struggled to put our finger on it – dandelion?  kale?  Was it just the difference of not being cut with that limestone Kentucky water?  The finish was short, but a slight bitterness remained.  I couldn’t get past it.

When I added ice chips, the caramel and vanilla disappeared all together and the corn and bitter was all that remained, with a touch of spiciness around the corners.  This taste was so distracting that I even checked my glass to make sure I didn’t have a little soap residue from the last washing.

I was bummed.  I love everything about what they are doing, from an artisan and environmental standpoint.  But with the bitterness, I am afraid this bottle is destined for the Manhattan/Sidecar collection.

Dan’s Rating: 6.3

Looking at the website, it looks as though the bottle I purchased was from 2014 or even 2013.  Since then, in addition to the name change, they have introduced a host of new products including a Single Barrel and a Cask Strength.  It is the cask strength I would most like to try, to see if the bitterness came from the water or was even limited to this particular bottling.  I strongly encourage them to keep making whiskey in these new, great ways, and I do sincerely hope to try it again with better results.

For more about craft distilling in Missouri, check out this article from Feast Magazine, 2012

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Kings County Distillery Bourbon

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Kings County Distillery Bourbon

I’m back.  Not that you necessarily noticed I was missing, but I took a short sabbatical from reviewing and posting about bourbon (don’t worry, I took no sabbatical from drinking it!) to take care of some things and recharge.  And I’m glad to say I’ve come out the other side refreshed, recharged and ready to go!  In the summer months ahead, I have a ton of whiskies to review, ballparks to cover and other fun reads to post.  So on with the show.

I certainly hope everyone had a great Memorial Day weekend – I certainly did, with a trip to see friends and family get married in St. Louis and New York City, respectively.  Not only were my journeys an opportunity for my wife and I to spend time with many great people we do not see enough – it was also an opportunity to pick up and try some tasty regional bourbons.  That’s where we start today – with Brooklyn’s own Kings County Distillery Bourbon.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Kings County Distillery Bourbon Whiskey
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Kings County Distillery Bourbon Whiskey

Kings County Distillery has been on the scene for a little while now.  Founded in 2010 in a building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Kings County Distillery is the definition of artisan distilling.  They do not and have never sourced their liquor, distilling and aging it on site. Even the grains come from a nearby Brooklyn farm, and their pride in sustainable, local distilling is strong.

I first became aware of Kings County this year at the Bourbon Classic, where Master Blender Nicole Austin joined a host of bourbon and whiskey legends for the panel discussions and tastings.  Unfortunately for me, the Kings County booth proved so popular that I never got a chance to make my way up for a sample.  No mind, I was in NYC and it seemed an ample opportunity to check it out.

I had hoped to give the distillery a tour – and will make a point to in the future – but on this trip time was tight, so I used the distillery’s handy site and found a store right by our hotel where I could purchase a bottle.  (As a note, if you are in NYC and looking for a fantastic collection of whiskey, check out Bowery and Vine if you haven’t already.  Great selection, and fun service.)  Bottle gotten, and back home – time for a tasting.

Dan’s take: First thing first, I do love the packaging.  A hip flask bottle befitting a local distillery with a throwback touch.  I do wish I was able to pick up a fifth, as a pint or half-pint were the only choices available.  That said, it’s a pricey pour at $45 a pint, so my wallet is happy for the smaller size.

The color was a rich amber, not so young as to give away the relatively young age (anywhere from 1-4 years).  Kings County makes their bourbon from NY corn and UK barley – they don’t mention rye – and the nose is very strong of the sweet corn smell.  There is an almost perfume-like note as well, like dried raisin and honey. It took a few minutes to fully open (it is 90 proof), and when it did, the corn was most present.

The mouth feel was thick and slick, with a viscosity I also didn’t expect.  It was soft, and buttery, and made for a most enjoyable sip. Admittedly, it tasted young, and not as sweet as the nose, but very smooth.  Hints of cinnamon and light caramel presented, but I didn’t note any vanilla or maple.  There was no bitterness to speak of, and the corn sweetness carried it through to the finish.  Again, cinnamon was obvious in the finish, but it would not be unfair to say that the smoothness, rather than any particular flavor, was the primary observation.  The finish was relatively short, without a real burn.

Blind tasting it, I may have known it was young, but how young I wouldn’t have suspected.  It does not have the complexity of an 8/10/12 year pour, but does have a sweet smooth finish rarely found in something so new.  Overall, I was impressed.  This is a nice bourbon, distinctly…well, Brooklyn!

Dan’s take: 8.3

(Don’t worry, more NYC songs are coming with future reviews!)

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon

Rough week here in the “D,” losing Max Scherzer to the Washington Nationals.  It’s bad enough they fleeced us on the Doug Fister deal a year ago, now they are just getting greedy.  I’m especially sad to see him go, because aside from being a Cy Young Award pitcher, he was a fellow Mizzou guy.  Oh well, sounds like the perfect excuse to go and drink the troubles away.

And there are increasingly more and more places to partake of the finer things (namely whiskey) as the “bourbon boom” continues.  Here in Detroit, we have become home to several start-up distilleries.  In the next couple weeks, I’ll discuss them – and their corresponding tasting rooms – at greater length.  This week, I ventured to one of the hipper new distilleries – the Detroit City Distillery.

The Detroit City Distillery opened last year in Detroit’s historic Eastern Market.  Only the second licensed distillery to open in Detroit in 80 years (the first was Two James, which we will discuss soon), it was the brain child of a group of close friends with a passion for booze and urban revitalization.

They began by distilling their own vodka and whiskey, as well as preparing for gin, which will be out ‘soon.’ But what about bourbon?

Bourbon is one of the trickier offerings for any start-up distillery.  There are laws and rules regulation how bourbon has to be prepared, aged and bottled.  I won’t break them all down here (a good explanation can be found here), but the hardest one is the aging.  For a bourbon to be called “straight bourbon,” it has to have spent at least two years in the barrel.  If it’s younger than four years, it must have an age statement on the bottle.  So to make bourbon, a new distillery has to sink the money into storage, and barrels, grains and equipment and…wait.

There are, of course, ways around this.  The most popular way is to “source” bourbon, buying from another (often mass quantity produced) distiller and bottle/label it with the new brand name.  Many of the newer distilleries in Michigan are doing this, and Detroit City Distillery is too – sort of.

For their Two-Faced Bourbon, DCD is taking a five year old sourced bourbon and blending it with their own very young (6 month old) house made bourbon, in a 51%-49% mix – hence the name “Two Faced.”  Since their bourbon is locally sourced (including corn from St. Clair County here in Michigan), it is truly reflective of their own recipe (which is high in rye), but has some of the age of an older bourbon.

DCD is very open about this process, unlike other distilleries that are sourcing and a little less forthcoming about it.  And stopping into their speakeasy style tasting room in Eastern Market, one needs only look at their artisan cocktail list to see they are trying to do something both retro and inventive, with a great deal of respect paid to the craftsmanship.

The entrance to the Detroit City Distillery
The entrance to the Detroit City Distillery

With my good friend Eric Oliver joining me, we sat down at the bar to try the bourbon, as well as a few other drinks.  The long bar is impressive – it is made of reclaimed wood from another Detroit building – and the soft lighting and exposed beams set a nice ambiance.  Glasses were poured, toasts were made, bourbon was consumed.

 

 

 

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon

Dan’s take:

Right from the nose, this dog has some bite.  While only 94 proof, the first scent was hot, almost like a high-proof rye would be.  Given a minute, the heat started to part and opened to an unsurprising corn and spice.  There were hints of almond and a touch of toffee, but the prevailing smell was corn.

The taste was softer than I expected.  Fiery on the front, the bourbon has those high-rye pepper notes, with a touch of cinnamon and allspice, but the younger corn seemed to temper it well.  Nutmeg and a slight bitter – almost coffee – were present.  It had a thin mouth feel, almost watery, but that works to it’s advantage – thicker would cause the spice to linger too long.  There was a soft sweetness as well, part corn and part caramel.

The finish was hot but not lingering.  There was a pepper to the finish, and it was the first time I detected a touch of oak. Most of all, there was that ever-present corn, soft and subtle.

The recipe for Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon seems good – it was not overly simple, and blended nicely with the older sourced bourbon.  As a sipping whiskey, it could use more aging to add complexity and depth.  As a main ingredient in some of the totally unique cocktails they are preparing at their tasting room, it works very very nicely.

Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon is not yet available at distributors, but will be soon.  The price point – like most micro-distillers – is still on the higher side ($50 for 750mL), but there is something to be said for buying local now, isn’t there.

And the Tasting Room is well worth a visit!

Dan’s Rating: 7.5

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel

Happy holidays! Hopefully you all had a wonderful holiday season as we did here at Baseball and Bourbon, sipping fine bourbon by the fire with loved ones.  We were spoiled here, with a few new bourbons finding their way into our tasting collection as well as some well loved regulars. I can’t wait to pop the cork on all of them, and today I start with a bottle of Col. E. H. Taylor Jr. Single Barrel.

EH Taylor is one of the many labels produced by our friends at Buffalo Trace.  Taylor himself has been referred to as the “father of modern bourbon,”  due to his strict adherence to better bourbon and whiskey aging practices and his importance and influence in getting the “Bottled in Bond” Act of 1897 (the Act required that spirits labeled as “Bonded”or “Bottled-in-Bond” must be the product of one distiller at one distillery during one distillation season. It also required that bonded spirits be aged in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least four years and bottled at 100 proof).

Taylor also bought and expanded a distillery on the Kentucky river that survives today as… Buffalo Trace!  So when BT launched it’s E. H. Taylor line of whiskeys, it was made up of spirits aged in the actual Taylor warehouses and using the Taylor recipes.

There are a collection of Taylor products – Small Batch, Single Barrel, Barrel Proof, Straight Rye – all of which are aged in the famous Warehouse C on the Buffalo Trace campus, and most considered exceptional.  So how does this stories bourbon hold up?

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. Single Barrel

In short, spectacular.  The Col. E. H. Taylor Single Barrel that we sampled was a complex and impressive pour.  There is no barrel or batch information on the packaging or bottle, so I can’t note which bottles it shares traits with.  There is also no age statement – an internet search came back with anything between 7 and 12 years.  Armed with…surprisingly little knowledge, we dove ahead.

(Ed. Note – Buffalo Trace media relations has let me know that the 2014 E. H. Taylor is “between 9-10 years old”)

Dan’s Take:

First of all, the color is quite dark, and made me wonder more about the age.  It was a deep amber, more akin to a 15 year old than a 7.  It caught me off guard, to be honest.

The nose kept me off guard.  There was a sharp bite to the nose – while 100 proof is obviously pretty potent, it had the alcohol burn of a barrel proof.  I backed off a bit, and found myself swimming in the scent of vanilla, cinnamon, toasted oak, a hint of butterscotch and, present and growing as the glass opened, black licorice.

The taste presented what the nose hinted to.  As a small sip, the EH Taylor Single Barrel has a thick almost creaminess to it, with a good push of corn and buttery caramel on the front.  The middle opened up to a spiciness that belies it’s relatively low rye content – cinnamon, all spice, even a bitter dark chocolate, with a peppery, spicy finish.

With a larger sip, the front burns a little more – again that 100 proof seems more like 120 – and while it retains the buttery sweetness in the front, slight bitter in the middle (more oak and tobacco is evident that in the small sip) it has a very long and potent finish, with oak, spice and a hint of peppermint.

The Col. E. H. Taylor is not the most of anything – not the sweetest, or spiciest, or most complex.  But it is a well rounded bourbon, easy sipping and very smooth.  Perfect for a fire and maybe ushering in the new year?

My rating: 8.5