A trip to visit Pappy…and Four Roses, Willett, Wild Turkey…Part Two

A trip to visit Pappy…and Four Roses, Willett, Wild Turkey…Part Two

Summer has finally come to Michigan, with heat, humidity and thunderstorms.  What better time to continue with the blog about the Pappy For Your Pappy dinner and Kentucky trip?

As I mentioned in my earlier blog, I was feeling pretty ill the first day of our Kentucky trip, and by the time we left Four Roses, I was becoming very concerned: would this stomach bug keep me from the Pappy tasting and dinner at Buffalo Trace?  I didn’t want to think about it, but the truth was, it was a real possibility.  My wife and I discussed, and decided to keep on moving, make a trip to a few of Kentucky’s finer liquor stores in search of new hooch, then head to Wild Turkey to take in the sights and tastes.

This plan was doomed from the start.  We drove to Lexington, to shop at the massive Liquor Barn store, and were able to procure a few spirits not available here in the mitten state (as well as a case of the outstanding Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale).  We then backtracked to the Wild Turkey distillery, hoping to catch a mid-afternoon tour…

Bourbon Aisle at the Liquor Barn
Bourbon Aisle at the Liquor Barn
Wishbone at Wild Turkey
Wishbone at Wild Turkey

Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.  We had just missed one tour, and would have to wait an hour for the next one.  In my state, that did not seem like a great idea – certainly not with a delicious dinner and some Pappy Van Winkle waiting for me!  Luckily, the Wild Turkey visitor center has a nice set of displays dedicated to the history of the drink, as well as the legacy of Master Distillers Jimmy and Eddie Russell.  We wandered around the nice grounds and looked at the displays, until finally it was time to try to get a little rest and hope to feel better for the big event.

And in large part – it worked!  I may have still been a little queasy, but when the time came to head to Buffalo Trace Distillery and have a dinner and tasting with the Van Winkles, I seemed to shake it off.  I’ve been to the beautiful Buffalo Trace distillery before, so we decided to skip the tour this time, for restful purposes.

Buffalo Trace Distillery
Buffalo Trace Distillery

Now, one thing I’d really like to mention is how nice, personable and kindly every person we have ever met affiliated with Buffalo Trace has been.  This year was no exception.  As I mentioned before, the tickets for this year’s Pappy dinner were a popular item, and I’m sure they have more than had their hands full with it.  But, just as last year, every person was sweet and wonderful, even remembering the names of my family members that had purchased us the tickets before check-in.

We made our way over to the Elmer T. Lee Clubhouse to find our seat, and have a cocktail before dinner.  Just as last year, the room was adorned beautifully, with candles in Pappy Van Winkle bottles on every table, the tasting glasses out and poured, and tables numbered.

A Well Dressed Table
A Well Dressed Table

One of the great parts of a dinner like this is sitting and talking with other bourbon enthusiasts, and we certainly had a great time with that.  Our table had wonderfully nice and interesting people, and we were pleased to find out we were sitting with Tim Beckelhimer and Larry Parece, who run The Bourbon Guys blog (http://www.thebourbonguys.com/).  Over a lovely dinner of salad, asparagus and steak, we talked about what brought all of us to bourbon, what is available where we live (a father and daughter at the table came in from Louisiana and North Carolina, respectively), and our fondness for that rarest of drinks, Pappy Van Winkle.

Julian and Preston Van Winkle took the microphone, and led us through the tasting of each of this years tasting selections: the 12 year Family Reserve and the 15, 20 and 23 year bourbons.  As always, they were amazing…with one exception.

The 20 Year Pappy Van Winkle, which no less than Preston Van Winkle referred to as “the one that put us on the map,” tasted…very weak.  Like 40 proof week.  Had someone snuck a sample and replaced the precious drink with water?  We will never know…

But the other four were, of course, fantastic.  Even the 23 was a little smoother than when I had last tasted it.   Then they open up the floor for questions.  It was very similar to last year (Any tips to finding Pappy? How does my state get more?), with a few new ones.  One person asked the difference between Weller and Van Winkle, which both use an identical recipe.  Julian explained that it was a matter of selection (all Van Winkles are sampled and chosen by the father and son team, and are stored uniquely in the middle of the barrelhouse), where as Weller takes the rest, and then blends their final product.  There was talk about the theft (no one was ever arrested, and Julian suggested that no one would be, after police interest ironically dried up post-election)and the history of Van Winkle, Stitzel-Weller.

Julian and Preston Van Winkle
Julian and Preston Van Winkle

After the Q and A, the Van Winkles retreated back to the Buffalo Trace Visitor Center, where they were on hand to sign items, and answer questions.  I said hello, and then we headed for the hotel.  We had another big day ahead of us.

Preston Van WInkle, Julian Van Winkle and Dan
Preston Van WInkle, Julian Van Winkle and Dan

A Visit to Grand Traverse Distillery!

A Visit to Grand Traverse Distillery!

It’s been a little quiet around here at Baseball and Bourbon, although not for a lack of activity.  In the last month, I’ve taken a few short trips, and have a few more coming up.  A visit to Maryland and Washington DC last month allowed me to both hunt down some bourbons and ryes that I hadn’t been able to find in Michigan, and take in a ballgame at Nationals Park in DC. Next week, I’ve been lucky enough to (thanks to my sister and mother) procure tickets to the Pappy For Your Pappy event at Buffalo Trace for the second year.  Lot’s of exciting things to write about! But more immediately, my wife and I spent last weekend in Northern Michigan for the wedding of our friends Brandon and Julie.  In between the fudge on Mackinac Island and some para-sailing, we had a chance to visit the Grand Traverse Distillery in Traverse City!

Dan in front of barrels of Grand Traverse Whiskey
Dan in front of barrels of Grand Traverse Whiskey

I’ve sampled the wares of the Grand Traverse Distillery several times, including making their bourbon my Bourbon of the Week in August of 2013.  I’m also fond of their Cherry Flavored Whiskey as a fun mixer.  So when we decided to visit Traverse City, Michigan as part of our trip, a stop in seemed in order.

The tasting room at the Grand Traverse Distillery
The tasting room at the Grand Traverse Distillery

The first thing that will surprise you on visit is that the Distillery has a less than picturesque location.  That is to say it’s in the middle of an industrial park on the outskirts of Traverse City, in a less-than-glamorous warehouse looking building.  I was afraid I had taken us to the wrong location, but upon walking in, knew that I had been correct.  Through the front doors is a lobby/gift shop/tasting room, with a bartender on call to mix a cocktail, give you distillery information and ring up your purchase or tour.  My wife and I each had a cocktail (mine whiskey, hers gin), and we awaited the start of our tour! Now, one thing of note right away is that Grand Traverse DOES actually produce their own bourbon (as opposed to sourcing it).  There are very few distillers in Michigan who can say that (if any?), so as you step into the modest size warehouse their still is all the more impressive. Not only is the Grand Traverse Distillery distilling their own spirits, they use almost exclusively locally sourced grains to do it – their corn, wheat, rye, and obviously cherries, are all locally sourced, The entire area is small enough to take it all in visually in a few minutes, but the step by step walk-through tour is much more in depth.  Our guide showed us where the grains are delivered, the fermenting process, and their copper still, where they make a variety of different products (whiskey, vodka, gin, and hope to introduce a rum soon).

Grand Traverse fermenters
Grand Traverse fermenters
...then, on to the copper still!
…then, on to the copper still!
There is goodness cooking in there!
There is goodness cooking in there!

When explaining their bourbon, it was pointed out that all of their barrels use a number 4 char, and, the average barrel age is about 3 years (although there are some they are holding on to for later release).  The barrels are all stored in the warehouse, which is only moderately temperature controlled (some heat in winter), but they do not rotate or move barrels between sealing and opening.

Grand Traverse Bourbon barrel, charred at a #4
Grand Traverse Bourbon barrel, charred at a #4
Barreled up
Barreled up

After a 45 minute tour including a question and answer, we retreated back to the tasting room to sample some of the Grand Traverse spirits.  I thoroughly enjoyed the Ole George Rye, and while I still find the Grand Traverse Bourbon a bit rough and tumble, it is still a good quality.  It is a higher rye content than I like in my bourbon, but for those who like spicier notes, it’s a solid choice. They are opening a new tasting room in downtown Traverse City, to match ones they have in other cities around Michigan.  The tour was very enjoyable, and well worth the time and money.  Good job Grand Traverse Distillery – keep doing it well!

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Russell’s Reserve 10 Year

After a slight sabbatical consisting of a trip to Baltimore (where my hotel overlooked Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and I was able to watch the closing innings of the Toronto Blue Jays at the Baltimore Orioles from the comfort of my hotel room) and, of course, Easter, I am back to review a bourbon that is neither rare nor indie, but that I found absolutely outstanding: Russell’s Reserve 10 Year.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Russell's Reserve 10 Year
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Russell’s Reserve 10 Year

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!

Russell's Reserve 10 day at Dan's work
Russell’s Reserve 10 day at Dan’s work

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.

Dan’s Rating: 9.1

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: John B. Stetson Bourbon

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: John B. Stetson Bourbon

I’ve been spoiled a bit lately with the bourbons I’ve been sampling.  Pappy Van Winkle, Eagle Rare 17, even the local spirits have been impressive. And I have plenty more quality beverages to sample in the near future.  But today I turn my attention to a bit of an odd one: The John B. Stetson Bourbon.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: John B. Stetson Bourbon
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: John B. Stetson Bourbon

Now, I appreciate a good Stetson hat.  Growing up with a love for country music, how couldn’t I?  But a Bourbon produced for a company famous for hats and western clothes – color me skeptical.

I purchased the bottle in Kentucky, unaware that it was available here in Michigan.  It’s certainly an attractive enough bottle, with it’s leather tie and old style label.

My take: On pour, this bourbon is light.  Very light.  Not at all the darker hues I’m used to, it has an amber clearness to it.  Looking online, the belief is that it is a four-year-old bourbon, and there is much speculation as to where the juice is sourced from, before being labeled and bottled for the Stetson company.

The nose reflects this – it is light and airy at first, and slowly opens up to reveal a corn syrup smell, with a sharp alcohol bite.  It’s a rye/wheat blend (in addition to the usual barley and, of course, corn), but has only the lightest spiciness (baking spices, not pepper) in the smell.

To me it tasted very much as I suspected it would: very light and almost watery with a corn sugar opening.  It never really heats up too much, and while very light hints of allspice, and a trace of butterscotch are present, it tastes…young.  The finish is quite smooth, but very short, and didn’t burn at all (which is fine with me).

If you gave me the choice between this and a Stetson hat, I’d probably take the hat.  But it’s not a bad bourbon, just a little young and a little light for my tastes.

Dan’s rating: 7.3

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Artisan Spirits Black River Bourbon Brewers Whiskey

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Artisan Spirits Black River Bourbon Brewers Whiskey

Some days, you can’t wait to get home and pour a nice glass of bourbon to celebrate a job well done. Other days, it’s a nice relaxing way to end a hard days work. But sometimes, sometimes you need that drink, to help you remember that the working day is over and to remind your self that your toils are not for naught.

Now, dear reader, I hope that most of your days fall into the first category, with a few in the second. But when those third kind of days arise, that may well be why God gave us bourbon in the first place.

Now Monday and Tuesday weren’t so bad, not really. Just the kind of days where little fires sprung up all day, and there never seems to be enough water to put them all out. Luckily for me, at days end I was in luck: I had brought a new bottle of bourbon into work to ask our staff photographer (and my good friend) Mike Tesh to take a picture of it for this website. Seeing as how it was days end, after all, I certainly saw no harm in sharing some of this new drink.

I’m also lucky to work at a place with a few like minded individuals. So without further ado, I also grabbed fellow bourbon enthusiast Josh McAllister and Katie Gleason to join us.  Today’s bourbon of choice came to us from the New Holland Artisan Collection, a collection of which I have tried several different brandings already. Just a few weeks back I spoke to the fun of their Beer Barrel Bourbon, and I’m hoping to get a review posted in the next couple of weeks about one of my favorite whiskeys made by them, the Zeppelin Bend.

Today we tried the smaller batch Brewers Whiskey they have named Black River Bourbon.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Artisan Spirits Black River Bourbon Brewers Whiskey. Photo by Mike Tesh
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Artisan Spirits Black River Bourbon Brewers Whiskey. Photo by Mike Tesh

The Black River bourbon bottle states it was pot distilled and aged in new American oak, as all bourbon should be. From what I have read, it is my understanding that they barrel this whiskey in smaller barrels to accelerate the aging process. I may have my doubts about the successfulness of aging a bourbon more quickly by changing the barrel size. That said, we all poured a small glass, and went to work, albeit in a more utilitarian setting then I am accustomed to.

Josh, myself and Katie try a little bourbon
Josh, myself and Katie try a little bourbon

Our take: if you have read this blog before, you know I have a pretty simple way of judging and rating Bourbons by my palate. First, I try all Bourbons straight. No ice, no mixing, just straight from the bottle to the glass. If a bourbon is impressive in a glass by itself, then it needs no mixing. My favorite Bourbons are all ones that could be had in a glass, neat.

It needs proves to be harsh, or unimpressive, then I will add in a few chips of ice. There are certainly wonderful Bourbons that really don’t become themselves until there is a little ice added. Woodford Reserve, for instance, never tastes right to me without a few rocks in the glass. Woodford may not be my favorite bourbon, but it is certainly a good bourbon and a very nice pour.

If those two methods haven’t given me enough to impress, I will try a bourbon in a mixed drink. A Manhattan, a whiskey sour, etc. Personally I rarely like mixed drinks, so that really is a last method of finding something I like about any particular bourbon. Again, there are fine Bourbons that go well in Manhattans that I wouldn’t necessarily drink straight or on the rocks. But if I had to mix you too enjoy you, you aren’t going to rate very high with me.

Unfortunately, the Black River Bourbon falls somewhere between that second and third category. It’s nose was relatively unimpressive.  There was the strong scent of corn, with an undercurrent of oak. I could pick out raisins, and some earthy tones, but mostly it was the corn and wood.

The taste could only be described as young. The mouth feel was very thin, and as Josh had pointed out to me quickly, there was an emptiness of body. The predominant taste was that of Oakwood. There was a subtle hint of cigar box, some light nuttiness and a general burnt sugar that never grew into something greater, like molasses for brown sugar, but rather, stayed with a slight singed taste.

The finish was mellow, and again the wood returned. There was nothing disagreeable, or unpleasant about this bourbon. Just unremarkable. As we drank our second set, we all agreed: there wasn’t much to say negative about this bourbon, there just wasn’t anything that positive to say either.

Not all efforts are winners. Buffalo trace, four instance, takes big risks with their Single Oak Project, and their experimental bourbon line. If this is an effort that New Holland is using to refine their process, the good news is they’ve made a quality bourbon. It just isn’t anything special. Not yet anyway.

As for us, well, as Josh and I joked, the worst day drinking bourbon at work beats the best day not!”

Dan’s Rating: 6.9

Bourbon Classic Day Two: Day-drinking

Bourbon Classic Day Two: Day-drinking

Saturday morning opened with clouds in Louisville, but that did not put a damper of any kind on the Bourbon Classic, or our trip in general. We woke up relatively early, and went to meet a gentleman from whom I purchased a bottle of Weller 12 Year (unavailable in Michigan) for later review.

I would like to say this about Kentucky – I have now met with several third-party “craigslist” style sellers to procure bottles not available, or hard to find, in Michigan – and have found there is a genuine friendliness in these exchanges that I have not found anywhere else.  Maybe it’s just better manners, but my wife and I were chatted up, about bourbon and life in general by every ‘collector’s market’ person we met.  Here in Michigan, the same transactions are tense as a TV drug deal, and all of the friendliness too.

We wondered over to a store called Vault Liquor and added a few more bottles of more accessible bourbon to our hall with the help of the friendly gentleman behind the counter of this round, strangely set-up store.

From there, it was back to the Classic, and it did not disappoint.

Master Distillers & Brand Legends: Wes Henderson, Angel's Envy; Fred Noe, Jim Beam; Harlen Wheatley, Buffalo Trace; Tom Bulleit, Bulleit Bourbon; Daniel Preston, Cacao Prieto Artisan Distillery; Colin Spoelman, King's County Distillery; Willie Pratt, Michter's; Dave Schmier, Redemption Bourbon; Drew Kulsveen, Willett; Jimmy Russell, Wild Turkey
Master Distillers & Brand Legends: Wes Henderson, Angel’s Envy;
Fred Noe, Jim Beam;
Harlen Wheatley, Buffalo Trace;
Tom Bulleit, Bulleit Bourbon;
Daniel Preston, Cacao Prieto Artisan Distillery;
Colin Spoelman, King’s County Distillery;
Willie Pratt, Michter’s;
Dave Schmier, Redemption Bourbon;
Drew Kulsveen, Willett; Jimmy Russell, Wild Turkey

The Classic kicked off with a panel discussion where some of the biggest and most famous Master Distillers, as well as some younger up-and-comers, talked frankly about bourbon trends, tastes, the future of the industry, how to maintain quality but be inventive, and many other topics.  It was extremely fun, but also incredibly informative.  Some of the things I noted:

  • They all were in agreement that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with micro-distilleries or start-up labels outsourcing the actual alcohol production, but that the quality comes into question depending more on which supplier they use, and how involved they were in the recipe (as opposed to buying bulk leftovers).
  • They also agreed that there is an incredibly high demand for all bourbon right now, so it will be very hard and expensive for new micro-distilleries to start.
  • Fred Noe from Jim Beam said he truly doesn’t anticipate any changes to the Beam model, recipe or productions once the Suntory purchase is finalized, and that it has the most to do with expanding markets, not changing products.
  • Jimmy Russell, the legendary Master Distiller from Wild Turkey, pointed out the changing demographics of the bourbon audience.  “It used to be old men, going into the backroom at the bar, and having a cigar…playing poker,” he said, then pointing out the audience is now as diverse as the brands themselves.
  • There was some disagreeing over whether or not the aging process could be hurried or enhanced by other methods.  Most of the panel felt strongly that you can’t rush aging and attempts to do so are failures.  Daniel Preston, from Cacao Prieto, disagreed, and pointed to investments made in limestone mines where the barrels can be heated and cooled daily, and therefore, aged faster.  This was met with much skepticism.
  • A reminder that, as bourbon is an aged process, true market research is difficult – higher production today takes years to hit the market, and if the market is slower, there can be significant financial loss.

We left this fun session and went to the first of our breakout sessions, Bourbon Flavors with chef Ouita Michel of the Holly Hill Inn.

Chef Ouita Michel, Holly Hill Inn, walks us through bourbon taste profiles
Chef Ouita Michel, Holly Hill Inn, walks us through bourbon taste profiles

Now, I had expected this session to be more about recognizing flavors in bourbon itself, but it was more of a lesson in taste pairings between bourbon and food.  Using a variety of different tastes, and Woodford Reserve bourbon, we sampled and noted how sharing each sip with a food taste enhanced the overall experience.

Food pairings with Woodford Reserve
Food pairings with Woodford Reserve

As we sampled dark chocolate, Parmesan cheese, orange, dried cherries, hazelnuts and sorghum, we tasted Woodford and enjoyed.

Next, it was a more formal food session with Albert Schmid, National Center for Hospitality Studies, Sullivan University.  Here, Chef Schmid walked us through some do’s and don’ts of cooking with bourbon, and showed us two recipes that we then got to sample – a bourbon chicken and Woodford Pudding.

Albert Schmid, National Center for Hospitality Studies, Sullivan University
Albert Schmid, National Center for Hospitality Studies, Sullivan University

Both were delicious (we got to sample each), and when it adjourned, it was time for the Ultimate Bourbon Experience.

This is an amazing thing – there is plentiful delicious food – beef tenderloin, pork tenderloin, corn pudding, sausage stuffed mushrooms, and on and on – and you walk through the lobby and main areas with a bourbon glass, getting samples from and chatting with representatives from almost all of the major and many smaller distilleries.

For review purposes, this isn’t the best way.  But for sheer enjoyment, most definitely! We started at Angels Envy, sampling the A.E. Rye, then moved on to the Western Spirits display, makers of the Calumet Farm bourbon I’ve spoke highly of.  To be honest, the representative there was not very helpful in talking about the bourbons, and didn’t particularly seem interested in it.  Disappointing, but I had a drink of their Lexington bourbon and moved on.

Nelson’s Green Brier distillery has a great story, and it was a pleasure hearing Charlie Nelson tell it.  The Belle Meade bourbon was distinctive, and I hope to get a bottle to review here in Michigan soon.  From there we wandered longer, stopping for a bite, then a drink. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Prudence dictated we head back to our hotel at a decent enough time to take off for home bright and early (to prepare for a Super Bowl party we host), but I cannot say enough great things about this event.  It was truly a great time, and I hope to return next year.  Fantastic.

bourbon. Mmmmmmm
bourbon. Mmmmmmm

Bourbon Classic Day One: Cocktails for two

Bourbon Classic Day One: Cocktails for two

After a month of anticipation, I am here in Louisville Kentucky for the Bourbon Classic, and so far it has been tremendous fun. We got in late afternoon yesterday, with enough time to check into the beautiful and unique 21c Museum hotel, and get ready for the event itself starting at 7:00.

Welcome to the Bourbon Classic
Welcome to the Bourbon Classic

This is the Bourbon Classic’s second year, and the presentation last evening was fantastic. For last night’s sampling and competition, several different bourbon brands pared up with some fantastic chefs and mixologists to prepare small plate tastings and cocktails.

Each distillery/chef had a table serving area, and visitors were free to walk up to each one and try the dish, cocktail, or ideally, the pairing of both. The bourbons represented some of the best and most well known in the industry: Angels Envy, Jim Beam, Woodford Reserve, Buffalo Trace, Michters, Blantons and Wild Turkey. We started out on the far side of the convention hall, with Angels Envy, who served up a beef satay with green chili grits, a deviled egg, and paired it with a Boulevardier cocktail. A delicious pairing for, A.E. and Chef Terry French (winner of the Food Network’s “Extreme Chef” contest in 2012).

Chef Terry French at the Angel's Envy table
Chef Terry French at the Angel’s Envy table

The treats kept coming – Highlights included the Sable Manhattan mixed by Issac Fox of Volare using Jim Beam black (delish!), Woodford Reserve and Chef Bobby Benjamin paired up for a chicken and waffles that was truly breathtakingly good, and the work of Blantons and Proof on Main Chef Levon Wallace.

Chef Levon Wallace of Proof on Main pairs with Blanton's
Chef Levon Wallace of Proof on Main pairs with Blanton’s

Now, my love of Blanton’s is known to readers, so it’s hardly shocking I would find this to be my favorite pairing. But the taste of Chef Wallace’s Lamb scrapple with red eye hollandaise and cornbread fried in duck fat, paired with a Blantons based Fancy Free was the highlight for Jen and I. Both were delicious, and went together so nicely, that we had to give Chef Wallace our compliments – and it was our great pleasure to find him to be a fantastic guy to boot! Suffice to say, we look forward to eating at Proof on Main next time we are in Louisville, and enjoying the fantastic foods.

Chef Levon Wallace talks with Jen and I
Chef Levon Wallace talks with Jen and I

After the first pass through, many of the brands and chefs started rolling out second options, and dear reader, that’s where my notes fall off. We met some wonderful people, like the aforementioned Issac Fox and Chef Wallace, and made some new friends. We spent a good portion of the evening chatting with Gregory and Chris, two very nice gentlemen from Virginia who headed here for a bit of a college reunion. We also met a pair of ladies who are are close to launch on a Bourbon-lifestyle centered website, and who kindly directed us to some other local cuisine to try.

Today is day two, with some learning sessions and more tastings this afternoon and evening. We drove around Louisville a bit today, procured some future bourbon of the week bottles, and ate lunch at the fantastic Garage Bar. We’ve met some wonderful people – from knowledgeable collectors who have helped me augment my own, to the chefs, restaurant managers and people here at the hotel, so far everyone has been fantastic. On to day two!

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year

T-minus two days until I head to Louisville, KY with my lovely wife for the Bourbon Classic.  I could not be more excited – and I will be posting updates all weekend as I partake in all the bourbon culture this weekend promises.  Plus, I will get to escape the Polar Vortex madness that has settled on the great lakes!

For those curious, the Bourbon Classic is a (now) annual convention/conference/event bringing together distilleries, writers, speakers, master distillers, chefs, mixologists and just about anybody else interested in bourbon for a two day event in downtown Louisville.  This will be my first time going, so I am ready for a weekend of learning about and thoroughly enjoying all it has to offer.

With such a fine event on the horizon, it seemed the best time to pick a sure thing for my bourbon of the week.  And today, that means none other than the legend itself, Pappy Van Winkle. In this case, the 15 year.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year

 

I won’t waste your -or my – time recapping the Pappy Van Winkle story. What I will do is review this elusive bottle for those who, like me, have had a *difficult* (read: impossible) time procuring the drink. Hopefully, it can help someone decide for themselves – is it worth it?

When I say “worth it,” I am referring to the hunt for Pappy, or to pay the increasingly higher prices enthusiasts find when searching. For taste alone, I’m not sure ANY bourbon is worth the hundreds of dollars PVW commands. Many of those who are dropping hundreds of dollars for this, or any other rare whiskey, are doing it more for the prestige of having the bottle in their collection than the taste or quality. But that does not mean that PVW does not have those things. It actually has them in spades.

My take: I’ve had the PVW 15 before, and have actually had this bottle for a year and a half before reviewing. Most notably, I had it at Buffalo Trace Distillery at a Pappy Van Winkle tasting event last year, where I sampled the 12, 15, 20 and 23 year. For my taste profile, the 20 year was best (a little smoother, a bit more stately) but many say the 15 year is the perfect bourbon, and I can see why.

It’s nose is unparalleled. At 107 proof, you expect the bite of alcohol, but won’t find it here. Instead, a sweet mix of cinnamon and honey, maple syrup, honey and a bit of sharp oak comes forth. I held the glass to my nose again and again, absolutely in love with its aroma.

The first sip is sharp – the charred oak mixes with a delightful caramel and it’s creamy texture almost separates on your tongue. There is that sweet thick vanilla caramel on the front, and toffee. In the back, the cinnamon pours out, with more oak and a husk spice that is unique in a wheated bourbon. It’s not harsh, but rather, smooth and strong. Clove and more oak come forward if you hold your sip a bit longer.

Then the finish – very very long and warming. Still smooth, but with warming oak flavor and the lingering of caramel.

I found waiting between sips made it even better. The second didn’t catch me off balance, and the sweetness increased with each subsequent sip, the sugar mingling with that smoky oak char.

Did I love it? Yes, even more this time than before. I can’t in good conscience leave it out of my top five, although I still prefer the softness of the 20 year. Is it worth $500 a bottle? Again, I’m not sure anything is. But a glass at a bar is worth the asking price, and if you have the means, you won’t regret it from the taste.

Yum.

Dan’s Rating: 9.1

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon

10 days and counting until the Bourbon Classic, and the excitement continues to build, in spite of a second round of Polar Vortex weather here in frozen Michigan.  I received some great feedback on last weeks DBotW (Traverse City Whiskey Co. American Cherry Edition), so this week I continue on with Michigan based bourbons: the New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon

New Holland Brewing is responsible for many of the fantastic, Michigan-based brands of beer.  I’ll be the first to admit, I am not a great connoisseur of beer, but even I am aware of their qualities.  The Hatter series are renowned in the area, and one of their most unique and popular labels is the “Dragon’s Milk,” a stout beer aged in Oak bourbon barrels.  It is a tasty and satisfying beer, and it’s with this product in mind that New Holland – who extended their beverage creation to the New Holland Artisan Spirits a few years back – created the Beer Barrel Bourbon.

Just as Dragon’s Milk is aged in oak bourbon barrels, New Holland created their Beer Barrel Bourbon by finishing a pre-aged bourbon (sourced from a distiller in Indiana) in former Dragon’s Milk barrels.  There is, of course, an irony to this – the bourbon is being finished in actual bourbon barrels that had been ‘borrowed’ to age beer.  But it promises a unique finish – taking a bourbon and introducing it to the barrel flavor of a rich, creamy, vanilla-strong stout beer.

Like last week, I should admit here that I have serious reservations about bourbons where the juice itself was prepared offsite and the label company was responsible only for finishing and bottling.  You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, they say (who says that?  I don’t know – i suppose either the purse or bacon industries).  So the idea that you can take a less-than bourbon and make it something worthwhile by disguising its real taste is upsetting to me.  Allow me to say that the New Holland Bourbon is from neither the best nor worst stock. It’s unfinished taste is straightforward and young.  I feel pretty confident that, without the beer finishing, I would not be overly fond of this beverage. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it, rather, its mellow, young and not impressively unique.  However, I’m not judging it without the finish.

My take:

From the cool New Holland bottle, Beer Barrel Bourbon is a nice pour.  It has a rich amber color, and looks nice enough in the glass.  It’s nose, I couldn’t help but notice, changed with a bit of time.  At first blush it has a nice blend of vanilla, toffee and oak, but with a few minutes in the glass, it opens up some malt and hop scents.  A faint smell of the beer finish is introduced, and becomes stronger the longer it is in the glass.

It has a thicker mouth feel – not necessarily creamy, but not too light, It has caramel, and corn (a bit more corn than I like), and it delicately smooth on sip.  There are oak flavors, but I didn’t get tannins, and it was a pleasant drink.

The finish is where it gets the most interesting.  While the sip is easy on the throat,  it is really then that the Dragon’s Milk influence comes out – you taste the stout beer presence on the finish – almost like it had it’s own chaser.  Given the good pour that Dragon’s Milk is, this was a wholly welcome development.

Also worth noting is the finishing kick this bourbon has – my wife and I both noticed that this one left that warm from-the-stomach-headed-up feeling other liquors do.  On such a cold winters night, it was kind of appreciated, and it certainly sets it apart.  The finish actually had more kick than the drink!

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this: One of my favorite parts of being a bourbon nut are the scents that are left in a glass after finishing it.  I revel in the magical sweet smells you can find in a glass minutes or even hours after a drink has been finished.  This one was no exception, but one thing was significantly different: the glass smelled like beer.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Dan’s rating: 7.8 (higher if you are a micro-brew aficionado)