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

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Buffalo Trace (Elmer T Lee Collectors Edition)

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Buffalo Trace (Elmer T Lee Collectors Edition)

Tonight, I visited a bottle that’s been on my shelf a little while – A bottle of Buffalo Trace, with a special twist: the Elmer T Lee Collectors Edition.

A few years ago, my sisters found themselves in Kentucky and, while there, took a tour of the Buffalo Trace Distillery.  Neither of my sisters are bourbon afficionados (or even really like it), but knowing I am, brought me back some gifts.  Among them was this bottle.

At the time, it was my understanding, the barrels these bottles were from were still hand picked by Master Distiller Emeritus Elmer T Lee, godfather of the Single Barrel bourbon.  Mr. Lee, who passed away this year at the age of 93, was calling the shots at Buffalo Trace (then still the Stagg Distillery) in 1985 when he pushed for the launch of Blanton’s, birthed the single barrel craze and revolutionized the industry.  Elmer was renowned for his palate and skill, so the thought that he still selected these bottles is enough for me to be enthusiastic.

Of course, I don’t know if he actually did.  What I do know is that at the time my sisters procured the bottle for me, it was only available at the distillery itself and, having sampled it next to a regular bottle of Buffalo Trace, there are some, allbeit subtle, differences.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Buffalo Trace (Elmer T Lee Collectors Edition)
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Buffalo Trace (Elmer T Lee Collectors Edition)

I like Buffalo Trace Bourbon.  As a mass produced bourbon, I have preferred it to most of the others in it’s price range for everything other than pure sipping.  I’ve used it in cooking, in cocktails, in baking, and straight.  It’s not my choice for sitting back with a glass neat or on the rocks, but it certainly is a great product.  This particular bottle is a touch better.

My take: right from the get go, the color is a deep yellow-amber, darker than many others.  The nose opened up with corn, vanilla, and a sort of baking spices that made me think of rum or even fruitcake.  It wasn’t extremely strong in scent, but was pleasant enough.

It sipped a bit on the thin side, with a pop of pepper and spices.  There were tastes of orange peel, and I noted cinnamon, all spice and while I didn’t feel it was thick or had great mouth coat, it didn’t feel empty.

The finish was long and had both the sprite sparkle of cinnamon, but also a nice radiating warmth that lasted for some time.

A quality selection, and a good one to toast to Mr. Lee.

Dan’s scale (1-10): 7.9

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, Warehouse Liquor (Chicago, IL)

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, Warehouse Liquor (Chicago, IL)

This week’s bourbon and circumstances are pretty special.  I am in Chicago to celebrate my first wedding anniversary to my wife Jen.  We’re here for a long weekend, and living it up – hotel in the loop, meals at great restaurants like Everest and the Signature Room. Perhaps most fantastic, we’ve gone to two days of Riot Fest, an outdoor music festival at Chicago’s Humboldt Park featuring some of my all-time favorite bands, including (most importantly), the first American concert by The Replacements since 1991.

On Friday, we went to US Cellular Field and saw a White Sox-Indians game, which I will detail further in the future.  Then, it was to Everest, where I knew we were going to have a wonderful meal when the drink list included my all-time favorite bourbon, Jefferson Reserve 18 Year.  Saturday, it was all day at Riot Fest, where we took in Mephiskaphales, X, The Selecter, Dinosaur Jr, Guided By Voices, Blondie, Rancid and The Violent Femmes.  Set after set, we had a fantastic time on a uncloudy, beautiful day.  Jen was particularly fond of DeVotchka, a great gypsy-latin-eastern-european band that put on a particularly wonderful performance.  It’s not everyday you get to see the hora danced at a punk rock festival!  We closed the night on a Ferris Wheel, watching the Femmes perform their first album in it’s entirety.  It was a wonderful day.

Day three was wet. Wet and rainy.  We had a delicious brunch at the Signature Room, then we headed to Warehouse Liquors, which Yelp had advised us was one of the best bourbon shops in Chicago.  Yelp told no lies – this store is truly fantastic.  Their selection of liquors – not just bourbons – was amazing, and with so many new sights and bottles to choose from, it was hard to pick one.  After chatting with the man at the counter for at least one half hour, we settled on a bottle of Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, selected by and bottled for the store.

Back to Riot Fest, and the rain.  Bob Mould has been one of my favorite musicians for many many years – since his days in Husker Du and Sugar – so it was well worth getting a little wet to see a personal legend play. Best Coast was another new band I wanted to see and despite the cold and rain, they did not disappoint with their reverb drenched surfer songs.  Then, back to a rollicking set by Rocket From The Crypt.  We decided to stay at the Replacements stage to guarantee a good vantage point, so we watched the goth-punky AFI before the rain stopped, and The Replacements utterly rocked our world.  They played a set drawn from their whole repertoire, old to new. So many of my favorites were played I couldn’t have been more pleased, from “Bastards of Young” to “Achin To Be,” “Hold My Life,” and “Takin A Ride.”  And all of it with my beautiful wife by my side.  It couldn’t have been better.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Elmer T. Glee Single Barrel, Warehouse Liquor (Chicago, IL)
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, Warehouse Liquor (Chicago, IL)

Now, for the bourbon – the nose on this bourbon is full of rich, aromatic spices. Cinnamon, allspice, apples, it has it all.

The taste follows this with a spicy punch.  Tasty, and clean, this is a great bourbon. Pepper, oak char, that cinnamon, and a bit of vanilla helps with a long finish to boot.  This is the kind of bourbon my wife particularly likes.  We did notice one unique thing though, neither of us liked the changes adding ice chips made to it.  Instead of mellowing it a bit, it made the pepper pop more, and lost some of the sweeter notes.  Still, an absolute winner.

Dan scale (1-10): 8.3