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: Elijah Craig 12 Year Barrel Proof

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Elijah Craig 12 Year Barrel Proof

It may only be Wednesday, but it feels like it has been a full week already, and there’s plenty more to come!  In Michigan, we are steeped in snow and in the midst of another Polar Vortex, but we are not alone – a good swath of the country looks to be frozen along with us.

One place it’s not frozen is Florida, which is good because it’s Spring Training time!  My Tigers have a few new faces (Cespedes, Gose, Greene and Simon), a few question marks (the rotation) and some injuries to see through, but few things can bring warmth to a sub-zero winter day like the thought of baseball.

This is also Bourbon Classic week, and  I will be going for my second year.  We had a wonderful time last year, sampling the wonderful dishes and drinks, and I am looking forward to it again.  I just wish it was a tad warmer in Kentucky…

So what to drink when the weather is so very cold?  How about trying something Barrel Proof?  And that’s exactly what I did, with a glass of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof!

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Elijah Craig 12 Year Barrel Proof
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Elijah Craig 12 Year Barrel Proof

The most recent issue of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is it’s sixth offering, although I haven’t been fortunate enough to run across the earlier five myself.  It is also the highest proof, at a little over 140.  No laughing matter here.

Heaven Hill barrels this direct – no char filtering – and it shows in the color.  Even in the bottle, it’s a very deep brown.  They have accented that with a dark label, and it is just distinctive enough to set it apart.  I have respect for 12 Year Elijah Craig, even if it’s not my first choice (it is, however, my first choice in baking – it’s spiciness adds much to pies, cookies and chocolates!). How would this one fare?

Dan’s Take:

The deep, dark amber-brown color of the pour lets you know right away that this is not a light and breezy pour.  But what really amazed me was the nose – a 140 Proof glass should burn, but this most certainly does not.  There are many wonderful, unique and often, sweet aromas in this glass.  Rich vanilla, caramel and the smell of warm baking, like a gingerbread man iced with maple frosting.  Does that sound unique?  It surely shocked me – there was no great burn, just the wholly unique smell of sweet baking in a wood fired oven.

The taste brought me back to earth and how.  The tip of the tongue held that sweetness of caramel before the proof hit.  In baseball, a pitcher might throw a fastball up around the batters shoulders to brush him back a bit, or get him to swing wildly at an eye level pitch – the ‘high heat.’  This drink is the ‘high heat,’ and the first sip admittedly knocked me back for a second.  The nose had lulled me to sleep, but 140 proof woke me up fast.  I caught my breath and tried again – slower this time.  There is a slightly burned sugar taste, brown sugar to be more specific.  Wood weighed in heavily, but not overwhelmingly, as the toasted oak blended well with the toffee, maple flavors.

(I handed it to Jen to sample, and she agreed with me on both the taste, and the kicks-like-a-mule effect of drinking too large a sip!)

It has a long finish, and a whole lot of burn.  THe wood is probably strongest in the finish, and I’ll admit, it went on a little too long for me.  Such a high proof leads to a long finish, and this one left traces of oak, alcohol bite and burnt toast on my palate for minutes.

So how do I rate it?  I thoroughly enjoyed it – not unlike a roller coaster that gives you a great start, but maybe by the end you wish was a little bit shorter, this version of the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is a great ride.  I look forward to trying other, varied proof versions.

Dan’s Rating: 8.7

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Parker’s Heritage 8th Edition – Wheat Whiskey (13 Years Aged)

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Parker’s Heritage 8th Edition – Wheat Whiskey (13 Years Aged)

The past few years, I have largely sat out the fall release extravaganza in the bourbon/whiskey world.  Following them online can be great fun, but knowing so few would make it to Michigan precluded me from searching for them.  Outside of the obvious Pappy Van Winkle and Buffalo Trace Antique Collection releases being hard to find, rarely have I seen an Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, a Parker’s Heritage or a Elijah Craig 21-22-23 on shelves here in the great Mitten state.

THis year was different, both in selection and my personal hunt.  I decided to go after more of this year’s fall releases, and was pleased to find that many more were coming to Michigan, albeit in very very small numbers.  And earlier this month, when the Bourbonr Blog posted their poll winners for the best of the 2014 Fall releases, I was proud to say I was able to hunt down half of them, including 5 of the top 10.

So now it’s time to start sampling them, and I opened with an absolute doozy – the 8th Edition of Heaven Hill’s Parker’s Heritage, a 13 year old Wheat Whiskey.  And in a word, wow.

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Parker's Heritage 8th Edition - Wheat Whiskey (13 Years Aged)
Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Parker’s Heritage 8th Edition – Wheat Whiskey (13 Years Aged)

The Parker’s Heritage label was started by Heaven Hill in 2007 to pay tribute to their Master Distiller Parker Beam.  Parker Beam (and yes, he is of the Jim Beam family) has been with Heaven Hill since 1960, and been the Master Distiller there since 1975.

The first Parker’s Heritage, in 2007, was an 11-year old cask strength.  Every fall since then, Heaven Hill has issued another limited edition, small bottling of a unique whiskey to pay tribute to Parker.

This year, it is a 13-year old Wheat Whiskey, made from the initial barrels of Bernheim Wheat Whiskey.  Bernheim is bottled at 7 years old, so this years P.H. has an extra six years in the barrel – and these barrels were on the top floors of Heaven Hill Rickhouse Y. It has a minimum of 51% soft winter wheat in the mashbill, and to top that off, it was bottled at cask strength and without cold filtering.  This years Parker’s Heritage is the closest thing you can get to drinking it straight from the barrel.  But how was it?

Dan’s Take:

The nose jumped out at me with a real serious burn. And why not – at 127.4 proof, it had better! I let it sit for a minute and tried again, but it was still hot and not giving away anything.  A little water and things were looking up.  There was a deep honey and caramel, and a tang of what I would describe as citrus.  The wood notes were muted, but I got a hint of baking spices and even a fresh biscuit-like smell.

The taste was outstanding.  The first sip was heavy in the oak and baking spices I would expect from, well, a cask strength 13-year old wheat whiskey.  But unbelievably smooth.  The wood taste wasn’t tannic either – there wasn’t a bitterness, just a smooth woodiness and spice.  The sweeter tastes – vanilla, a touch of toffee candy – swirled around as the thick pour subsided into a soft but lingering finish full of cinnamon and clove, and again a biscuity goodness.

The first taste was so good, in fact, that I dove directly into another – and again, it was fantastic.  To have such a sweet nose, a complex taste full of character but not overpowering with bitter or tannins, and a medium, smooth finish that ends dry like coconut and oak, but not harsh in any way.

The Parker’s Heritage 8th Edition is one of my favorite whiskies of all time.  Perfectly blended and delivered.  It just makes me all that more sad that it will not be available again.  Well done, Heaven Hill.

Dan’s Rating: 9.5

Master Distiller Parker Beam was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig Disease, several years back.  In addition to a portion of Parker’s Heritage sales going to ALS research, you can visit his ALS Promise Fund page here, and support a great cause for a legendary man.

A trip to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival – Tasting and Gala

This year, I have been fortunate enough to head down to Kentucky for three separate bourbon related events.  In February, my wife and I went to Louisville to take in the second ever Bourbon Classic, a fantastic celebration of bourbon and its culture.  In June, we headed back to tour some distilleries and attend the “Pappy For your Pappy” tasting dinner with the Van Winkle family at Buffalo Trace Distillery.  And last week, we headed down for the The Great Kentucky Bourbon Tasting & Gala.

The Kentucky Bourbon Festival is a yearly event in Bardstown, Kentucky in the heart of bourbon country.  It started small in 1992, and has grown every year, as a week long full celebration of all things bourbon.  There are barrel making exhibitions, events for families, kids, tours of Bardstown, mixology lessons, cooking demonstrations – this is a full scale celebration!  As the week goes on, there are nightly events for the bourbon faithful – dinners and dancing, country and bluegrass concerts, all culminating in the big event, the Gala – a black tie affair.  It was for this event my wife surprised me with tickets, and for this event we headed down.

We stayed in Louisville, in the 21c Museum Hotel, which had treated us so well during the Bourbon Classic.  On Friday night, we had dinner at Proof on Main to celebrate our 2nd Anniversary, and the food (and drink) was outstanding!  One of the greatest parts was their offering of bourbon tasting flights:

Proof on Main Bourbon Flight Menu
Proof on Main Bourbon Flight Menu

I went with the KY Bourbon Distillers Flight, as it offered three products I cannot find in Michigan, the Johnny Drum Private Stock, the Rowan’s Creek and Noah’s Mill.

KY Bourbon Distillers Flight
KY Bourbon Distillers Flight

We’ve sampled the good from Chef Levon Wallace‘s kitchen before, and this time was every bit as fantastic and delectable as expected.  Dining in Louisville is an exceptional experience, and Proof on Main may be the best of the bunch!

Saturday, we did some exploring of the stores between Louisville and Bardstown, looking for new, limited or fun bourbons that we can’t attain in Michigan, and finding a few of note.  Particularly wonderful were the people of Old Town Wine and Spirits – they had a fantastic collection of spirits, particularly bourbon.  After some perusal, I noticed they had two different store choice barrel strength Four Roses selections.  I asked a gentleman about the differences, and he was wonderful enough to not only walk me through it, but to taste each.  And by taste…I mean he poured me a glass of each.  That is hospitality!  With some new bourbon’s purchased, it was back to the hotel to get gussied up for the big Gala event.

Now, I will be the first to admit, wearing a tuxedo is not exactly a point of comfort for me. By my count, I have worn one five times in my life: senior prom, standing up in three friend’s weddings, and now the bourbon tasting and gala.
Dressed in my best James Bond impression, and with my wife looking stunning in a new dress, we headed to Bardstown.

Jen and I at the Bourbon Tasting and Gala
Jen and I at the Bourbon Tasting and Gala

The first surprise was the location. Having not been to the festival, it came as a bit of a shock when we pulled into the parking lot of what appeared to be a massive distribution or warehouse facility. There was no doubt, however, that it was the right place to be, as the parking lot was full of shuttle and tour buses, and elegantly dressed people got out of cars to line up for the event. We took our place in line and soon enough the doors opened.

A welcoming site outside the Bourbon Tasting and Gala
A welcoming site outside the Bourbon Tasting and Gala

Inside the first massive room we went into lay a bourbon lovers delight. Each of the major represented distilleries had bar setups around the outside walls. Each one was unique and different. Upon entry, each attendant was given a bag – this would be where we would stash our collected goodies as the night unfolded.

A room full of beautiful people and beautiful bourbon!
A room full of beautiful people and beautiful bourbon!

Each distillery had a full selection of their products available to drink. Most would serve your drink of choice in a glass specially made for the occasion, which you were to keep (by storing in the aforementioned bag). Most of these individual bars would also have a choice of mixed drink cocktail, ice, water, or to have the drink neat.

In the center of the room was a long spread of hors d’oeuvres.

Bourbon Festival ice sculpture
Bourbon Festival ice sculpture

Our first stop was the Blanton’s bar. Always a favorite of mine, it seemed a great way to get the night started! We sipped our drinks, and moved around. Wild Turkey had a backdrop for guests to have their red carpet style photo taken. They also had perhaps the most ornate bar, practically a saloon set up there where I was short to procure a glass of the Russell’s Reserve I love so much.

In addition to a wonderful set of cocktails and a beautiful display, Makers Mark had an ice luge, where I enjoyed a glass of Makers 46, chilled in this most fun way possible.

Maker's 46 from an ice luge
Maker’s 46 from an ice luge

After some food, & a wonderful conversation with former Maker’s Mark and now Bardstown Bourbon Company master distiller and Kentucky Bourbon Festival Hall of Fame member Steve Nally and his lovely wife, we made our way over to the Heaven Hill set up, where Jen enjoyed a Ezra Brooks smoothie , and I indulged in a pour of Evan Williams Single Barrel.

Cheers!
Cheers!

Buffalo Trace had the most elegant glasses of the evening, with a raised Buffalo etched in the side. Ridgemont Reserve 1792 served a bourbon orange cream drink that would certainly fit as a dessert on any fine menu.

Ridgemont Reserve 1792
Ridgemont Reserve 1792

By the time I wandered up to the Jim Beam bar, we had only been there for about an hour and a half. I asked the bartender for a glass of my favorite Jim Beam product, the Jim Beam Black 8 Year. When he asked if I wanted a single or double, I laughed and said the night was so young I better keep it a single. He quickly responded that the night was so young, it was early enough for a double!

Bulleit had their 10 year bourbon available, and I spoke with one of their representatives about the recent reopening of the Stitzel-Weller distillery under the name that had occurred that week. It is certainly on the short list of places I want to visit soon.

The line at Four Roses was intimidating – they were also offering photographs – so I visited Michter’s and grabbed a few more munchies just as the lights flashed to usher us into the main room where dinner was about to be served.

They have a bag check so we wouldn’t carry around the impressive number of glasses we had collected during the evening, and we entered the large room for dinner.

The dining room part of the evening...
The dining room part of the evening…

As you might imagine, a room sitting what I estimated to have been seven or eight hundred people for dinner would be massive. And it was. There was a stage set up on the far side of the room, where the toast and a few short speeches would be given. Later in the evening, this would also be the bandstand for the dancing part of the night. We found our table, to the far side from the stage and took seats.

We were seated with two lovely groups. One group of four had come in from Atlanta, Georgia. One of the groups gentleman was celebrating his 50th birthday, to celebrate at the Bourbon Festival. What a fantastic idea! There was also a young couple from Cincinnati, Ohio at our table as well. With a bottle of Ridgemont Reserve at each table to toast with, we enjoyed talking to our fellow tablemates while eating our salads. I was particularly overjoyed to find out our new Georgian friends where sports fanatics as well! We talked about baseball at length, as well as SEC football. To my dismay, my Missouri Tigers fell that afternoon to the Indiana Hoosiers, a rather embarrassing loss.

By this point, we all had noticed the lack of climate control in the facility. The temperature outside hovered around 85, and inside the lack of air flow had begun to take its toll. Many a brow was sweaty, and for the men, our tight collars and ties became slightly oppressive.

As the toasts and short speeches began, we found we were too far on the other side of the room to be able to discern what was being said. The sound system was not clear enough for us to here the toast itself, or any of the comments of Wild Turkey master distiller Jimmy Russell who had showed up and made some comments of his own. Unfortunately, all we could hear was a sound more similar to the teacher from a Charlie Brown cartoon.

By the time the delicious dinner was served, we dug in. A band playing Motown and classic soul favorites struck up, and some revelers, including ourselves, went to dance for a bit.

Time to dance!
Time to dance!

The gala goes on until 1 in the morning, but by 11, the heat had taken its toll and Jen and I were ready to retreat the distance back to Louisville. We bid our new friends farewell and safe travels, and beat the path back to Louisville, for a good night’s sleep.

Overall, the bourbon tasting and Gala is a fantastic event, and one I believe we will return to in the future. Next time, we would like to take in more of the entire Bourbon Festival. And hopefully it’s a few degrees cooler…

 

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Ezra B 12 Year Old Bourbon

OK, two things:

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.

Ezra B 12 Year Old Bourbon

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Ezra B 12 Year Old Bourbon
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Ezra B 12 Year Old Bourbon

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.

This just became a favorite.

Dan’s rating: 9.3

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Elijah Craig 12 Year Small Batch

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Elijah Craig 12 Year Small Batch

Well, a new NFL football season is upon us, and I’m an unrepentant Detroit Lion’s fan, so who knows what this year holds in store.  The team hasn’t looked great in preseason, but adding Reggie Bush in the offseason can’t help but make us better, and we still have Stafford, Suh and Megatron, so I suppose hope springs eternal!

For this week’s bourbon, I tapped a local resource.  A few years back, when I decided to take my bourbon fandom up a notch, my family jumped in to help me try to find some good selections.  In her endless calling around, my mother stumbled upon a store in Birmingham, MI called Kakos Market.  The people at Kakos were wonderful, talking with her for long periods of time and making recommendations for other bourbons that might fit her son’s flavor profile. They pointed her toward some absolute winners, which I will reference at another time.

I dropped into Kakos myself last week, looking for a few specialty bottles, and while in the store, they showed their own small batch barrel of Elijah Craig 12 year. I had a taste in the store, and took a bottle home for myself, to try today.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Elijah Craig 12 Year Small Batch
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Elijah Craig 12 Year Small Batch

Every once in a while it happens where I can taste a good bourbon, know it’s a good bourbon, but just not feel it myself.  This is exactly what happened here.

My take: This is a spicy bourbon.  The nose was full of autumnal scents – apple, corn, nutmeg – a lot of fruit and nuts. And wood, lets of wood.

The taste carried this over.  The flavor popped with spicy oak, corn and fruit.  It fills the mouth, and has a pleasant taste, but as you may know by now, I like sweeter bourbons, and this one has some burn.  It’s dry, and has a long, strong finish.

I know it’s a quality bourbon, but (and maybe it was just my mood that day) it was too harsh for me.

Dan scale (1-10): 7.0