Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Willett Family Estate 2 Year Rye

Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Willett Family Estate 2 Year Rye

Well, first of all, Happy Halloween! Once more it’s the time of year with ghosts and goblins, tricks and treats.  Children dressing scarily and wondering through your streets collecting candy.  I hope you and yours enjoy it this year.  It’s also deep into autumn, with the harvest coming up, and I like to think of all the corn, the wheat, the ryes that will soon be mashed and distilled into my favorite treat – whiskey!

Secondly, congratulations to the San Francisco Giants, who last night won their third World Series in five years.  I feel like the Giants are our adoptive team, as my wife Jen and I went to see them during our honeymoon in 2012.  Particularly amazing was the performance of Madison Bumgarner,  I’m glad I watched this series through to the end!

And now…on to bourbon.  Or in this case, rye.

The Willett name has a long and storied history, going all the way back to pilgrims who arrived in the US in the 1600s.  The Willett family has been responsible for bourbon distilling in Kentucky since the 1860s, and has played an important role in much of the great bourbon legacy there.

In the 1930s, the Willett family started the Willett Distilling Company on the family farm in Bardstown, Kentucky, and it still sits there today.  Willett, which later changed it’s name to Kentucky Bourbon Distillers(1984), made bourbons on the family farm up until the 1970s.  At that time, during the oil crisis, they made the decisions to have their whiskey brands made elsewhere and age and bottle them (or just bottle them) onsite.  This allowed them to convert their production facilities to make gasahol fuel.  This venture did not work out, however, and by the 1980s, the Willett location was only used for it’s warehouses and bottling.

Several brands are released under the Kentucky Bourbon Distillers name – Johnny Drum, Kentucky Vintage, Rowan’s Creek, Noah’s Mill among others.  They also do aging and bottling for a few other brands, including Corner Creek and the sought after Black Maple Hill.

In the mid 2000’s, the family started work to reopen the Willett production facilities, and by 2012, they barreled the first of their new products.  And in 2014, they unveiled it at last – the Willett Family 2 Year Rye.

I was down in Kentucky in June and visited Willett, and was lucky enough to land a few bottles of the brand new, Willett produced two year rye.  So how’d it taste?

Dan's (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Willett Family 2 Year Rye
Dan’s (not quite) Bourbon of the Week: Willett Family 2 Year Rye

My review:

107 proof – that was the strength of my Willett 2 Year Rye – a nice barrel proof number.  And Willett certainly knows bottling – their Still Pot Reserve has won awards for it’s beautiful bottles, and their ryes come in beautiful bottles adorned with the family seal as well.  In short, it’s a lovely bottle.

It has a nice gold color, and the nose is fantastic.  There is a definite fruitiness in the nose – I picked up cherry, citrus and a hint of raisin.  The woodiness reminded me of something other than oak – more like a cedar or even a Christmas pine.  I soaked it in, and found some vanilla.  What shocked me the most was the lack of a burn.  Despite the high proof, this pour didn’t smell like pure alcohol, and had a surprising richness.

I’ll admit, my first sip was jarring.  The nose had put me to sleep, and I took perhaps too big of a drink, forgetting the high potency of the proof.  But even as I coughed a bit, caught off guard, I noticed how smooth it was going down.  My next drink was more restrained, and I got a good feel for this rye.  It was softer than a 2 year has any right to be, with a great range of flavor that belies it’s age.  It had an earthiness to it, and I thought mint rose to the top, along with a maple.  I didn’t note the usual pepper or cinnamon ryes have – it’s probably too young to have really soaked that in from the wood – but there is far more citrus than I would have ever expected.  Overall, it’s rather sweet.

And it has a nice finish to boot.  Not the longest finish, but smooth and lingering where a touch of spice mixes with an earthiness (that is probably the biggest tip off to it’s age).

On the whole, I’m not as big a fan of ryes as I am traditional bourbons.  But for this Willett entry, I’ll make an exception.   It doesn’t have the ‘graininess’ of a young rye – that taste that lets you know that some of this whiskey has never touched the side of a barrel.  Instead, I would have thought upon blind taste that it was at least four, and maybe even six or eight years old. What really intrigues me is what these barrels will taste like in a few more years!

Dan’s Rating: 8.5

Ballpark of the Week: Fenway Park (Home of the Boston Red Sox)

Ballpark of the Week: Fenway Park (Home of the Boston Red Sox)

I am not even close to forgiving the Boston Red Sox for beating my beloved Detroit Tigers in the ALCS last year. The fact that they eventually won the championship makes things a little better (if you’re gonna lose, might as well lose to the champ), but not nearly enough to soften the wounds.  To be totally honest, with the exception of 2004 and their vanquishing of the Yankees, I can’t remember ever rooting for the Red Sox.  And just for extra emotion, I grew up with the New York Mets as my “B” team, so I remember 1986 for all the right reasons.

All that aside, even I have to admit that the long and storied history of the Beantown team can give me goose bumps – from Babe to Foxx, Pesky and Rice to Pedro and Youk. I always had a reverence for Ted Williams as well – as a kid who loved the statistics of baseball, I was wowed by the way Williams could post such amazing numbers AND serve in two wars.  So when my brother-in-law offered us tickets to the Sox game of our choice as a Christmas gift, we were elated for the opportunity.

As luck (and his generosity) would have it, we got to enjoy even more.  The game we had selected was a Yankees-Sox game on a Saturday afternoon in May, but he did us one better and also got us tickets to see the Red Sox play the Anaheim Angels on the Thursday night we arrived in.  We migrated from his Back Bay apartment to the ballpark and it was every bit as great as advertised.

As we walked to the hallowed park that first night, we found ourselves being enveloped, block by block, by Red Sox fans and the first notable difference between this and other parks was apparent: because (like Wrigley Field) this old park was in a neighborhood, it wasn’t just a matter of people walking the short distance from a parking lot to the park.  Instead, people walked through neighborhoods.  It was communal, and fun.  It felt like what baseball was supposed to be.

By the time we got close, every Irish bar had the Dropkick Murphys blaring and the smells of a baseball game were everywhere.  By the time we turned from Brookline onto Yawkey Way, it was on.  There were street vendors with carts and just about every kind of pick-up-and-carry food imaginable. I became particularly infatuated with the stadium kabobs, and ate what seemed like three or four of them.

We wandered in the stadium, and were surrounded by baseball history.  Like Wrigley, it was apparent from the first second that this was a throw back to an earlier time.  The bricks, the smells (good and bad), how…small?…everything seems compared to the modern behemoth stadium.  Now, that feeling of nostalgia for a time before you were ever born (pre-stalgia?) lasts right up to about the time you go to buy something, when you realize that this beer would have cost a 1920 cobbler his months income.  But its still very very special.

Our first game, we sat down the first base side, and the seats were amazing.  We watched a high scoring (if slow moving) game, where the Sox took it to the Anaheim Angels, even after Dice-K gave up 4 runs early.  Most amusing was the Japanese gentleman behind us who shouted at Daisuke what we could only imagine were words of encouragement or terrible curses the entire time he was pitching.

The tradition of Red Sox nation is well known around the world now – singing along with Sweet Caroline, The stadium was full from first to last pitch, and with the Standell’s Dirty Water blaring, it was an amazing time.

We came back two days later, in a misty rain, to see the real deal – Yankees v Sox.  Because it was a nationally televised game, it had a later than normal start time, which allotted us more time to spend at the grand old park.  We strolled there leisurely in the mist, and decided to wander around the entire park this time (not just Yawkey Way).  We were wandering down Landsdowne, behind the Green Monster, when what sounded like a shot rang out, and my wife dropped to the ground in a heap.  There were audible gasps from the people in the Green Monster seats looking down at the street below.  I was stunned – I had no idea what had happened.

Now, a Boston native might know right away.  In that beautiful, completely asymmetrical and oddly shaped park, if a ball clears the Green Monster…it hits the street below.  In the clip here, Melky Cabrera hits a homer over the wall that breaks a car windshield.  Well, it just so happened that batting practice was taking place inside the park and someone put a charge into a ball that happened to clear the fence,but not my wife.

Within a minute, she was back on her feet and a few of Boston’s finest were there to make sure she was ok.  A kid on a bike came up to us with the ball that had struck her, and offered it to us (we told him he could keep it, but he smiled and said ‘I get tons of them out here!’ and showed us a small bag of baseballs), so we pocketed it and headed into the park, where we could at least see flying objects beforehand.

The seats my brother-in-law had gotten us were amazing, and we got some Lobster Rolls and Sam Adams, and had a blast.  CC Sabathia was chased early, but the Yankees persevered and emerged victorious.  And we had a second great time at the ballpark.  We visited the Ted Williams plaque, and walked through the concourse.  Again, just like Wrigley, it felt like history.  The fact everything was wet from the rain added a mustiness that reminded us of the age of the park as well.

As for Jen – well, she ended up with a bruise on her chest that looked like she had been hit by…well, a baseball that had been projected 400 feet through air and space.  But she healed, and we had the baseball – and the great memories.

Dan’s scale (1-10): 8.9

Below are my stats.  I post them for every park I’ve visited.  I include the big details, as well as who I visited with.  Lastly, I am a huge fan of authentic throwback jerseys, and for every stadium I visit, I buy one of a player from that organization I admired as a kid, from watching them or reading about them.  So for every one, I will also list the throwbacks I’ve purchased for each.

Fenway Park – May 6, 2010.  Anaheim Angels at Boston Red Sox

Date: Thursday, May 6, 2010, 7:12PM

Seat: Field Box 18

Ticket Cost: N/A

Went with: Jen Weaver

Attendance: 37,639

Time of Game: 3:43

Linescore:
               1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9     R   H E
Angels    4 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0    6   9  2
Red Sox  0 0 2 0 5 4 0 0 X   11 11 0

Winning Pitcher: Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Scott Kazmir (2-2)

Save:

 

Fenway Park – May 8, 2010.  New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox

Date: Saturday, May 8, 2010, 3:11 PM

Seat: EMC Club

Ticket Cost: N/A

Went with: Jen Weaver

Attendance: 37,138

Time of Game: 3:56

Linescore:
               1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9     R   H E
Yankees   0 0 2 1 3 0 2 4 2    14 17 0
Red Sox   0 0 3 0 0 0 0 0 0      3  8  1

Winning Pitcher: Alfredo Aceves

Losing Pitcher: Clay Buchholtz

Save:

Jersey: Ted Williams (1939)

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Ballpark of the Week: PNC Park (Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates)

Ballpark of the Week: PNC Park (Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates)

Ballpark of the Week: PNC Park (Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates)

The first ballpark I will post about is PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and my favorite ballpark to visit to date.  Nestled on the North Shore of the Allegheny River, right around the corner from where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers join to form the mighty Ohio river, this ballpark lives up to all the hoopla that has surrounded it since it’s opening in 2001.

My opportunity to visit PNC came in the late summer of 2008.  My sister Denise was attending graduate school in Pittsburgh, and suggested it as an opportunity for my other sister Therese, girlfriend Jen and her to get together and enjoy an evening.  Pittsburgh (as was so often the case) was well out of the playoff hunt, and had begun a series of post-game concerts and fireworks for a week in August to boost attendance.  After some consideration – Collective Soul, Phil Vassar or REO Speedwagon – the latter was chosen and we planned for a Thursday night at the ballpark.

The drive in was a bit confusing – I have never failed to be absolutely lost in the confusing layout that is Pittsburgh (few know this, but Pittsburgh’s system of roads and highways was laid out by a drunken cat with a Spirograph).  I’m quite sure I drove over the same bridge several times, before finding a nice parking space across the river.  The walk from parking lot to ballpark was wonderful as we could see the stadium and the river, before entering at the left field entrance by the Willie Stargell statue.

The stadium looks right, with it’s steel beams, in the city that made so much of it for so long.  The fans on this night were excited and fun, and there was a nice spirit of camaraderie. The team was 11 games under .500 and playing the equally (at the time) hapless Reds, but the general atmosphere belied this and made it enjoyable.  I was concerned when I looked up and realized, our seats, in section 305, were upper upper deck, but again, I was in for a treat.

Despite it’s altitude, the view from 305 was outstanding.  PNC Park was built to be intimate, and it most certainly is.  We got a fantastic view of the field, and a magnificent view of downtown Pittsburgh across the river.  We settled in for the game, and watched several players who would make names for themselves in the future play (it was the rookie season for Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto, and the second for Brandon Moss).  The game was low scoring, and the pace move quickly as a summer Pittsburgh evening turned to night. Johnny Cueto…I think he comes up in Pittsburgh Pirate lore again later…

I walked around the stadium, and was impressed by the jovial easy-going nature of the crowd.  I did not hear vulgarities or even much heckling.  Again, that may have been due to the more family-friendly fireworks crowd, and the Pirates lack of success, but it was still nice.

Now I admit, I did not try the Primanti’s Bros sandwich that is so legendary around Pittsburgh…at least, not on this visit.  I found concession prices for other eats and drinks about on par with what I expected from other parks: dogs around $5, soda at $6, beer at $8.  More than anything, I was impressed by how I could walk around the stadium and see amazing views from every location.

Back up in 305, the game (and it’s lack  of offense) was starting to bore my sisters and Jen, but the skyline and conversation were not, and when the game ended at 10:00, we wandered down to the riverfront part of the park.  While the strains of “Keep On Loving You,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Take It On the Run” played from centerfield, we walked along the riverfront, watching the band over the fence and looking at the buildings in the distance.  The fireworks began, and the Pittsburgh sky lit up to the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of the crowd.

PNC Park became, and is still,my favorite MLB Park. As you’ll see, I’ve been to a few, and I’ll get to them all.  But it will take a pretty impressive park to knock this out of number one.

Dan’s scale (1-10): 9.2

Below are my stats.  I’ll post them for every park I’ve visited.  I include the big details, as well as who I visited with.  Lastly, I am a huge fan of throwback jerseys, and for every stadium I visit, I buy one of a player from that organization I admired as a kid, from watching them or reading about them.  So for every one, I will also list the throwbacks I’ve purchased for each.

PNC Park – August 14, 2008.  Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates

Date: Thursday, August 14, 2008, 7:05PM

Seat: 305, V, 8

Ticket Cost: N/A

Went with: Jen Weaver, Therese McKernan, Denise McKernan

Attendance: 35,439

Time of Game: 2:54

Linescore:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9    R H E
Reds    0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 1    3 7 1
Pirates 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0    1 8 0

Winning Pitcher: Johnny Cueto (8-11)

Losing Pitcher: Ian Snell (4-10)

Save: Francisco Cordero (23)

Jersey: Roberto Clemente (1971)