Monday, June 27, 2016

Pilgrimage to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail - Day 3

After a full day of tours on Friday, I now knew what I was getting into. I woke up early, with no need for an alarm despite the many drinks the night before. I made sure I had a complete breakfast, some amazing eggs Benedict topped with crab, and some coffee, and away we went!

We boarded our bus and headed out, with the first stop on our tour being a tasting at Heaven Hill. However, our tour guide, Wendy, had a surprise for us. Because we had some time before the tasting was to begin, we made an extra stop at the Jim Beam distillery! While we didn't get to do a tasting or a tour while there, it was still nice to get the extra stop and the opportunity to go stomping round the Jim Beam grounds, taking photos of the Jim Beam and Booker Noe statues, learning about the history of Jim Beam and their different products, checking out their rickhouses, and smelling the smoked meats coming from their smokehouse first thing in the morning! This was a nice added bonus to the tour.

After about a half hour, we boarded our bus and headed on over to Heaven Hill where we were greeted and immediately ushered into their tasting room. It was a great set up, with high-top tables and chairs for everyone, and wine crackers and water already set out on the tables. The tasting lineup consisted of Elijah Craig and Larceny. With so many different offerings available, I had hoped for a little something more or different than their typical grocery store liquor shelf offerings, but it was an enjoyable experience nonetheless. At one point, though, I managed to strike up a conversation with an older tour guide, and he and I ended up talking for about 20 minutes about bourbon, our likes and dislikes, discontinued and hard-to-find bourbons and everything I enjoy about this "hobby." This was probably my favorite part of the Heaven Hill stop. I only wish I had gotten his name before I left.

From there it was on to Maker's Mark. I must say, immediately upon entering the visitor center and looking out the back door I knew this was my favorite distillery visit, and it only got better from there. The campus is beautiful, the kind of place you'd go for a picnic with your family. Lots of well-maintained black and red buildings built around a small, winding creek and surrounded by big, beautiful trees and lush landscaping.
The tour was great as well! The large fermenting room was one of my favorite experiences on this trip. The room is full of six gigantic wooden mash tuns with beer in varying stages of fermentation. Not only did we get to walk right up to the tanks but we were even encouraged to dip out finger into the mash and taste it (it was like sweet cereal)! The tour then finished with a tasting where we got to sample their white dog, regular Maker's, Maker's 46 and cask strength. Our tour guide even took sips with us, toasting with each sample!

We then left the tasting through a smaller storage area with a glass ceiling. Behind the glass were all sorts of blown glass pieces which were backlit to make for a stunning sight! We passed under the colorful ceiling and into to the gift shop where we got to hand-dip our own bottles and where I picked up some Maker's 46 staves for grilling. 

The Maker's Mark distillery really had it all. It was visually appealing, inside and out. The tour was interactive, the tasting was fun and comprehensive, and even the gift shop was a unique experience. This tour was my favorite part of the whole trip! 

As our last stop we headed over to Barton 1792. The tour there was shorter in walking distance than all the others. This distillery offered its own unique experience, though. They take you right into the middle of their production plant. It's very industrial, and we were walking around and stepping over pipes and other equipment as we climbed to the third floor to see the top of the still. It was really a cool experience, as we felt like we were right in the middle of the production process. Plus, after a tasting of Very Old Barton and 1792 Small Batch, I was able to pick up a bottle of their newly released 1792 Single Barrel, which I cracked open as soon as I was back on the bus--very tasty!

Our tour ended here, but these two days were very educational and incredibly fun! It's always a good time, though, when you're hanging around like-minded bourbon fans all day long, and Mint Julep Tours really did an amazing job taking care of us!

That night I had some fried chicken, because I felt I had to at some point on this trip, and I enjoyed the heck out of a number of fine pours that are, quite frankly, pretty easy to find anywhere in Louisville--perhaps too easy judging by the amount I consumed that night and the way I felt that next morning. Luckily all I had to do was endure the 5 1/2 hour car ride home. I did finally get to the Haymarket, and there I finally got to try a pour of Rock Hill Farms, which I had been after since Day 1 of this trip. It was really a nice way to end the vacation (though we did walk across the foot bridge over the Ohio River before we left town on Sunday, but that's a lot like exercise and I'm therefore not considering that a part of the vacation).

Pilgrimage to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail - Day 2

First off, let me start by saying that waking up in a bed & breakfast is one of the best feelings. Even with a slight hangover, I couldn't help but enjoy waking to the smell of breakfast cooking, bacon, eggs, coffee.  It was absolutely amazing.  After getting ready and getting some food in my belly (I'm not much of a breakfast person, but I do enjoy the smells!), we headed over to start our tours.

The first stop on our tour was Buffalo Trace Distillery. I finally got my chance to see the stacks and stacks of barrels aging in the rickhouses. I was amazed at how cramped those places are and how low the ceilings are. They really pack those barrels in there, which makes total sense of course. I don't know what I expected, but I couldn't help but take notice of those tight quarters. We also got to see the hand-bottling line in action as a dozen or so workers operated the assembly line, filling, sealing, labeling and packaging some Blanton's, right in front of us! Acetone smell aside, this was definitely one of the cooler parts of the tour.

And, of course, we got to do a tasting at the end. They shared some Wheatley Vodka, White Dog, Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare and Bourbon Cream. The White Dog and Bourbon Cream were both firsts for me, and both at very opposite ends of the spectrum. White Dog is some powerful stuff, with an incredibly strong alcohol burn at the back. I couldn't really blame the bachelor party that was on the tour with us for downing them like shots. The Bourbon Cream, which I've never had before, was absolutely amazing paired with the root beer they provided us. All in all, my first distillery tour was a great experience, even if I was a bit disappointed by the limited selection of bourbons at the gift shop.

From there we went to Four Roses. As our tour guide noted heading there, it really does look out of place. The buildings have a Spanish style to them that makes them look like they belong somewhere in Southern California, and not in the hills of Kentucky. It's a beautiful facility, though. Although we did not get to do a full tour there, we did get to enjoy a very nice tasting outside under the pavilion. Even though I've had all three of the bourbons we tasted many times each, this was still one of the more well-done tastings of the entire trip. As a bonus, Four Roses was very generous with the souvenir glasses they let everyone take home, even wrapping up extras for those that wanted them. I also picked up an private single barrel OBSK hand-selected by Brent Elliot, their master distiller, exclusively for the gift shop.

After a lunch at Staxx BBQ (delicious!), we then headed to Wild Turkey. I was initially impressed simply with the sheer sprawl that their facilities have. Their piece of property is huge and has incredible views of the river. The tour was pretty amazing as well, particularly seeing the incredibly large-scale distillation plan. Plus, it ended with a great tasting where nearly their full line was made available to choose from. The highlight of the day, however, was walking into the visitor center and seeing the legend, Jimmy Russell just hanging out in a chair off to the side. He was the nicest man--had a photograph, an autograph and a smile for everyone there, and the place was packed. I would have loved to take the time to talk to him a bit, but he was clearly busy being a man of the people.

I wish I had a few more paragraphs to write about the night we had after that, but, to be honest, eventually it all kind of blurred together, especially as I finish this post a couple days removed. However, I did make it to a couple liquor stores to finally grab some of those bottles that just don't make it to Illinois for one reason or another. I picked up some Mellow Corn, Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond, and Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond. At the first store I went to, I specifically asked for the Heaven Hill BIB, but the owner told me the stuff is getting hard to find, even in Kentucky. I was a bit deflated, as I was particular on the hunt for a couple bottles of that stuff. So I left, walked about a block and a half to the next store, and this hard-to-find-even-in-Kentucky stuff was everywhere I looked, on the shelves in numbers, and even on a display by the register. I was thrilled and could only laugh at the response I received at the other store.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Pilgrimage to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail - Day 1 - The Arrival

Day 1 - I've been drinking bourbon and enjoying the stuff for number of years now. In fact, I've been enjoying it so much so, that it has more or less turned into a hobby. About two years ago I started this blog, and I took what was just a regular enjoyment of whiskey and turned it into . Yet, despite it being only a 5 1/2 hour drive away, I have never been to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail--I have never been to my bourbon Mecca.

Well, as of yesterday morning, all that has changed. In celebration of my making partner at my firm, my neighbor, who is celebrating his 40th birthday, and I, along with our wives, embarked on a roadtrip to Louisville, where we have plans to visit six distilleries in two days. I'm so excited for this trip that I went to bed early last night and woke up early this morning without the need for an alarm or one of my three kids waking me up with screaming, yelling, thumping, etc.

After a mostly uneventful drive down (though we found a great sandwich shop in Lebanon, IN called the Fig Tree--I highly recommend it), we pulled into the incredibly beautiful Inn at Woodhaven. This bed and breakfast will serve as our home for the next three days as we explore the Bourbon Trail and see all that Louisville has to offer.  Plus, they keep free booze for all their guests in the common sitting room.

Despite the stormy weather when we arrived, we headed straight downtown for some food and drinks. We started off at Hillbilly Tea where I enjoyed some barbecue frog legs and a pour of Elmer T. Lee.  From there it was on to Down One, the first stop on my trip where I was absolutely impressed and amazed by their bourbon selection. I didn't go too crazy and simply enjoyed a pour of Calumet Farms (quite tasty!) along with my pulled pork, pork belly and bacon sliders (Three Little Piggies). I initially ordered a Rock Hill Farms, something I just can't find by us, but unfortunately they were out of stock.

From there we had intentions of making our way to Haymarket, but that is when the skies decided to open up and we were forced to run underneath an awning of a building to escape the torrential downpour . . . only to have that building be struck by lightning! So, soaked and a bit shaken up, we decided to drive till we found somewhere with close parking where we could get drinks and some more food.  We ended up at El Camino, a taco joint that was open until 2:00 a.m. Although their bourbon selection is not very big (their tequila and rum selections are quite impressive, though), what they did have were all private select single barrels, so I enjoyed one of their Eagle Rare offerings to go with my tacos, which were really good!

All in all, despite the driving and the storms, it was a fun day, and a good appetizer for the next day's events.  We booked our tours through Mint Julep Tours, and our tour stops on the first day include Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey and Four Roses. On day two we will be visiting Maker's Mark, Barton 1792, and Heaven Hill.

It's quite the full boat, and yet each evening I expect that we will continue to partake in the local restaurants, bars, more great food and, obviously, more great bourbon. I cannot wait for the meat of this trip to begin! I feel like a kid getting ready to go to Disney World!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Colonel E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof Straight Kentucky Bourbon

- $75
- 127.2 Proof
- Kentucky

This is one of those bottles that I've known is out there but have rarely seen in the wild (kind of like Elmer T. Lee, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof and Angel's Envy Rye).  So, on a drive back to the office one day, while stopping at a couple liquor stores just to see what was there, I looked up and saw about eight bottles of the E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof sitting on the top shelf, and I grabbed one without hesitation.

I told the clerk that I'd been looking for a bottle for quite a while and had not seen it anywhere else, and he was surprised, noting that he had no problem getting his shipment. In any event, I was happy to have finally landed a bottle.

I found the nose to be incredibly enjoyable, as I was hit with unexpected notes of chocolate and almond, and perhaps a slight hint of cherry. 

The first sip hit me with the heat, but not enough to take away my enjoyment. Expecting the chocolate and almond that I noticed on the nose, I was surprised to find that on the front end it was instead coffee and caramel (a personal favorite flavor combination of mine). At the back end the oak influence really came through, adding that dry, spiciness to counter the sweet, up-front flavors.

I expected more viscosity from this high-proofer, but it actually comes across as a bit watery in texture. However, it was still full of flavor.

As I made my way through the bottle, the bourbon became much more oak forward, and it seemed to take on a more peppery spice. The other flavors seemed to transform into a blend of cinnamon and leather, moving away from the sweetness that dominated at first.

I really liked this bottle when I first opened it. It had an incredible nose and a great combination of sweet and dry notes. Towards the end of the bottle I found myself wishing for those flavors to return, but, of course, they did not.

It was a very good bourbon, and I'm glad I finally got the opportunity to give it a run, but it was not what I would deem a great bottle. I felt it was kind of a tease and found myself yearning for more from this bourbon, that it could have been great, but just didn't realize its potential.

Grade: B+

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Slaughter House American Whiskey

- $45
- 88 Proof

This is one of the more intriguing bottles I've grabbed off the shelf.  It's interesting, because I've seen it plenty of times, but knew nothing about the product, and the label provides very little information as to what's inside, only that it's an American whiskey finished and bottled in Napa, California. There's no age statement on the bottle, and it doesn't even state what exactly it was finished in.

However, I happened to come across some article about craft whiskeys worth giving a try, and after learning more about this particular whiskey, I went to the liquor store for the sole purpose of grabbing a bottle of Slaughter House.

Slaughter House is the creation of a man named Dave Phinney. While I certainly didn't recognize his name, he is apparently well-known in the wine industry. I did, however, recognize the wine that he's most commonly associated with, "Prisoner" wine. I've enjoyed a bottle or two of this stuff myself. My interest was piqued on this basis alone.

Then I learned that Slaughter House is not a young whiskey, like so many craft whiskeys, but is actually aged for 9 years in oak barrels. After that, it is finished in Orion Swift Papillon barrels, a high end Bordeaux blend, and then bottled in the interesting and unassuming packaging and sold under a relatively odd name. Everything about this product sounded like something that I at least had to try at some point.

The whiskey has a slightly pink hue, something I've come to expect from wine barrel finished whiskeys. The nose is a fruity, nutty mix, primarily raspberry and pecan. So far so good.

I've never had a Bordeaux finished whiskey before, so I wasn't sure exactly what to expect. On my first sip I noticed a bit of a sour bite, like not quite ripe fruit, that I would need to get used to. Behind that initial sour note, however, was a great mix of plum and cherry with vanilla and bread notes behind it and on the finish. It was incredibly tasty, and I found myself regularly enjoying this bottle after dinner as my dessert.

The whiskey also has some serious legs. However, I didn't really notice as I was drinking it, but it was incredibly noticeable on the glass.

After that first pour, the sour bite up front went away completely, and the rest of the way it was a velvety smooth drink, providing the grain and vanilla flavors but complemented by the influence of a not-so-sweet red wine that added some great complexity and flavor and let the sweetness come from the grain.

If it weren't for that article, I may never have picked up a bottle of this stuff, and that would have been tragic. This is an excellent whiskey, well-aged, well-finished, and incredibly delicious. Mr. Phinney knows what he's doing, even when it comes to Whiskey.

Grade: A