Browsed by
Tag: bourbon

One bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 15

One bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 15

IMG_5457

UPDATE: THE WINNER WAS CHOSEN! Congratulations Craig S. But please don’t let that stop any of you from donating to the Giving KitchenCLICK HERE TO GIVE.

Would you like a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle? If you’re reading this, I’m guessing the answer is YES. Well, it just so happens I have one to share. Here’s the story….

Four years ago, I got lucky. I came across a decent amount of Van Winkle bourbon and rye on the shelves of a Total Wine and More (what!?), and I had the foresight to buy as much of it as I could. Back then, Pappy had already hit the big time with bourbon enthusiasts, but there was little indication that Pappy mania would become so… maniacal. I’ve been enjoying the stuff ever since, sipping with friends, sharing a bottle with my neighbor who helped shovel ice and snow off my driveway during the Atlanta Snowpocalypse, breaking it out on special occasions. I’m thrilled to have Pappy in my house, especially when sharing with friends who appreciate both the elixir and the gesture of a glass. But I also have plenty of other great bourbon that I’m just as happy to enjoy.

Recently, I was organizing my bottles and, seeing that I had a few extra, gave a fleeting thought to selling one off or trading it. A few websites have popped up in the past year to enable the (basically illegal and frankly somewhat disgusting at current rates) sale of rare bourbon and other spirits online from person to person. I checked around, and found that I could probably get in the vicinity of $1000 for one bottle of Pappy from the heralded 2011 release. And then I came to my senses and remembered my anger with the whole rare bourbon aftermarket and the “flippers” who fuel it. In my opinion, anyone who’s out there buying up bourbon to flip and profit from is harming the industry. They’re making it harder for those who simply want to drink the stuff, and they’re profiting off the fine work of the distillers and bottlers out there who have invested so much in bringing bourbon to market that has aged in a barrel for 15, 20, 23 years.

Sure, you can chalk it up to the free market – if someone’s willing to pay $1000 for Pappy, and a flipper can offer a bottle to that person, that’s where supply meets demand. It’s true. It just happens to leave a bad taste in my mouth, and that’s the last thing I want when it comes to bourbon.

So with this one bottle of Pappy, I’m going to do something different. I’m not going to flip it. I’m not even going to sip it – I have enough other bourbon to sip for years. Rather, I’m going to give it, to a charitable organization who happens to be trying to raise money, whose supporters would surely appreciate the gentle nudge of the opportunity to win a bottle of Pappy in recognition of their donation to the charity. If everyone out there who was considering flipping a bottle did the same, maybe we could make a dent in the whole flipper ridiculousness going on right now – and do some good in the process. I know it’s an uphill battle, but at least we can try.

***********************************************************************

the giving kitchenFor those of you interested in where this bottle of Pappy is going, I’ve chosen to offer it to the Giving Kitchen – an Atlanta-based non-profit that provides emergency assistance grants to those in need in the Atlanta restaurant community. They’re doing good work. And I know they enjoy bourbon, too. So what could be better? Especially since this week they are working overtime to help address the unexpected shutdown of a major restaurant group in Atlanta that has left a whole lot of people out of a job. Watch the Giving Kitchen’s Twitter account in the coming week for details on their latest fundraising campaign and how this bottle of Pappy will be deployed to assist in supporting their mission.

UPDATE: THE WINNER WAS CHOSEN! Congratulations Craig S. But please don’t let that stop any of you from donating to the Giving Kitchen CLICK HERE TO GIVE.

IMG_5461Now for you bourbon geeks out there, this particular bottle comes from the heralded 2011 release. The bottle code is N2991109:43, which means it was bottled on Buffalo Trace’s N line, on the 299th day of 2011 (October 26), at 9:43 AM. The 2011 release of Pappy 15 was Whisky Advocate’s “#1 Whiskey” from their summer 2012 issue. Of that same release, Whisky Advocate’s John Hansell commented on the full Van Winkle range, saying: “I tasted my way through the 10, 15, 20, and 23 year olds recently at WhiskyFest San Francisco. My favorite was the 15 year old. That’s the sweet spot in the range.” I pretty much felt the same.

It’s a matter of debate on whether the 2011 Pappy 15 was bottled from the famed Stitzel Weller juice, Bernheim juice, or Buffalo Trace juice (or a mixture of two or all three of those), but critical response was overwhelmingly positive. The following year, Julian Van Winkle went on record saying that the 2012 release was a combination of all three sources that Van Winkle had on hand (Stitzel Weller, Bernheim, and Buffalo Trace). Current releases are assumed to rely more heavily on Buffalo Trace produced juice – not a bad thing, but worth noting for the bourbon-obsessed among you.

IMG_5460

FEW Spirits: A few quick notes

FEW Spirits: A few quick notes

FEW_spirits

FEW Spirits, out of the great city of Chicago (well, Evanston, to be exact), has won boatloads of awards and received a good bit of acclaim as one of America’s leading craft distillers. Their rye whiskey was awarded Whisky Advocate’s Craft Whiskey of the Year in 2013, and their bourbon and barrel-aged gin join the rye with gold medals from the Beverage Testing Institute (if awards are your kinda thing). This spring, FEW expanded their distribution to include Georgia (and a few other states, they’re now up to 20 plus Washington D.C., and a handful of countries outside the U.S.), and sent me a few samples to get to know them better. Having spent a good amount of time in Chicago previously, I was well aware of FEW, but it was good to revisit their four main products.

The coolest thing about FEW is that they really make an effort to keep their production locally rooted – sourcing as much of their grains as possible from within 100 miles of the distillery, where they do all the fermentation, distillation, aging and bottling on-site. They famously grow the Cascade hops used in their American Gin in founder/distiller Paul Hletko’s own backyard. Herewith, some quick thoughts on their two primary whiskeys (one bourbon, one rye) and two primary gins (one regular, one barrel-aged). The rye, in particular, stands out to me as an excellent craft spirit worth seeking out. Oh, and don’t you love those photos up above? They come courtesy of FEW’s website, which also features a number of cocktail recipes for each spirit when you’re ready to play.

FEW_American_Gin1FEW American Gin
80 proof, Approx. $40 retail
Thirsty South Rating: Good Stuff* 

Interestingly, FEW’s American Gin is made from a wheated bourbon mash (70% corn, 20% wheat, 10% malted barley), with an intentional focus on the grains. They also include Cascade hops in the botanical blend and whole vanilla beans, plus more typical gin botanicals like juniper, bitter orange and lemon peel. Mild at first, with notes that may have you thinking … “vodka?” … before some interesting hints of green lemongrass and waxy vanilla seep in. Again, it’s mild when you first taste it, but you can pick up the subtle presence of the corn and grains, then a lingering acidic tingle with a juniper base finally jumps in on the lovely finish. This one grew on me and benefits from some air – and will do nicely in cocktails that call for a mild-mannered gin or as an introductory offer to any gin-averse friends.

FEW_Barrel_Gin1FEW Barrel Gin
93 proof, Approx. $50 retail
Thirsty South Rating: Good Stuff (approaching Excellent)*

FEW’s Barrel Gin actually uses a more neutral base than the American Gin (distilled to a higher proof and thus less grain presence coming through), and is also flavored with different botanicals to better harmonize with the barrel-aging. It goes roughly  6 to 9 months in a combo of new oak and FEW’s used bourbon and rye barrels. With just a whiff, this is much more intriguing than the American Gin, and – to me at least – you get both more of a gin/juniper presence AND the effects of the barrel also emerge in notes of warm sandalwood. Also on the nose, there’s a bit of lemon Pledge (in a good way!) and tropical fruit… think grilled pineapple. Sipping the aged gin also shows a nice layering of flavor, fairly rich and lush, with a lovely waft of floral notes coming in and out. The wood remains in the background, warm but subtle, and again the finish has a nice lingering juniper character that really shines.

FEW_Bourbon_WhiskeyFEW Bourbon Whiskey
93 proof, Approx. $50 retail
Thirsty South Rating: Fair* 

FEW’s bourbon mash bill is 70% corn, 20% rye, 10%  malted barley, and is fermented with a beer yeast that FEW says helps bring out some spice notes. No age statement, but it’s generally between two and three years. Give this a bit of air, too, to fully open up. The nose is quite nice, with some maple syrup, sawdust, and plenty of corn silk and that malt presence. Sipping, though, it comes across very young, in a not entirely pleasant way if you’re not a fan of young whiskies. I have a feeling this would really benefit from another couple years in the barrel, but as it stands, would have a hard time choosing this over much cheaper bourbons from larger distillers.

FEW_Rye_Whiskey1FEW Rye Whiskey
93 proof, Approx. $65 retail
Thirsty South Rating: Excellent*

The rye mashbill is 70% rye, 20% corn, 10% malted barley, and is fermented with a Loire Valley wine yeast that FEW says brings out fruity notes. The nose on this rye is super interesting, some cinnamon, deep juicy plum, clove and baking spice swirling around in a heady ethereal way. There’s a fascinating richness to it that is almost moving into Port territory. Sipping neat, more complexity still, a deep grape quality, a touch of sharp mint, and a background buzz of Christmas spice that builds on the finish. I’d love to see this one with a bit more barrel time as well (it’s also under four years), but it’s in a great place. My favorite of all the four FEW spirits tasted.

UPDATE (8/18/2015): Someone had asked what FEW’s barrel approach was on the bourbon and rye, so here’s a response from FEW’s PR manager, Jason Horn: “We’re actually using a mix of barrel sizes from quarter-cask up to the standard 53-gallon barrels. Paul blends different size casks of different ages together to get the flavor he’s looking for. In recent years, we’ve been moving toward a higher and higher proportion of the 53-gallon barrels, but it is still a mix.”

*******************************

* Thirsty South Rating Scale:

Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

Full Disclosure: Tasting samples provided by FEW.

Jack and Evan, two singles looking to have some fun #whiskey

Jack and Evan, two singles looking to have some fun #whiskey

Jack Daniels and Evan WilliamsI posted this on Instagram the other day – having a little fun with the names of these two whiskeys and the fact that they’re both single barrel selections – “Jack and Evan, two singles looking to have some fun.” These were the two bottles I picked out to take with me on holiday. Both fun whiskeys. Both single barrel offerings.

The Jack was a single barrel selection I helped choose myself, a real “honey barrel” (AKA hitting the sweet spot of where this particular whiskey can go) if I must says myself. The Evan was one of a handful of bottles I picked up four years ago, in what I thought was a particularly good year (2010 release of bourbon put in the barrel in 2000) for the annual Evan Williams Single Barrel release.

The past couple nights, I’ve been tasting these side by side. And, dang, they are neck and neck in my book. Both great sips (I like them both with a single ice cube, but they do well neat, too). The Jack is indeed a touch mellower, with that charcoal filtering and all. The Evan is indeed a bit richer, a bit more toasty oak, a bit more brown sugar. (It’s worth pointing out that the Jack was roughly six years old, vs. ten years on the Evan Williams.)

But these are differences at the very edge of two fine whiskeys. I can’t help but think that, yes, despite all the madness around chasing rare releases – the Pappys and the Buffalo Trace Antique Collections and the this and that… we are blessed with a bounty of fine whiskey in the US of A, sitting on a shelf near you. Whether it comes from Tennessee or Kentucky, or maybe even somewhere else.

Happy holidays, and a happy new year.

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2014: Review and Tasting Notes

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2014: Review and Tasting Notes

oldforesterAnother year, another “birthday bourbon” from Old Forester, a brand that still seems to be a bit under the radar (an increasingly rare thing). Chris Morris, Brown-Forman’s Master Distiller wants you to know, “Old Forester is the only bourbon still in existence today that was produced before, during and after Prohibition by its original distiller.” And now you know.

This is their thirteenth annual limited release, celebrating founder George Garvin Brown’s September 2 birthday. Last year’s version had a phenomenal nose, but the rest didn’t quite live up to the lovely aromas. This year? Same idea on what’s in the bottle, all distilled on one day 12 years ago. Similar proof (down from 98 to 97). A slight bump up from $55 to $60 recommended retail price.

old forester birthday bourbonOld Forester Birthday Bourbon, 2014 Limited Bottling
97 Proof
Approx. $60 Retail
Tasting Dates: October 1 -10, 2014

The color looks a bit lighter to me than last year, more golden. The nose is similar to last year’s, though not as noteworthy in its richness, and maybe a touch less balance than last year as it leans a little hot. Toasty oak, caramel, vanilla, and some peachy fruit. There is a bit of maple here, but not much in the way of cinnamon/spice.

Neat, there’s a woodiness to this one at first, a bit dusty, and the cinnamon comes in pretty quick and lingers long. Last year it brought to mind the cinnamon-dusted, candied almonds that they sell at ballparks or street festivals – and this year I think the cinnamon is even more intense (despite not being very present on the nose). Again, nice stuff overall, but it still feels a bit off balance and slightly harsh, for a 12 year old bourbon under 100 proof.

Ice brings out the brown sugar in the nose in a very nice way, and accentuates the peachiness as well, with some bitter orange mixed in. It does indeed make for a more lush feeling while sipping, but still not as harmonious as I’d like it to be until it starts to approach watery. There’s a fine line here where the ice and bourbon reach the perfect equilibrium, but it’s fleeting.

Thirsty South Rating: Good Stuff* – it’s a very nice way to celebrate a birthday, but not a party I’d go out of my way for. I like the fact that Old Forester keeps turning out these limited releases, but wouldn’t mind seeing them play around with the age and proof  a bit to seek out something that stands out from the pack a bit more.

*******************************

* Thirsty South Rating Scale:

Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

Full Disclosure: Tasting sample provided by Brown-Forman.

Bourbon Porn: Evan Williams Single Barrel

Bourbon Porn: Evan Williams Single Barrel

Herewith, a new feature on Thirsty South – Bourbon Bottle Porn. Photos of bourbon bottles that will make you thirsty. That’s it. For our inaugural release – a few bottles of Evan Williams Single Barrel, 2000 and 2004 vintages. Outside. In the cold winter air. Consider yourself warned.

Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon
Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon
Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon
Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon
Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon
Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon

Intrigued? Check out BOURBONPORN.COM. (99.9% completely safe for work)