When in doubt…

When in doubt … post a photo and talk about Pappy Van Winkle. Yes, Pappy is a frequent topic of conversation around these parts. So, three things Pappy today.

First, I hadn’t seen this before, but our friend Jimmy at EatItAtlanta.com posted a link to Mr. Julian Van Winkle III making the “Julian” cocktail at Husk Bar in Charleston. (and here’s our previous take on the subject of a Pappy 15 Old Fashioned)

Second, a recent tasting of Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old vs. Pappy 20 year old confirmed our personal preference for the 15, especially on the value scale (the 15 runs for about $70, the 20 goes for about $120). A group of three all leaned to the 15 in blind preference – it’s a near perfect expression of bourbon in our book, though the 20 was just a touch behind. There are definitely a few folks who vehemently disagree with rating the 15 over the 20 – of course, to each his own.

Third, Old Rip Van Winkle seems to pop up in all sorts of random and unexpected places. Here he is at ROCK CITY in Chattanooga. SEE ROCK CITY! (notice the whiskey jug and the barrel in the foreground – they do pay attention to detail, those mischievous elves)

Ten Sinfully Southern Reasons to Consider the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

Have you heard about the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, coming this May? I had heard a little bit, but not enough to understand the full scope of what this represents for Southern food (and drink) culture, and not enough to be willing to fork over the $$$ necessary to attend the full slate of seminars, tastings, and shindigs, but now…. well, let’s say I’ve heard enough to seriously consider it. It is not inexpensive, but the quality and breadth of seminars, tastings, and Southern talent that will be on display is simply mind boggling. Enough so that I feel the need, the desire, to share my top ten reasons for the Southern spirits (and wine and beer) fan to check it out. So here goes…

  1. Classic Cocktails of New Orleans Seminar, with Dale DeGroff, “King Cocktail” – Sazerac anyone? Vieux Carre?? Yes, please. Participants will learn to mix, shake and stir the classic drinks of the South’s cocktail capital.
  2. Reserve Tasting: Bourbon, with Julian Van Winkle, III, Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery – Our love for all things Pappy has been well documented. Need we say more? (Please note, I’m pretty sure this reserve tasting is for high rollers only, unlike the rest of the seminars and tastings mentioned in this post)
  3. Coke-tails Seminar, with Greg Best, Holeman & Finch Public House – How can you go wrong with Atlanta’s hometown carbonated beverage of choice, in the hands of Greg Best? Participants in this interactive demonstration will explore the flavor profiles of the South’s favorite soft drink, while mixing unique drinks.
  4. Booze & Chocolate Seminar, with Scott Witherow of Olive & Sinclair Chocolate Co., and Corsair Artisan spirits – Oooh, this should be good.
  5. Build a Bar Double Demo, from the fine folks at H&F Bottle Shop – Participants will explore three perfectly-appointed bars – Whiskey Bar, Classic Cocktail bar and Southern Brunch Bar – and learn how to build their own.
  6. The Bizarre Story of Southern Blue Laws, with Dr. Chris Baker, Ph.D. and moonshine expert – What could be more topical in the midst of the Sunday sales debate??
  7. Noble Rums Seminar, with Ed Hamilton, “The Ministry of Rum” – Rum is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance right now, this should be enlightening.
  8. Tasting Tent & Street Cart Pavilion – this includes a bourbon tent curated by Julian Van Winkle, III (not to mention a whole pig tent curated by Chef Kevin Gillespie). Hallelujah.
  9. White Lightnin’ Seminar, with Junior Johnson – As a young man, Junior Johnson developed his driving skills while running moonshine on mountain roads in North Carolina, which led him to a hall-of-fame career as a NASCAR driver. He’s now doing the legal moonshine thing with similar success. Sure to be some good stories in this one. Junior was a key player in the book, Chasing the White Dog.
  10. A Southern Boy Goes to France, with Jon-David Headrick – learn the story of how a boy from Nashville was inspired to become one of America’s most promising specialty wine importers. Good guy, good stuff.

Seriously, check out their website for more info – this is just a very small sample of what the festival has to offer, and there is more news to come in the next few weeks (heck, it’s only February, the festival is still three months away). In fact, here are TEN MORE great seminars you might be interested in that will be part of the festival:

  1. Breakfast Cocktails, with Neal Bodenheimer, Cure
  2. Wine Pairings Demystified, with Andy Chabot, Blackberry Farm
  3. Exploring Argentina Wine, with THE Susana Balbo, Mendoza, Argentina
  4. Southern Craft Brewers Spill It, with Bob Townsend, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  5. How to Taste Blind, with Michael McNeill, Gina Hopkins, Ryan Mullins
  6. Escape to Greece (Wine), with Pano I. Karatassos, Buckhead Life
  7. Beer & Cheese, with Tim Gaddis, Star Provisions, and Terrapin Beer
  8. The Green Fairy (Absinthe) Resurrected, with Ted Breaux, Jade Liqueurs
  9. Vitis Vinifera Down South: The Final Frontier?, with Mary Ann Hardman, Persimmon Creek, and Bernard Delille, Biltmore Winery
  10. Sommelier Round Table, with Andy Chabot, Virginia Philip, Clint Sloan, and Stephen Satterfield

Full Disclosure: The folks behind the festival provided lunch to a bunch of bloggers and media, myself included, as they shared the details of the festival.

Playing with the Pappy Old Fashioned

I’ve always been hesitant to use long aged (AKA $50+) whiskey in cocktails, thinking that a 6 year old rye or 10 year old bourbon offer a better balance of approachability and complexity from time in the barrel. A bottle such as Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old bourbon has always been reserved for neat drinking in my house, due to its amazing character and its cost, quite frankly, but also because it just seems a bit sacrilegious to mix anything beyond a few drops of good water into something so fine. Now, I’ve heard of Pappy cocktails being served at pairing dinners with Julian Van Winkle III himself at the table, but it wasn’t until I read John Kessler’s brief chat with Charleston chef Sean Brock that I had a strong desire to explore Pappy in a cocktail. Chef Brock shared an approach for making a Pappy Old Fashioned that Mr. Van Winkle himself had recently offered up – a slightly unorthodox approach that, I’m sure, plenty of thought and experimentation went into. So with the Van Winkle-endorsed recipe in hand, I joined a few Pappy-appreciating friends to tinker with the recipe and contrast it with the standalone bourbon. The fact that we were playing with the Old Fashioned eased my apprehensions as well, given that it’s one of the simplest of classic cocktails, one that focuses on the primary ingredient (here, bourbon), layered with the interplay of aromatic bitters and the sweetness of a bit of sugar.

The test was this:
Glass A – Pappy 15
Glass B – a conservative take on the Pappy 15 Old Fashioned, adding a cube of brown sugar doused in Angostura and orange bitters
Glass C – following Mr. Van Winkle’s lead, taking the above and adding a small wedge of orange to the mix
Glass D – blending the Glass C approach with another common Old Fashioned technique, the addition of a touch of club soda

So, we started with the bourbon itself and progressed step by step to cocktails that layered on extra dimensions. The results were fascinating to say the least…

Glass A – Pappy 15 – a genuinely great bourbon worthy of slow contemplation on its own. The first thing that hits you is the depth of the nose that the time in the barrel has provided, caramel, leather, cedar, on and on. There is the evident heat, it is 107 proof, but it’s kept in check amidst the layers of spice and toasty caramel. Close to perfection in a bourbon. How can you mess with this?!

Glass B – Pappy 15 Old Fashioned, with brown sugar and bitters – wow, the nose now is completely changed, gone are the deep aged notes, in are the bright aromatics of the bitters, which really take over. Bitter orange peel, cloves, sharp floral whiffs. Where’s the Pappy? But then you take a sip, and the Pappy emerges, now a bit sweeter indeed, a bit more rounded, present but definitively altered – a cocktail rather than a bourbon in the glass. Is it better? No, not really. Is it good? Yes, definitely. And as the drink sits in the glass, the cube of ice melts a bit, the bitters take more of a back seat and integrate into the bourbon more effectively.

Glass C – Pappy 15 Old Fashioned, with a wedge of orange in the mix – OK, now this is interesting. The orange muddled into the bourbon increases the orange notes (duh) that hit your nose up front, but the sweet acidity of the orange also somehow manages to make the drink “fuller,” smoother, rounder. Dare I say more interesting? This is an excellent cocktail, no doubt, with a LOT going on between the citrus, the bitters, the bourbon itself. It respects the bourbon, but adds a playful element of surprise to the Pappy experience.

Glass D – Pappy 15 Old Fashioned, now with a touch of club soda – a little bit of water can go a long way. Here, alas, the way it’s going is a dead end, a distraction, a verge off into too sweet and too mellow that basically diminishes the glory of the main ingredient. Fail. Well, maybe not a FAIL, but does not compare well to the other versions tested.

Conclusion: Pappy 15 is a glorious thing on its own. It’s hard to justify making a cocktail out of it, BUT… if you are hankering for a cocktail that respects a fine bourbon, there is an Old Fashioned that works delightfully well, that is interesting and engaging, that is OK to put Pappy 15 in! Julian Van Winkle III clearly knows his stuff, and the combination of the brown sugar, bitters and orange is a fine partner for Pappy.

So, here it is, a slightly modified take on Van Winkle’s Pappy Old Fashioned:

1.5 oz Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon
1 brown sugar cube (roughly 1 tsp brown sugar pressed into a cube)
Angostura Bitters
Orange bitters
Orange wedge, peeled, fruit only (Satsuma or similar is a good choice)

Place sugar cube over a paper towel on top of an Old Fashioned (AKA rocks) glass. Add 6 drops of Angostura bitters and 6 drops of orange bitters to the sugar cube, then let it settle through the sugar – a good portion of the bitters will absorb into the paper towel. Drop the sugar cube into the glass, and add 1/4 oz Pappy and a small wedge of orange. Muddle well. Add one large ice cube and 1 oz Pappy, then stir well. Once stirred, add a final 1/4 oz Pappy. And enjoy!

Chef Brock uses a touch of sorghum over a regular white sugar cube instead of brown sugar. Mr. Van Winkle commented below to be sure to peel the orange and use the fruit only, so that the bitterness of the pith is taken out of play.

Bourbon Bounty at Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tennessee


Blackberry Farm sits amongst the bucolic hills of eastern Tennessee, a retreat for lovers of rustic elegance and the ideals of farm-to-table Southern goodness. Enough has been said elsewhere about the excellence of their hotel and restaurant – Blackberry Farm has been rated the #1 resort, small hotel or country inn in the U.S. many times over- so we’ll concentrate on their incredible bar program, and, more specifically, their bourbon collection. Now, we must preface this by saying that one must be a guest at the hotel to access the bar – this is no neighborhood hangout. And staying at the hotel requires a small fortune (or a large fortune, depending on your point of view). Nevertheless, once you’re settled in to the cozy confines of Blackberry Farm, especially on a cold winter day, the bourbon beckons.


While the wine list is one of the most ambitious in the Southeast, the whiskey selection is inherently closer to the ideals of this Southern farmstead. They say: “After all, we are surrounded by the core of American whiskey production. Of course our collection is comprised of both American and international whiskies. However, the one closest to our hearts are the ones produced closest to our homes. We like to believe that our region is at the forefront of the American whiskey revival, and the amber glow that emanates from within our bars clearly represents our passion for brown spirits. … our selection of artisan American whiskies demonstrates the skill, craftsmanship, and traditions of American Master Distillers.”

There are close to a hundred selections of American whiskey on the menu, ranging from a $5 pour of George Dickel #12 Tennessee Whiskey to a taste of rare experimental batches from Buffalo Trace (or equally rare A.H. Hirsch of W.L. Weller aged bourbons) that will set you back a very pretty penny. There are Pappy Van Winkle bottles hand selected for Blackberry Farm’s beverage manager and mixologist, Andrew Noye. There are multiple vintages of single barrel releases. It is a veritable bounty of bourbon.


On a recent cold and blustery December night, we were guided through the bourbon offerings by Jesse behind the bar, a knowledgable bourbon guide if there ever was one. He discussed Blackberry Farm’s intentions to be a bourbon nirvana, and they are certainly getting close. We opted to go for two bourbons we hadn’t tasted before – a Black Maple Hill 21 year old and an A.H. Hirsch 16 year old that was originally set in barrels back in 1974 by Michter’s Distillery in Pennsylvania – plus a good ole Elmer T. Lee single barrel. It was an interesting lineup – the Elmer T. Lee’s nose just about knocks you out with butter caramel popcorn, the A. H. Hirsch is laden with spice and vanilla, and the Black Maple Hill 21 presents a complex and deep puzzle of aged mysteries. Choosing a favorite among them was nigh impossible, as each one was completely unique and full of character.

Like that Black Maple Hill, Blackberry Farm’s bourbon library is full of mystery, with only a few lucky souls able to explore it in depth. It is a rare opportunity to venture back in time, to savor some American artistry in the shadows of the Great Smoky Mountains.