So if my last post was predictive of the bourbons you can expect to become scarce in 2015, this post will strive to be the opposite. No one will be impressed if you bring these bourbons to the party. They will sit, untouched, while even the Jim Beam white label is consumed first. And you’ll be just fine with that because you know they are the unsung heroes, the bottom-shelf winners, and you’ll have them all to yourself forever more. These are the anti-Pappy bottles.
Very Old Barton: Known in Kentucky as “table bourbon” (just like you Californians have your table wine), VOB is reliable standby for your daily drinking needs. Made at the Barton 2792 distillery in Bardstown, KY, it has dominant flavors of black pepper and nutmeg with a dry oaky finish. Not very sweet, but then this IS the anti-Pappy post. If you want sweet bourbons, look elsewhere. Cool your VOB with a single ice cube to take the heat off and you’ll be surprised how smooth it gets. Price: $13
Heaven Hill Old Style Bourbon (Green Label): This was recommended to me by Heaven Hill brand ambassador Bernie Lubbers. Does it come in plastic one liter bottles? Does it have a label that reminds you of Aristocrat Rum? Yes and yes. But it also makes a great daily drinker and mixing bourbon. I stock this heavily during Derby time as I think it makes an ideal Mint Julep. I bring it with me camping because the aforementioned plastic bottle is allowed. The flavor is light and a little grassy, but it still has solid notes of caramel and oak to give it body. Price: $12
Benchmark Bourbon: Do not be deceived, the big 8 on the label does not mean aged 8 years. No matter, it’s still the smoothest bourbon on the bottom shelf and a party favorite among my friends. They like to mix it with ginger ale, but it really doesn’t need it. Benchmark smells like tupelo honey and tastes about as good. This has a bit of cherry flavor, which makes sense with it’s origins in the Buffalo Trace low-rye mash bill. Price: $11
I’m sure just reading the title of the post is will cause so much collective eye rolling that we may permanently alter the rotational velocity of the earth, but hear me out. With the bourbon craze all but eliminating mere mortal’s chances at acquiring a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle, the masses have turned to a series of bourbons that have been billed by GQ and others as “the next best thing to Pappy Van Winkle.” Thus starts a rush. And we all would rather be ahead of the rush for the next “it” bourbon, right? No one wants to be the last to know, walking the aisles of your favorite store wondering where all the Black Maple Hill, or Weller 12, or Elmer T Lee went. Thus it behooves us to look into our crystal ball and try to figure out what will be the “new Pappy” of 2015. I have a few that are getting noticeably more attention in the last three months and are possibly poised for a breakout.
1792 Ridgemont Reserve: This is a bit of a sleeper bourbon because it doesn’t get a lot of press, but not because it lacks in taste. This 8 year old bourbon is smooth with a spice note upfront that fades to a delicious oakiness more akin to a 12 year old bourbon. Made by the Barton distillery in Bardstown, it comes in what I believe to be one of the most beautiful bottles on the shelf. Clocking in at exactly 93.7 proof, it’s got some kick but the creamy mouthfeel helps take care of a lot of that. Priced at around $30, it’s a solid deal in today’s bourbon market.
Larceny: This here is an up to 10 year old wheated bourbon (hmm, sound like any other famous brand you know of?). But instead of being made at Buffalo Trace, this is made by the folks at Heaven Hill. They have been pumping out wheated bourbons for some time now (Old Fitzgerald, notably), and yet I’m always surprised when people don’t mention Larceny in discussions about wheated bourbons. With the characteristic Heaven Hill mint aroma and butterscotch taste, I generally have some of this around for sipping neat on a regular basis.
Four Roses Single Barrel: Everyone who has paid attention to awards the last few years has noticed that Jim Rutledge at Four Roses is cleaning up. Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch is such a perennial winner that it may soon make the New England Patriots’ dynasty look like a flash in the pan. That being said, FRLESmB (as it’s known on the whiskey message boards) is reaching Pappy levels of scarcity already. So what’s the next best thing? The single barrel expression that Four Roses has been selling for years. It is always good, which is partially due to their single-level warehouses that age barrels more consistently, and partially due to having perfected the OSEO recipe (one of the 10 recipes they make). Great caramel and vanilla notes with rye spice finish, I fully admit my bias for this bourbon and it can always be found on my shelf.
Every so often, my two worlds collide in a way that is interesting enough to share with the wider world. My day job is a digital marketing consultant, and with bourbon marketing getting bigger each day, it’s no surprise that a major marketing publication has just run a feature on Beam’s campaign from last fall to launch their spiced bourbon Kentucky Fire. You can check out the article from eMarketer at this link, but let me pull out a few interesting quotes for you here:
On why they chose to use Facebook to promote: “Facebook’s reach is unmatched. It can touch so many different people. Also, the autoplay feature for video can really grab people’s attention. After that ad platform rolled out, we saw more and more people clicking, watching our videos and staying with us. It continues to be an important role for our brand, especially for Jim Beam.”
This was a video driven campaign, where BEAM was one of the first people to use the autoplay videos in Facebook news feeds. Video was important to them: “In the case of Jim Beam Kentucky Fire, which was a product launch, we wanted to make sure we were maximizing our awareness and our engagement. We also wanted people to understand how to use the product. And, with Kentucky Fire, we wanted to do a new spin on the shot ritual.”
So there you go. We all know we’re being marketed to, but there’s a little insight into how it’s happening…straight from the top media manager at Beam.
You’ve no doubt heard by now that Japanese whisky giant Suntory will be purchasing American bourbon giant BEAM International. Much hand wringing and raised eyebrows have been had over this deal: suggesting that it will lead to higher prices, that it was done to line the pockets of hedge fund investors, that it’s a sign of American weakness in the beverage industry, or that it might lead to a new Jim Beam commercial starring Bill Murray (For a relaxing time, make it Jim Beam time.)
There are a couple well-balanced posts made by Chuck Cowdery and Janet Patton explaining why we shouldn’t be up in arms. I’ll add one more reason: Kirin
You may recognize Kirin as the beer served at your favorite sushi place, but they are a Japanese beverage colossus that just happens to own Four Roses. You know, the company that won best whiskey of the year for the last two years running? The company with one of the fastest rising brands in bourbon today? The company that was struggling at the hands of Seagrams until Kirin came around? Yes, that Four Roses.
A fast-forward history of Four Roses: they were founded 125 years ago, made it through prohibition as one of the few distilleries allowed to continue operations, and were then purchased by Seagrams who slowly shifted distribution until Four Roses was bottom-shelf blended whiskey in the US and top-shelf bourbon in Asia. Master Distiller Jim Rutledge fought for years to bring the premium bourbon back to the states and when Kirin purchased Four Roses in 2001, he got his wish.
Jason Pyle does a much better job of explaining the Four Roses history on his blog.
So there you have it. There is no need to fear the Japanese takeover of bourbon. It’s already been happening and we’re better off for it.
Available in 750ml, 1.5L and 5 gallon buckets.
Today brings us an article from a great journalistic venture here in Louisville called Insider Louisville. In it, they attempt to figure out what the heck is going on with Costco selling bourbon. For those who have a Trader Joe’s near them, you have no doubt seen the Trader Joe’s store brand bourbon. Now Costco is getting into the game with the Kirkland Signature Premium Small Batch Bourbon.
This juice is a 7 year Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. It’s important to note, as Insider Louisville does, that there are only 10 distillers of bourbon in Kentucky and yet there are 300 labels that say “Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.” Kentucky distillers known to have sold their stock under other names include Heaven Hill, Jim Beam and Buffalo Trace — of which the latter is most likely the source of the Costco bourbon.
To answer the question in the title, no, Costco bourbon does not come in 5 gallon buckets. But it might be a good thing if it did. According to reviews from around the web, this bourbon tastes remarkably similar to Knob Creek. Since it comes out of Buffalo Trace, though, we are looking at something fairly unique. And for $20 per liter it sounds like a steal.
So next time you’re loading up at Costco with a pallet of paper towels, toss in this bottle and then let us know what you think!
80 years ago today our country finally pulled the plug on what is now universally understood to be our most dismal social experiment: the prohibition of making and selling alcohol. Most of you readers will celebrate by going out to get a drink or happily and lawfully stopping by your favorite liquor store to practice your rights as an American by buying a bottle of alcohol (preferably bourbon).
However, this is not the case for everyone. As explained in an article today by bourbon writer Fred Minnick, when the US of A decided to end prohibition, it gave the right to regulate alcohol to the states, who then also gave that power to the counties. Thus we have an odd patchwork of laws across our country and a plethora of dry counties to this day.
As Minnick explains, “There are still hundreds of dry counties across the United States, fattening the pocketbooks of bootleggers and illicit moonshiners in those respective areas. And much like during Prohibition, dry politicians swing votes in statehouses and county governments.”
We encourage you to go take a look at the political quagmire that still surrounds the production, sales and consumption of alcohol in our country. It was an eye-opener for us, that’s for sure. And while you’re at it, remember that prohibition is largely responsible for the fact that we now pay federal income taxes. So raise a glass today in celebration of what we’ve achieved, but remember we’ve still got a ways to go before all American producers and consumers of bourbon will be as free as they once were in our nation’s history.
Whether for want of your favorite tipple or need to take the edge off “family time”, most of us are going to be doing some drinking this holiday season. Though a time filled with tradition dictates you can’t abandon your favorite drink, why not try something a little different? Here are five bourbons served five different ways. Cheers and happy holidays!
Bourbon Toddy: Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond
Photo Credit: © Shannon Graham
The toddy was invented as a drink to ward off the cold and if you’ll be traveling through winter weather this holiday season, try a toddy to warm up when you make it home. My recommendation is Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond. At 100 proof, it stands up to mixing well and has a high-rye flavor profile of baking spices and brown sugar. That makes it ideal for the toddy as we’ll be adding in additional sweetness and spice.
Bourbon Toddy Recipe
- 1.5 oz. Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond
- 3/4 Cup Boiling Water
- 1 Tablespoon Honey
- 3 Whole Cloves
- 1 Cinnamon Stick
- Lemon Slice
To your boiling water, add cloves and honey then stir with the cinnamon stuck until honey is dissolved. Leave the cinnamon stick in. Add bourbon then squeeze the lemon and drop into the drink. Serve immediately.
Life of the Party
Hot Bourbon Cider Punch: Old Forester Signature
Photo Credit: thepioneerwoman.comHot Bourbon Cider Punch: Old Forester Signature
If you’re hosting a holiday party this season, why not forgo the usual cold punch and give your guests something to really warm them up? I recommend using Old Forester Signature bourbon for this punch. Similar to the Old Grand-Dad Bottled in Bond, the 100 proof will stand up to some mixing better than standard 80 proof. Old Forester Signature has a classic bourbon taste profile of caramel, vanilla, and oak — which give great flavor and depth to this hot punch.
Hot Bourbon Cider Punch Recipe
- 1 Gallon Fresh Apple Cider
- 5 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
- 2.5 Teaspoons Ground Nutmeg
- 2.5 Teaspoons Ground Ginger
- 4 Cups Old Forester Signature
- 1 Cup Sugar
- Peel of One Orange
Combine all ingredients except bourbon in a stockpot or slow cooker (we prefer the slow cooker at my house to keep the oven free for cooking other things). Bring almost to a boil while stirring frequently, then reduce heat to the lowest setting. Add bourbon and serve. Keep covered when not serving so as to reduce the amount of alcohol evaporating.
Meeting Old Friends
Boulevardier: Four Roses Yellow Label
Photo Credit: Liquor.com
With a name that translates to “Man About Town,” the Boulevardier is a grown-up drink that demands respect. Plus it’s just fun to say (buh-leh-var-dee-ay). Order one of these when visiting your friends from home and they’ll be sure to ask when you developed such good taste.
- 1.5 oz. Four Roses Yellow Label
- 1 oz. Campari
- 1 oz. sweet vermouth
- Ice cubes
- Garnish: Orange twist
Combine all ingredients in a tall mixing glass. Stir for at least 30 seconds with a long-handled spoon (though a chopstick works amazing well for this purpose). Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with the orange by twisting it over the drink the dropping it in.
After a Long Day With the Family
Neat: Elmer T Lee
Sometimes you shouldn’t mess with the classics, and Elmer T. Lee is one of them. Created by it’s namesake, the legendary master distiller of Buffalo Trace who sadly passed away earlier this year, Elmer T. Lee is smooth and slightly sweet single barrel bourbon with notes of honey and vanilla. Sip it after the kids have gone to bed and unwind from the day, you earned it!
A while back I had a chance to sit down with a couple guys that have a famous last name. Maybe you’ve heard of them — the Beam Family? Steve and Craig Beam are the descendents of Minor Case Beam who was a first cousin of Mr. James B Beam aka Jim Beam. Steve and Craig’s father, Jack Beam, worked in the distillery business but the boys decided to go their own way and made their fortunes elsewhere. As they began to get up in years, they started thinking about their bucket list, and one such thing on there was to revive the distilling practices of their grandfather Minor Case Beam. Thus was born Limestone Branch Distillery and their first aged product, Minor’s Revenge.
The story behind Minor’s Revenge is that Minor was in the bourbon distilling business when Prohibition struck in 1918. He attempted to stick it out doing other work, always believing that the nation would get over it’s grand mistake. But when it did, only nine months after Repeal Day, Minor Case died and was never able to reconstitute the distillery business he once had owned.
Today, Minor’s Revenge is a Kentucky moonshine made from heritage sweet corn grown right here in state. It’s then aged for 9 months in used oak barrels — the exact amount of time that Minor would have had if he were able to begin distilling on Repeal Day. What results is an incredibly smooth moonshine with cornbread on the nose and a subtle sweetness. It is the only moonshine I’ve ever had that I enjoyed sipping neat. As a part of history, and just because it’s plain good, I reccomend picking one up if you see it in stores. Or head on down to the Limestone Branch Distillery. It’s on the Kentucky Distillers Association Craft Bourbon tour and it’s worth your trip. Steve or Craig will likely be there to give you the tour themselves!
And now, for a story that the Beam brothers shared with me about their family and an interesting summer they had out near Bardstown.
This is an excerpt of a story written by an old man named Ben Jones, who grew up in the Scott’s Ridge area in Marion County. In this story, he was simply describing who lived where when he was growing up. This part of the story mentions Minor Beam (toward the end).
At the top of the Craven Hill there was a rotting pile of logs,
some lilac bushes, and two old apple trees that still bore some little
apples. It’s where the first Cravens home was. They’d come from
Tennessee in the late 1700′s. Hanson and Cindy (Lucas) Cravens’
sons were Thomas and Dave. There were girls with lost identities.
In a hollow southeast of the Tom Cravens home water ran over smooth
bedrock. There were two round man-made holes about 6 inches in diameter
and five inches deep. About 2 inches of water ran over these holes. I
was curious. I asked why they were there. I was told dies were
submerged under water to deaden the sound when dollars were stamped of iron and zinc. This is off the Scotts Ridge School district. But, in
the early 1800′s, Sam Jones drilled for salt water across the creek
from the Ivy Point. A few feet down they hit a vein of semi-soft metal.
They were several days battering through. When the drill went through,
it was a well of flowing salt water, and it flushed out bits of a soft
white metal. Not so long ago, a geologist said this section of Kentucky
was rich in zinc. How old Sam Jones knew he’d strike salt water, I
never knew. There they boiled the water to make their salt. Tom Cravens
believed the Shawnee Indians had a gold mine in the Salt Lick Hills and
believed it was on his farm.
In about the year 1904, one Sunday a.m., four buggies with two men each
pulled into our little barn lot. The horses were tired. (They’d been
driven 40 miles). George Cravens (Tom’s son) was the spokesman. He
said, “These are friends from Bardstown, Mr. Joe Beam, Minor Beam,
Mr. Samuels, Mr. Dant….” They were all whiskey men. (We knew by
their names). George said they were interested in father’s old mine.
They unloaded a hand drill, dynamite, two lunch boxes, and more than
one bottle of bourbon. (I made my first easy money. I’d fed and
watered their horses.) About sundown they came back down the hollow
tired, dirty, and tipsy, all but George Cravens, and he had a little
bag of rocks.
The assay must have been extra rich in gold for in about two weeks dad
got a letter from the Salt Lick Mining Company of Bardstown, Kentucky,
that there would be a shipment at New Hope, Kentucky of mining
equipment including a steam boiler, steam driven drill, and a complete
set of blacksmith tools to be hauled down the Skaggs Ridge Log Road to
where it could be skidded down the hillside to where they had blasted
and to get lumber from a mill and deliver it to the mine site for a
shop. That was dad’s business. He took care of all the details.
The company sent out a Superintendent named Charlie Arnold and a
blacksmith named Calhoun Combs. (He and I became great friends.) He was
an old C.S.A. rebel, a fiddle player, and a story telling drunk. They
worked that mine all summer and made a 75 foot shaft. One evening when
I came home from school, my world fell in. Uncle Cal was waiting to
tell me goodbye. “Why are you leaving?” I demanded.
He said, “It’s all over. There never was any gold there. It had
been salted and good.”
I asked, “What does that mean?”
He said, “Well, George Cravens left a small rock on a bar in
Bardstown’s best saloon. It didn’t attract notice until a traveler
stopped for a drink. He idly picked up this rock, set his glass down
and asked where the rock came from. He was told who had left it there.
They asked him why the interest. He said he was a mining engineer, and
if this wasn’t rich gold ore, then he was crazy. The bartender
confidently told Minor Beam of the Jim Beams famous bourbon. Mr. Beam
told some rich buddies. They got in contact with George Cravens and
asked where that rock came from. He said it came from his father’s
farm on Salt Lick Creek, Marion County, Kentucky. George said to have
it assayed. They did. Well, they were whiskey rich, but they could use
That’s how come the gold mine became an attraction for one summer
(the best time of my life so far). We don’t know how much mine stock
was sold, but the Singer Sewing Machine Company lost a salesman.
Hey there, bourbon fans. After a bit of a summer hiatus we are back at it in a serious way. I’ve got a big backlog of stories I’m working on for everyone and here’s a sneak peak:
- We interviewed Steve and Craig Beam of Limestone Distillery who are some all around great guys with a famous last name making some amazing moonshine. They also have a great story about their Beam ancestors and the summer they thought they struck gold.
- Forecastle Music Festival was a smashing success due in no small part to the Bourbon Lodge. We snuck in some artists to do a tasting, most notably Canadian electro-duo Purity Ring. Be looking for their interview soon.
- The Bourbon Review magazine had their three year anniversary party recently, and if you’ve ever been to one of their events then you know it was top shelf all the way. We sat down with the brothers behind the publication to ask them what’s next for bourbon’s most important magazine.
So there you go, lots to look forward to as we all get back into the fall routine of work, school, and the upcoming holidays. All of which sounds a little stressful, so be sure to keep that bourbon handy.
For about the last 10 years, a growing part of American’s summers are being dedicated music festivals. Not simply your one day celebration of jazz at your local waterfront, these multi-day festivals now attract attendees in excess of 80,000. The grandaddy of them all, Bonnaroo, recently boasted over 100,000 tickets sold at a minimum price of $230 each. So you should know that music festivals are a big deal. The crowds they attract are young, come from affluent families, and are going to make up the biggest chunk of American consumer power over the next 40 years.
It’s no wonder companies scramble to secure promotions for whatever they can. At Bonnaroo, for example, Bud Lite has an entire side stage where they curate rockin’ bands all day long. But in Kentucky, as with all things, we do festivals a bit differently.
I recently had the chance to sit down with JK McKnight, the captain of the upcoming ocean-themed Forecastle Festival, about how Forecastle is embracing it’s Kentucky roots — and that means bourbon. But bourbon wasn’t always ready to embrace Forecastle.
JK McKnight — Forecastle Festival Founder
“We started the Bourbon Lodge program last year at Forecastle 2012 with three distilleries,” said McKnigh. “It was new and most folks said ‘Naw…those kids don’t want to drink bourbon. That’s just a demographic we aren’t strong in.’ But the Lodge almost ran out of bourbon on the first day! So this year, when I came around asking who wanted to be involved, it was a much easier sell.”
This year, the Forecastle Festival Bourbon Lodge boasts a selection of over 30 fine bourbons available for purchase including offerings from Four Roses, Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, Early Times, Willett, Old Pogue, Heaven Hill, Corsair Artisan, Wild Turkey, Town Branch, and Jim Beam. Entry costs $5 but that gets you drink tickets you can use for samples at any distiller’s booth. The real deal, however, is to become a Bourbon Lodge member for $10 which gets you the same drink tickets but ALSO gets you a double-walled stainless steel Forecastle mug. And did we mention the Bourbon Lodge has professional bartenders, a bourbon information station, and air conditioned bathrooms? Yeah, you’re going to want in on this.
Along with that, the bourbon experience at Forecastle includes talks by master distillers daily and one very special celebrity bartending session.
“As it turns out, the members of the Alabama Shakes know how to make a mean bourbon cocktail. So we invited them to join us on Saturday night at 8 p.m. to show us what they can do,” said McKnight. “A celebrity mixology demonstration with band members is unprecedented in music festival history as far as we know.”
The goal of all this is not just to show our Kentucky pride in our native drink, but to present bourbon to a whole new generation in ways they might not be accustomed to.
“We’re at the big crossroads right now with regards to bourbon,” says McKnight. “It’s never been more popular in our lifetimes and we have an opportunity in Kentucky to claim the throne, as it were, with being the undisputed king of bourbon.”
While it’s well known to current bourbon drinkers that there is no bourbon without Kentucky and that 95% of it is still made here, we have bourbon distilleries opening up all over the country. The concern is, according to McKnight, that we will take for granted our status as originators of bourbon and let it pass to other states.
“Milwaukee used to be the undisputed king of beer brewing in the US. Then craft brewing came around, tastes changed, and Milwaukee didn’t keep up. Now, we have no undisputed ‘beer capital’ in the US. I don’t want the same thing happening to bourbon,” McKnight says. “We have to own bourbon now so that it’s a heritage we can pass down to Kentuckians for years to come.”
So if you’re anywhere near Louisville and you find yourself with an open weekend, your ultimate music and bourbon experience awaits. Weekend pass tickets for all three days are still available, or you can get a single day ticket for any day (though Saturday is expected to sell out soon). Check it out at http://forecastlefest.com/ and we hope to see you there. Cheers!