the bourbon babe

New: Woodford Reserve Rye

Coming in February, a new addition to the Woodford Reserve line: Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey. In an email sent today to members of The Reserve, Woodford’s brand ambassador program, master distiller Chris Morris says he’s been working on the rye for more than nine years. “If you didn’t know, making a rye is a very difficult undertaking,” he elaborates on The Reserve website. “The stories I could tell you about trial and error, not to mention just how sticky rye becomes during the fermentation process. Let’s just say our fermenters saw more than their usual share of steam cleaning.”

 The rye, bottled at 90.4 proof, will be available in very limited quantities in select states beginning in February. Until then, here are Chris’ tasting notes: 

AROMA: Spicy with distinct notes of rye, black pepper, cedar and cassia bark sweetened with a dusting of marzipan. Hint of pear, apple and almond dance in its depths.

TASTE: Clove, rye, mint molasses, sorghum and honey are mingled together with hints of apple and malt.

FINISH: Long and sweetly spiced.

New: Elmer T. Lee Commemorative

As you “Justified” fans know, I’ve referenced Elmer T. Lee quite a bit in the past few weeks - the bourbon is “the usual” for Raylan Givens’ loquacious adversary, Boyd Crowder

So I wonder if Boyd has gotten his hands on the commemorative edition of Elmer T. Lee being released this month by Buffalo Trace in honor of the master distiller who sparked the bourbon renaissance we enjoy today by creating the world’s first single-barrel bourbon, Blanton’s, in 1984.

Mr. Lee went to work for Buffalo Trace (then called the George T. Stagg Distillery) in 1949 and retired in 1985, but continued to be an ambassador for the distillery until his death in 2013. His namesake bourbon was introduced shortly after his retirement. It’s bottled at 90 proof, but this special edition is 93 proof to reflect his age when he died. While the bottle is the same, the commemorative edition has a special black label with gold lettering, shown above.

Suggested retail price is $34.99, and profits will go to local VFW Post 4075, in which Mr. Lee, who was a radar bombardier in the United States Army Air Corps (now known as the United States Air Force) in World War II, served.   

Taste: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2014

Buffalo Trace 2014 Antique Collection

Every fall, Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Ky., releases a collection of five limited-release whiskeys - George T. Stagg, Eagle Rare 17 Year, William Larue Weller. Sazerac Rye 18 Year and Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye - that have become cult favorites with aficionados. This year’s crop should hit stores late this month or early in October, with a suggested retail price of $80 each per 750ml. They will go fast, so it’s not too soon to start looking/buddying up to your favorite local merchant. But if I can purchase only one, you might be asking, which one should it be? My friends at Buffalo Trace sent me 50ml samples to help answer that question. Doing tasting notes on five very different whiskeys in one sitting is not easy, but I am nothing if not devoted to my readers.

Eagle Rare 17-year-old (90 proof)

Aged on second, third and sixth floors of Warehouses I and K

The aroma: Very light, no alcohol burn; vanilla laced with wintergreen

The taste: Very front-forward. Sweet and a little buttery until the minty, somewhat flat finish; reminded me of nothing so much as those hard candies you get at Christmastime that look like ribbons.

George T. Stagg (138 proof)

Aged 16 years (distilled spring 1998); barrels selected from Warehouses C, H, I, K, L, P and Q; uncut and unfiltered

The aroma: Again, no burn, which was a bit surprising considering that high proof (last year’s was 128.2). Brown sugar, bacon, leather - sweet and savory.

The taste: Very, very smooth - again, I would never have guessed this was 138 proof. Full and warming, with flavors of cinnamon, vanilla and coffee, and again a trace of that savory bacon. The tingle stays on the tongue - there is nothing harsh or fiery in the long finish.

William Larue Weller (140.2 proof)

This is the strongest Weller release ever. The wheated recipe bourbon was aged on the second, third, fourth and sixth floors of Warehouses D, K and L for 12 years (distilled spring 2002) and is uncut and unfiltered.

The aroma: Buttered bread, very little heat 

The taste: White pepper, dark molasses, toffee; brief brightness on the mid-palate but increases in heat as it goes down, even after swallowing. Smooth, but not as smooth as the Stagg.

Sazerac 18-Year-Old (90 proof)

Aged in Warehouse K

The aroma: Herbal, lots of rye - almost a beer-like aroma

The taste: Licorice, all-spice, rather flat and metallic to my taste; long, dry finish. Not nearly as sweet as last year’s version. 

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye (129.2 proof)

This 6-year-old (distilled spring 2008) uncut, unfiltered straight rye whiskey was aged on the fifth floor of Warehouse M.

The aroma: Very balanced between sweetness and spice

The taste: Peppery on the front, transitioning to an herbal character mid-palate, this rye finishies warmly with clove, coconut and mint.

The verdict: The clear-cut winner for me this year is the George T. Stagg, followed by the Eagle Rare and the Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye. Happy hunting!


Mix: Bisontini from The Brown Hotel

While some might recommend a hot toddy to cope with a polar vortex, we here at The Bourbon Babe HQ chose to warm up last night with a cool cocktail: The Bisontini, served at the lobby bar at The Brown Hotel in Louisville (thanks to The Courier-Journal for printing the recipe). Bourbon Cream is cream liqueur spiked with Buffalo Trace bourbon; once available only at the distillery in Frankfort, it is now sold in several retail outlets. In addition to using it in cocktails, I also like to pour it in my coffee, over ice cream, or just into a glass. One of my friends swears it’s great over oatmeal. 

The Bisontini

2 ounces Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream

1 ounce Buffalo Trace Bourbon

Grated nutmeg, to garnish

Cinnamon stick, to garnish

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add cream liqueur and bourbon. Shake and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with grated nutmeg and cinnamon stick. 

Note: My husband made the excellent suggestion that next time, we garnish with chocolate shavings. Always thinking, that guy.

The Church of Pappy

The increased interest in all things Pappy Van Winkle could be judged by the turnout for a lottery that Jerry Rogers held Monday night for the allotment at his Party Mart store on Brownsboro Road.

This was the third such lottery he’s held. The first drew 60 people. The second one, in late April, brought 309 people to Party Mart. Monday night’s crowd was more than double that. “This is the most people I’ve ever had in this store,” Jerry announced on the PA system. “There are 640 of you! (quieter) Somebody please buy something.”

All 600+ of us were hoping for the chance to purchase one of the 40 or so bottles of Pappy that Jerry had to offer: three each of the 23-year-old and the 20-year-old, a few bottles of 13-year-old rye, and single-digit amounts of 15-, 12- and 10-year-old. (I intended to report the exact number, but I lost count in all the excitement.) “I wish I could sell each of you a bottle,” Jerry said. “But this is the best, fairest way I can think of to do this.”

The line for tickets wound through all the aisles in the store, looking for all the world like we were waiting to ride the big coaster at Van Winkle World. Some people in line planned to sell their bottle on the secondary market if they got lucky. The guy in front of me just wanted to taste it. And the nice woman behind me wanted a Christmas present guaranteed to please her son-in-law. (Sorry, son, her number wasn’t drawn. But give her major points for standing for two-plus hours to try.)

Others, myself included, wanted a crack at the elusive 23-year-old. It’s the rarest of the Pappys because after 23 years of aging, there isn’t that much bourbon left in a barrel. Alas, my number was not drawn.

Even so, the lottery added an element of fun to the experience. Some winners yelled “BINGO!” or screamed and jumped up and down. Others played it cool. Two guys behind me kept up a running commentary: “Ah, Sweatpants Guy got it!” “Handlebar Mustache Guy got it!”

For the most part, the crowd was remarkably orderly. As he prepared to start drawing tickets, Jerry asked for quiet, saying as he did in April, “Pretend this is church for a minute.” Back then, in a reflection of the general fervor this bourbon inspires, someone replied: “I’ve been praying for an hour!”

Tuesday's Shot of Bourbon Trivia

With cold weather settling in and flu season just around the corner, it’s a good time to think about the Hot Toddy. This comforting cup, which at its most basic contains bourbon or whiskey, lemon, honey and hot water, is believed to date to 1700s Scotland. 

The source of the name is debated, but gives this origin story: “Toddy: alteration of taddy (1611), tarrie (1609), a beverage made from fermented palm sap, from the Hindi tari, or ‘palm sap’ (in which the -r- sounds close to an English -d-).” The first known recorded use of toddy to mean “a beverage made of alcoholic liquor with hot water, sugar, and spices” occurred in 1786. The British Isles would have been trading with India at that time, so that makes sense.

Some people add cloves to their Hot Toddy, or use hot cider as a base rather than hot water. I prefer to stick to the basics. If you have a cough, add more honey. If your sinuses are clogged, add more lemon. It is never wrong to add more bourbon.

Tuesday's Shot of Bourbon Trivia

Unlike other types of whisky - Scotch, Irish, Canadian, etc. - bourbon has no minimum aging requirement. You could pour the distillate into a new, charred white oak barrel, pour it back out immediately, and you’d have bourbon. It would be weak, probably terrible bourbon, but it would be bourbon. (And you’d have wasted a perfectly good barrel, since they can’t be reused to make bourbon.)

Source: Woodford Reserve Bourbon Academy

Taste: Orphan Barrel Whiskey

Last night, Diageo brought its Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Co. to the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville for an official launch of its initial products: Barterhouse (20 years old) and Old Blowhard (26 years old). A capacity crowd of whiskey distributors, retailers and writers gathered to hear the Orphan story from Master of Whiskey Ewan Morgan and Director of Distillation Andrea Wilson and to sample the goods. Here is the CliffsNotes version:  

The goal of the Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Co. is to locate lost or forgotten barrels of whiskey from around the world and bottle the contents for “discerning adult fans.” The first two releases are Kentucky straight bourbons (although that’s not specified on the labels) from barrels stored in warehouses at the old Stitzel-Weller facility in Louisville that were bottled at the Dickel Distillery in Tullahoma, Tenn., where the project has its headquarters. Each has a mashbill that’s 86 percent corn, 8 percent barley malt and 6 percent rye.

To demonstrate the effects that maturation has on bourbon, Morgan first had us sip whiskey considered under-matured (3 months old, like liquid corn) and over-matured (22 years, bitter and astringent from oak tannins). Then it was time to taste the real stuff.

Barterhouse (20 years old, 90.2 proof, $75)

The story: Both bourbons are handsomely packaged in squared-off bottles with “vintage”-looking labels. This one, Wilson said, has a sly fox who has just made a successful transaction.

The aroma: Very sweet. Buttercream, vanilla, honey.

The taste: With very little oak character for a 20-year-old bourbon (that’s a good thing), it’s also surprisingly soft - I would not have guessed it was 90 proof. There’s some fruit and a nice toasted quality, like toasted marshmallow, along with notes of cinnamon and a bit of mint. Fairly short, dry finish.

Old Blowhard (26 years old, 90.7 proof, $150)

The story: With its majestic whale and nautical theme, this label evokes “a journey well-traveled,” Wilson said.

The aroma: Much more spice. Nutmeg. Dark fruit and a smoky quality.

The taste: The palate of this Orphan is more in line with its nose than is the case with the Barterhouse. Even though the proofs are close, Old Blowhard packs a lot more spice than the Barterhouse. It also has a lot more oak - too much, for my taste. It overpowered any other notes struggling to be heard. A couple drops of water opened it up a little, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you like a really woody bourbon.

The verdict: Like most people I quizzed last night, I preferred the Barterhouse to the Old Blowhard, but I can’t say that I was blown away by either of them, especially at those price points. I’ll be interested to sample the next Orphan Barrel release, a 20-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon called Rhetoric that was matured on a lower level at Stitzel-Weller.

Speaking of rhetoric, you might be wondering, If these barrels were “lost,” how does Diageo know so much about them? Well, while the notion of orphan barrels might conjure images of an Indiana Jones of whiskey (Kentucky Jones?) discovering hidden treasure, the fact is that these particular barrels weren’t lost; they were just never dumped, becoming “kind of orphaned,” Wilson said in response to a question. The juice for Old Blowhard was distilled at the old Bernheim Distillery; for Barterhouse, at the existing Bernheim. She declined to reveal what they were once intended to be. 

At a time when the “growing base of whiskey aficionados” that Diageo references in its press release for the Orphan Barrel project is quick to snap up anything marketed as limited edition, it’s a canny move by the company to create a new line of “rare” whiskeys that trade on the reputation of distilling legends like Stitzel-Weller. I hope they will find some undiscovered gems, but I’m not completely sold yet. 

(Photos courtesy of Orphan Whiskey Distilling Co.)

Bourbon = $$$, and here's the proof

There’s been a lot of press about “the bourbon boom” over the past few years. Much of it has focused on how many barrels are aging in Kentucky and how many more people are drinking it. 

But bourbon production also produces jobs, revenue and tax dollars. The Kentucky Distillers’ Association commissioned a study from the University of Louisville in 2012 that showed that distilling contributes nearly $2 billion in gross state product each year and has more than doubled its importance to Kentucky's overall economic activity in the last 13 years.

Today, the KDA joined Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and members of the bourbon industry to unveil the results of a new study, conducted by U of L’s Urban Studies Institute, that focuses on bourbon’s impact in Jefferson County, Ky. That impact is considerable. Among the key findings:

  • Bourbon generates 4,200 jobs with $263 million payroll every year in Louisville. In fact, Jefferson County hosts about 37 percent of all the state’s distilling, warehouse, bottling and office jobs in the distilling industry.
  • Louisville distilling generates $31.6 million in tax revenue every year, including property, barrel, payroll, sales and corporate income taxes.
  • Louisville receives about $8.6 million in tax revenue from distilling, with local governments ($4.7 million) and school districts ($3.9 million) the biggest recipients.
  • More than $50 million in capital projects are under way or recently completed in Jefferson County, including many to revitalize the “Whiskey Row” district. Bourbon tourism could eventually bring $2.5 million in spending to Jefferson County.

(Ground-breaking for Angel’s Envy Distillery in downtown Louisville)

Surprised? Well, you may know that Kentucky produces about 95 percent of all the bourbon in the world. But what you might not realize is that much of that production occurs either in Jefferson County or within about 75 miles of downtown Louisville. The city is the headquarters of Brown-Forman Corp., one of the largest spirit producers in the country. In addition, six other companies have distilleries, headquarters or resources in Louisville: Beam Inc., Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc., Diageo Americas Supply, Maker’s Mark Distillery, Michter’s Distillery and Sazerac Co.

Jefferson County is also home to Vendome, the world’s largest maker of distilling equipment; the Brown-Forman and Kelvin cooperages; and the Distilled Spirits Epicenter, the only educational distilling company in the United States.

(Vendome equipement at Distilled Spirits Epicenter)

In addition, Jefferson County plays a big role in distilling operations in nearby Bullitt, Nelson and Franklin counties, which rely on businesses and services provided in Jefferson.

There is a lot more detail in the report and I will revist it more later. But for now, the big takeaway is that Louisville and Jefferson County are the epicenter of the Bourbon Boom, and the growth will only increase in the foreseeable future.

(Top photo: Louisville skyline by Rich Hoyer via Louisville CVB)

Taste: Jim Beam Bonded

Jim Beam Bonded Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

100 proof; 4 years old

Suggested retail price: $22.99/750ml

The story: This month, Jim Beam is rolling out a new expression that harkens back to the days of bourbon production under the requirements of the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897: Spirits had to be the product of one distillation season at one distillery; aged no less than four years in a bonded warehouse (in other words, one overseen by U.S. Treasury agents); and bottled at 100 proof (50 percent ABV). The purpose was to ensure that what the consumer was purchasing was really whiskey. While deregulation in the 1980s eliminated the requirement of the government tax stamp, many distillers who follow the requirements do include the words “Bottled in Bond” on their labels to give the consumer more information about what’s inside. I sampled Beam’s Bonded neat at a Bourbons Bistro launch event in Louisville, with Master Distiller Fred Noe holding court.

The aroma: Very sweet, some toasted oak; reminiscent of creme brulee or merengue.

The taste: Sweet on entry but quickly heats up; lots of spice for 100 proof. Sweet brown sugar, vanilla and toasted marshmallow flavors on the soft front give way to a dry, tannic finish with lingering cinnamon spice and a bit of mint.

The verdict: Much bolder and more interesting than Jim Beam Original Recipe; not my favorite bourbon, but worth a try at less than $25. Next time I will add a bit of water to see if that smooths out some of the rough edges. 

Mix: Whiskey Sour Punch

We recently hosted a holiday bourbon tasting we called “The Flight Before Christmas.” Some of the offerings are pictured above. But we wanted to have something available before the tastings - something easy that wouldn’t require a lot of bartending. Punch was the obvious answer. You can mix it up ahead of time, and guests can serve themselves while you are frantically pulling appetizers out of the oven (well, you know, hypothetically). Because I had lots of cookies and sweets on offer, I chose a Whiskey Sour Punch in contrast. I do not have a picture, unfortunately, because I was too busy frantically pulling appetizers out of the oven. The recipe is below.

Whiskey Sour Punch (from Cooking Light)

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup water

2 ½ cups refrigerated fresh orange juice (look for fresh-squeezed in the refrigerated section of the produce department)

2 cups bourbon (I used Four Roses Yellow Label, my go-to bourbon for punch)

½ cup fresh lemon juice (about 3 large lemons)

3 cups chilled club soda

Fresh orange and lemon slices (optional)

Combine sugar and 1/3 cup water in a 1-cup glass measure. Microwave at HIGH 2 minutes; stir until sugar dissolves. Cool to room temperature.

Combine sugar mixture, orange juice, bourbon, and lemon juice in a large pitcher; stir well. Stir in club soda just before serving. Garnish with orange and lemon slices, if desired. (I did; it’s prettier that way.)

Serves 10 (serving size about ¾ cup). I doubled the recipe, and it was more than plenty for a party of 30.

I have seen a lot of distilleries changing hands in my 60 years in the bourbon business. Whether they be from Italy, Japan or Timbuktu, the ones who succeed are always the ones who honor this centuries-old bourbon craft and invest in its future.
—  Wild Turkey master distiller Jimmy Russell, as quoted in an Associated Press story about Beam Inc.’s sale to Japanese company Suntory. Wild Turkey is owned by Campari of Italy.