Issue #7 – Weekly Bourbon Reader

We spend the week mining the Internet for the most interesting stories about bourbon. Enjoy these little gems.

Thoughts on the Facebook Bourbon Exchange // capitalbourbon

This blog post is from last year and the Facebook page mentioned is now defunct but the commentary on the three-tier system of making, distributing and selling alcohol and its impact on the secondary market is still relevant.

Bucket List Adventure: Bourbon Immersion on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail // newsobserver

“Ed O’Daniel, past president of the Kentucky Distillers Association, used to say it’s a myth that bourbon has to be made in Kentucky; by law, it simply has to be made in the United States – but if you want to sell it, you better make it here.”

Bourbon history comes alive in Louisville Cemetery // courier-journal

A tour through the historic Cave Hill Cemetery, lead by Mike Veach, highlights the famous bourboneers buried there.

Heaven Hill Distillery by Mashbill // bourbonr

A few weeks ago, we wrote about mash bills and how to use them to pick bourbons you were more likely to enjoy. Here’s a great blog post that lists all of the mash bill types from Heaven Hill Distilleries.

How Do You Know It’s Sourced Whiskey? // recenteats

There’s been a lot of activity on the bourbon world’s message boards and forums about certain products and their origins. Did the company on the label distill and bottle the bourbon or did they buy juice from the bulk market and blend and bottle themselves? Here’s an informative article on how to know which is which.

Private Citizens Pursue ‘Deceitful’ Whiskey Brands In Federal Government // fredminnick

More controversy concerning sourced whiskey.

Bourbon, a Backpacker’s Best Friend

There’s nothing like cresting a long hill, especially at the end of a long day of hiking. My wife and I needed a break and thought a few days on the Appalachian Trail would do us good. We started at Damascus, Virginia and hiked ten miles that first day.

At the top of the hill, a sign marked a trail junction, and as I caught my breath and waited for my wife, I read the words that pointed the way. To the left, our campsite was a quarter-mile further. To the right, tomorrow’s hiking waited. My wife joined me a moment later, happy that we were done for the day.

Though it was mid-May, the night promised to be a cold one, so we hurried to set-up the tent and get our things squared away before dark. At dusk, we gathered our food, stove and other essentials and went to the shelter where there was a table. To the right, a guy was building a fire.

As we ate our freeze-dried food, an older man stumbled into camp, accompanied by a large chihuahua and an Australian cattle dog. We’d passed him on the trail earlier. He was loud and funny, a big talker. He hadn’t hiked a mile in twenty years, he told us, and on a whim decided to get back out and see if he could still do it at sixty-seven years old with one re-constructed knee.

The guy who’d built the fire had started at the southern end of the Appalachian Trail, at Springer Mountain, Georgia, about a month ago and planned to hike all the way to its northern terminus at Mt. Katahdin, way up in Maine. He was painfully shy and gave off an awkward vibe as he sat silently by the fire, occasionally poking it with a stick. Thin, with a bald head and dark, woolly beard, he reminded me of the comedian David Cross.

After dinner, I put away our things and found our reward for a hard day of hills – a flask of red wine for my wife and a bottle of bourbon for me. I held up the plastic Coke bottle I’d funneled the 100 proof Old Grand Dad in the night before and beheld the metallic, copperish glow, backlit by the fire, then screwed off the cap and caught a whiff of the caramel and vanilla before taking a long drink. It entered my mouth cool, like water, but grew warm as it made its way over my teeth and down my gullet, the perfect antidote to the night’s chill air.

The old man hand taken a seat next to me, complaining about his knees, and I offered him the bottle, telling him this might help. He smiled as he took bottle and thanked me. He sniffed the opening of the bottle and closed his eyes, savoring the aroma before lifting it to his lips.

“This ain’t no cream soda,” he said, handing the bottle back.

I offered the bottle to the fire builder. He asked if it was whiskey, and I told him it was bourbon. He leaned forward and took the bottle and considered it a long while.

“You needn’t worry about germs,” the old man said. “Alcohol kills cooties.”

Thus prompted, the fire builder took a tentative drink. “Nice,” he said, nodding his head. He handed me the bottle without further comment.

Passing the bottle around the fire was like entering a trail fraternity, where the social barriers of the outside world melted away, leaving us only with our selves, our stories and our bourbon. And so we sat until late into the night, sharing experiences of other trails and other times, the men passing the bottle and my wife enjoying her wine.

As we parted for sleep, I asked the old man how his knee felt.

“What knee?” he asked, winking. I feel nothing.

I would say it was the perfect start to a wonderful three days on the trail except that we drank all the bourbon that first night, leaving me nothing for the next two days. That small detail aside, I doubt we would have enjoyed the night nor each other quite so much, had there been no bourbon with which to break the ice.

Issue #6 – Weekly Bourbon Reader

If you google “bourbon shortage” you’ll get about 8,200 results for just the past month. It’s a hot topic in the industry right now but is it just hype? Should you be hoarding your favorite brands? Probably not. This week we’ve gathered a few different points of view on the supposed shortage, especially from Chuck Cowdery who cuts through the BS.

How Bad is the Worldwide Whiskey Shortage? Not So Bad, Actually // chuckcowdery

Recently people around the country have become aware of Weller as a Van Winkle alternative, so they’re trying to find it in markets where Weller has not historically been sold.

Talking Shortage But Thinking Glut // chuckcowdery

Is Bourbon Shortage a Marketing Ploy? // just-drinks

The Great Whiskey Shortage: Do Investors Benefit? // investing

Why Pappy Van Winkle Hysteria Is Good for Bourbon // pursuitofpappy

You can’t talk about the so called whiskey shortage without mentioning “Pappy.”

The 7 Kings of Kentucky Bourbon // bourbonoftheday

Our friends over at Bourbon of the Day have written a great piece on seven of the best master distillers in the business, some of whom’s lineages trace back to the very beginnings of bourbon production.

In Kentucky, Whiskey Fungus Fuels Lawsuits // globalpost

While some Kentucky distilleries’ neighbors complain of “whiskey fungus,” the mayor of Cognac, France says “We’ve always said here in Cognac that you can tell the wealth of a house by the darkness of its tiles.”

Making Time Go Faster for Aged Booze // wired

Will artificially aged whiskey ever be possible? Will people drink it if it is? Click the links below to learn about a few techniques that small distilleries are experimenting with in order to speed up the aging process. Keep an eye out for future stories for this will surely be a controversial topic for years to come. An old generation versus a new generation kind of thing.

Whiskey Gets Older, Faster // punchdrink

Small Barrels Still Produce Lousy Whiskey // chuckcowdery

Bernie Lubbers: The Whiskey Professor

When it comes to bourbon, Bernie knows his way around. Literally. As “The Whiskey Professor” and Brand Ambassador for Heaven Hill, he logs over 100,000 miles a year around the world teaching folks about Kentucky Bourbon. I had the great pleasure of meeting Bernie Monday night at Bourbon’s Bistro. He and fellow bourbon enthusiast/bluegrass musician, Hickory Vaught were putting on a show called “The History of Bourbon Whiskey as Told Through Bluegrass Music.”

The 90 minute presentation is both educational and funny. Bernie was a stand up comedian before becoming “The Whiskey Professor” so it comes as no surprise that he is very comfortable telling humorous, fact filled stories about the history of bourbon in between bluegrass songs that he and Hickory perform on mandolin and guitar. Each song is related to a period in bourbon and Kentucky’s history and the audience gets to sip on a little bit of whiskey from the same time period. It is a tasting event as much as an educational one. Bernie’s YouTube channel describes it like this:

Join Hickory Vaught and “The Whiskey Professor” Bernie Lubbers as they perform the History of Bourbon Whiskey as Told Through Bluegrass Music. In this original show, you will hear, see, smell and TASTE bourbon as the history of it is told in story and song. This is the perfect event for visitors to experience that is totally unique and will be a highlight of your group’s visit to Louisville.

Also, check out Bernie’s book “Bourbon Whiskey-Our Native Spirit, 2nd Edition: Sour Mash and Sweet Adventures.” He’ll sign a copy when you buy it directly from whiskeyprof.com.

Bernie’s upcoming gigs:

  • June 1 8pm – Louisville, KY – Haymarket Whiskey Open jam, so bring your instruments and jam along with Hickory Vaught and Friends, or just sip on some bourbon and tap your foot along to some great bluegrass music.
  • June 9 – Covington, KY – Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar Mainstrasse in Covington
    Meet and greet after a tasting for the Cincinnati Bourbon Society
  • Aug 26 7pm – New Albany, IN – The Exchange
    Kentucky Bourbon Authors meet and greet and book signing. Meet Fred Minnick, Susan Rieglar, Bernie Lubbers, Mike Veach, Tim Laird, Molly Wellman, and other Kentucky Bourbon authors.
  • Aug 29th – Sept 1st Labor day weekend. – Louisville, KY – Bluegrass Festival at the Water Tower
    Kentucky Bourbon Authors meet and greet and book signing.

Bernie shares all things bourbon on his website, whiskeyprof.com, and he’s @BernieLubbers on Twitter.

Issue #5 – Weekly Bourbon Reader

Historic bourbon document unveiled in Louisville as prelude to five-day celebration // kentucky

In May 1964, Congress passed a resolution that designated bourbon whiskey a distinctive product of the United States. It is on display at the Frazier History Museum. video

Congress resolution marks bourbon’s unique status // courier-journal

Read the congressional resolution marking the 50th anniversary of bourbon as a distinctive American product.

Bourbon Shortage Has Whiskey Industry Over a Barrel // time

About a year ago, Trace warned consumers a shortage was looming, but many markets across the nation are just now feeling the full effects. more

Historic Woodford County Distilleries to be renovated // kentucky

The historic, mothballed Old Taylor Distillery in Woodford County has been sold to a partnership of two Kentucky businessmen who plan to reopen it as a distillery and tourist attraction.

In Chicago, a homesick homage to the working man’s bourbon // bourbonstory

“Even though I was over 300 miles away from Churchill Downs I was enjoying some pork products with friends, noshing on a Benedictine sandwich, and sipping on a mint julep with a pocketful of worthless betting slips.  It doesn’t get more Derby than that, no matter where you are.” – Dr. Allen Helm

Blend(ed) Bourbon: An Experiment in Hyperdecanting // bourbonr

Aeration is nothing new to wine drinkers, but Blake from bourbonr.com asks what happens if you aerate bourbon? Read here about bourbonr.com’s experiment with “hyperdecanting” bourbon.

Here’s who’s pushing up the prices of your fancy bourbon // qz

Germany bought more US whiskey by volume than any other country, with Australia not far behind.

US Distillery Breeds Pigs to Taste Like Whiskey // thespiritsbusiness

The Templeton Rye Pork Project was dreamt up by the founders of templeton Rye Distillery in Iowa who wanted to see if they could create pork that tastes like their whiskey without the need for marinating it in alcohol.

“Eminently Practical” Bourbon-Filled Steel Train Sells for $33.8 Million at Auction // slate

$33.8 million for an ornamental model train filled with whiskey that you can’t see, much less drink?!?

Secret Mash Bills Are Stupid // chuckcowdery

Whiskey drinkers want to know exactly what they’re drinking. Chuck Cowdery lays it out plain and simple.

How to Taste Bourbon

A quick Google search reveals that there aren’t many variations in the process of tasting bourbon or any spirit for that matter. There are four basic steps to describing what’s in your glass: the appearance, the nose, the flavor and the finish.

Sounds simple enough, right? I suppose it is. You could just as easily apply the same steps to Kool-Aid, coffee or cola. But for me, tasting a new bourbon goes much deeper than that. I learned how to taste bourbon from a very serious sommelier. Yep, you read that correctly. It wasn’t just wine tasting procedure I learned from him, but how to “get to know” what is in the glass. He took it to a whole new level, keeping extensive notes in meticulously organized journals. He aerated the wine, paired it with different foods, studied its history – he was passionate about it.

I know not all of us have the time or even the desire to take our bourbon tasting to that level but I would love to encourage you to pause a little and go beyond the four steps especially when tasting something for the first time. If at all possible, use a tapered glass. A red wine glass works great or you can buy whiskey glasses that also taper at the top, concentrating the aroma. A rocks glass or tumbler will allow the subtle aromas to escape before you can pick them out. Also, a good wine or tasting glass is made of thin crystal or glass, making it easier to judge the appearance of the bourbon.

Step One: Appearance

Before you focus on the appearance of the bourbon, read the label. Is there an age? If it’s an older bourbon, it should be a darker color. This should also foreshadow the intensity of the flavor. The darker the bourbon, the more flavor it will have. Be creative. Bourbon reviewers use their imaginations to describe colors. Honey, molasses, straw, amber, finished pine- the color may remind you of something totally different than someone else. It may look like straw to you but finished pine to someone else. No biggie, just note the color and enjoy the beauty of it. You may also note whether it is cloudy or clear. Imagine where the barrel was in the rickhouse, the seasons of Kentucky forcing the bourbon in and out of the wood, imparting it with divine color and flavor.

Step Two: Nose

Use a tapered glass to nose the bourbon. It’s not a good idea to shove your nose into the glass and deeply inhale. You’ll likely get a burning nose full of alcohol vapor. Swirl the bourbon around the glass and pass it back and forth under your nose. When you first start seriously tasting bourbon, you won’t smell it and say things like “I get a hint of ginger and stone fruit with bubble gum and caramel”. Most of those kinds of reviews are more pretentious prose than practical information. Use what you know to describe what you smell. “This bourbon reminds me of wood smoke” or “It smells kind of sweet.” Don’t worry about getting it right. Picking out distinctive aromas takes time and practice and practice is fun!

Step Three: Flavor

This is the best part. Take a sip and swish it around in your mouth. This has been described as “The Kentucky Chew.” The point is to let the bourbon coat your entire tongue and mouth. You don’t have to get fancy with your flavor descriptions – stick with what you know. If you’re drinking a high proof bourbon, you can add a few drops of good clean water to cut the proof. It makes it easier to pick out flavors that the alcohol can mask. For me, sweet flavors such as vanilla, caramel and oak are the easiest flavors to pick out. After you get more experience, you will be able to taste spices, fruits, grain, nuts, etc… thankfully, there are so many bourbons to try and so many flavors to discover.

Step Four: Finish

After swishing the bourbon around in your mouth and noticing the flavors exploding on your palate, swallow. Take note of how it went down. Was it smooth? Did it burn? Either way, did you enjoy it? After the swallow, you’re looking for the finish or aftertaste. How long did it last? I prefer a long finish that brings out even more flavors than the first taste. Some bourbons have a thicker mouthfeel and will hang around longer. Again, you don’t have to get technical about your descriptions. This is for your enjoyment. Have fun with it.

Step Five: Sip

You won’t find this step in any tasting guide on the net or in a book on whiskey. After I’ve tasted a bourbon and have given it the thumbs up, I’ll pour a glass neat and sip it slowly. It’s made to enjoy, after all. I can’t imagine an occasion where it would be appropriate to shoot bourbon. Bourbon is ultimately an agricultural product. I like to close my eyes and think about everything that went into the making of something I’m so passionate about.

Farmers had to grow the corn, the rye, the wheat and the barley. The good, sweet Kentucky water is naturally filtered, free from iron and and other undesirable components. A master distiller introduced a specific yeast strain and added spent mash to ensure a consistent product. He patiently waited and tasted over and again until it reached its peak maturity. I think about the rich history of bourbon and how it is the history of America in so many ways. I think about my great grandfather making corn whiskey after he got black lung and could no longer work in the coal mines. I marvel at the tenacity and perseverance of great men who weathered prohibition, economical hardships and two world wars yet kept the bourbon flowing. Neither the revenuers, the teetotalers, nor prohibition could stifle the progress of America’s Native Spirit.

Pour a glass of your favorite bourbon, close your eyes and think about all of the work that went into the bourbon that was barreled today that you will enjoy years from now after it has had its long rest in the rick house.

Mash Bill School: How to Pick a Winner

If you’re like me, sometimes you find yourself standing in the bourbon aisle trying to decide whether to buy your old standby or try something new. It can be expensive to take a shot in the dark, buy a fifth and end up with something you don’t enjoy. I guess that’s why Coke exists. One way to avoid this problem is to find a bar with a very good bourbon selection and try a glass before you invest in a bottle, but before you go here’s a way to guestimate which bourbons will fit your taste before looking at the menu.

All whiskey, bourbon or otherwise, starts with a mash bill. That’s the fancy distiller’s word for recipe. All bourbon must be a minimum of 51% corn and usually contains malted barley. The third grain, called the flavoring grain, varies from brand to brand.

Bourbon can basically be divided into three categories based on the flavoring grain: traditional recipe, high-rye recipe or a wheated recipe. The traditional recipe contains around 70% corn and equal amounts of barley and rye, the high rye contains more than the industry average of 15% rye while the wheated recipe has no rye. (Bourbon with both wheat and rye is rare.) Rye is associated with “spicy” bourbons while the wheated variety is smoother and sweeter.

That being said, you also have to realize all of the factors that affect the taste of bourbon. There’s the length of aging, yeast strains, alcohol content and storage methods to consider. If you think about it, it’s amazing that each of the more than 100 brands of bourbon has a distinct taste, while containing only a handful of simple ingredients. The same distiller can run two batches of whiskey using the same exact mash bill but store them in different rick houses and get two distinct bourbons. In other words, just because two bourbons fall into the same category doesn’t mean they won’t have their own characteristics. It’s worth noting that while some brands make no attempts to keep their basic mash bills secret, some go to great lengths to conceal what’s in the mash tub.

Without further adieu, here’s a basic list of popular bourbons and the category they fall in:

Traditional High Rye Traditional Wheat
Knob Creek Basil Hayden Maker’s Mark
Jim Beam Old Grand-Dad Van Winkle
Wild Turkey Four Roses W.L. Weller
Evan Williams Bulleit Larceny
Buffalo Trace Old Forester Rebel Yell

Obviously, there are more bourbons than I have room to list but you can easily search for any brand’s mash bill online and get some idea of what it’s made of. You may just find a new favorite.

Issue #4 – Weekly Bourbon Reader

Bourbon’s 50th anniversary: A timeline of the American Spirit // philly.com

In the wilderness of the Bourbon County region, native corn grows better than any other grain. Tremendous amounts of whiskey-making ensue.

Mirror, Mirror | Girls’ bourbon night out // courier-journal

“…in this fast world, bourbon, like coffee, forces you to slow down and savor something. It’s a special experience. And it’s uniquely ours.” — Sondra Powell

What Effect Will Suntory Have On Beam? // chuckcowdery

It’s hard to predict how Suntory will change Beam. It’s easy to say it won’t, since on the ground it looks like Beam took over Suntory and not the other way around.

South Carolina bulk spirits maker to revive Charles Medley distillery in Owensboro // kentucky.com

TerrePure, owned by Charleston-based Terressentia, plans to invest $23 million to buy and refurbish buildings on the 28-acre site.

Tourism contributes more than $12.5 billion to Kentucky’s economy in 2013 // therepublic

The popularity of bourbon and an uptick in meetings and conventions will be key factors in Kentucky’s ability to attract more visitors this year.

The 4 REAL Reasons Behind the Bourbon Renaissance // bourbonoftheday

Master Distillers usually hail from a long line of craftsmen who inherit their crowns after long apprenticeships under the watchful eye of distillers who came before them.

Sipping on History // voice-tribune

“I have tasted bottles of whiskey here at the Filson that was put into the barrel in 1916 and I have tasted some bourbon that came out of the barrel in 1916 so you are literally tasting history at that point.” – Mike Veach

Derby Giveaway Winner

We hope you had a great Derby! Last night, right after the race, we randomly selected a name from our subscriber list. Glen McGill of Louisville won a bottle of Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Bourbon. Check out this photo of us doing a little celebratory taste testing. Thank you to everyone for subscribing and sharing the newsletter with your friends and family during Derby week.

We have a new twitter account, follow us at bourbon_news. Also, we have some highlights from the weekend for you at the bottom of the email.



Highlights from the Weekend

 

The spotlight was on Bourbon Country this weekend. Here are some of the stories:

New Riff Distillery sets opening date, joins Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour  // bizjournals.com

The distillery is the 134-year-old association’s 19th member and just the 11th stop added to the tour that features the state’s growing micro-distilling industry.

Japan’s Suntory completes buyout of Jim Beam maker // dw.de

After confirming its intent to take over Beam Inc in January, Japanese beverage giant Suntory has finalized the deal as of Thursday. Suntory owns Kirin, Sapporo and Asahi breweries. The combined beverage giant will be called Beam Suntory Inc and will be the 3rd largest premium spirit company in the world.

Despite a $10,000 reward, Pappy’s still missing // louisville.com

There has been a lot of speculation as to who did it, and even a local high school principal was implicated in the crime at first.

A Woodford Reserve History Lesson

Woodford Reserve has only been made by Brown-Forman since 1996 but the distillery has a long history. In 1870, Elijah Pepper started distilling whiskey on the banks of Glen’s Creek in Woodford county, KY about 8 miles from Versailles.The current building was erected in 1838 by his son, Oscar Pepper, after Elijah passed the business on to him. Oscar sold the distillery to Labrot & Graham in 1879. They operated the distillery until 1941 except during prohibition, and then sold the distillery to the Brown-Forman corporation. Is your head spinning yet?!? Brown-Forman operated it until 1968.

The distillery sat dormant until 1971 when it was sold to a local farmer who made gasohol, a fuel substitute. His business failed miserably and the distillery sat dormant for 22 years. Brown-Forman bought it back in 1993 and restored it to pristine condition. Finally, they started producing Woodford Reserve in 1996 and it soon became the “Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby.”