Bourbon Tasting Journals

I’m not a huge fan of bourbon ratings or reviews other than for personal reasons because in the end, they are basically someone’s opinion and opinions as they say are like, well you know. Unless you find someone whose tastes in bourbon are exactly like yours, then their rating could be totally irrelevant to you. The exception? If a bourbon tastes like gasoline. Still though, there may be someone out there who likes that who would otherwise be deterred from trying it because of a bad review.

Your personal ratings are going to be the best tool you can use in order to consistently find new bourbons that you like. Finding out which bourbons have a similar mashbill, age statement or even distiller can be clues to which bourbon you should try next. But how do you remember all of the different whiskeys you’ve tried and how you rated them?

Although there are several apps available for iPhone and Android, I personally use a whiskey journal. I like the feel of paper and pen but again, that is a personal preference. The journal I use has a place to write all of the pertinent information about the bourbon, including color, age, distiller, a flavor wheel, etc… The great thing about these journals, which they make for wine and beer as well, is that you can flip through and see what you wrote about a bourbon that you haven’t tried in months with quick access to how you rated it. Is it something you would serve at a party? Use for mixed drinks? Give as a gift? Also, it is convenient to compare last year’s limited release of a bourbon to this year’s release or to compare different batches of the same bourbon.

The best way to learn about bourbon is to drink bourbon. The best way to remember what you drank is to write about it. You’ll soon find that you have an invaluable tool to go back to again and again to refresh your memory and impress your friends. Happy drinking and journaling!

Bourbon Reader – Issue #11

A Company is Selling Bottles of Forgotten Old Whiskey  //

Orphan Barrel Project Shows Diageo Disrespects American Whiskey // chuckcowdery

Two very different views on Diageo’s Orphan Barrel label.

A Ride Across America: Soccer, Bourbon… // nytimes

More proof that #bourbonisfriendly

New Brandy Distillery All Set to Open in the Heart of Bourbon Country // wdrb

The bourbon boom is spilling over into other liquor ventures here in bourbon country.

Everything Old Forester is New Again… // kentucky

Produced before, during and after prohibition, Old Forester proves you can’t keep a good bourbon down.

Map: See Which States Drink the Most  // abcactionnews

Kentucky ranks as 3rd alcohol abstaining state. We were out-sobered by Utah and Arkansas.

Bourbon Boom Leads to New Bardstown Distillery  //courier-journal

Another new distillery in Nelson County, The Bardstown Bourbon Co.

Awesome grouping of distilleries by mashbill created by Blake at

2014 Bourbon Release Calendar // redwhiteandbourbon

A working calendar of 2014 bourbon releases. If you have information about release, please share in the comments section.

Issue #10 – Weekly Bourbon Reader

Quick! Call Asiatique at 502-451-2749 and reserve a spot for the J Shepherd Bourbon and Cigar Event! Plus there’ll be gourmet food! There are only 50 spots available so you better get on it.

J Shepherd Bourbon and Cigar Event  //

Beam and cola in a can is apparently a big hit with the Germans. Rexam, a beverage can maker, is producing cans for the German market with silhouettes of German soccer players. For the record, I don’t recommend drinking bourbon and cola from an aluminum can.

Rexam Develops New Cans for Jim Beam Bourbon and Cola  //Drinks Business Review

If anyone is headed to Poughkeepsie this weekend and you have an extra seat, I’ll pay half the gas and do half of the driving. The pull of beer, bourbon and bacon is mighty powerful.

Like beer, bourbon and bacon? Rhinebeck festival has them all //

Here’s 2 distilleries releasing bourbon not made in bourbon country. It kind of makes you feel sorry for them a little,doesn’t it?

Distillery Unveils ‘Nevada 150’ Bourbon  //

ADK Distilling Co. Makes History with New Bourbon  //

Old distilleries long abandoned and nearly forgotten are being rebuilt all over the place. The Old Crow Distillery was purchased last year by Deviant Distillers and is currently being refurbished.

Refurbished Old Crow Distillery Hopes to be in Operation by Fall  //

Were we all duped by ‘National Bourbon Day?’ According to Chuck Cowdery we were. Read his amusing, crotchety response to the June 14th ‘holiday’ here.

Thread: National Bourbon Day 6/14?  //

The Old-Fashioned: America’s Original Cocktail

I spend my nights driving for Lyft, mostly taking people to and from bars.  On a recent Thursday morning, I picked up a group of three coeds around 2:00 am, and as I drove them back to campus from a night of $1 well drinks, I learned that one of them was a bartender.

As we made small talk, I looked in the rear-view mirror and asked the bartender if she minded telling me how she made an Old-Fashioned.  She obliged me with a recipe that included simple syrup, soda water, muddled fruit and bourbon.

“That’s not an Old-Fashioned,” her friend who sat in the front, next to me, blurted out.  “You don’t use soda, and where are the bitters?”

“It’s a sports bar,” the bartender said.  “Our customers aren’t as picky as you.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” the friend in front said.

“They don’t care,” the bartender said.

“I didn’t know you can’t make an Old-Fashioned,” the friend in front said.  “This changes everything.”  He looked at me and shook his head the way Peyton Manning does when a receiver drops a pass.

“It’s a sports bar,” the bartender said again.

“I’m into cocktails,” the friend in front told me.  “I’ve got a book that’s only about the Old-Fashioned and its history.  I’m kind of a snob.”

We pulled into the drive-through at Taco Bell and the Old-Fashioned controversy was quickly forgotten as my passengers pooled their singles and pocket change for a few burritos.

The argument flared up out of nowhere and flashed brightly for a few minutes, like a barroom brawl, something that is typical among those who make and/or fetishize cocktails in general and the Old-Fashioned especially.

Put another way, the Old-Fashioned is one of those polarizing, line-in-the-sand topics that people use as a litmus test of one’s character – like your political party affiliation, your religion or whether you love the Yankees.

So.  Why all the fuss?

The Mount Rushmore of Cocktails

The Old-Fashioned is America’s proto-cocktail, dating back to the time between the Revolution and the War of 1812.  The earliest documented use of the term “cocktail” comes from the May 6, 1806 issue of The Balance and Columbia Repository, a newspaper from Hudson, New York, in which a reader asked the editors to define the term.  A week later, the paper defined “cocktail” as a “potent concoction of spirits, bitters, water and sugar,” still the standard definition, especially for modern mixologists, who curate and promote the original or traditional recipes of venerable cocktails.

Being the original cocktail, the Old-Fashioned didn’t need a fancy name to distinguish it from competitors in its early days.  Known simply as a Whiskey Cocktail, the name stuck…for a time.

Throughout the 1800’s, the Whiskey Cocktail was modified according to local tastes, substituting other spirits for whiskey, as well as more exotic garnishes and ingredients.  By the 1860’s, a nostalgic backlash against the rising number of cocktail variants gave birth to a new name for the granddaddy of cocktails – the Old-Fashioned – which refers to an old-fashioned whiskey cocktail made according to the traditional recipe.

Like an amateur artist adding a moustache to the Mona Lisa, bartenders everywhere used the traditional Old-Fashioned recipe as a platform on which to demonstrate their genius, and cocktail manuals printed through the twentieth-century give testimony to the assault that was made on the drink.  Along the way, the lemon peel gave way to the orange wedge, which was coupled with a maraschino cherry – as garnishes and as a muddled slush of pulp to give the cocktail the consistency of soup.  Another variant that has become standard in some quarters included dousing the drink with soda water.

And so it went.  As the Y2K scare came and went, the Old-Fashioned became just that, an old-fashioned cocktail ordered by no one but out-of-touch seniors with blue hair and beige, Velcroed shoes.

Mad Men, Mixology and Craft Cocktails

If anyone was paying attention, it would have appeared that the Old-Fashioned was about to go the way of the 8-track tape deck, but two events occurred almost simultaneously that reversed the fortunes of the cocktail – Mad Men and the rise of craft cocktail bars.

In 2007, Mad Men premiered on AMC, telling the story of a 1960’s era New York advertising agency.  In the pilot episode, Don Draper, the story’s main character orders what will become his signature cocktail – an Old-Fashioned.  The series sparked many fads, like a surge in mid-century home furnishings.  It also coincided with the rise of mixology as a deepening of the concept of bartender and craft cocktail bars, where patrons enjoyed the kinds of classic cocktails featured in old, black-and-white movies.

Recipe Controversy

As mixologists and aficionados alike delved into the history of the Old-Fashioned, a debate arose over the proper construction of the drink.  This led to scholarly research in which sources like the aforementioned 1806 issue of The Balance and Columbia Repository were discovered.  Even though early recipes indicate the starting point for the Old-Fashioned, people cling to their favorite versions of the cocktail.  Even Mad Men’s Don Draper added to the controversy when he was shown making an Old-Fashioned in season three.

Purists, like David Wondrich, who writes for “Esquire” magazine, advocate a recipe like this one which sticks to the original:

  • ½ tsp. of loose sugar in the bottom of a single Old-Fashioned glass
  • 2-3 healthy dashes of Angostura bitters
  • 1 tsp. of water
  • muddle these ingredients until the sugar is dissolved, as it won’t hardly dissolve in alcohol
  • add 3 ice cubes to the glass
  • stir
  • add 2 oz. or rye whiskey or bourbon
  • stir again
  • add a twist of lemon or orange peel, then use as a garnish
  • add a stirring implement
  • let sit for one minute before serving

The next time you’re at a bar and feeling bored, ask the bartender how he or she makes an Old-Fashioned.  No matter what they say, you’ll have the makings of a great bar-bet.  Just be careful that you don’t get into a barroom brawl.  The Old-Fashioned will do that to people.

Hashtag #BourbonLove Hashtag #BourbonIsFriendly

Last week at the Filson Historical Society’s Bourbon Salon, I ran into Maggie Kimbertl, the “unofficial” bourbon editor for She’s also very active on Twitter. We were discussing Twitter and how I’ve been using #bourbonisfriendly when tweeting about bourbon. Maggie asked Sarah Strapp, one of the Filson event coordinators, if she had a preferred hashtag for live tweeting about the bourbon salon and she said #bourbonlove.

If you haven’t been to bourbon tasting, you may not understand why either of these tags mean anything. But the first time you do, you’ll quickly see what is meant by #bourbonisfriendly because of the #bourbonlove that flows like… well, like bourbon. I’ve yet to attend an event where I didn’t meet a new friend. The bourbon writers, historians and master distillers are approachable and eager to share their knowledge of bourbon with others.

Ultimately these hashtags are a simple invitation, a way of welcoming outsiders into the community of bourbon lovers. A simple way of inviting people from all over the world to Kentucky – to come and experience the friendliness of Bourbon Country for themselves. As a community we want to see awareness of the products and brands grow, increased tourism for our beautiful state, and preservation of our bourbon heritage for future generations.

Issue #9 – Weekly Bourbon Reader

Whisky No Longer Old Man’s Tipple as Perth’s First Bourbon-style Distillery Starts Production //

Last week, we posted a link to a story about Australian producers using the word bourbon on their labels. Here’s an article about 2 Aussies who are building a distillery solely dedicated to producing whiskey based on American bourbon. I expect this to be a hot button issue for a while as producers try to bend and break rules in order to cash in on the bourbon boom.

Distillery Doubles Bourbon Output With New Control Platform  // automationworld

Wild Turkey uses automation to double output but makes sure the artisan component remains the same.

Limited Edition Bourbon Release Planned This Weekend in Illinois City // examiner

More non-Kentucky bourbon being released. It’s only 6 months old and they only made 351 bottles. Kentucky is still king.

Whisky Chicks Bring women Together // courier-journal

Less formal than “Bourbon Women,” Whisky Chicks brings women together socialize, have fun and learn about bourbon and whisky.

The Physics of Pot Stills  //

Awesomely nerdy and scientific explanation of how a pot still works.

Diageo to Build $115 million Bourbon Distillery in Shelby County  // kentucky

Another sign of the bourbon boom, this time in Shelby county, KY.

10 Can’t-miss Whisky Bars Around the USA  // usatoday

Louisville’s ‘The Silver Dollar’ featured in top 10 whiskey bars in the US.

National Bourbon Day June 14th // nationalbourbonday

Mark your calendars. It’s sure to be as fun as Christmas!

Father’s Day Gift Guide for the Bourbon Drinker

Father’s Day Gift Guide

It’s Father’s Day once again and the cards and flowers that make mom warm and fuzzy just don’t quite cut it with dad. You can always go with the old standby of an ugly tie or some socks. But if the old man is a bourbon lover, here are some items that any bourbon drinking dad will love.


Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey by Mike Veach. Veach is the man to go to if you want good solid historical accuracy. This book is available in most bookstores and many liquor stores in Louisville.

Bourbon Whiskey: Our Native Spirit by Bernie Lubbers. Whiskey history with a big dose of humor from the Whiskey Professor himself. Get it from or at many Louisville liquor stores and book stores.

Kentucky Bourbon Country by Susan Reigler. Over 200 pages of breathtaking photographs of bourbon country. It is the essential travel guide.


Four Roses 2014 Limited Edition – If you can get your hands on a bottle of this, you will always be dad’s favorite.

Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon – This bourbon is tough just like dad’s supposed to be. Uncut and unfiltered, it packs quite the punch but is surprisingly drinkable neat.

Old Grand Dad BIB – If dad is a no frills kind of man, this is his drink. Delicious without being pretentious. It doesn’t have to be. The proof is in the glass.


Glencairn Whisky Glasses – These are a must have. Seriously. If dad doesn’t have at least one of these, get him one. These are made for savoring whiskey.

Heavy bottom rocks glasses – This is the standard go to glass to drink bourbon neat or on the rocks. For that special touch, get him glasses etched with his favorite bourbon brand.

Collins Glasses – If dad is a fan of cocktails, the collins glass is a bar staple. Taller than a rocks glass, it will accommodate ice and mixers.

Stone Cask Ice Rounds – Silicon Ice Mould – “Great for making big ice balls that will not water down your drinks. Just remember to follow the directions, and don’t fill up the water all the way, as ice expands, it will overfill the mold. They are hard to get out if you put too much water in, and it overflows as it freezes. Just leave a bit of room empty at the top.” — Wadzinski

Tovolo King Cube Ice Trays – “These are durable, silicon molds for freezing large 2″x2″ ice cubes. These cubes are the perfect fit for whiskey or any cocktail served in a rocks glass. Having one large ice cube causing the ice to melt more slowly for an enjoyable drink. A rocks glass, one king cube, and some Bulleit Rye whiskey is the perfect drink.” — Winfield

You should probably forward this guide to your friends and co-workers in case they waited until the last minute too.

Issue #8 – Weekly Bourbon Reader

Filson Bourbon Academy June Events // louisville

As bourbon’s popularity continues to grow, The Filson Historical Society is hosting tasting and learning events around Louisville and surrounding cities.

Australian Distiller Labels Whiskey ‘Bourbon’; Others Use Term in Marketing // fredminnick

Are the Australians crossing the line with their bourbon imitations? Absolutely.

Local Craft Distillery Cedar Ridge Expanding // press-citizen

An Iowan craft distillery has a bourbon in the works. It’s about time they did something with that 13 million acres of corn besides feeding cows and making corn syrup.

Photo Gallery: The Kentucky Bourbon Trail  // wkyufm

Photojournalist Abbey Oldham visited three bourbon trail distilleries and learned to remove a bung hole by hand.

Diageo to Build Full-scale Bourbon Distillery in Shelby County // wkyt

A new distillery in Shelby county will create 30 new jobs and help to meet rising demand for bourbon.

Alltech’s Pikeville Plan Encouraging; Distillery Investment Sets Example to Follow // kentucky

Could Alltech’s investment in eastern Kentucky help the economy? It’d be a lot cooler if it did.

Filson Bourbon Salon – Oxmoor Farms Tasting Event

In one of America’s largest private libraries, thirty-five bourbon lovers gathered to sip four bourbons. This was the first “Bourbon Salon” hosted by the Filson Bourbon Academy at Oxmoor Farm in Louisville, KY. The Filson invited four authors to choose a bourbon for the group to taste while they told the stories of the men and women behind the distilleries. My favorite was Fred Minnick’s pick, Larceny, a wheated bourbon from Heaven Hill. Susan Reigler chose Four Roses Small Batch. Mike Veach chose a bottle of Elmer T. Lee to celebrate his friend Elmer T. Lee – the bourbon legend who passed away last year.

Bourbon historian (and pre-Prohibition bottle collector) Chet Zoeller from Jefferson’s Reserve opened the most interesting and controversial bottle of the evening – Jefferson’s Ocean. Jefferson’s Ocean was one of Trey Zoeller‘s “ridiculously small batch” ideas. The experiment: put five barrels out to sea on a research vessel, sail 10,000 nautical miles, and see what comes out of those barrels. The result was their most sought after product. Bourbon & Banter posted a photo of that first batch – it came out dark as a porter after all that time sloshing around in the barrels at sea. The second batch of 70 barrels, Ocean II, visited 40 ports and was released March 1st. Chet mentioned there are 200 barrels on boats right now, so you will have at least one more shot to find a bottle on store shelves. I enjoyed Ocean II, my mind conjuring up the taste of dried salt water on my lips as he told the story of the boat hauling the barrels around the world in the hull. It’s amazing how great story-telling can effect even the taste of a simple drink.