Bourbon Review: Blade and Bow

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Blade and Bow Bourbon is distilled at one of the most famous distilleries in Kentucky, Stitzel-Weller. They produce two products: the first being their Blade and Bow Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, and Blade and Bow 22-year-old, which is extremely hard to find.

From their website: “Named after the two parts of an ornate skeleton key, the blade shaft and the ornate bow, the Blade and Bow Brand is a tribute to the five keys that once hung on the door at Stitzel-Weller Distillery. These keys represent the five keys of crafting bourbon-grains, yeast, fermentation, distillation and aging. But more importantly they grew to symbolize the southern traditions of hospitality, warmth, and enjoying the finer things in life.” The bottles all come with one of the distinctive keys, some harder to find than the others.

But let’s go back to the beginning. It all started on Derby Day in 1935 when Stitzel-Weller Distillery was opened by Julian Van Winkle, Alex T. Famsley, and Arthur Phillip Stitzel. It became known as the Old Fitzgerald Distillery after the brand name of main product produced there. The distillery went through a lot of owners and changes until it closed in 1972. In 2014 Diageo reopened the facility following a multimillion dollar investment. The distillery was known for its wheated bourbons, where they used more wheat than rye in the mash bill. The most famous of those is Pappy Van Winkle.

Photography by ProofMediaMix.com

I recently had the opportunity to try their straight bourbon whiskey. I didn’t know what to expect, but knowing the origin of the bourbon I was expecting a lot and it delivers. Its dark amber color in the beautiful bottle is  Your first impression is a nose of vanilla and oak, with a bit of alcohol. As you take your first sip you get a very smooth and pleasant caramel taste. You may get some cinnamon and baking spice as well. The more it breathes the elegance and taste evolves.

This bourbon packs a lot of easy drinking flavor. I would suggest this is a good bourbon to add to that cart and serve to treat yourself or friends. Now to try to get my hands on the Blade and Bow 22-year-old.

Tasting Notes:
Aged: No Age Statement; 6 years blended with older bourbons
Proof: 91 proof
Color: Dark Amber
Aroma: Vanilla & Oak
Taste:  Caramel, Cinnamon, Spice
Price: $46.97 at BevMo

Is it worth it?

I am often asked by friends and readers, is it worth it? That bottle of bourbon or whiskey you saw at your favorite liquor store or online, read about in a magazine, or is featured at a favorite restaurant. My daughter recently emailed about a lottery being held for 10 bottles of a special release bourbon. I get a call, email, or text with that question every week.

It’s a very hard question to answer as value is, generally, in the eyes of the beholder. What is a bourbon or whiskey worth? Like anything else you would buy, sell, or collect, it’s worth what someone will pay for it. The market for bourbon the last five years has been very volatile and we have seen huge increases in the aftermarket prices of the hard to find bourbons. So, there really is no easy answer to the question.

Fall is the time of year when many of the distilleries release their special bourbons. Buffalo Trace releases their Antique Collection of bourbons and rye in the fall. Anyone who has pursued a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle knows everyone has been maneuvering with their local store for the bottle of Pappy that Buffalo Trace will release in October or November without paying a huge resale markup. Other distilleries have released, and are releasing, special bourbons during this time period. Fall is early Christmas for the drinkers and collectors of hard to find whiskey. You’ll start seeing a lot of articles, lotteries, and information about getting a bottle of these releases.

My suggestion, as I have said before is, “have a guy” who you know and trust to give you a valid review of the whiskey you are thinking of buying. I have mentioned before I talk with Ryan at Hi-Time Wine Cellars near our house. Find the specialist at the stores where you shop. Many Total Wine stores in Southern California have a whiskey specialist at their stores.

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Rebel Yell, which used to be famous for the fact you could not get it above the Mason Dixon Line, released a bottle of 10-year-old bourbon earlier this year. Ryan at High Times Wine keeps me up on the new releases they receive and suggested I try it. Based on Rebel Yell I had tried recently I was skeptical. That is why, “have a guy.” Ryan said it was good, and that I might want an extra bottle to stick in the closet or under the bed. Well, he was right, it was rated in the recent Whisky Advocate Magazine at 92 points making it one of the highest rated bourbons in the Fall 2017 issue. I have not tried it yet but those who have said, it’s worth it at $47.99-69.99 depending upon where you find it. The low being Total Wine and the high being the Idaho State Liquor Stores (but when I looked recently I could not find any available at Total Wine).

Rebel Yell

My friend Joey and I were recently looking for Blood Oath Pact No. 3. Most of the stores in California we had shopped were out of it. I found it at the Virginia ABC stores while there for our first grandchild’s birth. In Virginia it was going for $139.99. I asked how many bottles they had and decided I should do some research. After looking online a couple of times I found a Total Wine store not far from our house that had it for $99.99. Moral of the story – shop around if you’re in pursuit of a special bottle.

This brings up another great point. If you are linked into Caskers, and some of the other online purveyors of top rated liquor and wine sometimes you will find good deals, and if you watch carefully you may get free shipping.

When stocking your bar, look for reviews and ratings on line, read the magazines, “have a guy,” and shop around and do your research before you buy.

Bourbon Heritage Month

September marks the 10th anniversary of National Bourbon Heritage Month, which was passed by the U.S. Senate in 2007 to honor America’s native spirit. The month-long holiday celebrates the history, cultural heritage and legacy that the bourbon industry contributes to the United States.

I know I am a little late to the game in reporting this but you should have noticed a flurry of ads and media about Bourbon the past few weeks. If you are not keeping up with what’s going on in the whiskey industry, I would suggest you subscribe to “The Bourbon Review.” The Bourbon Review is based in Lexington, Kentucky and has it thumb on the pulse of everything going on in the state.

Bourbon Review Magazine

They just put on the “Bourbon Shindig” at Taylor Made Farms. It’s an annual event held in Lexington. They put on a wonderful evening of bourbon, and food that will make anyone want to move to Lexington the next week. Their selection of locations like Taylor Made Farms is superb. Some of the legends of the industry attend and the crowd at just over 100 makes for a comfortable evening of food, drink, and fellowship.

Bourbon Shindig

The other publication I read is Whisky Advocate. Whisky Advocate is published in New York, you can tell by the spelling of their name the focus on the all brown spirits including Irish Whiskey, Japanese Whisky, Scotch Whisky and American Whiskey, bourbon being a large part of that coverage.   Whisky Advocate also puts on the WhiskyFest which they hold in New York, Chicago, Washington, DC and San Francisco annually.

Whisky Advocate Magazine

By reading these publications you get advance notices of spirits like “Statesman” and other new releases. They also talk about tasting, buying, storing, and enjoying your purchases, and collection. If you are collecting they talk about how best to do it. They answer questions like,

This weekend is taking all the month long Bourbon hype to a level only Hollywood can bring with the opening of “Kingsman, The Golden Circle.”

Taken from the Old Forester website:

“Inspired by the dynamic characters in the upcoming film “Kingman: The Golden Circle,” Old Forester Statesman offers bold flavor blended to a smooth 95 proof from hand-selected casks of our famed Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky from the warmest places in the warehouse.” Their tasting notes say, “A buttery leather is quickly dominated by a bold flash of pepper, cinnamon bark, and sharp citrus.”

Stateman Bourbon

Kingsman will be in theaters on September 22nd. If you didn’t see the first Kingman movie (Loosely based on the Marvel comic series) you are in for a treat. This live action, comedy film has the London based crime fighting organization Kingsman working with their American counterparts, the Statesman, after their London based headquarters is destroyed. The statesman operates out of their namesake distillery.

“Bourbon isn’t just part of the movie, its central to the plot,” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. He went on to say, “If you are going to take bourbon as your theme in your movie, what better place to frame those scenes than Kentucky.”

As you raise a glass to the weekend start planning for a trip to see “Kingsman, The Golden Circle,” The Bourbon Trail this fall, or dinner out with a great bourbon cocktail. Get out and enjoy the “Brown Water” and the spirit, of the spirit.

Bourbon Review: Trail’s End

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When you think about where Bourbon comes from you generally don’t think of the Pacific Northwest. Start thinking about it because I tasted a very nice bourbon this week from Hood River Distillers in Hood River, Oregon – their Trail’s End bourbon. Hood river was founded in 1934 and they are Oregon’s oldest distiller.

Hood River’s story doesn’t begin in Oregon, but rather 2,300 miles away in Kentucky. Hood River Distillers makes a lot of different liquors, fruit wines, and brandy.   As a whiskey drinker you may know them for their Pendleton Whiskey. Trails End bourbon is actually made in Kentucky where it rests for 8 years in oak barrels. It is then shipped to Oregon where Hood River finishes the bourbon with Oregon oak staves. Hood River started this process with their McCarthy’s single malt whiskey a few years ago.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Casey Armstrong, the Craft Brand Manager for Hood River. Anyone who reads my blog knows I am a sucker for great packaging and Hood River did a great job on this one. The bottle has their name molded into it, with a good looking, subtle label and finished wood stopper. But the bottle looks so good because it has a dark cinnamon colored whiskey inside it.

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When you open the bourbon it has a real oak and spice smell. Good color, nice nose, and finally as it touches your lips you notice a lot of spice, and flavor, and a sweetness. In talking with Casey he emphasized how much flavor they thought the Oregon oak charred to a medium toast added to the bourbon. They won’t disclose how they do it, only that it’s not very long, perhaps as short as 7-10 days. The last thing they add is Oregon water to cut the bourbon to 90 proof. They feel the mixture of the limestone water from Kentucky and their pure Oregon water makes an excellent marriage. I can’t disagree.

If you are in the Hood River area visit the distillery for a taste and a tour. You can also find it at your fine local liquor store. It’s an excellent product, with a fresh taste, and finish that will have you pouring a 2nd glass. As I sit here writing this article I keep pouring a little more in my glass.   Here’s a toast to the Oregon Trail and an exceptional bourbon.

Aged: Minimum 8 years
Proof: 90 proof
Color: Dark Cinnamon
Aroma: oak, walnut, spice
Taste:  Nutty, cinnamon, sweetness
Price: $46.99 at BevMo

(Trails End sample c/o Hood River Distillers)

 

 

Bourbon Bill is now Grandpa Bill too!

Bourbon Bill is now Grandpa Bourbon Bill, too! Our daughter had a beautiful baby boy on August 15th. He caught us all by surprise as he wasn’t due until September 4th. Everyone has been busy spoiling him at a very early age.

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I hope you all missed my blogs as much as I missed writing them. Family comes first and it was a fun 2 weeks! While back in Virginia I had time to think about famous grandpa’s in bourbon history. There are a lot of brands with the word “Old” in them. I don’t think they were thinking of me; I may be a grandad, but I don’t feel OLD.

We all know the “Old Grand-Dad” brand which was first bottled in 1882. Old Grand-Dad was a distiller named Basil Hayden who made his name by distilling a bourbon whiskey made with a higher percentage of rye. Basil Hayden passed along the art of distilling to his son and then, in turn, to his grandson. It was the third generation distiller, Colonel R.B. Hayden, who honored his grandfather by naming his justly famed whiskey “Old Grand-Dad.” His portrait of on the front of each bottle. The Old Grandad brand is now owned and produced by Beam Suntory.

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During Prohibition, Old Grand-Dad was produced by a pharmaceutical company, the American Medicinal Spirits Co., and was one of the few distilled spirits permitted to be prescribed as medicine. Old-Grand-Dad is experiencing a resurgence today among younger consumers rediscovering vintage bourbons.

Another old whiskey is Old Overholdt. It is the oldest, most famous Straight Rye Whiskey on the market today. Straight Rye Whiskey has a distinctive flavor and appeal that, after Prohibition, made it the most popular spirit in the country.

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Abraham Overholt (1784 – 1870) was one of the fathers of American distilling and he took uncompromising pride in this product. When it came to making his whiskey, Abraham Overholt lived by three hard and fast standards – work hard, stand fast, and don’t waver. These three standards were the basis upon which he built Old Overholt, and they continue to be followed to this day. This is another Beam Suntory Brand.

When we toured the Old Pogue distillery a few years ago we got such a sense of family and heritage from John Pogue who gave us the tour. Not only did he give us the distillery tour but he showed us the family antebellum home that overlooks the Ohio River. You could sense his pride in being a descendant of the Pogue family. Today the fifth and sixth generation of Pogue’s, direct descendants of H.E. Pogue I, II, and III, including H.E. Pogue IV and H.E. Pogue V, are using the same recipes as their fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers.

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I will enjoy a celebratory sip of my Pappy Van Winkle to toast our newest family member now that I am back home. Whiskey is a business of heritage and the passing down of history, formula’s, methods and skills. That sounds a little like being a father, Grandfather, or Great Grandfather. I just joined the club! This to dedicated to all those Grandfathers’s and Grandmother’s out there as they celebrate life.

Bourbon Review: Elijah Craig Small Batch

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Elijah Craig is named for a Baptist minister who was originally credited with inventing bourbon in the late 1700’s. Don’t know about you but there wasn’t a lot of drinking in the Baptist Church where I grew up.

On my last trip to Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa I asked Ryan what he had gotten in recently that I should try. He never steers me wrong and he pointed me toward a couple of bottles they had recently received. When he showed me the Elijah Craig Small Batch, that they had hand picked when in Kentucky, I was immediately intrigued.

This latest Elijah Craig Single Batch was just released by Heaven Hill, which established the brand in 1986. There is no age statement on the bottle but according to the information given to Hi-Times Wine Cellars this is a 9-year-old bourbon. In 2016 Heaven Hill announced they were no longer going to put age statements on their bottles. With supply and demand you are seeing more and more of that in the industry.

The bottom line, does it matter? The real proof is in the pudding (who said that?). Or in this case the real proof is on the bottle and the taste inside is what matters. It has a very strong nose the minute you open it. The spices, vanilla, and sugars jump out at you.

That was not my immediate first impression. I tasted this one on three the separate evenings to write this review. The first night I opened it I had been drinking a high proof bourbon first and this one seemed a little weak. I decided that it was not a fair assessment and wanted to give it a second chance. We learned from our friends Ray and Jeannine ,who own Highland Valley Vineyards, how important atmosphere, music, and mood are to taste. More on that in a later blog but explains why when you try a wine on a tour, buy a case, take it home, and then say, “What was I thinking when I bought this?”

Back to the Bourbon. Elijah Craig has been putting out some very nice bourbons the last few years and this one qualifies as another winner. It has very strong appeal when you open. More of the spices and not so much alcohol. As you taste it you will note it has a very soft appeal and then the spices and a bit of alcohol run into the palate. I have to say it has the body of a more expensive bourbon. Others have described it as weak but after tasting it for the third time last night I think it is perfect for my palate neat.

It is at a price point to be served neat or mixed in a cocktail – you can’t go wrong. With the bourbon inside this attractive bottle with its wood stopper is the perfect gift for a friend. This will be on their bar long after that that $20 bottle of wine.

Aged: No Statement but 9 years
Proof: 94 proof
Color: Dark Amber
Aroma: Spicy, vanilla’s, caramel, oak
Taste:  Caramel, fruits, nutmeg
Price: $22.99 at Hi-Time Wine Cellars

Bourbon Review: Stagg Jr.

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Back in February I bought a bottle of Stagg Jr. that Ryan at Hi-Time Wine Cellars had recommended when I was drooling down the aisles. I knew its reputation; I have a bottle of Stagg I have been nursing for a couple of years. But I have never had Stagg Jr. I love anything from Buffalo Trace so the $59.99 price tag seemed very fair. Well, looking on line recently, I should have bought more than 1 bottle because when I run out I will have to pay north of $125 for that same bottle.

Taken straight from the back label of the bottle:

“George T. Stagg was born in Kentucky on December 19th, 1835. Stagg built the most dominant American distillery on the banks of the Kentucky River, during a time known as the Gilded Age of Bourbon. The Distillery survived floods, fires, droughts, and even Prohibition – when it made whiskey for medicinal purposes. Today, Buffalo Trace Distillery strives to carry on the tradition of its famous forefather. Uncut and unfiltered, this robust bourbon whiskey ages for nearly a decade and boasts the bold character that is reminiscent of the man himself.”

Robust even falls short as a description of this bourbon. As you can see by the color it is a very deep color I would describe as walnut. At a 130 proof it’s not been cut. When you open the bottle you can smell the spice. It’s a distinct nutmeg smell. You also pick up vanilla and cinnamon. This is an 8 to 9-year-old bourbon that has picked up a lot of flavor from the No. 4 char in the Missouri Ozark American white oak barrels where it has lived.

In Fred Minnick’s book Bourbon Curious (which I highly recommend), he devotes an entire chapter to tasting bourbons, breaking it down by grain, or spice prominence. The older bourbons that are uncut have that rich color and stronger flavor profile.

I definitely suggest getting a bottle now. You may still find it in some liquor stores around the country without paying high prices. Hi-Time Wine Cellars with their following sells out of these limited release bourbons very quickly. You can certainly find some in your higher end local restaurants or bars. It is a bourbon I would highly recommend if you can find it.

My next blog will be about another 9-year-old bourbon I picked up yesterday on Ryan’s recommendation.  Stay tuned!