What are you 2017 bourbon resolutions?

It’s the time of year when everyone makes New Year’s Resolutions. I am suggesting if you are a true Bourbon or Whiskey lover it’s the time of year to start planning that trip, party, or purchase for 2017. With the growth in bourbon, and spirits as a whole, in the past few years there are many exciting things you can do.

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Some memorabilia from our trips to bourbon country!

The first I would suggest is a visit the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky “Where the Spirit Leads You” – especially if you haven’t been before. There are many ways to see it and several tours. There are two trails – you can do the Bourbon Trail, or the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour (or both in an extended trip). You will cover a lot of the state; from Lexington, to Bardstown, to Maysville, and beyond. Lexington and the surrounding area has much more to offer with Keeneland Racecourse, the horse farms you can visit, and all the history there.

On our most recent visit to bourbon county, we did the Urban Bourbon Trail which was a bar hop through Louisville. There are a lot of great bourbon bars and restaurants in Louisville. While in Louisville there is always Churchill Downs (home of the Kentucky Derby), the Louisville Slugger Museum, and the Speed Museum just to name a few places to see beyond the bourbon. I’ll do a visitor’s guide to Louisville in the next couple months.

If you can’t make it to Kentucky, there is a pretty high likelihood there is a distillery in driving distance to where you live that you could make a trip too in 2017. Lynn and I visited distilleries in Virginia and Washington State this year. Bourbon and whiskey is everywhere.

Consider events like the Kentucky Bourbon Classic in Louisville March 3-4, 2017. There is tasting, food, & education.  .

WhiskyFest is another way to learn about Whisky and Bourbon. These events are put on by Whisky Advocate Magazine (I know what you are thinking, where is the “e”). If you are you wondering about the “e” you need to attend a festival. The hold them in Washington, DC, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York.

Events like these offer a lot of fun and fellowship amongst people with a very common interest which in this case is the spirit

Or maybe it’s the year you want to start a collection of bourbons. Do some research on line, through your knowledgeable local store, or ask an expert. There are lots of forums and websites. Plan now to make this the year to do that “Bourbon Experience” you always wanted. Whether its sipping a whiskey you always wanted by the fireplace this winter, or meeting a Master Distiller at a festival or Distillery. Cheers to 2017!

Did you have a Bourbon-filled Christmas?

I hope your Christmas was as Bourbon-ful as mine.  As you are reading this blog hopefully you noticed my new logo and branding. We are getting pretty professional over here! (The logo design was a Christmas gift from our daughter). And Taylor had a dark blue t-shirt made with the logo on it. Now I won’t need a name tag when out bourbon tasting!

Taylor and her husband also gave me a bottle of Reservoir Bourbon Whiskey from Richmond, Virginia. Reservoir is handmade, single run, small batch whiskey. Look for a review in a future blog. I am so excited to try it (and visit the distillery the next time we’re in Richmond)!

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Lynn gave me a fantastic gift from Pappy & Company. It was a canvas tote bag from J. Stark. Inside the bag were 2 Pappy & Company glasses, some “Pappy Hour” napkins, and 12 “Pappy Hour” plastic cups. The last part of the gift set was a box of Bourbon Balls made with Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year. The bourbon balls are handmade by Sugar Mama’s Bake Shop. What a fun gift, great for picnics or a weekend away. There is plenty of room in the bag for a bottle of your favorite bourbon (maybe a new bottle of Pappy??) and a few other bar accessories for your getaway.

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In addition to the gift set, I got a Barrel Stave Cutting Board. The board measures 8.5 x 9 and about 1.5 inches thick. It is made from Pappy Van Winkle barrel staves and it is branded with their crest. Great for the bar!

Lynn also gave me a Collared Greens Bow Tie with bourbon barrels on it. (Collard Greens is another Richmond-made item… they have lots of fun bowties on their website)

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I did take my own suggestion and stopped by Hi-Time Wine Cellars to buy a bottle of Makers 46. I just love the Makers 46 and needed to replenish my bar. Based on a suggestion from Ryan at Hi-Time I also bought a bottle of Belle Meade Bourbon. Ryan said he thought it was one of the best bourbons and values in the store. I’ve had it once before but wanted to give it a full taste and review.

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I am ready for whatever the New Year brings with all my new gear. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas or Hanukah and want to wish a Happy New Year to all!

While waiting for Santa: Woodford Reserve

Our final bourbon gift suggestion this week is a trusty standby, Woodford Reserve! A great bourbon to sip by the fire on Christmas Eve, drink on the rocks with guests, or gift to family and friends you love!

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I’m a big fan of Woodford Reserve. It’s smooth enough to sip, but also at a price point that you can justify using it to mix a great Old Fashioned, Manhattan, or other bourbon drink. I keep it in a decanter for serving as our “house bourbon.”

You can find Woodford Reserve for about $25 from Hi-Time Wine (For $20 you can buy a nice 375mL stocking stuffer of Woodford) and is also readily available at most liquor stores.

It’s a little cold for Souther California and has been raining so I plan on drinking this by the fire on Christmas Eve!

In their stockings: Maker’s 46

Our second Christmas gift bourbon suggestion this week is Maker’s 46! I’m really into this bourbon right now.

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Unlike it’s more popular sibling Maker’s Mark, Maker’s 46 is aged a little longer making it a little smoother. French oak staves are also added toward the end of the aging process, adding some extra flavor to the bourbon. With the extra aging and the extra oak, a really tasty bourbon is created.

So why does this make a good Christmas gift (or stocking stuffer if it will fit!)? It retails for only about $10 more than Maker’s Mark, and is well under $50 at about $35 from Total Wine. Total Wine also sells a 375mL bottle for about $25, which would definitely fit in a stocking! More importantly, your friends and loved ones very likely have had Maker’s Mark many times. But Maker’s 46, the likelihood goes down a lot. This Christmas, introduce them to another Maker’s product, and a really good one at that!

(Here’s a picture of my Maker’s 46 bottle decked out in the little sweater I got at the Maker’s Mark Holiday Red Line event!)

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Under the Christmas Tree: Angel’s Envy

The rest of this week we are going to feature a bourbon each day that would make a great Christmas gift. Today, that bourbon is Angel’s Envy!

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Angel’s Envy is a really nice bourbon to sip, but it also makes a great Christmas gift because of its bottle and name. The bottle features Angel wings on the back, and the bourbon has Angel in the name – perfect for Christmas (Kudos to my wife, who picked this one for that reason!). At about $45, it is a great price point for a thoughtful gift.

One of my very first bourbon review blog posts was about Angel’s Envy. I’m definitely a fan. I first tried Angel’s Envy when it came out in 2010 and regularly keep a bottle around. It is one of the bourbons I like to keep around to sip and to introduce to friends who are new to bourbons and want to try something a little different.

Happy shopping!

Maker’s Mark Holiday Red Line Event

If you are not a Maker’s Mark Ambassador, and are a Maker’s Mark fan, I have one question. WHY NOT? Being an Ambassador is easy – you literally just have to register on their website (info below).

Ambassadors receive Maker’s Mark distillery, product, and new release information. There are also invitations to special events including local events like the Holiday Red Line event I attended last week in Los Angeles.

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For years there were street cars in Los Angeles and it was called the Maker’s Mark Holiday Red Line. This event was put together by Katie Bronow of Beam Suntory. She named it the Makers Mark Red Line in honor of the Red Line that used to run through Los Angeles, which was also a very creative tie in to the red wax every Maker’s Mark bottle is dipped into for its distinctive look (working in packaging, I’m extra appreciative of these things!). The Pacific Electric Railway Company (Red Cars) was started by Henry Huntington in 1902 and the last car ran until 1955. For some California railway history (bare with me here) — in a tie in with another piece of LA history, our bar hop ended at “Bunker Hill” Restaurant and Bar on Bunker Hill. In 1901 Col. J.W. Eddy built “Angles Col. J.W. Eddy,” a funicular inclined railway up the steep incline of Bunker Hill to give residents better access to their homes.

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But back to the event. About 40 Ambassadors and their guests gathered at Salvage Bar & Lounge first for a Gold Rush.

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(Not me – just another festively dressed Ambassador!)

The Gold Rush was created by Alex D’ Alessio. It was made with Maker’s Mark Bourbon ($31 through the ReserveBar website), Honey, Fresh Lemon Juice, and Ginger Beer.

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It was very refreshing and a great way to start the evening. It was fun getting to know the other Ambassadors and learn what brought them to the event and what drew them to bourbon.

After about an hour we walked to Spear Steak & Seafood House which featured the “Key to the City,” created by Mat Lim.

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It is made with Maker’s 46 Bourbon (on sale for $31.99 through Hi-Time Wine), Lemon Juice, Strawberry & Blueberry Puree, Cardamom & Allspice Syrup. (Check out the cute little sweater on the Maker’s bottle in the picture below!)

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It felt like the holidays and paired very well with the food appetizers provided. We had crispy calamari, different sushi rolls, one being seared salmon truffle roll, flat breads, way too much to remember.

Our last stop was Bunker Hill Bar & Grill for a Cask Strength Old Fashioned, created by Jose Balderas. (Cask Strength is $53.99 at BevMo!) WOW, what a way to finish the evening with an Old Fashioned in a miniature Julep Cup with a Maker’s Mark logo. (How many times have I said on this blog I am a huge Kentucky Derby fan?) The food there included Crispy Garlic Brussel Sprouts, Lobster Mac N’ Cheese, Korean BBQ Wings, Sweet Potato Fries, and more.

What a fun evening of fellowship, new friends to go along with fantastic cocktails, and good food. And on top of that my own miniature Julep cup at Bunker Hill to go along with the Maker’s Mark bottle Sweater from Spear, and the T-shirt we got at Savage. Merry Christmas y’all from Maker’s Mark!

Do yourself a favor and become a Maker’s Mark Ambassador. Or even better buy a friend a bottle for Christmas and suggest you both join. They put on great events. A Merry Christmas to all from Bourbon Bill!

Note: This is not a sponsored post. I am just a Maker’s Mark fan!

Last minute gift ideas!

Well, Christmas is just 6 days away, and I am about 90% finished with Christmas shopping and have just a few little things to pick up. Below are some last minute Christmas gift ideas (including stocking stuffers) – most of which you can find in stores across the country and others from websites that are still guaranteeing Christmas delivery. One of my favorite traditions is going to the mall on Christmas Eve with my daughter to pick up one last little gift for Lynn. My daughter won’t be home for Christmas this year, but I may just have to go anyway and pick up something from the list below!

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1. I think the little bottle of Blanton’s bourbon (375mL) is so fun, and it fits perfectly in a stocking! Plus, it still comes with a full size horse topper. You should be able to find the small bottle at any quality liquor store.

2. Crystal double old fashioned glasses are great for any spirits fan – male, female, young, old, or in between! I’m partial to these from Williams-Sonoma. You can also easily find crystal glasses from any department store like Macy’s, Dillards, Bloomingdales and Saks.

3. An ice scoop makes a great stocking stuffer. My family is partial to this one from Crate & Barrel. It looks nice but can be used for any occasion.

4. For a true bourbon aficionado, Glencairn whiskey tasting glasses are a must-have. They’re very reasonably priced for being made out of crystal. A lot of distilleries sell custom ones with their name on them if you have a favorite. I got mine from Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Orange County, California, and you can also order them online.

5. If you’re looking for a really impressive gift, a crystal decanter is sure to wow. My daughter has this one from Tiffany’s, which she and her husband received as a wedding gift. I’m always eyeing it at their house. They have also picked up some vintage decanters over the years – your local antique store may have some nice ones in stock.

6. These glasses from Fishs Eddy are hilarious and make a great fun gift for anyone with a sense of humor on your list. Fishs Eddy has all sorts of clever (and slightly off color) gifts.

7. George T. Stagg bourbon makes a perfect Christmas gift, both because it is a very high-quality bourbon for $80 (if you can find it), but also because of its wintry/forestry look with the antlers on the bottle.

Bar Review: Dry 85 (Annapolis, Maryland)

My family traveled to Annapolis and Baltimore for last weekend’s Army Navy Game. What a weekend! It was great having our family back together. We always love spending time in “Naptown.” After wandering through shops downtown and along Main Street, we decided to stop by Dry 85 for a drink before dinner. (If you’re seeing a trend, Lynn and I always try to experience a Bourbon/Whiskey establishment when we visit a town.)

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Dry 85 is, “A modern industrial take on a Prohibition-era speakeasy. The back alley garage where someone today would sneak a bourbon, beer or gourmet comfort food meal.” Dry 85 opened in January 2014. It has a cozy atmosphere with a good selection of bourbon and whiskey.

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They have a nice selection of craft cocktails. Combine that with the friendly wait staff and fun atmosphere of Main Street in Annapolis and you have an instant winner. We really enjoyed our visit.

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We had 6 different combinations of drinks. I tried something I normally wouldn’t – a Buffalo Trace Sugar Plum. I guess the Christmas season and thoughts of the Nutcracker that Friday got the best of me. BUT for a guy who drinks his bourbon neat it was a very refreshing drink. The Sugar Plum is made with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, House-made Plum Puree, and Freshly Squeezed Lemon it. My kids did laugh though because it was served up and was bright pink. My daughter and son-in-law had their soon to be famous Old Fashioned made with smoked maple syrup and said it was done to perfection. It looked great. My son and his wife both had drinks with fig (blanking on the name of them) which were very different and not the biggest crowd pleasers, but props to them for going out on a limb and trying something different. Lynn had a Manhattan, which was perfectly made.

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All in all, we would definitely recommend Dry 85. We didn’t eat there but the food looked good. Between their extensive whiskey selection and unique craft cocktails, it’s a great place to meet up with friends, stop in for a quick drink, or visit after dinner for a relaxing drink.

If you haven’t been to Annapolis go, especially in December when the whole town is decorated with garland over all the shops and restaurants, wreaths on all the doors, and the big tree by the bay. I’ll be back later with a visitors guide to Annapolis! We have been too many times to count and always find new things to do each visit.

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(Lynn in front of Blackwall Hitch – another good restaurant in Annapolis)

Bourbon Review: Cotton Hollow Bourbon

We were in Corpus Christi, Texas a few months ago and our son said the local Spec’s liquor Store was a must see – so we went! Spec’s is a large chain with a huge selection of everything wine, beer, liquor, spirits related. I asked the salesman in the bourbon aisle to recommend a Texas Bourbon. He said he did not have one he recommended which shocked me (any readers have some Texas whiskey recommendations??). But, he did say to try Cotton Hollow. I had never seen it before so I thought I would bring home a bottle.

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Cotton Hollow Distilling is an “Independent Bottler.” Independent Bottlers buy whiskey in the barrel from producers and brokers. These whiskies are then bottled under the label of the Independent Bottler. Cotton Hollow’s goal is to bottle whiskies from American distilleries and bring the finest flavors to the consumer at 93 proof. It is distilled, aged, and bottled in Kentucky.

It is distilled from sweet corn, rye, and malted barley. They are using limestone filtered water in their process. Limestone water, good for the horses, even better for the bourbon. The bottle I purchased is from Batch 003 Bottle No. 2902. Their first release was in 2014 and it was aged 4 years. The second release in 2015 was aged 8 years. The bottle I have was aged 8 years.

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As I first opened the bottle it reminded me of the Wild Turkey 101. Not sure why but that was my first impression. Other reviews have said it has the aroma of Banana Cream pie, ash, and even nail polish remover. It may be the latter that reminds me of the 101. The higher proof bourbons at first breath give you a strong alcohol smell. They then mellow and you will smell some grains, and oak, and pepper.

It has a nice finish and is pleasant on the tongue. Once it has breathed I like the softness of its release. I am not sure where you might find it other than Spec’s. If you do see it, the bottle has a great presentation and attractive label, but even more important it’s a good addition to any bourbon bar.

Age: 8 years
Proof: 93
Color: Cinnamon Brown
Aroma: grains, oak, pepper
Taste: vanilla, toasted oak, pepper
Price: $47.99 at Spec’s

Bourbon Review: Michter’s Bourbon

I am sure many you have seen Michter’s on the shelf and wanted to try it. I was in that same boat and I decided to pick up a bottle at Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa (they also have a great website you can buy their products from). They have almost everything you ever wanted to add to your bourbon collection.

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Michter’s was established in 1753 and know as Shenk’s and later Bomberger’s. It was founded by John Shrek a Swiss Mennonite in Pennsylvania. It is one of the oldest distillers and George Washington even requested it for his men in the Revolutionary War. From their website I got the following. Michter’s USUS1_Michters_American_Whiskey_FRONT 1 Bourbon is made from a carefully selected mashbill that features the highest quality American corn. It is then matured to the peak of perfection, with barrels often aging in excess of eight years. Truly “small batch,” each batch of our US 1 Bourbon is typically composed of no more than two dozen barrels, leaving no margin for “blending out” imperfection and thus necessitating excellence from every barrel. Reflecting the spirit of the Bluegrass State, Michter’s US1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon is nuanced, mellow, and earthy.

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Now for my own tasting experience. It has a wonderful warm, rich color to it. It is bottled at 91.4 proof. That puts it between smack in the middle between Basil Hayden at 80 proof and Wild Turkey 101 at 101 Proof. Not sure if that tells you much but it tells me it’s going to have a gentlemanly grasp when you take your first sip. But it’s not too strong for any woman that appreciates good bourbon. I poured a small glass to take my pictures and noticed immediately how much aroma it exuded. It has a strong caramel taste with vanilla overtones and some stone fruit notes. It has a good smoky oak finish as well.

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I was very impressed with it as I tried my first sips neat. I then put a small ice cube in it and the caramel jumped out of my glass. I would highly recommend you try a bottle of Michter’s Bourbon. They say they bottle their US 1 bourbon in excess of 8 years. They also bottle a 10 year and 20 year bourbon. I hope to try the 20 sometime. Pick up a bottle and give it a try. You will be glad you did!

Age: 8 years
Proof: 91.4
Color: Warm Golden Brown
Aroma: Caramel, Vanilla, Smoky Oak
Taste: Caramel, Vanilla, Stone Fruit
Price: $36.99 at Hi Time Wine