How do you like your bourbon?

These days there are a lot of options when it comes to chilling your bourbon (and drinks in general). Today we’ll walk you through some of the different options like how to order your bourbon and the many different styles of ice cubes.

Neat, straight up, and on the rocks are still the standards. Neat means without ice. Typically a bartender would serve it in an old fashioned glass. Neat is also how most distilleries on the Bourbon Trail serve their bourbon for tasting. It definitely takes some getting used to if you’re like me and like your bourbon chilled.

Straight up means chilled but without ice in it. This is similar to how a martini is served. This is becoming trendier for drinks beyond martinis as bartenders get increasingly creative with their drink list. It’s also a very classic way of serving drinks.

And then there is on the rocks, which is what we are all most used to when it comes to sipping bourbon. Just some ice with bourbon poured over it.

Now, these days there are a ton of ice options. There’s your old standby of standard ice out of the refrigerator or ice maker. I tend to prefer this if I’m mixing my bourbon. The ice melts quickly, especially on a hot day, which waters down the bourbon.

So when I’m sipping bourbon I generally use a large ice cube from molds that I’ve purchased from Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table. There are a ton of ice mold options out there. These are very common in restaurants now too. Some restaurants I’ve visited have even installed ice makers that make larger ice cubes (there’s a Japanese ice maker that makes ice cubes that are larger than the normal squares an ice machine makes but smaller than the large square mold ice cubes).


You can purchase ice molds in all sorts of shapes and sizes. I have a bunch of large square molds, and some round ice molds made by Tovolo – they seem to make the best ones (found in stores all over the place). I even have a tray to make Purdue P ice cubes!

For those who want chilled bourbon with no added water whatsoever there are whiskey stones. Whiskey stones are just that, small pieces of stone made in all sorts of shapes, but usually small squares. Most of them are made from Granite. Granite is very hard and dense. It doesn’t absorb liquid and also retains temperature very well. There are also metal stones with a coolant inside which freezes. This is a way to chill your bourbon without watering it down at all. Admittedly I don’t use my whiskey stones very often. I prefer the large ice cube option – chills the bourbon and dilutes just a bit as you get to the end of the glass.


If you read the tasting notes of many of the bourbons being released today they suggest you serve the bourbon slightly chilled. How you achieve that is really up to personal preference! Right now, I think by a fire is the best way!

What Becomes of Bourbon Barrels?

As many of you are aware, by law bourbon has to be aged in a new American Oak barrels. I recently heard there are over 4,000,000 barrels in warehouses all over the state of Kentucky.


That’s a lot of bourbon barrels. Some of the bourbon warehouses hold only a few hundred barrels. Some of those warehouses hold tens of thousands of barrels. Barrels need to be inspected regularly for leaks and condition.


They go through the heat of summer and the cold of winter as the bourbon migrates in and out of the wood based on the temperatures and humidity.   Keep in mind some of that bourbon is in those barrel for only a few years, some for 10 or 12 years, and the lucky barrels get to hang around for 20 or more years.


So what do they do with those barrels after they empty the out the bourbon and bottle it? Well, there are as many things done with those barrels. The majority end up getting a second life. Those barrels are sent to Ireland, Scotland, Barbados, and all over the Caribbean for scotch, whisky, rum, and other brown liquors. Some end up in wineries from all over the states. In the last few years there has been a HUGE demand from craft beer brewers to use bourbon barrels to finish and age their beers.

And in the past few years more and more condiments like maple syrup are being aged in bourbon barrels. On my Woodinville Whiskey Co bottle is as tag that says, “Why age syrup in a whiskey barrel. By aging our all-natural, pure, American maple syrup in a whiskey barrel, it absorbs the barrel’s rich, oaky, flavors: vanilla caramel, wood spice, and best of a a hint of whiskey.”  Even Trader Joe’s is carrying a Bourbon Barrel Maple Syrup with their own name on it. There are all kinds of different sauces being aged in bourbon barrels as well.


The good news there is they get more and more use and less end up as furniture or planters. But there is still a lot of really cool stuff made from barrels. One of the favorite things in my bourbon collectibles is a barrel head from Rip Van Winkle Distillery signed by Julian Van Winkle III. You will see barrel heads in many bars. What do they do with the staves from that barrel? Many become tables, chairs, votive holders, etc.


The next time you are in a distillery or specialty cooking store look at the items they have for sale. You will be amazed at the repurposing and culinary delights you can find with that nice bourbon finish.

Bourbon Review: Reservoir Bourbon

Reservoir Distillery is a Double Gold award-winning distillery located in Richmond, Virginia, created by lifelong friends Jay Carpenter and David Cuttino. While tailgating at Virginia Tech football games they decided if they combined their talents and passions for fine whiskey they could produce a highly exceptional spirit that reflected their Virginia roots.


I first saw Reservoir when we visited Taylor and Carter in Richmond. They distill three distinct whiskies, bourbon, wheat whiskey, and rye whiskey. They suggest you try their wheat first, then the bourbon, and last the rye. They age their whiskey in small (some 5 gallon) barrels. The theory is that a smaller barrel gives the whiskey more exposure to the wood and speeds aging.  One of the examples on their website says 2 years in a smaller barrel is equivalent to 15 or more years in a 53 gallon barrel. The focus is on quality not quantity. And, both Jay and David are personally involved in every barrel and bottle.

Their mashbill is 100% local corn. Most bourbons add some rye to their mashbill, some even add a little wheat.  On their website they say, “Reservoir trusts the full force of local corn and deep aging in our small barrels to produce a unique bourbon that is different from any other product available on the market.”

I received a bottle of Reservoir Bourbon from Taylor and Carter for Christmas and tried it for the first time over the weekend. Each bottle is labeled with the year, batch, and bottle number (mine is 2016 batch 15). It is a very full bodied 100 proof bourbon. They state their bourbon is “built to be bigger than the average bourbon.”   Lynn and I both tasted it and got a very strong spice. You may also taste coffee, and pecans. It is a fantastic sipping bourbon neat or with one ice cube which they recommend once you have tried it neat (at the price point it is definitely one for savoring, not mixing!).  It is very bold, and very flavorful.

If you are going to buy a bottle you are going to have to purchase it on the East Coast in Virginia or one of the surrounding states. I highly recommend you pick up a bottle. It’s a very unique, well-crafted bourbon to add to your collection. If you are not on the East Coat, pick one up on your next trip that way and bring it back with you in your suitcase. I look forward to swinging by the distillery the next time I’m in Richmond!

Aged: 2 years+
Proof: 100 proof
Color: Deep mahogany
Aroma: Vanilla, corn, toast
Taste: Spice, coffee, pecans
Price: $42.19 for 350mL


A Unique Experience – Kavalan Soloist Vinho Barrique

I had a unique experience last night. Whenever I visit my college roommate, Jeff, and his wife, Sandy, I have a unique experience. Let me set the stage. Jeff and Sandy live in a log cabin in the middle of 12 wooded acres in Indiana. It’s a fantastic home with a big fireplace and this time of year there is always a roaring fire. They regularly have 4 dogs laying around that fire. And they have an incredible collection of bourbons, whiskeys, and wine. I had my first sip of Pappy in front of that fireplace on a cold winter evening a few years ago.

Last night they poured me some of Kavalan Soloist Vinho Barrique Single Malt Whiskey they had recently purchased.   Kavalan, established in 2005, is Taiwan’s first and only family owned whisky and maker. Kavalan takes the name of Yilan County where it is located in northeastern Taiwan. Boasting pure water and fresh air, this part of the subtropical island provides the ideal environment for the production of whisky.


I must admit my knowledge of Asian whisky is very limited. I had to read up on Kavalan to understand more about this whisky.   It was a very unique experience of taste and reading. At 59 proof it is a very bold whisky with a lot of bite but it has an impressive flavor profile.


To mature their Vinho Barrique expression, the King Car distillers (who blend for Kavalan) in Taiwan use casks which have held both red and white wines, before being re-toasted. The whisky is fully matured in these casks to help their Taiwanese single malt develop a bold, expressive flavors of berry, plum, and caramelized sugar notes. A very strong caramel finish.


The price point on this whisky is not for the faint of pocket book. This whisky and distillery has racked up an impressive number of awards in a short amount of time. If you get a chance to try it, by all means don’t pass it up.