Bourbon Review: Trail’s End

1

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.

2

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 Review: Elijah Craig Small Batch

EC1

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.

Stagg 5

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!

Whiskey from one of our Founding Fathers – George Washington’s Distillery

Happy Independence Day to all my loyal readers. You might be surprised to learn that U.S. Presidents and whiskey are entwined in the fabric of our country.   Did you know our first president was a whiskey distiller? George Washington’s Mount Vernon Distillery produced nearly 11,000 gallons of whiskey in 1799 (according to its website). That was one of the largest distilleries in the country with 5 copper pot stills – larger than many distilleries today.

IMG_7574

Mount Vernon Distillery was not the first in the country. General Washington was buying whiskey for his troops from Pennsylvania distillers during the Revolutionary War. He later angered these distillers after the war when, to help pay war debts, the country decided to tax whiskey.

11337043_10100903522620409_8690177089908742344_o

If you are ever get a chance to visit Mount Vernon make a side trip to the Mount Vernon Distillery. They give an interesting and fun tour of George Washington’s distillery operation. While there you can buy rye whiskey at the distillery which has been restored and is a working distillery.

IMG_2394

George Washington was making mostly Rye whiskey with 60% rye, 30% corn, and 5% barley. This rye was distilled twice and sold as common whiskey. He also distilled apple, peach, and persimmon brandy.

IMG_2391

Prior to the revolution rum was the preferred beverage. We know from our tours in Barbados that Washington spent time studying the rum making process when he was in Barbados with his brother. After the war, molasses from the west Indies, which is required for the rum making process, became more expensive. The ingredients for whiskey were more easily acquired and less expensive. And thus, distillers turned to whiskey.

11116433_10100903521802049_3636780602432681364_o

As you celebrate the 4th of July you may be celebrating with a beer, which was Thomas Jefferson’s preferred beverage. I would suggest you toast our first president, and perhaps the most famous Founding Father, with a sip of American whiskey.

Bourbon Review: Bond & Lillard

BL1

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Whiskey Barons collection, a special release by Campari America, and reviewed Old Ripy. Today I’m giving you the lowdown on Bond & Lillard, also released in the collection.

Bond & Lillard was a trusted name in pre-prohibition whiskey industry. It was first distilled by John Bond, a veteran of the revolutionary war. He left the company to his son and grandson, David and William. David would go on to form a partnership with his brother-in-law C.C. Lillard in 1869, and they began labeling the product Bond & Lillard. The bourbon was so revered it won the grand prize at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Using the tasting notes the judges wrote down at the World’s Fair and historic notes, Wild Turkey created today’s bourbon.

This is another 375ml offering in a unique round bottle. Again, classic graphics with the look of an old label. The label has statements on it such as, “It Bears no Equal” and “Real Delicacy of Flavor.” The top of the bottle says, “Judgment & Integrity.” As I have said many times in the past, I love good packaging. They have done a nice job on this Bond & Lillard bottles shape and graphics.

BL3

The bourbon is a golden color, about the same color as Old Ripy. I would have thought it would be lighter being a younger bourbon. It has a fruity, spice and vanilla nose to it. It also has a fruity and spice taste. For a higher proof whiskey this one does not have the sting or bite you would expect. It has a pleasant finish and leaves fruit on the tongue with a hint of spice.

I like having a diverse and deep bench on my bar cart. This is a bourbon I have added to it and suggest you do the same. Bond & Lillard has an impressive look and equally impressive taste. At $49.95 it is an affordable, out of the ordinary, bourbon to have when you want to get off the beaten path of the Bourbon Trail bourbons. Try a bottle and send me your thoughts.

Aged: Minimum 7 years
Proof: 100 proof
Color: Gold
Aroma: Apricot, spice, stone fruit
Taste:  Caramel, fruit, nuts
Price: $45.99 at Hi-Time Wine Cellars

This post was sponsored by Campari America, who was generous to send me a bottle to try! Opinions are my own.

New Bourbon Release: Old Ripy

IMG_7416

I always enjoy getting The Bourbon Review because I always learn more about bourbon.   They discuss new bourbons being released by the distilleries with good background on the releases. The spring issue that just arrived announced that Campari Group, the parent company of Wild Turkey, is bringing back brands that were popular before Prohibition. The project is called the Whiskey Barons collection. They will release 2 brands in 2017, Bond and Lillard, and Old Ripy. Campari says they are not only bringing back the names but they are attempting to replicate the bourbons by using historical documents, recipes, and methods used to make these great whiskies from the late 19th and early 20th century.

Old Ripy was founded in 1868 by Irish immigrant James Ripy in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. The original home is still there on the site of the Wild Turkey Distillery. Part of the profits from this project will be used to restore the Ripy home. Campari used old brochures, bottling, and family stories to help create what they believe is the closest they could get to the original brand. The release says, “it’s a blend of 8 and 12-year-old whiskies, along with some younger whiskies and is non-chill filtered. It will be bottled at 104 proof in 375ml bottles.”

While out running errands last weekend I stopped in our local Total Wine and they had Old Ripy. Score! That was the one I wanted to try first based on the article. Suggested retail is $50 for a 375ml bottle. Total Wine was selling it for $45.99.

As I have shared in past blog posts, I am a sucker for great packaging (comes with the job). The historic look of this bottle and label are a knock out. But great packaging only takes you so far. The product definitely lives up to its heritage. At 104 proof it’s not for the casual 80 proof drinker. This is a bold whiskey with great flavor. When you first taste it, drink it neat. Do the “Kentucky Chew” and work it over your taste buds. It grabs you from the beginning with hints of caramel, and spice, lots and lots of spice.

After you have done your first tasting drop a very small ice cube in it and swirl it around. Dropping that temperature and adding just a hint of water really opens it up. I just love it! I highly recommend you try a bottle. At the price point it also makes a wonderful gift for that serious whiskey drinking friend. It’s very good, unusual, and not something easy to find on drink menus.

Kentucky Derby Bourbon Bar Cart

IMG_7338

It’s only a few days until the 2017 Kentucky Derby. We’ve sent out the invitations, planned the centerpieces, and started cooking (well – I can’t really take any credit – it all goes to Lynn). I have my Woodford Reserve “Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby” special edition bottle for mint juleps. I’m about ready to go. What’s left? Stocking the bar for those who want to do a little Derby Day bourbon tasting or drink their bourbon neat!

I would suggest you have some horse racing themed bottles for those guests to try. There are some incredible bourbons with equestrian themed names, and graphics. In past blogs I have shown you the Woodford Reserve Kentucky Derby bottles, the Maker’s Mark American Pharoah bottle, and the Calumet bottle.

You must have a bottle of Blanton’s, the originals single barrel bourbon. It is a beautiful bottle with a horse and jockey stopper. These iconic stoppers are the different strides gate of the horse from standing to a full run. Each horse & stopper has a letter that spells out the name Blanton’s so there are 8 different stoppers.

I just got a bottle of Pinhook bourbon. Anyone familiar with racing knows the term pinhooking. It is an old Southern term for the purchase of very young thoroughbreds to be resold at a profit.   The best Pinhookers are speculators, with horse racing experience, and a deep knowledge of lineage. Each release is dedicated to a specific racehorse from Bourbon Lane Stable in Versailles, Kentucky. Great story, and impressive graphics. A friend gave me a bottle from Long Meadow Wine & Liquors in Hagerstown, Maryland.

Calumet Farm is one of the great old storied Kentucky Horse Farms. In 1924 William Monroe Wright, entrepreneur and owner of Calumet Baking Powder Company established a beautiful horse farm in Lexington, Kentucky in the heart of the Bluegrass. He went on to become one the most successful breeders and owners of thoroughbreds in the world. Calumet has eight Kentucky Derby Winners and 2 Triple Crown winners.  The Calumet bourbon bottle is an eye pleasing shape with a graphic of the steeple from their barns on the front of it.

Last but not least, pictured is the 2016 and 2017 Kentucky Derby Woodford Reserve bottles with art by Thomas Allen Pauly. Pauly is the first artist to do 2 Woodford Reserve Kentucky Derby bottles and he got them back to back. It is an outstanding bourbon with a history as rich as the Kentucky Derby. These bottles look good on the bar, on as the centerpiece on your table.

One bottle I don’t have is the Orphan Barrel “Gifted Horse.” This is another good tasting and good looking bottle from Orphan Barrel. Gifted Horse is the result of some 17-year-old Stitzel-Weller Distillery bourbon accidentally mixed with some younger bourbon. One their website they say, “Our gaffe is your gift.” They have it in stock at Hi-Time Wine in Costa Mesa, CA – I may be taking a trip there this week!

There are more equestrian themed bourbons. Black Saddle is another interesting choice for your bar. It was recommended to me at our local BevMo store and I have enjoyed it. Chestnut Farms Bourbon is another good choice. It hails from Barton 1792 Distillery with a product inside as impressive as the horse on the outside.

No matter what you have on your bar Derby Day your guests will have a great time. Let’s all toast to 2 great Kentucky traditions — Bourbon and the Kentucky Derby. Oh, yes, and the hats, all the incredible Kentucky Derby hats.