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 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.

Remembering Fathers

I fondly remember my father and grandfather.   Anyone who ever met them said they were both, “such gentlemen.” They were wonderful parents and grandparents. My grandparent’s home was on the Ohio River across from downtown Louisville, Kentucky. They had a deck that overlooked the river and on any given Saturday or Sunday a backyard full of friends. The back porch had a refrigerator full of long neck PBR’s or Falls City Beer. If you wanted something else there was a bar where my grandfather would make you a highball. Esquire Magazine says, “The potency of the drink is the result of the bartender’s kindness.” My grandfather Bill was kind and there was always plenty of Old Granddad or Early Times on the bar.

Granpa behind the Bar

People would always gather at their house for a barbecue, fireworks show, “The Great Steamboat Race” between the Delta Queen and Belle of Louisville, speedboat races, air shows, or to just watch the barges go up and down the river. If you were there for dinner Daddy Bill would offer to “sweeten” your coffee with a little Canadian Club Whiskey.

Granpa Bill & Corrine

Those really were the good old days where everyone sat around and discussed sports, politics, and the weather without phones, TV, or interruptions.

They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and in the case of my dad, Bill, that is very true. My parents always had people over for some occasion. He had built a beautiful bar in our basement. The drink of choice in my latter years at home was a Manhattan. But Dad could make any drink you wanted. Bartending for that generation was a skill many had learned. Mom and Dad threw a lot of parties. I remember most their New Year’s Eve parties where everyone was still there when mom would make breakfast at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning. They would dance, talk, and play cards all night. The “Greatest Generation” were great hosts and threw epic parties.

Bill & Sue Derby Day

Mom and Dad would come to California for our Derby Party and Dad would be our bartender. He said, “he could meet everyone that way.” But he also just enjoyed being behind the bar and talking with people.

My Grandfather Burrel was a mule skinner from Kentucky who brought his family to Indiana after the depression. He would have a bottle of Four Roses tucked away for a little shot neat, followed by a Coca Cola chaser. The drinks I remember from gatherings in those years were drinking whiskey neat, or on the rocks with a “splash” of water. The ladies especially would enjoy their whiskey in a highball with coke. You always started a party or dinner with a cocktail, not a glass of wine or champagne.

As you spend Father’s Day with your family ask about the traditions of your parents, and grandparents. We have recently held discussions with our kids about what we did for entertainment when we were their age and how drinks and drinking has changed. I get a grin on my face even saying “Wine Coolers.” What was that old commercial… “We’ve come a long way baby.”

Happy Father’s Day to all the Dad’s and expectant fathers that read my blog!

Drink Recipe: The Southside

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I am a huge fan of Garden & Gun Magazine. Our daughter introduced me to it when she moved to Richmond. They called themselves, “The Soul of the South” and have wonderful articles about all things southern. I got an email from them yesterday and one of the articles was about a drink called a “Southside.”

As anyone who reads this blog or watches the Kentucky Derby knows, the Mint Julep is the official Kentucky Derby drink. Other racing and sporting events have their own individual drinks. In Maryland, steeplechase fans have their mint garnished sipper made from rum – the Southside. I tested the drink last night!

According to the article by CJ Lotz, the Southside was popularized by Baltimore’s Elkridge Club. She interviewed Doug Artwell, the bartender at Blue Pit BBQ & Whiskey in Baltimore, who said, “I discovered that the local variation is predominantly rum in place of gin in most Maryland circles, and then sometimes lemon and lime juice.”

I made our drinks with rum and shared with Lynn and our friend Bob. We found the drink very refreshing. With 2 ounces of white rum in it, if you don’t sip it the rum will sneak up on you. It is very refreshing, very light, and citrusy. Try one on a hot Saturday afternoon. In fact, try one this Saturday afternoon as you watch the Preakness!

Recipe

2 oz. white Rum
1 oz. fresh lemon juice (I used a Meyer lemon from our tree)
¾ oz. simple syrup
1 mint sprig

To make a Southside mix the liquid ingredients together with a few mint leaves.   Shake with ice in a cocktail shaker. Double strain the liquid into a chilled cocktail glass. I used antique champagne glasses which looked very festive. To finish, garnish with a mint sprig.

 

 

Kentucky Derby California Style

The first Saturday in May is a special day to me. Having grown across the Ohio River from Louisville, we always watched the Kentucky Derby. My parents hosted many parties for the race. I attended the Derby with friends when I was in high school and college, among the crush of humanity in the infield. Back then you could buy an infield ticket for $5. I still have the infield ticket from 1973 when Secretariat won the Derby on his way to win the Triple Crown. We would get to Churchill Downs very early in the morning to be in line when the gates opened. We then raced with our stools and milk crates to stake out our spots along the inside fence by the finish line. We would camp there all day for “The most exciting 2 minutes in sports.”

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Lynn and I dressed up for this year’s Derby Party

When I moved to California, I wanted to introduce my love of the Derby and the traditions of Kentucky to my new friends and the young lady I met who I have been married to since 1979. Lynn and I began hosting Derby Parties in 1978 when we watched our first Triple Crown winner together. I was rooting for Alydar, Calumet’s Horse to win, and Lynn was rooting for Affirmed, the California horse.

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Setting up for the party

We have continued these parties with a few breaks for our kid’s grade school years. Our goal has always been to spread the traditions of Kentucky, and our love of the excitement, beauty, and power of horse racing. This year carried on those traditions. We did add a new twist this year with some rain. We just don’t do rain in California in May. Only twice in over 30 years of parties have we had rain.

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Ray wearing his admission badge

This year Lynn designed an invitation that looked like some of the old Admission Badges in my collection from the turn of the century. We asked people to wear their badges along with a bow tie for the men and a hat for the ladies.

With the post time being just after 3:30pm in California, we start the party around 1:00pm so it’s a great time for an afternoon of seeing old friends, dining, and horse racing. We have TV’s all over so people can watch the other races and all the build up to the Derby.

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This year’s centerpiece

We have the Mint Juleps flowing in the official Kentucky Derby glasses I have collected over the years. We offer other beverages but the Mint Juleps are a big hit. This year’s food was fantastic with Burgoo, ham, and pulled pork as the main dishes. There were too many appetizers, salads, vegetables, and desserts to list. It’s always good. Our friends enjoy bringing a dish to add to the day.

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Betting the winner

Our guests have an opportunity to pick a horse or horses in a win pool. Over the years they have started to study up prior to the party and all come prepared with their list. The winner was also the betting favorite at Thornley Downs. Everyone loves cheering the horses down the stretch.

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Joann’s winnings

We have been to the Derby several times. In 2015, we attended the Belmont to see American Pharoah the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed. We really enjoy attending the races but there is no bigger thrill than introducing friends and family in California to the traditions and excitement of the Kentucky Derby.