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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Bourbon Review: Bond & Lillard

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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.

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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.

Restaurant Review: Turf Supper Club

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We joined our friends Ray and Jeannine at a San Diego Padres game a few weeks ago and following their win they said they had a fun place for dinner. Knowing I like horse racing and a great bar, they knew we’d love the Turf Supper Club, a “Grill Your Own Steakhouse” is in the historic Golden Hill neighborhood of San Diego.

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Nothing pretentious or Turf Club stuffy, the Turf Supper Club is right out of the 50’s: campy fun.  You can see by the neon sign you are in for a treat. There is long bar with plenty of stools, photos of horses, old style lamp shades with horse shoes, red lights, and carpet, and classic wallpaper. It has been described as comfy and friendly – and that is true.

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What makes this restaurant truly different? You cook your own steak on the grill in the middle of the dining room. But don’t let me get ahead of myself. The bar has a very classic drink menu. For bourbon drinkers they have an Old Fashioned, Manhattan, or American Thoroughbred. They also offer a Gimlet, Esquire Martini, or Cosmopolitan, just to mention a few. With good bartenders and a good selection of liquor you can’t go wrong. Lynn started with a Manhattan and I had an Old Fashioned. Our drinks were very good and quite reasonable with prices from $7 to $11. If you just read my Bourbon blog for fun, they also have beer and wine.

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Steaks start at $11.75 for a Top Sirloin with a top price of $22.75 for Filet Mignon. I was impressed with Marinated Flank Steak I ordered. If you don’t want beef there are kebobs, pork, chicken, or salmon. All steaks and kebobs come with a large slice of garlic bread. The “Extras” as they call them are a side salad, baked potato, or potato salad.  You can end your meal with a selection of cheesecakes.

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I recommend The Turf Supper Club for those who like bourbon, steak, and a fun evening with friends, new or old. Next time you are in San Diego step back in time with a classic cocktail and steak at the Turf Supper Club. On Sunday nights they have live music in the Piano Bar. I felt like George Woolf or Johnny Longden was going to walk into the place before we left.

Triple Crown Mixology: The Belmont Jewel

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For those who don’t follow horse racing as closely as I do, the Belmont Stakes is this weekend! Continuing my series on drinks specific to the three Triple Crown races, today I’m sharing with you the “Belmont Jewel” –  the official drink of the Belmont Stakes (recipe below). The name is a reference to Belmont being the 3rd jewel in the Triple crown.

The Belmont Jewel is made with Woodford Reserve, the official bourbon of Belmont Park. Belmont has changed their drink over the years. In 1975 it was “The Big Apple” which was made with rum, apple liquor, and some sort of fruit juice. It only lasted a year or two then it was changed to “The White Carnation” which was a combination of vodka, peach schnapps, orange juice, soda water, and cream. It was created with the thought of the blanket of white carnations put on the winner. It was not well received by the patrons. How long it lasted seems to be lost in history. In 1997, then head bartender of the Rainbow Room, Dale DeGroff invented the “Belmont Breeze.” Believing that a track drink should be whiskey-based, he made what he called “an old-fashioned whiskey punch, which has mint as a garnish.” It was made from Bourbon or Rye, sherry, orange juice, pimento bitters, fresh mint, and orange zest.

That brings us to 2015 and the Belmont Jewel. As part of a modernizing effort they wanted to have a drink that was bourbon based, easy to make at home, and in large quantity at the track. They needed a drink that was more “fan friendly” and this was it.

Having been to the Belmont to see American Pharoah win the Triple Crown, I can attest to the fact the crowd was lined up to buy the Belmont Jewel and everyone seemed to be enjoying it. I will only admit to having more than one.

Here’s the recipe:

1.4 oz. Woodford Reserve Bourbon
2 oz. Lemonade
1 oz. Pomegranate Juice
Orange zest

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously with ice. Serve in a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with an lemon twist.

Let’s all toast the last Jewel in the Triple Crown and the start of summer with a Belmont Jewel!

New Bourbon Release: Old Ripy

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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 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.