Bourbon Trail Day 3: Louisville

We started Day 3 on the Bourbon Trail at Angel’s Envy where we made a reservation for later in the day and drove a few short blocks to Peerless Distilling. Peerless was a pleasant surprise. What a beautiful tasting room and bar!

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They have done a great job of restoring the building. Peerless is a name that has been around since 1890 but the distillery had closed in 1917 during the war effort. Corky Taylor wanted to resurrect his family distillery. In 2014 they were able to buy back the original license and Peerless name and began construction restoring a 114 year-old building in Louisville. They filled their first barrel since 1917 in March of 2015.

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Peyton Beall directed our introduction to Peerless and our tasting. She was very knowledgeable about the distillery and its history.

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They do their tasting with a delicious piece of chocolate, and what a difference that makes. Peerless Rye was just selected by Whisky Advocate Magazine as # 15 in the top 20 whiskies in the world.

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Our next stop was Angel’s Envy. You will be in awe of their distillery and tasting room. They have spared no expense. Another facility in a restored old distillery building in downtown Louisville. The effort to restore a lot of the old buildings has paid off with beauty and great old history.

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This tasting was also done with chocolate. It enhances the senses and experience and takes it to a whole new level.

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After the tour and tasting we hung out in their bar and had a cocktail. They make all their own bitters, syrups, and mixers. Do take the time to relax and have a drink with them. It’s well worth the experience.

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Our last stop of the afternoon was at Evan Williams. They are open until 6:00 which helped us extend the day a bit (others close earlier). Their tour will take you through a diorama of the life and history of Evan Williams which also takes you through the history of whiskey and bourbon in Kentucky.

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The tastings are done in one of several bars set up with period design and furnishings from different time periods. Ours was from the ‘60’s. It is a most informative tour and learned a lot about the history, distillery equipment, a mock barrel warehouse.

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It was a great way to end the day before dinner! This was our 5th distillery on Saturday having begun in Lexington and ended in Louisville. It was time to sit down and relax.

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The next morning we drove out to Bulleit Distillery from downtown. Bulleit is a step back in time. “Originally opened on Derby Day in 1935 and reopened to the public in 2014, the Stitzel-Weller Distillery is one of the true cathedrals of the American Whiskey industry.”

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They won’t tell you on the tour but all the Pappy Van Winkle up until a few years ago came from this distillery. The day we were there they were baking Girl Scout Cookies at the adjacent property. They had about 4 inches of snow on the ground. It made for very pretty pictures against those corrugated steel barrel houses.

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The tour was really well done, probably the best we had along the way. I learned a lot and I felt like I was at Mecca. There is no substitute for walking into a warehouse full of aging bourbon, and on a 20-degree day it’s even more chilling!

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You get to taste 4 of their products in the tasting: their rye, bourbon, 10-year bourbon, and Blade and Bow. I was delighted with the 10 year and the Blade and Bow Bourbon. The 10-year is quite a bargain. They also have some of the Orphan Barrel bourbons for sale in their gift shop.

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When in Louisville plan at least a day for these and more of the tours available. We did not do the Jim Beam experience, there are a few craft distilleries, and there are more opening soon. With all the superb hotels, restaurants, and bars you could spend days in Louisville and not experience it all. Plan to go when it’s a little warmer than the weather we had. But cold or hot there is always a bourbon drink for the weather.

Some Bourbon Gift Ideas

With the holidays upon us, I will be spending the next 20 or so days sharing ideas for the whiskey lover in your life, or your personal bar cart. You will see a little bit of everything spirits related.   I hope to give you a lot of ideas for that last minute shopping, or those stumped for ideas. I made 2 stops over the weekend that were whiskey related and found some good deals that would make for good gift giving or just generally stocking up.

My first stop was Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s has always been known for their wine selection and wine bargains such as “Two Buck Chuck.” In California, and other states that allow it, have started carrying more spirits and I was intrigued by 2 in particular. They have their own Trader Joe’s branded Bourbon. It’s a fun bottle and label and has a beautiful deep mahogany color. There is no information on the bottle as to who distilled and bottled it. But I was told by one of their associates that she looked up the distillery code on the box and it is Buffalo Trace. When I got home I compared the color to the bottle of Buffalo Trace I have and it looks similar. At a price point of $14.99 it is certainly worth the risk. If not a great sipper at $14.99 it is still a good mixer. I will review in an upcoming blog, I haven’t opened it yet.

TJ Bourbon on Shelf

TJ Bourbon

The other is the Trader Joe’s Branded bottle of Glen Moray 14-year old Single Malt Scotch. Where do you find a 14-year old scotch for $29.99? My Aunt Pat loves Glen Moray and swears by its taste and finish against many other single Malt’s. I have to take her word for it, I am not a single malt guy.

The second stop I made was Total Wine. Total Wine has a totally amazing selection of wine. They also have a huge selection of spirits, and particularly whiskey of all kinds. During my visit i picked up one of my favorites to keep around for mixing – Evan Williams Black.Great to have handy for holidays parties! A 1.75L is on sale right now for $14.99. Stock up for the coming year at that price. Whiskey Advocate Magazine picked Evan Williams Black as their best bargain in bourbon a few years ago. The article suggested at the price point you can’t beat it for sipping or mixing. It’s a good bourbon, and for the holidays if you are making holiday cocktails it will go a long way at that price.

Evan Williams Black

They also have Elijah Craig Small Batch for $24.99. Whiskey Advocate just picked Elijah Craig Small Batch as their #1 Whiskey of the Top Whiskies in the world for 2017. Need I say more? Why are you still reading my blog and not in the car?

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I strolled over to their wine section looking for whiskey barrel finished red wines. Are you seeing a theme here? I immediately saw a gift box from Cooper & Thief. It’s a bottle of their red wine blend in a box with 2 rocks glasses. On the box it says, “Red wine stashed in bourbon barrels. Enjoy in whiskey glasses.” I thought that was very creative. Why not enjoy a wine finished in bourbon barrels in whiskey glasses, makes sense to me? And they are good looking etched glasses to boot. This set sells for $30.99. I first saw this California wine in Richmond when we were visiting our daughter. Total Wine’s description of the wine is, “A daring red blend aged for 3 months in bourbon barrels which produces a complex and smooth, well-rounded wine. Dark and jammy with bourbon-inspired flavors that give way to soft tannins and a long, lingering finish.”

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My last offering today is 1000 Stories. You may have seen it elsewhere it has a very broad distribution. I bought several bottles the first time I saw it and I love it. It’s a bourbon barrel aged Zinfandel. They have an American Bison on their label and 1000 Stories is involved in American Bison conservation. To bring the story home, bison used to roam Kentucky, and the Midwest. To me, aging the wine in bourbon barrels, and having a silver bison on their beautiful black label brings it all home for me.

1000 Label

Happy shopping! Let me know what great gift ideas you have, or see, while out on the trail.  I am heading back out later tonight. I will let you know what I find. Cheers, and stay tuned.

 

 

Bourbon Drink: Bourbon Bill’s Mint Julep Recipe

Naturally, Mint Juleps are a huge hit at our annual Kentucky Derby party. With the derby just a little over a week away, I thought it was the perfect time to share my mint julep recipe with you. There are many variations on the mint julep recipe. Traditionalists generally vary between using simple syrup, powdered sugar, or even granulated sugar. And lately restaurants have been mixing it up even more adding things like peach puree. I’ve tried all sorts of variations and have found simple syrup to be the best.

To start, you need to start with a good bourbon. Because the main and essential ingredient in a mint julep is the bourbon you want to use a bourbon with a taste you really like. Last weekend we made ours with Woodford Reserve. I have to be honest, at our Derby party we use Evan Williams – when you’re serving so many people it just makes the most sense.

To get ready for the party, and the onslaught of thirsty attendees, we make a huge batch of simple syrup a couple days before. To make simple syrup you just boil equal parts sugar and water until the sugar is dissolved. [TIP: Because the bar gets busy at our party and to save time, I infuse the simple syrup with mint rather than having to muddle mind in every single mint julep made at the party. Simply add a healthy dose of mint leaves to our warm simple syrup mixture and let steep until the syrup has cooled, then discard the mint leaves.] Then let the simple syrup cool on the kitchen counter and then transfer it to a container to refrigerate until party day.

The julep glass is another important component! That could be a Kentucky Derby glass like the one pictured below  (this year’s glasses arrived a couple days ago to our house), or you could use a traditional silver Julep Cup.

Bourbon Bill’s Mint Julep Recipe

  1. Fill a glass full with crushed ice (If you haven’t infused your simple syrup with mint you need to muddle mint in your glass before putting ice in the glass)
  2. Pour in 1 ounce of simple syrup
  3. Pour in 2 ounces of bourbon
  4. Add a splash of good water & mix
  5. Garnish with a mint sprig
  6. Add 2 tall thin straws and enjoy!

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Make yourself a Mint Julep and remember to bet the gray!

Visiting the Bourbon Trail

A great adventure for spring is hitting the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  Lynn and I did the Bourbon Trail in the Fall a few years ago. Kentucky is a big state and you can’t cover it all in a day, or even two. Before hitting the road, you definitely want to have a plan of attack to see the distilleries you want to tour.

But first, if you are going to earn the official Bourbon Trail t-shirt or Julep Cup, you need to decide which trail you will follow. “Which trail?” you say. Yes! There are 3 trails: The Bourbon Trail (mostly the big distilleries you’ve heard of), the Craft Bourbon Tour (smaller distilleries) and the Urban Bourbon Trail (Louisville’s distilleries). All 3 are unique and offer different experiences, and can also be mixed and matched together.

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Lynn and I drove to Kentucky after visiting our daughter in Richmond, Virginia – so that kind of determined where we began. If flying in, your could start in Lexington and end in Louisville, or vice versa.

We started at “Old Pogue” without reservations. It was during sequestration and while we had planned to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway through Shenandoah National Park, we were shut out, so we went on to Maysville, Kentucky. We showed up at Old Pogue for the first tour of the day. We knocked on the door and when John Pogue opened the door we said we were there for the first tour. John said, “I didn’t know I had a tour this morning,” and we said, “You do now.” It was just the 3 of us.   What a great way to start the week.

Old Pogue is a great little Craft Distillery. Founded in 1876, it closed after prohibition and was re-opened by 5th and 6th generation Pogues. They even bought back the old antebellum home of the family which sits next to small distillery.

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We then continued on to Town Branch

And then it was on to the rest of the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail passport. Although they are big they are all different. Lynn had read about the “Corn to Cork” tour at Woodford Reserve. It was a great education and they do very small groups. Its more expensive and you have to book in advance but well worth it. We sampled some bourbon right out of the barrel at Woodford Reserve. Lynn also got to fill a barrel at Jim Beam, and while there also filled her own bottle of Knob Creek. Along the Bourbon Trail, we also visited Wild Turkey, Four Roses, and Evan Williams.

The Craft Tour gives you the chance to see things even more up close and have a more intimate experience. We haven’t completed that passport yet, but did a lot of it. I will write about the Old Pogue experience later. It deserves a whole blog.Willett Distillery was another great experience and well worth the stop.Limestone Branch also offered another unique experience.

We also visited many others that technically aren’t part of the branded “Bourbon Trail.”  Makers Mark is another incredible experience and tucked into this beautiful valley. Another “must see” is Buffalo Trace – purveyors of Pappy Van Winkle, E.H. Taylor, Blanton’s, Stagg, and a number of other great bourbons.

The Urban Bourbon Trail is a bar hopping experience that allows you to experience all that great bourbon you have been tasting and reading about all week. When you combine that with the food in Louisville it’s an evening you will not forget.

We ended our trip in Louisvile, and stayed the night at the Seelbach Hotel, a great old historic hotel. While we were in Louisville, we stopped by the Brown Hotel for a Hot Brown – a must do in Louisville!

Feel free to leave a comment below if you’re planning your Bourbon Trail visit and are looking for additional suggestions on your trip!

Bourbon Drink: Bourbon and Ginger

Yesterday was a warm Monday evening in California and I was at the office late.  What did I make for my cocktail when I got home?  I went back to a house favorite: bourbon and ginger.

We usually make it with the traditional ginger ale — or sometimes mix it up with ginger beer — and a lime wedge.  I know it sounds pretty simple and that’s the point.  I use 2 ounces of bourbon and 3 ounces of ginger ale, and a squeeze of lime.  You can make it to suit your taste.

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I use Evan Williams Black as my house bourbon to mix our cocktail.  Once again, use what you like. I think Evan Williams is just a good bourbon at a good price point for mixed drinks.  As for the ginger ale, we love Fever Tree. Today there are tons of ginger ale and ginger beer options — you no longer are limited to Seagrams. Pick the one with a flavor profile you enjoy.

We had our first “Presbyterian Press” cocktail at Sissy’s Southern Kitchen in Dallas and I have been a fan of the bourbon and ginger cocktail since then.  I will review Sissy’s another day.  I will just say for now: bourbon, fried chicken, and deviled eggs make for a wonderful evening.

Next time you want a bourbon cocktail get a really good ginger ale and mix it with your favorite bourbon.  Don’t forget that lime!

Bourbon Review: Evan Williams Single Barrel 2005 Vintage

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As you will learn from reading my blog, I am a big fan of Evan Williams bourbons. Evan Williams makes very good bourbon at a great value. The bottle I’m reviewing today, Single Barrel 2005 Vintage, was put in oak in 2005 and the label even tells you the exact dates it was barreled and bottled.  The Single Barrel Vintage is personally selected by their Master Distiller for this bottling.

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It was ranked #2 in the Fall 2015 Whisky Advocate’s Buyer’s Guide:

#2 – Evan Williams Single Barrel 2005 Vintage (barrel #292), 43.3%, $29
Complex fruit (clementine, pineapple, golden raisin) balanced nicely with honey, vanilla custard, and dusty corn, along with a sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg. An extremely versatile whiskey with its medium weight, easy to embrace personality, and subtle charms. Perennially one of the best values in whiskey.—John Hansell
Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

This bourbon has a spicy vanilla smell, is a little smokey, and I think strong caramel. Everybody smells different things in the same sample. To me it smells sweet and inviting. The first sips will give you the same impression. It goes down with a strong caramel taste and glides down very smoothly. It has a strong finish that should please most bourbon drinkers.  This is the type of bourbon you could drink any night and also dress up for a special occasion.

Aged: 9 years
Proof: 86.6
Color: Medium Cherry
Price Point: $27-29
Whiskey Advocate Rating: 93

If you want to find out even more about Evan Williams they now have their “Evan Williams Bourbon Experience” in downtown Louisville — I highly recommend it!

My 3+ Favorite Bourbons

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Talking about my 3 favorite Bourbons is a little like trying to list my 3 favorite cars. Pick a category: sports car, race car, weekend driver.   When it comes to bourbon is it neat, on the rocks, best mixer, or best value? How do you pick just 3 from so many good Bourbons? So, I will give this post a qualifier: today I’m talking about my favorite everyday bourbons I drink. Because, given unlimited money, supply, or special occasions you’re talking a whole different ballgame.

In my opinion, you can’t beat Blanton’s Original Single Barrel – either neat, or over a large ice cube (don’t let it get too much water in it). It’s easy to find, regularly on sale, and really smooth. I am also a big fan of 1792 (the year Kentucky joined the Union). It’s an excellent bourbon at a fantastic price point.  Next on my list is Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Blanton’s and Woodford are my 2 sipping whiskies on a regular basis. BTW, if you ever visit the Bourbon Trail, Woodford does an incredible “Corn to Cork” tour that I highly recommend.

If you are looking for a craft bourbon at a good price point, Old Pogue is one of my favorites. It’s spicy and complex, but the distillery is so small it’s not even available right now unless you find a liquor store with a dusty bottle left on the shelf. Go to their website and get on the waiting list; its worth the wait. Also, the Old Pogue tour is the subject of a future blog.

If you are mixing mint juleps or our house’s favorite drink, bourbon and ginger (with a lime), Evan Williams Black Label does the trick. In the Fall 2015 Whiskey Advocate Lew Bryson wrote an article titled “In Praise of ‘Table Bourbon’” a la the way French have “table wine.”

It’s a bourbon that good for everyday drinking-well made, ready for a cocktail, a simple highball, or ice destruction duties-and priced for everyday drinking, too. one of the best values in Bourbon. You can get a bottle of good bourbon for under $25, from the same distilleries, the same warehouses, the same barrels and mashbills as bourbons that are hyped, rare, and over $100 a bottle.

Evan Williams is a great “table bourbon.” You can find the 1.75L Evan Williams Black Label on sale at big spirits stores and grocery chains for $14.99 to $17.99 if you keep an eye on the ads. Well worth stocking up for mixing and parties. This is what we use for mint juleps at our annual Derby Party (more on that later this spring).

But, how can I not mention Maker’s Mark, Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon, and Angel’s Envy Cask Strength (more on Angel’s Envy on Thursday). It’s hard for me to even stop there. That is why my bar cart has over 25 Bourbons on it. So, moral of the story, I’m having trouble narrowing my favorite everyday bourbons down to 3.  The beauty of today’s market is there are many bourbons for many tastes. Bourbon and whiskeys like wine and should and can suit your particular tastes. My opinion? Don’t listen to the experts, drink what you like.