Thanksgiving Cocktails

While we traditionally serve wine during the Thanksgiving meal (I recommend a nice pinot noir – a light red pairs well with turkey), bourbon cocktails are a great way to start your Thanksgiving gathering. I was asked by my sister-in-law Cheryl to come up with a couple fun cocktails for Thanksgiving Day at their house. Challenge accepted!

I have been pouring over internet sites to find some fun drinks. A common theme among the cocktails I’ve found is What I have found is  cranberries, cinnamon, and apple cider. I asked the guys at Hi-Time Wine Cellars what bourbon they would use in a fall cocktail. They suggested Buffalo Trace and Elijah Craig. They said the spice in both bourbons will play well with the Thanksgiving flavors. The Elijah Craig at 94 proof is just a little higher proof than the Buffalo Trace at 90.

Obviously Bourbon Bill is planning on serving bourbon cocktails but there are also plenty of cocktail recipes out there using rum, vodka or another liquor. Your menu should definitely drive the cocktails.  As I mentioned above, also think also about what you will serve to drink with the big meal. We usually get some of the newly released Beaujolais Nouveau from France, or a California Pinot Noir to serve with our turkey (usually cook one on the Weber grill and deep fry one).

The three cocktails I recommend are below. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families!


The first drink I would suggest is a Bourbon Cranberry Cocktail. This drink I found on the Food Network from Nancy Fuller. The recipe makes a lot so you may want to cut it in half unless you have a lot of Bourbon drinkers.

Bourbon Cranberry Cocktail
2 Cups Fresh Cranberries
1 Cup Orange Juice
1/3 Cup Sugar
3 Cinnamon Sticks
1L (about 4 Cups) Bourbon
Orange Peels for Garnish

Combine the cranberries, orange juice, sugar and cinnamon sticks in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and cranberries start to pop, about 5 minutes. Let cool completely, then combine with the bourbon in a pitcher. To serve, pour into glasses over ice and garnish with an orange peel.


The next drink is for the going the fall apple route. We went apple picking with the kids in Virginia a little over a week ago. When I saw this drink I thought it was the perfect sophisticated fall bourbon drink. I got this one from the Woodford Reserve website. They have a lot of creative cocktails on there.

Woodford Reserve Apple Cider
4 ounces hot fresh apple cider
2 ounces Woodford Reserve
1 ounces brown sugar syrup (recipe below)

Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well until chilled and pour into your favorite stemmed glass.

For the syrup: Combine equal parts water and brown sugar. Bring to a boil until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool.


For my last Holiday cocktail, I would suggest a “Fall Fashion Issue.” It’s an Old Fashioned from Bourbon & Banter.  “In autumn, I like to add the seasonal flavor of apples. Cider is delicious, but there’s no place for juice in an old fashioned. No, you have to keep things boozy with applejack. Applejack was first made by William Laird in New Jersey in 1698. George Washington liked it so much he asked Robert Laird for the recipe in 1760. Laird & Company received distillery License No. 1 from the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 1780.” For this old fashioned we split the spirit duties between bourbon and applejack. The bitters will be aromatic, the sugar is honey, and the water is always ice.

Fall Fashion Issue
1 oz bourbon
1 oz applejack
1/4 oz honey syrup
3 dashes aromatic bitters

Stir all ingredients with ice in a double old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a twist of orange peel.

To make honey syrup mix equal parts of honey and hot water. 


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!

Bourbon Review: Michter’s Bourbon

I am sure many you have seen Michter’s on the shelf and wanted to try it. I was in that same boat and I decided to pick up a bottle at Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa (they also have a great website you can buy their products from). They have almost everything you ever wanted to add to your bourbon collection.


Michter’s was established in 1753 and know as Shenk’s and later Bomberger’s. It was founded by John Shrek a Swiss Mennonite in Pennsylvania. It is one of the oldest distillers and George Washington even requested it for his men in the Revolutionary War. From their website I got the following. Michter’s USUS1_Michters_American_Whiskey_FRONT 1 Bourbon is made from a carefully selected mashbill that features the highest quality American corn. It is then matured to the peak of perfection, with barrels often aging in excess of eight years. Truly “small batch,” each batch of our US 1 Bourbon is typically composed of no more than two dozen barrels, leaving no margin for “blending out” imperfection and thus necessitating excellence from every barrel. Reflecting the spirit of the Bluegrass State, Michter’s US1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon is nuanced, mellow, and earthy.


Now for my own tasting experience. It has a wonderful warm, rich color to it. It is bottled at 91.4 proof. That puts it between smack in the middle between Basil Hayden at 80 proof and Wild Turkey 101 at 101 Proof. Not sure if that tells you much but it tells me it’s going to have a gentlemanly grasp when you take your first sip. But it’s not too strong for any woman that appreciates good bourbon. I poured a small glass to take my pictures and noticed immediately how much aroma it exuded. It has a strong caramel taste with vanilla overtones and some stone fruit notes. It has a good smoky oak finish as well.


I was very impressed with it as I tried my first sips neat. I then put a small ice cube in it and the caramel jumped out of my glass. I would highly recommend you try a bottle of Michter’s Bourbon. They say they bottle their US 1 bourbon in excess of 8 years. They also bottle a 10 year and 20 year bourbon. I hope to try the 20 sometime. Pick up a bottle and give it a try. You will be glad you did!

Age: 8 years
Proof: 91.4
Color: Warm Golden Brown
Aroma: Caramel, Vanilla, Smoky Oak
Taste: Caramel, Vanilla, Stone Fruit
Price: $36.99 at Hi Time Wine

A Very Bourbon Father’s Day

Every bourbon lover dreams of Bourbon gifts. There really is an unlimited list of things you can get a bourbon lover for Father’s Day, or any occasion. Whether it’s bourbon, glasses, barware, clothes, and decorating accessories just to name a few.

I hit the jackpot this year as our kids and my wife all got me bourbon related gifts! I got a set of Glencairn tasting glasses from the Army Navy Country Club where our son is a member. (I also got a tie from Army Navy, and being a tie guy I just loved that as well.) Glencairn tasting glasses have been on my wish list for a while and it’s fun to have a personal set!

Our daughter gave me letterpress coasters that have a Mint Julep recipe on them. They are both fun and practical. Now I can stop stealing coasters when I am in bourbon bars! Seriously, they will be fun to use when guest are over for a cocktail or tasting. The coasters are from Haute Papier. They sell some fun sets with all different drink recipes on them, but given my love for the Kentucky Derby our daughter had a custom set made with just the Mint Julep recipe.

My new coasters with my new tasting glasses!

I also got a Nike Dri-Fit Golf shirt with “The Bourbon Review” embroidered on it. There are a lot of shirts out there with Bourbon themes. The shirt is from Bourbon Outfitters. They have most anything you would want related to Bourbon gifts.

A lot of distilleries offer a great selection of gifts. If you know your bourbon lover’s favorite brand, go to their website for ideas.

Lastly, I splurged and bought myself a bottle of Jefferson’s Reserve Groth Reserve Cask Finish Bourbon at High-Time Wine Cellars a few weeks ago. Bourbon is always a great gift for any bourbon lover. Picking a bourbon is a little like picking a horse to bet on at the races. Some go for the confirmation or silks (The Package), some use the racing form and past performances (Reputation), and some people go for the odds (Price and Value).


Whatever method you use your gift will be appreciated. No matter the occasion or reason for the gift, any bourbon lover will love a bourbon gift. A belated Happy Father’s Day to all those Bourbon Dads out there!

Limited Edition Kentucky Derby Bourbons

Kentucky Derby festivities are coming up quickly, as we are just 2 weeks away from the “most exciting 2 minutes in sports.”  It’s also the time of year when the bourbon distilleries come out with special bottles and promotions around the event.  As I previously wrote about, the 2016 Woodford Reserve commemorative Kentucky Derby bottle is on the shelves.  I got mine at Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, Ca.
This week, I got information on 2 new special bourbon bottles.  As a Makers Mark Ambassador, I got an email from Rob Samuels about a special charity bottle they will have to commemorate American Pharaoh’s Triple Crown Victory.  It is in the silks and stable colors of American Pharaoh and the Zayat Family.  I called the distillery and I was told they will cost between $75-85 depending upon your location.  If you click on their link starting May 1 you can find a location near you to purchase one.   I called Hi-Time Wine Cellars to see if they were getting the Pharaoh bottle and they thought they would but it had not been confirmed.
MM Bottle
Another new offering is from Calumet Bourbon.  They have a boxed set with a Derby glass. The glass has Calumets’ name on it.  It is different graphics than the official Kentucky Derby Mint Julep glass.  Below is a photo Caskers sent me.  May be a real collectible.  This is available from Caskers on line.  I have not seen it anywhere else.
If you type in Kentucky Derby Bourbon into google you will find lots of listings of bourbon related recipes, goods,  and decorations related to the Derby.   The link below ups for some additional bourbon drinks for your party.

Bourbon Review: Henry McKenna

Henry McKenna Single Barrel is a lesser-known bourbon and one that I haven’t had in my collection for very long. It’s an extra-aged bottled in bond single barrel bourbon. It is distilled and bottled by Heaven Hill in Bardstown, Kentucky. (Notice in the photo that Lynn’s beloved roses are in full bloom – just in time for the Kentucky Derby!)


Here is a little history from their website:

In 1837, a young man from Ireland known for his remarkable whiskey-making skills, came to America with his family’s whiskey recipe that had been passed down for generations. Young Mr. McKenna settled in Kentucky and discovered the uniquely American drink known as Bourbon. McKenna instantly took a liking to Kentucky whiskey and set out to create a better Bourbon using his family’s recipe. To ensure the highest quality, he insisted that his Bourbon age in oak barrels before bottling. From this process, highly unusual for the time, emerged a remarkably smooth Bourbon boasting a distinctive character.

This is a high proof bourbon without the normal bite you would expect. It has a wonderful aroma delivering a lot of spice and caramel. Some say mint, but I didn’t experience it (guess I should try it again tomorrow). The mint apparently comes from the yeast that Heaven Hill uses. You can really smell the oak in it as well.

I was very impressed with the first sip and it kept delivering flavor with different nuances of taste and experience. The bottle I have has a label that says, “Hand selected by the Staff of Hi Times Wine Cellars.” I am guessing you would get about the same great taste with any bottle but this one was selected by them.


If you have read a few of my posts you know I am a packaging geek. This bottle is very tastefully done. In describing the bottle, the brand says, “Commensurate with its status as a super-premium single barrel product, it features an antiqued strip stamp and a booklet neck hanger that tells the story of Henry McKenna, and explains the terms ‘single barrel’ and ‘bottled-in-bond.’  The face label also graphically emphasizes the ‘Aged 10 Years’ and ‘Since 1855’ statements, and has an area where the specific barrel number and ‘barreled on’ date for each bottle is hand-written.”

I would highly recommend you try a bottle. I was pleased first sip to last. If you haven’t been to Heaven Hill make them a stop on your hike of the Bourbon Trail and get a bottle from the source.

Aged: 10 years
Proof: 100
Color: Deep Mahogany
Price: $24.99 for 740mL at Hi-Time Wine Cellars

My Bourbon Mecca

You might be a fan of a special store, techies and my kids love the Apple Store. My wife, a big fan of Nordstrom. Me – I love to shop for bourbons. My go-to store is Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, California. I love to go there and browse for that new release from a favorite distillery, or just to look for something I’ve have always wanted to try. I love to look at the selection, packaging and graphics.


Hi-Time Wine Cellars is my bourbon store of choice because whatever I am looking for they have. The same is true for most any liquor and wine. They have it, and if they don’t they’ll get it for their customers.  I was there a couple days ago to pick up my 2016 Woodford Reserve Kentucky Derby Bottle (read my write up about its release here).


I was wandering around the store looking at all the bourbon, scotch, and whiskey (whisky if you are an import) on the shelves. There is so much rich history and life in those bottles. Many began their journey 15, 20, 23, even 30 or more years ago.

While there I spoke with Keith Hanson their liquor buyer. His knowledge of the industry and their inventory will blow you away. On another occasion I spoke with Holden, who was helping someone get a 20-year-old bottle of Pappy out of the case. Both Keith and Holden are great to work with.  In California we have a 3 tier system. The stores have to buy from a liquor distributor, who has bought the product directly from the distillery. Young’s Market is one of the distributors Hi-Time deals with for many of the brands they carry.

Now back to the Pappy. Not only do they carry new bottles but they do purchase bottles from collectors for resale. I took a few pictures but unfortunately through the case they are not the best. If you need that special bottle for a client or best friend, this is your place (for a price).


I would be remiss if I didn’t mention they have an equally awesome selection of Champagne. A few years ago Lynn and I stayed at a little Maison in Ludes, France called PloyezJacquemart. While there we had the opportunity to try their champagne and fell in love with it.  Hi-Time carries the champagne and they are one of the few in the US who have it, so we are also regular visitors to restock on this special champagne.

Ever since getting more into bourbon, and bourbon collecting, Hi-Time has become my go-to place (my bourbon mecca). For those not located in Southern California, I highly suggest finding your go-to bourbon place. While this is hard for people living in places with state controlled liquor stores, there still is definitely a utility to developing a relationship with your local state-run store. The managers, just like at a store like Hi-Time, will let you know when new products are coming in or there is something you shouldn’t pass up!

Bourbon Review: Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

The first time I saw Duke I thought, “I have to try it.” I always find unique Bourbons at Hi Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, California. A couple years ago, I spotted Duke and bought a bottle. It seemed like a good week to try it. The Academy Awards were last week, and Duke was just sitting there on my bar cart waiting to be opened.


I love the oval bottle with The Duke on the label. The top edge of the bottle has “Monument Valley Distillers” molded into the bottle. It has a classic red label over the cork that says its 88 Proof. The red label ties into the red DUKE name printed on the label. And, of course, on the back of the label it says: A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. -John Wayne


Their website says the following about the bourbon:

The Style of DUKE Bourbon was inspired by bottles from John Wayne’s personal whiskey collection, preserved for over 50 years and only recently discovered. Meticulously blended to reflect The Duke’s preferred whiskey flavor profile from tasting notes left behind during the time he was planning his own distillery. Distilled the old-fashioned way; hand crafted in small batches and aged in new hand built heavily charred American Oak barrels. A selection of 5 to 10 year old whiskeys are chosen barrel by barrel and blended by hand before the DUKE Bourbon reaches the bottle, and ultimately, you.

Now, how is Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey? It’s spicy and smooth but with a kick. Would you expect any less from The Duke? I was pleasantly surprised not knowing what to expect. Ethan Wayne, John Wayne’s son, created this spirit using the notes, writings and spirits that had been saved from his dad’s past. It was always John Wayne’s dream to create his own whiskey.

The nose is spicy but soft. I get a lot of vanilla when I smell it, and I get the caramel I seem to smell with all the bourbons I taste. I guess I just love caramel! The taste gives those same flavors with a hint of smoke. The finish is medium and soft on the palette.

I know when it first came out it was a little scarce but I am seeing it in more stores. I would suggest this is a bottle to have on your Bar Cart for the classic look, and ode to John Wayne.

Age: 5-10 year Blend
Proof: 88
Color: Cinnamon
Aroma: Vanilla, caramel
Taste: Spicy, vanilla, smoke
Price: $29.99 at Hi Time Wine Cellars