Bar Review: The Whiskey House (San Diego)

Last weekend, we drove down to San Diego for a Padres game with our good friends Ray and Jeannine, who own Highland Valley Vineyards (they make some incredible red wines at HVV, and well worth a Sunday afternoon to visit their vineyard). They promised that after the game we would stop in the Whiskey House in San Diego. I knew it was going to be a killer experience when I looked in the door and all the walls were covered with lighted shelves and whiskey, after whiskey, after whiskey!

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They had so many whiskeys I was in awe. They claim to have over 1,400 whiskeys, and I am not going to dispute that claim. WOW I was in “Bourbon Heaven.” Lynn, Jeannine, and Ray had ordered craft cocktails and they were all good. Lynn had an Old Fashioned, and Jeannine a Manhattan. I was just memorized by the list; I had to try bourbon that I had not experienced previously.   The list is huge! Many seemed very reasonable but $299 for a pour of Pappy seemed a little steep.

From their website:

The Whiskey House features over 1,400 whiskeys, craft cocktails, 20 international draft beers, an eclectic wine list and a delectable menu of house made fare. We specialize in house made sausages, fresh ground burgers, exotic cheeses, and charcuterie and downtown’s newest breakfast café, just next door… The Lazy Hippo, offering healthy breakfast items and savory favorites, along with fresh squeezed juices and smoothies.

By the time we got there after a long but successful Padres game the clock was about to turn to AM so we did not try any food but it looked really good. This will be a regular stop for me when in San Diego. The atmosphere is very dark, warm, and inviting. There are is kinds of seating from bar stools, tables, to sofas so you can enjoy your favorite spirit in a relaxed environment.

The next day we took in the races at Del Mar and on Saturday we saw California Chrome win the Pacific Classic. What a great weekend of baseball, whiskey, wineries, horses and good friends. When in San Diego you must put this on your to-do list!

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.

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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).

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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).

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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: 1792 Ridgemont Reserve

For those of you who are not history buffs, 1792 is the year Kentucky became a state. Kentucky was part of Virginia until it became the 15th state. If you do love history you have to love the simplicity of this bourbon’s name. Simply put: 1792.

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The following history was taken from Caskers’s website:

In 1876, John D. Willett, one of Kentucky’s original bourbon aristocrats, transferred his interest in the Willett & Frenke Distillery to his son-in-laws, Benjamin Mattingly and Thomas Moore. Mattingly and Moore continued to operate the Willett & Frenke Distillery together until 1881, when Mattingly finally sold his stake in the company to a group of investors.

In 2012, at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge, 1792 tied Pappy Van Winkle’s 23 Year Old Bourbon with a score of 95 points.

This is a very good bourbon with plenty of spice to make it interesting.  It has a sweet smell and taste to it. It’s definitely different than many other bourbons on the market. I read a lot of older reviews and the reviews get better every year. I have only been drinking it for a few years now and I have enjoyed it from the beginning (as you can see, my current bottle is almost gone!). At $24.99 this is real delight. I got my last bottle at Hi-Time Wine Cellars where you can find just any bourbon you desire.

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Here is a nice video for 1792 that Barton Distilling put out in January:

Aged: 8 years
Proof: 93.7
Color: Amber
Aroma: Spice, Sweet Vanilla
Taste: Pepper, oak
Price: $24.99 at Hi-Time Wine Cellars

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!

Bar Review: Whiskey Cake Kitchen & Bar (Plano, TX)

I have been to Bourbon Mecca in Texas, and it’s not in Dallas. It’s in Plano at Whiskey Cake Kitchen and Bar. I may start a turf war in Texas but IMHO there can’t be a better selection of bourbons in Dallas, maybe all of Texas. I looked and I looked and I looked. But at Whiskey Cake, I didn’t see anything missing. In a new brick building in Plano is a hip bar and restaurant with a southern spirits and food menu big on choices. There are so many choices you will get brain freeze picking from their over 150 offerings of the liquid gold. Whiskey Cake is named after their incredible whiskey cake. “D Magazine” has named it as the best Dallas dessert 3 years running.

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Whiskey Cake opened 5 years ago last November. It feels like an old downtown establishment. With a sitting area of sofas and chairs you feel just like you were having a drink at home. It is home to a Bourbon drinker. I started off with a Stagg Jr. from Buffalo Trace based on the suggestion of the bar staff. I had never had this one and I was told it was excellent and easier to find than the normal Stagg. It is a high proof bourbon at 134, with a lot of spice and body. Not to mention great color, very deep, very rich.   I followed that with an order of the deviled eggs which were egg-cellent. I know, bad joke, but they are incredible. I then ordered a Sazerac cocktail made with Rittenhouse Rye. Bartender Anthony made it for me and it was everything I expected and more. It was a nice follow-up to the Stagg Jr. and I complemented it with the fried green tomatoes with remoulade & lemon sauce.

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Bartender gear
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Stagg Jr.
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Deviled eggs
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Fried green tomatoes and a Sazerac cocktail

I met Chris, the Assistant General Manager. Chris said the incredible selection of bourbons are the passion and vision of Tanner Fleming, the General Manager.   Chris suggested I try the 13-year Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye. I had not seen it prior to today. Well, that was incredible. I will not forget it after today. So smooth and so Van Winkle, words just can’t describe it. WOW! This is another great offering from Buffalo Trace you will not find in many bars.

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Last sip of 13-year Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye

The next time you are in the DFW area, take the time to drive to Whiskey Cake in Plano. The bar staff is all very friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. The food was just as good as the strong bourbon selection. I didn’t have the time or capacity to try more of the menu but everyone I spoke with at the bar was enjoying their choices. I was very impressed and very happy as I left. By the way, I have been in the corrugated business for more years than I will mention. How could I not like an establishment that uses recycled corrugated with their name on it for coasters?

I ended the evening sipping the Van winkle and eating their incredible Whiskey Cake. Man that was sinful and so good.

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Photo from D Magazine

“O Pappy, Pappy, wherefore art thou Pappy?”

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My Pappy Van Winkle collection.

That elusive bottle of 12, 15, 20, or 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle. Everyone wants to know where to find a bottle. When we toured the Buffalo Trace Distillery in 2013 everyone on our tour wanted to know which barrel warehouse had the Pappy in it. Our tour guide, who had been a 40-year employee, said he didn’t even know. By now, everyone has heard about the theft of Pappy from Buffalo Trace and the subsequent capture of the thieves. It was an inside job by one of the few people in the world who knew, “Where in the world is Pappy Van Winkle” for Carmen Sandiego fans, or, “Where’s Pappy” for Waldo fans.

How I got my first bottle

I got my first bottle because my friend John called and said they had some Pappy at Total Wine for sale. That was about 5 years ago, maybe 7. At that time they would get in all the years and sell one bottle per customer until it was gone. Those days are gone.

Collecting more Pappy

My second bottle was given to me by one of my best friends and college roommate, Jeff. Jeff buys a lot of wine from several stores.   If you are a very good customer, well, rank (and relationship) has its privilege.

My latest acquisition, a 20-year bottle, my wife Lynn gave to me for Christmas this year. She got it in a state lottery she entered on a whim while we in Idaho this fall! NOW THAT’S A GREAT GIFT.

Finding Pappy

So how do YOU find a bottle?   Pappy is released in late fall. It is never too early to start. Start early, find a friend, make a friend, get creative.

Make a friend means get close to your local liquor store manager/owner that gets Pappy. I got to know the manager of my local BevMo in Brea, California. He put me on the list early in the year in the year and they called me to say I was high enough on the list I had my pick of years. Of course, I took the 23 (more on preferred years in another post). This is key to acquiring any rare spirit, whether it’s bourbon, scotch, wine, etc. Identifying a good store and building a strong relationship will get you far.

My Christmas bottle came from a lottery. Some states with state run liquor stores have a lottery for the Pappy they receive – so, try to win the lottery. Other states with state run liquor stores have long waiting lists for Pappy. It’s worth putting your name on it, but you’ll probably have to wait years.

And, having friends scouting for you helps too.  One of my bottles came from Indiana (from Jeff).  I bought a bottle from BevMo for a family friend in LA who was interested.  Having friends on the team, especially out of the area friends, can pay off.

Years ago I saw a guy on Johnny Carson who got a White Baby Grand Piano for free. His philosophy was if you let enough people know, you can find almost anything you want, at the price you want to pay. He was looking for a White Baby Grand piano and he didn’t want to pay much for it.

Happy hunting and remember start early and be creative!