story by The Bourbon Guys contributor Maggie Kimberl
The bourbon industry has long been thought to be a boys’ club. For years it was run seemingly by men and only men, and men were thought to be the primary consumers of the spirit. But the more I’ve learned about the bourbon industry, the more I’ve come to realize that women have played a critical part not only as consumers, but also as distillers, tasters, and marketers.
I met Fred Minnick , author of Whiskey Women , a few months ago. He began telling me stories of women who had been distilling spirits since the beginning of recorded history, including women who worked in the bourbon industry without recognition. I’m reading his book right now, and I’m learning volumes about women’s contributions to America’s Native Spirit. I especially love the story of Maggie Bailey of Harlan County, Kentucky, perhaps the largest bootlegger of her time: “Federal agents even admitted it was nearly impossible to bring a case against Maggie, mostly because everybody loved her. She cooked green beans and cornbread for any stranger and gave money to the poor. Maggie genuinely cared about everybody’s well-being.” This book is a must-read for anyone who thinks women are new to bourbon and whiskey.
Maker’s Mark , perhaps one of the most recognizable names in bourbon, is well-known for its trademark red wax seal on each bottle. The story of how this came to be is the stuff of bourbon legend. The branding and marketing for Maker’s Mark were the brainchild of Margie Samuels, who was every bit as responsible for the success of the brand as was her husband Bill.
Many bourbon drinkers stigmatize the mixing of bourbon into cocktails, instead preferring their bourbon straight up or on the rocks. Fred Noe, Master Distiller of Jim Beam and one of the best storytellers in the industry, recently told The Bourbon Classic Media Camp the story of how his mother likes to mix her bourbon with ginger ale. He said, “Mama mixed her bourbon with ginger ale and I never saw my dad give her shit about it.” Apparently Booker Noe was not in the stigmatizing camp, telling people instead, “Drink it any damn way you want to.” While I personally prefer my bourbon on the rocks, many of the women I know prefer it in a cocktail, and I do enjoy the occasional bourbon and ginger in the summertime.
Thankfully women are starting to band together over bourbon. The Bourbon Women host events all over the country now after getting their start at an event at the Kentucky Governor’s Mansion in 2011. They will host a flapper-themed speakeasy at The Evan Williams Experience in March, as well as several other events throughout the year.
This is just a small sampling of women’s contributions to the rising popularity of bourbon. If you know of bourbon events, tweet The Bourbon Guys @thebourbonguys and let them know.
Photos courtesty of Maggie Kimberl and www.fredminnick.com
We recently had the opportunity to taste the new Jefferson’s Ocean bourbon. This craft offering from Jefferson’s is the latest round of seafaring whiskey in this grand experiment by Trey Zoeller. We had the opportunity to discuss the project with Trey at this year’s Bourbon Classic in Louisville, KY. He told us that the latest Ocean is a blend of roughly seven and eight year old whiskeys that were strapped to the deck of an ocean going vessel, kept out at sea for a full ten months, then proofed down to 90. At roughly $70 per 750 ml, we were particularly eager to see the end result.
Bourbon Name: Jefferson’s Ocean Aged At Sea
Age: 7 – 8 Years
Color: Copper like a mildly aged penny
Nose: The nose was slightly briny, in-line with its name, reminiscent of a warm, southern port city (Were we influenced by the name?). We also picked up notes of sweet caramel with a bit of rye in contrast.
Taste: The front is buttery, punctuated with a mild, muddled spice. The mouthfeel has a slightly elevated viscosity, providing a slightly thicker presence than many of the bourbons we have tried. Through the mid-palate, a pungent tobacco rises and continues into the finish. Time in the glass allows the sweeter notes to come through.
Finish: Some sweet vanilla oak presents itself amidst the prominence of pepper, tobacco, and a surprising heat that did not show on the front and mid-palates.
Overall Rating: ( 87 / 100 ) Try Before You Buy (It may not appeal to the sweeter palate)
The Jefferson’s Ocean is a good option for the afficianado of a bourbon exhibiting the more savory notes of tobacco, spice, and barrel. At 90 proof, this whiskey seems a bit hotter than some whiskeys we enjoy at 10 or more additional proof points. The sweeter notes of this bourbon are enveloped by the more savory elements. As one of our very dear friends said, “It’s like eating a shortbread cookie while wrapped in a scratchy wool blanket!” – MW
When we first heard about the arrival we were very excited! After all, we’ve never had the privelege to taste a 10 year version of Booker’s, not to mention a 10 year Bourbon that Booker Noe himself had his hand on before his passing in 2004.
Fred Noe stated on the Jim Beam website that “These are some 10-year old barrels laid down from the last bourbon Dad made before he passed away. . . . I have the final say, so if you don’t like it, blame Fred. The only thing Dad told me before he died was, ‘Take care of my Booker’s’.” We think it’s safe to say that Fred is taking care of the Booker’s!
Bourbon Name: Booker’s 25th Anniversary Edition Bourbon
Distiller: Jim Beam
Color: Copper, Deep Amber (A little darker than standard Booker’s)
Age: 10 Years
Nose: The nose on the 25th Anniversary Booker’s does not pack a lot of heat considering the high proof but that is actually a good thing. The lack of burn on the nose allows you to savor the notes of black cherry and banana with a nice blend of pepper spice and pine. The longer you sniff
you even get a little salted caramel flavor. It’s an excellent nose that allows you to enjoy the sum of its parts without frying your nose. Adding a few drops of water didn’t really add much to the nose.
Taste: When you get around to tasting the Booker’s 25th Anniversary Bourbon you get a rich mouth feel with upfront cherry flavors combined with toasted caramel, bit o honey and black walnut with an excellent peppery rye spice. Not a lot of oak but enough. Adding water added more sweetness but that’s about it. We preferred this Bourbon neat.
Finish: The finish of the Booker’s 25th Anniversary Bourbon seems a little mild at first, but what you soonrealize is that the finish only seems mild because there is absolutely no burn when the Bourbon travels down your throat. This is really unique, especially for Bourbon of this proof. There is a very nice taste: sweet cherry and peppery spice with subtle oak that rests on the back and sides of your tongue. The longer you drink the better it gets. This stuff is dangerously drinkable And has much more finesse than regular Booker’s.
Overall: We are so glad and honored that we were able to acquire a bottle of this fine Bourbon. This is a true sipping whiskey that we prefer drinking neat, but I’m sure you can enjoy this fine Bourbon any way you desire. There were only 6000 bottles of this rare Bourbon produced so this one won’t last long. This is also a must have Bourbon for anyone that enjoys nice barrel proof Bourbon with a bit of history behind it. Fred Noe and the rest of the Noe family should be extremely proud of this gem! Get yourself a bottle before this piece of history is gone!
Overall Rating: 93/100
The Bourbon Guys attended the second annual Bourbon Classic in Louisville Kentucky last weekend, and after a week of recovering we wanted to give you a brief rundown of the highlights of this great event. We would also like to compare this year’s Bourbon Classic to last year’s inaugural Bourbon Classic.
The Bourbon Classic is an annual event that takes place in Louisville and draws Bourbon lovers from all over the country. The two-day event opened on Friday night with a cocktail oriented event and concluded on Saturday with break out sessions that led to an awesome evening of fine food and of course great Bourbon.
Though we weren’t able to make it to the opening night cocktail event, we were told that the event, named “From the Barrel to the Bar,” was once again a great success. We were told that the mixologists prepared excellent drinks to accompany the fine food prepared by many different and well-known chefs.
The main event began on Saturday afternoon at the main theatre when a gathering of some legendary master distillers along with some up and comers to the bourbon industry met for a panel discussion about the Bourbon industry.
The distillers on hand were Wes Henderson (Angel’s Envy), Jimmy Russell (Wild Turkey), Harlen Wheatley (Buffalo Trace), Fred Noe (Jim Beam), Drew Kulsveen (Willett), Willie Pratt (Michters), Tom Bulleit (Bulleit), Colin Spoelman (King’s County Distillery), Dave Schmier (Redemption) and Daniel Preston (Widow Jane). The moderator of the panel discussion was Fred Minnick (Author for the KentuckyDerbyMuseum). Fred Minnick effectively spread around questions to different master distillers. Some of the questions managed to create a good bid of tension among the panel, especially the question regarding the non-distilling bourbon companies and sourced whiskey. That was one reason why this year’s master distiller session was much better than last year’s. The moderator was a better interviewer than last year’s moderator and the format of questioning was much better than last year’s as well. We hope they stick to the same format next year.
After the master distiller’s session ended, the BourbonClassicUniversity sessions began. The sessions covered various bourbon focused topics such as “Entertaining with Bourbon Tastings,” “Bourbon Reflections… A Trip Through Time” and “Exploring the Creative, Culinary Side of Bourbon.” These sessions, just like last year’s, were excellent and very informative. We actually wish we could have attended a few more sessions.
The few samples of Bourbon that we tasted during the BourbonClassicUniversity sessions helped set the stage for the main event, called “The Ultimate Bourbon Experience.” Similar to last year’s event, there was a lavish spread of food, including pork loin and roast beef along with many other delectable dishes and plenty of Bourbon! Our favorite of the dishes was a tie between the mushroom capped sausage balls and the corn pudding. The food at this year’s Classic was very tasty, but we did feel that the food at last year’s event was a tad better.
While the food was a highlight, the real reason we were there was for the Bourbon. The selection at “The Ultimate Bourbon Experience” was excellent once again. Bourbon tastings were available from brands such as Willett, Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey, Jefferson’s Reserve, Jim Beam and others. There were, however, some notable omissions to this year’s event. Heaven Hill was not at the event and neither were Four Roses, Makers Mark or Town Branch. This was a little disappointing as we really enjoy some of the offerings from these distilleries, particularly Four Roses and Heaven Hill. Though we feel that last year’s bourbon selections overall were a little better, there was still plenty of bourbon for the tasting this year.
This year’s Classic came to a close at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, and the most notable omission of all was the lack of a public after party. Last year’s event wrapped up with a great closing party hosted by Four Roses. This gave all attendees the opportunity to unwind and relish new friendships and memories of the good time that we all had. This year we had to create our own after party (which actually was fantastic among our group of friends).
Even though we feel that last year’s Bourbon Classic was overall a little better than this year’s, we still had a great time at the 2014 Bourbon Classic and we are already looking forward to next year!
We have heard from many of our Bourbon loving friends that we must attend The Filson Bourbon AcademyTM if the opportunity ever arises. On a cold and snowy Saturday in January that opportunity finally came. Not only was The Filson Bourbon AcademyTM taking place in our town, it was also taking place at our favorite establishment in Northern Kentucky, The Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar. Knowing our love for Bourbon, this event was a must.
The Filson Bourbon AcademyTM is a one-day class led by Michael Veach, the Filson Bourbon Historian. According to their website, “The Filson’s Bourbon AcademyTM mission is centered on education and adding to our already internationally recognized archives and special collections of a product that is synonymous with Kentucky – Bourbon.”
The morning of the event we had to drive through treacherous conditions caused by a snow storm but we all made it safely to The Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar. Not long after we arrived, Michael Veach from The Filson Bourbon AcademyTM arrived safely, and in spite of the weather we knew The Filson Bourbon AcademyTM would go on. Everyone grabbed a seat and prepared to learn about the history of Bourbon.
Michael began the class with a brief explanation of what Bourbon is and then he began to tell us about the origin of “Bourbon.” We learned about the people who moved from other parts of the world to finally settle in Kentucky. We were taught how they actually arrived to Kentucky, usually through the Cumberland Gap or down the Ohio River from the Northern side. We discussed many aspects of history, such as how the Bourbon making process began, who is thought to be the first person (people) to ever make Bourbon, the first mention of charred barrels in the Bourbon making process, how Bourbon got its name and the role of the Whiskey Rebellion. Michael taught all of this before 10:00 a.m.!
After a break, we began a session on how to taste Bourbon and where the six sources of flavor come from. We also discussed the types of Bourbon (traditional rye, high rye and wheated) as well as the proof and filtration or lack of filtration. Though The Bourbon Guys already had a lot of experience in this area, it was still a lot of fun getting Michael’s perspective. During this tasting session we sampled Bourbon from Old Forester and Larceny. One unique twist in this tasting session was that bowls of pecans and dried cherries were placed next to us. After doing an initial tasting of the Bourbons we then took a bite of either the pecan or dried cherries and then re-tasted the Bourbon. Tasting the Bourbon after the pecans and dried cherries, we noticed different tastes that came through the Bourbon each time.
Next, Michael began a session that covered the 19th century history of Bourbon. Some of the fascinating topics covered were the invention of the copper still, the steam boats and railroads that transported Bourbon, some pioneers in the industry such as Christopher Crow and E.H. Taylor, how the Civil War affected Kentucky and how Bourbon was mainly sold in barrels at the time. We even discussed the invention of the lithograph, which was responsible for the first color advertisements of Bourbon. One of the most interesting topics we covered had to do with a man named George Garvin who legally used his doctor’s name, “Dr. William Forester,” to name his first Bourbon — Old Forester. This became the first bottled Bourbon that was for sale.
We took a break for lunch before beginning another tasting session that included samplings of George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey and Wild Turkey 81 Rye. We talked about the differences of Tennessee Whiskey and Rye whiskey when compared to Bourbon. This session was brief but it’s always fun to taste whiskey.
Right after the second tasting we began our session on the history of Bottled in Bond legislation. Even though our after-lunch food coma was beginning to set in, the very informative Michael Veach managed to keep our full attention throughout this entire session. He discussed topics such as the first bottling machine that was developed in the late 1880’s as well as the pros and cons of the Bottled in Bond Act. We talked about E.H. Taylor’s dismay for this Act as well as how James E. Pepper was the first to develop tamper-proof labeling. We discussed many other topics as well, including how the President William Howard Taft defined “straight whiskey.” Our final lesson took us up through Prohibition. We covered government taxes and the effect that World War I had on the Bourbon industry.
In a third tasting, we sampled a small batch Bourbon, Knob Creek, and a single barrel Bourbon, Four Roses. Michael explained the differences and we enjoyed our samples. Even though most in attendance knew the differences between the two, it was still a great time and Michael Veach always adds a few interesting tidbits that we weren’t aware of.
Michael Veach began our final session, covering post-Prohibition up to the 21st century. We discussed everything from the Great Depression, the grain shortage, job layoffs, the repeal of Prohibition, the gangster George Remus, and World War II all the way up to today where we discussed the great Elmer T. Lee along with Booker Noe and others.
After all of the day’s sessions were complete, Michael Veach led us into a blind tasting of an unknown spirit which he had previously poured into his green decanter. We each tasted the spirit and were told to guess things like the type of whiskey, the age, the proof and brand name of the whiskey. We being The Bourbon Guys thought we would ace this test (LOL!) but to our surprise we couldn’t guess the name of whiskey in the decanter. We must also add that no one guessed the name of the whiskey, which we won’t name in the event that Michael chooses to use this whiskey on another class of unsuspecting students.
We expected a lot from The Filson Bourbon AcademyTM and we were not disappointed. It was absolutely amazing how many topics Michael Veach covered in one day! If you enjoy history and Bourbon we highly recommend that you attend The Filson Bourbon AcademyTM whenever you get the opportunity. The knowledge that you will gain in one day is absolutely incredible.
Thanks again, Michael Veach!
The Bourbon Guys are always looking for new or changing trends that are taking place in the world of American Whiskey. One of the recent trends we’ve been seeing is the term “Solera” aged whiskey. One of the most popular of the “Solera” aged whiskies comes from Hillrock Estate Distillery in Ancram, New York. We wanted to learn more about this product so we thought we would do a little research and give it a try.
According to the Hillrock Distllery website the term “Solera” aging is described as “A stack of barrels where a small portion of whiskey is removed periodically and new whiskey is added. No barrel is ever fully emptied, and age and complexity gradually increase over time. Hillrock marries small barrel-aged Hillrock Estate Bourbon with mature seed bourbon before finishing in 20 year-old Oloroso Sherry casks to balance flavors and add layers of complexity.”
According the the Hillrock website, “the resulting spirit offers a pronounced nose of caramel, dried fruit, vanilla, oak and spice, accentuated by an elegant floral note. The full-bodied palate opens with rich notes of brown sugar, molasses and toffee, followed by roasted corn, clove, cinnamon and a touch of spicy rye. Oloroso Sherry notes of walnut, fig and candied fruit merge with caramel and butterscotch on the long, balanced finish.” Wow! Now that is quite the description for a whiskey!
Our friend Jason just happened to have a bottle of Hillrock Solera aged bourbon, so we asked him to join us for this review. Let’s see if this bourbon lives up to its description:
Bourbon Name: Hillrock Solera Aged Bourbon
Distiller: Hillrock Estate Distillery
Color: Medium Amber (Looks a little darker in the bottle)
Age: at least 6 years old (according to the distillery)
Barrel Number: 6
Nose: The nose is very light when neat. We got earthy notes of honey, raisin, sassafras, root beer and vanilla. When we added a little water more sweetness developed along with some sweet tobacco.
Taste: The taste when neat started very mild and then a grainy astringency rose in the mid palate. It was almost a tannic feeling, which could be from the Sherry finish. We also tasted a little bit of vanilla but it was very mild. The taste wasn’t bad but there were not a lot of flavors. When we added water the bourbon really opened up and a great deal more rye spice came out. This bourbon tasted much better with water.
Finish: When tasted neat, the finish was mellow and didn’t stick around very long. The main flavors of vanilla and oak were noticable but very faint. After adding water the rye spice developed quite nicely.
Overall: At a price point of $79.99 to $92.99 we had high expectations, but the Hillrock Solera Aged Bourbon didn’t blow us away. The bottle is beautiful but the whiskey inside doesn’t quite match up. In addition, we feel that you really have to add water to this whiskey to get any of the more complex notes to emerge. Due to the overall lack of flavor profile along with the price point we would probably pass as there are other superior whiskies available for much less.
Overall Rating: 85/100
The Bourbon Guys want to thank our friend Jason Farler for graciously sharing his bottle as well as his tasting input.
Many of you have asked us to review Jefferson’s Chef’s Collaboration, the latest joint venture from Jefferson’s Trey Zoeller and the famed Louisville Chef Edward Lee. According to the Jeffersonsbourbon.com website, “the Chef’s Collaboration developed after a late night spent tasting some of chef Edward Lee’s culinary creations led Trey to the idea that someone should blend a bourbon that would pair well with the bold flavors in chef Lee’s cookbook and other modern cuisine. Without hesitation, Trey and Ed set forth. The result is a blend with a spicy upfront and a fruity finish, enhanced by the addition of rye whiskey into the mix. Perfect with meals, for mixing cocktails or simply drinking neat.”
The description sounded intriguing to us as we have been a fan of Trey’s whiskey for quite a long time. We bought a bottle the day that it arrived in stores and we weren’t disappointed. Here are our tasting notes:
Bourbon Name: Jefferson’s Chef’s Collaboration Bourbon
Proof: 92 Proof
Color: light amber
Nose: The nose is very nice and light but at the same time has lots of explosive rye spice. It has a slight youthfulness to it but that doesn’t detract from the overall nose.
Taste: The front palate begins with the same nice rye notes that you get from the nose and then rises into the bourbon spectrum with a very well balanced oak and cherry flavor.
Finish: The Chef’s Collaboration finish is fairly long but mellow with continued oak, cherry and cinnamon flavor. Very nice!
Overall: We tasted the Chef’s Collaboration neat, with water and on ice and this whiskey tasted great any way. The nice rye spice on the front followed by the smooth bourbon finish is a perfect match when pairing with food. In our humble opinion Trey Zoeller and Chef Lee have done an excellent job with this project. At a price point of less than $40.00 the Chef’s Collaboration is a must for any foodie/bourbon fan!
Overall Rating: (90/100) highly recommend
Don’t you hate it when false rumors are spread around? We have been hearing from many of our friends and followers over the past few months who have been told by different liquor stores that Elmer T Lee Bourbon is no longer available and will not be available in the future. Some liquor stores are actually telling customers that when Elmer T Lee passed away a few months ago, he took his recipe with him to the grave and there’s no one who can replicate it. This is the farthest thing from the truth.
Though there is currently a shortage of Elmer T Lee (which is market driven), the recipe for Elmer T Lee was not taken to the grave. The Mashbill (recipe) for Elmer T Lee is actually Buffalo Trace’s #2 Mashbill. Buffalo Trace’s Mashbill #2, a high rye Mash, is also used to make other fine bourbons like Blanton’s, Rock Hill Farms, Ancient Age and Hancock’s Reserve. So as far as the recipe goes, it’s still alive and well. It is also true that Elmer T Lee was involved in selecting his own barrels. But we would imagine that he had some help selecting barrels over the past year or so because his trips to Buffalo Trace were very limited due to the illness that eventually took his life.
The best news that we are hearing is that Elmer T Lee bourbon is alive and well and that there are no plans to stop its production. As reported in an exclusive from whiskeycast.com, there are no plans to stop making Elmer T Lee bourbon. In fact we wouldn’t be shocked if Buffalo Trace isn’t planning a special Elmer T Lee release in the near future.
We’ll keep you posted when we know more, but don’t believe everything you hear out there!
Cheers! The Bourbon Guys
Distiller: Buffalo Trace
What does the distiller say: “Straight out of the barrel, uncut and unfiltered, the taste is powerful, flavorful and intense. Open it up with a few drops of water, sit back and ponder the wonders of the universe.”
Age: 15 Years (or so we’ve been told)
Color: ( 92 )
Deep, burnt orange
Nose: ( 91 / 100 )
Nutty, like roasted pecans, with vanilla and butterscotch
Taste: ( 91 / 100 )
The front reveals mild oak with elements of sweet vanilla and caramel. Heat rises on the mid-palate carrying the sweet elements to the roof of the mouth where they linger into the finish.
Finish: ( 90 / 100 )
Heat fades a little as the savory notes are further revealed in a finish of moderate duration.
Overall Rating: ( 91 / 100 ) Buy (Stagg is still Stagg!)
The nose is worthy of the Stagg moniker, but we would have liked a longer duration on the finish. The front palate flavors are worthy of the Antique Collection series, but the mid-palate is the star as those sweeter elements collect at the roof of the mouth, a truly unique experience. Overall, much like its proof, the 2013 George T. Stagg is a great whiskey, but falls just short of the epic 2012 bottling.
Distiller: Buffalo Trace
What does the distiller say: “Uncut and unfiltered, this hand-bottled bourbon is barrel proof. Weller substitutes wheat for the traditional rye grain, a production method pioneered by W.L. Weller.”
Age: 12 Years (or so we’ve been told)
Color: ( 93 )
Dark and rich, like the leather it brings to mind!
Nose: ( 94 / 100 )
Pronounced tobacco with modest notes of leather and caramel
Taste: ( 94 / 100 )
The front is wonderfully balanced between the savory leather and oak elements, and the sweetness of butterscotch and bread pudding. The mid-palate develops some of that high proof burn while elevating the sweeter components.
Finish: ( 94 / 100 )
Long and satisfying, the sweetness slowly recedes to relinquish the spotlight once again to components of savory leather and oak.
Overall Rating: ( 94 / 100 ) Buy (Until you can’t buy any more!)
We’ve got just three words for you: A-Maz-Ing! The 2013 William Larue Weller surpasses the 2012 offering by striking a cleaner balance between the savory flavors of leather and oak (which the 2012 had in spades) and the sweeter notes that became the star of the mid-palate. Excellent in every way, our initial response was to rate this at #2, just behind the Sazerac 18, but further reflection put them in a dead heat!