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Friday, July 14, 2017

Sipp’n Corn Book Review – Rum Curious: The Indispensable Tasting Guide to the World’s Spirit by Fred Minnick.

I’ll admit that—even as a bourbon enthusiast—I was curious about rum.  Who better to turn to in order to satisfy this curiosity than Fred Minnick, the authority on spirits?

Rum Curious starts with a heft confirming that this is not a side-show book, continues with gorgeous images pulling the reader into an “island mentality,” and then delivers with Fred’s signature style of storytelling through a blend of history, politics, and regulation that conveys the real story and embraces controversy.  The addition of tasting notes and cocktail recipes rounds out Rum Curious enabling the reader to make an informed decision when selecting rum.  I wouldn’t have known where to begin without this assistance.

I also didn’t know about the use (let alone the controversy) of additives and sweeteners, I hadn’t appreciated how dominantly sugar influenced the developing world, and I never knew how politics helped push rum aside, favoring whiskey.  I came in knowing plenty about whiskey regulations, so the contrast with the wild-west approach to rum regulation was particularly fascinating to me.

I simply devoured Rum Curious, and I’ll bring it on my next beach vacation to enjoy again with a Mai Tai or one of Fred’s suggestions for sipping neat.  I wholeheartedly recommend Rum Curious to anyone interested in spirits or Caribbean history, or to anyone just looking for a summer book.

Here’s the Amazon link, enjoy!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Sipp’n Corn Blog Sharing – Introducing Bourbon & Barns

Many Kentuckians will acknowledge that Kentucky’s three main contributions to the world are bourbon, horses, and basketball.  Bourbon & Barns (link here) covers two of those three by exploring the intersection between bourbon and thoroughbred horses.  Written by Griffin Coop—a published horse author—Bourbon & Barns tours Kentucky’s distilleries and horse farms, both of which succeeded historically because of Kentucky’s limestone water.  

One of my favorite distillery start-up stories is Wilderness Trail Distillery, which I’ve been following from the very beginning.  Just over three years ago, I made sure to reserve my spot to be able to purchase bottles from the first (legal) bourbon distillation run in Danville, Kentucky since anyone can remember.  I still have at least a year to go (probably more) before Wilderness Trail releases its bourbon, but in the meantime Griffin interviewed co-owner Shane Barker, so I’m excited to share the Bourbon & Barns post from February 2017 about Wilderness Trail Distillery (check out the original post linked here):

Wilderness Trail Distillery - Growing and Expanding
February 15, 2017

Wilderness Trail Distillery recently announced the purchase of 13 additional acres of property adjacent to its current facilities in Danville, KY. Plans for the new property include additional barrelhouses for aging, a new visitors’ center and a space for future events. Bourbon and Barns recently interviewed Wilderness Trail Master Distillery and Co-Owner Shane Baker about the distillery’s success and growth. 

Bourbon and Barns: How did Wilderness Trail Distillery get its start? 

Shane Baker: The distillery started in 2012 after we had the fortitude from over a decade of operating our Ferm Solutions Inc. business, which supports other alcohol operations around the world. We built our expertise and capital over the years to properly produce and age Kentucky whiskey.

BB: How did Wilderness Trail Distillery get its name? 

SB: Our distillery is located in Historic Danville, Kentucky and actually located off part of the famed Wilderness Trail that brought settlers west. We pay homage to our local history and the area we live and work in.

BB: How has the distillery grown in recent years? I know the distillery recently purchased 13 acres of property. How will that property be used? 

SB: The Distillery has been growing and expanding since its inception, partly due to spreading out the required steps to finalize our bourbon operation, land, distillery, barrelhouses, bottling facility, etc. Even though we have yet to release the first bottle of whiskey, our other spirit lines have grown into over 20 states and keep us challenged on maintaining stock in the gift shop with our Harvest Rum and Blue Heron Vodka. We purchased the additional land for securing ground for future rickhouses and obtaining more event-oriented spaces for community activities. We are a family-owned distillery and we simply operate from a budget, which just takes us time to get things done.

BB: How big is the distillery today?

SB: Our distillery will produce around 4,000 barrels this year of Kentucky bourbon and rye whiskey. We also will produce the equivalent of another hundred or so barrels for our vodka and rum spirits. We have a 40-foot tall bourbon column that produces about 2.5 barrels per hour from our 4,000 gallon fermenters. We are the third-largest production “craft” distillery in Kentucky. We are the only craft distillery in Kentucky that can make vodka and we have a second copper pot system with columns that produces our rum and finishes our vodka.

BB: What products does the distillery offer? What products does the distillery plan to offer in the future?  

SB: We currently offer Harvest Rum, made with Kentucky sorghum molasses and aged in bourbon barrels and we offer our unfiltered three grain Blue Heron Vodka that is made from our Bourbon Whiskey distillate. We will start to release our first whiskey this December as a Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon and another release of our Kentucky straight rye whiskey. We have some limited edition releases such as our primary wheated bourbon mashbill made with rye as a comparison, some yeast changes for comparison but mainly we produce two whiskeys, bourbon and rye whiskey.

BB: Wilderness Trail makes a variety of spirits. Are there big differences in the processes for making each spirit?  

SB: Absolutely, they all start with quality local Kentucky grains, which are actually from a seed farmer, for more consistency. From there the grain and cook processes change between bourbons and ryes and the yeast strains we use are different for a vodka, bourbon, rye and rum. The fermentation time will vary between our whiskeys and vodka and rum some as rum is the longest and vodka would be the highest ABV, but the whiskeys are close at this point. Distillation is another process difference between our classes of spirits. Our whiskeys come off the column double-distilled at 135 proof, our rum comes off double-distilled from our pot still and our vodka starts its life as a double-distilled bourbon distillate from the column and then get distilled several more times in the pot still and rectification columns to turn it into 190 proof vodka. We use the same limestone filtered spring water to proof all of our spirits. Our whiskeys go into new charred oak barrels to rest for 5-7 years, while our rum only ages for around 2.5 years and our vodka rests for around a week before getting bottled.

BB: What does it mean that Wilderness Trail uses a sweet mash process? 

SB: We do make some batches of sour mash whiskey but primarily we produce our whiskeys using the sweet mash infusion process, which is clean fresh grains, fresh water, and fresh yeast at every set. We don’t lower the pH of our mashes down with any acids or from backset (stillage from a prior batch). We believe it lends to a softer distillate, more flavorful small grain mashes and better control of the congeners we are aging in the barrel. Infusion mashing is simply that we do not cook any of our small grains over 155F and we don’t apply any heat again after our initial cook temperature is obtained. This is all the science behind giving the yeast the proper environment for making quality spirits.

BB: What can visitors expect on your tour?  

SB: An hour-long journey of history and the science behind making alcohol. A look behind the scenes of a working laboratory and a close encounter with the entire process from cook through barreling of whiskey. They will learn about the process and understand some highlights of the bourbon-making process and a view of the infrastructure for making and aging Kentucky Whiskey the traditional way, with a historic visitors’ center, distillery, bottling facility and multiple rickhouses nestled in the rolling hills of Danville.

BB: What is your favorite bourbon cocktail and how do you make it just right? 

SB: I personally am a neat drinker. I am not opposed to cocktails, I just like to taste and enjoy the whole bourbon experience: the smell, taste and look of it. I know how much hard work goes into making a barrel and I want to cherish it. But if I were to suggest a bourbon cocktail it would have to be our Whiskey Sour recipe. It is simple and just disappears when it’s made right with freshly squeezed lemons and oranges. It’s just using quality ingredients that makes it just right.

BB: Please add anything else you would like. 

SB: We have over 13,000 barrel storage capacity currently and planning to build another 10,000 barrel by 2018/2019. 
We purposely have not released a whiskey as we want a mature bourbon to be introduced to the market. Buying and selling someone else’s whiskey while ours was aging just wasn’t something we wanted to do. 

Our bourbon is unique and doesn’t exist on the market. Our grains are grown from here in Danville, our bourbon yeast was cultured from the original Stitzel Weller distillery from the late 80’s where my Grandmother Doris Ballard worked, our mash bill uses a costly high small grains instead of high corn, lots of factors that will set our bourbon apart as well as our rye whiskey. It is a refreshing new rye mashbill compared to the majority of sourced rye on the market.

Lastly, we have the world’s only whiskey-powered device. Our spirit safe, which we call Walker Woodfill, uses our low and high wine distillate to power a kinetic device that shows Walker pushing a barrel - a very cool Vendome masterpiece!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Four Roses 2017 Small Batch Limited Edition Al Young 50th Anniversary

This year’s spring Limited Edition from Four Roses honors Al Young for his 50 years at Four Roses, and strays from the standard small batch bottle design to use a 1967 design, harkening back to the year that Al’s career at Four Roses began.  So it’s a sharp bottle, a worthy honor, and promising blend of recipes, but will it live up to expectations set by previous limited editions?


Bourbon:
Four Roses 2017 Small Batch Limited Edition, Al Young 50th Anniversary

Distillery:
Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky

Age:
23-year OBSV – 5%
15-year OBSK – 25%
13-year OESV – 50%
12-year OBSF – 20%

ABV:
54.49%

Cost:
$150.00

Disclaimer: The brand managers kindly sent me a sample
for this review, without any strings attached. 
Thank you.

Tasting Notes
Appearance:
Brown side of amber with some reddish-gold in the light, and great legs.

Nose:
The traditional caramel aromas are here in force, balanced with light spring flowers and vanilla on the softer side, but at the same time pronounced oak and leather-bound books make me want to smell a bit longer.

Taste:
Luscious, creamy caramel along with ripe berries (think of that Fourth of July bowl of raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, and blueberries), brown sugar, honey, apricot, and dried dark fruit, balanced with the earthiness of oak, leather, and tobacco, and cinnamon on the spicy side.  The complexity is phenomenal.

Finish:
Long, with a huge swell and gear-shifting that I love, and eventually tapering off to tranquil warmth.  I was tempted to get a stopwatch because the finish kept going.  Flavors of oak and rich caramel dominate, but it’s much more complex than that, with a mint kicker.  I need to find a bottle to contemplate this one.

Bottom Line

The Al Young 50th Anniversary Limited Edition has everything I look for in a Bourbon. We haven’t even hit the fall limited editions yet, but in my mind we already have a leader for Whiskey of the Year.  There are only about 10,000 bottles, so make your plans now for next week’s release.  Please just leave a couple for me.

Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale:  4.5+

The Sipp’n Corn Scale:
1 – Swill.  I might dump the bottle, but will probably save it for my guests who mix with Coke.
2 – Hits the minimum criteria, but given a choice, I’d rather have something else.
3 – Solid Bourbon with only minor shortcomings.  Glad to own and enjoy.
4 – Excellent Bourbon.  Need to be hyper-critical to find flaws.  I’m lucky to have this.
5 – Bourbon perfection.  I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.


Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof Batch B517

The original 2013 white-label/red-12 Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof (129.7 proof) has been my standard-bearer for all subsequent EC12BPs.  Some of those that followed nearly matched it, some packed too much heat, and none of them really surpassed it.  My first taste of Heaven Hill’s May 2017 batch (“B” for the second batch of the year, “5” for the month, and “17” for the year) might have provided a new standard.

Bourbon:
Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof Batch B517

Distillery:
Heaven Hill, Bardstown and Louisville, Kentucky

Age:
12 years

ABV:
62.1% (124.2 proof)

Cost:
$65.00-ish

Disclaimer: The brand managers kindly sent me a sample
for this review, without any strings attached. 
Thank you.

Tasting Notes

Appearance:
Brown side of amber with a red hue showing its age.

Nose:
The aromas are simple, leading with oak, and balanced with green tea, cocoa, butterscotch, praline, baking spice, and a hint of tropical fruit.

Taste:
The palate is where this Elijah Craig Barrel Proof shines, causing me to utter an audible “WOW” when I tried it.  There’s a huge blast of flavors beyond the standard caramel; there’s also brown sugar and honey on the sweet side, balanced by earthiness, tobacco, black pepper, and oaky notes with a cinnamon kick, for a fantastic experience.

Finish:
The long finish has a great swell and gentle fade with rye spice and black pepper, but without a discernable gear shifting of some finishes.

Bottom Line

From the first sip to the end of the finish, this Elijah Craig batch is a remarkable Bourbon, approaching that 2013 white label.  It should be on the shelves now, but it won’t be for long, so don’t delay.

Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale:  4.0

The Sipp’n Corn Scale:
1 – Swill.  I might dump the bottle, but will probably save it for my guests who mix with Coke.
2 – Hits the minimum criteria, but given a choice, I’d rather have something else.
3 – Solid Bourbon with only minor shortcomings.  Glad to own and enjoy.
4 – Excellent Bourbon.  Need to be hyper-critical to find flaws.  I’m lucky to have this.
5 – Bourbon perfection.  I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Bulleit Barrel Strength 2017

I was a big fan of the 2016 inaugural release of Bulleit Barrel Strength, which was a Kentucky-only release.   For 2017, Bulleit has expanded distribution to also include Texas, California, Oregon, Ohio, New York, Illinois, Colorado and Washington DC.  The proof of my sample of Batch 2 is virtually indistinguishable compared to Batch 1 (0.4 difference), but it has its own distinct characteristics, and according to Bulleit, other batches will likely range between 120 and 125 proof.

Bourbon:
Bulleit Barrel Strength (Batch 2)

Distillery:
Unstated

Age:
Unstated

ABV:
59.7% (119.4 proof)

Cost:
$59.99

Disclaimer: The brand managers kindly sent me a sample
for this review, without any strings attached. 
Thank you.

Tasting Notes
Appearance:
Golden-amber.

Nose:
Swirling intense aromas of rye, baking spice, gingerbread cookies, tobacco barn, and cinnamon candies tell me to get ready for some serious spice.  Air in the glass (and also after a week in the bottle) toned down these spicy aromas.

Taste:
The flavors hit high on the intensity scale with sharpness and the predicted rye spice, balanced out by spring grasses, toffee, maple syrup, and oak.  Air time resulted in more creaminess on the palate, so I suggest giving it time to breathe.

Finish:
Medium finish, overall dry, and gives the oak its turn to shine.

Bottom Line

The 2017 edition of Bulleit Barrel Strength is destined to be a crowd-pleaser.  Bartenders and fans of cocktails that retain Bourbon’s flavor without getting lost in the ice and mixers should flock to this, but it’s also great for sipping by the campfire this summer.  Bulleit’s profile begs for barrel strength, so I’m glad that Tom and his team gave us another year of this expression.

Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale:  3.5

The Sipp’n Corn Scale:
1 – Swill.  I might dump the bottle, but will probably save it for my guests who mix with Coke.
2 – Hits the minimum criteria, but given a choice, I’d rather have something else.
3 – Solid Bourbon with only minor shortcomings.  Glad to own and enjoy.
4 – Excellent Bourbon.  Need to be hyper-critical to find flaws.  I’m lucky to have this.
5 – Bourbon perfection.  I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Kentucky Bourbon Affair – A True Bourbon Fantasy Camp.

As the 2017 Kentucky Bourbon Affair (June 6-11) draws near, I was reminiscing with friends about last year’s event, where I started by going in-depth at Four Roses, tried pre-prohibition T.W. Samuels the following evening, and wrapped up the next day by shooting skeet with Eddie Russell at Wild Turkey.

On the Four Roses trip, Al Young was our surprise MC for the bus ride from Louisville to Lawrenceburg.  He regaled us with Four Roses stories from the past 50 years and passed around historical documents for the research fanatics amongst the group.  It made the short trip pass even faster, and before we knew it, Brent Elliott was greeting us for a Q & A session followed by an in-depth tour of the distillery.  We learned every step of the distillation process, and could see the planned expansion taking shape. 

After lunch and a tasting of Yellow Label, Small Batch, Single Barrel, and Elliott’s Select Limited Edition guided by Brent, I had the chance to get into the weeds with him about the use of other yeast strains and citric acid, which he said was the first time he’d ever discussed those issues with a consumer.  Then we all headed to Cox’s Creek for a demonstration of the barrel dumping and bottling facility, along with a tour of their unique single-story warehouses.



The next day, after another trip to Four Roses with the Mellow Moments group and getting the first opportunity to buy a bottle of Elliott’s Select Limited Edition, my wife and I, along with several friends, headed out to Rob Samuels’ home for dinner and a tasting of century-old T.W. Samuels.  Rob’s hospitality rivaled his father’s (in 2015 I went to a crab and crawfish boil at Bill, Jr.’s home with the Bourbon Affair; read about it here), and we heard Rob’s perspective on growing up in the Maker’s Mark world, the development of Maker’s 46, and the Maker’s 46 private barrels that were just starting to be released.  But the focus of the Bourbon tasting was taking a sip through time with a 1917 bottle of T.W. Samuels made by the Samuels family long before the Maker’s Mark brand existed.


Legend has it that Bill, Sr. burned the old family recipe when he struck out on his own to form Maker’s Mark, and if this 1917 bottle represented the old recipe, then Bill, Sr. did us all a huge favor.  While maybe we can blame oxidation over the passage of time, “wet cardboard” is the best way to describe this old whiskey.  I had to cleanse my palate and get back to Maker’s 46 ASAP.

Last but not least, Wild Turkey was an absolute blast, literally.  This event was perfect for me to bring along a great friend and client (who inquired into whether he could bring his own shotgun).  We had expert marksmen guide us through skeet shooting, and teach us the finer points of the sport.  After an in-depth tour of the distillery led by Eddie Russell, we were treated to lunch with Jimmy and Eddie, along with a guided tasting of Diamond Anniversary, Master’s Keep, and Decades before heading home.



If standard 30 minute tours leave you wanting more, check out the 2017 Kentucky Bourbon Affair, and you won’t be disappointed.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Trader Joe’s Kentucky Bourbon

Updated April 11, 2017:  A Public Relations Manager who saw this review emailed me today to state that Trader Joe's Bourbon "is from Bardstown and is Barton juice," and she asked me to update this post accordingly.  Thank you for answering the question about the source.

Tax day is around the corner again, so it’s back to the bottom shelf for me until I snap out of my annual funk, or until I realize that many bottom shelf whiskies are there for a reason.

Bourbon:
Trader Joe’s Kentucky Bourbon Straight Whiskey

Distillery:
The label claims that it was “Distilled by Bourbon Square Distilling Company, Louisville, KY” but there is no such distillery in Kentucky, let alone in Louisville.

Age:
NAS, so it should be at least four years old

ABV:
45% ABV (90 proof)

Cost:
$15.00

Tasting Notes

Appearance:
Slightly on the brown side of standard amber.

Nose:
Grain, corn sweetness, some vanilla, a little pepper, only a little rye grain, and not much oak.

Taste:
The taste is young-ish, with some standard caramel and other standard Bourbony-flavors, but nothing much stands out.  It was uninspiring neat, and an ice cube or water muted whatever favorable flavors existed in the first place.  I also tried it in Kentucky Mules, where the ginger, mint, and lime took the lead and made Trader Joe’s Bourbon perfectly serviceable.

Finish:
Short and on the verge of bitter. 

Bottom Line

First, for the source, a 2013 promotion on Trader Joe’s website states that its Bourbon is sourced from Bardstown, Kentucky.  A few reviews claim that Trader Joe’s Bourbon is sourced from Barton, which would be consistent with the company’s promotion, but inconsistent with the label, which represents that it is “distilled by Bourbon Square Distillers, Louisville, KY.”  A third option we could believe is the source filed with the Kentucky Secretary of State, which shows that Bourbon Square Distillers is actually an assumed name of Buffalo Trace, with Buffalo Trace’s address in Frankfort, Kentucky.  Which is it, Bardstown, Louisville, or Frankfort?
 
Sadly, this Bourbon wasn’t good enough for me to care about the brand’s conflicting representations.  If you want cheap Bourbon for a mixer and you think that Trader Joe’s is a cool store, go for it.  Otherwise, Trader Joe’s Bourbon is a hard pass.  You’re better off with Four Roses Yellow Label, Wild Turkey 101, or Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond, just to name a few. 

Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale:  1.5

The Sipp’n Corn Scale:
1 – Swill.  I might dump the bottle, but will probably save it for my guests who mix with Coke.
2 – Hits the minimum criteria, but given a choice, I’d rather have something else.
3 – Solid Bourbon with only minor shortcomings.  Glad to own and enjoy.
4 – Excellent Bourbon.  Need to be hyper-critical to find flaws.  I’m lucky to have this.
5 – Bourbon perfection.  I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.