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Monday, July 31, 2017

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Rhetoric 23-year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

According to its press release, Rhetoric 23 was distilled between 1990 and 1993 at the Bernheim Distillery while it was owned by United Distillers.  This time frame reported for distillation and the lack of “old” or “new” preceding “Bernheim” leaves some questions about whether Rhetoric 23 was distilled at the old Bernheim Distillery, which historically had been home to I.W. Harper and Old Charter, before United tore it down, or the new Bernheim Distillery, now owned by Heaven Hill since 1999, but built by United as a state-of-the-art distillery to consolidate its operations.  The new Bernheim Distillery opened in 1992, so maybe Rhetoric 23 includes bourbon distilled at both the old and the new distilleries. 

I posed this question to the brand managers and will update my post as soon as I have an answer.

One of the casualties of the new Bernheim Distillery construction was the famed Stitzel-Weller Distillery, which closed in 1992.  Master Distiller Ed Foote and all Stitzel-Weller production was moved to the new Bernheim Distillery, but of course the Stitzel-Weller warehouses still needed to be filled, and that need was satisfied by the new Bernheim production.  As the orphan barrel story goes, that’s where Diageo found these old barrels of whiskey.

Regardless, Rhetoric 23 is the tenth overall release in the Orphan Barrel line, and the fourth in the Rhetoric sub-line, which is steadily progressing from 20 years to the planned finale at 25 years old.  Kudos to Diageo for this creative release schedule, allowing consumers to isolate age as a single factor and compare expressions.

Bourbon:
Rhetoric 23-year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Distillery:
Distilled at the (old or new?) Bernheim Distillery, Louisville, Kentucky, aged at Stitzel-Weller, in Louisville, Kentucky, and bottled in Tullahoma, Tennessee.

Age:
23 years old.

Mash bill:
86% corn; 6% rye; 8% barley.

ABV:
45.3% (90.6 proof)

Cost:
$120.00

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

Tasting Notes

Appearance:
Rhetoric 23 is not nearly as dark as 23 years in a barrel would impart, so I’m assuming that it underwent pretty substantial filtering, resulting in a medium-brown color with a hint of orange, and with prominent legs.

Nose:
The nose was mostly subtle, but I liked its darkness—oak, old tobacco barn, dark chocolate, rich coffee, polished wood, and leather.

Taste:
Despite the filtration, Rhetoric 23 is still creamy with a softness and the right amount of heat, with flavors like hazelnut, dark chocolate, vanilla, baking spices, and of course oak.  There’s no pucker though, which can come from too much oak.

Finish:
The subtleness of the aromas and the softness on the palate led me to expect a warm but uneventful finish.  Instead, after an initial swell of cinnamon spice, it has a satisfying, long finish.  While controlled by oak, again it’s not over-oaked, and transitions to a smoky, dry finish.

Bottom Line

Oak is the obvious topic for discussion with 23-year old bourbon.  Of course I came in expecting a bunch of oak, and while oak is a big feature of Rhetoric 23, it’s not “over-oaked” to my subjective palate.  Rhetoric 23 is also receiving the full gamut of reviews, from “not recommended” to “A-,” which tells me that the oak might be more of a factor than I realize, or that I’m more tolerant of oak.  Whatever it means, I thoroughly enjoyed the sample and wished that I had more than the now long-gone 100 mL.  Price-wise, I would buy it at sub-$100.


Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale:  3.0

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.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Finish Line is in Sight for Lux Row Distillers.

Perhaps best known for Ezra Brooks and Rebel Yell (but readers need to add David Nicholson to that list), family-owned Luxco, Inc. continues to make progress on its path from merchant bottler to distiller.  Luxco’s Lux Row Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky hit another milestone this summer with the completion of one of its six barrel warehouses and the installation of the guts of its new distillery.  
 The tree-lined approach to Lux Row Distillers adds to the ambiance.

I visited Lux Row yesterday for a hard-hat tour and saw that since the installation of the 43-foot Vendome column still this past March, hot and chilled water tanks have been added along with meal bins, the beer well, fermenters (8,000 gallons each), cookers (4,000 gallons each), and piping connecting everything.  Construction should be complete by the end of the year, distillation can begin in January 2018, and Lux Row should be open to the public by Derby 2018.

Creative Director Michele Lux described how she got tapped for her design expertise and planning for the visitor’s center and event space, while she and Distillery Operations Manager Tony Kamer showed us the shiny new equipment in the state-of-the-art distillery.  When the site is complete, the 18,000 square foot distillery will be accompanied by six identical barrel warehouses, each with six floors and each with a capacity of 20,000 barrels.  Within six months after the first distillation run, the 36-inch diameter Vendome still will be worked up to a pace of 25,000 barrels per year, but as with the rest of the distillery, Luxco has planned on being able to increase capacity.

According to my interview of Luxco President and COO, David Bratcher, during the groundbreaking ceremony in May 2016, Lux Row plans to stick to brown spirits, with bourbon mash bills containing rye or wheat as secondary grains, along with rye whiskey mash bills.  Current supply forecasts are sufficient, which allows this dedication to American whiskies, and which will also allow aging of at least five years (2023!) before the first Luxco brands will use Lux Row whiskey.


Now, in the meantime, if I could just convince Luxco to add a private barrel program for Rebel Yell 10-year single barrel, that might help tide us all over.


Joseph & Joseph rendering of the completed project.


Sipp’n Corn Calendar – Southern Whiskey Society Event on August 5.

Despite the occasional hiccups in the bourbon world—like fakes on the secondary market and certain brands doing shady things—one constant has been the generosity of bourbon enthusiasts.  True bourbon fans are always eager to share their whiskies with friends (and often with strangers), and they are always quick to support good causes.  I’ll be involved in a hotly-anticipated second annual event this coming fall, but in the meantime, there’s a new event in a couple of weeks that I encourage everyone to check out.

The Southern Whiskey Society inaugural event is set for Saturday, August 5 starting at 5:00 p.m. in Franklin, Tennessee, to raise money for a local 501(c)(3) charitable organization that preserves Civil War historical sites.  For those in the region who missed out on the Four Roses Al Young 50th Anniversary Limited Edition, this is your chance to try it, along with Batch 7 of Kentucky Owl, 30 other whiskies, and food from nine of the South’s most talented chefs.

Here’s the event link: https://2017-southern-whiskey-society.eventbrite.com, and as an added bonus, use the special promotional code SIPPNCORN for 15% off the General Admission price, but hurry, the code expires at midnight on Friday, July 28.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Noah’s Mill

Noah’s Mill is the highest-proof and highest-shelf brand member of Willett’s “Small Batch Boutique Bourbon Collection,” which also includes Kentucky Vintage, Pure Kentucky, and Rowan’s Creek.  Before the Bourbon craze it was aged for 15 years, and while it lost that minimum age, most everyone except the age-statement purists agree that it has retained its high quality.  One distinguishing characteristic of Noah’s Mill is that it traditionally blended Bourbon using rye as the secondary grain with Bourbon using wheat as the secondary grain, although this four-grain approach may have ended recently.

Another interesting side-note is that Noah’s Mill is not labeled as “Straight” Bourbon Whiskey, instead using just “Bourbon Whiskey.”  Being able to use the word “Straight” is a badge of honor that every producer should use if it can do so legally.  Straight Bourbon Whiskey must first meet the federal regulations to be called “Bourbon”:  “whisky produced at not exceeding 160 proof from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn, … and stored at not more than 125 proof in charred new oak containers…”, and bottled at no less than 40 percent ABV.  27 CFR § 5.22(b)(1); 27 CFR § 5.22(b).

Then, in addition, Bourbon “shall be further designated as ‘straight’” if it was “stored in the type of oak containers prescribed for a period of two years or more.”  27 CFR § 5.22(b)(1)(iii).  Under another federal regulation and TTB interpretation, no flavoring or coloring additives can be added to Bourbon or Straight Bourbon.  27 CFR § 5.23(a)(2).  A whiskey that is “Straight” can only include blends of straight whiskies of the same type produced in the same state.  27 CFR § 5.22(b)(1)(iii).  Of course, an age statement is optional for any Straight Bourbon Whiskey that is at least four years old.  27 CFR § 5.40(a).

The folks at Willett confirmed for me that Noah’s Mill qualifies as “Straight” Bourbon Whiskey but that it’s just not on the label.  Personally, I’d want to include this guarantee of compliance and purity, but the quality coming out of Willett is undeniable, and they’ve been successful, so I’ll just leave this as my 2 cents and defer to Drew and his family.

Bourbon:
Noah’s Mill Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey
Batch QBC 13-117
Batch QBC 15-11
Batch QBC 15-18

Distillery:
Undisclosed, but bottled by “Noah’s Mill Distilling Company,” which is an assumed name of Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd. (Willett), Bardstown, Kentucky, DSP-KY-78

Age:
No age statement, so the youngest Bourbon is guaranteed to be at least four years old.

ABV:
57.15% (114.3 proof)

Cost:
Usually around $50.00

Tasting Notes

Appearance:
Golden amber with a red hue in the light.  The 2013 batch was slightly darker.

Nose:
Great aromas with a fair warning of the high proof.  Each of the three had distinct noses; 15-18 was the sharpest and most floral with candy sweetness, 15-11 was mellow with dark fruit and old barn, and 13-117 was more on the earthy side with old oak and cocoa.

Taste:
The high proof is somewhat masked by the complexity and the warm flavors like vanilla, toffee, and cocoa, transitioning to cinnamon, pepper, and oak.  Again, each batch had its distinguishing characteristics but overall similarities.  For instance, 15-11 has a fantastic malted chocolate note that was not in Batch 15-18, where it was replaced with more intense spice, corn grain, and cherry.  Batch 13-117, on the other hand, was the creamiest of the three, with mellow flavors of honey, dark cherry, plum, espresso, and rich caramel.  They all took a splash of water or ice very well.

Finish:
Great swelling, warming, oaky finishes with all of these batches.  Batch 15-11 had an oaky/caramel balance with a mint kicker.  After a quick burst of sugary candy on the finish, 15-18 gives way to pepper spice and oak.  And I really enjoyed the long, slow burn of 13-117 that harkened back to its earthy aromas and swell of rye spice.

Bottom Line

Noah’s Mill provides a lush, well-rounded Bourbon with distinct batch characteristics, but all in the same family.  It might be too hot for some people, but a splash of water or ice will both drop the ABV and the heat to a range that will appeal to a broader audience without sacrificing any of the flavor.  I highly recommend Noah’s Mill.

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.

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.