Booker’s Night (or “What Is a Led *bleeping* Zeppelin?”)

If you drink Bourbon then you’re familiar with Booker’s.   If you aren’t familiar with Booker’s then you’re doing Bourbon wrong.  Booker’s was the first of the Jim Beam small batch series developed by long-time master distiller, Booker Noe.  Currently, there are four Booker’s batches released each year.  Since 2015 each batch has been named for people and places important to Booker and the Noe family.  Booker’s is an unfiltered, uncut barrel-strength Bourbon.  According to Booker, himself: “it is the way Bourbon used to be and the way Bourbon is supposed to be”.  Who am I to argue?

An Aggressive Bourbon

The lineup started as being every Booker’s release from 2017 and 2018, both releases of Little Book and the Booker’s 30th anniversary Bourbon.  As if that weren’t beautiful enough, we added in a few releases from previous years such as Off Your Rocker, Noe Hard Times and Center Cut.  I’ve always commented that Booker’s is “an aggressive bourbon”. So the problem is: with so many great high proof whiskies to sample, how do you organize a tasting and everybody’s BAC not end up resembling a Booker’s ABV?

From very early on, Booker’s has been the unofficial Bourbon of The Bourbon Fellowship.  Regardless of the theme for each night, a bottle of Booker’s seems to always find its way on the table.  So a special night to honor Booker and his namesake Bourbon was a no-brainer (Fun fact: if you drink too much Booker’s at one time you may also be a “no-brainer”). 

We started Booker’s Night with a pour of Booker’s 30th and then raising a glass to good friends, good Bourbon and the contributions to both made by Booker and Fred.  I really enjoyed this Bourbon.  It certainly fits in the profile of the best of the regular Booker’s releases, but the additional age gives this one more flair and complexity.   What a treat!

After sharing the 30th, the guys in the Fellowship mostly went one of two routes with their other tastings.  We had printouts available of the stories of each batch with some tasting notes.  I had also created a Booker’s lineup handout so everybody could keep track of what they tried that night and make some notes. To be sure, the notes at the first of the night were more detailed and more legible than the notes at the end of the night. 

A few guys sampled a couple of batches that they had not tried before.  A few others did blind tastings of three or four batches.  There weren’t enough blind tastings to draw definitive conclusions, however, a couple of batches were consistently rated higher than others. Those batches were Kathleen’s Batch (2018-01) and Sip Awhile (2017-04) from the 2017 and 2018 batches.  From the prior years’ batches, Center Cut (2015-03) was also a favorite. 

In addition to great drink, we enjoyed some great food, too.  Tom brought Booker’s Bourbon Balls and Mark brought a homemade Booker’s Bread Pudding.  I also grilled some Booker’s Pork Chop Flambe! I think Booker would have enjoyed himself. 

If you’ve drank much Booker’s in your day, you probably have a Booker’s story or two.  Laughing over a few Tales of Booker’s Past rounded out the evening.  I’ve got one story worth sharing with you, but I’ll save for a future blog post.

What Is a Led F*****g Zeppelin?

When I plan these Bourbon Fellowship gatherings with a brand-related theme, I’ll write the master distiller a few months in advance.  In my letter, I’ll explain who we are and what we do.  I’ll also invite them to attend (so far…no takers).  Finally, I’ll ask them to share some thoughts about the connection between bourbon and friendship (which is what Bourbon Fellowship is really all about).

Fred Noe wrote me a wonderful letter.  But, also, a few weeks before our Booker’s Night I got to speak to Fred at Westport Whiskey & Wine.  Since we have a “soundtrack” for each Fellowship, I took the opportunity to ask Fred what kind of music his dad liked.  “Dad liked old country music”, Fred said.  “We had a cassette player in the truck back in that day.  So, when I’d play ‘Bad To the Bone’, he’d asked me to rewind the tape and play it again”. 

“Dad didn’t care for a lot of hard rock music”, Fred shared.  “He always asked ‘What is a Led F*****g Zeppelin anyway?!’”.  So, the soundtrack for Booker’s Night was a playlist of old school country music, several plays of “Bad to the Bone” and a little Led Zeppelin tossed in for Fred.

Stay on the Beam!

In Fred’s letter he referenced several things that tie back to the connection between bourbon and relationships.  Here are a few cuts from that letter:

“I really appreciate the fact you are honoring my father and my son with the Bookers and Little Book releases you are going to enjoy.  The batches from the last two years all have great stories behind them and go back to the people, places and things that were important to my dad”.

“Tommy’s Batch, Kathleen’s Batch and the Blue Knights Batch were people that touched my dad either through work or socially”.

“The other batches were named for places or things that were important to dad.  We are naming all the batches so there is a tie back to the brand and my father.  I have enjoyed telling the stories that meant a lot to me growing up with my father creating Booker’s bourbon”. 

“Drink one for me since you guys will have a hell of a good time.  Thanks for the invite.  Stay on the Beam!”

Booker’s Night really was a lot of fun to plan and fun to share with the guys. Fred was extremely gracious in his letter and in our conversation. It is times like these that create the best memories and that is at the core of why we enjoy Bourbon.

Kevin Rose

Father’s Day For the Bourbon Dad (Part 2)

Recently, I published a blog post on Father’s Day For the Bourbon Dad. You can follow the link to read it again. “Again” because you’ve clearly already read it at least once. Because you are clearly an intelligent and savvy individual.

In that post I listed some Bourbons, some Bourbon books and some Bourbon experiences that would make ideal gifts for Father’s Day. (This is a community service as there are some really crappy Bourbon-related gifts out there that you will want to dodge. So…you’re welcome). One experience that I wanted to include in that post was the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. Unfortunately, the festival schedule had not been posted at the time I published the blog. Thanks to Kevin Ragland for letting me know that the schedule was posted by KBF yesterday. So, here is “Part 2” of the “Father’s Day For the Bourbon Dad” post.

The 2019 Kentucky Bourbon Festival is September 18 – 22. There are many events (both free and paid) to choose from. Here are a few quick highlights to consider for Father’s Day gifts.

Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame (September 19 @ 4:00 PM): This is the induction ceremony and reception for the 2019 Hall of Fame inductees. Cost is $40.

Kentucky Bourbon All Star Sampler (September 19 @ 7:00 PM): Spend an evening sampling Bourbon with all KDA Master Distillers as well as some craft distillers. Cost is $75.

Bourbon, Cigars and Jazz (September 20 @ 7:00 PM): You may not get this from the name of the event, but there will be Bourbon, cigars and Jazz. Cost is $100.

Bottled in Bond Fire (September 21 @ 7:00 PM): Sip on bottled-in-bond Bourbon by bonfires. Cost is $85.

Great Kentucky Bourbon Tasting & Cocktail Party (September 21 @ 7:00 PM): This is the signature event of the Festival. There will be food, live music and, of course, high end Bourbon pours. Cost is $175 or $225 for the VIP ticket.

These are just a few events from the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. For more information you can go the the KBF website. But you already knew that because you are clearly an intelligent and savvy individual.

Happy Father’s Day to all. I hope you get the Bourbon gifts you are looking for, but most of all I hope you enjoy the day and time with your children. God bless!

Kevin Rose

Father’s Day for the Bourbon Dad

Your dad loves bourbon.  You have seemingly countless choices for a Father’s Day gift for dear ol’ dad, but not every choice is a good one.  Handing dad something with “Bourbon” printed on it can be pretty lame.  Is it a plaque?  Is it a license plate? Is it worth anything in a yard sale?

Novelty bourbon clothing may seem clever, but it usually isn’t.  Nobody wants bourbon-themed boxer shorts with a joke about the “size of your stave” stitched on them. (OK…maybe that’s brilliant.  I claim it.  Nobody steal it!). 

You could always just ask dad what he wants for his special day, but most dads aren’t going to give you much help as they tend to down play Father’s Day for themselves.  This is where I can help.

I’ve put together a few ideas to help you find a gift that most any bourbon pappy would love.  And, no, Pappy Van Winkle isn’t on the list.  These are all things you can easily find.

Bourbon

This is Kathleen’s Batch. It is one of my favorite Bourbons.

Every Bourbon lover loves Bourbon.  That’s what makes them a Bourbon lover.  However, there are a lot of choices and some liquor stores don’t have employees that are that knowledgeable or that helpful.  My first Bourbon suggestion is Booker’s.  Each year there are four different releases of Booker’s batches.  They are all numbered (2018-01 is the first batch released in 2018, for example) and named (The 2018-01 was called “Kathleen’s Batch”).  It’s a unique gift without going too far out on a limb and can be found for $60-$75.

If you know where your father shops, you can visit there and see if they have any store picks.  Those are barrels specifically selected by that store’s management to be bottled and sold only in their store.   There are a limited number of these bottles available and once they are gone, they are gone.  Again, this is a unique and thoughtful gift that is also a safe one.

This may be a little more risky, but if you are looking for the bourbon dad who seems to have everything then consider something new and crafty.  Craft distilleries (small, privately-owned, up-and-coming distilleries) are doing some very good things in Bourbon these days. A bottle from Wilderness Trail, Neeley Family or Jeptha Creed would be an intriguing addition to any Bourbon collection.  If you can’t find these brands in your town, then you may need to do an internet search for craft Bourbons in your area or rely on that liquor store employee for help after all.

Books

Posted without permission. It is a photo of my own copy of his book. I don’t think Michael will be mad. I might need to hire Brian if he is.

You have to be careful here as a book can mean different things to different people.  To some, a book is a joyful way to learn.  To others, a book is a chore.  There are many books about Bourbon on the market today and I’ll narrow it down to two for you.  One is “Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey” by Michael Veach.  Veach is the daddy to Bourbon history and a must read for any father serious about his Bourbon.

A second book is “Bourbon Justice” by Brian Haara.  Brian is an attorney…stop booing, that’s rude.  Brian is a nice attorney (yes, those exist).  His book tells many stories about legal cases in the whiskey world and how that shaped law in America.  Think “Law & Order with a hangover”.  It is a very interesting read.

Bourbon Experience

A few of the distilleries now in downtown Louisville.

Bourbon Tourism is a big thing these days and not just in Kentucky.  Distilleries around the country offer tours for the Bourbon enthusiast everywhere.  As competition has increased for the Bourbon tourist dollars, distilleries have gotten creative.  They now offer special events such as behind the scenes experiences or tastings with master distillers or tasters.  Buy yourself and your dad a ticket to one of these tours or events and it will be a fun memory to make together.

I wanted to suggest a ticket to a Kentucky Bourbon Festival event, but there isn’t anything available on their website yet.  Not even a schedule of events is posted.  It’s only about three months away, so if somebody wants to nudge the folks at the KBF to see if they are awake that might be helpful.

The final Bourbon experience I would suggest is the easiest and easily the most meaningful.  Sometime next Sunday, go see your dad.  Bring in a bottle of Bourbon you enjoy and, assuming you are of legal drinking age in your state, share a pour with him and tell him you love him.  And when you go home…leave the bottle.

Feel free to share this on Facebook or Twitter so that your children or wife might see it. Or print it out and leave it casually lying around the house where someone might happen upon it. Whatever the case…Happy Father’s Day to all the Bourbon-loving dads out there. Cheers!

Kevin Rose

Becoming Old Grand Dad

Easter is always a reminder of the good news that “He is risen”.  This Easter we received the bonus good news that our oldest son and his wife are having a baby.  The Wife and I are going to be grandparents! 

We love our daughter-in-law and, of course, we love our son, too.  We are extremely proud of all they have done and who they are becoming in their marriage.  Our excitement level for them has gone from “fairly stoked” to the “totally stoked” level now that they are having a child…our grandchild…did you hear that I’m going to be a grandfather?

One of the beautiful things about their relationship is that I was friends with the DIL’s father, Bill, for several years before they started dating.  (Bill is actually a Bourbon Fellowshipper, too!)  The friendship that The Wife and I share with Bill and his wife has been remarkably smooth.  It’s remained steady and true through several years of our kids dating, an engagement and a wedding!  It will be wonderful to share the grandparent experience with a couple who are already our friends, too.

So, the first thing I did when I learned of the grandchild was…well, the first thing I did, actually, was cry like a Michael Jordan meme and hug everybody like Roger Goodell on draft day.

So, the second thing I did when I learned of the grandchild was (did you hear that I’m going to be a grandfather?) to buy a new bottle of Old Grand Dad for Bill and me to share when the baby is born.  It is not an expensive Bourbon, by any means, but it is still very good and it was a logical choice for the occasion (from drinking Old Grand Dad to becoming Old Grand Dad).  It is just be another example of Bourbon being a great way to celebrate a special event with friends and family.

I don’t look as old as this guy, right? Right?! You took a little too long to answer that.

I chose to go with the bottled in bond version of Old Grand Dad.  It has more room on the bottle than the OGD 114 for writing dates, height, weight (of the baby…not me or Bill).  There is also an 80 proof Old Grand Dad but it is just too lightweight.  It might be suitable for the grandbaby’s sippy cup, however. 

Several friends have asked what I want our grandchild to call me.  One had even suggested “Old Grand Dad”.  I don’t really care what he or she calls me but if it is that, can we drop the “Old” and just go with “Grand Dad”.  Maybe I should rename this post simply “Becoming Grand Dad”? By the way, did you hear that I’m going to be a grandfather?

Thanks for indulging me on this brief celebration. When the baby arrives in an estimated 186 days (but who’s counting) I’ll be sure to post the news and let you know what we celebrate with…other than Old Grand Dad, of course.

Kevin Rose

Bourbon Good Guys (Vol. II)

We all have that friend who it feels like we’ve known all our life, even though we haven’t.  Well…I hope you do, anyway.  It’s the kind of friend who has free reign to your refrigerator, your pantry and even your liquor cabinet.  The guy I’m writing about today may not be somebody you know, but if you were to meet him you would instantly have a new friend. 

Hanging out in Vegas. Probably just left a speak-easy.

Tom is the brother I never had.  Our families have traveled together, played games together and eaten more meals together than I can remember.  Our kids were baptized in their swimming pool. We’ve walked through rough times together and celebrated good times together.  Thankfully, we are blessed enough that the celebrations far outnumber the rough times.

I caught the Bourbon Fever a year or so before Tom. About the time I started The Bourbon Fellowship, Tom got infected in a big way.  As Tom has built up his Bourbon collection he has always been quick to share what he finds during his hunts with the rest of our group.  He also recently became a Certified Bourbon Steward.  He even showed up at a Bourbon Fellowship on his wedding anniversary.  That’s commitment.  Or maybe he just needs to be committed?

Tom was so excited to meet Fred Noe, he forgot to open his eyes.

Tom was with me when I opened a Pappy 15 to celebrate my son’s wedding.  Tom and I finished off a bottle of Old Fitzgerald bottled-in-bond at Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen one night because at $7 a pour it would have been rude to have done otherwise.

It is a true blessing to have a friend with whom you can share so much of life. To be able to share Bourbon with that friend just makes it all that much sweeter.  Kind of like those wheated bourbons you like, Tom.

Happy birthday, Tom.  Cheers!

Raise a glass in honor of the friends you share your life and your Bourbon with. Better yet…raise a glass with those friends.

Kevin Rose

Fortune Favors the Bold

Did my car just harness 1.21 gigawatts of power while reaching 88 mph?  Or did I somehow drive through Bill & Ted’s excellent phone booth (I wasn’t anywhere near a Circle K)?

About six or seven years ago I was lost.  I must have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque or, more likely, Frankfort.  I found myself in front of a dilapidated, over-grown castle on a narrow, winding road.  It was like I had warped backwards in time about 800 years. 

It turns out I had not misread the map at Albuquerque.  And I would not need the help of Doc Brown to find my way back in time.  I had simply stumbled upon the historic Old Taylor Distillery. As I stopped to take it in I had two thoughts.  One, how could something that was clearly once so majestic be a victim of such obvious neglect? And, two, was a knight going to come out from the castle and say “Ni” at me?

Will Arvin and Wes Murry are the two businessmen who made the bold decision in 2014 to purchase the Old Taylor property, renovate it and start producing whiskey out of it again.  That’s not “put a man on the moon” or “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall” level of bold…but it’s up there. 

In another bold move, Arvin and Murry recruited a highly-regarded, up-and-comer of the bourbon world, Marianne Eaves, to be their master distiller.  Not shying away from any risk herself, Eaves agreed to take on the job making her Kentucky’s first female master distiller since prohibition. Four years and a reported $30 million investment later, the Old Taylor Distillery (renamed “Castle & Key”) was revived to its architectural glory and it was serving its God-given purpose once again: distilling bourbon.

Everything appeared to be going perfectly to plan for the team at Castle & Key.  The distillery and grounds had been renovated and received nothing but praise. While there was no bourbon or rye being sold yet, the vodka and gin coming out of Castle & Key got high marks.  The buzz around the new brand and what the team of Arvin, Murry and Eaves was doing seemed to do nothing but grow. 

Then, seemingly out of nowhere…strange things were afoot at the C & K.  Continuing the trend of bold choices in this saga, Eaves abruptly resigned last week from her position at Castle & Key drawing from the bourbon public one loud collective “whoa!”   Predictably, the announcement drew lively speculation and criticism on social media.

Through her popular public appearances and Instagram presence, Marianne had rightly and effectively established herself as the leader and face of the Castle & Key brand. Why would someone leave what appeared to be an opportunity of a whiskey lifetime before the first release of bourbon hit the market?  The only accurate answer here is: I don’t know and neither do you.

Even if Eaves had not decided to leave, the grades for Castle & Key in May of 2019 would be the same.  There are A’s and A+’s for the renovations, for the contribution to tourism and for the gin and vodka.  Since the bourbon and rye have not been released the only grade possible for the whiskey is an incomplete. A very hopeful and enthusiastic incomplete.

While Castle & Key may have lost the “face” of its brand, the original leaders are still running the show.  If you praised Arvin and Murry for their leadership in renovating the Old Taylor Distillery and hiring Marianne Eaves in the first place, then you should have confidence as they make their next move: hiring Eaves’ replacement.

Despite the recent uproar my central thought surrounding Castle & Key remains the same: thankfulness.  I am very thankful that Arvin and Murry had the vision to revive the crown jewel of a bourbon pioneer and the commitment (financial and otherwise) to see it through.   I am also thankful to Marianne for her obvious passion for the project and all she has given to bring it so far so quickly.

On the “People” section of the Castle & Key website it says “We don’t take shortcuts.  We don’t follow the status quo”.  The coming weeks and months will require many decisions for Arvin and Murry at Castle & Key and from Eaves, too, as she charts her new course.  While we don’t know what those decisions will be for Arvin and Murry or Eaves, I am fairly certain we can expect them to be bold ones.

Inspired for a selfie at Castle & Key. No one will prefer this to anything Marianne ever did. My apologies.

If you have not visited Castle & Key yet, it is well worth your time. The team has done an amazing job there and the people there are tremendous hosts. If you have thoughts on Castle & Key or the recent changes there, please leave a comment here or on twitter @brbnfellowship. Thanks!

Kevin Rose

The One That Almost Wasn’t

“You have seven months”.  That’s what Jim Rutledge was told in 1994 when he took over as Master Distiller for Four Roses. If the quality of the bourbon produced at Four Roses wasn’t significantly improved in seven months then the distillery would be shut down and the brand would continue using only sourced whiskey.  Fortunately for all of us, Jim and his team was up to the task.  They took a brand infamous for low-quality product to a brand famous for its high quality bourbon.

Four Roses Night

The Bourbon Fellowship enjoyed the accomplishments of Jim and Brent Elliott, current Master Distiller, during our recent Four Roses Night.  This gathering was extra special because it was the first time all eleven “core” members of The Bourbon Fellowship were actually together.  We also had a couple of guests with us making this the highest attended Fellowship in our short time as a group.

All ten of the Four Roses recipes were represented (several of them by more than one bottle).  We also had traditional small batch, yellow label (momma called it “yellow label”, I’m gonna call it “yellow label”), the 2017 limited edition, the 130th anniversary, and the Japanese-only release Super Premium.  With timing being everything we were also able to include the new Four Roses Small Batch Select which was released just a week before our Four Roses Night (review coming soon).  We appreciate Brent being considerate of our schedule when making that release.

Fortunately, nobody tried to be a hero that night and sample all ten recipes.  We did set up several blind tastings for the guys both to see what they really liked and test their skills at identifying the recipes they were drinking.  The OBSK recipe was most frequently selected as a favorite.  Nobody was really great at naming the recipes blind.  Everybody got to share some laughs while enjoying some of the best Bourbon on the planet.

The ABCs of Four Roses

When we talk Four Roses it can sound much more complicated than it really is.  People start spouting off letters like they are trying to win the world’s worst spelling bee. 

OESF.
Word origin, please.
Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.
Can you use it in a sentence?
Pass me that bottle of Four Roses OESF.
O-E-S-F.
Correct!

The four letter combinations associated with Four Roses are the codes that tell us the recipe of the Bourbon. The first letter is easy.  It represents the production facility.  The production facility is always Four Roses and the letter is always O.

The second letter is the mash bill.  Four Roses uses two mash bills.    One is at 35% rye and the other at 20% rye.  The first uses 60% corn and 5% barley.  The second uses 75% corn and 5% barley. The higher rye mash bill is code letter B.  The lower rye mash bill is code letter E.  To remember this, I always think: “B is bold.  More rye is bolder”. 

The third letter is for the whiskey distillation.  This one is also easy.  It is always S for “straight”. As in “go straight to the liquor store and buy another bottle of Four Roses”. Or maybe it’s for straight whiskey. It’s tough to say with certainty.

The fourth and final letter is for the yeast strain.  Four Roses uses five proprietary yeast strains: delicate fruit (V), rich fruit (O), herbal (F), spice (K), and floral (Q).  What’s the key to remembering which code matches which yeast strain?  Practice.


I created this Four Roses Cheat Sheet for our Bourbon Fellowship Four Roses Night.  There are even spots arranged to set up your tastings. If you’d like a copy, shoot me a DM or leave an e-mail address in the comments section.

Bourbon and Relationships

We started The Bourbon Fellowship to focus on the friendship side of Bourbon.  The Bourbon was the really great excuse to bring friends together.  I’ve had the opportunity to ask Jim Rutledge (now with his own J.W. Rutledge Distillery) and Brent Elliott their thoughts on the connection between Bourbon and friendships.  I hope you enjoy their responses.

Jim Rutledge’s answer was forged from his experience of taking over Four Roses.  The relationship side of Bourbon was with the people working at the distillery.  He knew everyone’s job was on the line, but they didn’t.  He was passionate not so much about the bourbon, but about the people.  Digging out of that hole and making the huge improvements that they did in such a short amount of time created a great bond among the team.

I sent Brent Elliott an invitation to our Four Roses Night.  What else could he possibly have to do the week before the Kentucky Derby and a week after his distillery released its first new brand in twelve years? Brent was very gracious in sending his very polite regrets, but he also included his thoughts on the Bourbon – friendship connection:  “I get asked all the time what I feel is responsible for the rise in Bourbon’s popularity in recent years. I believe there are many contributing reasons, but I feel there are two that stand out – One, It tastes great and new consumers are learning this. Two, Bourbon is more about the bonds and friendships that form around it. No one I meet talks about Bourbon in a “vacuum”. It’s always about sharing Bourbon and moments with friends or family. And, as you probably have noticed, people in the Bourbon community are universally great people who enjoy sharing and the company of others.”

I ran into Brent at a bottle signing last week. He remembered who I was and actually apologized that he couldn’t attend our Four Roses Night. He asked about our group and how the Four Roses Night went. We talked for a while about the many things going on at Four Roses. He could not have been nicer.

I appreciate the personal responses from both of these Bourbon legends.   I know I’ve toasted many friendships with several Bourbon expressions distilled and bottled by Jim and Brent.  Thanks to Jim for saving Four Roses. Without him, our Four Roses Night would not have been possible (the one that almost wasn’t).  Thanks to Brent for continuing and expanding on the traditions of quality and excellence that are now synonymous with Four Roses.

I had been collecting Four Roses single barrel recipes for a few years. There was one that I was missing and I needed to find it before The Bourbon Fellowship could have the Four Roses Night. Three of the guys in the group got together and found that elusive OBSK and gave it to me for my birthday.
Thanks Drew, Mark & Jared for the bottle and all the stupid bourbon things. Further evidence that it is more about the people than it is about the bourbon.

Kevin Rose