The Arcs: “Electrophonic Chronic”

Many of our impressions on anything (music, food, movies) fall subject to our expectations.  If you expect a movie will stink but it manages to make you laugh a bit (when you’re supposed to), you’re more likely to come away liking it.  If, however, you expect a masterpiece and it has even a few slight flaws, you might just end up disappointed.

That’s where I am with The Arcs.  Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe it’s just my expectations.

The Arcs is a side project of The Black Keys front man and guitarist, Dan Auerbach.  I have been a big fan of The Black Keys since the early days.  From “The Big Come Up” and “Thickfreakness” to “Brothers” and “El Camino”, I have loved their gritty, blues-based music.

Then something changed in The Black Keys and the timing makes me think the birth of The Arcs had something to do with it.  In 2014, The Black Keys released one of my least favorite albums of the band, “Turn Blue”.   It was softer, more esoteric and less of their signature blues sound than the previous albums.  The sound of that album carried over to The Arcs first album in 2015 (“Yours, Dreamily”). The recording and release of this debut album by The Arcs also marked the beginning of the five year hiatus of The Black Keys. 

In fact, much of the recording of “Electrophonic Chronic” took place before the untimely death of band member Richard Swift in 2018.  So, despite the album not being released until 2023 the content fell squarely during that “hiatus period”.  The ultimate release of “Electrophonic Chronic” is a tribute to Swift as a bandmate and friend to the members of The Arcs.

I want to love this album, but I don’t.  “Keep on Dreamin’”, “Sunshine” and “Behind the Eyes” are good pop/R&B songs, but as an album it isn’t something that I will go back to for years (or even months) to come. 

I understand that it is completely unfair for a fan to expect an artist to not change and explore musically.  If you listen to the music of Dan Auerbach in The Black Keys beginning with “The Big Come Up” in 2002 through “El Camino” in 2011, the two-piece band expanded their instrumentation and added some production muscle, but the blues-based roots of the music were always there.  Those roots aren’t showing in the music of The Arcs.  Maybe if you don’t like The Black Keys, then this is an album for you. 

“Electrophonic Chronic” is not a bad album at all.  I was just expecting something (hoping for something) from “Electrophonic Chronic” and it just wasn’t there.  Again, maybe it’s just me.

Unique Finds From Seelbach’s

If you’re unfamiliar with Seelbachs.com, you’re missing out.  Seelbachs carries a wide variety of craft spirits that can ship to your door (in many states).  An occasional visit to the website and just scrolling through their inventory can reveal some interesting items: some you may have been looking for already and some you didn’t even know you wanted. 

The founder of Seelbachs, Blake Riber, has been a guest on Bourbon Turntable.  So, if you want to learn more about Seelbachs, please check out that show.

I recently had two bottles from Seelbachs that are very unique.  Sometimes when you say “unique” or “interesting” it’s code for “I’ve not had anything like this before and I hope I never do again”.  In this case, however, “unique” is a very good thing!

First, we’ll start with a McKenzie single barrel from Finger Lakes Distilling in Burdett, New York.  Finger Lakes Distilling produces some outstanding whiskey in their standard product line.  I’m especially a big fan of their bottle-in-bond bourbon.  They also have single barrel releases, many of which are one-off distillations.  The single barrels are difficult to come by, but, fortunately, some are occasionally available at Seelbachs. 

This particular single barrel is a 100% malted rye, 5.5 years old, non-chill filtered at a barrel strength of 103.2 proof.  A 100% malted rye (or a rye with a high malted rye content) always gets my attention.  These seem to yield some remarkable flavors and this one from Finger Lakes does not disappoint.

Nose: Floral, cedar, fresh cut grass, lemon zest

Taste: Mint tea, honey, blackberry, lemon and hint of oak

Finish: Initially, effervescent Fruit Stripe gum.  Then, old-fashioned lemon drop hard candy (the kind with tiny sugar crystals on the outside).  You can actually feel it coating your tongue.  Also, that hint of oak hangs around throughout.

This one is a fun ride.  But it is a ride that shouldn’t be rushed.  Let each sip of whiskey linger so you get that nostalgic old-fashioned lemon drop hard candy note.  It takes a few seconds to reveal itself.

The second whiskey is one of the experimental batches (#28) from Chattanooga Whiskey.  The mashbill is yellow corn, malted wheat and malted barley and is infused with cacao nibs, cinnamon and vanilla beans.  It is referred to as a “bourbon liqueur” on the label.

Nose: Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory (minus the Oompa Loompas).

Taste: The vanilla hits first, then cinnamon, and Mexican hot chocolate.  The overall taste can be summed up as a chocolate croissant. The croissant feel likely due to the malted wheat.

Finish: It is like a hard chocolate candy melting in your mouth (Riesen’s). 

Like the McKenzie’s, don’t rush the finish.  Let that chocolate “melt” awhile.  This particular experimental batch from Chattanooga will also work really well in certain cocktails.  I’ve played around with it a couple of times already and it is a lot of fun.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

Two New Whiskeys From Alan Bishop

As 2022 ends we are granted the gift of not one but TWO new distillery-only releases created by Alan Bishop.  One is a bourbon called Hindostan Falls and the second is a corn whiskey called Charles E. Ballard.  As is typical, Alan names his spirits after people and places in the Black Forest region of Southern Indiana – or as he calls it “Hoosier Occupied Northern Kentucky” (HONKY).

Hindostan Falls is described on the bottle as “located on the east fork of the White River, was founded in 1816 and became an important stage coach stop along the Vincennes Trail”. 

Charles E. Ballard owned the West Baden Springs Hotel following the death of Lee Sinclair (another namesake of one of Bishop’s whiskeys). 

To me, Hindostan Falls is the fourth cornerstone in the foundation of Alan Bishop’s distilling career (the non-illicit career anyway). The first cornerstone is Lee W. Sinclair because it really started it all. It was a mash bill Bishop had distilled in the woods and it was the first bourbon released that was entirely his distillate at the distillery. The second is The Mattie Gladden. It was Bishop offering the whiskey public a bold high-rye bourbon while introducing us to the notorious character that was Mattie Gladden.

The third cornerstone is the bottled-in-bond Old Clifty Apply Brandy.  If you cut Alan Bishop, he might bleed apple brandy.  So, producing a bottled-in-bond apple brandy is significant in that way.

Finally, we come to Hindostan Falls.  It is 80% corn, 10% rye, 10% distillers’ malt.  It is not just any corn, however.  It is a varietal of corn called Amanda Palmer. Amanda Palmer was created by Bishop during his days when he made his living as a farmer.  And for that reason, Hindostan Falls is that fourth corner stone.  Spoiler alert: it’s also a darn good bourbon.

I don’t mean any disrespect to any of the other whiskeys Bishop has produced at the distillery.  William Dalton, The Morning Glory, Solomon Scott, etc. are all fantastic.  To me, however, the four I named have a special place in Alan’s (to borrow and misuse a music term) “discography”. 

Hindostan Falls weighs in at 104.3 proof and is four-and-a-half years old.  My tasting notes are:

Nose: Sweet grass, honeysuckle, cherry pie filling and an occasional whiff of that “respect the grain” mash note.  Also, the longer it sits in the glass, the more it begins to nose like a red wine.  Interesting.

Taste: Hints of vanilla, cinnamon, pepper, plum wine

Finish: Honey Smacks cereal, pepper, roasted hazelnut and plum

This will be the early leader of the pack for 2023 Whiskey of the Year and could be my favorite whiskey Alan has ever made.

Charles E. Ballard is a corn whiskey.  90% corn (yellow dent) and 10% chocolate malt.  It carries a proof of 102.2 and has aged four years in a barrel whose previous tenant was Lee W. Sinclair four-grain bourbon.

Nose: You’ve just opened a bag of coffee after eating a Hershey’s Dark.

Taste: Mocha coffee, oak

Finish: Coffee and oak

This corn whiskey is very unique.  It is also definitely one for the coffee lovers.  This is also one that I think could play interestingly in cocktails. 

It is my understanding that while these are both single barrels, there will be future releases of these brands at some point. 

Cheers and have a safe and happy new year!

The Seriousness and the Nonsense of Alan Bishop Day

Two years ago, on his Bourbon Daily podcast Steve Akley deemed October 20 to be National Alan Bishop Day.  Why?  I don’t think anyone knows for certain…not even Steve and certainly not Alan. 

Nevertheless, Alan ran with it especially after seeing how the entire concept of him having a “Day” annoyed close fried Jolee Kasprzak.  There were memes.  There were hand signals that even two years later some friends can’t master.  There were slogans: Solidarity Through Sarcasm!  It was nonsense.  Wonderful, fun-loving nonsense.

Last year on October 20 the silliness continued.  The YouTube show My Whiskey Den had an Alan Bishop Day Advent show where they drank Malort and ate McRibs.  Why?  Again, no one knows.  Simply making memories out of more nonsense is probably the most accurate answer.  The guys on that particular show also have some gastrointestinal memories they won’t soon forget.  Pro-tip: Don’t bother asking for Malort with your McRib meal at the McDonald’s drive thru.  They don’t have Malort.  I know.  I asked. 

We also had Alan on Bourbon Turntable to celebrate – what was somehow after only one year – International Alan Bishop Day.  I suppose there was some decree from the United Nations or something.  It took about a minute and forty-six seconds for me to lose control of the show.  A small price to pay to distill more memories from this mash bill of nonsense.

The Alan Bishop flanked by his dad, Dale, and myself.

Now here we are again today at Alan Bishop Day volume 3.  This year is quite different, however. Today things are more serious.  Today is the funeral of Alan’s close friend, “Moonshine” Mike Stallings. I never had the pleasure to have met Mike in person.  I’ve seen him in videos.  I’ve heard his music.  I had a couple of chats with him on Facebook.  Most of what I saw of Mike was during his fight with cancer.  He fought with courage, joy and a song.  To someone like me who didn’t really know him, the way I saw Mike live through his battle still meant something to me.  I know it means infinitely more to Alan, Mike’s other close friends and, of course, the Stallings family.

So, the takeaway for me on this October 20 is to be more thankful and to take less for granted.  Since this is, after all, International Alan Bishop Day I’ll start there.  I am thankful for Alan and his friendship.  What started with my numerous, annoying questions about his whiskey, has evolved into one of my dearest friendships.  Conversations about whiskey are fewer and fewer these days and have been replaced with conversations about life, faith and, of course, music.

Because of Alan, I got to know Jolee, the guys from My Whiskey Den (Mike Lisac, Patrick Belongia, and Ben Eaves) and many others.  All relationships that I have come to treasure.

But, I wouldn’t have met Alan, if I had not first met Steve Akley.  So, a “thank you” to Steve and the ABV gang, too. 

And I wouldn’t have met Steve had Drew Crawley not recommended I listen to Bourbon Daily several (five or six?) years ago.  So, I am thankful to Drew who inadvertently pointed me to the beginning of my own personal “Bourbon Trail” that now has come full circle as Drew and I host “Bourbon Turntable” together. 

Ultimately, had The Wife liked wine I might not have ever switched to whiskey (a story for another day).  Which means I wouldn’t have been at the Westport Whiskey & Wine tasting room.  Which means I wouldn’t have met Drew.  So, of course, The Wife is at the center of it all…even on International Alan Bishop Day.

I have a phone full of pictures – more than will fit in the Apple iCloud.  Yet when I scrolled through my photos looking for a picture with Alan to use with this article, I found only two.  Both from the day we first met in 2019. 

Then I scrolled through again and I noticed that I have far too many dear friends that I have far too few (or no) pictures of with me.  I usually avoid the camera because I’m fat and goofy looking.  I suppose I could work on being skinnier – not sure what to do about the goofy-looking part.  But, what I need to focus on is not taking for granted time spent with special friends.  So, if getting your picture made with a fat, goofy-looking dude is annoying to you…too bad. 

Before the sun sets on October 20, 2022 I encourage you to do three things.  One, raise a glass to Alan Bishop.  After all, for some ill-defined reason, it’s his day of nonsense. 

Two, raise a glass to Mike Stallings.  Even if you don’t know Mike, take it as a moment to remember any good-hearted soul in your life who was gone too soon.  Third, and finally, take a picture with a friend.  Tell them you are thankful for them.  Tell them that you love them.  I think Alan and Moonshine Mike would approve.

Dry Fly Whiskey Is a Real Catch

Don Poffenroth built a distillery before he had ever distilled a drop in his life…and that’s no fish tale.  Dry Fly Distilling was started 15 years ago by Don through a love of craft spirits, an enjoyment of the outdoors and, apparently, an appetite for taking risks.

Don, following a marketing career in the food industry, trusted in his still maker (Christian CARL of Germany) and local farmers to set him and Dry Fly on currents towards success in distilling spirits.  The name “Dry Fly” is inspired by Don’s love of fly fishing and the spectacular, scenic environment he grew up around in Spokane, Washington.  This plays into Dry Fly’s commitment to being agriculturally-based.  The grains they use are grown within 30 miles of the downtown Spokane distillery and the two farms they use are over 100 years old. 

In May, Alan Bishop (Spirits of French Lick) and I co-hosted a show for Bar Cart Co-Op on alternative grains in whiskey.  Alan, Kris Koenig (Golden Beaver Distillery) and Don were panelists on that show (which can be found here).  On that show Don talked about Dry Fly’s use of triticale as a primary and secondary grain in their whiskeys and bourbon.

Triticale is a hybrid of wheat and rye and was originally created in Scotland in the 19th Century.  Dry Fly worked with Spectrum Seed Development to obtain testing seeds out of Scotland.  These testing seeds were test-plotted for Dry Fly by Washington State University which ultimately led to the selection of THE seed that would grow the triticale to be used by Dry Fly. 

“Triticale is what I call a ‘super-wheat’.  It is like wheat with attitude”, Don explained.  “I am really proud of this one because we took it from point zero to the top”. 

The risks Don took in opening the first distillery in Washington since prohibition with an inexperienced distiller (himself) seem to be based on very deliberate choices.  As Don says “whiskey is the sum of a hundred different choices you make along the way”.  At Dry Fly they choose to be very particular about their grain.  Don makes very narrow cuts in his distillations at Dry Fly.  “We want to put the best spirit possible in the barrel.  We want the barrel to add character, but not have to correct any errors in the distillate”, Don commented.  Opening a distillery, like any entrepreneurial endeavor, is a risk.  It is a gamble.  Don has bet on himself and choosing to do things the hard way and the artistic way.  No cutting corners.

The packaging on Dry Fly whiskeys are fantastic.
Like the whiskey they hold, there is a great attention to detail.

On the Bar Cart show Kris, Alan and I had an opportunity to taste Dry Fly’s three-year old, straight triticale whiskey (the first straight triticale whiskey in the world, according to Don). 

The comments from the panel were unanimous in their praise of the Dry Fly triticale whiskey.  Alan commented that there is “fruit with a minerality to it with a nice pepper tone.  There is a grains of paradise element there as well as a caraway characteristic”.

Kris said that it is “a very, very good distillate and a pleasant whiskey.  It has a very nice nose on it and is really well-balanced.  I think this would be a great whiskey to use in a Manhattan”.

As for me, I summed it up in a #FatGuyTastingNote of apple butter on wheatberry toast. 

There was some talk on the show of how interesting it would be to finish some triticale whiskey in an apple brandy barrel.  While I can’t do this project in my house because I am without an apple brandy barrel, I can blend in my glass some Spirits of French Lick Hoosier Apple Brandy with Dry Fly Straight Triticale Whiskey.  I can tell you this has an apple-cinnamon turnover quality to it with a hint of ginger.  This finishing idea is worth reeling in!

I’ve had the opportunity to try some Dry Fly wheat whiskey products recently, also.  Not surprisingly, those are skillfully distilled and aged spirits.  A Dry Fly wheat whiskey may (or may not) be included in a blind tasting of wheat whiskeys that will be part of the next Bar Cart Co-Op show on September 28.  It’s a blind tasting, so you’ll have to tune in to find out for sure.  #WinkWink

The panel on that show will include Lisa Wicker (Widow Jane Distilling), Alan Bishop, Steve Coomes (Bourbon & Banter), and Mike Lisac & Patrick Belongia (My Whiskey Den).  I will be moderating a blind tasting of five different wheat whiskeys.  Watch social media posts for more details.

Don says that he is not a very scientific person.  However, at Dry Fly they routinely do lab testing on grains and distillate and make tweaks to their process in response to that testing.  The extreme care given to the distillate, the innovative approach to grain and the consistent efforts to improve make Dry Fly a distillery worth your attention and their whiskey deserving of your time and money.  Dry Fly has product distributed to 42 states so, hopefully, you’ll find their spirits available near you.  Once you try it, I know you’ll be hooked.

Does Whiskey Bias Get the Best of Us?

Bias is not necessarily bad or good.  Bias simply is. 

We all have biases.  While a bias may not be a good thing nor a bad thing, it is usually based on a positive or a negative thing.  

Music can be an example of positive bias.  You’ve enjoyed previous albums from a band, so when they release a new one you are naturally more likely to buy it (or download it) based on the bias created by your past experience.  That can, however, burn you.  See: The Rolling Stones fans and “Dirty Work” or Metallica fans and “St. Anger”. 

Certain food choices can be an example of negative bias.  Say it’s 2 AM, you’re hungry and the only place open is Taco Bell.  Then your next day is spent on the toilet trying to make deals with God.  Experiences like this have created many a bias against late night chalupas or fast food “Mexican” altogether.

In this article I’m going to focus on the negative biases that we have in whiskey and why it’s important to overcome those.  Or at the very least, not let a bias rob us the opportunity of trying new and interesting spirits.

Being Blind Beats Being Biased

One of the best ways to beat a bias (positive or negative) is a blind tasting.  I’ve led many blind tastings and seen where people who “didn’t like rye” found out that they really did.  Or someone that thinks Pappy or Blanton’s is the whiskey holy grail actually prefers a much more affordable and obtainable brand of bourbon.

On a recent episode of Bourbon Turntable (a show I host with Drew Crawley) I led four of the guys in my bourbon group (Bourbon Fellowship) in a couple of blind tastings.  You can follow along here, if you want to watch (like, share subscribe and comment while you’re there, please).  The blind tastings start around the 4-minute mark.

Pacific FlyWay by Golden Beaver Distiller

The first whiskey they tried was Pacific Flyway Whiskey from Golden Beaver Distillery out of Chico, California.  Kris Koenig is the owner and talented distiller there.  The bias that Golden Beaver has to overcome with Pacific Flyway, a rice whiskey, is the non-traditional use of the grain in the mashbill.  When someone hears that the spirit set before them is produced from rice, the first (and erroneous) thought is “sake”.  The timid whiskey drinker with a flat palate might scrunch up their nose and pass on the pour.  As our blind tasting panel’s notes would reveal, however, the timid drinker would be missing out.

Drinking blind, the Bourbon Fellowship guys gave us tasting notes like cocoa, sweet grass, fresh-cut hay, a dark chocolate Three Musketeers as well as fruit notes of peach and pear.  As a lower proof whiskey (86 proof) it didn’t seem to be one that they would use in a cocktail, but could sip on it neat all day long.  The group unanimously agreed that this was a very good whiskey and one they will drink again and again.  However, it is not one they might have reached for previously due to the bias against the rice.  That’s one win against bias.

Buzzard’s Roost Peated Barrel

The second whiskey our panel tried blind was Buzzard’s Roost Peated Barrel. Buzzard’s Roost is led by founder and master blender, Jason Brauner.  (For more details on Buzzard’s Roost, go here).  Before this iteration of Buzzard’s Roost was released, Jason admitted he didn’t like peat.  I don’t like peat, either, at least not a heavy peat.  As a matter of fact, lots of people shared this reaction when a bottle of Peated Barrel is put before them.  A lot of so-called whiskey enthusiasts let their Ardbeg-fueled nightmares get the best of them and they avoided this version of Buzzard’s Roost.  Our panel can let them know what they’ve been missing.

The first note mentioned was Chamomile tea and honey.  A hot toddy.  Tropical fruit, apricot and mango.  Was it finished in a secondary barrel to give it those fruit flavors? 

When I disclosed to the group what they were drinking, they were all surprised because they didn’t taste anything like peat.  At all.  There is a subtle smoke on the back end, but you need to spend some time with it to pick up on it or have it pointed out to you.  However, the aging in the peated barrel brings out some unique flavors not found in other Buzzard’s Roost products.  Each of the guys loved it, even though none of them like a peated scotch in the slightest.  Another victory over bias. 

To overcome the bias against peat, Jason has said that future releases will be labeled as “Smoked Barrel” rather than “Peated”.  You can’t get everyone to try it blind, so a name change is a good way to defeat that incorrect, negative bias.

Dealing With Bias of My Own

Like all of us, I have my whiskey biases, too.  I’ll try just about anything (even Malort…gross).  By being open-minded about trying new things or even revisiting old things, I am able to discover that I like things I thought I didn’t.  I also find, on the other hand, that sometimes my bias is reinforced.  Here are examples of both.

Finished whiskeys is a category that I long avoided.  I believed that putting whiskey in a wine cask for a few months is a way to mask a whiskey mistake.  I also think the labeling on many finished whiskeys is deceptive.  If a bourbon is put into a secondary barrel to add an outside flavor (as does occur in a wine cask, for example) then should it still be called a “bourbon”?  I don’t think so.

I would roll my eyes at a finished whiskey thinking “if you made a good whiskey to begin with, you wouldn’t have to put it in a wine barrel to make it drinkable”.  In some cases, I still believe this to be true.  However, by trying more products in this category, I have found that some finished whiskeys are quite delicious and very well done. 

One such finished whiskey – the one that started my turn around on them – was Unpretentious, a limited release from Alan Bishop and Spirits of French Lick. Unpretentious is a high rye bourbon finished in a port wine cask.  When Alan first told me about this, I thought “Why would you do this?  Your whiskey is fantastic as it is.  Just give us more of that”. 

Once I tried it, however…heck yeah.  Unpretentious was a tremendous, expertly-crafted spirit and received universal rave reviews.  Now, sadly, it is only available through trade on the dark web.  The last bottle went for the Elephant Man’s bones and an original pressing of the single “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” by Meat Loaf.  Unpretentious, while being a uniquely terrific whiskey, was also a tongue-in-cheek poke at the “machinery making modern bourbon” by Alan Bishop.  My satirical review of this intriguing whiskey is found here.

Recently, I found another finished whiskey that I really enjoy is Oloroso Wheat Whiskey from Middle West Spirits.  It is a five-year old wheat whiskey aged in American white oak and then further matured in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks.  It is plum, almond, dark chocolate and cinnamon.  The sherry finish does not overpower the wheat whiskey at all.  It’s a winner. 

Another bias I have is against George Dickel whiskey.  They make a lot of it.  I can say that for them.  But, I just don’t like it.

I have had some Dickel that is blended with other whiskeys or finished in a wine barrel that were tolerable to me, but not good enough to buy.

I’ve had a bottle of 15-year George Dickel single barrel sitting around the house that I received as a gift a couple of years ago.  So, in the spirit of overcoming bias and trying (and re-trying) things, I opened it today.  It has a beautiful bright, copper color in my glass.  The nose has a promising sweet brisket aroma to it, but there’s something underneath that hints at trouble.  Then when I taste it: Flintsone’s Vitamins.  It is cliché, but it is true.  The extra age only adds some astringency to the “yabba-dabba-do” unpleasantness I always seem to get from George Dickel Whiskey.  Bias confirmed.  If you’re a fan of it, I will gladly leave more of it for you on the shelf.

Benefits of Beating a Bias

I’m not suggesting that you drain pour the whiskey that you currently love (unless it’s George…well, never mind).  I am challenging you to expand your whiskey horizons.  Be willing to try new things.  And by “new things” I don’t necessarily mean the latest brand of sourced, six-year MGP on the market under another label.  Because if you happen to miss out on that one, there will be another one on the market next weekend.  (I may have a sourced-MGP bias, too).

I also don’t mean try expensive things.  If it is a pricey pour of something you’ve never had, then that’s between you and your budget.  I’m all for trying new things, but there is some risk involved when the brand thinks a lot of their bottle.

What I do mean is: be willing to experiment in whiskey.  Try a unique mashbill (see this Bar Cart YouTube show for ideas). 

Try a different brand.  When I look for a different brand, I typically want to find one that is doing their own distilling.

Try a different spirit.  Bourbon, and to a lesser extent rye, can be stupid sometimes.  The hype around the bottle too often far exceeds what is actually in the bottle.  Try a corn whiskey.  Try an American single malt.  Try a white whiskey.  Try a scotch (they aren’t all peated).  Try an absinthe. 

What you’ll find is there are a lot of creative distillers out there making flavorful whiskeys that you’ll love while, at the same time, expanding your palate. And when you go back to that daily drinker you love, you may find yourself picking up on different notes that help you enjoy it even more than before.

What I Discovered in Columbus

A recent trip to Columbus with The Wife found us at a Chris Stapleton concert. It was (predictably) fantastic. The highlights of the show to me were Stapleton’s solo set where he and his acoustic guitar took us through “What Are You Listening To?” (which he introduced as his first single ever that “shot all the way to #46”), “Traveller” and “Whiskey and You”. He also had an extended guitar solo during “Might As Well Get Stoned” that displayed his underrated ability as a guitarist. As a bonus…he played “Free Bird”. All in all, it was a great show.

The next day we made a brief exploration of Columbus which somehow led us to two nearby distilleries: Watershed Distillery and Middle West Spirits. The first stop was Watershed.

They weren’t doing tours that early in the day, but we walked in and I asked Amy if they had any tastings. She replied that she could set something up for me…and did she! I got to sample apple brandy, 4-year and 6-year bourbon aged in apple brandy barrels, bottled-in-bond bourbon, “four peel” gin, their Eaves Blind barrel pick, and three other single barrel bourbons. Whew! And, yes, I did actually walk out when we left, but I did not drive!

To brag on Amy a bit, she was not only a generous and gracious hostess, she also knew her stuff. She has only been working at Watershed since January and had no previous experience in the whiskey industry. Nevertheless, she had a solid understanding of bourbon and knew the Watershed story and product line in detail.

After a thorough and pleasant tasting experience, I settled on one of the single barrel bourbons. It is a 4-year bourbon selected by Powell Community Fire Department. It weighed-in at a hefty 130.4 proof, but didn’t drink nearly that hot – which makes it very dangerous! It had a nice smoke aroma and taste to it – appropriate for a Fire Department pick. In addition to the smoke, it had some nice brown sugar, candied raspberry and chocolate notes to it. I’m looking forward to sharing this one with friends as a #DeckPour or on my #WhiskeyPatio.

Next stop was Middle West Spirits where we met Rudra Trivedi. Rudra had worked his way up at Middle West from being a tour guide to his current position of marketing manager, after touching many, if not all, roles in between. Rudra has a solid background in the industry and certainly sees the position Middle West plays in whiskey both in Ohio and throughout the USA.

Rudra was also very generous with his time and the whiskey. I told him that my first experience with Middle West was tasting their wheated bourbon with Mike Downs, bartender extraordinaire at Bourbons Bistro in Louisville. Rudra and I will have a meet-up soon at Bourbons to introduce him to Mike and owner, Jason Brauner.

I packed up a wheat whiskey and a rye from Middle West before The Wife and I headed home. There was a stop at the Cincinnati IKEA along the way, but that’s a different blog for a different day.

The straight wheat whiskey uses soft red winter wheat in its mash bill and came in at 92 proof. It was sweet with vanilla and pear notes with a touch of leather and cinnamon, too. It is aged “over three years”.

The straight rye whiskey was also aged over three years, but is 96 proof and is billed as “dark pumpernickel”. This is a nice break from the whiskey drinkers who have been stuck in a 95/5 MGP rut. It does not disappoint in the “pumpernickel” claim. I also picked up notes of a “chocolate orange” and a hint of oak. I would relish the opportunity to try both the rye and wheat whiskeys at barrel proof.

We are working to have both Aaron Harris of Watershed and Ryan Lang of Middle West on Bourbon Turntable soon. Maybe Amy and Rudra can join us, too.

You don’t have to chase highly-allocated Kentucky bourbon to find great whiskey. And it doesn’t take the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria to discover that there are some outstanding whiskeys being made in Columbus.

Bourbon Turntable Tasting: Rolling Fork Spirits

My Bourbon Turntable co-hosts (Drew Crawley, Benjamin Eaves) and I had the opportunity to sit down recently with Turner Wathen, co-founder of Rolling Fork Spirits.  I’ll share the tasting notes of what we sampled here, but you can enjoy the live tasting, some more background on Rolling Fork and our conversation with Turner about music by going here for the YouTube video or here for a podcast format.

The Rolling Fork Spirits name was resurrected in 2016 by Turner Wathen and his business partner, Jordan Morris.  Rolling Fork was the name of the distillery owned and operated by Turner’s ancestors back in the late 1700’s.  Today, Rolling Fork is a leading importer of rum into the United States with plans to have 500 barrels in their stock by 2023.

Turner provided us with three different Rolling Fork rums to try.   The Bourbon Turntable crew only had the country of origin on the sample bottles.  So, we didn’t know age, proof, etc. It was about as “blind” as it gets.

El Salvador

The first rum we tried was from El Salvador.  The initial impression we had was that this is a “vanilla bomb”.  This rum has a beautiful vanilla note on the nose, palate and finish.  Allspice, raisin, tobacco, and citrus (like grapefruit and orange peel) were other notes we experienced. 

After the first taste, Turner told us that this was a 10-year, 110-proof rum.  Rolling Fork had finished the rum in rye, port, sherry and double oak barrels.  Some barrels went through each secondary finish, but others did not.  Combined, the rum was aged a total of 12 years before being dumped and blended. 

Before finishing, Turner said the rum was like “Crème Brulé in a glass”.  That characteristic carried through, but Ben noted some “port funk” which was definitely from the time in the port cask.  I picked up on some toasted marshmallow which could be attributed to the “double oak” barrel.  All in all, the barrel finishes were properly managed and only added to the flavor without drowning out the original spirit.

Drew gave us the #FatGuyTastingNote we are all looking for when he reminisced about his grandmother’s cinnamon rolls (that included raisin and orange peel) while sipping on this rum from El Salvador.

Turner told us that “if you like this one, we are going to have a very good evening because it only gets better from here”.

Barbados

The nose on this rum from Barbados was full of butterscotch.  On the palate and the finish we detected caramel/coffee flavors that Ben said would appeal to those addicted to their Starbucks’ macchiato.  I caught a spicy pepper note in the finish that the guys thought might be more like a chipotle pepper.  Drew said there was something recognizable in this rum with walnut and marshmallow notes and an earthy finish.

This was a 9-year rum from Four Square that spent a year in an Old Forester 1910 barrel.  Drew, who worked at Old Fo for a time, now knew what made this rum seem familiar to him.

Turner shared that one of the things he likes about Four Square is their process.  They put the rum through a column still and then a pot still.  They also pay very close attention to making tight cuts.

Jamaica

This Jamaican rum carried some of the traits that we found in the rums from El Salvador and Barbados that we had already tried.  Vanilla, caramel, citrus and walnut were all there in a delicious combination.  We also enjoyed a bit of banana, chocolate and Juicy Fruit as we drank.

What we were drinking was a 14-year-old rum at 126-proof.  Each of us thought we detected flavors that indicated a finishing.  Rye?  No.  Sherry?  No.  Bourbon?  No.

This rum did not go through a finishing process at all.  Turner said their policy is that older, single barrel rums will simply be bottled and sold as-is.   They have an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) with the specific distillery for this spirit from Jamaica, but Turner did share that the rum goes through a two-week fermentation process and a wild yeast strain is used by the distiller.  It is also double-pot distilled. 

These rums were truly fantastic.  Rolling Fork is doing an excellent job finding quality barrels of rum to bring to Kentucky.  From there they can either finish them in a secondary barrel or simply bottle them and send these gems of the Caribbean on to the consumer. 

Rolling Fork rum can be found at several retailers in Kentucky as well as a few spots in Tennessee, Chicago and Mississippi.  However, there is a great selection of Rolling Fork products at Seelbach’s.  You can even find a discounted 3-pack special there.  The Jamaican Rum we tried is a Seelbach’s pick called “Mermaid with a Flamethrower” and is available on their site.

The consensus from the Bourbon Turntable gang is that Rolling Fork has some outstanding rum that is well worth your attention.  Even if you are more a bourbon drinker and not familiar with rum, we are confident that you will enjoy the quality and flavor from Rolling Fork Spirits.

What is a “Bourbon Turntable”?

As we say to open each episode, Bourbon Turntable is a show that blends the love of whiskey with the love of music. If you like either…check us out. If you like both…we are your people.

The crew on this program includes myself and two wonderful friends: Drew Crawley and Benjamin Eaves. With us you get three different palates, in music and in whiskey. We each hail from three different eras: I’m the OG, Drew is the youth and energy and Ben is the man in the middle. Three different perspectives on topics we love and you probably do, too.

You can find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, all under Bourbon Turntable. Our program comes to you via YouTube and some of your favorite podcast platforms (Apple, Spotify and Google). Also, be sure to like the Bar Cart Co-op page on Facebook for authentic whiskey-related posts from more of our friends.

Cheers. Love. Free Bird!

Drew,, Kevin & Ben at Bourbons Bistro

Bardstown Bourbon Company Acquired

As announced in a press release today, Bardstown Bourbon Company has been acquired by a private-equity firm, Pritzker Private Capital.  Terms of the deal were not disclosed and according to the press release the management team at BBC will continue to lead that company. 

There are a lot more layers to this acquisition environment than what I’ll cover here today.  However, I’ll try to quickly hit on a few key points on this deal as well as some trends to look for. 

The Chairman of Pritzker Private Capital (PPC) is Tony Pritzker, brother to Illinois governor, J.B. Prtizker.  The Pritzker family made their family wealth through the Hyatt Hotel chain.  PPC targets family-owned or management-owned companies in the manufactured products or services sector.  (While Bourbon enthusiasts don’t think of it that way, whiskey is a “manufactured product”.)  PPC also seeks to acquire companies based in North America with strong growth trends.  Bardstown Bourbon Company checks all of these boxes. 

According to the press release, BBC approached PPC a few years ago to initiate discussions on a possible acquisition.  BBC’s growth track record has been impressive on its own having quadrupled capacity since 2016 and, in addition to its own line of products, distills for more than 30 other brands.  If PPC’s history is any indication, we can look for the purchase of BBC to be followed by multiple acquisitions in the sector. 

For example, PPC acquired a company called Vertellus (a supplier of chemical products) in January of 2021.  PPC has made five add-on acquisition to Vertellus since then.  That is a significant number of transactions in a relatively short period of time.

So, what kind of activity might we see from the BBC-PPC group going forward?  My thoughts here are only conjecture, but the conjecture is half the fun. 

One area of activity could be going deeper into the American whiskey market.  BBC certainly has intimate knowledge of multiple brands through their contract distilling operations.  That creates some natural acquisition targets for BBC. 

There are also whiskey distilling operations that fit the PPC profile (family-owned, high-growth) in Kentucky and throughout the United States.  Michter’s, Willett, Garrison Brothers are a few that come to mind.  Acquisitions outside of the Kentucky market could help expand distribution for BBC and the acquired distilleries. 

Another possibility could be the expansion into other lines of spirits.  While Heaven Hill’s acquisition of Samson & Surrey came with growing Bourbon brands Few and Widow Jane, the primary targets were likely agave-based brands Mezcal Vago and Tequila Ocho.  Those brands gave Heaven Hill entry into the tequila/mezcal market which is the fastest growing spirits segment.  Yes, even faster than Bourbon.  Much faster, actually. 

According to the Distilled Sprits Council, tequila/mezcal grew 21% from 2020 to 2021.  That is over 4 times the growth of American whiskey.  So, finding an acquisition target in agave spirits would seem like something that would be on the BBC-PPC radar. 

It is safe to say that acquisitions by strategic buyers or private equity concerns are here to stay in the whiskey landscape.  And, conjecture aside, it will be interesting to watch what happens next following the Pritzker acquisition of Bardstown Bourbon Company.   BBC has been making bold moves since their start in 2014.  With the resources of Pritzker Private Capital’s deep pockets, we can certainly expect the bold moves to continue and likely at a much more rapid pace. 

Please share any thoughts you might have on this or other acquisitions in the whiskey world or what you might think we’ll see down the road.  Cheers!