What’s Your Favorite Band? What’s Your Favorite Bourbon?

As someone who is very much into both music and Bourbon, I frequently get asked these two questions:

What’s your favorite band?

                              What’s your favorite Bourbon?

Whatever is playing now.

                              Whatever is in my glass now.

Whatever is playing next.

                              Whatever is in my glass next.

Whatever fits the mood.

Whatever inspires the mood.

Whatever sets the occasion.

Whatever elevates the occasion.

Whatever I can share with you.

Whatever you can share with me.

Someone’s choice in music or choice of whiskey can be a deeply personal thing, but can also be something even the most introverted among us is willing to share with practically anyone.  A song’s opening guitar riff can take us back days or even decades to emotion-filled moments of our past.  While the sight of a bottle or a sip of its contents can spark memories of drinking stories we have already told way too many times.

There are times when a song or a band or a musician is deserving of something special in our glass.  Or whatever is in our glass is made more special because of the music we’re enjoying with it.  I’ve paired E.H. Taylor with The Rolling Stones.  Lee W. Sinclair with Rush.  Stumpy’s Spirits rye with The White Stripes.  And Booker’s with Led Zeppelin and/or old school Country music.  Some of these pairings are with purpose.  Some are just coincidental.  All are best enjoyed on the deck.

One pairing tradition I have is Tom Petty with Weller Special Reserve.  Three years ago today Tom Petty passed away and I had a pour in his memory of what I had in my glass at the time: that Weller green label.  There wasn’t any significance to Weller Special Reserve at the time.  But, WSR has gained significance to me because I now associate it with Tom Petty. 

Is Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers my favorite band?  Sure…sometimes.

Is Weller Special Reserve my favorite Bourbon?  One day a year since 2017.

So, this evening I’ll be sipping Weller on the deck and listening to the “Wildflowers” album and then random hits and b-sides from 40 years of mid-tempo rock-n-roll classics.

Cheers! 

Turn it up.   

There’s something good waiting down this road.

At the End of the Trail: Wilderness Trail

It was to be the 2nd Annual Bourbon Fellowship Bottled in Bond Blind Tasting Bracket (BFBIBBTB).  It was to be the first Thursday of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.  It was…not to be.

The basketball tournament was cancelled.  Bourbon Fellowship was cancelled.  The whole stinkin’ world was cancelled. Everyone had a blast with this blind tasting event the first time we did it last year.  So when the world became less of a “cancelled” place we rescheduled BFBIBBTB a few months later.  Just like last year, there were some surprises along the way.

First Round Pairings & Results

The eight Bourbons selected for the blind tasting had to: (a) be a Bourbon, (b) be Bottled-in-Bond, and (c) not have been in last year’s bracket, with the exception of the champ, New Riff. (For last year’s bracket and results, click here).

There were no other criteria for inclusion other than what I thought would be interesting.  Here were the first round match-ups.  You can judge how interesting they are:

  • Match-up 1: (A) Heaven Hill 7 year vs. (B) Heaven Hill 6 year
  • Match-up 2: (C ) A.D. Laws vs. (D) Old Grand Dad
  • Match-up 3: (E) Wilderness Trail Wheated vs. (F) Wilderness Trail High Rye
  • Match-up 4: (G) New Riff vs. (H) Evan Williams

When we got started, we had eight participants.   What are the odds of anything ending in a tie?  Pretty good, as it turned out.

Heaven Hill vs. Heaven Hill

After the group completed their tasting of these two products – one new (expensive and difficult to find) and the other old (a discontinued bargain) – it was a tie.  Four preferred 7 year and four cast their lot for 6 year.  So, I re-poured the samples and let the participants re-taste and re-vote.  In the second go-around, the 7 year walloped the 6-year by a count of 7-1.  Everyone commented that it was a coin flip decision for them; it just happened that more of the coins landed on 7 than 6.  To me, this says that there is a marginal difference between the quality and taste of the two products. 

A.D. Laws vs Old Grand Dad

I like to throw something into blind tastings that the participants haven’t had before.  The A.D. Laws certainly fit that bill, but faced a wily veteran in Old Grand Dad.  We ended up with a 4-4 tie on this one, too.  I was beginning to think the guys were planning it that way just to get more Bourbon!

In the re-taste / re-vote one person changed their choice and A.D. Laws would advance.  A.D. Laws was easily the most divisive Bourbon of the night and maybe the most divisive Bourbon our group has ever shared.  This is a four-grain, bottled-in-bond (60% corn / 20% heirloom wheat / 10% heirloom rye / 10% malted barley) and it has very distinct chocolate notes on the palate.  It was definitely a love-it-or-hate-it whiskey.  It got just enough love to move on in the bracket.

Wilderness Trail Wheated vs. Wilderness Trail High Rye

I couldn’t decide which Wilderness Trail product to include in the bracket, so I went with both.  There was a clear consensus of opinion on this one.  The High Rye was the top choice by a 6-2 count.  Comments from the group certainly gave a lot of love to its wheated brother, but the high rye was the decisive winner and would advance.

New Riff vs. Evan Williams

They say repeating a championship is more difficult than winning the championship in the first place.  It’s true in sports.  It’s true in Bourbon. Last year’s champ, New Riff, went down to one of the most underrated Bourbons on the planet: Evan Williams bottled-in-bond. EW won by a 5-3 margin.  Take heart, New Riff.  No one can take last year’s title away from you.

Final Four

Heaven Hill 7 year vs. A.D. Laws

By the time we started the Final Four, a late-comer joined the group (so…no more ties).  The five tasters who stood by A.D. Laws in the first round, stayed by A.D. Laws in the Final Four.  Heaven Hill’s 7 year fell 5-4 to A.D. Laws.

Wilderness Trail High Rye vs. Evan Williams

The experienced bottom-shelfer could not get past the young stud.  Evan Williams could only muster two votes as Wilderness Trail garnered seven and moved on to the Finals.

Finals

A.D. Laws vs. Wilderness Trail High Rye

All good runs come to an end.  Cinderella turned into a pumpkin…or something like that.  The unlikely journey to the BFBIBBTB Finals is over.  The loyal following gathered by A.D. Laws couldn’t survive the momentum of Wilderness Trail.  By a score of 7-2, Wilderness Trail High Rye claimed the crown of 2020 Bottled in Bond champ. 

Both Wilderness Trail bottled-in-bond products are very good and their cask strength rye may be my favorite of anything they produce.  In a very short time, it seems Wilderness Trail has become synonymous with quality whiskey.  There are a small handful of distilleries that are on a considerable roll right now (despite COVID-19) and Wilderness Trail is certainly one of those.  In a very short time, Shane Baker and Pat Heist have made their brand into one that truly moves the needle.  Congratulations to Wilderness Trail High Rye Bourbon, deserving of the title: Best Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon for 2020.

America and Independence 2020

This article is not about Bourbon, but bear with me for a few minutes, please.  While I’m not writing about America’s native spirit, I believe this post is about the spirit of America.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence at once dissolved ties with England and established a principle and a creed for the Nation they had just created.  It was a standard for America to live up to.   It was a goal that still needed to be reached even after the Revolution against England was complete. This Declaration of Independence was, and is still, a statement of hope.  

Douglass (1852)

Hope was found in The Declaration by Frederick Douglass.  In 1852 (nearly a dozen years before the Emancipation Proclamation) Douglass delivered a landmark speech “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”. There are excerpts and dramatic readings of it on the internet, but they are heavily edited (you can find the full text here).  It deserves a complete read, but in summary, there are three “acts” to the speech.  The first act reminds the audience of the importance of American independence and the greatness of the founders.

“Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too — great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.

They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is exhibited, it ought to command respect. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his country, is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.”

In the second act, Douglass rightly blasts people, politicians and preachers of the day for allowing slavery to continue in America.  “Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?”, Douglass asks.  The answer, obviously and unjustly, remained “no”. Douglass went on to paint a poignant picture of the hypocrisy and sin of the continued existence of slavery in a land claiming “all men are created equal”.

In the final act of this speech, Douglass returns to the Declaration of Independence:  “Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age.”

Lincoln (1861)

In an 1861 speech, just weeks before the start of the Civil War, President Lincoln spoke of the hope derived from the Declaration: “I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this [nation] so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the colonies from the mother land; but something in that Declaration giving liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time.  It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance. This is the sentiment embodied in that Declaration of Independence.”

Throughout his career, Lincoln’s political compass was the Declaration of Independence.  He said this at a debate in 1858: “They [the Founders who issued the Declaration] meant to set up a standard maxim for free society which should be familiar to all,—constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even, though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people, of all colors, everywhere.”

At that same debate, Lincoln went on to acknowledge “They (the Founders) did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit.”

King (1963)

Martin Luther King, Jr. in his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech (full text here) makes reference to the Declaration of Independence.  “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’.”  King went on to accurately say that America had defaulted on that promissory note, “But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.”

King references the Declaration as part of his hope for America: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

2020

As we stand at July 4 of this notorious year, we hear calls to “cancel July 4th” and to tear down the monuments of the Founding Fathers.  The men who started this nation were not perfect.  Douglass knew it.  Lincoln knew it.  King knew it.  They, themselves, knew it.  The creed and principle they established, however, was and is still brave, brilliant and perfect:  All men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. 

Restating Lincoln on the Declaration: “constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even, though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence”.  But, still having work towards it’s attainment does not mean we abandon the principle or those who established it.  On the contrary, hold those principles up higher to guide us.  Douglass says it much better: “I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost. From the round top of your ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen. Heavy billows, like mountains in the distance, disclose to the leeward huge forms of flinty rocks! That bolt drawn, that chain broken, and all is lost. Cling to this day — cling to it, and to its principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight.”

These rights spoken of in the Declaration are not derived from government.  They are derived from God.  Government’s role is to protect those rights…not to assign them, reassign them or cancel them.  The Divine source of our rights as Americans only enhances their value.  Protect them.  Hold them dearly.  Never take them for granted.

What I have attempted to do in this post is provide a little hope in the midst of a year full of despair.  And as some are now disparaging America, her founding and her Founders, remember who you are and what you are called to as an American.  In all of our personal and national imperfections we remain the greatest nation this world has ever known.  Raise a glass to the Founders, to Douglass, to Lincoln and to King.  Raise a glass to all who strive today to bring us closer to the “never perfectly attained” creed of the Declaration.  Raise a glass to hope in this year that sorely needs it.  God bless America and all those who protect her and call her home.  Cheers!

Westport Whiskey & Wine…Knob Creek Picks

The best whiskey store I know of is, fortunately, in my town of Louisville. That store is Westport Whiskey & Wine. Richard Splan and Chris Zaborowski opened Westport in 2008. The store has been known for an outstanding selection of store picks personally selected by Chris. Chris has an amazing palate and I trust his opinions on whiskey as much as anyone I know.

Westport also has a legendary tasting room offering some outstanding, highly-allocated whiskeys at remarkable values. Other stores try to copy this, but seem to regularly fall short by comparison.

The staff at Westport is also better than any other I know. From Emily Meadows (Chris’ daughter and store manager) to Emily “the other Emily” Holt to Stephen Gandolfi to Timothy Van Riper to J.J. Valentine and others…this group knows their stuff. It seems that even in the heart of Bourbon Country too many store have staff that can only tell you “Jack Daniels is their best selling Bourbon” and “we don’t have Blanton’s”. The gang at WWW know their stuff. They are friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. I couldn’t ask for much more than that.

Deck Pour Saturday Afternoon

So, I am taking a beautiful Saturday afternoon and spending some time on my deck with a few Westport Knob Creek picks and listening to Bill Withers (RIP). I pulled three different picks from my cabinet and poured them into unmarked cups to make this as “blind” as I could. I tasted each with the idea of ranking them. Before I get to that…a brief story.

I’ve been on two barrel picks and both have been with Chris and Westport Whiskey & Wine. The first was at Wild Turkey (three bottles: a Kentucky Spirit and two Russell Reserves). The second was at Jim Beam for Knob Creek (two bourbons and one rye). On the Knob Creek pick it was just Chris, Richard, two of the bar managers from Butchertown Grocery and me. The Beam employee managing the pick asked “has anybody not had a chance to pop a bung from the hole?” Like an idiot, I raised my hand. I didn’t read the room at all. Everybody else there had been on dozens to hundreds of picks. I run up there like a doofus and take the wooden mallet and start wailing away. I couldn’t bring myself to look behind me, but I’m guessing everyone was staring at their watches and giving Chris the evil eye for bringing such a noob on this pick. At one point the Beam guy said “No, stop hitting the bung. Hit beside it”. All I could say was “I’m trying!”. Well, I tried to say that. By that time I was out of breath and hoping that Jesus would send an angel down to pluck that bung out of the hole and end my embarrassment. At long last…the bung popped out (Thank you, Jesus) and everybody else could go on with their lives.

The two Bourbons that we selected that day are included in the trio I’m tasting today on my deck. The third they likely picked a lot more efficiently than the two I was involved with. Sorry, Chris.

Tasting: Knob Creek Picks

Here is the line-up in order of tasting:

Number 1: Barrel #8500 is a 9 year, 6 month selection picked on 8/12/19. This is the first one picked on the group I was with.

Number 2: Barrel #8496 is a 14 year, 9 month selection picked on 2/25/19.

Number 3: Barrel #8501 is also 9 year, 6 month in age and picked on 8/12/19. This is the second Bourbon we picked that day.

Number 1 was sweet on the nose. The taste was like a Bit-o-Honey candy: sweet and nutty. The finish was sweet as well with some nice spice kicking in, too.

Number 2 was very different from 1. It was leathery and floral on the nose with oak and pepper on the palate and finish. The extra age brings the oak.

Number 3 was also sweet on the nose. Instead of sweet with honey, it was sweet with vanilla and toffee. Some smoky oak and pepper were prominent in both the taste and the finish. The sweet was still there, but not as much at Number 1.

While I enjoy the second, I am not, personally, a big fan of oak in my whiskey. So, I would rate this one third of the three even though it is still an outstanding Bourbon that I enjoy.

I really can’t decide between number 1 and number 3. I am thankful to have been on picks with two outstanding whiskies like these. Number 1 is actually from the barrel that I beat the living crap out of with the wooden mallet, so I have a soft place in my heart for that one. So, I’ll call it my favorite.

Both 1 and 3 (barrels 8500 and 8501 are available now at Westport now. I know people flock to 15 year old Knob Creeks like a mob to toilet paper during a pandemic, but these 9 year old Bourbons have much more complexity and sweetness than the 15 year, in my opinion. Stop by and pick one up while you can.

The folks at Westport are doing some creative things right now in light of practically everything being shutdown. They are still open and offer delivery and some “grab and go deals” that you can find by clicking here. I would encourage you to “support local” at this time especially. In this case “supporting local” will also get you the best that you can hope to find in terms of whiskey quality and customer service. Here’s to hoping we can gather in the tasting room at Westport, again, sometime soon.

Blind Tasting Is Truth

Like me, Galileo is a fan of blind tastings. Because, you see, blind tastings are truth. There is no label bias. No influence of Bourbon journalists. No social media pressure. It’s simply you, the whiskey and what you like. What you really like.

At a recent Bourbon Fellowship we had thirteen guys participate in two blind tastings. The “Bourbon experience” level in the group ranged from novice to what I would consider to be sophisticated. They were given no clues about what they were tasting other than the liquid in front of them was, in fact, Bourbon. There were three Bourbons in each flight and they were instructed to rank them 1st, 2nd and 3rd. The results were surprising to both me and Galileo.

Blind Tasting #1

For the first tasting I decided to explore the wheated mashbill from Buffalo Trace. The Bourbons included were Weller Special Reserve, Old Weller Antique and Pappy Van Winkle 15 year. The results:

While none of these Bourbons are easy to find, the one that is the most difficult to locate and will cost you $1000 on the secondary market finished last. LAST! And with only one 1st place vote along the way.

Galileo: “I just discovered the moons of Jupi…wait, Pappy’s finished last?

Blind Tasting #2

For the second tasting I also picked on a highly-allocated Buffalo Trace product. I matched Blanton’s against Cooper’s Craft (82.2 proof) and JTS Brown bottled-in-bond. The results:

While the betting favorite (Blanton’s) came out on top in this flight, it was by a very slim margin. Some of the more experienced palates in the group actually preferred Cooper’s over Blanton’s. So, the question at hand: Is it worth hours of hunting to get Blanton’s when other less expensive and more readily available Bourbons may be close to it in terms of your actual taste preference?

Can we draw definitive conclusions here? Probably not. If the same group tasted the same Bourbons a day later the results could be different. Likewise, if another group did the same blind tastings the order of finish would likely not be the same.

What we can conclude is that blind tastings do reveal truth. Or if that goes too far for you, blind tastings at least dispel myths: well-entrenched, very expensive myths. And unlike Galileo, you don’t have to suffer the wrath of the Inquisition to do so.

These blind tastings were a lot of fun. The group seems to really enjoy them. I would encourage you to do these with friends in small or large groups. You are sure to learn a few things and have a good time while doing it.

Kevin Rose

Three Things of Five – 2019

Need a last minute Christmas gift? Here are five new whiskies for 2019 I’d recommend. Need something to listen to driving over the river and through the woods to or from Grandmother’s house? Here are five new albums I loved in 2019. Need something to watch while sitting around the house in a food coma? Here are five streaming ideas for you.

Top Five New Whiskies of 2019

I’ve selected five whiskies that were new releases in 2019 that would be great last minute Christmas gifts or excellent bottles to share at a New Year’s party. This list is comprised of whiskies that, if they are distributed in your market, should be very easy to find.

  1. Four Roses Small Batch Select ($55): Brent Elliott and the gang at Four Roses simply can’t miss. This is the first new permanent addition to the Four Roses lineup in a dozen years and it is outstanding. The only thing wrong with this one is I am currently out. So, if you are still wondering what you can get me for Christmas…
  2. Booker’s ($70): Including Booker’s is cheating somewhat, but my blog…my rules. Jim Beam releases four unique batches of Booker’s each year, so technically speaking Booker’s has four new whiskies each year (technically). Nevertheless, I love Booker’s and each of the four batches in 2019 were terrific. As a gift, Booker’s high proof deliciousness always fits.
  3. Old Forester Rye ($20): Old Fo outdid itself this year with the release of their first-ever rye whiskey. They very easily could have charged double the price, but, thankfully for us, they did not. In an age when most distilleries are contriving every excuse they can to raise prices, let’s give credit to Old Forester for bucking that trend. Plus, this is a very tasty rye whiskey that would be a welcome addition to any one’s cabinet.
  4. Wilderness Trail High Rye Bourbon ($70): Some outstanding whiskey is coming from Shane Baker and Pat Heist down in Danville, Kentucky. They introduced the third whiskey to their lineup (a bottled in bond, high rye Bourbon) in the Spring of this year and it is every bit as good as their wheated bottled in bond and their rye. Get on the Wilderness Trail before it gets too crowded.
  5. Legent ($35): This one may be a surprise addition to this list. This new product from Beam-Suntory is Bourbon finished in sherry and wine casks and then blended with more Bourbon. I am not typically a fan of finished whiskies, but I liked this one. More details on it can be found on my profile of Legent written for the ABV Network.

Top Five Albums of 2019

Music, even more so than whiskey, is a matter of individual preference. If you tell me a whiskey or two that you like, I can probably recommend several others you’ll enjoy. If you tell me a few musical artists you like, if I haven’t heard of any of them then I’m no help to you. Regardless, here are my favorite albums from the year. With Spotify and Apple Music it is really easy for you to give them a try.

Photo: Scott Willis Photography
  1. Trigger Hippy, “Full Circle and Then Some”. This rock/country/soul album is so easy and fun to listen to. Trigger Hippy is the brain child of Steve Gorman, founding member and drummer for The Black Crowes. I just saw them live last weekend which is an experience I’d highly recommend, too.
  2. The Raconteurs, “Help Us Stranger”. Of all the Jack White musical vehicles, The Raconteurs is probably my favorite. So, I had high expectations when this album dropped in 2019 after an eleven year wait. This album is musical genius from start to finish and the best Jack White associated album since The White Stripes “Elephant” (and that is saying a LOT).
  3. The Black Keys, “Let’s Rock”. I didn’t care much for The Black Keys 2014 release, “Turn Blue”. This new album, however, was a great comeback to me. It is a nice blending of modern Keys albums (“El Camino” and “Brothers”) and old-school Keys (“Thickfreakness” and “Magic Potion”).
  4. Rival Sons, “Feral Roots”. This is one of those bands that I like that I don’t get why they aren’t more popular. They have a funky-Led Zeppelin vibe. Vocally and musically this band is strong and Mike Miley may be the best drummer in rock music right now.
  5. Tedeschi Trucks Band, “Signs”. This is THE best live band in music today. There isn’t a close second. Their latest studio album, “Signs”, is still a showcase for their musical talent, but nothing like seeing them live. As Steve Gorman once told me: “Susan Tedeschi is the best singer and Derek Trucks is the best guitarist. It’s hardly fair to any other band out there”.

Five Things to Stream

I’m not putting the obvious on the list. You already know about “The Office”, “Parks and Rec” and “Friends”. So, here are a few other shows to check out (or revisit) if you haven’t already.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Georgetown University
  1. Mike Birbiglia, “The New One” (Netflix): Mike Birbiglia is a supremely talented stand-up comedian. His shows are both hilarious and extraordinarily well-crafted. The entire stand-up is the telling of one story with clever rabbit trails and funny tangents brilliantly woven into the tale.
  2. Dave Chappelle, “Sticks and Stones” (Netflix): This special from Chappelle was viewed controversially upon its release because he pulls no punches (to the left, to the right, to you, to me and to himself). It is a very crude brand of humor, which is why I have not watched it…twice. Still, this is not for the easily offended.
  3. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (Hulu): I wasn’t a fan of Andy Samberg when he was on SNL, but I gave his sitcom a chance when it came out in 2013 and I am glad I did. Samberg is very funny in it and the writing is fresh and clever. Andre Braugher (who I loved in Homicide: Life on the Street) is surprisingly terrific as a comedic actor, too.
  4. “Fargo” (Hulu): The FX Series loosely based on the Coen Brothers movie of the same name is extremely well-written and a case study in character acting. There are three seasons available to stream and each is a unique story line unto itself. Season One is my favorite with stellar performances from Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Allison Tolman and Colin Hanks. Good news: in 2020, we have the release of Season Four to look forward to.
  5. “Seinfeld” (Hulu): As I was writing an article on “Festivus” I got sucked in to the Seinfeld world again. For a show about nothing, it has a lot of hilarious plot lines for us to enjoy.

I hope some of these recommendations help you enjoy time off from work or time spent with family during this holiday season. If you have any feedback or other suggestions, please share them with me. On behalf of me and my family I want to wish a very Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Kevin Rose

Just Say No…

Jason is one of the funniest and most talented guys I know. He’s a musician, he’s a fantastic cook and he can effortlessly make better any gathering he’s a part of. We’re fortunate enough to have Jason as part of The Bourbon Fellowship but, aside from tailgating back in his college years, he is relatively new to Bourbon. The wonderful things about that are: (1) He thinks I know a lot about Bourbon and (2) He is willing to ask anything. That second one…that can make for some interesting discussions in our group.

A couple of weeks ago Jason asked: “Is it fair to tell someone to not use your good whiskey as a mixer?” Many of you may be hosting parties around the holidays and this very issue may be one you have to deal with. We discussed this at Bourbon Fellowship and this was the consensus opinion:

1. Just say no. If someone wants to take your William Larue Weller and mix it with Yoo-Hoo, you are well within your rights as host and owner of that bottle to nip that in the bud. The “drink what you want, how you want” rule applies to Bourbon you paid for. If someone wants a mixer, then it is quite reasonable to direct them towards a nice bottom-shelfer you’ve included on the table.

2. Know your crowd. If your invitation list is full of people who understand and respect Bourbon then you can feel a little more at ease about what to put out as your whiskey lineup for the party. Say we have a Bourbon Fellowship New Year’s party. I trust these guys to not be looking at the good Bourbon as something to liven up their Ale 8.

Like Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett, Michter’s 10
and Dr. Pepper are great separately
but never really fit together.

3. Know your crowd (part two). If your invitation list has some who are unlearned in the ways of Bourbon (or if you just aren’t sure where they fall on the Bourbon spectrum) then leave the “good stuff” in the cabinet. That way if they want to spike the eggnog you don’t have a vein start pounding in the middle of your forehead when they reach for your Birthday Bourbon.

4. Call an audible. Say it’s your wife’s book club holiday party. The other husbands that couldn’t find an excuse to not come actually turn out to be good dudes who like Bourbon. (Let’s be realistic…one of them turns out to be a good dude who likes Bourbon). Sneak out some of the good stuff and make a discreet pour or two.

5. Don’t be “that guy”. While you have the right to set the ground rules you don’t have to be a jerk about it. If you need to re-direct someone, subtlety and discretion are useful skills. Embarrassing someone or mocking their lack of Bourbon knowledge is a d-bag move. At the end of the day, people and relationships are, of course, more important than any Bourbon

With a little planning and a generous spirit you can make the sharing of your whiskey line-up the best part of any party (holiday or otherwise). Most of us like to share our bottles and love to let others try new things and help them learn more about Bourbon. Part of learning more about Bourbon, however, is understanding that you don’t take another man’s allocated whiskey and mix it with your Dr. Pepper. No means no.

I want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas. We are all blessed more than we deserve (at least I am). I hope you have a wonderful time with family and friends as we celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Kevin Rose

Happy Birthday, Bourbon Elvis

Jimmy Russell is Bourbon Elvis (sans white jump suit).  He is the rock star of Bourbon rock stars.  The celebrity of Bourbon celebrities.  The master distiller’s Master Distiller.  Today is Jimmy’s birthday.  Long live The King.

Lots of people have Jimmy Russell stories.  I have a few of them myself, but will try to limit this post to a couple and avoid tangents into others.  Otherwise, we may be here awhile.

Jimmy and me. Best of friends.

I first met Jimmy on June 16, 2018.  (I realize that isn’t that long ago, but I’m fairly new to Bourbon.)  It was the 10th anniversary celebration for Westport Whiskey & Wine in Louisville and it was hot.  It was fry-an-egg-on-your-forehead, sweat-through-your-underwear kind of hot.  Despite the heat, there is Jimmy Russell:  Wiping his sweat on a scarf and tossing it to the crowd (he didn’t really do that).  But, Jimmy was there.  He was there to support Chris Zaborowski and Rich Splan, the owners of Westport.  And he was there to meet Bourbon fans like me.  He sat under that tent for four hours shaking hands, smiling and answering the same questions a hundred different times with an enthusiasm like it was the first time he had heard it.  All the while, Jimmy was just sweating it out with us commoners.

The most recent time I saw Jimmy was almost a year later: June 13, 2019.  Jimmy was again at Westport Whiskey & Wine, but this time with his son, Eddie, and his grandson, Bruce.  They weren’t promoting anything specific.  They were just there to share a few pours while taking some pictures and talking Bourbon with Wild Turkey fans.  My older son and I were sure to get a picture with the Russells.  The three generations of Russells with two generations of Roses.  At the time, my son and his wife were expecting so the third generation Rose was on his way.  My grandson was born just a few days shy of sharing a birthday with Jimmy.  So, join me in raising a glass of something Wild Turkey for Jimmy’s birthday.  Here’s to many more years, many more stories and many more Bourbons.  Cheers, Jimmy, and thank you.  Thank you very much.

Families photo: Three generations of Russells. Two generations of Roses with the third on the way.

When you drink Wild Turkey you can’t help but think of Jimmy and all he means to the world of Bourbon. Raise a glass and give a cheer for Jimmy any time you’re sipping Wild Turkey, but especially on his birthday.

Kevin Rose

Bourbon Me Up, Scotty!

You remember Blockbuster Video, don’t you? Do you remember walking up and down the aisles trying to select a movie? You covered every inch of ground from New Releases to Comedies to Sci-Fi and back again. You see a movie that’s a “Tyler pick”. Tyler is the 35 year old behind the counter rewinding returned video tapes as a vocation. Sure. He seems qualified to recommend my movie. You’re reading the back of the case and trying to remember if the girl from “Cheers” is in a good Star Trek movie or a bad one. Tyler wouldn’t steer you wrong, would he?

Now we have streaming services. Should be easier, right? Wrong! First you have to decide which platform to browse: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Google Play, or on demand movies from your TV provider. There is no “Tyler” so you ask Alexa to recommend a movie and she suggests the Star Trek with Sherlock Holmes in it. That never seemed to make any sense. So, you just start scrolling and scrolling and scrolling (and scrolling and scrolling and…). You’re on your phone trying to find reviews and you’re not sure if a movie getting a lot of tomatoes is a good thing or a bad thing (whatever happened to the simplicity of “two thumbs up”?). 45 minutes later you’re watching Season 5 of The Office for about the hundredth time (and which Star Trek was Idris Elba in?).

So, what happens when you’re trying to choose a movie with other people? That is the Kobayashi Maru: The no-win scenario. You should just prepare to be assimilated because resistance is futile.

To Boldly Go

Now, you’re in your favorite liquor store and, logically, you want to buy Bourbon. You carefully scan each shelf. Then you scan again just in case you missed some hidden gem. You’re reading labels. You’re brain hurts from trying to figure out why Captain Kirk has a Bourbon. Pulling up reviews on your phone doesn’t help. The ascot guy says it is like “ashtray and bong water” (actual Fred Minnick review). Another guy says that same Bourbon is better than Pappy’s (I can’t find where someone actually said that about Kirk’s Bourbon, but there is some dope out there who says something is “better than Pappy’s” about everything).

Let’s add a couple other people to the decision making process. You and two friends are going in together to buy a bottle to share. You’ll need to agree on where to shop, price, brand, etc. While we’re at it, let’s make a blind tasting competition out of it.

This is what we did at The Bourbon Fellowship. I assigned three teams of three guys each. Each team went to a different liquor store with one rule: you had to pick a Bourbon. The team would have to agree on which store to visit, how much to pay and what brand to choose. Each of the three teams brought their carefully concealed bottle to The Wife who transferred a portion of each Bourbon to a color-coded flask.

Once each team had arrived at my house, everyone did a blind tasting of each Bourbon. After the blind tasting was completed everyone voted on which one they liked the best. The team who brought the winning bottle not only got all-important bragging rights, but took home the bottles submitted by the other two teams, too.

It was interesting to see what the three teams chose. Fortunately, no team brought Star Trek Bourbon (or whatever it is). The first team selected a Kroger store pick Smooth Ambler Old Scout. The second team decided on an Old Forester 1910. While the third team picked an Old Forester 1920! Jackie Zykan would be proud.

All the votes are counted. The tribe has spoken. The judges have made their decision. The United Federation of Planets has made a proclamation. We’ll have the results…after this commercial break.

Actually, we don’t have commercials. However, if anyone is interested in sponsoring The Bourbon Fellowship blog, I am open to offers. You spell “million”, m-i-l….

Live Long and Drink Bourbon

The vote count was 4 to 3 to 2. Two votes came in for the Old Scout leaving the title between two Old Fo favorites. The campfire marshmallow sweetness of 1910 was not enough to overcome the classic, boldness of 1920. Old Forester 1920 was the winner. Gold and silver medals were a nice showing for Old Forester. Next time I may need to make a rule that you can’t choose a Bourbon with the word “old” in the name.

The guys enjoyed this event. They were serious about trying to pick the winner with their selection. The blind tasting aspect is always fun, too. This is something you could easily do with a group of your own. Or, it is also a good time to meet up with two or three friends and jointly pick a bottle and let that be what you sip on together that night.

Maybe there is a way to beat the Kobayashi Maru after all. You just have to be named Jackie Zy-Khan

Apologies: First, to Jackie Zykan for the bad pun with her name.  Second, to all of you for having to endure the ridiculous and contrived Star Trek references. As I was writing it fit naturally a couple of times so I just went with it. At any rate, the Bourbon teams is a good idea and I hope you get to try it with your friends.

Kevin Rose

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