2023 Bottled-in-Bond Bracket Challenge

Every year since 2019, my bourbon group (Bourbon Fellowship) has done a bottled-in-bond bracket challenge.  I would select eight bottled-in-bond bourbons then randomly pair them off into an 8 “team” bracket.  The group would do a side-by-side tasting of each pair after which, the group would discuss each match-up and vote on which one they liked best.  The winners of each match-up would move on to the Final Four.   The four would go through the same side-by-side tastings to select the two to face off for the right to be crowned Bottled-in-Bond Bracket Challenge Champion of the year.

Each year would be a different selection of bottled-in-bond bourbons with the exception of the prior year’s winner.  That whiskey would be in the following year’s challenge for an opportunity to defend its crown.  Through 2022, we have not had a back-to-back winner.

Over the years we have had 36 different bottled-in-bond whiskeys in the tastings.  Last year we added a couple of non-bourbons to the mix (Rittenhouse rye and Stumpy’s wheat whiskey).  This year we added even more diversity to the mix as you’ll see later.

The inaugural champion was New Riff bourbon.  In 2020, despite a COVID-delay, Bourbon Fellowship named Wilderness Trail High Rye bourbon the winner.  Old Forester 1897 won the title in 2021 and 2022 the championship went to a surprising old-school bourbon Very Old Barton. 

This year’s first round match-ups are:

A vs. B: Barker’s Mill (MB Roland) vs. Mellow Corn

C vs. D: Old Clifty Apply Brandy (Spirits of French Lick) vs. Bardstown Bourbon Co.

E vs. F: Very Old Barton vs. Watershed

G vs. H: New Riff Bourbon with malted rye vs. Jack Daniel’s Bonded

One of the goals in the bottles selected was variety.  Most of the spirits in the lineup were new to everybody in the group.

In Round One, Mello Corn and Bardstown Bourbon Co. moved on in the right side of the bracket.  While, Very Old Barton and Jack Daniel’s Bonded got through to the second round.

Round two saw Bardstown Bourbon Co and Very Old Barton advancing to the finals.  Everyone commented that it was a coin-flip decision between these two finalists, but in the end Very Old Barton was preferred by 7 of our 8 tasters. 

In what I would call a bit of an upset, Very Old Barton defended its title as Bourbon Fellowship Bottled-in-Bond Bracket Champion.

What is unfortunate is that for the last few years, Very Old Barton is being labeled as “certified” and not “bottled-in-bond”.  What we had in the group the past two years was bottled-in-bond, but what is currently being put on the shelves no longer has that designation. 

This is just one way to have fun tastings with your bourbon friends and introduce them to some new and unique options.  It’s a wide whiskey landscape out there.  Enjoy the exploration.

The Many Voices of “Voices”

“Voices” is the sixth album from The Cold Stares and the band masterfully maneuvers into new directions while maintaining the fierce, blues-rock nature that is so beloved by their fans.

“I had the album title ‘Voices’ in my head before I had written any of the songs for the record”, Chris Tapp, The Cold Stares guitarist and vocalist, told us during the March 8 episode of Bourbon Turntable.  “We had made records in the past that all had a similar voice.  We wanted to add new voices on this album and do new things”. 

Those new things – those new “voices” – include growing the band into a trio with the addition of Bryce Kleuh (pronounced “Klee”) on bass guitar.  The album includes a song featuring a guitar-less Tapp on keys called Sorry I Was Late.  There are also a few more “soft points”, as Tapp calls them, on “Voices”, especially when compared to The Cold Stares last album, 2021’s “Heavy Shoes”

The Chains Are Off

As you trace through the discography of The Cold Stares, the opening tracks on each album are powerful launch points to the rest of the record.  Nothing But the Blues lives up to that standard and you’d better hold on tight as this one has a little punk rock feel to it.  The song opens with Tapp dipping into his seemingly bottomless bag of riffs while lyrically reciting the relentless run of bad fortune that he’s endured, leaving him with – you guessed it – nothing but the blues.  How could a guy be that down, however, when he can play guitar like this?  The solo itself is like turning a flame thrower up to eleven.  “Voices” is off to scorching start.

Come For Me is another riff-laden romp in mind of ZZ Top or James Gang.  Got No Right has the feel of a much bigger band to it, like something in a Tedeschi Trucks Band show.  I can almost hear the horn section!

 Lights Out is a breath-taker where Brian Mullins shines.  In person, Mullins doesn’t appear to be the beast that he is behind the drum kit, but he attacks the drums with an intensity and purpose that remind me of Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp and John Fogerty) and Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix Experience).

Mullins’ partner in The Cold Stares’ rhythm section is bassist Bryce Kleuh.  Having only been with the band for about a year, Kleuh is still in lock step with Mullins.  One of the things that standout in a live show is how incredibly tight this trio is.  Kleuh plays in an accomplished but judicious style reminiscent of Pino Palladino (John Mayer) and Johnny Colt (The Black Crowes).  He has become the steady foundation Mullins and Tapp roam upon unleashed.  As Tapp says when asked about Kleuh joining the band, “The chains are off”.

The Haunting Songs

There are three tracks on “Voices” that I call “haunting songs” because of their melancholy and evocative tone.  The first of these songs is the very poignant Sorry I Was Late. Instead of guitar, this song finds Tapp behind the keyboard.  It is a song Tapp said is about his grandfather and his long battle with depression ending in suicide. The song transparently deals with loss but also shares the hope of seeing one another again: “I’ve heard it said that when people die / They just wake up on some other side / I’ve heard it explained there’s more than meets the eye / Behind the curtain there’s a chance for you and I”.

“Voices” closes with a song called The Ghost.  It is a story of lost love and loneliness told over Tapp’s chilling acoustic guitar.  “Sit in this house staring at these walls / Killing time til Jesus makes a call”.

The third of the “haunting songs” is called Throw That Stone.  It is inspired by John 8 where Jesus challenges the accusers of the adulterous woman “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her”.  This song seems to tie the album together.  “Throw That Stone” shares the voices of the characters in the song: the accusers, an executioner and a jailer.  The voices of the other characters on the rest of the album – and all of society, really – are carried through on Throw That Stone, calling out for much-needed mercy.

Voices and Influences

The title track is the title track almost by coincidence.  “We wanted to add new voices to this album and do new things”, Tapp explains.  “And today in the world there are a lot of voices and a lot of noise and it seems like everyone is shoved into one corner or the other.  And everyone must have this voice or that voice and there is no middle ground.  It’s sad because the beauty of humanity is everybody has their own story and should have their own voice.  I had all this in my head, but”, he chuckles “’Voices’ the song is about more bad relationships”.

Waiting on the Rain has a metal-band ballad feel to it as Tapp howls about the devastation of a relationship gone wrong. It is also a fantastic addition to The Cold Stares live set list.

“It is a song about people watching”, Tapp says of Sinnerman.  “Do you not see what you are doing to yourself?”, he questions.  This song has a classic blues sequence to the lyrics on top of unique rhythms not typically found in the blues.  It is an example of one of the creative approaches Tapp brings to his songwriting: “If the lyrics are grounded in traditional blues, the music would not be”.

One of my favorite tracks on “Voices” is the blues rocker It’s Heavy.  In this one, Tapp’s guitar pays homage to two legendary influences.  “We want you to know our musical references are here and we have gratitude for people before us.  But we want to move things forward”.  The guitar solo is absolutely Prince-esque and the guitar in the rest of the song is a tip of the SRV hat to the great Stevie Ray Vaughn.   Lyrically, the song is about the evil times we live in and the dangers we face as a society.  Tapp prophesies: “We are running out of time”.

The grooves created by Mullins and Kleuh are highlighted on Thinking About Leaving Again.  This song is a steady, sultry burn with almost a slow rap delivery of the lyrics by Tapp. 

My Bourbon Turntable co-host Drew Crawley has a phrase he uses: “no skips, no misses”.  That is what “Voices” is.  There is not a song on it that you would want to skip or a song that misses the standard.  Perhaps my favorite on the album is The Joy.   On our Bourbon Turntable 2022 Awards Show, The Joy was my Song of the Year”. 

While not an overt nod to this influence, The Joy could still fit quite nicely in an 80’s era Clapton album like “Journeyman” or “Money and Cigarettes”.  This song also adds to the voices of “Voices”.  Most of The Cold Stares’ songs through the years speak of faith and fate or heaviness and heartache.  In “The Joy” our forlorn hero finally finds redemption!  “You are like the sunshine after the rain / You are like the joy that erases the pain”.

“Everything I write is autobiographical”, Tapp shared.  “Even when I’m telling a character’s story, it’s my story, too”.  To journey from very dark and pain-filled songs on the debut album (“A Cold Wet Night and a Howling Wind“) like Red Letter Blues and Carousel to a song like The Joy is quite a path that Tapp has invited us to walk with him. 

As a band that already has five outstanding albums to stand on, “Voices” is a next level achievement. Everything The Cold Stares set out to do with this record – all the added voices – has been artistically accomplished.   I suspect upon the release of “Voices” on March 10, the public will add its enthusiastic voice of approval of this remarkable album.

The High Energy of Sweet Lady

Sweet Lady is the very powerful blues-rock trio comprised of Chris “Blue” Williams (guitar and vocals), Brandon “Boomer” Purcell (bass) and Jordan Simpson (drums).  This current lineup of the band has been bringing their high energy performances to Louisville area venues for about 18 months.  In 2023, they are launching out to Cincinnati, Lexington, Nashville and beyond.  Here’s some background on the band as you get ready to see them live in your area soon.

Streaming Singles

An EP is in the works, but right now Sweet Lady has three singles out on streaming services.

The first single released last June is called “Hot Pressed”.  It is an original song, but if had you told me it was a Montrose cover I wouldn’t have been surprised.  As is the case with all Sweet Lady tunes, it has Blue’s signature clever lyrics: “Lady love – fitting like a glove / Things you don’t wanna tell your mother” or “Baby them boots ain’t gonna unzip themselves”. 

In October, “Red Handed” made its debut.  What stands out in this song is the band’s jam in the last half of the song.  It is mostly two minutes of a Blue Williams’ guitar solos where he expertly layers different styles and tones.  It reminds me of early Fleetwood Mac that you might find on the “Then Play On” album (like “Fighting for Madge” or “Searching for Madge’).

While I enjoyed the first two singles, I had considered Sweet Lady to be a band that would excel mostly in live shows.  Last month they released “She’s On Fire” and it blew me away.  Lyrically, it is a straight-forward sincere, but obsessive, love story (what guy hasn’t been there?).  Everything about this recording is a leap forward for Sweet Lady.  The talented rhythm section of Boomer and Jordan really shines through on “She’s On Fire”.  Boomer’s bass fills out the bottom end as always, but the runs on this arrangement stack up there with most any bass player.  He is easily a top shelf bass player in the Louisville market and beyond.  On drums, Jordan is as steady as they come possessing an almost “Charlie Watts” feel: a little bit of jazz, a little bit of blues and a whole lot of rock solid. 

Blue adds some really nice slide guitar on “She’s on Fire” which is a big part of what elevates this song.  It is also Blue’s best vocal performance to date of the songs available on streaming.  “She’s on Fire” has ZZ Top’s grit with the playfulness of Aerosmith.  It is sincerely one of my favorite songs released in 2023.

Live Shows

I hope you listen to the singles released by Sweet Lady.  They are very good, fun songs and “She’s on Fire” is one I know you’ll enjoy.  The true “Sweet Lady Experience”, however, is in their live performances.  I had never heard of Sweet Lady before first seeing them open last August for The Cold Stares.  It is impossible to not be immediately hooked on them when you see them in concert.  Sweet Lady checks all the boxes for a great live band.

Your band had better be pretty darn good if you walk up on stage in a bright floral pattern suit and giant hat or loud, plaid-pattern slacks and vest.  If you are going to dress like a rock star, then be ready to back it up.  Sweet Lady certainly does.  The on-stage personas just add to the reckless abandon (but extremely tight) high energy they bring to their performances.

In addition to the theatrics and the energy of a Sweet Lady show, most importantly, you get to hear them jam.  It is in these times where they are in their “sweet” spot.  Whether it’s an extended guitar solo by Blue or a bass-run exhibition by Boomer that puts you in mind of Jack Bruce or John Taylor, Sweet Lady live is on par with any band around.  The hidden gem in the trio is Jordan.  He is at the back of the stage and isn’t as flashy as Blue or Boomer, but his presence and ability as a drummer often drive him to the forefront.  You can tell he is a good drummer on the singles, but when you see Sweet Lady live you learn very quickly that Jordan is, in fact, a great drummer. He has skills and instincts for a drummer beyond his years and his drum solos are a highlight of any Sweet Lady show. 

The individual talents of the guys in Sweet Lady are evident whether on a recorded track or live.  The way they fuse that skill together with passion and blues integrity makes Sweet Lady a “band’s band”, earning the respect of their fellow musicians.  At the same time, their high energy live shows make them crowd-favorites for even casual music fans. 

Upcoming shows include The Nook in Danville (KY) on February 25, The Crow’s Nest in Cincinnati on March 3 and Henry Clay’s Public House in Lexington on March 4.  For other concert dates and more information on Sweet Lady go here.  You can also watch their appearance on Bourbon Turntable.  However you choose to do it, now is the time to tap into the high energy of Sweet Lady.

Whiskey Thief Distillery

If you are a visitor to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and don’t know Whiskey Thief Distilling, you are behind the curve. 

Well, maybe you know it by its former name: Three Boys Distillery.  That’s a reasonable excuse as the name was just changed in October of 2022.  Otherwise, the time for you to get caught up on what Whiskey Thief is all about is now.

It wasn’t too many years ago – back in the “Three Boys days” – the distillery was the best-kept secret in Kentucky whiskey.  There wasn’t an ever-present big crowd of tourists and you could enjoy tasting direct-from-the-barrel samples at your uncrowded leisure.  Now…not so much.  For good reason, the place is regularly packed with tour groups, bachelor parties, and run-of-the-mill bourbon fans.  While it is surely a more popular experience these days, the staff at Whiskey Thief caters to and manages the crowd with relative ease and ensures everybody has a great experience on their visit.

Throughout the Three Boys era, the distillery made slow but steady improvements to both the distillery itself and to the visitor experience.  After Walter Zausch became the owner and president, those improvements have increased in both scope and timing.  A second tasting area has been added, a new rick house is on the way and a second still has been installed that will be primarily used for gin and other small-production runs.

The man behind virtually every bottle of whiskey produced under either distillery name is Hunter Coffey.  Hunter is largely self-taught, but possesses a unique breadth of distilling capabilities.  Whiskey Thief, and Three Boys before it, is a major contract distillery.  As such, Hunter has made whiskey from hundreds of different mashbills in his career, giving him a diversity of experience that most distillers will never know.  In my opinion, Hunter is one of the most talented and yet unassuming distillers in the industry.  If you’ve visited Whiskey Thief, Hunter has likely anonymously walked right past you in a mash-stained t-shirt as you sampled whiskeys he made that you are falling in love with.  As a frequent buyer and taster of his whiskeys, I can honestly say I’ve never had anything he has made that I didn’t think was outstanding. 

I already mentioned the new still.  There is also a new distiller that Walter and Hunter brought in to run it and that is Kelley Tennille.  Kelley was previously a distiller for Hartfield & Co. in Paris, Kentucky and is the most recent winner of the Moonshiners Master Distiller competition on the Discovery channel.  Kelley is a resourceful and imaginative distiller and is undertaking the development of a new gin product at Whiskey Thief.  I was fortunate enough to sample a sneak peak of some of the gin and it is very thoughtfully made with more emphasis on floral and citrus botanicals than on juniper.

Walter and Hunter were on an episode of Bourbon Turntable late last year.  If you missed it, you can catch up on that here.  On the show it was clear that Walter has a vision for Whiskey Thief and he justifiably believes in Hunter to lead the distilling team as part of that vision.  With the addition of a talented distiller like Kelley and the other improvements being made, the successes for Whiskey Thief will continue to stack up like barrels in that new rick house.

On a recent visit to Whiskey Thief, I tried a rye that was in the sampling barrels – there are five barrels set out in each tasting area where guests can sample straight from the barrel and even thief their own bottle.  I had not had much rye whiskeys made by Hunter so I was excited to check it out.  Here’s my quick review:


Mash bill: 60% rye, 35% malted rye 5% malted barley

Proof: 114 proof (straight from the barrel)

Age: 5 year

Nose: Black tea, mint, cedar, lemon zest, hint of chocolate

Taste: Leather, mint, black tea, pepper, dark caramel, buttery texture and an effervescence (likely from the malted grain)

Finish: Leather, pepper, black tea

Overall: I am always eager to try a whiskey with a high malted rye content.  It seems to produce some unique and delicious whiskeys in the right hands, and it was certainly in the right hands with Hunter.  This is a fantastic rye that carries its proof well – it is powerful, but is not an alcohol punch in the face. It is a wonderful sipper that I’ll go to often.

Make plans to visit Whiskey Thief and see (and taste) for yourself the wonderful work going on there.  If you’ve been before, go again.  Walter and Hunter will certainly have something new for you to experience.  If nothing else, enjoy again the best distillery tasting experience in Kentucky. 

Cristina Vane: “Make Myself Me Again”

With a style that fully embraces the bluegrass of Appalachia and the blues of the Mississippi Delta, Cristina Vane has created an album that establishes her as one of the most interesting and talented young artists I’ve come across in awhile.

In “Make Myself Me Again” Vane takes a look at themes of identity, relationships and resilience through a refreshingly optimistic lens.  Each of the thirteen songs feels thoughtful and well crafted.  As we like to say on Bourbon Turntable, this album has “no skips”.  While much of the album flows between bluegrass, country and delta blues, one of my favorite songs on the album, Little Black Cloud, has a Stonesy “Exile on Main Street” vibe. 

Lyrically, Vane gives us a lot to enjoy.  There are many lines and verses that are very clever. 

In Sometimes Baby Vane delivers:

“Hard times, they will come and go

Your intentions will someday show

As sure as rain falls and wind does blow

You can’t get away from yourself”

And in Old Enough: “You’re easy on the eyes, but hard on the heart”

Of course, the title track has to offer some solid lyrics such as:

“Sometimes I lose, sometimes I win,

I’m gonna make myself me again

I’m giving up on giving in,

I’m gonna make myself me again

As much as I enjoy the lyrics of “Make Myself Me Again”, the debate as to the real star of this album is between Vane’s range and talent on guitar and her range and talent vocally.

Vane’s ability as a guitarist is on full display here.  She exhibits skill at a variety playing styles including some excellent slide guitar.  There is even some banjo in the mix, too.  Follow her on Instagram (@cristinavanemusic) where she posts frequent videos of impromptu performances and you’ll get a good idea of her talent as a young guitarist.

As unique and skilled as Vane is as a lyricist and a guitarist, it is her ability as a vocalist that vaults her to the level of a clear standout.  Her voice excels across the range from light & lilting to sultry & smoky with just enough grit to make sure the well-turned phrases of her lyrics stick in your musical soul.

Whatever Vane needs to draw on as a vocalist or a guitarist she has the talent and range to pull it off and the instincts to know what fits in the right moment of the right song.  While listening to “Make Myself Me Again”, it’s easy to get intoxicated by the talent of Cristina Vane.  But, in addition to being a display of her abilities as a singer-songwriter- guitarist, this album is simply a lot of fun to listen to.

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.