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!

At Last: Old Monroe Bottled-in-Bond Wheat Whiskey

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Adam Stumpf for three years.  As long as I’ve known him and as often as I’ve visited Stumpy’s Spirits, he’s had four barrels in a small rack just inside his still room.  That rack held four barrels of 100% wheat whiskey.  Three barreled at 93 proof and one at 120 proof.  One of the highlights of each visit was getting a little sample from one of those barrels.  Adam’s goal for these barrels was to reach four years old to be Stumpy’s first ever bottled in bond release.

Late last year, those barrels turned four and yesterday Old Monroe Bottled in Bond Straight Wheat Whiskey was released to the public.  People started gathering outside the distillery early, anticipating the gift shop’s noon opening.  Some of us – Mike Lisac (My Whiskey Den) and myself – showed up nearly three hours early and enjoyed some music and parking lot pours despite snow flurries and temps in the 20s. 

For several hours, whiskey fans filed into the gift shop and left with smiles on their faces and their arms full of bottled-in-bond wheat whiskey.  It was a milestone day for Adam, Laura (his wife) and the whole team at Stumpy’s Spirits.  There aren’t any more sincere and good-natured people I know in the whiskey world than Adam and Laura.  They are the kind of people that you root for and are happy to see enjoy success.

What’s next for Stumpy’s?  Well, among other things, they’ve recently installed a “new” still.  I say “new” because it is actually 100 years old.  For more information on that still, you can follow this link.

What all Stumpy’s fans really want to know, however, is…what’s going in that rack to replace those wheat whiskey barrels?  And when can I try it?!

Old Monroe Straight Wheat Whiskey Bottled-in-Bond

This whiskey, Stumpy’s Spirits first bottled-in-bond product, is comprised of four barrels of 100% soft red winter wheat whiskey.  This is a true home-grown product as the wheat was grown on-site at the Stumpf family farm. 

Taste: The brown sugar and apple remain and get a little cinnamon and butter added in.  For a “fat guy tasting note” think: fried apples.  There’s some honey and a bit of dark cocoa or mocha there, too.

Nose: Brown sugar, apple, pear and a bit of leather

Finish: Brown sugar and honey really linger with just a bit of oak to tell you this whiskey has a little bit of age on it.

There isn’t much that Stumpy’s Spirits has put in a bottle that I haven’t enjoyed.  The “119.6 proof rye” made with a 1910 rye mash bill and the “Wheat in Tarnation” bottles are in the elite class of all whiskeys ever released by Stumpy’s.  This bottled-in-bond wheat whiskey comfortably takes its place on the top shelf with those other classic Old Monroe offerings. 

Overall, this bottled-in-bond wheat whiskey is fantastic.  Having had the opportunity to sample from these barrels a couple of times over the years, it was clear Adam had something special here.  But, he’s blended and proofed these barrels in such a way that the whole is even greater than the sum of its parts.  Mark this one down as an early contender for 2022 Whiskey of the Year. 

Buzzard’s Roost: The Latest Buzz is Bourbon

It was only two years or so ago that Jason Brauner and Judith Hollis-Jones introduced the world to Buzzard’s Roost Sippin’ Whiskeys.  To be fair, at that point it may not have been the whole world.  But it was a respectable gathering of the whiskey curious at a release party in Louisville. 

At that time, Buzzard’s Roost had small batch and single barrel offerings of rye (sourced from MGP) aged in casks designed with the help of the barrel brainiacs at Independent Stave.  Since July of 2019, the team at Buzzard’s Roost has brought us (in addition to the small batch and single barrels) barrel proof, private selection, toasted barrel and peated barrel expressions.  All of these have been very good and exhibited some remarkable creativity on the part of Jason and his team.  My favorites have been a couple of the barrel proof bottles and the toasted barrel.  If I could have my wish, a barrel proof version of the toasted barrel would be available to us soon (hint, hint).

The latest offering from Buzzard’s Roost is a Bourbon.  It has been Jason’s dream all along to have a Bourbon brand and, in Buzzard’s Roost fashion, it is a special one. 

Buzzard’s has sourced from MGP several barrels of two different Bourbon mash bills (a 21% rye and a 36% rye mash bill).  These barrels were secondarily aged in four different proprietary barrels.  The barrels have a #1 char and varying degrees of toasting.  The level of toast is very intentional.  Buzzard’s Roost and Independent Stave have determined what flavor profiles are typically coaxed from the whiskey by the precise level of toast in each barrel. 

After this additional aging (up to six months in some cases) the barrels were blended into the finished product.  The Buzzard’s Roost Bourbon was bottled at a barrel strength of 114.4 proof.

I am not typically excited about a sourced whiskey.  In many instances, one brand is bottling the same whiskey as several other brands with the only difference being the marketing and obnoxious (and often misleading) packaging.

This is not the case with Buzzard’s Roost.  They are very transparent about the fact that their whiskey is sourced.  They also are enhancing their whiskey through the secondary aging process and, in the case of the new Bourbon, expert blending techniques.

Looking ahead, Buzzard’s Roost has moved their barrel storage and bottling operation to Bardstown Bourbon Company.  There will also be some private selection single barrels of the Bourbon available soon, too.   In the near future, Buzzard’s Roost will be doing some contract distilling at BBC.  Distilling his own Bourbon will check off one more item on Jason’s whiskey bucket list.

Tasting Notes and A Cocktail

Buzzard’s Roost barrel strength Bourbon is a warm, thick and delicious whiskey.  It is released at an ideal time as it strikes me as being a perfect pour for Autumn weather.  It has a bit of apple sweetness to it, but is balanced with brown sugar and baking spices.  My fat-guy tasting note here is: Apple Brown Betty.  

I’ve put together a cocktail using Buzzard’s Roost Bourbon.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.  I call it Ramble On (after the Led Zeppelin song with the lyric “the autumn moon lights my way”):

In a mixing glass combine over ice:

  • 2 oz of Buzzard’s Roost Bourbon
  • 1 oz of Pecan simple syrup
    • 1.5 cups water brought to boil
    • Add 1 cup of brown sugar and quarter cup of pecans
    • Turn heat to a simmer for 25 minutes
    • Cool and strain into container for refrigeration
  • 1 oz of pomegranate juice
  • ½ oz of sweet vermouth
  • a couple of dashed of argostura bitters
  • Shake and pour over a large cube in a rocks glass

Jason, Judith and the Buzzard’s Roost team have made incredible strides with their brand in the last two years.  This is especially impressive when you consider that these particular two years have not been the most favorable for starting a new business.  Buzzard’s Roost is an exciting and creative brand to follow.  If it isn’t available in your area yet, keep an eye out because Buzzard’s Roost has some very aggressive expansion plans.  In the meantime, find your way to Kentucky and sample a flight at Bourbon’s Bistro or pick up a bottle while you’re there.

Little Book 5 with Mike

The greatest thing about whiskey is the people that you meet because of it. An acquaintance made through a common interest in Bourbon is one thing. When that relationship develops into a true friendship…well, that is a whole other, much better thing, altogether.

I have been fortunate enough to have many friendships emerge from a shared interest in Bourbon. Friendships that are far more treasured than any whiskey collection ever could be. Once such friend is Mike Lisac.

I met Mike through his work on the YouTube / Facebook show called My Whiskey Den, with Patrick Belongia and Benjamin Eaves, both of whom are also wonderful friends. (Side note: My Whiskey Den is an entertaining show that you should check out each Monday at 9:00 eastern). Alan Bishop (@thealchemistcabinet) had told me about My Whiskey Den.

Mike lives in Kansas City and we had an opportunity to hang out together yesterday afternoon in Louisville. We visited Westport Whiskey & Wine and sampled a couple of beverages in the tasting room. That afternoon we also tried the new release from Jim Beam: Little Book Chapter 5 “The Invitation”.

Little Book is the passion project of Freddie Noe (son of Fred, grandson of Booker) and he continues to knock it out of the park with these. I’ve enjoyed each of the annual releases and “The Invitation” is one that I will immediately RSVP “yes” to.

The Invitation is a blend of 2 year straight bourbon whiskey, 3 year 100% malted rye, 5 year bourbon whiskey and 15 year bourbon whiskey. There is no breakdown of percentages of each whiskey in the information provided.

Mike and I enjoyed a pour of LB5 while watching college football on Saturday. There was no unpleasant harshness from the 116.8 proof. Aromas of Karo syrup, vanilla, and baking spices were on the nose.

On the palate, I got a lot of brown sugar, vanilla and cinnamon with a #FatGuyTastingNote of pecan pie filling. Mike was also intrigued by the pepper and spice notes that he surmised was largely influenced by the 100% malted rye in the mash bill.

The finish was a real treat, too. After a little pepper dancing on the roof of the mouth, we got a rich, sweet finish that lingered for awhile.

Little Book 5 is a fun and tasty whiskey, that I would recommend at retail prices. Best of all, it was a real pleasure to share it with a good friend.

What If It Weren’t a Joke of a Whiskey?

It is a joke of a whiskey.  It has a joke a name.  It has a joke of an owner. 

At some point the joke was no longer funny, however, when Jason Brown, the vulgar, loud mouth owner of Slapdick Whiskey, attacked and harassed a woman on Instagram after she made a very innocuous post about his “whiskey”.  (I say “whiskey” because it is called “agave nectar whiskey”…whatever that is supposed to be). 

To the credit of most in the Bourbon community, there was a resounding and virtually unanimous criticism of this joke owner of a joke whiskey.  While credit should be given for the swift response and repudiation of Brown’s comments, how much courage did that really take for the Bourbon community?

No, I haven’t tried this whiskey and that isn’t really the point.  Anyone who is remotely serious about whiskey would see the name “Slapdick” and dismiss it.  Even if you got past the name, wouldn’t most of us lose any interest at the sight of “agave nectar whiskey” on the label?  And if after actually hearing Brown’s comments, would there be any great sacrifice made in criticizing him and losing a chance at being on this guy’s Christmas card list?  Is there a real consequence to the whiskey media speaking out against Slapdick Agave Nectar Whiskey?  Is the consumer really missing out on anything by refusing to buy a whiskey that they weren’t likely to buy in the first place?  But…

What if it weren’t a joke of a whiskey?  What if it were a popular brand like…I don’t know…Bulleit? Amid accusations of abuse made in 2019 by his daughter, Tom Bulleit, brand founder, stepped back from his role as brand ambassador.  Bulleit’s daughter also made allegations against brand owner, Diageo, of a hostile work environment.  Bulleit continues to be a top-ten selling bourbon and is the number one seller for liquor delivery service, Drizzly. 

What if it weren’t a joke of a whiskey?  What if it were some highly-coveted, well-aged, sourced Bourbon? Or a single barrel from a popular distillery? Matt Landan was owner of the now-shuttered, but once popular, Haymarket Whiskey Bar in Louisville.  A quick Google search will show that he has been accused of sexual assault by more than one woman and has countersued his accusers for defamation.  Despite these accusations, some distilleries have sold him barrels of whiskey.  Some distillery is storing those barrels.  Somebody is bottling it.  Some of you may have bought it.  Scroll through the Haymarket Whiskey Bar Instagram account and see for yourself.

None of us are free of hypocrisy (myself certainly included) and we (and most certainly I) can and should do better.  While I appreciate and join those who have spoken out against Jason Brown, let’s not pound our chests and pat ourselves on the back too much as an industry.  There are other wrongs that have taken place in the whiskey world and the alleged offenders still not only exist but thrive in our Bourbon community.   

Maybe memories fade.  The press hasn’t had new articles on Bulleit or Landan in a couple of years.  The next story on some other scandal comes along and then the next one and then everything gets hazy.  And, as The Who sang in “Eminence Front”…people forget. 

Maybe whiskey – the media and the consumer – has decided to collectively give the benefit of the doubt regarding mere accusations and allegations of wrongdoing.  Fine.

Maybe some have evaluated the situations and determined with clear conscience that no wrong has been done.  That is one’s choice.

Or maybe it’s not as easy to take a bold stand when a financial consequence is at stake or when the whiskey itself isn’t a joke to begin with.

Whiskeys of the (Half) Year

Who doesn’t love a good list? (Apparently you do since you clicked on the link to this article.)  I don’t resort to lists for articles too often, but we are about midway through 2021 and that seems like a good time to share my five favorite whiskeys from the first half of the year (alphabetical by distillery name). I realize that some of the whiskeys here you may not be able to easily find.  But, maybe this gives you something different (than Blanton’s and Weller) to search for while “Bourbon hunting”.  

Buzzard’s Roost Sippin’ Whiskeys: Toasted Barrel

Buzzard’s Roost and its co-founder, Jason Brauner, is very transparent about what they are doing.  Their whiskey is three-year-old rye sourced from MGP in Lawrenceburg, IN.  While that is good whiskey, by itself it is not really that special – certainly not worth including in a whiskey of the year conversation.  The magic happens when Buzzard’s Roost puts that whiskey to rest in proprietary barrels Jason designed in conjunction with Independent Stave Company.  Over the last couple of years, Buzzard’s Roost has produced small batch, single barrel, barrel strength, and peated barrel expressions of their rye.  My favorite of the Buzzard’s Roost offerings (and one of my favorite whiskeys of 2021) is the Toasted Barrel.

Chris Zaborowski, co-owner of Westport Whiskey & Wine in Louisville, says that the nose of a great whiskey should “seduce you”.  The aroma of this Toasted Barrel definitely has seductive powers and that is one of the things I love about it.  I get notes of citrus, cherry, mint, vanilla, and caramel on the nose of this whiskey and the palate offers much of the same.  You can find more information on this whiskey in my article here.

Right now Buzzard’s Roost is only available in Kentucky and Massachusetts.  However, they are looking to branch out into five more states in 2021 and even more next year.  So, be on the lookout for Buzzard’s Roost in your area. 

Kentucky Peerless Distilling: “Burnt Ends” Bourbon

When Corky Taylor revived the Kentucky Peerless Distillery it was their rye that first brought the brand back to the whiskey world. A couple of years later Peerless introduced its Bourbon, which I actually prefer over the rye for both flavor and price point.

One Peerless private-selection bourbon that I have particularly enjoyed this year is a pick from Justins’ House of Bourbon called “Burnt Ends”.  It is brisket in a bottle: smoky and fat with flavor.  Drink it neat and drink it with discipline.  One could easily follow one pour with another while sitting on one’s deck on a summer evening.  Not that this would be something I know from personal experience or anything.

Caleb Kilburn (master distiller) has elevated the Peerless Bourbon into great form as evidenced by being named 2021 “Best Kentucky Bourbon” by the World Whiskey Awards.  While this specific bottle may not be available to you, John Waddell, single barrel curator at Peerless, has the private selection program on a roll.  So, look for a single barrel selection in a store or bar near you.

Limestone Branch: Yellowstone Single Barrels

One thing that I’ve found to be completely reliable in 2021 is Yellowstone single barrels.  I have owned a few bottles and I’ve sampled a few others.  As sure as you’ll hear “Freebird” at a Skynyrd concert, you can count on these Yellowstone single barrels to be fantastic. 

The ones I have tried all hit similar spots on a flavor wheel, but each bottle is still unique (which we should expect to be the nature of a single barrel).  One may be fruitier.  The next might be sweeter.  Another might have more baking spice.  I enjoy them all, but it’s the subtle differences from bottle to bottle that make each interesting on its own.  Master Distiller Stephen Beam is certainly producing some of the best whiskey in the state of Kentucky right now and Stephen Fante, the distillery’s charismatic and passionate brand ambassador, is carrying the “good news” of Limestone Branch to the Bourbon masses. 

These single barrels are available as private selections in bars or liquor stores and in the Limestone Branch gift shop.  Buy with confidence when you get the opportunity to do so.  I am certain you’ll be impressed.

Spirits of French Lick: Lee W. Sinclair 4-Grain Bourbon (Iconoclast release)

I had dubbed this distillery-only “Iconoclast” release as “Whiskey of the Year” when I first tried it…in January.  While the first month of the year may be a bit early to hand out such titles, that’s just how much I loved it.  I’ve tasted a wide variety of whiskey since then – big distillery labels, craft whiskeys and brands in between – and none of them has knocked Iconoclast off that mountain, yet. 

The Iconoclast release is a three-barrel “off profile” batch of Lee W. Sinclair at barrel proof.  This Bourbon brings flavors of cherry, French toast, vanilla and cream.  It is decadent.  You can find more about what has been going with lead distiller Alan Bishop and Spirits of French Lick in this article here.

Iconoclast may have come and gone, but “The Alchemist”, as Bishop is called, is a man who burns with a restless flame and that means there is always something innovative and delicious in the works.  If distribution of SOFL hasn’t reached your market yet, be sure to check out Seelbach’s as they carry many of their products.

Stumpy’s Spirits: Old Monroe Small Batch Bourbon

Adam Stumpf is a genius. 

He also happens to be the maker of outstanding whiskeys.  The “genius” part certainly plays into the “outstanding whiskeys” part as he has some unique mashbills, methodologies and machinery involved in his distillation processes.  Adam is also not afraid to shake things up even if that means taking a good thing and changing it to make something better.

Case in point is adding small batch offerings to the Stumpy’s lineup this year.   Previously, all whiskey releases were single barrels.  Some “Single Barrel Select” at 90 proof and some “Distiller’s Select” at barrel strength.  Both “select” offerings were very popular, so why change anything at all?  Well, Adam saw an opportunity to improve the overall lineup at Stumpy’s and make a good thing even better.

It comes as no surprise that the Stumpy’s small batch products are stellar.  I’ve had the opportunity to try a few of these and they are all up to the level of quality that Stumpy’s fans have come to expect.  My favorite is batch #21C1.  It has an excellent balance of fresh baked bread, vanilla and caramel corn.  There is also a touch of smoked malt in the mashbill and that smolders in late on the palate. 

Finding Stumpy’s will start to become easier as their distribution is set to expand to several more states beyond Illinois and Missouri.  Of course, a trip to visit Adam and his team in the St. Louis suburb of Columbia, IL is always a great way to find the latest selections available.  

Overall, it’s been a good first six months of 2021 for whiskey.  The Lee W. Sinclair Iconoclast is still my “Whiskey of the (Half) Year”, but each Bourbon or rye I’ve listed is special and worthy of your interest.  The last half of the year will surely bring some fantastic bottles, too.  I’ll look forward to seeing how this list changes by the end of the year.

Buzzard’s Roost: Soaring Higher

When Jason Brauner, owner of the iconic Bourbons Bistro restaurant in Louisville, decided to start his own whiskey brand his goal was to create a “sippable” rye.  Jason was never much of a fan of rye whiskey, so he saw this as a true challenge.  The acceptance of this challenge was when Buzzard’s Roost Sippin’ Whiskeys first took flight.  (More on the formation of Buzzard’s Roost and their earlier releases can be found in an article I wrote for the ABV Network here).

In only a couple of years, Buzzard’s Roost had developed a reputation of creating some very unique flavor profiles out of three-year old MGP rye.  That has not happened by happy accident, but by careful consideration and research that Jason has done in concert with famed cooperage, Independent Stave Company.  “Through experimentation and chemical analysis of the barrels we can determine what flavor profiles we are likely to get from each barrel type”, Jason explained. 

The first several releases of Buzzard’s Roost were all from barrels with a #1 char and varying degrees of toast.  That all changed, however, with the introduction of the Toasted Barrel and Peated Barrel expressions.

Buzzard’s Roost Toasted Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey

The toasted barrel rye, bottled at 105-proof, was released in late 2020/early 2021.  It is a three-year rye sourced from MGP in Lawrenceburg, Indiana with a mash bill of 95% rye and 5% malted barley.  Once in the hands of Buzzard’s Roost, the whiskey is placed for six to ten weeks in a toasted barrel without char.  Forgoing the char allows the rye to have more interaction with the toast of the barrel without having to filter through that layer of char.

Nose: The nose on this whiskey is fascinating.  To me, it comes in waves.  One moment it is citrus and cherry.  The next it is mint and vanilla.  Then caramel and the rye grain.  Then a combination of cherry or vanilla or caramel or…you get the idea.  Spend some time enjoying the aromas on this one.  I love a whiskey that requires discipline to take the first sip because the nose on it is so good.  It is difficult to believe all this started from a 3-year-old MGP rye. 

Taste: Many of the same notes from the nose are present on the palate: rye grain, caramel, cherry and mint.  Some pepper and oak are introduced here, too.

Finish: This has a nice oily finish that settles in for a spell.  The pepper and oak along with lingering caramel are the most prominent notes on the finish.

We are in a whiskey world that chases trends and one of the current trends is toasted barrel releases.  Many distilleries are rushing out toasted barrel products as quickly as they can.  I find some of them to be very clumsy efforts that make the toasted barrel offering feel more like a gimmick than a worthwhile new expression of their whiskey.  Not so here with Buzzard’s Roost.  Jason and his team have brought us a toasted barrel rye with thoughtfulness and finesse.  This rye has earned Buzzard’s Roost a well-deserved double gold award from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.   Unfortunately, it is rapidly disappearing from shelves now.  So, grab one if you see it. Take heart, however. Jason says a new toasted barrel release will be available this fall.

Buzzard’s Roost Peated Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey

At first glance, one thing I appreciate about the peated barrel bottle is the new and improved Buzzard’s Roost label.  The label includes a batch number (this is optimistically numbered batch “0001”) and a bottle count (I have bottle 618 of 800).  This is a great improvement as it was impossible to tell the difference between the single barrel or very small batch bottles from 2019 or 2020.  So, thank you for that label enhancement, Buzzard’s Roost.

Like previous Buzzard’s Roost whiskeys (other than barrel strength) the peated barrel is at 105-proof.  Unlike previous Buzzard’s Roost whiskeys, this one uses four-year MGP rye.  Another difference – obvious by the name – is the use of peat.  Imported from Scotland, the peat is smoked into lightly-charred and toasted barrels by Buzzard’s Roost.  The whiskey is then aged in those peated barrels for several weeks producing what Jason calls “a Scotch drinker’s rye”.

Nose: This is earthy, musty and leathery on the nose.  It has some vanilla, but it is almost vanilla with an attitude in the way it mingles with the other aromas.  The dill that is common to many young MGP ryes is also subtly present.

Taste: Bacon fat and smokehouse smokiness (which reminds me of the 113.4-proof barrel strength Buzzard’s Roost from last year) are delicious first impressions on the palate.  There’s some butterscotch in there for something sweet.  And there is, of course, the smoke from the peat.  The peat influence is not obnoxious by any means (as some Scotches are to me).  Rather, it is a fun complement to the smokehouse smokiness. 

Finish: There is a nice blend of smokes (smokehouse and peat), along with pepper, oak and that bacon fat keeps your attention, too.

When Jason first mentioned to me Buzzard’s Roost was doing a peated barrel rye, I was both surprised and skeptical.  Surprised, because I knew Jason was not a big fan of Scotch.  Skeptical, because I’m not a big fan of Scotch, either!  

What Buzzard’s Roost has managed to do, in my opinion, is marry an “American” version of smoke (smokehouse) with traditional Scotch smoke (peat).  It is a very unique and flavorful whiskey that has cured me from any skepticism of future ambitious endeavors by Buzzard’s Roost. If Jason and Judith Hollis Jones, Buzzard’s Roost CEO, say they are going to do something, then I’ll believe they can make it happen and will anxiously wait to try the result of what they’ve envisioned.

Speaking of future ambitious endeavors…in addition to periodic barrel strength, single barrel and even private selection releases, the next big project for Buzzard’s Roost is a tobacco-smoked barrel rye.  I’ll look forward to what cigar Mike Veach suggests pairing with a tobacco-smoked rye!

Buzzard’s Roost is available in Kentucky and, of all places, Massachusetts.  Jason says some distributors there got a bottle and fell in love with it and have started getting it in stores.  The goal for the brand is to add five more states by the end of 2021.

“We will also be looking to bring in more investors later in 2021 to help us move more quickly to the next level”, Jason said.  So, if you are interested in that kind of investment opportunity, Judith and Jason are ready to talk.

If you just want to stay current on all that’s going on at Buzzard’s Roost, follow them on Facebook or sign-up for their newsletter at their website

You can also see Jason live on My Whiskey Den on Monday, June 21 at 9:00 PM eastern time.  (Click here to access the show on YouTube.)  It is certain to be a great time as Patrick, Mike and Ben ask questions like a whiskey fan would and interact with their audience non-stop through the live chat. Plus, Jason, is very knowledgeable and is one of the best storytellers in the whiskey community. If you are intrigued at all about Buzzard’s Roost, make plans to tune in.