Dry Fly Whiskey Is a Real Catch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does Whiskey Bias Get the Best of Us?

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

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

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

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

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

Being Blind Beats Being Biased

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

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

Pacific FlyWay by Golden Beaver Distiller

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

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

Buzzard’s Roost Peated Barrel

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

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

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

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

Dealing With Bias of My Own

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benefits of Beating a Bias

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I Discovered in Columbus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bourbon Turntable Tasting: Rolling Fork Spirits

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

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

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

El Salvador

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

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

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

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

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

Barbados

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

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

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

Jamaica

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is a “Bourbon Turntable”?

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

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

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

Cheers. Love. Free Bird!

Drew,, Kevin & Ben at Bourbons Bistro

Bardstown Bourbon Company Acquired

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.