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.

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.

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.

Iconoclast in the Limelight

The year 2020 will be chiseled in our memories for many things; few of them good.  It was a year marked by a worldwide pandemic, economic upheaval, riots in American cities and extraordinary political divisiveness.  But on that good side…2020 was the Year of Spirits of French Lick.

The Year of Spirits of French Lick

It seems that everyone had plans, hopes and dreams that were delayed, down-sized or otherwise destroyed last year.  While head distiller / head alchemist Alan Bishop and the team at Spirits of French Lick didn’t get to do everything they had in the works when 2020 started, they still had a remarkably successful year.

Single Barrel Program

Despite not being able to have groups in to the distillery to do barrel picks, the single barrel program thrived at Spirits of French Lick during 2020.  “We expected single barrel sales to dry up when the pandemic hit”, said SoFL marketing director, Jolee Kasprzak.  “Instead, they tripled!”.  Single barrel offerings have primarily consisted of Lee W. Sinclair 4-Grain Bourbon and The Mattie Gladden high-rye Bourbon.  Bottles from single barrels have been released through various liquor stores scattered across the country and through on-line retailer, Seelbach’s

Label Re-Design

The heart of Spirits of French Lick is the energetic, copper-haired Jolee.  The native Californian says, “My grandparents were immigrants and they always made art a focus in our family growing up”.  She studied English, Art History and Communications in college and took a job working for Wolf Creek Brewing, a Southern California restaurant and microbrewery.  It was at Wolf Creek that she “learned how to taste”. 

Jolee and her handiwork.

After getting married, Jolee journeyed from the left coast to the Hoosier state.  Her time in Indiana saw her gaining design expertise as the director of operations for a sign company and experience in the hospitality industry through restaurant management.  From the microbrewery to the sign company to the restaurant, all of this experience shaped Jolee into the perfect fit for her role as Director of Marketing Operations at Spirits of French Lick, which she started in 2018.

Jolee’s design experience was especially useful as she led one of the biggest undertakings of 2020 for SoFL which was the complete re-design of their labels.  With several new product offerings in the pipeline, it became a priority to freshen up the appearance and feel of the brand.   “There are unique details to each label depending on the spirit in the bottle”, Jolee explained, “but the feel, the scrollwork and the font are very similar.  This gives the Spirits of French Lick lineup a distinctive look on the shelf”. 

The new labels will be submitted to design competitions this year.  Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if they do very well in competition as they are some of the most attractive labels on the market today.

Unpretenious

“This is, in fact, the most ‘dickish’ thing I’ve done in the industry and I couldn’t be prouder of it”. This is how Alan Bishop unveiled Unpretentious; a two-year, high-rye bourbon finished in port casks. Alan hates the marketing behind barrel finished Bourbon, especially port finishes. So, with tongue firmly implanted in cheek, Alan made the most pretentious whiskey he could and called it “Unpretentious”. He also made it taste pretty darn good. It was released in the gift shop in mid-June and sold out by early August, so the public was extremely receptive to it. Social media buzz and Bourbon award season also showed there is a place in the market for Alan’s sense of humor, especially when it is accompanied by a great whiskey.

Bottled-in-Bond

July saw Spirits of French Lick reach a major milestone when their first bottled-in-bond Bourbons were released.  Younger versions of Lee W. Sinclair 4-Grain Bourbon had been out for a few seasons, but in mid-July it hit the shelves as a four-year, bottled-in-bond offering.  This spirit’s name-sake, Lee Sinclair, was a successful southern Indiana businessman who bought (and rebuilt after a fire) the West Baden Springs Hotel.  Most of the whiskeys created at Spirits of French Lick are named after characters or places of historical significance to the region.  

Cast in this unlikely role of being named after a high-rye Bourbon is Mattie Gladden.  Mattie Gladden, the woman, was the local madam who is infamous for many reasons including having once been mistress to P.T. Barnum.  The Mattie Gladden, the whiskey, was released at the end of July as the second bottled-in-bond Bourbon in the SoFL line-up.  It is a high-rye Bourbon that Alan jokingly remarks “has a whore-forward profile”.  I’m not sure what that means and I’m not sure that I want to know.  What I do know is…it is fantastic and was one of my favorite Bourbons from 2020. 

Alan Bishop Day

A shocker of an event occurred on October 20.  That is the day when on the ABV Network’s The Bourbon Daily podcast, Steve Akley randomly declared that day to be Alan Bishop Day.  In a classic “If You Know, You Know” fashion, this took on a chaotic life of its own inspiring a flurry of social media posts some of which might actually be suitable for sharing.

Fascination Street

“Oh, it’s opening time down on Fascination Street” is the first line to the Cure song that this barrel-aged absinthe was named after.  An absinthe comprised of 13 different botanicals aged for two years in a number 2 char new American oak barrel produces a unique and flavorful spirit.  Fascination Street was released in October and is available in short supply at the distillery.

Awards

As 2020 was coming to a merciful close for all of society, it was also a celebratory close for Spirits of French Lick.  Indiana Bourbon started things off by naming The Mattie Gladden as the Bourbon of the Year for 2020.  Whiskey media guy, Fred Minnick, selected Unpretentious as the second best barrel-finished whiskey for 2020 and Lee W. Sinclair as the best non-Kentucky Bourbon of 2020. 

When Steve Akley and the ABV Network announced winners of their 2020 awards, much of the hardware (if there was actual hardware) was taken by Spirits of French Lick with Alan Bishop being crowned Craft Distiller of the Year and The Mattie Gladden being anointed Best New Whiskey and Best Bourbon. 

In their year-end awards show, My Whiskey Den (Patrick Belongia, Mike Lisac and Benjamin Eaves) unanimously named their Distiller/ Distillery of the Year as Alan Bishop and Spirits of French Lick. 

Finally, Lee W. Sinclair bottled-in-bond was included in Minnick’s year-end blind tasting for his 2020 Whiskey of the Year.  LWS made a deep run and ended up remaining until the final six and beat out some of “Big Bourbon’s” biggest boys along the way. 

Iconoclast

“Several years ago a friend told me that I approached distillation like an iconoclast”, Alan recalled.  “I liked the word and it has stuck in the back of my head all this time and it seemed like a good name for this special series of whiskey”.  To save you a few clicks, an iconoclast is one who opposes settled beliefs, institutions and traditions.  If you spend much time with Alan you’ll see very quickly that he is against the run of the mill and swimming against the stream.  The moniker “iconoclast” fits him and it fits the whiskey he makes.

Spirits of French Lick christened 2021 with the maiden voyage of the Iconoclast Series (yes, there will be others).  This first release is a three-barrel batch of Lee W. Sinclair at barrel proof.  Alan explains, “These three barrels simply did not fit the Lee profile at all.  I decided to try them in a stand-alone batch and it could not have worked better.  I’ve not never put anything in a barrel I like more than this first Iconoclast release”. 

Iconoclast is a distillery-only release and when they’re gone…they’re gone.  This four-year Bourbon carries a proof of 107.9 with prominent flavors of cherry, French toast, vanilla and cream.  It is truly delicious and should not be missed. 

2021 and Beyond: Anything Can Happen

The release of Iconoclast is a strong indication that Spirits of French Lick intends to extend their “Year of…” past 2020 and into 2021.  Alan and Jolee have shared with me some of their plans for the rest of the year.  Each of these deserves being termed as “the highly-anticipated release”.

  • Valentine’s weekend: The Right Way is a rye aged in absinthe barrels.  It is available in the distillery gift shop starting Saturday, February 13.  What better way to say I love you?
  • May: April showers bring May flowers, but this May brings The Morning Glory.  This is a kasha (buckwheat) Bourbon. Respect the grain, indeed.
Rational responses / Force a change of plans / Anything can happen

  • May: This month also is the scheduled release of William Dalton.  This is a bottled-in-bond wheated Bourbon and will replace The Wheater in Spirits of French Lick’s catalog.  Dalton was the longest-serving master distiller in Indiana history, holding this role for 55 years at the Spring Mill distillery.  The Wheater was a blend of SoFL wheated Bourbon and sourced wheated Bourbon.  It was my least favorite of their whiskies, so I am looking forward to this change.  The William Dalton will be 100% Spirits of French Lick bourbon. I have tried a sample and it is quite excellent and is a much better fit in their lineup.
  • Summer: It’s hard to say “now this sounds really different” when I’ve already listed a rye aged in absinthe barrels and a kasha bourbon, but…this does sound really different.  Further evidence that anything can happen: an apple brandy aged in tequila barrels. 
  • Fall: A perfect fit for the fall months will be the release of a bottled-in-bond apple brandy.
  • Fall: A bottled-in-bond rye will hit store shelves.  It will be called Solomon Scott. Scott was a regarded distiller, bootlegger and moonshiner in pre-prohibition southern Indiana.

An overnight success thirty some-odd years in the making, the accolades of 2020 have Alan Bishop living in the limelight, so to speak.  With that attention from the Bourbon public come expectations.  The things Spirits of French Lick have in store for 2021 is quite an encore to 2020 as Alan and his team makes a tradition of defying traditions.

Raise a Glass to Neil Peart

There are drummers and then there is Neil Peart.  In many ways he broke the stereotypes for drummers and established new standards for drums in rock music.  Drummers are typically thought to be the ones in the band who blew things up (Keith Moon) or blew themselves up (if we are to believe Spinal Tap).  Peart’s personality, however, was one of an introvert who actively shunned the limelight.  Drummers are not usually thought of as being the intellectual in the group (though Levon Helm of The Band and Steve Gorman of The Black Crowes immediately come to mind as drummers who certainly were).  However, Peart defied “the norm” further by being the chief lyricist for his band, Rush, penning challenging and thought-provoking songs for more than 40 years.

A year ago today, Neil Peart died.  He had fought against an aggressive form of brain cancer for the last three of his sixty-seven years.  With his death we knew we had lost a unique mind and talent; a true one-of-a-kind. 

To remember Neil Peart today, I’ve put together three groupings of Rush songs that I think represent some of the major themes he wrote and played about over his career.  Even though Peart was a Macallan drinker, I’ve paired each grouping with a bourbon you can raise a glass of in his honor.

If you are a fan of Peart and Rush, you might agree or disagree with my list and that’s OK.  You have freewill. If you don’t like Rush, it’s an excuse to have a few pours (pass an evening with a drink and a friend) and maybe enjoy their music a little more given another chance.

Philosophy of Life / Introspection

The first theme I’m going with revolves around songs that explore philosophy of life and delve into who we are as people over time.  I’m pairing these three songs with Old Grand Dad (bottled-in-bond or 114…your call).  Being at the age of a grandfather (which I am) certainly brings a pause to reflect back on the life that’s been lived and how to best live the life that still remains. 

Time Stand Still (Hold Your Fire album): “Summer’s going fast, Nights growing colder / Children growing up, Old friends growing older / Freeze this moment a little bit longer / Make each sensation a little bit stronger.”

Dreamline (Roll the Bones): “We are young / Wandering the face of the earth / Wondering what our dreams might be worth / Learning that we’re only immortal for a limited time”

“Time is a gypsy caravan steals away in the night / To leave you stranded in dreamland / Distance is a long-range filter / Memory a flickering light / Left behind in the heartland”

Resist (Test for Echo): “I can learn to resist anything but temptation / I can learn to co-exist with anything but pain”

“You can surrender without a prayer / But never really pray / Pray without surrender”

Creativity and Growth

Much of Rush’s music and Peart’s lyrics exemplified creativity.  They also wrote and sang about being creative, exploration of ideas and growth.  For this grouping of songs I am pairing Lee W. Sinclair 4-Grain Bourbon from Spirits of French Lick.  Much of what they are doing at Spirits of French Lick under head distiller Alan Bishop embodies exploring the world of distillation and pushing the boundaries of the industry and of their own imaginations. This philosophy seems to fit much of what Rush has done especially within these themes.

One Little Victory (Vapor Trails): “The measure of the moment / In a difference of degree / Just one little victory / A spirit breaking free”

Between Sun and Moon (Counterparts): “There is a lake between sun and moon / Not too many know about / In the silence between whisper and shout / The space between wonder and doubt”

New World Man (Signals): “He’s not concerned with yesterday / He knows constant change is here today”

Boldness and Individualism

There is much of Rush’s music that can fit these themes.  The 2112 album is about an individual resisting collective thought.  I’m using Booker’s to pair with this theme.  The bourbon (select the batch of your choice) is bold and unique and the man who made it (Booker Noe) certainly was, too. 

Freewill (Permanent Waves): “You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill /
I will choose a path that’s clear, I will choose Freewill”

Headlong Flight (Clockwork Angels): “All the journeys of this great adventure / It didn’t always feel that way / I wouldn’t trade them because I made them / The best I could, and that’s enough to say”

Marathon (Power Windows): “You can do a lot in a lifetime / If you don’t burn out too fast / You can make the most of the distance / First you need endurance / First you’ve got to last”

“More than just survival / More than just a flash / More than just a dotted line / More than just a dash”.

Encore

Any show must have an encore and a Rush concert is not complete without Tom Sawyer.  And since “your mind is not for rent / to any blog or government”, as you enjoy this classic song, select the whiskey of your choice.  Your options are limitless (Maybe as his skies are wide).

Cheers to Neil: his life, his words and his music.

The treasure of a life
Is a measure of love and respect
The way you live, the gifts that you give / In the fullness of time
Is the only return that you expect / The future disappears into memory
With only a moment between
Forever dwells in that moment
Hope is what remains to be seen…It’s a measure of a life

The Garden (Clockwork Angels), Neil Peart

For a Spotify playlist of the Rush songs included in this article…click here.