The One That Almost Wasn’t

“You have seven months”.  That’s what Jim Rutledge was told in 1994 when he took over as Master Distiller for Four Roses. If the quality of the bourbon produced at Four Roses wasn’t significantly improved in seven months then the distillery would be shut down and the brand would continue using only sourced whiskey.  Fortunately for all of us, Jim and his team was up to the task.  They took a brand infamous for low-quality product to a brand famous for its high quality bourbon.

Four Roses Night

The Bourbon Fellowship enjoyed the accomplishments of Jim and Brent Elliott, current Master Distiller, during our recent Four Roses Night.  This gathering was extra special because it was the first time all eleven “core” members of The Bourbon Fellowship were actually together.  We also had a couple of guests with us making this the highest attended Fellowship in our short time as a group.

All ten of the Four Roses recipes were represented (several of them by more than one bottle).  We also had traditional small batch, yellow label (momma called it “yellow label”, I’m gonna call it “yellow label”), the 2017 limited edition, the 130th anniversary, and the Japanese-only release Super Premium.  With timing being everything we were also able to include the new Four Roses Small Batch Select which was released just a week before our Four Roses Night (review coming soon).  We appreciate Brent being considerate of our schedule when making that release.

Fortunately, nobody tried to be a hero that night and sample all ten recipes.  We did set up several blind tastings for the guys both to see what they really liked and test their skills at identifying the recipes they were drinking.  The OBSK recipe was most frequently selected as a favorite.  Nobody was really great at naming the recipes blind.  Everybody got to share some laughs while enjoying some of the best Bourbon on the planet.

The ABCs of Four Roses

When we talk Four Roses it can sound much more complicated than it really is.  People start spouting off letters like they are trying to win the world’s worst spelling bee. 

OESF.
Word origin, please.
Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.
Can you use it in a sentence?
Pass me that bottle of Four Roses OESF.
O-E-S-F.
Correct!

The four letter combinations associated with Four Roses are the codes that tell us the recipe of the Bourbon. The first letter is easy.  It represents the production facility.  The production facility is always Four Roses and the letter is always O.

The second letter is the mash bill.  Four Roses uses two mash bills.    One is at 35% rye and the other at 20% rye.  The first uses 60% corn and 5% barley.  The second uses 75% corn and 5% barley. The higher rye mash bill is code letter B.  The lower rye mash bill is code letter E.  To remember this, I always think: “B is bold.  More rye is bolder”. 

The third letter is for the whiskey distillation.  This one is also easy.  It is always S for “straight”. As in “go straight to the liquor store and buy another bottle of Four Roses”. Or maybe it’s for straight whiskey. It’s tough to say with certainty.

The fourth and final letter is for the yeast strain.  Four Roses uses five proprietary yeast strains: delicate fruit (V), rich fruit (O), herbal (F), spice (K), and floral (Q).  What’s the key to remembering which code matches which yeast strain?  Practice.


I created this Four Roses Cheat Sheet for our Bourbon Fellowship Four Roses Night.  There are even spots arranged to set up your tastings. If you’d like a copy, shoot me a DM or leave an e-mail address in the comments section.

Bourbon and Relationships

We started The Bourbon Fellowship to focus on the friendship side of Bourbon.  The Bourbon was the really great excuse to bring friends together.  I’ve had the opportunity to ask Jim Rutledge (now with his own J.W. Rutledge Distillery) and Brent Elliott their thoughts on the connection between Bourbon and friendships.  I hope you enjoy their responses.

Jim Rutledge’s answer was forged from his experience of taking over Four Roses.  The relationship side of Bourbon was with the people working at the distillery.  He knew everyone’s job was on the line, but they didn’t.  He was passionate not so much about the bourbon, but about the people.  Digging out of that hole and making the huge improvements that they did in such a short amount of time created a great bond among the team.

I sent Brent Elliott an invitation to our Four Roses Night.  What else could he possibly have to do the week before the Kentucky Derby and a week after his distillery released its first new brand in twelve years? Brent was very gracious in sending his very polite regrets, but he also included his thoughts on the Bourbon – friendship connection:  “I get asked all the time what I feel is responsible for the rise in Bourbon’s popularity in recent years. I believe there are many contributing reasons, but I feel there are two that stand out – One, It tastes great and new consumers are learning this. Two, Bourbon is more about the bonds and friendships that form around it. No one I meet talks about Bourbon in a “vacuum”. It’s always about sharing Bourbon and moments with friends or family. And, as you probably have noticed, people in the Bourbon community are universally great people who enjoy sharing and the company of others.”

I ran into Brent at a bottle signing last week. He remembered who I was and actually apologized that he couldn’t attend our Four Roses Night. He asked about our group and how the Four Roses Night went. We talked for a while about the many things going on at Four Roses. He could not have been nicer.

I appreciate the personal responses from both of these Bourbon legends.   I know I’ve toasted many friendships with several Bourbon expressions distilled and bottled by Jim and Brent.  Thanks to Jim for saving Four Roses. Without him, our Four Roses Night would not have been possible (the one that almost wasn’t).  Thanks to Brent for continuing and expanding on the traditions of quality and excellence that are now synonymous with Four Roses.

I had been collecting Four Roses single barrel recipes for a few years. There was one that I was missing and I needed to find it before The Bourbon Fellowship could have the Four Roses Night. Three of the guys in the group got together and found that elusive OBSK and gave it to me for my birthday.
Thanks Drew, Mark & Jared for the bottle and all the stupid bourbon things. Further evidence that it is more about the people than it is about the bourbon.

Kevin Rose

Bourbon Unto Others…

There have been many noteworthy clubs throughout modern history.  Ed Norton and Brad Pitt invited us to “Fight Club”.  Then there is Bushwood Country Club from the movie “Caddyshack”.  While calling it a club may be a bit of a stretch, but Chazz Reinhold founded “Wedding Crashers” and passed on that legacy to all of us. 

Each of these clubs has rules, too.  Fight Club has eight rules, but the first one (two, actually) are the most remembered: “you do not talk about fight club”. And, of course, gambling is illegal at Bushwood, sir (and I never slice).  Wedding Crashers has lots of rules, such as rule #76: “No excuses.  Play like a champion”.

So, when starting a bourbon club what kind of rules should we have?  Should we pattern the rules of Bourbon Fellowship after any of the clubs I’ve mentioned?  What if we follow the lead of Fight Club?  “The first rule of The Bourbon Fellowship is you don’t talk about The Bourbon Fellowship” – that doesn’t really work.  Even though this blog is not enjoyed by millions (yet) you can’t really blog about a secret club.   Other Fight Club rules don’t work very well either.  The sixth rule is “no shoes and no shirt”.  I love these guys but I don’t care to see any of them without a shirt on and I know they don’t want to see me without one, either.  There. Is. Not. Enough.  Bourbon.

George Garvin Brown, founder of Old Forester and author of “The Holy Bible Repudiates Prohibition”

Ultimately, for inspiration on the rules of Bourbon Fellowship I turn to where I should have looked in the first place: The Bible!  If you ask, “What could the Bible have to tell us about Bourbon? “, then you clearly don’t know your George Garvin Brown. 

Debunking Prohibition aside, the Bible is also source for the simple rules (or should I say “rule”) of Bourbon Fellowship.  Specifically, out of Matthew 7:12 which we all know better as The Golden Rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.   I’ll make a slight tweak for our purposes: “Bourbon unto others as you would have them Bourbon unto you”.

When I previewed the one simple rule blog topic on twitter I got a couple of responses like “don’t be a jerk” or “don’t be a d*ck”.  While those are pretty simple rules, they also set a pretty low bar.  I can’t imagine any of us being excited by the prospects of “you are barely not a jerk, so I am happy to share my favorite bottle of whiskey with you”.  I think we can and should aim a bit higher than that.

The Old Fitz bottles flank the I.W. Harper

Bourbon unto others means if you want people to be generous with you then you be generous with them.  In our group, whether it’s Shannon sharing a special bottle of Japanese whiskey or Tom bringing homemade bourbon balls or Bill connecting us with a Bourbon legend (more on that in a future post)…everyone is in the spirit of sharing.  At a bottle share last December, Jared brought two 1970s era Old Fitzgerald bottles.  He broke the seal on those with us like he was twisting the cap on a bottle of Dasani.   

Being “bourbon tolerant” is another example of this “Bourbon Unto Others” rule.  If you want to drink what you want and how you want, then you should respect others’ decisions to do the same.  I’ve been known to drink Jack Daniels with orange soda (it’s not close to my daily drinker, but it happens).  If I’m going to drink that…on purpose…even just once…then I’m in no position to mock anything someone else may choose to drink.  At least not in a mean-spirited way.

Bourboning unto others also means being Bourbon Wise – maybe you can picture yourself as being the label on a bottle of Kentucky Owl for this one.  Use your Bourbon powers for good and not evil.  Sharing your knowledge in a humble way helps others learn and be willing to ask questions.  That is a good thing for the dynamics of any group.  Plus, when the conversation turns to a topic you don’t know as much about (home repair, insurance, fatherhood, ridding yourself of a stage five clinger) then the guys in the group with more experience in those areas will gladly help you out.  If you find you need career advice from the guy you laughed at for putting Fresca in his Woodford, don’t be surprised if you get “the world needs ditch diggers, too” as a response.

If all else fails and you can’t rise to Bourbon Unto Others (or maybe Bourbon like a champion), at the very least follow Wheaton’s Law.  It may not get you invited back to a Bourbon group, but it may keep you from getting kicked out.

If you have any suggestions on how to Bourbon Unto Others (or how to Bourbon Like a Champion), I’d be glad to hear them. I hope you’ll share this blog with your friends (maybe that is a way you could be “Bourbon Wise”). Enjoy the Derby! Cheers!

Kevin Rose

Bourbon Draft Night

Happy Draft Night! Tonight begins the annual NFL Draft. You can cheer your team’s selections (or boo if you’re a Jet’s fan because that’s what Jets fans do). So as you watch Commissioner Goodell bro-hug massive linemen and pity that sad last player sitting alone in the green room, consider your own bourbon draft.

What do I mean by “bourbon draft”? What is that bottle (or bottles) that aren’t on your shelf (or shelves) that you’d like to have (or draft)? The rules are: 1. Be realistic: you can’t draft Pappy 23 because it is not realistically available.

2. No duplicates: if you already have Aaron Rodgers, you can’t draft Aaron Rodgers again. So, if you have Elmer T. Lee, you can’t draft Elmer T. Lee again (although I hear he has a heck of 40-yard dash time). Also, differentiating between different single barrel picks of the same brand doesn’t count. If you have a Russell’s Reserve single barrel already but you want the one with the big stupid sticker on it (or the other one with the big stupid sticker on it) that can’t be in the draft.

A glimpse inside my bourbon shelf (one of them). What do I need to draft?

3. Be current: The Cardinals can’t draft 2013 Peyton Manning. You can’t draft Cheesy Gold Foil Wild Turkey.

What is missing in my collection might be something completely different than what is missing in yours. So, a whiskey missing from my draft board doesn’t mean it’s something I don’t like. Maybe I already have it. Or…maybe I really don’t like it. Enough of the preliminaries. If you don’t understand just have another drink and enjoy the rest of the blog post anyway.

Round One: Old Forester 1920

The 1920 Prohibition Style was the third of four offerings in the Old Fo Whiskey Row Series and it is my favorite. I like that 115 proof. I had a bottle, but finished it off a few months ago. I need to find bench depth in this draft.

Round Two: Wilderness Trail Wheated Bourbon

I have never owned a bottle of the Wilderness Trail, but I’ve sampled it in a tasting room. I thought it was pretty interesting. I like that it is bottled in bond and being wheated adds more to the interest. On a side note, Wilderness Trail is having their Taste of Danville festival on Saturday, April 27. If you are in the area you should check it out. More information is included here.

Round Three: Wild Turkey 101 Rye

I am a big fan of Wild Turkey products. Full disclosure: Jimmy Russell thinks of me as a son. Fuller disclosure: That is not at all true. What is true is that I really enjoy Wild Turkey whiskey. As much of it as I drink I have never had the 101 Rye. That is a position of need that I hope to fill in the upcoming draft.

Round Four: Old Bardstown Bottled in Bond

This is one that I love to keep around. I think it is a wonderful bourbon and has that signature Willett flavor. Sadly, my last bottle of OBBiB retired after I threw the empty bottle in the trash. I think I can find a value pick to replace it in the draft.

Round Five: A Midwinter’s Night Dram

This is a bit of a reach on the rules as it can be difficult to find. It is a seasonal release, but if you invest in your scouting department you can find a bottle. I’ve only tasted it once or twice (and I don’t remember which Act or Scene expression I’ve had) but I really like this rye blend from High West. I’d like it to be on my special teams, which, in this case would be a Christmastime whiskey.

I hope you enjoy the NFL Draft tonight and this weekend. Even if you don’t if you have any ideas what would be in your Bourbon Draft be sure to let me know. Share this blog and get opinions from your friends, too.

Kevin Rose

Bourbon Good Guys (Vol. I)

Within every group, there are a small percentage of people who ruin it for everybody else in the group.  A few ne’er-do-wells give the group as a whole a bad name. Heisman Trophy winners have OJ.  Olympic Figure Skaters have Tonya Harding.  Child actors have…well, child actors have a lot of cute-kid-turned-degenerate ruining it for them (Dana Plato, Lindsay Lohan, Corey Haim, Screech (I never remember his real name), Macauly Culkin).  Something really goes off the trail for child actors when they go from being an Eagle Rare to being a Pappy 23. 

Bourbon enthusiasts deal with the same issues.  A few guys give the rest of us a bad rep.  You know the ones: They leave chairs in line at bottle releases and disappear for hours.  They rant about people leaving chairs in line at bottle releases then disappearing for hours. They insult people who don’t like what the “sophisticated” bourbon drinker likes.  They get in virtual fist fights over whether Jack Daniels is a bourbon or not. They tick off your liquor store managers by constantly asking if they have any Pappy, then get mad when they don’t get Pappy even though they’ve never bought a thing in the store before.  These are the people that give bourbon lovers a bad name. 

Most of the people we know in the bourbon community are good people, however.  They are the Tim Tebows, Dorothy Hamills and Ron Howards of bourbon.  So from time to time in this blog I’ll highlight one of the good guys (or gals) that help give bourbon a good name.

That Wild Turkey Guy

David Jennings loves Wild Turkey.  I don’t know if David has kids, but if he does I expect they are named “Jimmy” and “Russell” (whether they be boys or girls).  What I do know is that David is a self-proclaimed “Wild Turkey super fan” and has amassed a great deal of knowledge about the history of the distillery, its products and its people. 

David is better known in bourbon circles as “that Wild Turkey guy” (a moniker I’m sure he wears with pride).  Unless your last name is “Russell”, he is the go-to resource when it comes to anything Wild Turkey.  Much of his insights can be found at his website (www.rarebird101.com) and he can be followed on twitter (@RBird101) and instagram (@rarebird101). 

What I’ve found in David is someone who is very generous with his time and knowledge.  When I ask him questions about Wild Turkey he could very easily just tell me to search his website (because the answer surely lies there if it is anywhere) but he always responds with thorough answers and sends me links to appropriate posts from his site). Even though I don’t know him personally, he has also been a big encouragement to me in launching The Bourbon Fellowship blog.

Jimmy Russell and me. This was taken on a very hot day and Jimmy was having a much better hair day than I was.

David’s latest endeavor is to publish a book on (you guessed it) Wild Turkey.  A goal David has for the book is to have a completed copy of it in Jimmy Russell’s hands by September 10.  That day will mark Jimmy’s 65th anniversary at Wild Turkey.  This would be a fitting way to honor Jimmy as he means so much to bourbon enthusiasts everywhere.  Jimmy is bourbon’s rock star.  He is Bourbon Elvis.  (Now I’m picturing Jimmy Russell in a white jump suit.  I’ve cracked myself up).

There is a lot of work to do to get this project completed before September 10 and David is using Kickstarter to raise funds to get that work done as he will self publish the book.  You can see more information on that campaign on his website here or you can go directly to the Kickstarter page here.  You can hear David describe the project in his own words in a recent episode of the Bourbon Pursuit podcast (this is one of my favorite episodes in awhile, by the way).  If you can help in any way (even just spreading the word) I am sure David would appreciate it.

I would encourage you to follow David on twitter and instagram and subscribe to his blog.  You can learn a lot from him and I know he would love to hear from you. He really is one of bourbon’s good guys. 

Kevin Rose

The Whiskey Masters

We’ve all laid awake at night pondering the universal question: If you were a whiskey what would you be?

As you watch an early morning version of The Masters today, here are some thoughts on which whiskey each of the guys on the leader board might be.

Francisco Molinari – Old Forester

Molinari is like Old Forester. He has added many things to his skill set. He completely revamped his putting stroke and changed his swing to give him more power off the tee. He was already very good, but these changes have made him one of the greats in the game today.

Old Forester has done the same. They added the 1920 and 1910 to the Whiskey Row Series, brought back President’s Choice and introduced a new rye. All things that take the brand to the next level.

Tiger Woods – Four Roses

Tiger was done. He was shamed. He was hurt. His game was an embarrassment. He had fallen to 1,199th in the world. Many thought he’d never play again. Forget about winning a tournament and a major seemed an impossibility. Yet, here we are. The red-shirted one may be wearing a green jacket before the day is over.

Four Roses was done. It was horrible. It had given up on quality. It was an embarrassment. The distillery was on the verge of shutting down for good. Yet, here we are. Jim Rutledge brought the brand back from the scrap heap to height of glory most thought was impossible. Within a few days, Four Roses (with Brent Elliott now at the helm) will be introducing a highly-anticipated new small batch bourbon to the whiskey public.

Tony Finau – New Riff

Tony Finau is somewhat of a new kid on the block. If you are a casual golf fan you may not know who he is. If you do follow the game you know what he is capable of and you wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him win today. Even if he doesn’t, you’re confident he’ll be winning a major very soon and everybody will know who he is then.

Finau is like New Riff. New Riff is new brand on the bourbon shelf. If you are a casual bourbon fan you may not know New Riff. If you are a student of the bourbon game, you know about New Riff and you know how good it is. Before long it will be winning lots of awards and everybody will know about New Riff then.

Brooks Koepka – Henry McKenna 10 Year

True golf fans have been enjoying Brooks Koepka’s game for years. He was golf’s best kept secret. Then a year or two ago he started winning all the big events (3 majors in less than 2 years). Now Brooks Koepka is one of the hottest golfers in the game.

This is a similar story to Henry McKenna 10 Year. The bourbon fan knew about this best-kept secret of the whiskey world. Then it started winning awards and now, as the hottest brand in bourbon, it can’t stay on the shelves.

Webb Simpson – Wild Turkey 101

Webb is steady. Predictable. Consistent. He may not be the first golfer that comes to mind and he may not win all the tournaments, but you can’t help but admire his longevity and reliability.

Wild Turkey 101 is that steady, predictable and consistent player in the bourbon world. You can’t really remember when WT101 wasn’t around and you can always count on a solid performance…just like Webb Simpson.

Ian Poulter – Whistle Pig Rye

Poulter is brash and flashy with a lot of spice. Sometimes that brash makes us forget that he’s a pretty darn good golfer, too (especially during The Ryder Cup, but I don’t want to talk about that).

Poulter is the Whistle Pig Rye of the golf world. Whistle Pig’s brand is also brash and flashy. And a 100% rye is going to bring a lot of spice to your glass. One taste of that rye will help you remember that it’s a pretty darn good whiskey, too.

I hope you enjoy The Masters today and have a little fun with it as I’ve tried to do with this blog. Please share it with your friends who enjoy golf or whiskey or both! And if you know what kind of whiskey you’d be, feel free to leave that in the comments.

Kevin Rose

Opinions Are Like Bung Holes

If you’ve been following the posts in The Bourbon Fellowship blog lately…thank you…you’ve read about our Bottled in Bond Bracket Challenge.  If you need to catch up, you can do so here.

In the previous posts, I’ve shared the results as selected by our group.  (Spoiler alert: If you haven’t already read the previous posts, New Riff defeated Henry McKenna in the finals).  Today, I’ll review the outcome of my own personal bracket, which is just one man’s opinion.  Or is it?

For full disclosure, my first round tastings were not done blind.  I’m still interviewing for an intern, so I had to set up the first tastings myself.  The Final Four and the Finals were done blind with assistance from The Wife.

In the first round, there was only one that was close for me and that was McKenna over Old Bardstown.  I confess to have a thing for that signature Willett profile, but McKenna was, overall, a better, more balanced bourbon.  In the other three, E.H. Taylor trumped 1792.  McKenzie mashed Jim Beam.  New Riff rolled Early Times.

The bracket match-ups for the Bottled in Bond Challenge

This Final Four was an interesting collection.  On one side were two classic, universally-beloved bourbons: E.H. Taylor vs. Henry McKenna.  On the other side of the bracket were two relative unknown newcomers: McKenzie vs. New Riff.  (If you aren’t familiar with New Riff, you can find a review of it here.  If you haven’t heard about McKenzie, I have my full review of it at the bottom of this post).  Both matchups were very difficult decisions for me.  Ultimately, McKenna measured a bit better than EHT and McKenzie made it past New Riff. 

So we come to my Finals: McKenna vs. McKenzie.  How did the Scots get invited to a bourbon contest anyway?  A full review of Henry McKenna was posted in a previous blog post here.  I’ll share my own review of McKenzie Bottled in Bond Bourbon now:

McKenzie Bottled in Bond Bourbon

McKenzie Bottled in Bond was released in late 2018 by Finger Lakes Distillery in New York.  The bourbon is named after the family of Finger Lakes owner and founder, Brian McKenzie.  McKenzie had the distinction of being the only non-Kentucky bourbon in The Bourbon Fellowship bracket challenge.  It is also unique as it is the only wheated bourbon in this contest and the only wheated bottled in bond that I could find other than Old Fitgerald, which is now only available in limited releases.

The mash bill for McKenzie is 70% corn, 20% red wheat and 10% malted barley.  The 20% wheat matches the highest wheat component of any bourbon on the market (Heaven Hill’s wheated mash bill is also 20%). 

Color: This McKenzie is a beautiful, light copper color in the glass with a slightly darker appearance in the bottle.

Nose: There is an expected sweetness to this bourbon given the mash bill.  To me the sweetness presents itself in fresh apple and caramel.  I also note some oak on the nose.

Palate: The apple and the oak are still there.  Some honey comes through with the caramel.  Perhaps a little like a Bit o-Honey candy. 

Finish: The finish on McKenzie Bottled in Bond is pretty unique to me.  I get a bit of spice on the tip of the tongue and then a second wave of sweetness and spice throughout the mouth that stays around for awhile.

Overall, I really enjoy this McKenzie.  I am admittedly a Kentucky bourbon snob, but I’ll look forward to what Finger Lakes has to offer in the future. 

One Man’s Opinion

Ultimately, I picked Henry McKenna over McKenzie although I’ll make room for both on my shelf and in my glass.  However, opinions are like bung holes.  Every barrel has one and some of them leak.  (I may not be getting that expression quite right).

What are opinions like?

I may have botched that expression, but it is true: everybody does have an opinion.  Mine happens to line up with the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and Fred Minnick as they selected Henry McKenna as Best Whiskey for 2019.  Or you could say their opinions line up with mine, but that’s not important.  Their opinions may be read by tens of thousands.  Mine may be read by tens.  However, if we distill this down to what is most important, there is one opinion on bourbon that should really matter to you: yours.

If you don’t like Henry McKenna, that’s alright.  The Heaven Hill Distillery will probably survive and you won’t hurt my feelings or Fred’s (as long as you don’t tell him you like vodka).  It is a great help to find people you trust to give you suggestions, but some of the people I highly respect in this industry don’t like some bourbon that I love.  And that is just fine. Find what YOU like.

So, if you are new to bourbon be adventurous and be willing to try different things.  Find some buddies and do blind tastings together.  You may be surprised by what you really like.  This holds true for those who have been around bourbon for awhile.  You may be missing out on something good simply because of biases that you have developed over time. Also, if you are a whiskey veteran be an encouragement to the new guys and stop mocking people who don’t like what you think they should. Because, ultimately, no matter how important you think your opinion is, it may be as empty as a bung hole to everybody but you.

Thanks for reading this post. If you have an opinion on it, please share it in the comments. I promise it will mean more to me than a bung hole. If you do like what you’re reading in this blog, please share it with your friends. It is appreciated.

Kevin Rose

Any Given Thursday

Last week I shared the results of The Bourbon Fellowship Bottled in Bond Blind Tasting Bracket Challenge (or TBFBiBBTBC).  The beauty of a blind tasting is that label bias and our deeply rooted opinions about what we like (or think we like) take a back seat to what we actually taste at that time.  As the saying goes: any given Sunday any NFL team can be upset.  In this case, any given Thursday any bourbon can come out on top. 

As a reminder, the results found New Riff defeating Henry McKenna in the finals.  To add a little more depth to the results, a couple of our guys have offered up reviews of the runner-up and the champion.  Drew Crawley will cover Henry McKenna for us and Mark Krebs will share about New Riff.

Henry McKenna Single Barrel Bottled in Bond

Henry McKenna bottled in bond was once a somewhat hidden gem of the bourbon geek community. Long touted for its accessible price and availability, it was historically a consistent recommendation for those looking to make the transition towards the finer side of the bourbon spectrum. The 2018 Edition of “The Minnick Effect,” made McKenna one of the most sought after expressions today and has lead to widespread shortages even here in Louisville.  2019 will likely see more of the same as Henry McKenna was named Whiskey of the Year at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Nose:
Notes of dried cherry, Bartlett pear, and candied apples. Somewhat one-dimensional even after 20 minutes in the glass.
 
Palate:
Enters with standard notes of vanilla and dark caramel, slowly dissolved into more complexity with notes of dark chocolate and black pepper.
 
Finish:
The fruit makes a return appearance with the pear notes, some cedar and dry spice reminiscent of clove.
 
All in all, as with all single barrels, there will be some variance from barrel to barrel. While this particular barrel was not my personal favorite, I have had barrels in the past that were absolutely outstanding. Additionally, the fact that Heaven Hill is able to consistently put out 10yr single barrels, within the restrictions of the bottled in bond act I might add, encourages me to keep buying McKenna in the years to come. If you can find this product for less than $40, I highly recommend you pick one up for yourself.

Bio: Drew lives and works in Louisville Ky with his wife Kaylee. During the day, he works for Old Forester focusing on VIP experiences and single barrel selections. Nights and weekends are dedicated to leading worship at his church. When not working, he enjoys bourbon as a hobby, reading, playing music with friends, and the occasional cigar! 

New Riff Bottled in Bond

New Riff bottled in bond, unlike Henry McKenna, is a relative new kid on the block in the bourbon community. The New Riff Distillery, founded by Ken Lewis in 2014, released its first distilled bourbon, New Riff bottled in bond, in the fall of 2018 with a commitment to bottled in bond and non-chill filtration. At 4 years old, it’s based on a mash bill of non-GMO grains of 65% corn, 30% rye, 5% malted barley, and with an MSRP of around $40, it has quickly found a place as a daily drinker for many bourbon enthusiasts.

Nose: Butterscotch, baking spices, dark fruit, and undertones of spearmint.

Palate: Cinnamon, caramel, vanilla, young oak, and rye spice.

Finish: Medium finish, slightly tannic (likely due to the young age), with caramel, vanilla, and pepper.

Although the New Riff was personally my third favorite bourbon of the bracket behind Old Bardstown bottled in bond and 1792 bottled in bond respectively, it managed some impressive wins over Early Times bottled in bond (6-1), Jim Beam Bonded (6-1), and Henry McKenna bottled in bond (5-2) en route to becoming the bracket’s overall winner. With an MSRP of around $40 it’s definitely worth picking up a bottle of the bottled in bond or even a single barrel. This ‘New Riff on an old tradition’ will be sure to impress bourbon drinkers of various experience levels.

Bio: Mark Krebs is an IT professional, husband to one wife, father to three children, drummer, Louisville Cardinal fan, and all around slightly above average guy. He’s not much for long walks on the beach, but does enjoy a hike every now and then. Mostly he just prefers drinking bourbon and smoking cigars with good friends.

Thanks to Drew and Mark for sharing their thoughts on the finalists in our challenge. Next week the NCAA tournament will wrap up and I’ll wrap up this blog series when I discuss my own personal bracket results and provide a review of one of the other bourbons we tasted. As always, thanks for reading and please share with your friends and leave feedback if you have something to say.

Kevin Rose