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.

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.