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

The Riff Stuff

It only seems fitting to honor the anniversary of the passage of the Bottled in Bond Act (March 3, 1897) and the NCAA Basketball Tournament (occurring every March since I can remember…too lazy to look up the exact year it started). So, last week The Bourbon Fellowship held its First Annual Bottled in Bond Blind Tasting Bracket or FABIBBTB for short (or not so short, as it turned out). If you are unfamiliar with “Bottled in Bond” you can follow this link for more information.

The bracket was composed of 8 randomly selected bottled in bond (BiB) brands.  I put the names of 14 different BiBs in a box (a Booker’s box to be exact) and drew out 8 names.  Those 8 went back in the box and as I drew them out, I wrote their name on the bracket for pairings.  Each was assigned a letter (A through H) to identify them individually during the blind tastings.  The participants and the 1st Round pairings were:

These made the Big Dance!

A – 1792 Bottled in Bond (Barton)

B – E.H. Taylor Small Batch (Buffalo Trace)

C – Henry McKenna (Heaven Hill)

D – Old Bardstown (Willett)

E – Jim Beam Bonded (Jim Beam)

F – McKenzie Bottled in Bond (Finger Lakes)

G – Early Times (Brown-Forman)

H – New Riff Bottled in Bond (New Riff)

I poured the samples and counted votes as seven of our Fellowship made some tough decisions…and drank some outstanding bourbon.  As a group, they sampled one pairing at a time and voted on which bourbon moved on to the next round.  (For example, sample A and B then vote on which one they liked better.) We would proceed through each remaining pairing to complete the first round.  The semi-finals and finals followed the same pattern.

Quarter Finals

By a slim 4-3 margin, E.H. Taylor advanced over 1792.  It would be a shame if Colonel Taylor got bounced in the first round given that the Bottled in Bond Act wouldn’t have been passed without him.

In a somewhat surprising close match-up, Henry McKenna narrowly moved on over Old Bardstown by a 4-3 count.  An even greater surprise to me as I moderated the tasting was that a couple of long-devoted McKenna fans voted for Old Bardstown.  That is the beauty of a blind tasting!

Jim Beam Bonded also gained a 4-3 victory over McKenzie Bottled in Bond, but it wouldn’t be March and it wouldn’t be Madness without a buzzer beater and some hullabaloo.  After a first count of 4-3 in favor of McKenzie, Tom (known lovable trouble-maker of the group) abruptly changed his vote from F (McKenzie) to E (Beam).  Beam would move on, but in controversial fashion.

The last pairing of the Quarter Finals saw New Riff dominate 6-1 over Early Times.  Most of the guys said it was a close decision for them personally, but an overwhelming majority chose the newcomer.

Final Four

In a battle of the bottled in bond bourbon behemoths (say that five times fast), E.H. Taylor took on Henry McKenna for a right to punch a ticket to the finals.  Again, the vote was 4-3.  Again, known McKenna lovers voted against it. Again, McKenna still claimed a win and a chance at the title.

Maybe the youngster just doesn’t know it isn’t supposed to be this easy, but New Riff claims another 6-1 victory.  This time the freshman bests Beam and carries a lot of momentum into the finals.

The Bottled in Bond Finals

From one side of the bracket is Henry McKenna.  A 10-year single barrel bottled in bond that has been a daily drinker for many a bourbon enthusiast and has also been hailed as 2018 Whiskey of the Year.  McKenna is a true PTP-er (“prime time player” for those not fluent in speaking “Vitale”). Emerging from the other side is the upstart freshman, New Riff.  A four-year bottled in bond that is the very first bourbon distilled by New Riff Distillery.  This bourbon just hit the market in the fall of 2018.  It’s a diaper dandy and it’s awesome, baby!

Congratulations to New Riff.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa-oh…The Riff Stuff!

One would think that based on résumé alone Henry McKenna would be the heavy favorite.  But…the last time I checked: we don’t drink a résumé! New Riff (the New Kid on the Block) had the “right stuff” and took down the traditional favorite, Henry McKenna, by a 5-2 vote. 

Congratulations to New Riff on claiming the title of The Bourbon Fellowship 2019 Bottled in Bond Champion.  While it may not fall in the category of “coveted title” just yet, it will always be the first one ever.  And they can never take that away from you, New Riff (look for your certificate in the mail, soon)!

The results…

The blind tasting aspect of this was fascinating to watch unfold. In a day or two, I’ll blog about that and what my personal bracket looked like. I’ll also post reviews from our Bourbon Fellowship of the two finalists.

Kevin

It Isn’t Brain Surgery

It isn’t brain surgery.

That’s what people like to say when they want to define a certain task as being simple to perform.  Not just simple to perform, mind you, but simple to perform expertly.  You don’t want your neurosurgeon patting himself on the back because he did a slightly better than average job fixing what’s wrong with your medulla oblongata. You want that doc getting an award for the work he did on you.  After all…it is, in fact, brain surgery. 

What isn’t brain surgery is hosting a new bourbon group.  However, if you’ve never led a bourbon group before (or even BEEN to one before) then getting it right can feel a little more intimidating than it really is.  I made notes on several different ideas for that first Bourbon Fellowship going back and forth on what would be an appropriate way to launch this group.  In the process, I developed a few “Do’s and Don’ts” that may come in handy for your own bourbon group:

  • Do…offer pours of interesting bourbon in traditional whiskey glassware.
  • Don’t…open a bottle of Benchmark telling guests to “take a swig and pass it around”.
  • Do…ask your friends to share their thoughts on the bourbon they taste.
  • Don’t…scream at them they are WRONG! (a la John McGloughlin) and then subject them to lengthy personal tasting notes.
  • Do…provide light snacks such as pretzels, crackers, cheese, etc.
  • Don’t…dump leftover Halloween candy on the table and say “Trick or Treat, suckers”.

Fortunately, on that first night I think we were closer to the “Do” end of the Do-Don’t Spectrum.  I decided I wanted each Fellowship to have a few distinctions.  One was to have a theme.  Something more memorable than just filling a table with as many different bottles as possible every time you meet. In future blog posts I’ll go into more detail on some of the themes, but some examples are a specific brand (Knob Creek, Blanton’s, Booker’s) or a different style (rye, bottled in bond, barrel proof) or…well you get the idea.  The theme for Meeting One was Ten Year Whiskey.  The lineup consisted of Michter’s, Rebel Yell, Henry McKenna, Eagle Rare and Whistle Pig Rye.  Most people wouldn’t turn down a pour of any of those, so it seemed like a safe and successful way to start and everyone seemed to like it (they’ve kept coming back, at least).

A re-enactment of the Ten Year lineup. Doesn’t it look Wonderful Tonight.

I also thought having a specific playlist as background music during the evening would be another distinction for the group.  That first night the soundtrack was live versions of Eric Clapton songs.  Why Eric Clapton? Probably because I had just been listening to a lot of Clapton at that time.  Why live?  Why not? It’s in the way that you use it, anyway.

The final and most important question was: who to invite?
The short answer is “Friends you didn’t mind drinking some of your best bourbon”.  Also, guys that you wouldn’t mind if they stayed After Midnight. It didn’t really concern me how “into bourbon” someone was.  In the first e-mail invitation I sent out I actually said: “I want to start hosting, on a semi-regular basis, a bourbon fellowship.  Where a few guys come over, slow down for an hour or two and sip some bourbon (or rye or rum or Kool Aid or whatever you prefer).”  Nobody had any Kool-Aid, but I don’t think everyone drank bourbon that night.  I think my oldest son (who is of legal drinking age and yes I am old) just drank a Dr. Pepper and joined in the conversation. He’s come a long way in his bourbon journey since then, by the way.

We’ve got eleven of us in The Bourbon Fellowship now.  The rules for membership were simple:

1. No Knuckleheads.

2. Membership is limited to how many people I can fit in my basement.

While we are currently at capacity, we try to have a guest in from time to time if a “regular” can’t make it.  A couple of the guys are very knowledgeable about bourbon, a couple are relative novices and the rest of us are somewhere in between.  We are all, however, learning more and more as we go.  Nobody has ever said you have to be an expert about bourbon in order to enjoy bourbon.  After all…bourbon, in fact, is not brain surgery. 

This week, we are having the First Annual Bourbon Fellowship Bottled-in-Bond Bracket Challenge. It will be a blind tasting of eight different bottled-in-bond bourbons. Next week, I’ll let you know how it went and we’ll have some reviews of the Final Four by a few of the guys in the group.

Kevin