At the End of the Trail: Wilderness Trail

It was to be the 2nd Annual Bourbon Fellowship Bottled in Bond Blind Tasting Bracket (BFBIBBTB).  It was to be the first Thursday of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.  It was…not to be.

The basketball tournament was cancelled.  Bourbon Fellowship was cancelled.  The whole stinkin’ world was cancelled. Everyone had a blast with this blind tasting event the first time we did it last year.  So when the world became less of a “cancelled” place we rescheduled BFBIBBTB a few months later.  Just like last year, there were some surprises along the way.

First Round Pairings & Results

The eight Bourbons selected for the blind tasting had to: (a) be a Bourbon, (b) be Bottled-in-Bond, and (c) not have been in last year’s bracket, with the exception of the champ, New Riff. (For last year’s bracket and results, click here).

There were no other criteria for inclusion other than what I thought would be interesting.  Here were the first round match-ups.  You can judge how interesting they are:

  • Match-up 1: (A) Heaven Hill 7 year vs. (B) Heaven Hill 6 year
  • Match-up 2: (C ) A.D. Laws vs. (D) Old Grand Dad
  • Match-up 3: (E) Wilderness Trail Wheated vs. (F) Wilderness Trail High Rye
  • Match-up 4: (G) New Riff vs. (H) Evan Williams

When we got started, we had eight participants.   What are the odds of anything ending in a tie?  Pretty good, as it turned out.

Heaven Hill vs. Heaven Hill

After the group completed their tasting of these two products – one new (expensive and difficult to find) and the other old (a discontinued bargain) – it was a tie.  Four preferred 7 year and four cast their lot for 6 year.  So, I re-poured the samples and let the participants re-taste and re-vote.  In the second go-around, the 7 year walloped the 6-year by a count of 7-1.  Everyone commented that it was a coin flip decision for them; it just happened that more of the coins landed on 7 than 6.  To me, this says that there is a marginal difference between the quality and taste of the two products. 

A.D. Laws vs Old Grand Dad

I like to throw something into blind tastings that the participants haven’t had before.  The A.D. Laws certainly fit that bill, but faced a wily veteran in Old Grand Dad.  We ended up with a 4-4 tie on this one, too.  I was beginning to think the guys were planning it that way just to get more Bourbon!

In the re-taste / re-vote one person changed their choice and A.D. Laws would advance.  A.D. Laws was easily the most divisive Bourbon of the night and maybe the most divisive Bourbon our group has ever shared.  This is a four-grain, bottled-in-bond (60% corn / 20% heirloom wheat / 10% heirloom rye / 10% malted barley) and it has very distinct chocolate notes on the palate.  It was definitely a love-it-or-hate-it whiskey.  It got just enough love to move on in the bracket.

Wilderness Trail Wheated vs. Wilderness Trail High Rye

I couldn’t decide which Wilderness Trail product to include in the bracket, so I went with both.  There was a clear consensus of opinion on this one.  The High Rye was the top choice by a 6-2 count.  Comments from the group certainly gave a lot of love to its wheated brother, but the high rye was the decisive winner and would advance.

New Riff vs. Evan Williams

They say repeating a championship is more difficult than winning the championship in the first place.  It’s true in sports.  It’s true in Bourbon. Last year’s champ, New Riff, went down to one of the most underrated Bourbons on the planet: Evan Williams bottled-in-bond. EW won by a 5-3 margin.  Take heart, New Riff.  No one can take last year’s title away from you.

Final Four

Heaven Hill 7 year vs. A.D. Laws

By the time we started the Final Four, a late-comer joined the group (so…no more ties).  The five tasters who stood by A.D. Laws in the first round, stayed by A.D. Laws in the Final Four.  Heaven Hill’s 7 year fell 5-4 to A.D. Laws.

Wilderness Trail High Rye vs. Evan Williams

The experienced bottom-shelfer could not get past the young stud.  Evan Williams could only muster two votes as Wilderness Trail garnered seven and moved on to the Finals.

Finals

A.D. Laws vs. Wilderness Trail High Rye

All good runs come to an end.  Cinderella turned into a pumpkin…or something like that.  The unlikely journey to the BFBIBBTB Finals is over.  The loyal following gathered by A.D. Laws couldn’t survive the momentum of Wilderness Trail.  By a score of 7-2, Wilderness Trail High Rye claimed the crown of 2020 Bottled in Bond champ. 

Both Wilderness Trail bottled-in-bond products are very good and their cask strength rye may be my favorite of anything they produce.  In a very short time, it seems Wilderness Trail has become synonymous with quality whiskey.  There are a small handful of distilleries that are on a considerable roll right now (despite COVID-19) and Wilderness Trail is certainly one of those.  In a very short time, Shane Baker and Pat Heist have made their brand into one that truly moves the needle.  Congratulations to Wilderness Trail High Rye Bourbon, deserving of the title: Best Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon for 2020.

Three Things of Five – 2019

Need a last minute Christmas gift? Here are five new whiskies for 2019 I’d recommend. Need something to listen to driving over the river and through the woods to or from Grandmother’s house? Here are five new albums I loved in 2019. Need something to watch while sitting around the house in a food coma? Here are five streaming ideas for you.

Top Five New Whiskies of 2019

I’ve selected five whiskies that were new releases in 2019 that would be great last minute Christmas gifts or excellent bottles to share at a New Year’s party. This list is comprised of whiskies that, if they are distributed in your market, should be very easy to find.

  1. Four Roses Small Batch Select ($55): Brent Elliott and the gang at Four Roses simply can’t miss. This is the first new permanent addition to the Four Roses lineup in a dozen years and it is outstanding. The only thing wrong with this one is I am currently out. So, if you are still wondering what you can get me for Christmas…
  2. Booker’s ($70): Including Booker’s is cheating somewhat, but my blog…my rules. Jim Beam releases four unique batches of Booker’s each year, so technically speaking Booker’s has four new whiskies each year (technically). Nevertheless, I love Booker’s and each of the four batches in 2019 were terrific. As a gift, Booker’s high proof deliciousness always fits.
  3. Old Forester Rye ($20): Old Fo outdid itself this year with the release of their first-ever rye whiskey. They very easily could have charged double the price, but, thankfully for us, they did not. In an age when most distilleries are contriving every excuse they can to raise prices, let’s give credit to Old Forester for bucking that trend. Plus, this is a very tasty rye whiskey that would be a welcome addition to any one’s cabinet.
  4. Wilderness Trail High Rye Bourbon ($70): Some outstanding whiskey is coming from Shane Baker and Pat Heist down in Danville, Kentucky. They introduced the third whiskey to their lineup (a bottled in bond, high rye Bourbon) in the Spring of this year and it is every bit as good as their wheated bottled in bond and their rye. Get on the Wilderness Trail before it gets too crowded.
  5. Legent ($35): This one may be a surprise addition to this list. This new product from Beam-Suntory is Bourbon finished in sherry and wine casks and then blended with more Bourbon. I am not typically a fan of finished whiskies, but I liked this one. More details on it can be found on my profile of Legent written for the ABV Network.

Top Five Albums of 2019

Music, even more so than whiskey, is a matter of individual preference. If you tell me a whiskey or two that you like, I can probably recommend several others you’ll enjoy. If you tell me a few musical artists you like, if I haven’t heard of any of them then I’m no help to you. Regardless, here are my favorite albums from the year. With Spotify and Apple Music it is really easy for you to give them a try.

Photo: Scott Willis Photography
  1. Trigger Hippy, “Full Circle and Then Some”. This rock/country/soul album is so easy and fun to listen to. Trigger Hippy is the brain child of Steve Gorman, founding member and drummer for The Black Crowes. I just saw them live last weekend which is an experience I’d highly recommend, too.
  2. The Raconteurs, “Help Us Stranger”. Of all the Jack White musical vehicles, The Raconteurs is probably my favorite. So, I had high expectations when this album dropped in 2019 after an eleven year wait. This album is musical genius from start to finish and the best Jack White associated album since The White Stripes “Elephant” (and that is saying a LOT).
  3. The Black Keys, “Let’s Rock”. I didn’t care much for The Black Keys 2014 release, “Turn Blue”. This new album, however, was a great comeback to me. It is a nice blending of modern Keys albums (“El Camino” and “Brothers”) and old-school Keys (“Thickfreakness” and “Magic Potion”).
  4. Rival Sons, “Feral Roots”. This is one of those bands that I like that I don’t get why they aren’t more popular. They have a funky-Led Zeppelin vibe. Vocally and musically this band is strong and Mike Miley may be the best drummer in rock music right now.
  5. Tedeschi Trucks Band, “Signs”. This is THE best live band in music today. There isn’t a close second. Their latest studio album, “Signs”, is still a showcase for their musical talent, but nothing like seeing them live. As Steve Gorman once told me: “Susan Tedeschi is the best singer and Derek Trucks is the best guitarist. It’s hardly fair to any other band out there”.

Five Things to Stream

I’m not putting the obvious on the list. You already know about “The Office”, “Parks and Rec” and “Friends”. So, here are a few other shows to check out (or revisit) if you haven’t already.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Georgetown University
  1. Mike Birbiglia, “The New One” (Netflix): Mike Birbiglia is a supremely talented stand-up comedian. His shows are both hilarious and extraordinarily well-crafted. The entire stand-up is the telling of one story with clever rabbit trails and funny tangents brilliantly woven into the tale.
  2. Dave Chappelle, “Sticks and Stones” (Netflix): This special from Chappelle was viewed controversially upon its release because he pulls no punches (to the left, to the right, to you, to me and to himself). It is a very crude brand of humor, which is why I have not watched it…twice. Still, this is not for the easily offended.
  3. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (Hulu): I wasn’t a fan of Andy Samberg when he was on SNL, but I gave his sitcom a chance when it came out in 2013 and I am glad I did. Samberg is very funny in it and the writing is fresh and clever. Andre Braugher (who I loved in Homicide: Life on the Street) is surprisingly terrific as a comedic actor, too.
  4. “Fargo” (Hulu): The FX Series loosely based on the Coen Brothers movie of the same name is extremely well-written and a case study in character acting. There are three seasons available to stream and each is a unique story line unto itself. Season One is my favorite with stellar performances from Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Allison Tolman and Colin Hanks. Good news: in 2020, we have the release of Season Four to look forward to.
  5. “Seinfeld” (Hulu): As I was writing an article on “Festivus” I got sucked in to the Seinfeld world again. For a show about nothing, it has a lot of hilarious plot lines for us to enjoy.

I hope some of these recommendations help you enjoy time off from work or time spent with family during this holiday season. If you have any feedback or other suggestions, please share them with me. On behalf of me and my family I want to wish a very Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Kevin Rose