The best whiskey store I know of is, fortunately, in my town of Louisville. That store is Westport Whiskey & Wine. Richard Splan and Chris Zaborowski opened Westport in 2008. The store has been known for an outstanding selection of store picks personally selected by Chris. Chris has an amazing palate and I trust his opinions on whiskey as much as anyone I know.
Westport also has a legendary tasting room offering some outstanding, highly-allocated whiskeys at remarkable values. Other stores try to copy this, but seem to regularly fall short by comparison.
The staff at Westport is also better than any other I know. From Emily Meadows (Chris’ daughter and store manager) to Emily “the other Emily” Holt to Stephen Gandolfi to Timothy Van Riper to J.J. Valentine and others…this group knows their stuff. It seems that even in the heart of Bourbon Country too many store have staff that can only tell you “Jack Daniels is their best selling Bourbon” and “we don’t have Blanton’s”. The gang at WWW know their stuff. They are friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. I couldn’t ask for much more than that.
Deck Pour Saturday Afternoon
So, I am taking a beautiful Saturday afternoon and spending some time on my deck with a few Westport Knob Creek picks and listening to Bill Withers (RIP). I pulled three different picks from my cabinet and poured them into unmarked cups to make this as “blind” as I could. I tasted each with the idea of ranking them. Before I get to that…a brief story.
I’ve been on two barrel picks and both have been with Chris and Westport Whiskey & Wine. The first was at Wild Turkey (three bottles: a Kentucky Spirit and two Russell Reserves). The second was at Jim Beam for Knob Creek (two bourbons and one rye). On the Knob Creek pick it was just Chris, Richard, two of the bar managers from Butchertown Grocery and me. The Beam employee managing the pick asked “has anybody not had a chance to pop a bung from the hole?” Like an idiot, I raised my hand. I didn’t read the room at all. Everybody else there had been on dozens to hundreds of picks. I run up there like a doofus and take the wooden mallet and start wailing away. I couldn’t bring myself to look behind me, but I’m guessing everyone was staring at their watches and giving Chris the evil eye for bringing such a noob on this pick. At one point the Beam guy said “No, stop hitting the bung. Hit beside it”. All I could say was “I’m trying!”. Well, I tried to say that. By that time I was out of breath and hoping that Jesus would send an angel down to pluck that bung out of the hole and end my embarrassment. At long last…the bung popped out (Thank you, Jesus) and everybody else could go on with their lives.
The two Bourbons that we selected that day are included in the trio I’m tasting today on my deck. The third they likely picked a lot more efficiently than the two I was involved with. Sorry, Chris.
Tasting: Knob Creek Picks
Here is the line-up in order of tasting:
Number 1: Barrel #8500 is a 9 year, 6 month selection picked on 8/12/19. This is the first one picked on the group I was with.
Number 2: Barrel #8496 is a 14 year, 9 month selection picked on 2/25/19.
Number 3: Barrel #8501 is also 9 year, 6 month in age and picked on 8/12/19. This is the second Bourbon we picked that day.
Number 1 was sweet on the nose. The taste was like a Bit-o-Honey candy: sweet and nutty. The finish was sweet as well with some nice spice kicking in, too.
Number 2 was very different from 1. It was leathery and floral on the nose with oak and pepper on the palate and finish. The extra age brings the oak.
Number 3 was also sweet on the nose. Instead of sweet with honey, it was sweet with vanilla and toffee. Some smoky oak and pepper were prominent in both the taste and the finish. The sweet was still there, but not as much at Number 1.
While I enjoy the second, I am not, personally, a big fan of oak in my whiskey. So, I would rate this one third of the three even though it is still an outstanding Bourbon that I enjoy.
I really can’t decide between number 1 and number 3. I am thankful to have been on picks with two outstanding whiskies like these. Number 1 is actually from the barrel that I beat the living crap out of with the wooden mallet, so I have a soft place in my heart for that one. So, I’ll call it my favorite.
Both 1 and 3 (barrels 8500 and 8501 are available now at Westport now. I know people flock to 15 year old Knob Creeks like a mob to toilet paper during a pandemic, but these 9 year old Bourbons have much more complexity and sweetness than the 15 year, in my opinion. Stop by and pick one up while you can.
The folks at Westport are doing some creative things right now in light of practically everything being shutdown. They are still open and offer delivery and some “grab and go deals” that you can find by clicking here. I would encourage you to “support local” at this time especially. In this case “supporting local” will also get you the best that you can hope to find in terms of whiskey quality and customer service. Here’s to hoping we can gather in the tasting room at Westport, again, sometime soon.