I stand corrected

Wouldn’t you know it? On the day when I repeat what I was told over the weekend (Pappy at the beginning of December), those Van Winkles make a liar of me.

Turns out Pappy will arrive later this month. If you really want your Pappy, you’ll need to act fast.

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A little more on the fall releases

So I visited a couple of retail establishments this weekend. I spent a bit of time talking to the whiskey guys and I asked the questions that seem to be on everyone’s minds: when will we get our BTAC and Pappy?

The consensus seems to be that we can expect the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection soon. While the retailers don’t get any real advanced notice of when they’ll get Pappy or how much they’ll get, both of the whiskey guys said they were expecting to see Mr Van Winkle around the first of December.

If you’re desperate for Pappy, call your favorite retailer and find out if they’ve got a waiting list. The sooner you let your whiskey guy know that you’re interested, the better.

If you’re like me, you’re seriously considering skipping the Pappy and doubling down on BTAC. For my whiskey dollar, it just doesn’t get much better than the William Larue Weller.

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Go read this

Seriously, go read this.

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About a week before I came across the bacon bourbon recipe, the Pretty Little Wife and I went out for a Friday lunch at the Dallas Chop House – restaurant week rocks – and I ordered their Madagascar Manhattan. It’s pretty much a standard Manhattan made with vanilla-infused bourbon. It was excellent.

While I may not have been terribly pleased with the results of my bacon bourbon experiment, it did teach me that infusing bourbon with other flavors was a fairly straightforward process. I managed to pick up some vanilla beans at the local mega-mart and I settled on Maker’s Mark as my target bourbon since I thought its sweetness would go well with the vanilla.

I started by splitting three vanilla beans lengthwise and dropping them into a jar along with the entire 750 of Maker’s. I let this sit for two days, giving it an occasional shake. I then fished out the beans, scraped out the seeds, and returned the seeds to the jar while discarding the pods. After two more days with occasional shaking, I filtered the bourbon back into its original bottle.

It’s a little sweet to be drinking straight, but it is delicious and excellent in cocktails. I can’t wait until the holidays get here and I have the opportunity to try my eggnog recipe with Madagascar Maker’s.

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That time of year

It’s that time of year again. WordPress is telling me daily that people are desperate for information on the 2012 fall releases of Pappy Van Winkle and the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.

I’m as excited and anxious as everyone else. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard anything yet.

My advice to you, my friends, is to call your local whiskey merchant and ask.

Don’t have a preferred whiskey merchant? Then take this opportunity to go develop one. Get to know the whiskey guy (or gal) at your friendly neighborhood liquor store. It probably won’t get you to the top of this year’s Pappy waiting list, but it will pay off in other ways: recommendations on whiskers you may like, warnings about the bad stuff, and maybe…just maybe, a heads up about the next special release before the whiskey hits the shelves.

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A few weeks ago, the folks over at Buffalo Trace (or the ad agency that handles their social media) shared a link on on Facebook. Here’s that link.

I clicked through. I read the recipe. The hamster wheels in my head started turning…

I love bourbon. I love bacon. The process seems simple enough. And when I’m done, not only will I have a bottle of bacon-infused bourbon, I’ll have a plate of delicious bacon. Sold!

I got my bacon. I got my bourbon. I made bacon-infused bourbon.

In hindsight, I believe I was so caught up in the excitement of what I could do that I didn’t stop to think about what I should do. I’m not saying the bacon bourbon is bad, just that I don’t expect to be making any more.

Bacon bourbon certainly isn’t for drinking straight. While it is smoky and salty in a fairly pleasant way, it also has a greasy finish that is not particularly pleasant. The bacon old fashioned is a significantly better delivery system as the syrup seems to cover up some of the oiliness. However, it’s still not a drink I would prepare for myself regularly.

The lesson here kids is that two great tastes do not always taste great together.

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Bottom Shelf Tasting Results

On August 25th, 2012, an illustrious panel of experts convened at Derby Gras Resort & Spa to participate in a blind tasting of four non-premium and one premium American whiskies.  The five whiskies were decanted into wine bottles by the Pretty Little Wife to ensure that even I was flying blind.

The first whiskey we tasted was McAfee’s Benchmark, a straight bourbon whiskey made in Kentucky by the Sazerac company, owners of Buffalo Trace.  The panelists agreed that it had a fairly light bronze color with descriptions ranging from “apricot” to “apple juice”.  Patrick – our Scotch expert – got notes of charcoal and smoke on the nose while Black Belt Kurt reported that it just smelled like “rubbing alcohol.”  The general consensus was that the taste was light with hints of citrus and sweetness.  According to Mike, the finish was tingly with a hint of cherry.  Most of the panel felt that the bourbon was smooth and easy to drink, but not particularly exciting. 

The second whiskey was Jim Beam white label.  Everyone noted the slightly darker color and reported a much stronger nose.  Several of the tasting panel reported smelling peanut and pecan.  The nutty notes were prominent in the flavor, along with char and dried apple.  A couple of the panel felt the flavor was unpleasant including Marathon Kurt, who described it as “old bike tires.”  The general consensus was that the Beam finished hotter than the Benchmark, which pleased some of the tasters and left others hurting.  Ben wrote down that the finish had strong notes of “regret.”

Whiskey number three was Brown Forman’s Early Times Kentucky Whiskey, which doesn’t meet all the legal qualifications to be labeled a bourbon in the United States.  The color was very similar to Jim Beam, being a darker shade of light amber.  The panel was all over the map on the nose with reports of honey, vanilla, cherry, vinegar, and industrial chemicals.  One panelist felt that it had no significant flavor while others reported that it was slightly sweet but too boozy.  Almost all of the tasters felt that the finish was hot, sharp, and “cheap.” 

The fourth whiskey turned out to be the “premium” of the bunch:  Four Roses Single Barrel.  It was the darkest of the four so far.  Patrick got notes of leather and honey on the nose, while several of the other panelists reported vanilla, caramel, and toffee.  In his notes on the taste, Bernard wrote that it was “rich” and “GOOD.”  More than one panelist reported tasting leather (“in a good way”).  My own notes show that I tasted “citrus & spice.”  Cinnamon, ginger, and pleasant heat were common descriptions of the finish.

The last whiskey of the day was Evan Williams black label from Heaven Hill.  Roughly the same color as the Beam and Early Times, the nose was weak.  I picked up cherries and char in the taste while Patrick listed charcoal and grain.  Most of the panel reported that it was sweet, but not pleasant.  One taster described the finish as “smooth and uneventful” while Ben described it as “a gentle violation.” 

In the end, about half the panel preferred the Four Roses and the other half favored Jim Beam.  Benchmark and Early Times seem to be the middle of the pack, with most of the panel feeling that they were acceptable choices and probably not half bad for the price.  Evan Williams was disliked by nearly everyone.

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The Methodology

I have enough volunteers to make up a good tasting panel.

I have selected the whiskeys we will be tasting.

Time to say a few words about how this blind tasting business will be conducted.

We will taste five whiskeys. Four of the five will be “bottom shelf” and one will be a premium bourbon from my collection. The whiskeys will be numbered one to five and the tasters won’t be told what each one is until we have tasted and discussed all five.

We will consider the standard things: appearance, nose, taste, and finish. We will take notes and discuss our impressions. We will each rate the whiskeys on a simple scale of 1 to 10. When it’s all said and done, I will reveal which whiskey was which. And, of course, I’ll share the outcome with you guys.

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The Lineup

Now that I have a few participants lined up for the Bourbon in Exile Bottom Shelf Blind Tasting, it’s time to figure out what we’ll be tasting. I suppose we ought to start by refining what we mean by “bottom shelf bourbon”.

Obviously, price has to be the first thing we consider. If you’re paying $20 or more for 750mL of whiskey, you’re no longer shopping on the bottom shelf. Anything over $20 is right out. Under $15 is better. Under $10 is a home run.

Just so I don’t have to do any complicated dilution math, we’re only going to consider 80 proof (and maybe 86 proof – aka Kentucky Proof) whiskeys.

Finally, whole I have a natural bias in favor of bourbon, I see no reason to exclude Tennessee whiskey. It may not be aged the same, but it’s close enough for government work.

Based on these entirely arbitrary rules, I’ve compiled a list of candidate whiskeys. In reverse alphabetical order, they are:

  • Wild Turkey 80 proof – produced by Wild Turkey – $13
  • Ten High 80 proof – produced by Sazerac- $9
  • Rebel Yell 80 proof – produced by Heaven Hill for Luxco – $14
  • Old Taylor 80 proof – produced by Sazerac – $15
  • Old Grand Dad 86 (Kentucky) proof – produced by Beam – $13
  • Old Forester 86 proof – produced by Brown Forman – $13
  • Old Fitzgerald – produced by Heaven Hill – $16
  • Old Crow 80 proof – produced by Beam- $10
  • Jim Beam 80 proof – Beam – $13
  • Jack Daniels – Brown Forman – $17
  • Henry McKenna – produced by Heaven Hill – $15
  • Heaven Hill – $11
  • Ezra Brooks – produced by Heaven Hill for Luxco- $15
  • Evan Williams 86 proof – produced by Heaven Hill- $10
  • Early Times – produced by Brown Forman – $11
  • Ancient Age – produced by Sazerac – $15

Of course there’s no way we can taste more than four or five bottles, so the list will be trimmed down based on availability and the desires of the panelists. We can also thin out the pack a bit by only tasting one whiskey from any given producer. Finally, if there are any whiskeys you guys feel strongly about, let me know and I’ll take that into consideration when compiling the final list.

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The Plan

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my nearly 12 months as a semi-active blogger, it’s this: developing your own thoughts and opinions is hard work. It is far easier to collect and share the opinions of others. Of course, if I just regurgitate everything Chuck Cowdery says, you’ll stop reading my blog and just read his instead. In order to produce more original content without having to do any real thinking, I’ve decided to get some friends together for a blind tasting of non-premium bourbons.

It’s an idea I’ve been kicking around for a while now: the bottom shelf bourbon tasting. I’ll get five or six people together and we’ll taste our way through a few of the less expensive bourbons commonly found at your local liquor stores. We will take notes and discuss our observations and then I will collect the results to share with the world. I’m genuinely curious to know how Evan Williams and Jim Beam white label stack up against Old Fitzgerald and Fighting Cock.

Maybe, since it’s going to be a blind tasting and all, I will throw in one premium bottle, to see how it stacks up with the rest. When it’s all said and done, I hope to be able to put the Bourbon in Exile stamp of approval on at least one sub $20 bottle.

Anyone want to volunteer?

If this goes well, the next tasting will likely involve my Stitzel-Weller stock.

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