I celebrated the one-year anniversary of Bourbon Justice this weekend as an author invited to the Kentucky Book Fair—everything in that statement is still a little surreal.
On the drive home from Lexington, my mind meandered through the past year since Bourbon Justice was released. It’s been a year of significant pain, but family and friends—including many friends who I only met because of a shared appreciation of bourbon—comforted me.
It has also helped to meet even more people who have supported me along the way and people who just want to talk about bourbon. The discussion usually involves current brands, new bourbons to try, and rock-star Master Distillers, but my hope is that Bourbon Justice may have had a small role in piquing a broader interest in the uniquely-American history of bourbon.
Old friends and new acquaintances are surprised that the phrase “brand name” originated with bourbon and that, in the late 1800’s, the federal government apparently cared less about protecting citizens from dangerous products and adulterated food than it cared about ensuring that whiskey was pure. People want to learn about bourbon history.
They’re visiting distilleries in record numbers too. Visitors to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® have skyrocketed and, in the last decade, Kentucky has gone from 8 to about 70 distilleries. While the seemingly-insatiable appetite for bourbon and bourbon knowledge is striking, in the past year I’ve been perhaps even more surprised that bourbon is still at the leading edge of American commerce and law.
I had not anticipated how timely of a topic bourbon is today, both for those domestic topics and for international relations. Bourbon is playing a crucial role in the current-day trade war with counter-tariffs targeted against farmers who grow our grains and even more specifically targeted against bourbon, presumably because 95% of it is still made in Kentucky, a state that voted “red” and that is home of the Senate Majority Leader.
Best of all though, the past year has shown me that bourbon is not just a welcome diversion from current events, but it also provides much needed common ground. Despite plenty of room for disagreement, it’s unifying and gives us a sense of collective pride. That’s partly why bourbon is uniquely American, just like the complex experience of being American. We need each other, and bourbon can help bring us together.
I appreciate everyone’s support and raise a toast to our future.
A year after the resounding success of #Willett2BCured—a charity event sponsored by The Bourbon Crusaders and Willett Distillery—The Bourbon Crusaders crushed it again. For the fourth year of their annual event, The Bourbon Crusaders partnered with Four Roses to benefit two Kentucky food banks, God’s Pantry and Dare to Care, setting new records along the way and trending the hashtag #BarrelThroughHunger.
Brent Elliott, Master Distiller of Four Roses, led a VIP tasting of Elliott’s Select, Four Roses Small Batch Select, and two short barrels picked for the event, and he also shared a barrel-aged imperial stout collaboration between Four Roses and Brooklyn Brewery. Brent also led all of the guests on a tasting of all of Four Roses’ ten recipes with single barrels collected by members of The Bourbon Crusaders.
Guests mingled with the likes of Chris Morris of Brown-Forman / Woodford Reserve, Dr. Pat Heist of Wilderness Trial, and the team from Four Roses—Al Young, Marcus Niemann, and Mandy Vance. After a night of generous bidding on silent auction items and dinner served by chef Josh Moore, MCs Fred Minnick and Ryan Cecil opened the highly-anticipated live auction. Barrels offered by four Kentucky distilleries and other live auction items helped push the total for donations past last year’s record of $340,000. Especially with the help of the oldest-ever Four Roses barrel offered for a private barrel selection that sold for $65,000, The Bourbon Crusaders raised about $375,000 for God’s Pantry and Dare to Care!
Just like last year, The Bourbon Crusaders proved that it’s not just about the bourbon.
I’m way behind the curve on barrel-aged Imperial Stout. I never really gave bourbon-barrel aged anything a chance because more than a decade ago, when bourbon barrel aging started creeping into beer and wine, I liked to keep my beer and my bourbon separate.
Fast forward to spring 2019 at The Bar at Willett when I tried an Imperial Stout from Other Half Brewing Company in Brooklyn aged for 12 months in a Willett bourbon barrel. I was shocked at what I had been missing and it sent me on a quest.
Around the same time, the Bourbon Community Roundtable was getting close to receiving our own Imperial Stout brewed by 3rd Turn Brewing in Louisville aged in a Buffalo Trace barrel that we had selected, so my excitement for that went through the roof. 3rd Turn used a recipe with Carafa light-roasted spring barley along with chocolate wheat malt to add an espresso-like bouquet and chocolate flavors, and I was hoping that our barrel produced the same magic as the Willett barrel.
As I waited impatiently for our Imperial Stout, I made several trips to Liquor Barn, each time trying a new array of Stouts, Imperial Stouts, and barrel-aged Imperial Stouts. It’s safe to say that I’m hooked now.
I’ve arranged these Stouts by price per ounce except for our Bourbon Community Roundtable collaboration Imperial Stout, which I saved for last. Try these or others and comment below so that I can continue my Stout journey.
Nitro Milk Stout
Brewery: Left Hand Brewing Co., Colorado
Barrel Aged: No
Cost: $12.99 6 pk. 12 oz. bottles (18 cents per ounce)
Very thin and light head. The bottle suggests pouring it hard, but even then, there’s not much head.
All lactose and cocoa.
Not heavy. Its lightness was refreshing, but that also means that it wasn’t particularly complex or contemplative. Soft roasted malt and lots of cocoa with extremely low carbonation—too low in my book.
Nothing really, just a fresh, milky aftertaste.
Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout
Brewery: North Coast Brewing, Fort Bragg, California
Barrel Aged: No
Cost: $10.99 4 pk. 12 oz. bottles (23 cents per ounce)
Black with a huge creamy light tan head.
Malty, faint dark chocolate, nutty, raisins, and maybe caramel.
Higher carbonation than most of these Stouts. Flavor of Italian espresso. I tasted it right after the Left Hand Milk Stout and it was so different—no lactose of course, not very creamy, and not nearly as much chocolate. The chocolate was different; instead of chocolate milk it was more of a slightly boozy dark chocolate dessert.
A little bitter coffee / espresso and richly warming.
35k Milk Stout
Brewery: Against the Grain Brewery, Louisville, Kentucky
Barrel Aged: No
Cost: $14.99 4 pk. 16 oz. cans (23 cents per ounce)
Dark black with a light brown head.
Roasted malt, whoppers, and chocolate milk.
Milky, creamy, whoppers, and chocolate. A light fizz and the sweetness made it mouthwatering, but the thick sweetness wasn’t overpowering. This was really good.
Nothing really other than sustained mouthwatering sweetness and roasted malt.
Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel-Aged Stout
Brewery: New Holland Brewing, Holland, Michigan
Barrel Aged: Yes—time undisclosed
Cost: $16.99 4 pk. 12 oz. bottles (35 cents per ounce)
Nice tan head that dissipates quickly.
Pure chocolate malt.
Definite barrel influence and lightly carbonated, with roasty malt, cocoa, and vanilla.
Fading chocolate malt.
70k Imperial Milk Stout
Brewery: Against the Grain Brewery, Louisville, Kentucky
Barrel Aged: Yes—“for a really, really long time”
Cost: $19.99 750 mL bottle (~25 oz) (80 cents per ounce)
Dense black with a creamy tan head.
Coffee and cream, light oak, vanilla, chocolate shop, and coconut.
So creamy; mocha, sweetened cream, sticky caramel, and more coconut. No hint of the high ABV. I’m still looking for the bourbon and oak. But there was something acidic that maybe was the bourbon coming through, and it was distracting.
Not overly sweet, lots of malted barley.
Ink Imperial Stout
Brewery: Rhinegeist Brewery, Cincinnati, Ohio
Barrel Aged: No
Cost: $18.99 22 oz. bottle (86 cents per ounce)
Let’s just say “Ink” is an appropriate name. Pitch black with a thick tan head.
Vanilla, roasted malt, light cocoa, sugary cereal, and sweet cappuccino.
This is really superb—coffee, roasted malt, mocha, and toffee. I can’t wait to hunt for the barrel-aged version of Ink. I was surprised to like it so much. The balance, the creaminess, just the right amount of carbonation—all left me wanting to stock up.
Coating, thick, dark chocolate, but somewhat drying.
And now, for the barrel-aged Imperial Stout that all of this has been leading up to:
Pursuit Series / Bourbon Community Roundtable barrel-aged Imperial Stout
Brewery: 3rd Turn Brewery, Louisville, Kentucky
Barrel Aged: Yes—15 months in a Buffalo Trace barrel that we selected
IBUs: Not disclosed
Cost: $25.00 32 oz. crowlers (78 cents per ounce)
Black with a creamy tan head.
Roasted malt, cocoa, and sweet cream.
It’s boozy for sure—boozier than any of the others—but not distractingly so. Instead it’s more of an afterthought to the creaminess and the pure Whoppers with coconut balanced by robust oak character.
Warming milk chocolate fondue with remaining tannins to balance the sweetness.
While I’m going to stick to bourbon as a whole, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my Stout diversion. I learned that—like bourbon—Stout is best when shared with friends and best when you can open a few different varieties. After trying each of these individually on my own, I had many of them again with friends, along with a few others; it’s great to compare and contrast them and, most of all, to enjoy them with company.
Like bourbon, my test for these Stouts is essentially which ones would I buy again, which ones would I just a soon pass on, and which ones will I affirmatively seek out? I didn’t dislike any that I tried, so I’m not avoiding any and depending on which are available, I’d buy them all again. But I certainly have priorities. After my BCR Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout is gone, I have a feeling that I’m going to be all about Rhinegeist. I’d happily pay the price for another bottle of Ink and I will definitely be on the lookout for barrel-aged Ink.
I’ll also be repeat purchaser of 70k and 35k if I can’t find Rhinegeist. After those, the prices were more reasonable, and my order of preference was Dragon’s Milk, Old Rasputin, and Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout. And, of course, there are a multitude of other Stouts and Imperial Stouts that I’ll need to try and maybe one day I’ll even luck into a Goose Island Bourbon County barrel-aged Stout. So, with apologies to the beer enthusiasts out there, you have one more fan who is looking for Stouts. At least the other enthusiasts have our BCR Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout to add to their hunt.
On September 18, 2019, six semifinal winners from across the United States and the European semifinal winner converged on Lux Row Distillers in Bardstown, Kentucky, for the Championship of the Bourbon Battle Cocktail Competition.
These mixologists were challenged to create original bourbon cocktails crafted with either Rebel Yell or Ezra Brooks, and they competed in live events from May through July.
The regional champion contestants were:
Derek Jeffries, Seattle, with the “Alpha Centauri” (surprise ingredient: Jagermeister).
Naomi Roquet, St. Louis, with the “Millions of Peaches” (bourbon, peaches, and mint are perfect together).
Giacomo Ciminello, Cincinnati, with “Three Ways to Midnight” (evoking Cincinnati-style chili even to the point where it was garnished with shredded Gjetost cheese).
Brock Schulte, Kansas City, with the “We Jammin’” (so insightful with dual acids and texture).
Jake Smith, Louisville, with the “Kentiki Masala” (a pinch of Garam Masala makes this cocktail the most creative without being weird).
Marie Teckmyer, Cleveland, with the “Down the Rabbit Hole” (Marie’s a story-teller and this was the most refreshing cocktail of them all).
Mike Pendergast, London, England, with “If you Don’t Dance, Then Sit Down” (my overall best cocktail of the first round).
As a judge for the Championship, I was asked to score each cocktail based on appearance, aroma, creativity, taste, and overall impression. Each contestant had seven minutes to prepare the cocktail that got them here. For me, Marie and Mike unquestionably had the best cocktails in the first round. They advanced along with Brock and Naomi.
Round Two had each contestant prepare a second cocktail of their own creation. I was blown away by Brock’s second cocktail, which he named “(W)risky Colada” that again used dual acids (pineapple and lime), a splash of apple cider, and was topped with coconut cream. I also loved Marie’s second cocktail, named “Kettle Popcorn Milk Punch a/k/a ‘Dancing With Myself.’” From her base of Rebel Yell, to her homemade butter corn cream, the creative addition of sweet potato Soju, and a Billy Idol leather bracelet around each glass, Marie absolutely nailed it.
Both Naomi and Mike made a pretty boozy cocktail, although both were certainly still solid. Naomi’s was pure dessert, like a chocolate hazelnut torte, but too boozy. Mike’s smelled like a lemon drop candy and the flavors were balanced by toasted pecan bitters, but I was sure that Brock and Marie were advancing.
I was only half right. After the votes were tallied, Marie and Mike advanced to the final round, which was done “Chopped” style. Each contestant received a sealed box of surprise ingredients and they were given seven minutes to craft a new cocktail on the spot. The pressure was palpable!
Marie and Mike enjoyed each other’s company (and stress) as they devised their plans, even sharing a cutting board. As Marie emptied her basket, checking out each potential ingredient, she remarked “Oh, I like that” under her breath when she found the coffee liqueur. Her plan was taking shape. With Ezra Brooks, a little bit of dry vermouth, and orange zest, Marie created “The Wake Up Call.”
Mike went for Rebel Yell along with two of the safest bourbon cocktail ingredients in existence—blackberries and mint—with crème de banana, sweet and dry vermouth, and Angostura bitters to create what he named “Crème de Banan-hattan a/k/a Brass Tacks Truth” (it’s hard enough to create a cocktail under pressure, let alone come up with a name…).
It was an incredibly close vote, but we crowned Mike the 2019 Champion of the Lux Row Bourbon Battle. As the Bourbon Battle Champion, Mike won a private barrel selection with Head Distiller John Rempe that he’ll receive with a custom-made label.
The creativity was off the charts for all the contestants. The variety and uniqueness of the ingredients created aromas and flavors that you’ll never find if you stick to tried-and-true cocktails. So be adventurous. Try new bourbon cocktails. Talk to these masters behind the bar. And prepare to be amazed.
Reviews posted on consecutive days? It must be National Bourbon Heritage Month! This makes the timing right for the perennial highly-anticipated limited edition Parker’s Heritage Collection from Heaven Hill, which for the first time ever is a Rye Whiskey.
Heaven Hill continues to honor its late Master Distiller Emeritus Parker Beam while also continuing to support ALS research and patient care with the 2019 release of Parker’s Heritage Collection. Heaven Hill used its standard 51% rye-grain mashbill, but this time the barrels were Level 5 char (instead of level 3, which means an additional 50 seconds of flame) and they were all aged high in the warehouse (7th floor). So, the combination of the heavier char and hottest location in the warehouse should produce a spicier, more oaky whiskey from greater interaction with the barrel. Of course, this limited edition whiskey is non-chill filtered to retain more flavor.
Parker’s Heritage Collection Tasting Notes
Bourbon: Parker’s Heritage Collection, 13th Edition (2019) Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Distillery: Heaven Hill, Bardstown, Kentucky (distilled in Louisville and aged in Bardstown)
Age: 8 years, 9 months
ABV: 52.5% (105 proof)
Brown with a shimmer of gold.
Heavy oak and leather, but wow, there’s a blast of alcohol heat too. While there’s a hint of some cotton candy sweetness, that’s about the only sweetness.
My first impression on the first pour was that it was way too hot neat. The first week I needed to try it on ice, which really improved it for me. It retained its rye spice, oak, and cinnamon, but added a little more balance with vanilla and a mint kicker. I came back for a second pour a week later and the heat had definitely dissipated. During the second week I didn’t add ice and enjoyed it neat with a robust blast of oak, char, pepper, and baking spice for an overall dry, spicy experience. My third and final tasting had the same sort of heat and spice as the first time; I wish that I could have duplicated that middle tasting.
The finish had the same night-and-day difference for me between tastings. During the first week when it seemed too hot, the finish was overshadowed by the burn, but on ice, the finish was warming with caramel sweetness before shifting back to spice and oak for a dry finish. On my second tasting, I never wanted ice or a splash of water; I enjoyed the robust finish that was overall spicy and dry, but it had an almost sherry-cask-finished dark sweetness. My final tasting gave me more of the heat again as a big robust whiskey.
Pikesville Rye is one of my favorite whiskies, so I was hoping for Pikesville on steroids for PHC 13. That’s not really where it landed for me. Kudos to Heaven Hill for including a Rye Whiskey in the Parker’s Heritage lineup and for continuing to support the fight against ALS, but expect some push-back at this price. The proof doesn’t sound high in today’s climate of barrel-proof mania—and Heaven Hill no doubt would have received all kinds of grief if it released PHC 13 under 100 proof—but especially on the first taste it might have been over-proofed. I still don’t understand the chemistry enough to know why some 120 proof whiskies mask their high ABV while other lower-proof whiskies seem to taste so much higher, but regardless, be ready to add a splash of water to PHC 13 or to pour it over ice.
But I also re-learned my lesson about going back for a second try. The tasting experience is influenced by your surroundings, your mood, what you had for dinner, and innumerable other factors. My second try was so much better than the first to the point that I wouldn’t have bought it during the first week whereas I would definitely buy it the second week. My third try was somewhere in between, so I’ll be on the hunt for PCH 13, and I recommend it as a buy for barrel-proof fans, rye fans, and anyone who favors dryness and spice over sweetness in their whiskey.
Disclaimer: The brand managers kindly sent me a sample
for this review, without any strings attached.