Happy Thanksgiving! Have some mulled cider with bourbon.

Posted on by Eric Burke

As it is Thanksgiving this week in the US, I would like to take a moment to thank every one of you who read this blog on a regular basis. It's heartening to find that there are people out there who find what I have to say interesting. 

I would especially like to thank those of you who have opened your wallets and signed up to support my writing financially. I am humbled that there are people out there who find enough value in what I write that they have decided to give a little of that value back. Although freelancing is a more than full-time gig on many occasions, your generosity has made me carve out the time—sometimes late at night just before bed—to make sure I am keeping up on the writing you are paying for. Without those nudges, there would have been many times where I would have skipped a post or two in favor of a little sleep. In fact if any reader enjoys the blog appearing on a regular basis, it's the patrons you have to thank for it.

And as it is Thanksgiving and you will hopefully be spending time with your family later this week, I have a tasty recipe to share that will hopefully keep things a little tastier. This can be made non-alcoholic if you have kids around. But it is very tasty in its more grown-up condition. I make enough for my wife and I using a small crock-pot, but if you have more people sharing, just add more cider to a larger crockpot. 

Mulled Hard Cider with Bourbon

Cinnamon Stick, 1 stick or 1 tsp Cinnamon chunks
Whole Cloves, 1 tsp
White Cardamom Pods, about 15-20 cracked
Coriander, 1 tsp
Star Anise, 1 whole
Lemon Zest

2 Bottles of a sweeter hard cider (dry ciders, like the ones I make don't work as well for this. I found Angry Orchard's regular cider worked pretty well) if making a kid-friendly version use a good apple juice here.

Dump all of that in your crockpot and let cook on low for at least three hours. You don't want to let it boil. I've gone as long as six hours without any ill effects and I assume you could go longer.

After you pour your cup, add anywhere from a tablespoon to an ounce of bourbon, I used Wild Turkey 101. Obviously skip this step if you are making it for the kiddies. I've made both the hard cider and the apple juice versions and like them both. I hope you like them too. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I will be taking the day off to spend with my own family on Thursday so see you all next week. is entirely reader supported. Click the support link at the top to buy a t-shirt, poster or mug or if you want to find out how to get bonus content, please go to to pledge ongoing support. Thank you.

James E. Pepper 1776 Brown Ale, aged in Rye Whiskey Barrels

Posted on by Eric Burke

There is a store in Wisconsin that on certain days, probably get’s more business from Minnesota than it does from locals. I will admit to being one of many Minnesotans who likes buying a beer or whiskey from a store on whichever day I happen to be at it. Unfortunately, many stores in the state of Minnesota don’t feel it is in their best interest to serve their customers on the days the customers want to be served, preferring instead to lobby against changing a law who’s time has long passed it by.

See, in Minnesota, it is illegal for a liquor store to be open on Sunday’s regardless of the fact that it is one of the two busiest shopping days of the week. Many liquor stores prefer it that way. Why? you might ask. Well the thought is that they will make as many sales if they are open 6 days a week as if they are open 7 days a week. Plus they won’t have to pay anyone on that seventh day. It doesn’t matter what the customers overwhelmingly want. And sadly, politicians in Minnesota are just like they are everywhere else. People that pay, get the votes in the legislature and those who don’t, get the shaft.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, its two largest population centers are also on the border with a state who is more than happy to take the tax dollars on Sunday. There are 4.14 million people in the two largest population centers in Minnesota. There are 5.5 million in the state. And though people might not drive an extra hour to get a beer, many places in the Twin Cities metro are about a half hour apart meaning over 40% of the the population of the state* could conceivably make a run for the border while on regular shopping trips without going very far out of the way. Sending tax dollars out of state.

All because some store owners would rather enshrine their dislike of competition in law instead of giving customers what they want. It’s one of the reasons I try to choose places like Ace Spirits who would be open on Sunday if the law would let them. Plus, since I visit family in Wisconsin quite often on Sundays, the purchases I might have made in Minnesota are made at Casanova Liquors in Hudson, just before I hit the border. 

One of the things I found on a Wisconsin trip this summer was 1776 Brown Ale, aged in Rye Whiskey Barrels. I held it in the closet until the weather was right for a barrel-aged ale and here it is.

James E. Pepper 1776 Brown Ale, aged in Rye Whiskey Barrels

Purchase Info: Casanova Liquors, Hudson, WI. I didn’t keep a receipt for this one, but it was roughly $10 for a bomber.

Details: Brown ale aged in rye whiskey barrels. 10.4% ABV. Brewed and bottled by Georgetown Trading Co., Sterling, VA.

Nose: Bready and vineous.

Mouth: Sweet caramel layered over typical bready brown ale notes. After a few sips you start tasting the spiciness of the rye.

Thoughts: This is sweet, but not as sweet as most barrel aged beers I’ve had. Whether that is due to the use of rye barrels or from a quirk of the aging process, I have no idea. I like the spiciness in the back of the mouth though. If you like barrel-aged beers, certainly check this out. If it were available in Minnesota, I would definitely pick up another bottle…just not on a Sunday.

*figuring that half of the population of the metro area of the Twin Cities and all of the population of Duluth could make Wisconsin part of their Sunday shopping trips without going too much out of their way. Yes, I get that socioeconomic factors might drop this down quite a bit, but even half of that would be still be 20% of the state population… is entirely reader supported. Click the support link at the top to buy a t-shirt, poster or mug or if you want to find out how to get bonus content, please go to to pledge ongoing support. Thank you.

James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Posted on by Eric Burke

I’m a bit odd when it comes to places. Certain ones just make me a bit uncomfortable. And I’m not talking high crime areas either. As an example, the small town my wife is from happened to be on the route that my father took when he picked me up to spend a weekend with him. I always hated that town, specifically one end of the town. I just always got a creepy-crawly feeling whenever we’d drive through.

I get a similar feeling when I drive through Indianapolis. I often joke to my wife as we drive through that I don’t quite believe that it exists. That maybe it is just a giant hallucination we’ve all bought into. There does’t seem to be any reason why it is in the particular location it’s in other than someone pointed to a map and said “that looks like the middle.” (Exaggerating for effect, but read for yourself.) In any case, I get that same creepy-crawly feeling whenever we drive through Indianapolis. As if my body just doesn’t want to be there. And since it is pretty much the only thing worth noting on a drive through Indiana, by extension, I tend to not like Indiana. At least not to drive through.

Which brings me to my main point. I’m about to say something that to some folks will be controversial. Even though I tend to not like driving through Indiana, I do tend to like whiskey from Indiana. Specifically I tend to like products that come from the MGP distillery in Lawrenceburg, IN. I seldom like the (probably fake or at least borrowed) histories that come along with the whiskeys, but unfortunately few folks are willing to let the whiskey inside the bottle be the draw. Which is too bad, those that do tend to do well with them especially when they have a little age on them. High West and Smooth Ambler come to mind.

So it was with interest that I noticed the “Aged 6 Years” on the front label and the “Distilled in Indiana” on the back label when I picked up a bottle of James E. Pepper 1776 bourbon to review. 

James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Purchase Info: $35.99 for a 750 mL bottle. Casanova Liquors, Hudson, WI.

Details: Distilled in Indiana. Stated age: 6 years. 46% ABV.

Nose: Dessert-like with baking spices and brown sugar. 

Mouth: Mouth follows the nose with more baking spices, toffee and brown sugar but with the addition of what can only be described as eucalyptus.

Finish: Sweet with a gentle burn. Lingering baking spices. 

Thoughts: MGP makes very good bourbon. This is no exception. Six years old, 90+ proof, for about $35? Yes all around. I’d recommend this one and will be happy to pick up another if it is similarly priced. is entirely reader supported. Click the support link at the top to buy a t-shirt, poster or mug or if you want to find out how to get bonus content, please go to to pledge ongoing support. Thank you.

Head to head: 1792 vs 1792 store pick

Posted on by Eric Burke

When you buy as much whiskey as I do, there will be times when you have multiples of a product. Either because you were afraid it would be out of stock soon, it was on sale with a deal too good to pass up or because you just felt like treating yourself and buying it. 

Yes. I have a bit of a shopping problem.

In any case I recently ended up doing exactly that last thing on the list. I was in the store, looking to grab a six pack of beer to serve with the pizza I was making for Friday night, when I noticed a rack of 1792 bourbon in the corner with a big sign at the top proclaiming it to be $23.99. When I got over there, I also noticed that it had a sticker on it proclaiming it to be a “Single Barrel Select” that had been selected for my local liquor store. (Yes, it says selected for, not by.)

A long time ago, I picked up a store selection of 1792 to compare to the base release and found almost no difference between the two. Frankly, I expected the same this time around, but it was a good price and, dang it, I wanted to treat myself. So I picked it up even knowing I had a bottle in the closet at home that I acquired at the Master Distiller’s Auction in Bardstown. But, trying them side-by-side, I was pleasantly surprised. The difference wasn’t huge, but it was big enough to be discernible. 

This is why I love whiskey. This sort of thing is so much fun!

1792 Bourbon: Regular Release vs Store Single Barrel (MGM Wine & Spirits)

Regular Release:

Purchase Info: ~$20, 750 mL bottle. Master Distiller’s Auction, Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

Details: 46.85% ABV

Nose: Spearmint, pear, cinnamon and oak.

Mouth: Soft mouthfeel with a lot of heat. Black pepper, mint, caramel/vanilla and oak. 

Finish: Hot and on the short side of medium. Lingering mint and black pepper.

MGM Wine and Spirits Single Barrel Select:

Purchase Info: $23.99, 750 mL bottle. MGM Wine and Spirits, Prior Lake, MN

Details: 46.85% ABV

Nose: Wet rock, soap, fruit, vanilla, oak and hints of mint.

Mouth: Not as hot and sweeter than the regular release with brown sugar and a generic fruitiness added to the black pepper, mint and oak of the regular release.

Finish: Warm, but on the short side with a lingering sweet fruitiness.

Thoughts: This is what I want when I grab a store pick and do a head-to-head. This is certainly within the 1792 flavor profile, but there are enough differences for me to notice. Actually, I could wish this was the profile of the regular release. Though it is good, I hesitate to buy 1792 normally because I like my bourbon a little on the sweet side with a little less heat than your normal 1792 brings along with it. This is slightly milder, and I think that for me it is just about perfect for that flavor profile.

I completely recommend that you do this experiment yourself if you get the opportunity. Buy a store pick (doesn’t have to be 1792), but grab the regular one too should you have the opportunity. Compare them. Decide which you like better. Figure out why. Because the list of variables here will be smaller, this experiment will go a long way toward helping you decide the sorts of things you like. And heck, it’s just plain fun. is entirely reader supported. Click the support link at the top to buy a t-shirt, poster or mug or if you want to find out how to get bonus content, please go to to pledge ongoing support. Thank you.

Ask Arok: Why do some small distillers not use "Straight" to describe their bourbon?

Posted on by Eric Burke

Last week, I shared an article on Twitter by Blake at where he reviewed Wyoming Whiskey. Having just visited the distillery and reviewed the product myself I joined in a discussion on Twitter that the article had spurred. 

During that discussion, the question was raised as to why Wyoming Whiskey didn't include the "Straight" designation on their label. The recent revelation that non-straight (non-bourbon*) whiskey can contain additives and flavorings has made folks, including myself, a bit gun-shy when they see a label that doesn't include it.

I guess, there is at least one thing we can thank Templeton for, they may be flavoring their whiskey, but they did end up bringing the law to our attention.

In any case, as I didn't know the answer, I reached out to the source to find out. The following is the kind response I received via email Sam Mead, Distiller at Wyoming.

Hey Eric, 
I'm going to ask around to check, but I think during the label design we just felt that "small batch" was more important that adding the straight designation, although our bourbon meets all the requirements of the straight bourbon designation (aged 2+ years, no added coloring or flavoring, and we had an age statement until we hit 4 years, then went NAS). We didn't put Small Batch Straight Bourbon Whiskey on the label because we felt at some point we were squeezing too much information into a descriptor. 
That's my guess, I wasn't heavily involved in the label design so I'll get a better answer for you today if I'm incorrect. 

He later confirmed that he was correct in his assumptions.

This is a minor trend I've started noticing on whiskey being put out by the "non-majors." And I'm not exactly sure why it is happening. I, and every bourbon geek I know, advise everyone who will listen to look for "Straight" on the label. I know that to the general public, it isn't as sexy as the meaningless term "small batch" but as consumers become more wise in the ways of bourbon, they will also start to look for it because unlike "Small Batch," it actually does mean something when comparing one whiskey to another. That said, maybe the average buyer of bourbon never becomes more wise and it is just us geeks who end up caring about such things.

I want to thank Sam for getting back to me so quickly and for allowing me to reprint his email. Even if I don't necessarily understand the reasoning the company used, I respect that they were willing to share it with readers.

*Bourbon can't contain any additives or flavoring even if it isn't labeled straight. is entirely reader supported. Click the support link at the top to buy a t-shirt, poster or mug or if you want to find out how to get bonus content, please go to to pledge ongoing support. Thank you.