Bourbon News: Margie Samuels to be Inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame

Posted on by Eric Burke

I'm not normally the type of writer who just passes along press releases. I prefer telling stories. But in this case I'm going to do it for a couple of reasons. One is that it I think this is a pretty cool story. It's nice to see people who are due recognition get it, especially when they happen to be female in a stereotypically male industry.

I say stereotypical because woman have always played a big part in the whiskey industry. Fred Minnick's great book—Whiskey Women: The Untold Story About How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch & Irish Whiskey—showed us that woman are a big part of the history of whiskey. 

In this case, the person being honored is Margie Samuels of Maker's Mark fame. The story goes that the entire Maker's brand was built on her ideas. The red wax? Margie. The distinctive and beautiful look of the distillery? Margie. Heck, they say even the name was her idea.

So like I said, I think this is a pretty good story and you can read the press release here: 

The other reason I feel ok passing this along is purely selfish. I'm going on vacation. I'll be in Kentucky next week visiting bars, distilleries and events. I'll be finishing the week with the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. If you are in the area and you see me out and about be sure to say hi! 

Willett Family Estate Bottled Bourbon, 13 year

Posted on by Eric Burke

Willett. If you are a fan of American Whiskey, you've probably heard this name.

It doesn't matter if you're a relative newcomer impressed with the distinctive still-shaped bottle of the Willett Pot Still Reserve or a seasoned veteran of the whiskey world who has found a love for the understatedly elegant label of the Family Estate Bottled Single Barrel series. Once you learn of Willett, they are someone that you keep an eye on.

Until relatively recently, Willett wasn't a distiller. They were what has come to be called a Non-Distiller Producer (NDP) And no, contrary to what you might read, this isn't a bad thing. When they are honest about it, NDPs provide a nice service by bringing to light excess bourbon that might otherwise just be blended away. In the case of Willett, they buy whiskey, age it until ready and sell it to us. This is basically humanitarianism at it’s best.

I say Willett wasn't a distillery because in addition to their amazing ability consistently find/buy/age products that are some of the best on huge market, they now distill their own as well. But that is a topic for a future post. Suffice it to say for now they the people in charge of Willett have some of the best palates in the business and every time I see one of their Family Estate Bottled products I stop, look, walk past, turn around, look some more and almost always end up buying one.

Recently, I finished a bottle of 13 year Family Estate Bottled Single Barrel Bourbon that a friend brought back for me from the distillery gift shop. It was…well, let’s just see how it was.

Willett Family Estate Bottled Single Barrel Bourbon

Purchase info: ~$120-130 for a 750 mL at the Distillery Gift Shop.

Details: 61% ABV, 13 years old, Barrel #383, Purple foil on the neck.

Nose: Silage/corn initially with hints of pickle. After sitting a bit: warm peach cobbler and caramel. 

Mouth: Sweet and tingly. Baked apple with cinnamon. Hints of hot chocolate. Strong oak.

Finish: long and hot. Cinnamon, hot cocoa and lingering oak.


Thoughts: I love this. It is easily in the conversation for a top five bourbon for me. It’s sweet, it’s spicy, it’s exactly what I look for in a bourbon. Here’s my advice to you. If you visit Willett, just buy the most expensive bottle you can afford, but don’t feel bad about not buying a more expensive one. I’ve liked every one I’ve gotten there no matter what I’ve spent and have never regretted the purchase.

1910 Canadian Rye Whisky (from the importers of Pendleton whisky)

Posted on by Eric Burke

“Now that is a beautiful bottle,” I told myself the first time I encountered a bottle of Pendleton 1910 Canadian Rye Whisky. “Too bad it’s over $40.”

Fast forward a little bit and I’m at a family reunion, talking with a cousin of mine who lives in Wyoming. He brought a bottle of whisky to the gathering and we shared a little bit of it as we sat and talked about all the things that relatives that have only seen each other a few times talk about. One of the things we talked about was what was in our glasses. In this case he brought one of his favorites, Pendleton Blended Canadian Whisky. I enjoyed it for what it was, non-offensive and easy to drink. But it reminded me of that 1910 12 year old version in the pretty bottle and got me to thinking.

Fast forward again to last fall. I’m spending the evening in Toronto. We are sipping on a 30 year old 100% rye whisky from Alberta Premium. I get a literal chill down my spine while drinking it. I’m reminded of that pretty bottle of 12 year old 100% rye that is sitting on the shelf of my local liquor store. Rumors have it that it is from the same distillery. No one can or will say for sure.

I looked at it every time I went shopping and every time I passed it by. Finally last month I gave up. It was on sale at my local liquor emporium and I pulled the trigger. It is amazing what a nice excuse saving $2 is for doing something that you wanted to do anyway.

By the time I got around to making my purchase, one thing had changed. The bottle was still pretty, but the name was now just 1910. No Pendleton. I looked online and all the reviews were for Pendleton 1910. I checked Davin’s site and it still said Pendleton. But the official page for the whisky was the same bottle as mine. I’m guessing there is a story there. Though since it probably has something to do with trademarks and naming rights, I doubt I’m that interested in finding out what it is.

1910 Canadian Rye Whisky

Purchase info: $41.99 for a 750mL at Blue Max, Burnsville, MN

Details: 40% ABV Beautiful dark copper color.

Nose: Thick, rich butterscotch. Cardamom. Dried grass. Mint. Wet slate.

Mouth: Soft and sweet with a gentle spice. Major butterscotch with hints of allspice, black pepper and cardamom.

Finish: Fairly short with refined sugar and gentle spices.


Thoughts: This is an uncomplicated whisky. It’s an easy drinking sipper that complements other activities instead of demanding your full attention. It tastes good and I enjoyed it. If you are not the type of person that likes to describe their whisky as “soft,” you might want to pass on this but to all others I’d recommend giving it a try.

An excuse for hoarding: Whiskey Party Lights

Posted on by Eric Burke

I like camping. If you do it right, it’s a nice way to have a glass of bourbon around a campfire. If you do it wrong, it’s a nice way to have a sore back every morning. I used to prefer camping the wrong way. I slept in tents for years. Then I realized that I could still have the campfire, but sleep in a bed.

I recently bought a camper. Now I camp the right way. All the bourbon, none of the sore back.

When you buy a camper, strange things go though your mind. Things like: “I need all new utensils to eat with. The ones in my house aren’t nearly good enough to take outside.” And: “I think I should buy a truck.” And: “Boy, wouldn’t it be nice to hang lights from an awning.”

I had all of these thoughts at one point or another. Some I acted on, others I didn’t. One I acted on was the awning lights. I looked at a bunch of places to see if there was anything fun to be found. Guess what? There wasn’t. I mean some people like flamingos enough to hang them from an awning. Others like toy cars. But I’m a bit judgemental. And I assume others are too. If I was going to be judged for something, it should at least be something I liked. And so Whiskey Party Lights were born.

Here’s how I did it:

Step One: Gather all the minis you’ve been hoarding. I needed 50. (If you are a collector, turn back now. You might find this disturbing.)

Step Two: Drill holes in the caps. I found the easist way to drill some test holes in some test caps and find the one that fits best. You’ll want the fit to be snug so the bottle doesn’t fall off of your light. For my lights I needed a 25/64” hole. NOTE: Don’t even try this without a drill press. I do not want to hear reports of someone slipping with a handheld drill and destroying something important. Furniture, fingers, etc.

Step Three: Spray paint with clear paint. I tried about three different kinds and ended up using Krylon ColorMaster Acrylic Crystal Clear. Not only does it provide water restistance to those with paper labels, but it gives the bottles a frosted finish. This helps to difuse the light a bit and allows the bottles to act more like light bulbs. If you use Maker’s Mark, you may want to tape off the wax if you don’t want it frosted.

Step Four: Let dry. The paint I used took about an hour until it was able to be handled.

Step Five: Fit the bulbs into the caps. I used bottles with both metal and plastic caps. If I were to do it over, I would choose the plastic. The metal is thin and bends. So if you have a cool old dusty you want to use, you’ll need an alternate method of support. I used craft wire to wrap around the neck and hooked it over the wires. I did find that many bottles with metal caps would accept plastic so that is an alternative as well.

Step Six: Hang them up! I bought stainless steel party light hangers from Amazon. They have a clip on one end and a hook on the other. Now you're ready to sit under the glow of 50 LED whiskey lights, drink a bourbon and start on the next set.

Blog about a blogger who's blogging whiskey: Josh Feldman

Posted on by Eric Burke

I first ran across Coop (Josh Feldman of a couple years ago as I was starting to scope out the whisky blogs before I started my own. I was (and am) obviously interested in the topic and wanted to get other points of view. What I didn’t realize as I clicked on that link for the first time was that I was also going to gain a friend. We started talking on twitter. He and my wife started talking on twitter. We commiserated about the awfulness of watching someone we love suffer through cancer. He helped me get through it and helped my wife as well. Then, all of a sudden, one day he was gone from twitter. In a massive outpouring of goodbyes, I realized that my new friend was everyone’s new friend. And that he was a pretty special guy on top of that.

Fast forward a few years and Coop has been back on twitter for a while. He’s blogging again and though it isn’t with the frequency he had at first, the posts are longer, more thought out and more interesting. He hits topics dealing with whisky history, the treatment of women in whisky advertising, old dusty whiskies, and local New York whisky coverage. And he’s still a great guy. 

Hey Josh, thanks for agreeing to be the second guinea pig for this series. First things first: who are you, anyway?

Hi Eric. I'm a dilettante - a person with many many passions and interests but who has lacked the ability to make a truly deep study of any of them. The downside of this is that I lack any advanced degrees, work in IT without being a master in any particular area, and partake in many subjects, ranging from whisky, climate science, jewelry making and design, astronomy, climate science, evolution and genetics, history and literature - all without an demonstrable expertise. The upside of my scattered (more generously, "Renaissance Man") approach is that I'm something of a polymath. My knowledge of many different areas allows me to make connections between areas that don't often get connected. When I encounter other writers and researchers doing that it really excites and inspires me. Examples include Adrienne Mayor's "The First Fossil Hunters" which is about how ancient myths of chimera creatures and the remains of giants actually represents how ancient peoples studied fossil remains of extinct giant mammals and reptiles. Another example is Stuart Kauffman's "Reinventing the Sacred" which is a fusion of philosophical commentary about the schism between religion and science in Western civilization and how the science of Emergence provides a way to knit up that schism because of the inherent mysticism in the science. A final example is Fred Minnick's "Whiskey Women" which fuses history and social commentary about the evolution of whiskey culture. Books like these can really expand your world view. That's what excites me and, I hope, is the silver lining my butterfly approach to my studies of things. I want to write like that. Recently I've found a voice on my whisky blog that brings some of this to bear.

I know you are a whiskey fan, you're active in the comments section of a ton of blogs, write your own, keep a Facebook group, etc. How'd you get into it?

When I was in college in New York I drank copious quantities of beer and bourbon like most of my peers. Having come from Berkeley's epicurean scene I knew a little about gourmet beer and undertook to taste ALL of the world's beers. I tasted hundreds and kept notes in a small binder - sadly now lost. After a while I realized the futility of the endeavor but along the way I explored, extensively, Scottish, English, and Irish ales, porters, stouts, and lagers, German wheat beers and lagers, Czech pilsners, Belgian Trappist ales, and so on. It was an object lesson in the creativity of diversity of the way brewers approach the craft of making alcohol. A few years later (late 1980s) I noticed that new single malts were being imported. I picked up a few: Glenfiddich Special Reserve (NAS), Macallan 12, Bowmore 12, Bruichladdich 12, and the Diageo Classic Malts Collection which in those days was Talisker 10, Lagavulin 16, Dalwhinnie 15, Oban 14, and Glenkinchie 12. I fell in love with Talisker right off the bat (how many times have heard that?) I was on my way. I didn't pursue Bourbon, however. I had drunk too much of it at a weekly card game where we made a point of killing a bottle before leaving the table as a display of macho stupidity. We were doing shots of what I now know was very good National Distillers Old Grand Dad, Stizel-Weller Cabin Still, Jim Beam White, 90 proof Jack Daniels and the like. In doing shots I missed the flavors. In getting drunk I established adversity. I didn't rediscover Bourbon until an event at Keen's steak house in 2006 when Paul Pacult had Wild Turkey take us through the line. Kentucky Spirit and Rare Breed were a revelation when properly aired, nosed, and sipped in a glencairn. I fell in love and my exploration of Bourbon began shortly thereafter. If only I had known what was coming I would explored the high end of Bourbon and the dusty world more vigorously in those days. So many things were available then which are absolutely gone (or insanely expensive) now.

You write about whiskey at What's the history of The Coopered Tot? 

In the late 2000s I was a fierce Amazon reviewer. At my peak I made it into the top 50 ranking briefly. I reviewed a lot of different things, but also reviewed whisky. This was a frustrating enterprise as Amazon didn't actually sell whisky in the USA (as it does in the UK). They hosted listings from liquor stores and I put my reviews on those. These listings frequently expired and were deleted, and my reviews along with them (Amazon stopped listing hard spirits entirely in the US in 2012). To save my reviews I started a blog on blogger and just dumped the major portion of my Amazon reviews as blog posts. This is why I have a hundred or so reviews in my first few months of blogging. I wasn't expecting the social connection that the blog opened. Soon I was interacting on Twitter and Facebook with whisky people from all over the world. This led to a wealth of connections, learning, and great drinking. It has only built from there. This is the golden lining of Internet addiction.

You've recently transitioned from straight reviews to taking more of a historical bent. You've recently covered advertising, sexism, historical bourbons, etc. As these are my favorite posts, I have to ask, what's the cause of the switch?

I don't have time to write and do tasting notes on a regular basis. There a large number of great blogs out there doing tasting notes far more comprehensively and better than I can. I thought about what really interested me - and it's the history and the social context of whisky, distilling, and the culture of drinking. When I look into these back stories I find I'm able to make novel connections and really say something of value that's new. This excites me tremendously. I feel like I've found my voice as a whisky writer with these topics. I have a ton more in this vein in the works. Upcoming pieces include a riff on a 1994 academic paper by Adrienne Mayor about the iconography of the female body in Western art related to alcohol. I studied the topic and found I was able to extend her thesis (which begin in medieval European art) back to the ancient Greeks and forward through belle-epoque France and into the modern era in a host of areas ranging from fine art to stripper's dance acts. I've also indulged my obsession with the topic of how whisky expressions have changed over time by assembling a number of flights of certain brands that span many decades. I have bottles and samples of Old Overholt from Prohibition through the modern era. I have similar flights for brands ranging from White Horse, Teachers, Johnnie Walker Red and Black, Old Forester, Jim Beam, Old Grand Dad, etc... Some of these flights have big gaps (please send me samples of your dustys!) I'm a big fan of the bloggers who have done similar work - in particular Tim Read of Scotch and Ice Cream, Steve Ury of Sku's Recent Eats, Oliver Klimek's Dramming, and Serge Valentin's Whisky Fun. I'm also studying the pre-Prohibition and Prohibition era of American whisky. Important blogs for me in this area include John and Linda Lipman's Ellenjaye, and Jack Sullivan's Those Pre-Pro Whiskey Men! I hope to eventually be able to contribute something new and important in the history of American whiskey space - particularly in the area of rye. There's a whole lot of stories left to tell. 

As a guy who follows this stuff, what's your take on the state of the bourbon industry right now? What would you like to see happen? 

It's an incredibly exciting time for Bourbon and American whiskey as a whole. Rapid growth has produced a mess, with Bourbon producers cutting age statement expressions and (related or not) a reduction in quality in many expressions. At the same time the explosion in American craft distilling is producing some fabulous new creative whiskies (Balcones, Westland, MacKenzie, Koval, St. George, and Charbay come immediately to mind - among many others). While, at the same time NDP producers threaten to confuse consumers and muddy the waters for the people legitimately doing the hard work of creating whiskey. The backlash against NDPs threatens collateral damage against rectifying houses that are doing real valuable and creative work (such as High West, Smooth Ambler, Angel's Envy, and Big Bottom). Chuck Cowdery, in particular, has been attempting to light a fire under regulators to enforce laws that make the State of distillation known on the label. I'd love a law that required the name(s) of the actual distilleries where the whiskies were sourced from to be listed. Marketing that makes confusion is obviously adaptive in the short term for building market share but is ultimately unhealthy for the American whiskey market over all. Object lessons include Michter's, who bottled amazing whiskies on the way to setting up their own distilling operation while generating ill-will from the Bourbon enthusiast community which is a shame, given the excellent stuff that they have out there. Other examples are Widow Jane, Whistlepig, Templeton, Calumet, just to name a few. Some of these places are actually making whisky, but have hopelessly muddled their names up with dishonesty about what their whiskies actually are. The one distillery that seems to have negotiated these perilous waters in an exemplary way is Willett's/Kentucky Bourbon Distillers - who have played all the roles, from broker, rectifier, blender, NDP, and distiller of their own stuff - in a fairly open and straightforward way. It doesn't hurt that the Kulsveens have excellent palates and have bottled a bunch of great bourbons and ryes. In the end the market will shake out of its own accord, but in the absence of clear intelligible laws and any kind of consistent regulatory enforcement, consumers and enthusiasts have been confused and misled and a lot of unnecessary anger has been produced. If you want to feel some of that anger, I highly recommend reading Bourbon Truth.

Hypothetical question: A new bourbon magazine comes calling and offers you a column. Would you be interested and what beat would you choose to cover?

This would be a dream come true for me. I'd absolutely love it and would do it if I could. I would love to write about American whiskey history, the whisky blogosphere beat, whisky in a wider cultural perspective, or, heck, tasting notes! I'm in love with all of it.

Plug time: where can people find you online and is there anything else you'd like to plug?

My blog is The Coopered Tot I have a bunch of great content on the blog (and don't miss checking out the blog roll on the left) - but I also have a ton of additional content related to tastings and my thinking and the accumulation of ideas for future posts on various other social media sites:




I help administer a closed Facebook group for whisky bloggers, vloggers, journalists and writers called "Whisky Bloggers". Any bloggers on Facebook who aren't members should consider joining. A URL is required, however, so if you don't have one, don't bother to apply.

A great open Facebook group for whisky bloggers to link their latest posts is "Whiskey Blogroll". I encourage everyone to check that out and join.

I would like to thank Coop for taking the time to answer a few questions and encourage everyone to check those out. I can honestly say, he’s one of my favorite people I’ve never met in real life.