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Kentucky Bourbon Festival: Ticketed Events

Posted on by Eric Burke

Paul Tomaszewski of MB Roland Distillery signing the Louisville Slugger made famous on WhiskyCast

While at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival I like to attend some of the ticketed events. As the tickets to some of these are expensive, I aim to attend three each time. This year I attended Kentucky Bourbon All-Star Sampler™, Let's Talk Bourbon™, and the ARCO Speakeasy.

Chris Morris, Master Distiller at Woodford Reserve, pouring a couple Old Foresters at the All-Star Sampler™.

Kentucky Bourbon All-Star Sampler™

Picture it: a large open room that looks like it could house a small manufactuing company inside it. Down the center of the room is a large table heaped with food. Scattered around the room are tables and barrels with lighted tops for you to eat that food. All around the exterior of the room are small bars pouring spirits for you to taste. 

Sounds like a nice place to be right? Well for $50 per person you could be there. And as far as I’m concerned, you probably should. It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to shake hands with and be poured a drink by the likes of Jimmy Russell, Chris Morris or Jim Rutledge. I met up with a few friends, both old and new, while there and had a great time. Most of the distilleries were pouring their standard line up. Jim Beam had their Small Batch Collection, Heaven Hill was pushing Evan Williams, Woodford Reserve had both Woodford and Old Forester there. I was especially interested in what some of the craft folks were doing though. MB Roland from south-western Kentucky had their bourbon and Black Patch Whiskey available to try. Old Pogue had Five Fathers Pure Malt Rye to be sampled. Limestone Branch debuted their aged product, Precinct No. 6 at the event. There was also a brandy from Copper and Kings in Louisville that wasn’t too bad.

All in all it was a great evening and it made me very happy I decided to go back again this time.

Your materials to help you enjoy Let's Talk Bourbon™: the lyrics to My Old Kentucky Home, some notepaper, a booklet on how bourbon is made and a breakfast cocktail.

Let's Talk Bourbon™

The ticket is $30. For that you get breakfast, should you want it. You get cocktails, both with breakfast and after the event. You get a gift, this year a Four Roses branded Tervis glass. Plus, to top it off, you get to listen to Jim Rutledge talk about how bourbon is made and answer any questions the audience might have about it for about two hours. There is no event I can reccomend more than this one. This is my favorite event. I try to be early and get into the front row because I like to take notes, even thought the base presentation might be the same, the questions and tangents are always different and very informative.

The band, the screen, the distilleries and the costumed attendees all help to set the scene for the ARCO Speakeasy.

The ARCO Speakeasy

This was an event that I almost did not go to. I hadn’t planned to do anything on Saturday night because I was supposed to be up at 6am Sunday morning to drive 13 hours home. I was talked into it by my friends at MB Roland. And boy am I glad I was. This was a very fun event put on by the members of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour. They each made a cocktail or two and you got to drink them. The best part, of course was that almost everyone was dressed in Prohibition-era costume. The people watching was fantastic. The cocktails weren’t bad either. 

It’s $50 or $100 per person depending on if you considered yourself a VIP or not. I did not. The event happens at the same time as The Great Kentucky Bourbon Tasting and Gala™ which is a black-tie event for $150 per person. Too rich and too fancy for my blood. The Speakeasy was just right. I didn’t have to dress up too much (I didn’t have a costume so I just dressed nicely and didn’t feel out of place) and it was a third of the price. I mean, that money could be spent on bourbon (and was). Plus I met and talked to a lot of great folks that are part of the Craft Trail while enjoying drinks showcasing some of their products. All in all it was worth needing extra coffee for the drive home the next morning.

A Visit to the 2014 Kentucky Bourbon Festival

Posted on by Eric Burke

For the last 23 years the city of Bardstown, Kentucky has held it’s annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival in September. It’s a celebration of the town’s unique position in the heart of Bourbon Country and a way to celebrate one of the area’s major industries.

This year was my second time attending the festival and I may have had even more fun this time than I did the first. The festival starts on Tuesday with an event or two each day. It isn’t until Friday, though where things really kick into high gear. The festival itself mainly centers around Spalding Hall, the home to the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History. 

The lawn out front is covered with a variety of exhibitors from local charities and small craftspeople to the heavy hitters of the bourbon industry, distilleries and cooperage. The distilleries have extremely nice, but small and temporary, branded buildings that are set up as extensions of their gift shops. Sans alcohol, of course. The cooperage and the rest of the exhibitors were in tents. I wandered around, bought a few things from a charity, but otherwise just enjoyed the people and the surroundings.

Behind Spalding Hall were the food trucks and the Barrel Rolling. I’ll admit, last time I was there, I didn’t really understand this event. After talking with a few people and reading up on it between then and now, I have a better feel for it. It’s basically a bunch of people who are very good at what they do for a living, showing off and competing with their colleagues. All in all a fun event to watch, though I feel for them since the sun was really hot and those barrels looked extremely heavy.

The museum itself is one of those places that when you first walk in, you aren’t sure if you want to keep going. This is an old building and the exhibits have been there for a while. But, let me tell you, it is well worth a stop. There are so many old bottles, advertising and bits of memorabilia that a whisky/history geek like me is in heaven. Aside from that, on Saturday the museum is the setting for the Master Distiller’s Auction. I attended this mostly because a friend told that it would be interesting. He wasn’t wrong. We wandered in and got a number. I gave it to my wife who is much more responsible than I. There were a few things that we bid on, but nothing that ended up finishing in our budget. There were some really cool old whiskies, such as a prohibition-era bottle of Golden Wedding bourbon. It ended up just under selling for around $800. Of course, the highest prices went for the signed bottles of Pappy. (The 23 was $2100, but all were $500 or over.) I really found the event fascinating. I’ve never watched so many people so casually spend that much money. Luckily, it was for a good cause as the proceeds go to help fund the museum.

Of course, there were a lot more events. Some of which cost money, like the Speakeasy, The Gala or the All-Star Sampler. Some were free, like the barrel making demonstrations, the Ballon Glow and the art exhibits. But my favorite part was the people. I met some new friends, many people that I’d talked to online for just about forever and hung out with some friends I’d met previously. I think as I go more, this part will grow to overshadow all the official events.

If you are a bourbon lover and haven’t been, I’d highly recommend it.

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.

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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.

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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.