Old Forester Distillery Tour at the Old Forester Distilling Co., Louisville, KY

It's Bourbon Heritage Month and I just got back from Kentucky so I thought it might be a good time to highlight some Bourbon Fun. Tonight, I’m taking a look at the Old Forester Distilling Co. A new visitor experience on Whiskey Row in Louisville, KY.

Hey! I’m back from my annual trip to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival…only this year, I really didn’t go to the Festival all that much. I only went to two events that were officially part of the Festival, and only one was a paid, ticketed event. It’s odd, but I might be falling out of love with the KBF. All of the prices have increased to the point where I just don’t want to pay them anymore. Which, on one hand, really sucks. I don’t like to be priced out of things I enjoy (welcome to bourbon in 2018…amirite?) But on the other, it did allow me to have a lot of other experiences that I normally wouldn’t have had time for.

Experiences like tours of some of the new distilleries (or distillery-like experiences) that have popped up since I last took the time to wander away from Bardstown. One of the tours I took was of the new Old Forester Distilling Co. experience on Whiskey Row in Louisville.

When you walk in the door, you are immediately greeted by a large brick and wood room that contains a desk for checking into your tour (or buying tickets) and a waiting area. This is where your tour will start. Depending on how early you arrive, you may decide to visit the gift shop. they will certainly let you, but in true Disneyland fashion, you will also exit the tour into the gift shop as well. So when you give them your money is up to you.

If you choose to visit the Gift Shop before you take your tour, you will be greeted with the best view of the tall copper column still (as well as branded merchandise and multiple bottles that are available for purchase).

By a strange coincidence, one of my fellow tour-takers was a distiller from England who was there as a guest of Brown-Forman and Campbell Brown, the President of Old Forester (who also tagged along for a good portion of the tour as well). This meant that not only were there a few more geeky questions than you normally find on a typical bourbon distillery tour, but we also got a few more candid and honest answers than you would usual too.

Above is the entry to the official “tour area” this area talks about their mash bill and the benefit of Kentucky water.

One of the especially candid answers we received on the tour related to the fermenters (shown above). When the English Distiller (whose name or company I have forgotten) asked why they had open fermenters instead of closed ones, Mr. Brown answered that it was because it provided a better visitor experience and that they have closed fermenters in the big distillery. I enjoyed the candor. It’s refreshing to go on a distillery tour and not be overloaded with marketing speak.

When we stopped to take a look at the still, which I had already seen in the gift shop, I turned around and looked at the other wall which featured these windows showing where spirit at various parts of the distilling run would be visible. One thing I liked about the tour, was that it was really set up to be an education in to how bourbon is made for the average consumer. They wouldn’t have had to have made all the extra graphics to explain what was going on, but they took the time to do it. Nice touch.

Of course the highlight of the tour was the barrel making area. And not just because we happened to have one of the cooper’s grandfather and other older relatives on the tour with us (though watching the young kid sneak up to surprise an elderly great-aunt with a hug was heartwarming as well). Once again, they showed all the steps and let us know which pieces of equipment were state-of-the-art and which were from a previous era of barrel making. More refreshing candor. Some things were just there because it made a better show on a small scale, not because they were efficient on a large scale.

This was our tour guide (I forget her name because her hair covered her name tag and I’m bad with remembering names at the best of times). In any case, she was excellent. Normally, I have a conversation with myself regarding the things they are over simplifying or just plain getting wrong. I didn’t have that conversation here. She was very knowledgeable and I don’t remember a single of noticeable error.

This was a pretty cool machine. It was a hydraulic press that put the hoops on the barrel. I don’t remember seeing anything like this when I toured Independent Stave a few years ago, but my memory is notoriously bad (and it may have been behind the scenes as well). Still, having been a metal-stamping press operator for a few years after high school, this looked like much more fun (and much less noisy) than those were. It even had a JoyStick!

Of course after you build a barrel, you need to test it. And this was where my fellow tour taker’s nephew/grandson came in. He basically adds some water, fills it with air and looks for bubbles.

This is a fairly small distillery by big bourbon standards, but it is a working distillery none-the-less. And they say that some of the liquid that is being made on sight is also being aged on site. Not sure how I’d feel about all that flammable liquid being there, if I was Duluth Trading Company next door.

And this is a bottling line. Once again, it seemed like it was there so you could see a bottling line and learn what they do. It was running pretty slowly compared to others I’ve seen in other distilleries.

And no tour would be complete without a tasting at the end. This tour offered tastes of Old Forester 86 proof, Old Forester Statesman, and Old Forester 1897 bottled in Bond.

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Overall, I really enjoyed the tour. There was little, to no, “Marketing BS” and the entire place was set up not only to show you how bourbon was made, but also to help you learn about how bourbon is made. Plus it was fun! And honestly, that’s just as important at the end of the day.


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Stubbees Bourbon Infused Honey

Unless you just stumbled onto the site, and this is your first time reading one of my posts, it is safe to assume that you know I have a fondness for bourbon. What you may not know is that I also have a fondness for honey. I love honey. It is by far my favorite sweetener. 

I've preferred honey to sugar my entire life. I used to love to put honey on my Cheerios and corn flakes as a child. When I was old enough to understand that it was acceptable to put honey into tea, I became a tea drinker at an age when most of my friends were chugging Mountain Dew. 

As I grew up and learned that much of the honey that was available for purchase in grocery stores had been adulterated in some way, mostly by adding additional sweeteners to the honey, I became a bit more choosy in my honey purchasing. These days I only purchase honey from producers I trust. Both locally and online. 

So when you combine my love of bourbon with my love of honey, it is no wonder that my interest was piqued when a press release for a bourbon-infused honey came across my desk from Stubbees Honey in Jacksonville Florida. Now I've often seen honey-flavored bourbon announcements come across my desk—many of them with little or no actual bourbon or honey in them—but I had never seen a boubon-infused honey before. So I did a little digging. 

Stubbees sources US-produced, organic, raw honey "only from hives located at nature preserves and farms that are free of pesticides." This is great as it supports both US beekeepers as well as keeping the hives healthier since the bees aren't ingesting pesticides. Based on the research, I decided to order a bottle from their website. It was $22 for a 12-ounce bottle. More than I normally pay for honey, but what the heck. If it really tasted of bourbon, it would be something fun to try.

When I first opened the bottle I was amazed at the boozy note coming from within. It was like a big, boozy barrel-aged beer. Sweet, but with a definite vinous note underneath. That note carried over to the mouth but transitioned into something much more in-line with bourbon notes. It has a good honey flavor that pairs really well with the bourbon notes. I really like this. 

And while I could probably just sit and eat honey by the spoonfuls, I decided to give this a little bit more of a thorough taste test. In the label, it claims that it is great in meat glaze or cocktails. So of course, the first thing I put it in was a cocktail or two. My wife loves the occasional Mint Julep so I surprised her with one sweetened with this honey. It received rave reviews. It did similarly well in other cocktails I tried it in. Where it blew my mind though was in a breakfast sandwich. I cooked some home-cured and smoked bacon that I had received from a family friend, placed that on a freshly baked biscuit along with this honey and a little cheese. Wooohhh momma! Was that ever good! that sandwich was worth the purchase price right there.

If you get a chance, and you are as big of a honey fan as I am, consider picking up a bottle.


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Luxardo Maraschino Cherries

When I was first getting into cocktails, I read everything I could on how to "up my cocktail game." There was no shortage of listicles telling me what 10 things to try and what 10 things to avoid.

And on almost every list were cherries. List makers of the late aughts and early teens were terrified that someone might use a grocery store Maraschino Cherry in their cocktail. And at the time, the fear was probably well founded. There were not a lot of pre-made cocktail cherries on the market that weren't Glowing Red Neon Balls of Dye and Sugar™. Of those that were suitable for grown-up cocktails, Luxardo was the brand that was recommended the most. 

Unfortunately, Luxardo Maraschino Cherries run almost twenty dollars a jar so, for the longest time, I just omitted the cherry garnish. But my reading led me to believe that the syrup surrounding the cherry made more difference to the drink than the cherry itself and that by omitting it, I was actually losing flavor.

So being a DIY sort of guy who loves to cook, I devised my own recipe for cocktail cherries. Sure, they probably ended up costing more than the store-bought, but I had much more than $20 worth of fun making them. And I got a lot more than a 16-ounce jar for my effort. I made a lot of versions. Two of them were good enough to write about: Chocolate-Bourbon Cocktail Cherries and Orange-Spiced Cocktail Cherries. The latter being my personal favorite and our current go-to cherry for whiskey cocktails. 

But last year, I couldn't find the materials to make any homemade cherries. So I've been buying them this year. I previously reviewed the Woodford Reserve Cherries from Bourbon Barrel Foods and found them to be a good, if lesser, substitute for my own cherries. This time around I thought I might finally give the original a try. See what all those listicles were talking about.

Luxardo Maraschino Cherries

Purchase Info: $16.99 for a 400 Gram Jar at Ace Spirits, Hopkins, MN

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Thoughts: The syrup these cherries are packed in is pretty damn good for adding a delightful cherry note to your cocktails. But, the cherries themselves are very disappointing. They are certainly a step up from Glowing Red Neon Balls of Dye and Sugar™ but they are the possibly the worst of the cocktail cherries I've tried if you are a grown-up and want to actually eat the cherry in your drink. The skins are tough and sticky and the insides are mush. 

If I were to recommend a cherry for your cocktail, I'd recommend making your own. If you'd rather buy them, go with the Woodford ones from Bourbon Barrel Foods. I'd give these a pass. In fact, I'm actually considering tossing the cherries and just keeping the syrup. 


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My Wandering Eye: Copper & Kings Phoenix Barrel (Ace Spirits pick)

My wandering eye is a series reacting to the crazy rising prices in the bourbon world. We’ve reached a place where even average products have hit the range where they compete price-wise with other types of aged spirits. If I’m going be asked to drop $40 to $70 on a mid-range bourbon, I might as well see what else I can get for that money. See if another spirits category offers something that is downright tasty in that price range. The goal isn’t to find cheap spirits, but to maximize the quality, I’m getting at a particular price point.

As I've mentioned before, my father is a brandy drinker. His favorite way to drink his brandy is on the rocks in a glass full of ice cubes. Since the brandy he drinks is almost always 80 proof, I never understood why he liked it that way. But heck, if one drinker doesn't like the way another drinker drinks spirits, they are both right.

But I have to say, I've finally found a couple of brandies that beg to be served with ice. And tonight's is one of them. This particular brandy comes out of the bottle at 128 proof. And boy, oh boy, does it pack a punch!

I picked up this particular version of Copper & Kings brandy solely because I really liked the last cask-strength brandy of theirs that I had from Ace Spirits. When I got it, I realized that this wasn't the same style as the previous bottle I had from the two of them. This one was something called the Phoenix Barrel. And it was described as "Oloroso Sherry Wood Fired New American Oak Cask." My first thought was "that is a lot of words strung together." 

Now, I know I am not the smartest man on the planet but, I did pretty well back in the day when I studied Astrophysics and Literature, and I can usually figure these things out. But not this time. So I did just what any consumer would do: went to their website. 

What I found there, made that string of words make perfect sense. (Isn't it funny how when you are given the answer, it often seems pretty obvious?) This project involved charing barrels on a fire that was burning broken staves that had previously been used in Oloroso Sherry casks. Did it do anything? No idea, but it makes a good story none-the-less.  

But most importantly: how does it taste?

Copper & Kings Phoenix Barrel (Ace Spirits pick)

Purchase info: $64.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Ace Spirits, Hopkins, MN

Details: 64% ABV, Aged in a barrel charred on a fire burning Oloroso Sherry casks staves.

Nose: Brown sugar, caramel, red fruits, apple, and baking spice.

Mouth: Very warm, but not as hot as I'd have expected it to be at almost 130 proof. Caramel, red fruits, and baking spices show up after you get past the heat.

Finish: Hot and lasts for days. Lingering caramel, ripe fruits, and a little mint. 

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Thoughts: I like this but it is certainly a bourbon drinker's brandy. Maybe too much so? I'm not getting a lot of "brandy character" out of this. My wife agrees. She likes it too. And this might be the first brandy that dedicated bourbon-drinker has liked. 


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My Wandering Eye: Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaica Rum

My wandering eye is a series reacting to the crazy rising prices in the bourbon world. We’ve reached a place where even average products have hit the range where they compete price-wise with other types of aged spirits. If I’m going be asked to drop $40 to $70 on a mid-range bourbon, I might as well see what else I can get for that money. See if another spirits category offers something that is downright tasty in that price range. The goal isn’t to find cheap spirits, but to maximize the quality, I’m getting at a particular price point.

Tonight's rum will be the last rum I'll be doing for a while. Not because I've grown tired of rum, but instead because I think I've found enough of them to keep me busy for a while. I found a sweet rum, a sipping rum, a complex rum, and even a cognac-finished rum. I've found rums of 2-, 5-, 9- and 12-years-old as well as rums containing some combination of them.

Tonight, however, I'm going to review a bottle of rum that covers two firsts for me. This will be both my first navy-strength and my first funky* rum.

Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaica Rum

Purchase Info: $26.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 57% ABV. 

Nose: Molasses and light ginger (I'm thinking the soft molasses-ginger cookies your local supermarket bakery makes) along with a light hint of campfire smoke.

Mouth: Hot with lots of spice upon entry. After you get past the heat, there is a lovely molasses and funk combination.

Finish: Spicy yet not too hot, especially considering the proof. The flavors last forever. Lingering molasses cookie flavors of ginger and molasses mix with a fun fruity funk.

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Thoughts: I know my wife would disagree, but I'd drink this neat all night long. But then, she is more of a "bourbon-only" person than I am. She even finds a glass of rye whiskey less exciting than I do. So yes, I'm really enjoying this rum. It might be my favorite of the ones I've bought for drinking neat. I think there is a lot herefor a bourbon lover to enjoy. 

And hey, it's pretty good in a cocktail too. 

*I believe the rum experts might use the word "hogo," but since I am not exactly clear on what that is, I'll stick to funky since that is what I personally taste. 


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