Retailer Review: Master of Malt

The first time I went to Canada, I had a shopping list of bottles that I hoped to buy. Oddly, one of those bottles was a bourbon. You probably know this, but even though bourbon has to be made in the United States, there are brands and bottles that are not sold here. Four Roses, Evan Williams and Blanton's, to name just a few, have releases that are tailored to specific markets that are not the US. Why? Only the bean counters and marketers know for sure.

Now, ever since I learned that there were bourbons that were not sold in the United States (way back in the dark days as I was starting my bourbon journey), I've been curious to try these fruits that had been forbidden to me. And that trip to Canada was going to be the time I got them. I checked the LCBO website before I left and, sure enough, Blanton's Straight from the Barrel was in stock. 

Yes, this was a long time ago.

But one thing I hadn't counted on was my less enthusiastic wife letting me know that I wasn't spending half of her Canadian Whisky budget on a bourbon. It seems that she felt that some very tasty Canada-only whiskies that were, in fact, made in Canada would make a better souvenir for our first visit to the country.

Shortly thereafter I found the Master of Malt site. They sell not only full bottles but also 30 mL samples as part of their Drinks by the Dram program. Of course, the accountant in the house decided that a shipping cost of about $40 was too high for what might work out to just a few samples. And she was correct so I let it sit for a while. 

To be honest, I played the long game on this one. What I was really hoping to try were the various Blanton's expressions that were not available in the US. I knew she would like Blanton's if I could get her to try it. But then a funny thing happened. 

Blanton's disappeared from US shelves. Everyone else wanted it just as I was convincing her to give it a try. Shortages led to allocation which led to a multiple-year pause for my plan. Last September, I happened upon a bottle of Blanton's in Kentucky. Here was my chance.

I had her try it. She loved it and after a few months, I mentioned this site I knew where we could try a barrel proof version. She was interested. I popped 2 samples of Blanton's Straight from the Barrel, Blanton's Gold and Blanton's Special Reserve in my cart. The cart was roughly $40 for 6 ounces of whiskey...shipping and duties was another $42. $82 for 6 ounces of whiskey was a little too rich for my blood. But...

The shipping is based on weight so a full bottle only cost $45 for shipping and duties. And, even better, a full bottle and four samples also only cost $45 to ship. That makes the shipping feel much more reasonable. And so I bought a bottle of Blanton's Straight from the Barrel and samples of Blanton's Gold and Blanton's Special Reserve.

Three days later, yes three days, the whiskey was on my Mother's porch. It had to go to my mom's house in Wisconsin because Minnesota's import laws favor in-state producers and do not allow whiskey shipments. I am a happy customer and highly recommend them if you can stomach the shipping. 


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!

Bar Review: The Silver Dollar, Louisville, KY

I don't usually review bars. Partly because I live in suburban Minnesota and there are few really good bourbon bars near enough for me to frequent them without a half hour to forty-five-minute drive afterward. So when I'm at home, I tend to have my bourbon in my home. 

When I travel, on the other hand, I go out more. Seriously why wouldn't you? That's part of the reason you are away from home in the first place, to not to do what you do at home.

When I visit most places in the country, I tend to find a brewery taproom to settle down in or at least a bar with a good selection of local things on tap. But when I go to Kentucky, it's all about the bourbon. I try to hit at least one new place every time I'm there. But there is one place I visit every single time. 

My friend Fred introduced me to the Silver Dollar on one of my February road trips to someplace without snow. I was passing through Louisville on my to someplace theoretically warmer than Minnesota, and we made plans to meet for supper and a drink. The weather outside was cold and rainy, but inside, the warm and friendly atmosphere made me immediately feel welcome as I waited for everyone to arrive. This is the kind of place that has big Christmas lights on the walls and where the music comes from a vinyl record.

I was impressed by that first visit, and when my wife and I found ourself back in Louisville on my birthday, it was the first place I thought of to get supper. Smoked brisket and creamy mac and cheese. Mmmmm. Add in a glass or two of bourbon from one of their privately selected barrels, and it made for a perfect birthday meal. 

I've gone back every time I've been to Louisville since. Sometimes more than once. When I have it, the food is always good, and I always search out a private barrel selection for my glass. They often have more than one barrel of whatever they've got. I always ask the bartender which they prefer, and I've never been disappointed when I followed their advice.

love.gif

I can't recommend this place highly enough. If you've been there, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, you need to remedy that on your next trip to Louisville. 

The Silver Dollar can be found online at http://www.whiskeybythedrink.com/


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!

New Retailer: Ace Spirits in Hopkins, MN

A couple of weeks ago, a twitter follower brought Ace Spirits to my attention, wondering if I had heard about the store. I hadn't, so I looked online to see what it might be. Right on the front page:  “every whiskey available in the state.” Color me intrigued.

Since that time, I’ve been to Ace a couple of times. It’s not hard to find, but if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you might drive past it, never noticing it’s there. On my first visit, I wondered if I was in the correct spot or if my phone had led me astray. I was in the parking lot of a small strip mall and there was no sign that said “Ace Spirits be here.” There was a large sign above one of the doors that simply said: “BEER & WHISKEY, “ which was enough for me to decide that even if I wasn’t in the correct place, it was the place I really wanted to be anyway. As I walked up to the store, I wondered if it was open. Unlike most of the liquor stores in the area, there was a definite lack of light spilling out. But above the slightly mirrored door, there was a small sign that said something about cold beer. And it was lit, so I wandered in. 

I was immediately welcomed upon entering. Which was a nice change from many of the stores I visit. It was dark, but comfortably so. It’s a small area, but not crowded. The shelves were dark wood and two walls were covered floor to ceiling with whiskey bottles. If you put my computer desk and a small tv in there, it would be exactly how I imagine my man-cave to be. 

To learn more, I reached out to Louis Dachis, proprietor of Ace Spirits. He was gracious enough to answer a few questions.

So what's the Ace Spirits story?

Ace Spirits has been an idea percolating for a few years. I had been getting very interested in beer and whiskey of all types and I found what were once wine trips were turning into brewery and distillery tours. I had been operating three Merwin Liquors stores in the cities and the amount of space dedicated to beer and whiskey was expanding as I got more and more into it and the customers responded to the increasing selection. My gal, Sara and I visited the Whiskey Shop in Brooklyn and we really loved the idea of a small and focused space. Craft beer was already exploding and we were watching dedicated whiskey bars open in the cities and menus at existing places expand to include more whiskey and better beer. 

The idea was to create an experience surrounding the purchase. A place to talk about these things we love in a comfortable space. The entire setup was to be very intentional from layout, stocking, fixtures and lighting. It would have been easy to buy Lazier shelving and slap some paper signs over the windows, but that's not what we were going after. We've blocked all sunlight from the outside with walls and window film to prevent skunking. All lights in the store, with the exception of the three above the register are narrow-band LED's and we keep the temps in the store on the chilly side to aid with the freshness goal. The build out still isn't done and we will probably always consider it a work in progress.

Your website claims to carry every whiskey available in Minnesota. And since I saw things that I haven't found elsewhere, I believe you. But why? And why do you think the competitors aren't?

Why not? It's our focus. We love the stuff. And it's funny, you can have just as long and passionate discussion with someone about the merits of Old Overholt as you can about Balvenie 40. There's a lot to be said for that. We all like different stuff and it's very true that certain items lend themselves best to certain experiences. I really enjoy it all and love to hear from the people that produce it as well as those that love to drink it. Others don't do it because there are a lot that don't sell. It's that simple. But it's sort of like being open 24 hours- you don't stay open because you do a ton of business between the hours of 3 and 4am, you do it because everyone knows that no matter when they swing by, you will be there. This is a similar concept. If you love whiskey, you know we will have it.

After visiting the website, it's not hard to see that you are doing things a little differently than most stores. Many local whiskey fans have been involved in drawings to win a chance to purchase rare spirits. Your contest is just to win the whiskeys. Free. 

I like the word "Free". It gets people's attention. Especially when it comes to these items. I wanted to let people know who we are and what we were all about. It's not much more complex than that.

Not that I'm complaining since you are basically on my way home from work, but why Hopkins? Why not Minneapolis or St. Paul?

I would love to have opened in Minneapolis, but state law prevents me from having more than one license in any given municipality. I grew up in Hopkins and love the Western Suburbs. Four Firkins covers the edge of the city, but there wasn't anything out this way. Being as close as it is to Highway 7, 494, and the new thoroughfare that Shady Oak is to become for EP, I thought this was a great spot. The bones of the space were good and because this is to be a destination, the location wasn't quite as critical. There was a store a block away that closed recently which allowed us to move in. This store did OK, and I'm hoping the neighborhood welcomes us and affords us similar success in addition to those that may come to visit from further away. So far, the response has been very encouraging.

I’d like to thank Louis again for taking the time to answer some questions. You can learn more about The Great Whiskey Giveaway at AceSpirits.com or engage with them on Twitter (@acespirits) or Facebook.com/AceSpirits. This place is not your typical Minnesota liquor store. That’s a very good thing. I have a feeling I’ll be here more often than my wife would like.

The Urban Bourbon Trail

One of the things I really wanted to do while in Louisville was to get the Urban Bourbon Trail t-shirt. I love free t-shirts. Especially ones that you have to do things to get. You see, I'm a bit of a homebody. When I travel, I often end up staying in my room at night and read or watch tv with a drink in my hand and wondering why I'm not out doing something a bit more fun. So I like it when something like this comes along. The desire for the t-shirt is a good excuse to get off my butt and get out there.

In case you haven't been to Louisville, or never paid attention when you were, the Urban Bourbon Trail is a collection of around 20 bars and restaurants in Louisville, KY. Each of the bars has to have at least 50 different bourbons available, offer bourbon flights and a good bourbon cocktail list. The ones I ate at also had some damn fine food. In order to qualify for the free t-shirt: you get a passport and get your passport stamped at six different locations. When you are at each just make a purchase (doesn't have to be bourbon, but yeah, it probably will be) and can get your passport stamped. 

So what were my six? Read on my friend and I'll share my adventures and thoughts with you.

The Bar at BLU

A tired me at the Bar at BLU. I'm enjoying my Old Forester Birthday Bourbon on my birthday.

It was about 7 o'clock on a Saturday night. I'd been on the road since 4am that morning. It was all I could do to get myself out of my hotel room and go visit the bars. But it was my birthday and I was bound and determined to go have some fun. My first stop was the Bar at BLU. It was in the hotel about a block west of mine. I walked in and immediately felt a bit under-dressed. I was in my Minnesota Gopher t-shirt and jeans. All the others in the lobby were dressed much nicer. I was a bit confused as to where the bar was, but the hostess for the restaurant very kindly walked us over to it. We grabbed a table where we could see the football games and took a look a that the bourbon list. It said they had Pappy's...it was wrong so I asked for a recommendation. The bartender told me that he had just opened a bottle of this year's Old Forester Birthday Bourbon. Since it was my birthday, how could I resist. We sat there sipping our bourbon and watching the games. Every so often, the bartender would come over to chat. At first he was checking up on us to see how we liked it, after that it seemed it was just to chat. He gave us some tips about other bars that we had to see while we filled our passport. As we finished, we looked for one to have supper at. I liked this bar. Even though we looked like we'd been on the road all day, they treated us as very welcome guests. 

Doc Crow's Southern Smokehouse & Raw Bar

These won't all be of me. But this is the only photo I have of the inside of Doc Crow's. Very nice place.

So we'd decided to eat at Doc Crow's for supper. We both love barbecue and since it is darn near impossible to get great barbecue in Minnesota, we try to have it whenever we edge closer to any of its many homelands. We hadn't made a reservation, but the host was happy to take our phone number and give us a call when there was a seat free. Worked for me as that would give us a chance to wander down to the waterfront and see the river. After we got the call to return, we were seated in a nice half booth. I ordered a Founder's Red Rye to go with my brisket and my wife had a Bourbon Barrel Stout (from Bluegrass Brewing Company) to go with her pulled pork sandwich and fries. I gotta say the fries were amazing! The only downside was that when we asked for our passports to be stamped the waiter wouldn't do it if we didn't have a bourbon. It wasn't in the plan, but since we were on the Urban Bourbon Trail, what the heck. I had an Ancient Ancient Age 10 year and the wife had Angel's Envy. I liked this bar too, the stunt with the passport I'm going to chalk up to inexperience rather than malice since they were new to the program.

Maker's Mark Lounge

This is the Markee, one of the signature bourbon cocktails at the Maker's Mark Lounge. My wife loved this.

Even though it was getting on toward 9 (remember me starting my morning before 4am?) I wasn't ready to go back to the hotel yet. The guy back at the hotel had told us that if we wanted to do some people watching, we needed to go to 4th Street Live. Not one to pass up some prime people watching and knowing that there was at least one bar where I can get another stamp we decided to make or way over. So, Maker's Mark Lounge was where we decided to make our final stop for the night. The bar was on brand, dark wood and red everywhere. I really felt like I was in some sort of slick and sexy bottle of Maker's. Because it was early, there were only a few people in there. I ordered a Manhattan. Very tasty, though a bit heavy on the bitters for my tastes. My wife decided to go with one of their signature bourbon cocktails and have the Markee. After our drinks, it was back to the hotel and off to bed. I liked the Maker's Mark Lounge. Though I have a feeling that later on, the crowd might not have been to my liking. Based on the crowd in 4th Street Live, I'm not nearly Jersey Shore enough for it (I consider this a good thing about myself.) It did have nice people watching though. 

Proof On Main

The Satyr at Proof on Main. Its a bar/restaurant in a hotel/art museum. Yeah. Cool, right?

Oh my god! This is a cool place. So I walked in and the hostess pointed me to the bar. I ordered a sazarac, my first. The bartender might have actually been a mixologist, he was a tad hipsterish. But whatever his tendency toward hipsterness may or may not have been, he made a fantastic cocktail. For that, I forgive him anything. Plus he seemed to be a nice guy. It was a very nice place, a tad too white and cold in it's decor for me. But really nice. The coolest part of this place was the museum. When I asked the hostess about it, her eyes lit up. She personally walked me to the other end of the bar, showed me the entrance and told me a little about it. We wandered through. It was a bit strange for it to be both a hotel with guests going to and from their rooms and an art gallery. Somehow, the cool, white decor of the bar made much more sense now. Great cocktail, amazing art. This was a cool place. Not one I'd hang out in everyday, but I am so glad I stopped.

Dish on Market

Dish on Market is exactly what I'd want my local bar to be if I had a local bar.

So I'd read mixed reviews of this place. But the special of $10 burger and a bourbon was enough to bring me in anyway. I walked in and immediately felt at home. Exposed brick, green stained wood bar, honey colored bar top, black metal stools. It fit my tastes perfectly. We were seated by a very nice gentleman, who as it turns out was also our server and the bartender. We ordered the burger and bourbon special that we came in for and also a plate of steak fries. I expected steak fries to be a sort of thick cut fries. It was only $8 or so. What arrived was a plate of french fires with a sliced steak and a white cheese sauce on it. I was blown away. It was so good! We each had a burger, turns out that came with fries too, and a bourbon. Mine was Old Grand Dad 114 proof and my wife's was Eagle Rare 10 year. Everything was amazingly tasty. Our server Demitrius, was probably the nicest person I'd met in Kentucky. And that is saying a lot since everyone I met in Kentucky was amazingly nice. After chatting with us for a little bit, he found out that we were in town for a few more days and made the nicest and most sincere request that we come back before we go that I'd ever had at a restaurant. 

And so we did. On Saturday, the night before we left to come home, we found ourselves with nothing to do and decided to take him up on his request. No idea if he was working again or not, but it didn't matter. Another bourbon was going to be a good thing whether he was there or not. Turns out, he was. We ordered the steak fries again. This time they were bacon wrapped steaks instead of sliced steaks. Even better. I had a Black Maple Hill and my wife had a Elmer T Lee. I got to let Demitrius know that the only reason we came back was his very sincere request. It seemed to make his day. We sat in there a while longer, he was trying to perfect his whiskey sour recipe and we got to be his guinea pigs. Trying a few little sips of each try. One tasted like lemonade, a few almost there, and then there was a perfect one. Even though I know the recipe, I won't share. It's not mine to give away man. This was my favorite stop on the Urban Bourbon Trail. I'm pretty sure it was all because of Demitrius.

Derby Cafe: At the Kentucky Derby Museum

No photos of the cafe, but this is the outside of the derby museum. It would have been way cooler if I cared even a little about horse racing. Don't tell anyone, ok?

This was the only place on the Urban Bourbon Trail where I could not get a bourbon. I'm not sure what was going on, but the waitress told us they didn't have their liquor license yet and that the bar didn't open until later. That was after my wife tried to order a mint julep, which was on the menu. I was disappointed by this place. Don't get me wrong, it's a fine place, it just didn't live up to the expectations I had for something on an Urban Bourbon Trail. But, the ravioli that was the day's special was tasty, so there's that. And hey, if you're into horse racing, there's a museum all about it.

Well, those were our adventures on the Urban Bourbon Trail. Next time I go back, I am totally trying for the t-shirt again. I got it by the way. It's a nice brown shirt. Which is a nice change and a lot of these earned souvenirs are white. I hate white shirts.

My Urban Bourbon Trail Shirt. It's a nice looking one. I suggest you go get one.

Blue Max Liquors: Burnsville, MN

So, in the time I've lived in Minnesota, I probably passed Blue Max Liquors in Burnsville, MN about 50-60 times without really noticing it was there. I mean I occasionally noticed that there was a building that had blue awnings, had Blue-something written on it and was a liquor store, but I never really gave it any real attention. When I got the first issue of my Whiskey Advocate subscription, I noticed it in the back under the Specially Retailer section. 

"Where the hell is that? I've been everywhere in Burnsville," I muttered. Or something very near to that. Probably with happy curse words attached. Once I went to their website (http://www.bluemaxliquors.com for the curious) I knew exactly where it was. I'd driven past it numerous times. The listing said they were know for their scotch and bourbon selections. 

Yes, I was in the car before the book closed, why?

When I pulled into the parking lot, I was a little leery. This close to the south end of the metro, you don't normally see stores with bars in the windows. But I persevered, visions of bourbons dancing in my head. And was I ever rewarded. I can't speak to the other types of whisky, as I have much less knowledge about them, but the bourbon selection was indeed the best I'd seen in Minnesota. And the prices were lower than the chain just down the road. It wasn't the shiniest place I'd been in. There weren't wide aisles or bright lighting. But it was comfortable. And more importantly, it was stocked to bursting with wine, craft beer (they claim 1300 varieties), whisky (450 varieties) and, I assume, other liquors as well. To be honest, I've never really ventured beyond the beer and bourbon sections. I've walked past wine bottles, but didn't really pay them much mind. And the people. They were so nice. Helpful, cheerful, ready to chat with you. Just what I would hope for in a place of such wonderment.

There is just one knock on them. And it is something that I really do not understand because their prices are good, their selection is excellent, and the staff is so nice. They are about a 20 minute drive from my house. So one time I called ahead to see if they carried a certain whisky. The guy said they did and then even put down the phone to make sure it was in stock. When he got back on the phone he confirmed that it was indeed in stock. I told him I'd be right in and then asked how much it was.

His cheerfulness faded. "We don't give prices over the phone," he snapped. I was shocked. I had just told him that I would be right in. I keep aside a bit of cash each month to help stock the stash I didn't want to bring all of it if I didn't need to. 

Having worked in retail, this confuses me. I understand not wanting to tip off your competition, but to turn away customers as well seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater and counter-productive at best. Needless to say I didn't go in that day. In fact, I might not have gone back at all, but...there was one bourbon in particular that I wanted and I knew they had it and I couldn't find it anywhere else. The guy behind the counter was so nice that I was won over all over again. 

Selection: I found two Pappys sitting on the shelf:   love

Price: About a couple bucks lower than the closest chain:   like

Customer Service: Confusing mix of awesome and terrible:   meh

Overall: I really like this store. I've just tried to memorize which of their products are cheaper (most) so I don't need to call again.

 like