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Burnt Peach and Sage Bourbon Infusion

Barbecue season is upon us, and if you’re looking for a cocktail recipe to accompany all that grilled meat, look no further than this burnt peach & sage bourbon infusion.

Peaches and bourbon are just two of those flavors that go well together – the recent rise in peach flavored bourbon will tell you that. But even before those folksy artisanal moonshine producers got in on the act, the internet was full of peach and bourbon ice creams and desserts.

But why bother diluting all that whiskey goodness with dairy or pastry when you can keep things nice and simple? Peaches, bourbon and a sprig or two of sage for a hint of peppery spice.

Fresh peaches are a real summer treat, and when lightly caramelized and mixed with a sweet, slightly smokey bourbon, they make a refreshing cooling drink for those hot summer evenings slaving over a barbecue.

To make the infusion, melt a knob of butter in a large pan over a medium-high heat. While the butter melts, roughly cut three ripe peaches into quarters and add these, and1/4 cup of brown sugar, to the pan. Stir the mixture well to coat the peaches in sugar and butter and cook for 5-8 minutes, stirring frequently, until the peaches are lightly charred and starting to caramelize. If you can bear not to scoff them all immediately, add the peaches and all their juices, butter, and sugar to a large jar. Add a bottle of bourbon and two stems of sage and stir lightly. Leave this concoction to infuse for 12-24 hours (to your taste preference).

Intense and smoky, and a great combination of sweet and savory, we think this is just perfect for sipping on its own, but it can easily be stirred up into a julep-style drink (just add a few scoops of crushed ice) or be lengthened with soda, lemonade or a dash of water.

Of course, if you’re asked, feel free not to mention how you charred the peaches, lest your guests think ‘lightly charred’ is your only culinary setting.

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Stay Cool with a Kentucky Mule

Now that we are enveloped in the throws of summer and barbecue season is well underway, it is time to re-open discussions about what adult drinks of choice will complement the fare coming off the grill and keep you cool on those hot, humid evenings on the back patio.

Lately, I have been finding respite from the sultry conditions in the form of the Kentucky Mule (since we are not reading the website Vodka and Banter, there is no need even to bring up a Moscow Mule). What about the Mint Julep one might ask? Even for a hardened Louisvillian, the julep is an acquired taste that tends to disappear in popularity after the Derby has been run.

Kentucky Mule Cup Close-upThe Kentucky Mule is a simple drink to concoct that can be whipped up in minutes, and most likely the ingredients are already in your bar. The key components include ice, fresh lime wedges, sprigs of mint (optional), ginger beer – not ginger ale* – and, you guessed it…bourbon. I have seen people add simple syrup to their mules but for me, that is an unnecessary added sweetness.

Another valuable component to making a choice Kentucky Mule is the vehicle from which to imbibe; this should be the copper mule mug (although a collins glass will do in a pinch). When filled with ice, the copper will intensify the cold – after all, this drink is helping to combat the heat, right?

There are many ginger beers on the market from which to choose, but I have found that Fever Tree Ginger Beer offers a lingering crispness that is very satisfying and refreshing without being too sweet. However, more important than the ginger beer is the brown water.

For my mules, I lean towards a high rye expression a′ la Bulleit or Four Roses Single Barrel – or maybe even a rye whiskey. The combination of the bold rye spice and the palate-pleasing ginger creates a one-two punch that will be sure to cool even the hottest of backyard gatherings. True, the Kentucky Mule may lack the sophistication of an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan, but when it comes to hanging out poolside, those shouldn’t be your first drinks of choice (cocktail party, yes; poolside, no). An upside to the Mule is that you do not need to be a certified mixologist to find the parts-per-whole that works for you. Let your taste buds dictate your percentages.

The Kentucky Mule in 5 easy steps

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    Squeeze the fresh lime wedge into an empty copper mule mug

    (save the lime for step 5)

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    Pour 1.5 - 2 ounces of bourbon

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    Fill mug with ice

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    Top off with ginger beer

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    Stir and garnish with the spent lime wedge and mint sprig if desired

The next time you are hanging out with family and friends (or even by yourself — no one is judging) give the Kentucky Mule a try. Odds are your will enjoy your second as much as the first. Cheers!

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I Have A Problem – But It’s Not What You Think

I have a problem. I know what you’re thinking, but no, it isn’t a drinking problem. In fact, it might be just the opposite.

I have “invested” a lot of effort over the years building my whiskey library. As of this writing, I have 57 Bourbons to enjoy. That doesn’t count my American Ryes, Scotch, Irish and miscellaneous American whiskeys. I know that number because, like any good librarian, I keep an inventory. Some of these bottles have been around for several years, some are fresh faces.

I have bottom-shelf gems, mid-tier, premium, allocated and limited edition Bourbons… My collection hits the whole spectrum. I love it all.

You may think the problem is I’m a hoarder, but that’s not it, either. Most of my bottles make my sipping rotation quite regularly. I don’t have a “bunker” like many hoarders do.

In my opinion, whiskey is meant to be enjoyed, with friends when possible, not stored and hidden away.
In my opinion, whiskey is meant to be enjoyed, with friends when possible, not stored and hidden away. When I’m able to get my hands on something allocated, it is because I want to drink it, not because I’m looking to flip it on the secondary market. I’ve often convinced myself when buying these that I’d save them for a special occasion.

Last year, I acquired a bottle of George T Stagg. I waited and opened that bottle as a toast to my father-in-law earlier this year. When my grandson was born, I opened a Four Roses Private Barrel found at their Coxs Creek gift shop. A few years ago, I visited Willett Distillery and picked up a bottle of nine-year-old Family Estate Bourbon from their gift shop. I opened that to toast becoming a contributor at Bourbon & Banter.

When I cracked open that bottle of Willett, though, I realized I have more special occasion bottles than likely special occasions to open them.

I have several other bottles that remain yet unopened. They’re all slated as drinkers. And, therein lies my problem. Whiskey is meant to be enjoyed, right? So, why do I have those unopened bottles of liquid sunshine? I was excited when I bought them, and I’m still excited when I see them on my shelf.

Life is short. I don’t want to be that person who never got around to opening bottles he longed to get his hands on. This silly wait-for-a-special-occasion attitude changes immediately… I’m opening one of these bad boys right now. Cheers!

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Maker’s Mark Private Select Reimagines Barrel Selection

Maker’s Mark is one of the most iconic bourbon brands of the modern age. Bill and Margie Samuels lead the way, post-prohibition, in bourbon marketing, tourism, and helping people outside of Kentucky rediscover quality bourbon. Without Maker’s Mark, there is no doubt that bourbon would not be where it is today. Despite the fact that it was such a forward-thinking brand when they first started, for awhile it looked like Maker’s Mark was getting a bit stale. As other brands began to offer single barrel, barrel proof, or other special edition bottles, Maker’s Mark continued to provide their same product year after year. Their fans didn’t have a problem with this, but other bourbon lovers like myself passed on Maker’s Mark to try something new, something higher proof, or even better value for the price point. 

They shook things up in 2010 with the introduction of Maker’s 46, which involves aging traditional Maker’s Mark in a barrel with French Oak staves inserted for an additional nine weeks. This was the first new variation of Maker’s Mark since they started 50 years prior. In 2014 they introduced a cask-strength version of Maker’s Mark and eventually sold a cask strength 46 in the gift shop of their distillery. Even with these change, Maker’s Mark resisted the urge to follow the lead of other bourbon brands and begin offering single barrel or another version of their product. They always maintained that their product was so consistent that barrels would have little difference between them, and that the product in their bottle was the best version of their bourbon.

All of that changed this year with the introduction of their Private Select program. At first glance, the Private Select program is just a cask-strength version of Maker’s 46 but with different combinations of wood staves. But the more I learned and thought about it; I realized that this program is on the cutting edge of consumer-brand interaction in the world of whiskey.

I learned a lot about the program when I interviewed Allen Shephard of The Stadium Liquor in Covington about his experience in creating a barrel with the Gallenstein Family, who own The Stadium and several other liquor stores in Northern Kentucky. The Gallenstein family were among the first liquor stores in Kentucky to participate in this program and the joy he had as he talked about the bottle his team had created made a strong impression on me.  He was beyond thrilled with his experience, and I was very impressed with their version once I opened my bottle. The interview was on Episode #224 of The Charlie Tonic Hour so you can hear for yourself. I also learned about the process from a media roundtable I participated in during the Marriott Bourbon Battles experience. I was able to listen and ask questions with Maker’s Mark CEO Rob Samuels, Maker’s Maturation Specialist Jane Bowie, and whiskey expert Heather Greene as they talked about the Private Select program. Both of these experiences provided an in-depth look at the process, from two different points of view.

Griffin Gate Marriott Bottle ImageThe Maker’s Mark Private Select program essentially allows you to create your very own cask strength version of Maker’s 46. But instead of being limited to just French Oak staves, you have five different stave types to choose from, each one imparting a very different flavor on your barrel of Maker’s Mark. According to Shephard, they had originally planned to have ten different kinds of staves for the client to choose from but ultimately decided that would muddy the process with too many choices.

As it stands, the creator can choose ten staves from among the options of Baked American Pure 2, Seared French Cuveé, Maker’s 46®, Roasted French Mocha, and Toasted French Spice. These staves each add a unique flavor as the bourbon ages an additional nine weeks. With over 1,000 different combinations of finishing staves possible, the Maker’s Private Select process is the most customizable and interactive barrel selection program on the market. When I attended the roundtable, I had only tried The Stadium’s version, which I loved, but there I was able to taste a version of Maker’s flavored with one of each type of stave.

We started by trying the Maker’s Mark Cask Strength as a baseline and then tried five different versions of a private select barrel, each one aged with ten of the same staves. It was remarkable how different each barrel was. Especially considering that, aside from the Baked American, each of the others was made from French Oak. The only differences were the charring and cut. One of the staves, for example, had ridges cut into while the others were smooth. The tasting order started off sweet, with a lot of vanilla and caramel and progressed to tons of spice and dark chocolate at the other end of the tasting spectrum.

There are so many possible combinations that there is no way people participating the program could try every taste possibility. And even if they could, the barrel still has to age nine more weeks before the final product will be ready. S how does someone know what the bourbon they are picking will taste like?

According to Shephard, the way people participating in the Private Select program choose their staves is by combining a small amount of bourbon treated with each of the five staves. One millimeter of bourbon equals one stave. So for example, if you wanted two of each stave they would add two millimeters of each of the five treated bourbons to your glass, and that would let you know what the final product will taste like. With so many variables that go into the final product of bourbon, I was skeptical if this sample would accurately reflect the final product. But according to Shephard it did. Not only that, some of the qualities he loved about the Gallenstein selection, such as the finish, altered completely if you changed even one stave. This demonstrates that choosing which staves and combinations people can pick could not have been an easy process for Maker’s Mark. They had to be fairly certain that no matter which combination of staves people choose, the end result will be good whiskey. Otherwise, they risk putting their name on a product that doesn’t represent their high standards of quality.

Griffin Gate Marriott Back Bottle
Eventually, I was able to try the Private Select bottle that the Griffin Gate Marriott created, as well as Keeneland’s Private Select bottle. Griffin Gate had picked a stave combination of 4 American, 4 Roasted Mocha, and 2 French Spice. As a comparison, the Gallenstein Selection was 3 American, 5 French Cuveé, and 2 Roasted Mocha. Not a huge difference in the wood, with only four staves being different out of the ten, but the sweetness, finish, and spice level is very different. Keeneland’s was the first I had seen that used all of the staves. Theirs is 1 American, 3 French Cuveé, 1 Maker’s 46, 3 Roasted Mocha, and 2 French Spice. The result was Keeneland’s being much spicier than the other two. I bought the bottle from Griffin Gate, as well as from The Stadium, and I have very much enjoyed my bottles. One thing that I have noticed is that they need to sit longer really to open up. If I drink them too soon after pouring the sweeter notes are much harder to detect, and the difference between the two is more muted.

Keeneland's Choice Bottle

The Private Select program seems to have been very well received by bourbon lovers. The Stadium has already booked their dates to pick their barrel again next year, and the reviews of their selection were excellent from the whiskey lovers I know who bought a bottle. Currently, Maker’s 46 and the Private Select program can only run November-April because the heat of the summer over cooks the staves. Maker’s Mark is currently building a cave into the hill behind their Welcoming Center so that they can produce these barrels year round. I think that there is so much excitement around this program because it lets consumers be a part of the creation of their barrel in a way that no other major distillery is doing. People love to feel like a part of a product that they love. One of the reasons for Maker’s Mark’s incredibly loyal fan base is their Ambassador program, which lets fans put their name on a barrel at no cost. People feel very connected to this brand. While Maker’s has been slow to the barrel selection game, they entered it by leap-frogging what others are doing. I think that we will see more programs like this in the future. People aren’t hungry for bourbon because it is a hot commodity right now or even just because they love the taste. They love it because they are hungry for real experiences, authenticity, and being a part of something bigger. The Private Select program lets bars, hotels, liquor stores, and restaurants not just have the experience of picking out a great barrel, but helping to create that barrel.

While Maker’s has been slow to the barrel selection game, they entered it by leap-frogging what others are doing. I think that we will see more programs like this in the future. People aren’t hungry for bourbon because it is a hot commodity right now or even just because they love the taste. They love it because they are hungry for real experiences, authenticity, and being a part of something bigger. The Private Select program lets bars, hotels, liquor stores, and restaurants not just have the experience of picking out a great barrel, but actually, direct how the finished product tastes. 

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Are you celebrating National Bourbon Flag Day?

Today is a pretty special day for all of us here at Bourbon & Banter. Not only is it Flag Day, but it’s National Bourbon Day. Yep, two holidays for the price of one you might say. And we think this special day calls for us to do something special for all of our loyal readers. What do you say…are you behind us?

In honor of this unique holiday, which we’ve nicknamed ‘National Bourbon Flag Day’, we’re going to give away a box full of bourbon schwag to one lucky reader. The box will include a variety of items from our distillery partners as well as the Bourbon & Banter store. Items may include t-shirts, books, flasks, coasters, phone cases, etc. The truth is you never know what might fall into the box once we open up the bourbon prize closet. But it’s safe to say the box will contains items you’ll be proud to add to your personal bourbon collection.

We’re providing three different ways to enter the giveaway. You can enter using one or more of each method but each method can only be used once. (Earn up to 26 entries total.)

Here’s how to enter:

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    Bourbon & Banter Store Purchase

    Anyone who makes a purchase from the Bourbon & Banter online store during the giveaway promotion will receive 10 giveaway entries. Purchase a Bourbon Patriot flag and receive 20 entries. (20 entries is the max you can earn via a store purchase entry.)

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    Twitter Post Tweet with #Hashtag Usage

    Share this post on Twitter and use the hashtag #bourbonflagday to earn 5 giveaway entries. (Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter as well so we can contact you if you win.)

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    Online Entry Form Submission

    Submit your information via our online entry form and earn a single giveaway entry.

Entries will be accepted starting today (June 14th) through Sunday, June 19th at 5 pm Central time. We will then draw one winner and notify them via email. The winner will have 48 hours to claim their prize. If they fail to claim their prize we’ll draw another winner.

Remember, you can use one entry method listed above, a combination of methods or all of them if you want to maximize your odds of winning. (No purchase is necessary using option 2 or 3.) You must be 21 years of age and located in the United States to be eligible to win.

Good luck and we hope you have a great time celebrating National Bourbon Flag Day. Cheers!

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Red, White and Gray: Realities of the Bourbon Market

Jim Beam recently released its 13-year Booker’s limited rye with a suggested retail price of $300. For many long-term whiskey enthusiasts, this flashpoint was tantamount to a declaration of war. Who do they think they are? How dare they?

Whiskey’s gray market (or secondary market or parallel market) has been attacked so viciously you would think we were talking about drug cartels. Buffalo Trace even recently put out a statement announcing they were actively attempting to shut down “the illegal secondary market” for their whiskeys. Citing the “well-developed system for the distribution of spirits which involves us, a distiller, selling to a distributor who in turn sells to a retailer” and all the protections and benefits that affords you, the consumer, Buffalo Trace urges you to buy your whiskey from a fully licensed retailer.”

Fine, then, I visited several local retailers to buy a bottle of Buffalo Trace’s EH Taylor Seasoned Wood. Guess what? They didn’t have any. They didn’t have EH Taylor Barrel Proof either. Nor did they have Weller 12-year, Old Weller Antique or Elmer T. Lee, three Buffalo Trace bourbons I used to be able to buy at my local grocery store anytime I wanted to. But hey, at least I know the system protects me.

The cold reality is that the “well-developed system” that we are urged to stay committed to doesn’t work because we live in a free market economy and the demand for whiskey has risen far beyond the levels that are currently being supplied.
The cold reality is that the “well-developed system” that we are urged to stay committed to doesn’t work because we live in a free market economy and the demand for whiskey has risen far beyond the levels that are currently being supplied. It’s a pretty simple concept to understand and yet, for many whiskey “purists”, basic economics and capitalism are no match for anger when they feel deprived of something that used to be readily available to them.

Bourbon and rye whiskey are as American as it gets and yet, so is a free market. Let’s quickly review the laws of supply and demand as it pertains to the whiskey market:

When the price is set at a point where too many consumers want a whiskey and producers aren’t making enough of it, you have excess demand and prices rise. As prices rise, fewer people will be willing to purchase a whiskey (for argument’s sake, let’s call it a limited edition 13-year cask strength rye). There is an opportunity cost of buying that rye that will force people to give up buying something else they want. For example, “I’d rather buy two 10-year Michter’s ryes with that money” or “I can drink a lot of Pikesville rye for $300.” That is the law of demand.

The law of supply illustrates that as prices rise, producers want to make more whiskey to sell at those higher prices and increase their revenue. If prices rise beyond what consumers are willing to pay, whiskey will spend more time on the shelves. When this happens, prices have to fall to a level where people are willing to buy that whiskey again.

The rub here is that good whiskey takes years to age, and the demand for it has exploded too fast for distillers to adjust gradually. The same store clerk ringing up your Blanton’s two years ago and asking you if it was any good will now laugh at you when you ask him for it. You want a bottle, but your store doesn’t have it. Enter the gray market for whiskey.

Unlike a black market, a gray market is the trade of a commodity through legal channels unintended by the manufacturer. Derided as “taters”, “flippers” and far worse, many people have been successfully purchasing whiskey bottles and reselling them for incredible profits. This has made the gray market the scapegoat for everything wrong with the state of whiskey today. The unfortunate reality is that the whiskey gray market isn’t the problem at all. The problem is that a lot more people really like whiskey and producers can’t keep up. The flippers couldn’t flip if the buyers didn’t buy.

One more point that really ought to be considered is what happens to the economics of whiskey when the outlet of a gray market is interfered with. If people think it’s hard to find their favorite bottles now, imagine if the only point of purchase is their liquor store that is subject to limited allocations that “will continue, with no foreseeable end in sight,” according to Buffalo Trace.

And now let’s take a look at many of our liquor stores, the front door for us consumers in this “well-developed system” set up for our benefit.

Some stores are being rewarded today for having carried a full line of whiskeys back when no one was buying them. They now get a larger allocation of rare whiskeys as a thank-you. That’s the kind of relationship loyalty I appreciate as a business person. However, many other stores are punished because they didn’t sell enough cinnamon liquor that was being pushed on them. Sorry, no Pappy or BTAC for you this year.

Then there are the store liquor managers and clerks keeping limited release bottles for themselves and telling customers their store didn’t receive it in the first place. Those waiting lists you so hopefully added your name to rarely get pulled out of the drawer. Distributors hold bottles back in their warehouses so they can do favors for stores that beg for them later. I’ve seen stores in California with glass cases full of rare bottles marked up higher than the most expensive gray market prices. Is their goal to sell whiskey or ensure their trophies don’t leave the store?

On an important side note, I know terrific people in this industry (both in distribution and retail), and they truly do everything they can to do the right thing. I have personally participated in discussions on how to improve the selling of whiskeys, to make it as equitable as possible given the current challenges they face. I support these people whenever I can and you should too.

Back to the bottle that broke the blogger’s back. A 2015 study by Bain & Company illustrated that the global personal luxury goods market has tripled in the past 20 years. There are cars parked in Southern California that are a quarter of a million dollars, and no one says anything about them. Yet, Beam releases Booker’s first (and possibly only) 13-year old limited rye at a $300 retail price and the whiskey world lost its mind about it before it was even released or reviewed. Reviews have been stellar, by the way, even from bloggers who admit they will pay up for a bottle if they find it. Not surprisingly, the gray market price instantly climbed over $700, further fueling angry and personal attacks. Never mind the fact that I can’t buy a 13-year Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye for under $800, and Buffalo Trace releases them every two years. But hey, those are only $80 retail so let’s blast Jim Beam and praise Buffalo Trace.

Your whiskey isn’t increasing in price because the WRONG people are buying and selling it. It’s rising in price because people are buying it.
We love our country and our whiskey. We sometimes, unfortunately, forget that we aren’t all entitled to enjoy the same things. That would be communism, the exact opposite of the capitalism that fueled our country’s rise to greatness. Your whiskey isn’t increasing in price because the wrong people are buying and selling it. It’s rising in price because people are buying it.

If someone is against escalating whiskey prices, then by all means they should refuse to pay them. They are part of the market, and they have a voice. But they are not the market, and right now the market says that a limited edition 13-year cask-strength rye whiskey is worth over $750, regardless of its suggested retail price.

Ian Buxton feels “this ‘investment’ bubble will end badly and people – and whiskey – are going to get hurt.” I don’t necessarily disagree with him, but he wrote those words for Whisky Advocate back in 2011. Markets always correct, boom and bust, and anyone who thinks they can accurately predict the timing of these events is deluding themselves. Whiskey has an intrinsic value when used for its intended purpose, so asking yourself what you’d pay for that bottle if you couldn’t ever sell it may help provide some perspective.

The final point here is that there are so many more options for excellent whiskey than we have ever had. I don’t know if I’ll get the opportunity to buy a Booker’s Rye, and I haven’t decided if I’m willing to pay the $300 to get it. What I do know is that our Whole Foods has the Michter’s limited edition barrel proof rye for $70, and I’m heading out to grab one of those shortly.

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Visiting the A. Smith Bowman Distillery

A. Smith Bowman Distillery Painting Photo“A. Smith Bowman Distillery Old Reston Avenue.”

That is the title of this painting by Doris Kidder that has hung all winter, in the hall outside of our company office in Leesburg, VA. I was aware the Bowman Distillery was once located in Reston, VA since I bought my first bottle of Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon several years ago. Also, my wife and I had the pleasure to meet and talk with former Master Distiller Truman Cox at Whiskyfest New York in 2012, just a few months prior to his sudden death. We had a trip coming up to Savannah, and we figured on the way south we would stop at the distillery for a tour.

The A. Smith Bowman Distillery had moved to Fredericksburg, VA in 1988 and is now located in what used to be a cellophane factory. We arrived just in time for the 11 am tour. Our tour guide was Ralph Falvo and he was fabulous. The tour included six people including my wife and me.

The first part of tour was about the Bowman Distillery history. There are a few posts on line that talk a good bit about the history of the Bowman family. Ralph did not go too much into the family details but more about how the distillery came about. Abram Smith Bowman owned the Sunset Hills farm in Fairfax County, VA and like many farmers had excess grain. Right after prohibition ended, he built a distillery. The main products of the distillery were Virginia Gentlemen, Sunset Hills Bourbon and Fairfax County Bourbon. There was a bottle of the Sunset Hills Bourbon in the display case which Ralph indicated was from the 1930’s.

In 1958, the Bowman’s sold most of their farm to Robert E. Simon, who built the planned community of Reston. The distillery continued to operate as Reston grew up around it. In 1988, however, the family sold the rest of their land, most likely because the real estate taxes were too high, and moved to Fredericksburg, VA. In 2003, the distillery was bought by Sazerac and in 2009 changed their business model to a micro-distillery.

A. Smith Bowman Distillery Barrel PhotoThe tour moved on to a discussion about bourbon ingredients and then to what was one of the most interesting parts of the tour, a discussion about barrels. Ralph had a used bourbon barrel that was cut open on one side to show the char on the inside. He told us that the Bowman Distillery uses barrels made with oak from Missouri. He said the trees had to be sixty to eighty years old, and the wood had to come from the bottom third of the tree. According to Ralph, this is the oak that Bowman believes makes the best tasting bourbon. He said they use #4 char. He had some barrel staves from a barrel they used for their Abraham Bowman Millennial Limited Release 14-year-old bourbon. It is possible to see at the end of the stave the line marking how far the bourbon had traveled into the wood during aging. Ralph showed us one stave where you could see the bourbon had come all the way through.

The stills were next on the tour. Bowman has two stills. One is an older still, nicknamed “Mary” that has been around for some time. The other was installed in January 2015, nicknamed “George.” Ralph said the new still is owned by Sazerac, the parent company of Bowman and is used to make gin, vodka and to experiment with bourbon. Ralph explained the gin distilling process in some interesting detail.

As for bourbon, Bowman uses their old still to distil their bourbon. One unusual thing about Bowman is that they do not make their mash. It comes from Buffalo Trace, of which Sazerac is also the parent. The mash is cooked and distilled once at the Buffalo Trace Distillery and then shipped to the Bowman Distillery where it is distilled again, barreled and aged.

A. Smith Bowman Distillery Aging Bourbon PhotoFrom the still room, we entered the area where the barrels are aged. A sweet bourbon smell in this room! Bowman is the only distillery (according to Ralph) that ages their barrels standing upright. This prevents loss from having to turn the barrels over and allows the entire barrel to be used in the aging process as the bourbon rises and falls in the barrels due to temperature fluctuations. The barrels are stacked four levels high, so there is not much temperature variation between the top and bottom levels. This leads to a more consistent flavor profile between the barrels.

Bowman markets three bourbon products, Bowman Brothers Small Batch, John Bowman Single Barrel and an Abraham Bowman yearly limited edition. Ralph stated that the small batch bourbon is aged seven years, and the batch consists of eight barrels, each selected to provide a consistent flavor profile. The single barrel is aged ten years. Although Bowman still makes Virginia Gentlemen, I don’t remember it being mentioned on the tour and it is not mentioned on the website. The three Bowman bourbons are bottled in Fredericksburg, while Virginia Gentlemen is aged in Fredericksburg but bottled in Baltimore, MD.

The tour finished with a tasting. Since Virginia is a control state, the ABC requires that the distillery can only provide samples of four products which the distillery must pick out daily. In addition, if you don’t finish your sample you can’t pass it on to someone else but instead must pour it out (blasphemy!). The samples for the day of our tour were the Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon, the John Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon, the Sunset Hills Gin and the Caramel Bourbon Cream. I am not much of a Gin fan but have to say that the Sunset Hills Gin is very, very good. I have both the small batch and single barrel before, and both are very good. The Bowman products are easy to find in Virginia (except for the Limited Edition), but I hear they are difficult to find elsewhere. The Caramel Bourbon Cream is good and comes in a bottle that looks very much like the Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream.

The tour lasted about an hour, and we finished at the gift shop. An excellent selection of Bowman items for sale. You could also buy their bourbons, rum, gin, and vodka. After a little shopping, my wife and I had the opportunity to talk to Ralph a bit further.

A. Smith Bowman Distillery Port Finish Bourbon BottleRecently the A. Smith Bowman Distillery Abraham Bowman Port Finished Bourbon limited edition was awarded World’s Best Bourbon at the North America Whiskies & Spirits Conference in New York where the World Whiskies Awards were announced. My wife and I both were able to taste this bourbon at the WhiskyFest DC back at the beginning of March. It is very, very good. We also were able to taste the Abraham Bowman Limited Edition Wine Finish Bourbon there as well, and I think it is better than the port finish. We asked Ralph if there was any around and he said right now these are impossible to find. Ralph did say that another limited edition release was coming up shortly. I asked him what was unique about this release. He said that is a secret!

Well, the secret is out. The Abraham Bowman Limited Release Wheat Bourbon was released on Wednesday, May 16th. It is a nine-year-old, 94 proof wheated bourbon but purportedly not the same mashbill as Weller. The Bowman gift shop sold out of their portion in less than a day. The Virginia ABC will do a lottery for their share sometime in the near future. I am looking for my email.

If you find yourself in Fredericksburg, VA, stop at A. Smith Bowman Distillery for a tour and some excellent Virginia bourbon! It’s worth the visit.

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Freddie Johnson: Bourbon Superhero

Buffalo Trace Distillery, run by the Sazerac company, is a distillery known around the world for their amazing bourbon portfolio, including Blanton’s, Eagle Rare, Pappy van Winkle, and many other fantastic labels. These brands attract scores of visitors to their distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, where they offer five different (free!) tours, which end with a complimentary tasting. However, sometimes visitors have the chance to experience something sweeter than bourbon: a tour by Freddie Johnson, third generation distillery worker and tour guide extraordinaire. Freddie’s tours are the stuff of legend, so I contacted him for an interview to figure out just what sets him apart from other guides at Buffalo Trace.

For most people, bourbon is just a damn fine drink, but not for Freddie. He approaches it with honor and respect, since it has been the backbone of his family for many years. Both Freddie’s grandfather and father worked at the distillery; his grandfather even selected the barrels from which Albert B. Blanton chose his first single barrels. Johnson says he remembers visiting the distillery at the age of five, when his father and grandfather both worked there. Although he remembers the distillery from long ago, he looks forward to all of the changes coming in this new age—and he reminded me of Buffalo Trace’s motto, “Honor tradition, embrace change.”

Freddie Johnson PhotoSpeaking of long ago, Freddie mentioned that when Sazerac acquired the distillery formerly known as O. F. C. (Old Fashioned Copper) in 1992, there were only fifteen employees left. In just 24 years, that number has grown to 425 full time employees, with plans to expand even more. Buffalo Trace also works closely with the community and local universities to give life to Frankfort and the surrounding area. They only source their grain from a 100-mile radius and announced recently their plans for an estate-grown bourbon.

Needless to say, Freddie has a lot to be proud of as a guide at Buffalo Trace. He also loves giving tours to both the young and the old, since the distillery is kid friendly as well. He relates to his younger audience by teaching them about mechanical and structural engineering, and connects that to what they are learning in school, rather than simply giving a tour to the adults in the group and letting the children stare into the distance. For adults, Johnson makes sure he doesn’t give just-another-bourbon-distillery-tour. For those who have already visited distilleries, he tries to add on to what they have already learned and teach them about what Buffalo Trace does differently. He says, “We want you to be a raving fan of Buffalo Trace.”

If you don’t have the chance to get to Buffalo Trace Distillery, you might see Freddie working an event like the Bourbon Mixer. Freddie views these events as an “appetizer” for what people might experience if they go to Buffalo Trace. He loves sharing bourbon with the people he meets at events, and especially introducing them to one of his favorite drinks: an adult root beer float a la Buffalo Trace. Here’s the recipe!

Adult Root Beer Float

2 parts root beer
1 part bourbon cream (Freddie suggests sipping some bourbon cream first to ensure quality!)
Pour two ingredients into glass and enjoy. Can also swap out orange cream soda, mountain dew, cola,
or hard soda varieties for an extra kick.

Finally, I asked Freddie about his advice to our bourbon evangelists. He related a very touching sentiment, something I think every bourbon lover should remember. Buffalo Trace is, as many of you know, a very old distillery that produces some of the nation’s oldest bourbon. Some people hoard bourbon, keep it locked away, but Freddie wants to remind us what this product is made for. He signed off by saying:

“For every day that we walk this earth, there will always be more barrels of bourbon being made. But friends and family will not always be nearby. So when you bring the bottle out, enjoy the moment, because that’s what bourbon is made for.”Freddie Johnson
Freddie Johnson Tasting Photo

Thanks so much to Freddie Johnson and Buffalo Trace Distillery for the chance to do this interview. If you want to hear more from Freddie, check out his part of the Bourbon Oral History Project or check out his cameo in Ken Burns’ Prohibition documentary. Cheers, friends!

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Pack Your Bags!! We’re Going On A #Bourbonjourney

Let me be the first to welcome you aboard the Bourbon Express!! Please step forward with your ticket in hand and prepare yourselves for a fun, interactive experience as we explore one of America’s greatest treasures – BOURBON! We are about to embark on a year-long bourbon journey that will begin the second you pop open your bottle and catch that initial whiff of sweet corn, and will continue, well, until we run out of whiskey. In case you missed my first post on this topic, let me take a moment to catch you up to speed.

I don’t think it’s any secret that the aromas and flavors found in whiskey can change with time, and for me, that is usually a welcomed change. This is not to imply that I dislike the first dram of any particular whiskey, but only that it seems to get better with time… and that is the basis of this community involved “review”. I put three different bourbons up for consideration and after tallying the votes across social media and from the comments section here on Bourbon & Banter, the whiskey we will be using is Angels Envy, Port Wine Finished Kentucky Straight Bourbon (full post can be found here).

As some of you may know, I am a Scotch whisky drinker at heart, but over the past few months, I have been trying to broaden my whiskey horizons to include more American whiskeys, and I have managed to twist a few of my malt-mate’s arms into joining me on this bourbon adventure. If this is the first you’re hearing about this, I welcome you to the discussion and invite you to come along for the ride. The more people we can pack on this train, the more each of us will get out of the trip.

Now please keep in mind, my goal here is to create a fun, judgment-free environment for those newer to bourbon, and for more experienced bourbon drinkers as well. I have no plans to submit our findings to any scientific journals and will likely not be nominated for any Nobel Prizes or Journalistic awards. The point being, don’t take things too seriously here. For the most part, everyone I’ve spoken to about this has similar expectations, and we’re all here to not only try something new but hopefully gain a little bourbon appreciation along the way. There was one commenter who suggested I maintain a reference bottle that was to be injected with air after each session so as to maintain consistent air pressure throughout the experiment, and to be sure to store that reference bottle at constant temperatures in a cool dark place. While I admire this person’s scientific integrity and attention to detail, in all honesty, I can assure you that just won’t happen in my case. I will be keeping my bottle right on my bar top alongside the many other bottles in my collection and once a month I will pour a small glass from that bottle and make notes of what I observe.

I want to keep this as “real life” as possible and while I don’t know what to expect, two or three months of the same observations could get pretty boring pretty quickly. To counter that possibility, each month after I have taken my notes on the first few sips (neat, from a Glencairn glass) I’ll be using whatever is left in the glass to explore different pairings. What does a bite of dark chocolate do to the perceived flavors of the whiskey? What about a handful of salty almonds? Maybe drop an ice cube or two in the glass and take note of what happens. I encourage everyone to come up their own pairings as well and let the rest of us know via the comments section each month how it influenced your whiskey experience. The sky is the limit, and there are no right or wrong combinations… pair it with a piece of fruit or some potato chips, a spoonful of peanut butter, maybe try it side-by-side with an entirely different whiskey, or a glass of rum for that matter, and see if you can pick up any new flavors when you go back to the Angels Envy. While the primary focus of the ongoing monthly reviews will be to see how the whiskey itself changes over time, a secondary topic will be how the different pairings affect your whiskey in the moment.

OK, so where do we go from here?

Well, I’ll be posting my monthly reviews and pairing notes during the first week of each month, starting with the initial review in July. So, if you haven’t done so already, go ahead and get yourself a bottle of Angels Envy Bourbon (Port Wine finish, 43.3 ABV) and towards the end of this month (June), find some quiet time to pop the cork and pour yourself a dram. With a pen and paper nearby, make notes of your observations. Whether you can pick up on 1 or 2 descriptors, or a dozen, it doesn’t matter. Take a sip and write down the first things that come to your mind. Swirl it around in your glass, take a big sniff and let it soak into your brain, and with that smell still fresh in your head, take another small sip, let it sit on your tongue for a few moments before you swallow, and write down what you observe. It’s not a bad idea to have a glass of water handy to cleanse your palate now and again, and with a fresh mouth, give the whiskey another sip to see if you can detect anything different. Try to have a little fun with the pairings as well and be prepared to share what works and what doesn’t. Not only do I hope to improve my tasting abilities by keeping close tabs on what I observe each month, but by each of us sharing our individual experiences, we may give one another flavor profiles to seek out on our next tasting that we may have otherwise missed out on going at this alone.

So that’s it for now. But before you go rushing out to get your bottle of Angels Envy, make sure you are signed up for the Bourbon and Banter email updates, so you don’t miss a beat. You can choose whether you want daily or weekly notifications and you will be emailed directly when new content is available. If you made it this far, I thank you for your interest, and I look forward to seeing you here on the Bourbon & Banter blog during the first week of July to share how your first tasting went. If you plan on participating (and you don’t necessarily have to have a bottle to follow along) feel free to introduce yourself below so I can start to get a handle on who will be involved… everyone’s thoughts and opinions are important! If you have any questions in the meantime, feel free to leave them below in the comments or look me up on twitter at @FL_ScotchLover aka Mr. Scotch. I’m looking forward to getting this journey underway, and I hope to see you all aboard next month. Cheers!