Personal Preference – Part II

Do you know what time it is? It's time to talk about what I grabbed from Four Roses today! 

I love tasting with Mandy Vance, the woman on the right who runs the Four Roses private barrel program. She's the best. I'm always disappointed that our time together is limited to the hour or so that I spend with her every few months when we make our selections. She's full of insight into the specifics of each available cask and I value her feedback tremendously when we taste together. "Do you wanna know the ages or not before we start?" she asked with a smirk. Heck no! Taste first, then reveal!

Another great (or not so great) thing about tasting at Four Roses is that they give you endless tortilla chips to cleanse your palate between samples. I swear to God there have been times when I've eaten at least a bag and a half on my own, so this time I was smart and brought a bag of almonds with me. Gotta count my calories if I want to keep my girlish figure! 

I really liked three of the barrel selections from Four Roses today and I tasted them blindly, as I always do, so I that I choose by flavor initially. That doesn't mean I don't peek at the ages and recipes when I'm done, however! When it came time for Mandy to tell me the specifics, it turned out that I had chosen a ten year old barrel, plus two eight year olds, but the three casks that I turned down were all over nine years of age. So here's my question for you, aspiring spirits buyers: what do you do with that information?

A: Do you take the nine year old casks because you know customers will think nine is better than eight? Or...

B: Do you stick with the eight year old casks and try to talk about their superior flavor profiles? 

The problem with option A is that, if the casks don't live up to your standards, your customers might lose faith in your ability to pick out good whiskey. The problem with option B is that, in our modern and cynical world of whiskey expertise, people assume that the only reason you're talking about the merits of eight year old whiskey is because you didn't have access to anything older. If I say "this eight year old barrel was even better than the nine and ten year old options," I'll be dealing with a sea of snarky responses about marketing bullshit.

You've gotta make the business decision, but which one is best for business? The better age statement or the better whiskey? 

Decisions, decisions. I went with the eight year olds because in the end they were better. Mandy agreed. Here's the round-up:

- OBSV (8 years, 8 months)

- OESQ (8 years, 9 months)

- OESV (10 years, 3 months)

I've got a lot more to type up during tomorrow's plane ride about my exciting visits to both Willett and the Bardstown Bourbon Company. But, of course, "exciting" is often the in the eye of the beholder. I think what's happening to the Kentucky Bourbon distillation landscape right now is incredibly inspiring, but that's because I'm coming from a wine background. I love visiting the great châteaux in Bordeaux and the gorgeous estates in Napa because I like the total package when it comes to booze. If you care about atmosphere, art, travel, curation, and all the romantic hospitality services that the wine industry has offered for decades to tourists, you're probably going to enjoy tomorrow's post. However, if the extent of your interest in whiskey revolves around collecting full proof, limited edition, old and rare Bourbon bottles to enjoy in the privacy of your own home, I don't have good news for you.

A number of Kentucky's best distilleries are investing heavily in the future, but they're not necessarily investing in the liquid itself. More on that tomorrow. 

-David Driscoll


Personal Preference

During one of my undisclosed appointments yesterday, a producer asked if I would be willing to taste through a few whiskey samples and offer some feedback. I did as instructed, but I made sure to clarify between my professional and personal opinion each time. As someone who works in retail, it's my job to know what other people will like, even if it's not something I would necessarily buy for myself. I know others who work in the trade who don't think there's a difference—that you should only advocate for products that you yourself would consume—but that's always seemed like the easy way out to me. It's much harder to put yourself in someone else's shoes and ultimately I've found it more rewarding when I'm able to successfully do so.

For example, if one of my high end business clients asked me where I thought he should eat while visiting Kentucky, I would probably tell him to check out Butchertown Grocery, even if personally I might want to head out to Deez Butts. I've never been to Deez Butts, but it's easily the best name for a barbecue spot I've ever seen and—personally—I have a soft spot for places like this (if that name is lost on you, I can't really help you here, but you should definitely refer back to Dr. Dre's original Chronic album if you need guidance). I have customers who read my wine blog posts about dining through France and ask me for recommendations in Paris based on those parameters, but then I also have people who want my personal opinion about where I would eat—personally—based on what I like. There's a difference. I'm never going to turn down Haut-Brion and duck confit, but I also like Miller High Life and hot Cheetos.

Another example would be Wild Turkey distiller Jimmy Russell. That man knows more about Bourbon than me and everyone else reading this blog put together. He's a living legend and an encyclopedia of knowledge as it pertains to both whiskey and life. But if you ask Jimmy how he personally enjoys his whiskey, he'll tell you with lemonade. Or maybe it's sweet tea. I can't remember. The point is: one of the industry's most experienced master distillers personally prefers his Bourbon in that fashion. He also prefers it around ten years old, even if today's serious drinkers lust for the fifteen and twenty year old expressions. But that's not what some guys are looking for, nor is it what they want to hear. Some guys want to know what the best glass is for sipping whiskey, or which ultra-mature limited edition bottles are worth the hype. They don't want to drink Bourbon with lemonade. Or sweet tea.

But that doesn't mean we can't help these customers with their questions. Personal preferences aside, I think part of being a professional is that very basic skill. Otherwise, what good are you?

I'm sitting here in the car outside of Four Roses, waiting for my appointment to begin. I'll definitely be making both professional and personal decisions once we start tasting through casks.

-David Driscoll


A Busy Day in Kentucky

I awoke to a beautiful August morning in Kentucky and made my way over to Lawrenceburg, a small town of about ten thousand that plays host to Wild Turkey Distillery—a stalwart of the historic Bourbon Trail. I was scheduled to meet with Eddy Russell at ten o'clock and I found myself right behind him in the parking lot as we both pulled into the facility a bit early. We shook hands immediately and made our way over to the guest center to check in, before heading out to the main warehouse to pop a few barrels.

I hopped in Eddy's pickup truck for the short drive over to the rickhouse. Naturally, we talked about business. I asked about the increase in Bourbon tourism, to which he said: "It's been just incredible. It's completely saved the main street in Lawrenceburg. Without it, I think a lot of those businesses would have shuttered up." I had read somewhere that Louisville had close to five million visitors last year, the majority of whom were interested in whiskey and venturing out along the Bourbon Trail. Eddy shook his head and confirmed that foot traffic was most definitely on the rise.

Once inside the building, we continued to talk about the changes within the industry and Eddy mentioned how excited he was to bring his son on board as soon as he moved home from Texas; hopefully to become the third generation master distiller at Wild Turkey. We mapped out a strategy for barrel selection and Eddy suggested certain barrels he liked in particular. I made a few inquiries into the type and location, and we began the process of digging them out. In the end, I wound up with six casks:

- Warehouse H - 4th floor - 118.4 proof

- Warehouse H - 4th floor - 117.4 proof

- Warehouse D - 3rd floor - 113.9 proof

- Warehouse D - 3rd floor - 113.7 proof

- Warehouse D - 4th floor - 114.4 proof

- Warehouse D - 4th floor - 113.6 proof

"You're about the easiest appointment I think I've ever had," Eddy mentioned as we left the warehouse. Don't you forget it, brother. I pride myself on making K&L business fast and easily manageable. You get more bees with honey, they say. And more barrels (wink, wink).

Cruising back into Louisville around midday, I met up with Joe Heron at Copper & Kings and we drove over to Royals Hot Chicken in Butchertown for lunch. The neighborhood around the distillery is continuing to develop into a food mecca. Royals was packed already at noon on a Tuesday and for good reason.

THIS is why! I could eat this incredible sandwich every day for the rest of my life and never get tired of it. Kentucky fried chicken on a bun with spicy hot sauce, pickles, and a cucumber salad. We ended up sitting next to a few other industry folk and talking shop while red streaks of salsa ran down our faces and crumbles of breaded goodness stuck to our shirts. Don't miss this place if you're visiting Louisville. It's a must-try.

After doing a few more "off the record" meetings (am I a journalist or a retailer? - I was given a gag order by one guy!), I headed down to Shively to meet up with the gang at Michter's and taste through some of their newer expressions. I was excited to see company head Joe Magliocco, a guy I really get a kick out of. He's an old school New Yorker and he and I have a lot in common in terms of our culinary interests. I stopped to take a few photos of the brick houses on my way through southwest Louisville. It's a real old school part of town with a lot of visible history.

Unlike my previous visit, the Michter's facility was in full swing this time around and I was able to taste some of their new-make rye off the still. that whiskey soft, creamy, and fruity on the palate right out of the gate! I'm not really a white whiskey fan, but I could see myself getting into that unaged rye if a bottle somehow found its way into my hands. The still at Michter's has 11,000 pounds of copper in it, which results in quite the clean and delicate spirit.

The more I learn about how Michter's makes whiskey, the more I like what they're doing. They're going against a lot of the whiskey intelligencia's check list items (big, bold, high proof, powerful) in search of a softer, more big tent style of whiskey that the greater general public can enjoy, but in a style that serious whiskey fans have to recognize as quality-oriented. They're doing it by filling barrels at a lower proof, making larger cuts when necessary, and creating legitimate "small batch" blends of twenty barrels or less per batch. While the boutique market continues to lust after high intensity whiskies, I think Michter's is quickly capturing a wider market of people who want a combination of concentrated flavor and easy drinking accessibility. As I told Joe during our tasting session, "You can't listen to what a small portion of the internet tells you is necessary. Those guys want what they want, but you've gotta go with what feels right to you" (something I've learned while writing this blog over the years). Then he poured me a glass of the Celebration Sour Mash, an incredibly expensive whiskey that I had never been lucky enough to taste. Wow. That's all I can say. A serious WOW......just wow.

After tasting at the distillery, it was back over to Butchertown Grocery for an epic dinner of charcuterie, seafood platters, pasta, and steak. We had cocktails, white wine, red wine, decadent desserts, and a whole lotta Michter's. I also got to spend some time with the Michter's team who taught me plenty about local Louisville customs and food culture. A big thank you to Joe and the crew for hosting me tonight and making me feel right at home. This was one of my more memorable experiences in town.

-David Driscoll


Keeping Pace

I've been all over the place today, at four different distilleries, but I had the most successful meeting business-wise this morning with Eddy Russell. We managed to dig out six different barrels and he was nice enough to even single-handedly roll out a few more from deeper inside the bowels of the rickhouse (I wasn't much help with my camera). I'll have more details on that meeting in a bit in terms of what exactly I picked out, plus a few news and notes from around Louisville. Until then!

-David Driscoll 


Running For Dear Life

There are people who obsessively plot out every intricate detail of their travel plans. I know this because I've both been that person before and I've traveled with him (I say him, because it's never a "her"). They're ten steps ahead at all times, constantly working and reworking the plan every few minutes, keeping you abreast of every potential outcome. However, after years on the road and the humble realization that rarely am I in control of my own fate, I am a far cry from that person today. That's why when it came time to land in Detroit yesterday and make my connection to Louisville, I was completely unprepared for what I was about to have to do.

As we were descending, I pulled out my boarding pass and looked at the upcoming boarding time: 7:15 PM. What time was it right now? 7:07 PM. This is gonna be close, I thought to myself, but I should be fine so long as the gate isn't too far away from the one we pull into. The plane parked at exactly 7:17, but I was in row 39, so I watched with the patience of a two year child as each passenger before me slowly and without even the slightest hint of expedience began exiting the aircraft. At 7:25, I was sidestepping people in the jet bridge, having realized that the boarding time for a small flight to Kentucky probably wouldn't take more than twenty minutes. We were scheduled to take off at 7:55, so I had five to ten minutes at best if I was going to make it. My gate was 75A and I was deboarding at A20.

Here's where a more detailed knowledge of Detroit's Terminal A will help you understand the issue at hand: it's a fucking mile long. Not in the figurative, hyperbolic sense that I usually love to speak in, but in the literal sense. Here's a YouTube video some guy made about it years ago if you don't believe me. It's a legit mile. Guess where gate 75A is? You guessed it: at the very end. It's the last gate in the whole building, which is why there's a train that takes passengers from one end to the other. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to wait for the train. You can guess what happened next. 

I made it. By the skin of my teeth, but I made it. I was hacking for probably the first time in my adult life. I like to think that I'm in pretty good shape, but a mile long sprint with a fairly heavy computer and camera bag in beat-up canvas Vans isn't usually something I do. It took me the entirety of the hour-long flight to recover. My lungs were legitimately sore and I was coughing just about the entire way. Needless to say, my suitcase didn't make it, so I went to the Seelbach hotel in sweaty clothes and I drank at the Old Seelbach bar in those same sweaty clothes. My bag was here when I woke up, however, so kudos to Delta for making that happen. 

What's funny is that apparently this particular SFO/Detroit/Louisville flight is a consistent thing. I was texting with Copper & Kings owner Joe Heron right before take off, and his choice of words had me laughing out loud: "That fucking Detroit connection is Lucifer on ice. It's ridiculously far! I had the door closed in my face once." As we approached Louisville, I could make out the Ohio River separating Kentucky from Indiana under what was left of the evening's sunset and all of my worries washed away.

I'm off to meet Eddy Russell in a bit, then I'm over to Michter's in Shively later this afternoon with Joe Magliocco. Hopefully, at a much more leisurely pace.

-David Driscoll