2016 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection Reviews

Typically my reviews are geared towards wrapping a bourbon tasting inside a story of historic nature and context, or various other experiences….that’s always been the goal at least. But due to the size and nature of this tasting, I’m gonna attempt to limit that and stay with my notes as much as possible….


So with that:

George T Stagg – 144.1 Proof

I’ll start my review out with the lead dog of the pack, at least what’s always been considered the lead dog. This year’s GTS came in at a whopping 144.1 proof.  I’ve always been a fan of high proof, it just speaks to my palate, mostly because I feel like the flavors are amplified (to 11). On the whole I have loved just about every GTS release I’ve had, and was only underwhelmed by the 2013 edition, and even that one was pretty damn good.

My anticipation could not have been higher as I tore through the box marked BUFFALO TRACE. The Stagg bottle was the first one I went for, cracking it open at the home bar as soon as I could.

The nose on the 2016 GTS is, well, great as expected. You have to be careful of how hard you inhale due to the proof.  There is an immediate punch of cocoa cream and juicy purple tobacco.  There is a minor scent of caramel and citrus wafting around, followed by a burst of anise and ending in heavy oak.

It smelled delicious to me, but that’s where Elvis left the building. Being that this was an old bourbon of high-octane, I let it air out for about 30 minutes before sipping, which I felt was appropriate.  I didn’t douse it with water, because I typically drink everything straight (no limestone spring water or ice).  But even after the air time, when I went in for the sip it was just too damn hot, to the point that the heat over-arced and drowned out the flavors, save for the smoldering oak.  I’ve had so many other  high-proofers of similar make-up where there was an immediate balance of heat and flavor, for instance last year’s William Heavenhill green label, 15yrs at 144 proof.  But the 2016 GTS seemed to miss the mark a little bit on balance.  The mouthfeel was typical GTS, straight up incendiary, sizzling off the tongue like cayenne cotton candy.  I do love that.

The finish was also hard to decipher, except for the raging forest fire in my mouth.

Just for fairness, I went back for another pour, and added a few drops of limestone spring water. I found that proofing it down adversely impacted the nose, but did nothing to quench the heat or bring out the traditionally robust GTS flavors.  Well, there is slightly more flavor present in the form of sugar, but it’s still just an undertone to the explosive nature of the beast.

Now all that being said, this is not bad bourbon. As usual, the experience of drinking GTS is exactly that, an experience.  But this experience doesn’t stand up to past ones, the standouts like 2014 and 2005.  If you are a fan of high heat above all else, this is right up your alley.  But for me, I have grown accustomed to robust GTS flavors, and missed them here.  However, I believe that if I had a bottle of 2016 GTS open for a while, it would probably mellow and little and come around to my liking.

Grade: B-


William Larue Weller – 135.4 Proof

People, listen up. For everything that the George T Stagg lacked in immediate flavor and refinement, the 2016 William Larue Weller made up for that in spades, and then some.  From the initial pour and smell of the heavenly aroma, it was a true eye opener.  My mental catalogue of experience with WLW is not as vast as the GTS, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve tried.  But this release, this is a real gem.  I thought it was exceptional.

To me, William Larue Weller has always been the classiest of the bunch. It just has an aura of cool.  There’s something about it that says “I’m not for slogging, I’m for enjoying.”  As much as George T Stagg is the rough and tumble man’s man bourbon of Clint Eastwood and John Wayne, William Larue Weller is the bourbon of classier man’s man, like Dean Martin or Paul Newman.  The guy that knows which fork to use at dinner, and keeps his cigarettes in a small case in the inner pocket of his daily-wear tuxedo jacket.

Let’s be honest, what’s not to love about a 135 proof, uncut, unfiltered, 13 year old wheater?

The nose emanated with that glorious soft wheated structure. Lots of baked goods and sugary spices, and confectionary dream.  There was a great component of oak that was prominent but not aggressive.  It’s showed off a lovely char quality that accentuated the aroma, rather than stepping on it.  It’s resplendent.  Gracious.  Balanced.

The sip is seems bold at first due to the proof, but after the initial liquid fever breaks, everything that was underlying becomes prominent, rising up like cookie dough in the oven. It’s immediately sweet and produced gobs of vanilla and what I tasted as a dollop of caramel. The vanilla and caramel is not at all subtle.  It’s like a vat of something you want to dip into with an apple on a stick.  But there were also lots of the dark tree fruits.  Buffalo Trace indicated these as fig and plum.  That assessment is pretty spot on.  Maybe fig newton would be even better, as that grainy wheated flavor was still obvious to me.

The finish is nice and deep, right into the chest, radiating out, back into the taste buds.

I could write and write and write about the WLW. I could put together never-ending strings of superlatives and prose.  Perhaps I will. The good money says I will.  But until then I will remember this pour as being awesome.

Grade: A+


Eagle Rare 17 – 90 proof

I have so many good things to say about the ER17. For some people, ER17 is kind of the overlooked little brother of the BTAC big boys, the 4th child, the one that went off to LA and became a film star, but when he comes home for visits, he is still expected to mix drinks for Uncle Carl and mow the lawn. I’m not sure why, but it’s true.

The 2016 ER17 is quite damn delicious. It’s got that fantasmic scent of minty evergreen and caramel.  Fresh barrels in the cool rickhouse.  It’s so, classic…..  Almost like AH Hirsch 16 on steroids.  I mean that.

The flavor was full of sweet purple tobacco. A fragrant, mouthwatering component of vanilla rose like a cloud of dust wafting behind an old pick-up truck barreling down a dirt road. As expected there was the classic leathery dynamic that accentuated the oaky char, all of which combined and evolved into gooey caramel toffee.  It’s not juicy, it’s more dry in my opinion.  But the flavors are heady.

I thought to myself, “This is really, really good bourbon. “

As expressive as the flavors are, the finish is quite light, and compared to the atomic Stagg and sublime Weller seems almost non-existent. But it does let more of the flavors linger for a greater amount of time.  It evolves into an almost creamy and buttery aftertaste, resonating with mild oak.  So pleasant.

The only thing I really, and this is kind of petty, but I wish the Eagle Rare 17 was a higher proof. Even if it was 100 or 110.  Just a little more gas to crank up the flavors.  I know that’s not the point or purpose of this bourbon, and there is a reason the master distiller chooses to roll production at the lower proof.  I normally “trust the chef”, but I’m certain more proof would turn this superb bourbon into a true game changer.

Grade: A


Sazerac 18yr Rye – 90 proof

This was one of the more anticipated releases, as it represents the first batch of distillate cooked up at Buffalo Trace, rather than the old tanked juice everyone had come to know and love. Actually “love” isn’t a strong enough word.  People were downright fanatical for the old juice.

I wouldn’t call myself a fanatic, or even in love with the old Saz, but I always recognized its qualities and beauty. So maybe that makes me a little more unbiased.

I sipped this one as if it was just any other rye, not just the Emperor’s new clothes. Personally, I thought it was a good pour. Lots of classic rye traits.  Cinnamon spice.  Not overbearing on the aftershave.  Not tart.  Not undrinkable.

But neither is it classic Saz 18, unfortunately.

At the end of the day, Buffalo Trace had a really hard job to do, as far as releasing this rye. While it can be as good as it can be (which is still pretty good), it could never be the original.  That makes it the bourbon equivalent of a tribute band.

This is a big change, and sometimes change is hard to adjust to. Eventually everything becomes the norm.  For people just getting into bourbon and rye now and over the next few years, this Saz is the only Saz.  It’s their normal.  They won’t compare it to the old stuff.

Because this was a “special circumstance” release, I gave it two grades:

On it’s own merits: B
Compared to old Saz: C
Thomas H Handy Rye – 126.2 Proof

Good old THH, with its old New Orleans house right there on the label. I’ve never felt the overwhelming desire to drink Handy straight up, and have always considered it the King of Mixers.  That’s not meant to be an insult to the brand at all, and I say it with ultimate respect.  That’s just what it is for me, the foundation of some epic beverages.  It makes them special.

Most people would stir Handy into a Sazerac or and Old Fashioned, but for me, there is a drink I like just as well. Actually, it’s called “Just As Well”.  There is a little restaurant in the French Quarter called Tableau, one of the myriad of Brennan-family establishments there.  Once my wife and I stopped for drinks on the balcony that’s perched precariously over the street, the rusty rails hanging on to the building for dear life.  We both ordered a Just As Well at the bar while waiting for a seat.  What a fantastic little find.  I scribbled the recipe down on a cocktail napkin, and it’s hanging on my fridge to this day, right between some kids artwork, a State Farm Insurance magnet calendar from 2014, a photo of my wife’s grandmother getting surprised by having her photo taken, and assorted bills yet to be paid.

Well, I came around on Handy this time. Buffalo Trace’s tasting notes really describe this one perfectly, especially with the flavors of fig and clove and candied fruit.

Take a stiff pour of delicious Handy over ice, mix in rosemary syrup, lemon bitters and a mint sprig, and you have an awesome summertime sipper. Or take it on its own in a Glencairn.  It’s a good one.

Grade: B+


Final thoughts:

Once again, Buffalo Trace has graced the world with some real winners in the 2016 Class of Antiques. My favorites were the William Larue Weller and the Eagle Rare 17.  The Weller was especially good, and was my pick for the best of the bunch.  I absolutely have to find a bottle of this one.  It will be a contender for the Epic Bourbon 2016 Bourbon of the Year.

2016 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection

It’s still hot as can be in most areas of the country, but a few leaves are starting to dot the ground and blow in the end of summer breeze, and the evenings are getting cooler. The sun is setting earlier, the clouds are a little more silver and hang a little lower, and the night sky lit up by the distant lights of high school football fields. College games on Saturdays. Pro’s on Sunday. Apples are ripe on the trees. Pumpkins are just coming into orange. Corn is drying in the fields and mazes are being cut.

And you are feeling an urge that hits every bourbon drinker this time of year…..the hysteria inducing release of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.

This year’s slate of releases will be no less sought after. The George T Stagg, coming in at a mind numbingly, chocolatey sweet 144 proof, was gleaned from only 142 barrels, and according to Buffalo Trace, the angels (who must be drunk all the time) took more than their fair share.

Other notable causes for excitement include the “au natural” wheated darling William Larue Weller, bottled at 135.4 proof, and the first release of the 18yr old Sazerac Rye, the first release not out of the original tanked batch. It will be interesting to see how the new Saz competes with the old Saz.

I’m really looking forward to reviewing them all. Did I mention 144 proof on the Stagg?? *drools*


FRANKFORT, FRANKLIN COUNTY, KY (Sept. 7, 2016) It’s the best time of the year for whiskey fans, as Buffalo Trace Distillery releases its 2016 Antique Collection. The highly anticipated collection will once again feature five limited-release whiskeys of various ages, recipes and proofs. Here’s what ardent fans can expect:
George T. Stagg
The powerhouse favorite of the Antique Collection, George T. Stagg weighs in at a hefty 144.1 proof this year. Past releases of this uncut and unfiltered bourbon won many top awards, including twice named the number one spirit in the world by F. Paul Pacult’s The Spirit Journal. This year’s release contains bourbon from barrels filled in the spring of 2001. This batch contained 142 barrels, but not as many bottles as expected, due to some very greedy angels! Storage location of these barrels varied across warehouses M, N, H, L and K. Finding a bottle this fall will be difficult due to the low yield. This whiskey tastes of dark chocolate, coffee and vanilla.
William Larue Weller
The Antique Collection’s uncut, unfiltered, wheated recipe bourbon is William Larue Weller. Previous editions of this wheater have won many accolades, including the “Bourbon of the Year” by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2016 edition. The 2016 offering was distilled in the spring of 2003 and aged on the third and sixth floors of Warehouses D, K, and L. This bourbon registers in at 135.4 proof – one of the stronger Weller releases. The bold flavors include plum, figs and vanilla.
Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye
Thomas H. Handy is the uncut and unfiltered straight rye whiskey. The 2015 edition was named “Best American Rye Whiskey” at the 2016 World Whiskies Awards. This year’s Handy was distilled in the spring of 2010; aged on the fourth, fifth and seventh floors of Warehouses I, K, and M, and weighs in at 126.2 proof. The flavor has been described as toffee and cinnamon.
Eagle Rare 17 Year Old
The previous edition of this bourbon was honored with a Silver Outstanding Medal at the 2015 International Wine and Spirits Competition. The 2016 edition has been aging on the first, second and third floors of Warehouses H and K. This 90 proof bourbon was aged for seventeen years and tastes of leather, vanilla, tobacco and toffee.
Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old
Last year Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old was named the Best Rye Whiskey 11 Years and Older by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2016 edition. This 2016 straight rye whiskey release has notable flavors of smoke, clove and all-spice with a dry finish. The barrels for this whiskey were filled in April of 1998, making them the first “new” batch in years not drawn from the stainless steel tank as the previous past few editions have been. From this year onward, this whiskey will be drawn directly from barrels put away for 18 years, versus using any tanked whiskey.
The Antique Collection was introduced more than a decade ago and has become a cult favorite among whiskey connoisseurs. Since 2000 these whiskeys have garnered numerous awards from such notable publications as Whisky Advocate Magazine, Spirit Journal, and Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.
The 2016 Antique Collection whiskeys will be available in limited quantities starting in late September or early October. Suggested retail price is $90 each. For more information visit http://www.buffalotracedistillery.com/brands/antique-collection.

About Buffalo Trace Distillery
Buffalo Trace Distillery is an American family-owned company based in Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky. The Distillery’s rich tradition dates back to 1773 and includes such legends as E.H. Taylor, Jr., George T. Stagg, Albert B. Blanton, Orville Schupp, and Elmer T. Lee. Buffalo Trace Distillery is a fully operational Distillery producing bourbon, rye and vodka on site and is a National Historic Landmark as well as is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Distillery has won 17 distillery titles since 2000 from such notable publications as Whisky Magazine, Whisky Advocate Magazine and Wine Enthusiast Magazine. It was named “Brand Innovator of the Year” by Whisky Magazine at its Icons of Whisky America Awards 2015. Buffalo Trace Distillery has also garnered more than 300 awards for its wide range of premium whiskies. To learn more about Buffalo Trace Distillery visit http://www.buffalotracedistillery.com. To download images from Buffalo Trace Distillery visit http://www.buffalotracemediakit.com



Four Roses Barrel Pick Part 3 – A Gaggle of Whiskey Pigs Drinking at Harrison Smith House

We’d finished our tour at Willett and headed back into Bardstown, making our final assemblage in the tiny back parking spaces behind the Harrison Smith House, three cars loaded down like a holler-n-still Bedouin caravan, trunks brimming with bottles that ranged from ultra-old Brown and Foreman employee only gifts, to 1960’s Old Taylor decanters, to Willett’s first aged distillate.  Aaron and John, the bourbon prophets from the Northland joined our party, towing a full complement of boxes and bottles in the back of the car that would be the envy of most bars and taverns in Kentuckiana. Aaron had driven down here through the Alberta Clipper that was pounding Chicago, and its chilled breezes followed him right across the rolling plains of northern Kentucky.  The afternoon was cold, gray and it rained lightly on and off, a cool mist; the kind of sky you notice in old photographs of your grandparent’s house from winters long ago. Faded, darkened at the edges.  The pours started immediately, and heavy.  The aroma of duck fat simmering like a sacrifice to the God’s of Kentucky was wafting out of the kitchen windows.  We huddled together around an old barrel, its top serving as our table, the Bar du Saint.  Try this, try that, this is it.  Lifesavers. Caramel char. Vanilla toffee. Cherry and anise.  Papaw’s tobacco barn.  I stood behind the barrel, hammering a recently released Willett 4 year old, barrel 69.  Realizing we were consuming mass quantities of rare alcohol on a sidewalk in Kentucky on a Sunday, within blind sight of the county courthouse, I asked Sean if we were risking getting cited, or worse, arrested. In a heavy drawl that was only party slurred by the gulp he’d just choked down, he replied, “Man, we are in Bardstown. We would probably get arrested if we weren’t doing this.”


We carried on this way for an hour, getting louder and more rowdy.  At some point Jamie walked up off the street with a box of liquid treasure to share.  I did the math and we had roughly enough bourbon for every member of our party to drink 7 bottles before dinner.  I was afraid we wouldn’t have enough.

A door cracked open from behind the historic Federal-style building of the Harrison Smith House.  A wild-eyed bearded fellow says “Hey, are you guys, are you guys ok?”

We told him who we were.  He said, “I’m Newman, I’m feeding you.  You look like you need some water, I’ll bring some out.”  He wasn’t far off; I’m fairly certain John had jaundice at that point.

We decided to move our party up off the street to the side patio of the house.  Boxes filled with open bottles were arranged on the black iron table, filled to the breaking point with every Four Roses limited edition single barrel, small batch and ultra-aged gift shop release.  The Smooth Ambler Old Scout Bourbon Women fall release was a particular favorite in the chilly parking lot.  There were wax top Willetts.  Gift shop Willetts.  Wheaters.  A stellar line-up of Smooth Amblers. An old Old Overholt. Various private barrels of Russell’s Reserve. Knob Creek private picks.  On and on and on.  We drank glass after glass, having a better time with each sip, and the proceedings continued up until the point it started to rain.  We would have been happy as it was, but Newman told us to go on in.

Standing and holding the door open for us, he said “Just head up there and set your boxes down.”

We followed Aaron, unquestioningly, up the stairs, arms loaded with bottles, and suddenly realized that our inebriated navigator had just led us into Newman’s private residence, with wife and kids staring back at us.  It’s like the story of the driver who plows his car into a lake because his Garmin didn’t say “Turn.”  We waved stupidly, and walked backwards down the stairs.  I was actually sweating from embarrassment.  Newman seemed unconcerned.

We re-arranged the bottles that still contained bourbon on a table in the dining room, then set out to drain them.

tasting table

We all needed to eat. Newman laid out manna from heaven for us, both in the form of boudin filled egg rolls (which could be the greatest marriage of two foods in history) and an 11 year old bottle from Willett, known as The 2015 Whiskey Pig.  The glencairns started appearing from left and right, with the ferocity of heavyweight boxers.  I don’t think the server behind the bar was prepared for the ferocity with which we would attack the bar to be the first to get a pour of the Pig.  Everyone wanted a pour, or a double.  The Whiskey Pig was flowing.  It was so perfect.  I mean really.  It was so sweet and powerful.  It had a supreme burn, with perfect balance of oak and sugar.  I felt special getting to sip and enjoy such a famous pour.  (It deserves it’s own review, and it will get one soon.)


Newman brought our football helmet sized bowls overflowing with steak tartare, and little toasts to spread it on that tasted something like sweet cornbread.

Sean said, “Damn son, that’s a big ass bowl of tartare”, which he pronounced Tower Tower.

We drank and ate for eternity.  I slammed a C22D wheater.  God, I love Willett.  The banter between new and old friends, an online fraternity who have been acquainted for no longer than an internet eternity.  We talked shop, bourbon, favorites, picks, secret shelves, bunkers, etc.  It was fantastic and frenetic.  More pours.  I grabbed a deep glass of 2010 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch, my first foray with that edition.  I dubbed it the “Better Than Anthing” pour.

Then the staff started bringing out plate after plate of food.  Aged, smoked duck over a ring of grits, filled in the center with greens, slathered in a sauce so special that when I asked Newman to divulge the recipe, nee the ingredients, he looked at me inquisitively and said, “No idea, I just whisked together what tasted awesome.  It’s great, right?”  Uh, yeah.  Great is an understatement.  The chef and cooks at the Harrison Smith House would proceed to feed me what stands out as one of the top three meals I have ever eaten.  A four year old aged pork belly and arugula salad over a grilled biscuit.  A chorizo meatball over hominy and gravy, covered with a quail egg.


Just then a white wax Willett, a Dugz and Willyz 17yr old bottle, made it’s way around.  I want to say I loved it, but I didn’t.  It was pretty tobacco heavy, and I love tobacco,  But it had this weird, acrid aftertaste that was just not good.  On the heels of the barrel 826 and the Whiskey Pig, the Dugz never stood a chance.  Over by the bar, Greg was ham fisting both Whiskey Pig and some bottle of old wine he had brought, nosing one after the other.  I opened up my bottle of Lincoln Road Knob Creek dubbed “Sweetness”, which everyone liked.  I ended up leaving that bottle for Newman to enjoy, seeing as how he took his night off to host our bourbon soiree.

Newman’s staff continued to bring out more courses.  I really wish I could remember everything that we ate.  It was all so choice.  (Perhaps my compatriots can chime in here.)  But I had consumed so much bourbon, my memory got a little cloudy.  I remember looking over at Jamie at one point, eating a flourless chocolate tort covered in ooey gooey chocolate ganache, and grinning “Can you believe we get to do this?”

Another pour or two of Whiskey Pig.  A glass of wine.  Another 2010 Four Roses.  Hell, I drank the 17yr white wax Willett from the bottle.  Then, as the clock struck 2AM, Jamie killed the Pig.  That was the ceremonial end to the evening.

I was wiped out, having consumed bourbon for a better part of the day, with more to come in a scant few hours.  It was time for a curtain closing.

The last thing I remember saying was “Tomorrow, the pick.”

Next up: “Part 4 – We Pick the Barrel We Weren’t Supposed To Pick”

Kentucy Owl Batch 6 – Yeah, it’s that good…

FYI – this is a quick take review primarily because I wanted to get something out there right now. But I’ll give you my immediate thought:  Kentucky Owl Batch 6 is so good, I’m going to give it two reviews.

For background…wait, I don’t need to go into the history of the marque. If you are reading this and you are interested, you already know the cool backstory.  What’s important here is the bourbon.

I’ve read a couple of other reviews, and my feelings and notes are very similar, which lends credence to my review.

Bourbon Buddy mentioned in his review the color, and I noticed this immediately too. I had to look at it in some different lighting in various rooms in my house just to make sure my eye weren’t playing tricks. The barrels that Dixon blended into Batch 6 are around a decade old on average, and then batched for a few more. But this one has the appearance of a bourbon that’s been aging away for 20 or 21 years.  It is SO dark.


The nose emanated with a wonderful smoky char, and gobs of strong honey, mixed with breakfast spices. There is also a fresh component, almost like an evergreen.  It was comparable to an early morning hike through the mountains along a rushing stream, dew dripping on the deciduous trees surrounding you.  The entirety of the nose put me in mind of the way grandma’s kitchen used to smell on cold winter mornings, when you knew she had been up early, stoking the wood stove, wood caramelizing, getting the griddles good and hot and slathering them with butter, slinging a thick slice of bread that had been dredged through cinnamon and spice to make French toast.

It’s the mouthfeel of this one that really caught me, and this is the standout component. It’s hard to come up with the right superlative, so I’ll just say “spectacular”.  It’s thick and viscous, akin to the consistency of Mrs. Butterworth’s pancake syrup.  Oily is a great operative word.  Yes, the love child of olive oil and bourbon.  It reminded me a lot of Bernheim-era Weller that I’ve tried.

As soon as I tasted it, I knew it was special.

The flavor profile isn’t cloyingly sweet, but it has a specific kind of richness, almost like a perfect bowl of cinnamon and brown sugar oatmeal. Or the perfect batch of caramel corn at the County Fair.  There is a level of spiciness, a biting oak that lets you know there is power behind the 55% alcohol, but it’s more of a dessert spiciness.  That fresh woodiness is in the profile as well.

The finish is such a great sizzle. It’s got major legs on the finish, and it goes on and on, hitting all areas of my mouth and back of the tongue.

I love the new Kentucky Owl. You will too, if you can get it.

It’s early, and the fall releases haven’t been sent out yet, but it’s really hard to see anything else topping this one for my selection as Epic Bourbon’s Bourbon of the Year.

Yeah, it’s that good…..

Four Roses Barrel Pick Part 2 – “Drinks in a Stranger’s Basement”

Part 2 of the journey to Bardstown to pick a barrel of Four Roses.

The car was cruising along, south of Louisville, past the airport, past the tips of the spires at Churchill Downs. I was on my way to meet an epic rabble of bourbophytes.  “Step on it!” I said, only half joking. I was disappointed to find that the house at the exit off the interstate had taken down its banner that said “Bourbon ruins lives and property.”  The sign was long gone, as were the rusting, gutted wrecks of Detroit steel that had served as lawn decorations.  The man who made the sign obviously did not live at that property anymore, so maybe what he said was prophetic.

As the car blasted through the angels share of billowy steam rising from the hills and valleys around the gargantuan Beam facilities in Clermont, I realized I would have a little time to kill.  I suggested a stop at Heaven Hill, and with some minutes to spare and I ambled into the Bourbon Heritage Center.  I was still wearing the beat up Old Grand-Dad shirt that I planned on changing before dinner, but I figured what the hell, there is time.  I walked in the door, still smelling like 100 proof butterscotch.  The lady working the front desk could see me coming from a mile away, and probably smelled me too, most likely assuming it was my breath rather than my garments.  She greeted me in a nice enough fashion, showcasing the manners she was undoubtedly raised with.  But then her face went somewhat cold, one eye did full a slow blink as her lips pursed and she stated flatly, but with a slight chuckle, “We don’t have anything you are looking for, sir.”  An awkward moment of silence ensued, leaving me to reply with a silent nod of consideration.

At that moment my phone buzzed.  It was Travis.

On the other end of the line I heard a voice, “Dude, where are you?! We are in Bardstown.  We have a pour of Willett 826 waiting on you!”  I broke into my best impression of a clumsy Usain Bolt and sprinted for the car.  I goaded myself, “Run faster, you fool! That bottle won’t last long with their kind!”  He said they were all at a friend’s place nearby, a bourbon safe house, and I should come too.  They had just popped a bottle of Willett barrel 826 (aka God’s Special Reserve) and were watching the Masters.  Before departure, I popped the trunk lid and dug another sample out of my bag.  Being in this proximity to Heaven Hill dictated that I drink a little WHH 144; Oh Lord! 144 proof syrup that Zeus puts on his pancakes! I didn’t spill a drop.  Only minutes away, I said to the driver “Gun it”.  He looked at me quizzically in the mirror.  I backed it up with, “I said to.”

A text pinged in, saying “Come in through the back gate, we are downstairs.” The car pulled into the driveway, the driver noticed he was blocking some cars and backed out, stopping along the street.  I decided to change my shirt.  I whipped out a nicer looking polo, and just as I was in that vulnerable position of having my arms over my head, doing that belly jiggle shimmy to tug the new shirt on, a lady walking a dog passed by, peering in at me.  I couldn’t tell if she was interested or scared.  I noticed I had a rather large lint ball hanging precariously from the rim of my belly button, and out of habit nipped it out as she was watching.  Deep breath, sigh.  Regroup dude.  I sauntered across the driveway humming Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me”.

As I opened the gate and walked into the backyard, I had a moment of panic hoping that I’d gotten the address right, or that Travis hadn’t given me the wrong one, or pulled a prank on me.  He wouldn’t do that, or would he?  I kept listening for sirens and played out 1000 scenarios in my head of what to say to the Bardstown PD while cuffed in the back of their squad car for breaking and entering.  “I swear to God officer, this is not my fault.  It must be a prank.  I was just here to kill a little time, watch golf and get drunk as shit before going on a distillery tour.  That’s it.”  I stepped towards the door, away from the door, towards the door, away from the door.  I was kind of a buzzed ballet.  I’m sure the neighbors, if they didn’t think I looked creepy and suspicious before, were in full on panic now.  A sheepish knock.  The door cracked open, there was Travis, that glorious bastard.

A glass of WFE 826 was already poured and airing out.  He handed it to me, gladly.  I sipped, smiled.  Sweetest thing ever.  Fucking peanut butter cups.  Walking through the basement, my eyes had to adjust to the darkness, and there I met some of my partners in this adventure.   Sean was at least three times my height and was pure Kentucky.  He got up and gave me a mountain bear hug, which to him probably seemed like a handshake though I felt my ribs pop and strain under the pressure.   He sat back down, literally across two recliners.  Greg looked like an elder statesman, swirling his glass, though the beads of sweat forming on his head and the half empty bowl of pimento cheese in his lap belied his hangover.  They had already been at the drink for days and I was late to the party.  Travis was in the corner shot-gunning a plastic bottle of Pedialyte, and I swear for a moment I thought I spied him nosing its aroma……


After consuming more of the 826 and a few crackers loaded with good southern pimento cheese, Travis who at this point was actually laying in the floor in front of the screen, rallied a little bit and in a brief moment of clear-headedness suggested we’d waited long enough and should try to get to Willett, as we had reserved the last tour of the day.  Though he was operating within the cranial fog of a man who had been consuming bourbon since the sun came up, he made a convincing argument.  We all got up, made a game plan and started walking towards the door.  I stuffed a handful of crackers in my pocket.  Greg said something  that I absolutely didn’t understand.”  Sean translated “He needs to go to the hotel.”  I opened the door which happened to be right next to the basement bar that was stocked with all manner of bourbon.   Ten minutes later we were still standing at the bar drinking a new release OBSV from Four Roses, talking shop.  I smacked myself in the face and did that Scooby Doo head waggle from side to side when he sees a 6 foot tall sandwich, ah diddy yah diddy yah diddy yah..  We had to get serious; I had made a pact with myself that we could not be late for the tour.  I pulled on my jacket.  We said some obligatory “see you in a few”, and shook hands.  Then Sean brought out some Four Roses from the 1950’s.  I pulled off my jacket, had to have it.  Everyone had a pour and unfortunately we were all underwhelmed, which was the impetus for getting us out of the neighborhood.  It was like a 60 year old liquid abort button.  (Note: I was informed my scribblings were wrong. The bottle was Brown and Foreman!) The fellas were taking Greg back to his hotel.  I was on my own, but I said I’d delay the tour guide.  It was 3:26.  The tour was at 3:30.  Willett was 10 minutes away; Once again I tell the driver to step it up.

Getting to Willett is nothing short of a scene from the Dukes of Hazzard.  I’ve made this drive a few times.  You blast through the round-about that rings the Bardstown courthouse, down a road that goes from nicely paved to chock hole central before petering out in a creek bottom.  You have to smash the gas going up the next hill, and as you reach the plateau you will be stunned to find yourself actually at the top of Heaven Hill, surrounded by cavernous white aging warehouses, coated with an ever growing 5’oclock shadow of mold, a byproduct of the aging process.  Down the other side of Heaven Hill is the entrance to Willett, though it’s easily missed.  Its gravel, all the way up another long grade, a hard left hander past ancient sheds and spring houses.  I got a good look at Warehouse C, the place where drams of dreams live.  The car made a hard hand brake turn into the parking spot, gravel dust flying into the air and rocks peppering the corrugated tin of an derelict shed trumpeting our arrival.  Throwing the door open and jumping out the hatch I quickly realize my seat belt is still buckled and the force pulling me back down into the seat.  I was too pissed on aged corn mash to worry or be embarrassed.

I needed to regroup, again.  I grabbed the samples and dug through them.  I needed some Willett, pulled out a couple of solid samples of B49C and C4D, and hammered them.  Man, I love Willett.  I hopped out of the car and headed towards the gift shop.

Next up: “A Gaggle of Whiskey Pigs Drinking at Harrison Smith House”

The Four Roses Barrel Pick – Part 1 “Drinks on the Flight”

Back in April, I had the opportunity to meet up with a group of bourbon devotees who were flying in from around the country to select a private barrel of Four Roses. For this trip, I only had 24 hours to spare.  What follows is my account of the event.  I call it Fear and Loathing in Bardstown…..AKA The Time I Drank Bourbon for 20 of 24 Hours.  It’s long, so I broke it up into parts.  Journey with me, won’t you?

Part 1 – Drinks on the Flight:

The purpose of this trip was clear and simple. The invite had come weeks prior.  I had been asked to tag along on a private barrel selection at Four Roses distillery.  I was more than excited, because for all the bourbon I imbibe, this would be my first attempt at actually providing input on juice that other people would enjoy.   In addition to that, we would be having a private dinner on the eve of the pick at the center of “all things culinary” happening in the Midwest, the Harrison Smith House, to meet, greet and otherwise drink with other well respected bourbon aficionados.  I was absolutely not turning that down.  I’d also been asked to drop into Michter’s distillery in Louisville (another story soon to be told).  Impossible would be the operative word in describing how I could have anticipated the course of events that followed, and how I would pack it all into a scant 24 hours.

Last minute trips are not at all what you call inexpensive. In truth, the invite wasn’t last minute, but my decision about going was.  It also took a while to sell my triathlon bike in order to finance the First Class airfare.

My trip into the beating heart of bourbon began like most of my trips, meaning 15 minutes after I should have realistically left for the airport, I was still at home, setting up my DVR. I hustled a change of clothes into a bag still filled with crumpled receipts, mismatched socks, a flip flop, cellphone chargers for phones I haven’t owned since 2003, three pairs of busted ear buds, and various other contraband all of which was coated in a fine powdery sheen of pink that had once been the contents of a bottle of Pepto pills, crushed by time and airline baggage crews.  I left all of my toiletries with the intention of stimulating the local economy by buying new ones at the drug store, and ran out the door.  That’s right, I forgot them.  However I did not forget the clear 1-gallon plastic bag, filled beyond capacity with 2oz sample bottles containing all manner and example of great drinking bourbons, from vintage National Distillers to Parker’s Heritage releases, Willett wheaters to Van Winkles, barrel proofers and syrupy high rye recipes.  Amid the chaos of my ‘go to hell’ bag, I cuddled and caressed the ziploc before stuffing it down into the duffle with all the care I could muster.  After that it was off to the races, and I had to get to the church on time.

I breezed through security, which is always nice. Once in the air, I broke out the sample bag.  I was like an artist laying out his pallet, arranging the bottles by color and recipe.  I selected a 2oz sample bottle of 1984 Old Grand-Dad.  Ah, that butterscotchy darling.  It was an hour long flight, time to relax and think about the events to come, make a game plan, set a pace that I’d run my race.  I was still nosing the OGD when we hit a huge pocket of turbulence mid-sip, a 30,000 foot, 600mph shuck and jive that cause me to jostle and spill a bit of the National Distillers nectar on my shirt. I looked down for a few brief moments, assessed the damage and sprang into action. Twisting the fabric as hard as I could, simultaneously kicking my head back in the seat, letting the spillage drip into my mouth.  I got a stare of feigned disgust from the older couple sitting next to me, though I detected a tinge of grudging envy in the man’s eyes.  Yes, I’m drinking on a flight.  Yes, I brought my own.  Yes, it’s in a medicine bottle.  Yes, I did a lot of sniffing, sipping, ooing and ahhing.  Yes, I just drank brown liquid out of my shirt.  It’s not my first time wearing a barrel.  I broke out two more small bottles of other bourbon, and when they looked at me crosswise and the older man questioned what I was drinking, in my best Hulk impersonation I growled “Goykh Smash!!!” and slammed my fist down on the armrest, hiding a wince of pain.  When I got to the end of all three bottles I combined the dribbly contents into a mile high vat, shaking it hard in the air with fury then slurped it down.  Returning tray and seat backs to an upright position would be no trouble.  It was my own posture and poise I was worried about.  Man, was that ever a smooth landing.  Smyooooth.  I sandwiched up at the airport Quizno’s kiosk on my way out of the terminal, guzzled a bottle of sparkling water, jogged in place briskly singing Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” a little too loudly, and reset, waiting for my transportation.  It’s been a long time, indeed……

Up Next: Part 2 – Drinks In a Stranger’s Basement


Quick Takes: 2014 Lincoln Road OBSK

I’ve had this bottle for a while, and it’s always been a go-to for me. I keep thinking I’ll write something about the Lincoln Road OBSK, but it always gets bumped for a “sexier” label. That shouldn’t happen. Jamie Farris and his wife Misty have picked some of the all-time best private barrels of Four Roses.

But this one is even better.

I poured a glass last night and yelled upstairs, “Honey!?!”
“Yeah babe, what’s up?”
“This is the best pour in my cabinet!!”

A long moment of silence, then, “That’s great.”


The bottle is almost depleted, and it’s worth writing about. There is probably a pour or two remaining, and it has mellowed perfectly. The nectar at the bottle of the bottle is the best of the best, the final splendid drops that pack all of the flavor. It’s akin to the way I ate cereal as a kid, when I loaded the bowl down with heaping helpings of white granulated sugar. When all the cereal was gone I would drink the milk out of the bowl. Eventually the only thing that was left was a syrupy slurry of simple sugar, oozing out of the bowl sap-like, condensed with all the other flavors of whatever the cereal had been……

Nose: The nose is truly magnificent. Overloaded with caramel and syrup. Burnt oak, but not musty. It gets an Academy Award for the depth of sugar. A hint of berry, but not anything like other OBSK’s I enjoy. This one is way heavier on the sugar and caramelized char, and less of the spicy dryness. The berry is still present, but there is less of the sweet pie filling and way more of a smoky campfire, griddle slung precariously over the top, frying up buttermilk pancakes, with gobs of gooey, buttery syrup slathered all over them. A handful of wild berry cast over the top, for an added punch.

Flavor: Mouthfuls of the caramel and sweetness. A gush of vanilla. The berry components are balanced with the oak and sugar. The spiciness that once existed has turned creamier. It’s almost reminiscent of a Rootbeer float. It’s so smooth, zero astringency. It really puts me in a Fall sort of mood. Jacket weather. Brisk mornings fishing. Earlier sunsets.  Cooler evenings. Outdoor fires with friends gathered around, telling stories. Drown me in this, please.

Finish: It’s not nuclear. And though it was probably a lot hotter a while back, it’s opened up significantly, shedding the fissile material around the edges and leaving nothing but the ultra-pleasant intensity of superb bourbon, right at the top of my tongue. The burn is a mellow heat wave in the summer sun. Southern humidity. August in the Carolinas. Ever present.

If Jamie could dig one out of a private collection at Lincoln Road, I’d be on the Interstate right now to come get it.

I will weep when this one is gone…….

New Release: Parker’s Heritage 10, 24yr BIB

I’m a sucker for high age statements, shelf treasure and the high quality of bonded bourbon. We all are.  Because of this, the new Parker’s Heritage 10, 24yr 100 proof bonded bourbon is immediately special. In fact this is the most exciting release to hit the shelves that I can think of for some time. Being that we are living in times of shortage and allocation, when age statements are disappearing left and right, Parker’s Heritage Collection and Heaven Hill are holding up the torch, waving it high in the air, beckoning us all to the place where real life and bourbon dreams collide….. I have no idea what it will cost, nor do I care.  I absolutely can not wait to try it. I’m already anticipating a classic oak and caramel bomb. Thank you, Heaven Hill. *Slow clap to fade out*


2010 William Larue Weller and the 145th British Open

I’m sitting here now, watching the 145th Open Championship…..the British Open. Phil Mickelson has just teed off, and I am settling in for what I hope will be a fantastic round of couch golf, sidled up next to a pour of another champion, that of a 2010 William Larue Weller. I find it a fitting pour. Also, yes I drink bourbon at 9:35AM on a Sunday. Don’t you?

I love golf. I’m so passionate about it. I play whenever I can, which used to be three times a week before the kiddos came, but this wasn’t always the case. There was a time when I couldn’t imagine swinging a club, let alone watching someone else do it on TV. Nothing, in my mind, could be more boring or mundane. I didn’t understand the amazing subtleties of the game. Outside of Tiger, I was unaware of the amazing personalities in the sport. I didn’t recognize the extreme finesse it took to put just the right amount of English on a ball to get it to make a hook at 13’ to putt in for birdie. I had no idea that there was a perfect club for each shot, carefully selected, resulting in art when executed properly. Honestly, I wouldn’t have known a word I just said. I was completely uneducated on the game. But one day, I think it was a Saturday morning, early, sun just peeking through the window, I opened my eyes and had an immediate thought.

“I need to play golf,” I said, “right now.”

In fact I believe I said it out loud. That set off an obsession that is unquenchable. I began to read and study everything I could about golf. Book after book about the greats; Harry Vardon, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus. I subscribed to magazines, pouring through them for information, studying techniques and theories. I wore out a copy of Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons.” I studied the legendary courses; St. Andrews, Pinehurst #2, Pebble Beach, Augusta, Cyprus Point, and the men who created them.

I wish golf loved me as much as I love it.

Bourbon was much the same way. I became enamored with it immediately. I couldn’t just drink it though, I had to study it, understand its complexities, its history. I am obsessed with it, in a way that is similarly unquenchable. I spend countless hours studying, in pursuit of knowledge. The distilleries. The master distillers.

Drinking bourbon has come to me much more naturally than teeing off and sculpting the perfect draw with lots of people watching. But sipping the perfect pour gives an amount of satisfaction and heart flutter similar to draining a Sports Center-worthy 30 foot putt, birdying a par three with a sweet backspin off the rear banking or seeing the beer cart come rolling back past us for the 6th time of the round. (Perhaps you know the fifth man in our group, Ulysses S. Grant?)

I query myself multiple times, “Should I be drinking scotch during the British Open?” Maybe? But I’m not. I never do, defying my good Scottish roots. Oh well.

So about this pour, the 2010 William Larue Weller. God, where do I start? It’s a 12 year old mega wheater of 126.6 proof.


The nose is a sweet sugar bomb of alcohol and summertime breakfast at the farm. Woody and oaky. A log cabin, old hewn log walls and floors. Buckwheat pancakes cooking in the kitchen, on a cast iron griddle. Thick, sweet maple syrup drizzled over a melting pat of butter. The spicy sweetness of dark, juicy tobacco hanging long from the rafters of an old painted barn next to a cornfield sweating in the late morning sun, the haze of humidity keeping the smell low, and thick. But to me, it’s proper. Much like the staid confines of the Royal British links I’m sitting here watching. All manners and tradition. That’s fitting, since the name William Larue Weller is akin to Old Tom Morris.

Flavor, palate, etc….neither term does this pour justice. It’s more like a “main course”. If someone asked me to describe the 2010 WLW in two words, they would be “superbly mannered.” It’s hot, but it’s also sweet. Not cloyingly sweet, but shares a similarity with buttery candy. The creaminess of a Werthers, with the explosive bite of 63% alcohol. That goes doubly for the mouthfeel. The bourbon is rich and bursting with flavors; more maple syrup, and an element of fruit; a dried fruit. Not in the vein of fruitiness you’d find in a Four Roses OB recipe, which is more forward with the reds, but there is something fruity happening. To me it tastes like dried blueberries. So, blueberry pancakes. Oh, and more of that sweet oak, the inside of the barrel exuding its charred, caramelized soul. There was a tail off of vanilla towards the end that was almost like an afterthought. The flavor plumed up through my olfactory in a practically visual way. Fantastic. I was able to get an extra blast of flavor by exhaling through my nose after the sip. I did this a few times, with pleasure.

The finish gallops out of the gate like a race horse on an easy morning workout, reaching stride quickly and effortlessly, and presents itself as if the juice in the barrel was formulated specifically with the finish in mind, rather than the luck of the process. It hits all over my mid-palate and the sides of my tongue with a pizzazz and sizzle. A long burn, soft around the edges, but coursing with sweet flavors down the middle.

The post nose was all about buttery oak and baked bread with a hint of tobacco. What a great, great pour. An absolute A.

As I finish this, Henrik Stenson has just putted in and I am in awe of the round of golf I’ve just seen. I applaud the screen and ring up the local clubhouse to check for an open tee time, inspired.


60 Minutes of Epic Tasting – Part 2 “The Trio of Willetts”

Adam and I had just finished our pours of 1985 Van Winkle Family Estate Rye. A quick splash of water in the glencairn, 13 swirls, slosh and gulp the water, shake out the glass, and on to the next pour.

Willett Family Estate – 16yr Bonili “The Lord of Dankness”

“OK, see what you think of this one” he said, handing me another Boston round. I held up the bottle and read the label.  It hit all the right trait markers for something I would enjoy.  A 16yr Bonili, barrel 470.  64.75%!


The Bonili picks of higher age are spoken about in hushed tones now, the same way people whisper about celebrities they see sitting next to them at a restaurant. “Look over there, that’s Jennifer Aniston.  Don’t look!!”  You tell everyone for days that you had dinner with Jennifer.

I poured out the Willett and inhaled deeply. “This stuff is DANK.” I exclaimed.  “If Astor C12A was the Darkness, this one should be the Dankness.  The Lord of Dankness.”  The nose was deep with oaks, vanilla and honey nuttiness.  But underpinning everything was the pungent aroma of a variety I’d never smelled in a bourbon before.  Yet it was familiar.  I nosed it for a while and said, “It’s like I’m in the rickhouse, and the barrel is rotten and leaking.  It’s covered with that thick, pillowy, muddy and musty mold.  It’s eking through the staves and sucking into the liquid.”  It was ultra earthy.  No, that doesn’t even describe it.  Let me be completely honest: I had a couple of indoor cats for 12 years, and my initial thought was the nose of this bourbon had a component that was similar to the mustiness of a litter box two days past its prime.  There I said it.

God, I actually felt guilty saying that. As if the 16yr Bonili deserved better, or that the odd scent was my fault, or that I should overlook it. I was picking apart a vaunted private selection of one of my all-time favorite labels.

But here is the amazing thing: After a moment, it worked.  I don’t know why it worked, but it did.  The longer I nosed it, the more it made sense.  The more I realized I was smelling something special that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but it was classic in the way that vinyl sounds better than digital.

Adam summed it up perfectly, laughing “I’m not sure what it is.  Maybe funky corks. Maybe just the right cat pissed on the barrel in just the right spot.  Who knows?”

“Yeah right, probably Noah. Grinning like the Cheshire.” I exclaimed, thinking of the fat tom cat that plods around the property.

“Whatever it is, it’s pefect.” was Adam’s final summation.  Always trust the chef.

Dankness.  It was almost a quality that you find in wine that has been casked in a cave forever; you can taste the age and history.  The age of the ground.  The age of the room and musk of the huge log structure that cradled the barrel lovingly for 16 years.  Monstrously damp and dank. Adam’s belief that the cork was probably moldy seemed like strong hypothesis.  (Note to self: When my 4 year old eventually forgets to tell me he has a science project due until 5 minutes before the bus arrives, whip out the moldy cork hypothesis, and pictures of dad passed out in the living room floor, performing the lab work.)  I couldn’t venture a guess, so I just took his word for it.

Now that I’d come to an understanding with the nose, I had to go straight into the sip. The intensity of the flavors made me immediately happy.  It was just so powerful and expressive, but tender too.  I picked up sweet, candy plums.  Thick molasses, boiling in a copper pot over an open flame.  The logs in the fire are freshly cut, still damp, cracking, popping, fizzing, whistling, smoking.  Juicy pipe tobacco brings in a pointed element of spice, a punch right in your mouth that’s equally sweet.  Willett is just such great bourbon. It really is.

The finish was explosive. I let it ride on the back of my palate, and damn if it didn’t bring me to tears.  Literally tears.  I tried to speak, but I’d taken the finish too far back and was completely choked up.  I let the thought pass.  Minutes were slipping by, and there was more to drink.

“Oh Lord of Dankness,” I said with a guttural cough, head shaking and one eye squinted, “that is the essence of epic bourbon.”

Willett Family Estate – 12yr Barrel 743

Now we were going from the 16yr Bonili to the 12yr barrel 743. It was the “Chocolate Atom Bomb”.


Immediately out of the bottle, this bourbon billowed forth with copious amounts of cocoa. A special, chocolatey goodness.  Bakery aromas.  The oak in the profile was refined, giving off a scent of aging walnut shells.  Nutty.  I was reminded of the way I felt the first time I tried WFE 826, how you just knew it was a special pour in comparison to the numerous others you’ve had.  Literally I closed my eyes and I was transported to the Toll House, where some sweet old lady was baking up batch after batch of delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies.  There is a soft oak log fire crackling in the hearth across the room, and you can smell the logs charring up and caramelizing under the heat.  There is a snaggle toof kid in the corner, grinning ear to ear, tearing the cookie in half, the chocolate chips exploding from the sugary fissure, stringing apart in gobs of hot stickiness.  Warm, soft, ooey gooey deliciousness.

The flavor gushed with vanilla and more of the cocoa. God, that oak flavor drives me crazy.  It was so chocolate forward, but at the same time very balanced.  It also gave up broad hints of syrupy caramel, what I always equate to flat cola.  But more than anything, it was a cocoa show.

I stared at the glass for a long time, nosing, tasting, nosing, tasting. Adam impressed me with his analysis of this bottle.  He really went into the ins and outs, his opinions about the source of the juice.  He expounded on the differences and nuances between Wild Turkey distillate versus Brown and Forman, talking in detail about the classic, easily detectable notes of each brand.  It was fascinating to listen to him, because while I’d respected his knowledge about bourbon, it was so much greater than I’d realized.  I was a student.

After listening to him, I felt like I was reverting back into the bourbon blogger version of the Chris Farley show on Saturday Night Live. “Hey.  Do you, do you, you, um… Do you remember that time that we, um….that, um, we…we drank that scot, um whisk…no, bourbon.  God, I’m so stupid!  It’s bourbon!  C’mon!  I’m sorry.  We drank that bourbon from Willett.  Do you remember that?  Sha, that was awesome!”

The finish was long, and really bit me on the mid palate, gaining strength as it rounded the back. What a delightful burn, with a mild kiss of molasses tailing off.

So yeah. Barrel 743.  It’s special.  It’s a nutty, cocoa, chocolate chip cookie bomb of flavor.

On to the final pour…….

Willett 25yr Barrel 2876

This would be the last bourbon we would taste, and in fact the oldest I have ever tasted.  At 25 years, this old man had stories to tell.  I was ready to listen.

The Boston round was that standard dark brown translucent color, but when I poured the bourbon out, you’d have thought the Boston round was clear. The juice was that dark.  “Man, that is seriously dark!” I said, and at the same time Adam also says, “Can you believe how dark this is?”


I really settled back into the chair for this one, though the three glasses of bourbon I’d just consumed also deflated my posture. Both Adam and I were swirling the liquid in the glencairns, marveling at how thick and viscous it was.  Adam piped up “Look at this.  This bourbon has serious legs.”  With every swirl, the bourbon would round the bulb of the glass and rise, leaving a thick coating that slinked and slurried back to the bottom when you stopped the motion, similar to fresh Valvoline 10W40, save for the fact it was the same opaque color as Brent Crude.

The nose was toasty and woody. The smell of Paul Bunyun’s axe after a day of gnashing away at tall oaks, the friction of the steel and wood burnishing the blade with scents and scars.  Campfire.  I’m pretty sensitive to over-oaked bourbon.  With certain exceptions (almost any near-quarter century Willett, for example), once it gets ultra-aged, there is just too much mulch in the water for me to fully enjoy.  But sometimes, it’s just right.

I found the flavor to be more spicy than sweet.  Mild anise, mixed with a seasoned wood spiciness that came off hot, like ghost pepper.  The age was evident.  I used to have a jogging route in Chicago that took me past a leather processing facility on Ashland Avenue.  The place was ancient and decrepit, a crooked, cracked old brick structure built on rotting pilings driven into the mud of the Chicago River.  The windows were always hanging wide open, and peering in, it was easy to see stacks of fresh leather awaiting the curing process.  On a humid August night, when there was no breeze, you could taste the leather in the air a mile away.  I picked up this same component in the 2876.  Leathery.  I have a feeling they dumped it at the very last second, any longer and it would have gone off the rails.

The finish is exactly how you expect a 25yr old, 127.2 proof bottle to be. A stick of dynamite.

This was not my favorite Willett I’d ever had, nor my favorite of the three we tried.  But I did enjoy it a lot.

So that was that. Time was up, Adam had places to go and so did I.  The best part about the tasting was the time spent with a kindred, sharing stories, talking about life over exquisite bourbon.