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*

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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.

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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.

Cheers.

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%!

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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”.

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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?”

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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.

Cheers!