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

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