First, at Brinkmann’s in Cool Springs, Jimmy Russell, the master distiller at Wild Turkey, will be hosting a tasting and bottle-signing. I was lucky enough to attend a private tasting with Russell a couple years back, and while I can’t in good taste repeat much of what he said, I can assure you that he is a hilarious representative of the old school of whiskey making. Given his more than 54 years of experience making bourbon in Lawrenceburg, Ky., I imagine he has spilled more whiskey than I’ll ever drink.
Russell will be in-store from 4 to 6 this afternoon, Dec. 14, to sign and sip, so take off work a little early and head on down to 103 International Drive in Franklin to meet the man.
Closer to town, Grand Cru on Murphy Road is hosting an interesting “Bourbon and Baubles” event this evening from 5 to 6:30. Cindy David will be showcasing her collection of jewelry in case you’re still shopping for that special person. And whether you still have gifts to pick up or you need to screw up your courage and lower your inhibitions to come off of that wallet for some sparkly things, Andy and Charlie Nelson of Greenbrier Distillery will be there to help you out. Nashville’s favorite rectifiers will be pouring some of their Belle Meade Bourbon for shoppers at Grand Cru, so pick up a bottle and get them to sign it for another great gift idea.
But Will's got it bad. He didn't just collect some bottles; he has three full single-barrels that he purchased in their entirety to share with his customers. This is not the first time that he has taken the plunge, as in the past Will and his staff have selected individual barrels from samples at distilleries like Four Roses and Eagle Rare.
This time, Woodland has bottles from special barrels at Four Roses and Eagle Rare again, plus Blanton's. Here's how Will describes each whiskey:
Four Roses OBSK Private Selection - $47
Rich in Spiciness, Full Body
The second of our three hand-selected bourbon barrels comes from the Four Roses distillery. Not the same ol' Four Roses you know and love, but better — this is a whiskey totally unique to Woodland Wine Merchant. Let me explain.
Four Roses makes 10 distinct recipes (2 grain bills x 5 proprietary yeast strains), each with its own distinctive flavor profile. In September, we tasted samples from one barrel of each recipe, and chose our favorite. They then bottled it for us at barrel strength. So, like I said, this ain't grandad's Four Roses.
Why this barrel? Because it offers the most of what we love best about Four Roses bourbons.
Barrel 4-1C, Warehouse VE, OBSK
A little bit about the recipe code OBSK. The O means this was distilled at the Four Roses facility in Lawrenceburg, KY. The B represents their "high-rye" mashbill, which is 35% rye, 60% corn and 5% malted barley. The S means it's straight whiskey. K is their name for the yeast strain used in this recipe, which creates a whiskey that is rich in spiciness and full in body.
And this particular barrel, we later discovered, was nearly 12 years old and had lost more than 50% of its contents to evaporation, or what they call the angels' share. Well, them some drunk angels.
Big as it gets for bourbon, seriously. Get this one while you can, we only have about 5 cases and it's going fast.
So what are some of the latest highlights to come across my transom? The list is long and varied:
Flavored whiskeys have become very popular of late, mainly owing to the wildfire popularity of Fireball cinnamon whiskey, which you Nashvillians (and some famous transplants) continue to consume by the barrel. After a run on honey and cinnamon flavors, the latest trend seems to be heading even sweeter.
Firefly Distillery is probably best known for their release of Sweet Tea Vodka a few years back. That product is perhaps too delicious and has led to more than one incident of overconsumption by friends of mine on a sunny day by the pool. I'm actually not much of a sweet-tea drinker myself, so I was never drawn to the vodka, but when they sent me a sample of their latest release, Sweet Tea Bourbon, I knew I had to try it out.
The bourbon comes from the Buffalo Trace Distillery, so you know they're starting out with at least a decent product. I wouldn't expect anyone to use the top-shelf aged whiskey if the plan was to flavor it, but the Firefly is certainly acceptable. Again, I'm not a sweet-tea fan, but I found this particular spirit to be very smooth and light on the palate. I normally drink my bourbon straight up, or maybe with a rock and a splash, but I wouldn't suggest that preparation for the Firefly since there's really not much benefit in allowing the bouquet to open up. But mixed with some lemonade or sour mix in a torqued-up Arnold Palmer? Yeah, that could work.
The resulting spirit is sweeping the city and spots as far away as Chicago with its subtle nose of caramel, apple, fig, pecan and molasses. Great straight up or on the rocks, Whisper Creek is eminently drinkable all by itself, but I imagine as the temperature drops, more and more folks will discover how well it goes with coffee or hot chocolate. Bravo Gelato has even made a special flavor of their creamy gelato using Whisper creek, so if you happen to see it in the rotation, be sure to pick up a pint. (And call me, maybe.)
The difference between Whisper Creek and other sipping creams is that they start out with a good Tennessee whiskey and try hard not to conceal the flavor elements that distinguish it. Especially on the finish, you'll definitely note the smooth sweetness of charcoal-filtered corn mash after the fruitier elements of the initial flavor attack have faded. I've shared sips of Whisper Creek with many of my friends, and I have yet to encounter one who didn't like it.
With its clever moonshiner's jug-inspired bottle, Whisper Creek should be a popular holiday gift for friends and family who want to try something new. Available for around $20/bottle, it won't put nearly the dent in your budget as some of those pricier aged whiskeys. Look for it at your favorite liquor store around town.
Last week, Nashville emigree and Nashville star Hayden Panettiere was a guest on the Chelsea Lately show on the E! network. During her segment, Panettiere complained that here was no liquor in the green room, but fortunately had brought her own bottle of Fireball, the ubiquitous cinnamon whiskey that dominates the Nashville shot market. In fact, Music City leads the nation in Fireball consumption, per capita, en toto, however you want to judge it.
Like her alter ego Juliette Barnes, Panettiere does what she wants when she wants to and invited host Chelsea Handler to do a shot of the fiery liqueur with her. After knocking back what did not appear to be her first swallow of Fireball of the day, Panettiere agreed with Handler's assessment of Nashville as "one big drinking city." It sure doesn't look like she'll be doing anything to harm that reputation as long as she's in town.
A new product that has just arrived in town is Boyd and Blair Vodka, a small batch product that is still made with locally sourced Pennsylvania potatoes. "What? I thought all vodkas were made from potatoes." Not anymore. In fact, you can make vodka out of just about any plant matter that contains starch or sugar to kick off the fermentation process from yeast that naturally occurs in the air. That's why they can make it prison toilets or in Hawkeye and trapper John's tent in M*A*S*H.
Boyd and Blair is so much better than that though. The Spirit Journal has named B&B the top-rated vodka in the world for two years running, and noted liquor journalist Paul Picault gave their Professional Proof 151 five stars, his highest rating. Those are some big scores for a high-proof product that's assumed to be odorless and flavorless. The starchiness of the potatoes used actually provides a creamy mouth-feel that is unexpected in a clear spirit, and you can actually sniff a hint of potato skins on the nose. Served cold as part of a vodka martini, Boyd and Blair makes a wonderful mixer, and local bartenders are beginning to clamor to add it to their top shelves.
The normal 80-proof version is probably more appropriate for the home liquor cabinet and retails for about $30 per bottle. Look for it in your favorite liquor store and give it a try.
Another respected high-end vodka that has begun to make an impact on the local market is Purity Vodka. Purity is made exclusively from natural ingredients including winter wheat and barley in a proprietary pot still made of copper and gold at 13th-century Ellinge Castle in the south of Sweden. The end product is distilled a mind-bending 34 times, where 90 percent of the distillate is lost as they continue to select the purest of the liquid. The resulting spirit is a whopping 192 proof before it is cut with deionized water and natural mineral-rich water to produce a final alcohol level of 80 proof.
Purity maintains a very full-bodied character, especially for a vodka. I first encountered Purity a few years ago at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans where inventive mixologists had set up a "Make your own Bloody Mary" bar, but not the usual layout of bottled mixes, hot sauces and peppers that encourage you to ruin some perfectly good hooch by overseasoning it. Instead, participants added fresh herbs and vegetables to Purity in CO2-charged containers like the kind you make whipped cream or soda water in. Pressurizing the container and shaking it infused the flavors of the greens into the vodka, which was then strained to produce the best Bloody I had ever tasted, much less made.
The day will also feature another "B" with bluegrass music live on the stage, as well as 20 percent more pitmasters pulling pork for attendees to purchase, including whole hog on the main stage from 1 to 4 p.m. Your admission buys you a sampling glass so you can enjoy a bottomless sampling of beer and bourbon. Purchasing VIP admission gets you an extra two hours of tasting from noon until 2 when the rest of the crowd descends on Municipal. Tickets are selling quickly, so check out the event website to purchase your place at the trough.
Another huge barbecue and bourbon event took place in Kansas City earlier this month, and Tennessee whiskey producer George Dickel was right in the middle of it. More than 600 chefs and 100,000 attendees took part in the American Royal World Series of BBQ as contestants battled for a piece of the $100,000 prize pool.
But they haven't just grown in sales; Blackstone has also expanded their product offering. I told you about Picnic, their summer seasonal ale, back in June. Now they have introduced another seasonal brew and a new high-gravity product.
Jumping on the seemingly insatiable desire for all things pumpkin, Blackstone has jumped on the bandwagon with an autumn Pumpkin Ale. Apparently, the history of using pumpkin in the brewing process goes back to colonial days, when malt shortages forced beer-makers to substitute pumpkin instead. So I guess it's not just the Starbucks Pumpkin Latte that has tweaked the taste buds of Americans when the leaves begin to change.
T for Texas. T for Tennessee. Both states are now making some pretty fine whiskey and other spirits. I already told you about Waco's Balcones Distillery, Whisky Magazine's Craft Whiskey Distiller of the Year. Now they have been joined by a strong new player, Bone Spirits working out of Smithville, Texas, just outside of Austin.
Bone is the brainchild of Jeff Peace, a long-time spirits industry veteran. Peace earned his spurs working with Sidney Frank the branding genius who brought Jagermeister and Grey Goose to America. After Mr. Frank passed away, Peace decided to make the leap and start his own brand of spirits. Bone is still relatively young, having started up in 2010, but they are already making some great hooch.
Emphasizing a "farm to bottle" philosophy, Bone Spirits is committed to maintaining a sustainable processes, an attitude that is quite popular in the hill country of Texas. They buy their grains as locally as possible and have them milled at a nearby facility. After fermenting and distilling their products, they return the by-products of the process to a local cattle rancher who feeds the mash to some very happy cows.
Corsair was awarded both “Craft Distillery of the Year” award and “Innovator of the Year” from Whisky Magazine, which is pretty much unheard of for a four-year-old distillery. Heck, Pappy Van Winkle has whiskey in the office water cooler that's a decade older than Corsair...
According to the official announcement:
Distillery owners Darek Bell, Andrew Webber, and Amy Lee Bell were ecstatic. “We are humbled and truly grateful for this,” said Webber. “Winning one Icon of Whisky award is completely unexpected. Winning two is wholly unbelievable.” Corsair topped over 300 other American whiskey makers, including some impressive craft peers: Balcones Distilling, Breckenridge Distillery, Dry Fly Distilling, Garrison Brothers Distillery, Great Lakes Distilling, Koval Distillery & Smooth Ambler Handcrafted Spirits.
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