Saturday, September 24, 2016

Kentucky - A Bourbon State Of Mind

This Houston Airport promotion wants me to get into A Bourbon State Of Mind.
During the last 25 years we have visited relatives in Versailles, Kentucky and tasted at many of the distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  Out of the nine Kentucky Bourbon Trail distilleries we’ve been to Maker’s Mark, Four Roses, Wild Turkey, Heaven Hill and Woodford Reserve.
Gail Scheef & Devon Scheef celebrating Gail's 90th Birthday in August
One of our favorites to visit (and close to Versailles) is the Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.

We enjoyed tasting a nice trio of Four Roses bourbons from an entertaining bourbon expert.

  • Yellow Label 80 Proof
  • Small Batch 90 Proof
  • Single Barrel 100 Proof
I liked the Small Batch best; and lately I've been buying the Yellow Label for making Manhattans. 
Can you see it? It's a Bourbon Taste - must be one ounce!
Wild Turkey Distillery Warehouse in Lawrenceburg
Wild Turkey Distillery
Woodford Reserve is in Woodford County on McCracken Pike in Versailles and is owned by the Brown-Forman Corporation.  Although they still use "Labrot & Graham" on the bottle, Leopold Labrot and James Graham made bourbon way back in 1838 and only owned the current distillery until the 1940s. It's the oldest bourbon distillery in Kentucky.
After Labrot & Graham, Brown Forman owned the distillery for a few decades, then sold it, and then repurchased it in the 1990s. Since then they have been making the small batch bourbon  from a mixture of pot still spirits distilled at the distillery in Woodford County and column still spirits from the Brown Forman Distillery in Shively (near Louisville), Kentucky.
Woodford Reserve warehouses

Labrot & Graham Woodford Reserve - a lot of it!

Woodford Reserve is one of my favorite sipping bourbons.

Labrot & Graham Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
The twice-barreled bourbon process creates the rich and colorful flavor. Matured in separate, charred oak barrels – the second barrel deeply toasted before a light charring – extracts additional amounts of soft, sweet oak character.

If you do visit Woodford Reserve, I recommend avoiding weekends. We were there on a Saturday and were lucky to find a parking spot in the overflow area. It's a bit like Disneyland.


This year on a trip to Louisville we had a chance to explore the Urban Bourbon Trail along historic "Whiskey Row" and other locations downtown.  The trail has thirty-five bourbon bars that serve fifty or more different bourbons and their bartenders are very good at explaining the nuances of bourbon and tasting notes. Most of the bars and restaurants serve great food as well. The establishments vary from historic hotels to trendy bars. 

Over a few days I managed to taste ten different bourbons while visiting six establishments on the trail (and got the t-shirt).
  • Bristol Bar & Grille – Downtown
  • Brown Hotel Lobby Bar
  • Dish on Market (Breakfast) 
  • Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse & Raw Bar (Dinner)
  • Down One Bourbon Bar & Restaurant
  • Proof on Main (Dinner)
Bristol Bar & Grille – Downtown

Brown Hotel Lobby Bar
Brown Hotel Lobby Bar Menu
The Hopped Up Preacher was calling to me. I really like Elijah Craig and West 6th makes a great IPA! Maybe next time...
Down One Bourbon Bar & Restaurant
All of the bars we visited had knowledgeable people to serve and explain their bourbon, but we enjoyed talking with the bartenders at Bristol Bar, Brown Hotel and Down One the best.
I knew a little about bourbon when I started (you always hear that “bourbon is made from 51% or more corn”), but I never realized that there were three basic variations of the grain bill.

Traditional Bourbon is made with more than 50% corn, plus equal amounts of rye and barley.

Wheated Bourbon is made with more than 50% corn, plus wheat (instead of rye) and barley. The wheat results in sweeter tasting bourbon because it is not as rich as rye and it allows more of the corn sweetness and vanilla through.

High-Rye Bourbon is made with more than 50% corn and it has more rye than barley. Rye gives bourbon the flavorful bite that it is known for, plus spice notes of pepper, nutmeg, clove and cinnamon.

The bourbons that I tasted were mostly traditional style, but I liked the other two styles just as well.

Traditional Bourbon
Blade and Bow
Elijah Craig 12-Year-Old Small Batch
Jefferson’s Reserve
Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve
Michter’s Small Batch US*1 Bourbon
Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon

Wheated Bourbon
W.L. Weller Special Reserve
Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 10 Year

High-Rye Bourbon
Basil Hayden’s

Old Forester 1870 Original Batch
Blade and Bow
Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve
Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon
W.L. Weller Special Reserve
Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 10 Year

Basil Hayden’s
Old Forester 1870 Original Batch
Urban Bourbon Trail Tasting - I didn't have a bourbon that I didn't like!
Other High-Rye Bourbons that I frequently enjoy are Four Roses Yellow Label (80 Proof), Bulleit (90 Proof) and Woodford Reserve Distiller's Select (90.4 Proof). 
Don't worry, bourbon tasting is easy to do, the only thing you have to know is whether or not you want to taste it "Neat" or  on the "Rocks." If you're not sure, you can always start with neat, and then if that's too flaming hot, then you can add some ice and/or water to open up the flavor.

I can recommend Louisville as a great place to taste bourbon in bars and places like the Evan Williams Experience, but I’m not sure about any other distillery or tasting room attractions.   
The Evan Williams Experience is billed as a tasting room, historical tour and artisanal distillery.
The Evan Williams Experience
A Great Sipping Bourbon! I didn't taste this until I got home and bought a bottle.
Other bourbons made by Heaven Hill Distilleries like Elijah Craig and Larceny were on display at the Evan Williams Experience.

Although I saw several distillery facilities (Brown-Forman, Heaven Hill Distilleries - Bernheim Facility and Michter’s) while driving around Louisville I didn’t stay in town long enough to discover the distilleries listed below. It looks like at least five of them were open at the time. I would have liked to take their tours or, more importantly, done their tastings.

The good news is that Brown-Forman and Michter's are planning to open up new facilities on Whiskey Row.
Can't miss this giant bottle of Old Forester on top of Brown-Forman Corp on Dixie Highway.
Founder George Garvin Brown created Old Forester. It was Brown-Forman's original brand and America's first bottled bourbon.
The new Michter’s Distillery is located in the historic and architecturally significant Fort Nelson Building on West Main Street.
The New Michter's Distillery
Until the new Micro-Distillery opens this reception area is the only photo op. They did give me a Michter's hat though!


The Holy Grail of Bourbon
Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 10 Year

My favorite bourbon was the wheated Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 10 Year. Of course I liked the one that’s rare and extremely expensive! 

The online description gives an idea of what it's like: Bottled at nearly barrel proof with Kentucky limestone water added after a decade of aging it’s rich and smooth, has a sweet vanilla nose with caramel, pecan and oak wood. Smooth, mellow flavor consisting of robust wheat, cherries and oak. Features a long, smoky wheat finish with hints of fruit, spice and oak tannins.

If you can find it in Kentucky it’s only a few hundred dollars a bottle, then prices seem to vary in the range of $300 to $700 elsewhere, with the Duke of Bourbon in Westlake Village selling it for an astronomical $899 a bottle.

Bourbon Bars & Restaurants
Although the Brown Hotel Lobby Bar had an excellent bartender and a wonderful selection of bourbons, the Bristol Bar & Grille had that plus a more comfortable setting. Not to mention that they had a little lower price on their Old Rip Van Winkle!

The breakfast at Dish on Market is the best I've ever had in Kentucky! Ever! And you can even order the Presidential Breakfast that includes a shot of Old Gran-Dad Bourbon with your breakfast, just like Harry Truman used to have regularly. I couldn't pass up the "Big Damn Breakfast" though.

Trendy Proof on Main pours great bourbons and serves up gourmet food at the bar. We had a casual dinner and the Proof Bison Burger was fantastic.


Trail Founders (2008)

  • The Bar at BLU
  • Bourbons Bistro
  • Brown Hotel Lobby Bar   
  • The Old Seelbach Bar
  • Proof on Main
Bars & Restaurants
Over the years, additional places have increased their bourbon knowledge and offerings to join the trail.

  • Asiatique
  • Bistro 301
  • Bourbon Raw
  • Bristol Bar & Grille – Downtown
  • Bristol Bar & Grille – Highlands   
  • Buck’s
  • Charr’d Bourbon Kitchen and Lounge
  • Derby Cafe: at the Kentucky Derby Museum
  • Dish on Market
  • Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse & Raw Bar
  • Down One Bourbon Bar & Restaurant
  • Harvest
  • Haymarket Whiskey Bar
  • Jockey Silks Bourbon Bar
  • Lilly’s
  • Manny & Merle
  • Marketplace Restaurant
  • Momma's Mustard, Pickles & BBQ
  • North End Cafe
  • O'Shea's Downtown
  • Ramsi’s Cafe on the World
  • Rye
  • Seviche, A Latin Restaurant
  • Sidebar at Whiskey Row
  • The Silver Dollar
  • Sway at the Hyatt Regency Louisville
  • Troll Pub Under the Bridge
  • Varanese
  • Vincenzo’s Italian Restaurant
  • Volare Ristorante
Devon at Woodford Reserve
Horsing around at Brown-Forman wearing my new Michter's hat.

My first bourbon blog is in memory of Kelly Jo Curran Courtney, a very generous person and the first to ever give me a bottle of bourbon. And it wasn't just any bourbon! This 2015 Maker's 46 “Wax Museum” collector’s bottle honored legendary University of Kentucky basketball coach Adolf Rupp with custom colored wax on top. It didn't go over well with her that I drank it all, but life is short and we should drink it while we can.

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Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Taste of Camarillo – Wine, Brew & Food Festival 2016

What was your tasting strategy at A Taste of Camarillo?
I read an informative ATOC blog post about planning for a tasting strategy at ATOC this year. So I (mostly) went with the tasting by category approach — as opposed to tasting everything sequentially and confusing my taste buds. I wasn’t perfect at following my strategy though. 
Michael Larner - 2012 Elemental Estate GSM (47% Grenache, 38% Syrah & 15% Mourvèdre)
I began the wine tasting with an excellent 2014 Larner Malvasia Blanc poured by Michael Larner (I could drink it with breakfast!) and a Cakebread Chardonnay in the VIP Lark Saloon.
Chef Lu and her team made some excellent Chili Rubbed Tri-tip Bites, Charred Corn & Tomato Salad, Roasted Potato Bites with Chipotle Lime Crema and Beef Jerky Bits. I passed on the Bourbon Cupcakes; I’m sure they were excellent and probably tasted like Bourbon, which I enjoy, but not while tasting white wine. It’s difficult to stay on track …
And although I only toured and didn’t taste the fantastic craft beer choices at the Wet Your Whistle Watering Hole, I couldn’t help but alter my tasting strategy temporarily at The Lab Brewing Company/Twisted Oak Tavern. Brewmaster Roger Bott’s Hop Solution Double IPA and a Pork Belly Bite served by Jeff Walker were something I couldn't pass up!
Other local craft brews and California brewers were well represented in the VIP watering hole and throughout the general admission Meadowlark Ranch.
Wet Your Whistle Watering Hole
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.
Five Threads Brewing Company
Institution Ale Company
Wolf Creek Restaurant & Brewing Company

Meadowlark Ranch
Anacapa Brewing Company
Enegren Brewing Company
Fireman's Brew 
Firestone Walker Brewing Co.
Lagunitas Brewing Company
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Surf Brewery

Brews were also poured by BJ’s Restaurant and Brewery and Brendan’s Irish Pub & Restaurant.

Tito’s Handmade Vodka in the Lark Saloon was good for vodka lovers and would probably have been a nice complement to The Bloody Cure Bloody Mary mix being poured at the Meadowlark Ranch.

I sampled many of the wines being poured and these are the ones worth checking out for yourself ... 
Artiste Los Olivos - 2016 The Look (71% Friesa, 15% Cabernet Franc, 14% Merlot)
Ascension Cellars - 2013 Trinity GSM (75% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre)
Back Patio poured their Patio White. It was good, but the blend details were only available from the winemaker, who wasn't there at the moment.
Calcareous Vineyards - 2013 Trés Violet (40% Syrah, 26% Mourvèdre, 34% Grenache)
Cantara Cellars - 2013 Quattro, Lodi
Cholame Vineyard - 2014 Grenache Based Rosé
Derby Wine Estates - 2011 ‘Fifteen 10’ Red (31% Syrah, 29% Mourvèdre, 24% Counoise, 16% Grenache)
Golden Star Vineyards - New 2015 Viognier a new 2014 Purple Haze (Zinfandel, Merlot and Malbec)
Magnavino Cellars - 2012 Sangiovese, Lodi
Oso Libre - NV Carnal Red Rhone Blend (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Petite Sirah)
Pear Valley Vineyards - 2013 Distraction (57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Petit Verdot, 13% Malbec, 8% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc)
Penman Springs Vineyard - 2013 Muscat Blanc “DRY HUMOUR” and 2014 Syrah Rosé. I usually don’t like Muscat anything, but this dry Muscat Blanc was a good light wine.
Plan B Wine Cellars - 2012 GMS (Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah)
Ranchita Canyon Vineyard - 2012 Sangiovese and 2012 Smooth Operator
Rasmussen Vineyards & Winery - 2013 Spectrum (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah)
Rideau Vineyard - 2014 Chateau DuPlantier Cuvée (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah) and 2014 Syrah, Thompson Vineyard, SBC
Sunstone Vineyards & Winery - 2014 Merlot SYV (80% 2014 Merlot, Sunstone Estate, Santa Ynez Valley, 20% 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Valley View Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley)
Valen Estates Winery - 2015 Cabernet Franc
Vino Vargas - 2015 ¡Olé! Chardonnay
Vista Del Rey Vineyards - 2013 Zinfandel, 2013 Barbera, and the combo of 2013 Zin-Bera

Spanish Hills CC served a spicy tri tip taco with a mini Margarita that hit the spot and was a perfect pairing!
The Cave’s Apple Pulled Pork with Chipotle Carolina BBQ Sauce and a Pickled Apple slice was excellent!

Paul Justi (aka “Cool Paulo” at the local Wine Lovers Meetup group) helped Taste N Trip scout for the sublime wines and he found a few that he would personally buy.  Here's what he found ...
Vinemark Cellars Primativo which is light, fruit forward, well balanced, and easy drinking for $33 a bottle
Plan B Wine Cellars has a nice Grenache and GSM that are light, balanced, and easy drinking for $35 a bottle.
Ascension Cellars has GSM that was smooth and rich in texture for $55 a bottle
Rideau Vineyard has a GSM and others that were smooth & elegant to drink for $49 a bottle
Oso Libre has a lively GSM that is worth trying... guess the GSM's took the prize at this festival!


 Meadowlark Ranch hands lining up for work.
Waiting to get in and taste some Toucan wines.

Caught Red Handed played some great Country Western music and had the crowd dancing!

Photo by Mike Brown
Were you there too? 
Any comments about the festival? 
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