BBS' inaugural BYOB ‘popup tasting’ at The Lexington

Words by The Whisky Pilgrim

Two things stood out to me as I made my way home from the inaugural British Bourbon Society Bring Your Own Bourbon (BYOB) ‘popup’ event on Saturday evening. Firstly, I’ll be eating a lot more the morning before the next one. And secondly, if an official tasting was held of the lineup we had enjoyed, I shudder to think what the ticket price might be.

The idea, conceived by The Bourbonator, was a simple one. Cram as many BBS members into a room as possible; each brandishing a bottle or two from their own collection for a free tasting...and see where things go from there. Conveniently BBS member Stacey is also bourbon guru in-chief at the excellent Lexington bar near Kings Cross, and generously volunteered it as the room into which said membership could cram.

Persuading a friend that the event would be just the thing to kick off his bourbon education I made my way over to the Lexington for 2pm sharp on Saturday 25th. I even brought my little red tasting note book, though I abandoned it early on in the proceedings – wasn’t really that sort of event. (For which, to be honest, we should probably all be thankful.)

In fact it was exactly the sort of laid back, unpretentious meetup for which BBS tastings are rapidly becoming synonymous. The casual atmosphere belied the quality of the bottles assembled on the bar though; everything from 15 year old dusties to modern classics; bourbons, ryes, malts and even a stray bottle of VelierPapalin rum, courtesy of London Liquor.

Once the arrival meet-and-greet was underway with members having travelled from as far afield as Manchester and Brighton to attend, Stacey opened the billing with three venerable auction finds; past-era bottles that none of us – including Stacey herself – had previously encountered. This was offset by London Liquor, who provided the harmlessly incongruous (and, even to this sceptic, delicious) Velier rum, alongside bourbon in the shape of Bookers, F.E.W and the final couple of drams of a much-treasured Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye.

The pattern of the afternoon ran thus: introduce yourself and your bottles, then those assembled could sample at their leisure. I don’t know whether anyone made their way through the entire collection; if they did then their liver is of cast iron and their Sunday must have been abominable.

As you’ll see from the photos below, the entire lineup was outstanding. All eyes turned to the bottle of 1958-distilled Very Old Fitzgerald, but on this afternoon of highlight after highlight I still didn’t have an answer when people started comparing notes on favourites at the end. Three that would have competed for my vote though, aside from the VOF itself, were the 10 year old Notch Single Malt from Nantucket, WhistlePig 11 year old Rye and a Traveller’s Edition bottling of Old Crow from the seventies.

We’ve had a fair few BBS events now, as the Society creeps closer and closer to its first birthday. Most have been themed by distillery or bottler; tastings of the Van Winkle and Michter’s lineup, or the Smooth Ambler Range. None have shown American whiskey’s diversity as fully as this popup did though, and in that sense it has to rank as one of the very best yet. The friend I dragged along – by his own admission a total newcomer to bourbon – left the tasting with new horizons...and a long shopping list.

This inclusivity and diversity was further underlined by the presence of bottles right across the spectrum of price and rarity. Elijah Craig 12 and Maker’s 46 sat cheek-by-jowl with the impossible to find and the dizzyingly expensive. Each bottle given time, respect, a fair hearing and a chance to prove its worth based on flavour.

I don’t think there’s anyone who attended on Saturday who won’t be back for round two, whenever it happens. A tasting on that scale, and of that quality, for the price of your train fare and an offering from your own collection. Seriously – what’s not to love?

Oh. And there was also pizza.

Cheers!

Huge thanks to Stacey and the staff at The Lexington for being amazing hosts. Also to the BBS founders and to everyone who contributed bottles and samples.

Bourbon and Butchery

Words by The Bourbonator 

It’s a Thursday night, it’s -6 degrees outside, the tube drivers are striking again and I’m pretty sure I’ve picked up a bug from the office air conditioning (germ blower). Something pretty special would be required to keep me from joining the hordes of rush hour commuters to get home as fast as my legs can carry me, don my lounge outfit and throw Netflix into action like a lazy Batman.

That something special came in the form of an invitation to a ‘Bourbon & Butchery’ evening at the Cutty Sark pub in Greenwich, London. “You had me at bourbon” I told myself as I responded with gratitude.

There is actually a tenuous whiskey link to this venue, a pub named after the great 19th Century ship now a tourist attraction, named after a witch in a Robbie Burns poem that was afraid of water, Robbie Burns we all know from having raised our annual dram the previous night in respect of his ‘Ode to the Haggis’. Come on, it’s a far better link than the three degrees of Kevin Bacon…….which leads me nicely on to the activity for the evening!

Our compere for the night was bar manager ‘Alex’ whose enthusiasm did not stop at his witty repartee, he wore a Captains hat to deliver his first introduction of the night from the ‘Crow’s Nest’ room nestled at the top of the pub.  Artisan butcher ‘Jess’ stood in front of a heavy set wooden table where atop lay a cross section of a pig and a selection of pointy metal objects, referred to in the butchery industry as ‘knives’. “Look at the size of the brain!” said the charming  lady next to me as Jess showed us just how small it was whilst oddly invoking the only chorus of disgust of the evening by waving the flaccid tail. Split an animal in half, prod and poke it as you please, but waving its tail just makes it real (until Tesco start selling it in packets).

To dull the senses to this horror scene of tail waving, we were treated to some cocktails made by both Alex and Brown-Forman brand representative ‘Jeevan’ that went down a treat. No sooner had we finished our expertly procured Old Fashioneds made with Gentleman Jack than we had forgotten the image of that tail and taken it in turns under the tutelage of Jess whilst wearing a funky chainmail glove to trim the meat into what we are all comfortable seeing as food. Safe in the knowledge that I can now survive in the wilderness of Essex, hunting wild animals to cut into neatly trimmed portions (if Tesco ran out of it in packets) I proceeded to try the next few drinks put in front of me by Jeevan, Jack Daniels Old Number 7, Gentleman Jack and Woodford Reserve whilst listening to a well delivered overview of the brand history before closing the night to applause of appreciation for our hosts.

It’s great to see new drinkers of the spirit embark upon their journey of whiskey discovery through unconventional introductions like ‘butchery’ as it highlights the accessibility of the spirit over and above that of its Scotch counterpart. Tonight was a ‘tweed free’ zone that initiated a few more to the growing scene and for that Alex, Jeevan, Jess and the Cutty Sark, the Bourbon Society salute you.

 

Charbay Release V and some thoughts on innovation

Words by WhiskyPilgrim 

‘Innovation’. It’s one of those words that triggers a raise of the eyebrows and curl of the lip from even the least cynical of long-in-the-tooth whisk(e)y drinkers. Possibly behind only ‘craft’ in the category of ‘press release buzzwords one can take with a large pinch of sodium chloride’.

I am definitively not amongst the least cynical of sippers. My office maintains a ‘cynicism jar’ (an old Bruichladdich tin, as it happens) and I sometimes feel life would be simpler were they to cut out the middle man and pay my salary directly into it. I also have a tendency to focus on the more affordable and readily available end of the aqua vitae spectrum when it comes to my scribblings. So today represents an adjustment to normality, as I’ll be taking a look at an innovative whiskey from a ‘craft distillery’, costing a cool $675 a bottle and of which only 72 bottles have ever been – and will ever be – released. Charbay Release V.

Just over 16 years ago, in California’s Napa Valley, Miles and Marko Karakasevic decided to distil 20,000 gallons of bottle-ready Pilsner, as opposed to the hop-free wash more traditionally converted into whisky. This spirit was poured into new American White Oak casks, and left to mature; released at separate intervals as the years ticked by and the angels became ever more greedy. This release, the fifth, is the last barrel of that spirit. Sixteen years old and an eye-watering 141.2 proof (70.6%ABV in real money).

As with all things rare and interesting, demand was high. Immensely so, despite the price tag. Our ‘in’ was a picture of bottles of Release III that one of the BBS Founding Fathers had posted on social media. This had led to contact from the chaps at Charbay, and a place on the waiting list. Some time later they got back in touch: did @london_liquor fancy one? Obviously the answer was ‘absolutely,’ but $675 is a hefty whack of cash. Not to mention the costs involved in having it shipped over to the right side of the Atlantic.

I can boast very few good ideas in my relatively short existence, so I’m going to stick my hand up and claim credit for this one. I suggested to @london_liquor that amidst the ranks of the BBS there would be a good number of people who would happily attend an event to sample this most Unicorny of Unicorns. I could certainly think of one member who would be champing at the bit. Needless to say, once the group had been offered the opportunity, places were bagged in no time. A date was set for the group tasting, with a Skype link to Marko arranged so that he could talk us through the whiskey. It was going to be amazing.

I couldn’t make it.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. I could have made it, but in a fit of ill-advised familial altruism I had decided to also nab a place at the tasting for my cousin. Since he couldn’t make it, our samples were put somewhere suitable until such time as we could taste them together. After an agonising two months, my chance finally came last Friday evening. Journey was made, bottles were opened, samples were poured, whiskey was tasted.

But let’s back up a bit and consider those irritating words from the first paragraph.

‘Craft’, we can dispense with straight away. It has become simply a euphemism for ‘small’, which is patently nonsense. The Master Distillers at the likes of Four Roses and Buffalo Trace – or Glenfiddich and Laphroaig if you want to talk Scotch – are every bit as committed, dedicated and skilled as their contemporaries at institutions of a lesser scale. In many cases more so, in fact. If I were to start distilling in my garden shed it would be obscene to suggest that my product was automatically superior purely because of scale. Which is the obvious inference that marketeers pressing the ‘craft’ button are expecting you to draw. If you see the word ‘craft’ on a whisk(e)y bottle, read nothing into it. That’s the bottom line. On to the next one.

Which is ‘innovation,’ and here things become tricky, because many distilleries and the people working at them are doing genuinely innovative things. Charbay’s website insists they were the first to distil Pilsner, and I can’t find anything to suggest that they weren’t. Then there’s Westland, playing with five different malts, and their local Garryana Oak, or Waterford in Ireland, with their ‘cathedral’ of barley. Eden Mill are one of the more innovative start-ups in Scotland (and manage to be that without any of Brewdog’s ham-fisted song and dance) – in short, across the world, distilleries are pushing boundaries, trying new things, and creating new flavours. Sometimes those flavours don’t work, and that’s fine – it’s all about experimentation, and in any case, taste is subjective.

But it seems these days that ‘innovation’ has a pretty broad definition. What’s more, ‘innovation’ is occasionally used as the stick with which to bludgeon the unwary consumer. “Want to try the whisky we finished for two weeks in an ‘innovative’ new sort of barrel? That’ll be double the price it’d be if we hadn’t.” “We’ve used an innovative new way of rolling the casks to the bottling hall. One fortune please.” “Our...um...bottle is...er...innovatively blue now. How about it?”

It’s also worth noting that whilst the new innovations/bottle colours are the glitzy shop window products; dazzling on press releases and receiving gushing apotheosis on social media, they’re not what the whisky market is built on. We over-enthusiasts, we chasers of the rare and the interesting, are so tiny a percentage of the customer base as to be almost utterly insignificant. The really great distilleries are those who can make a good entry level product at a genuinely accessible price. Buffalo Trace has not been built on the Antique Collection – I guarantee you that ninety nine whisk(e)y customers out of a hundred have never heard of George T. Stagg in their lives. They would also offer nothing but blank looks were you to casually name drop Pappy Van Winkle. (Even more so if you said ‘PVW’, but I’ll save the acronym rant for another day...)

Charbay are unquestionably a ‘craft distillery’, in the proper sense of the term. They are also incontrovertibly innovative – no problems there. They have made a fascinating – and, incidentally, delicious – product, and they have done it in the best traditions of quality whiskey experimentation. They’ve created something new; something definitively unique, and no corners have been cut doing so. They haven’t just come up with an easy excuse to shoehorn buzzwords into a description.

What’s more, I don’t suspect that the words ‘craft’ or ‘innovative’ will be going anywhere fast. They’re marketing gold, and the companies behind the copywriters certainly aren’t going to change a winning formula because some cocky little know-it-all has bleated on a blog. In honesty, they wouldn’t change things even if the likes of Fred Minnick wrote a book on the subject. After all, they’re crafty folk, and you can’t be crafty without ‘craft’. No, what this is intended to be is a piece of gentle advice to the whisk(e)y enthusiast. (Which, if you’re reading this, you probably are.) Question ‘craft’. Question ‘innovation’. And if it doesn’t stand up to the price tag, then take your money elsewhere. But that’s just my two cents.

Back to the Charbay, and the million dollar question: how did it taste? In short, excellent. 

Charbay Release V. 70.6%ABV

Marko’s description of peachy stone fruit certainly stood up, but what really shouted from the glass were those hops. Definitely on the drier end of the New American Oak spectrum, and with plenty of ‘high notes’ despite the age. Quite possibly that was the hops at work, and the herbal edge provided a fascinating contrast with the old oak furniture base that the wood brought in.

The booze was prominent – no amount of flavour or body can shut out 70.6%ABV, after all, and after a few sips neat I did add a splash of water, which I reckon brought it closer to 55%. I usually find that adding water doesn’t so much change the flavours of high strength whisk(e)y as unclench them, and allow them to fully express themselves – that was certainly the case here. Plenty of liveliness, vibrancy and spice, and still those hops buzzed about amongst the deeper suggestion of dried apricots and spiced peaches. The tannins weren’t too aggressive either – certainly hadn’t passed its sell-by-date in the barrel – and the mouthfeel was actually pretty creamy.

Finish was astoundingly long, with perhaps a hint of char, if only the merest touch. Not as voluptuous as a bourbon, nor as lean and spicy as a rye. But after all, this is a Single Malt technically speaking, being 100% barley, albeit one with the addition of hops. Which wouldn’t pass muster in Scotland, but who cares? Their loss.

I think what impressed me most about the Charbay Release V was the influence of the hops, even at such advanced age. I had wondered whether, like smoke in a long-aged peated Islay, they might have receded with maturity. Since I haven’t tried the earlier releases I can’t actually comment in that regard – but they must have been truly ferocious a few years ago. The point is that this innovation worked. It put the signature on a truly unique whiskey, justified the experiment and created a flavour as delicious as it was idiosyncratic. It took my cousin and I well over an hour to make our way through our respective double measures, and when they had disappeared, we wished there were a few drops more. But there weren’t, so we moved on to a Scotch. Aberlour A’Bunadh, since you’re asking.

In any case, as far as Charbay’s pilsner experiment is concerned, mission accomplished. I look forward to whatever they dream up next. (If I can afford any of it.) But am I any less cynical about the word ‘innovation’?

What do you think?

Whisky, the secondary market and auction sites – how to fix a broken system

Words by @The_Bourbonator

[This blog post represents the views of @The_Bourbonator and not necessarily those of the British Bourbon Society]

Ten years ago, I watched a television program about how eBay enabled you to sell anything. The presenter proved his point by flogging a piece of old blue fishing rope he had found on a beach in Truro to a man in Croydon who needed something to tie up his tools. Fantastic I thought at the time: online auctions connect people and their needs, whatever and wherever they may be. Fast forward to 2017 and online auction sites have become a trusted method of buying and selling all manner of things, including whisky. Indeed, in the past couple of years, a whole load of online auction sites have sprung up specifically catering for whisky. Is this a good thing for whisky drinkers?

If you're looking for 'dusties', categorically yes. I recently purchased a Wild Turkey 1997 release from an online whisky auction site. Being an old release, finding it on the shelf at a reasonable price was impossible so auction was the only way to go. The price was good, the service was slick and the bottle arrived a few days later. There was also the reassurance that someone at the auction site, who hopefully knew what they were doing, had checked over the bottle to make sure it wasn't fake. No complaints there. 

Where it all starts to get a bit grey is when bottles that have only just been released are instantly resold online for many multiples of the RRP (or MSRRP if you’re American) on the secondary market. Now, I fully accept it's a free market: a seller can sell their property for as much as the market will bear, a buyer is free to pay as much as they want and, of course, the auction house will take a cut of the sale proceeds so everyone benefits? Taking this all at face value, yes but this doesn't mean the current system is good for whisky drinkers. The ability to quickly and efficiently re-sell bottles online using auction sites has undoubtedly contributed, at least in part, to the sad rise of ‘flipping'. Rather than bottles being bought to drink, flippers will clear the shelves of interesting releases with the aim of immediately on-selling for a quick buck. This creates artificial supply shortfalls and means whisky drinkers end up having to chalk up far more if they want to drink limited releases. This doesn’t sit right with me.

A secondary market will always exist as long as demand outstrips supply, which for the foreseeable future will always be the case for limited edition bottlings but should it be as easy as it is now to flip new releases? What I find difficult to stomach is seeing bottles of the 2016 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection continuously appearing on auction websites for many multiples of their retail value. Flipping means that limited edition bottles are increasingly only available to those with very deep pockets.

Should our beloved spirit be associated with this type of practice? If you agree with me that it shouldn't, what can we all do to stop bottles being flipped as short term investments? Here are a few practical suggestions for consumers, retailers and whisky auction sites that would make things fairer.

1. Consumers: don't buy new releases at secondary prices! If you get hold of a limited edition bottle from a store, share it with your mates. If the demand isn't there, flipping will go away.

2. Retailers: implement clear and transparent stockholding policies on how limited releases will be sold. These could include limiting sales of limited releases to one bottle per customer and immediately releasing stock rather than bunkering it only to release at a later date with a significant price hike over the RRP/MSRRP. Master of Malt has previously been complimented on this blog precisely for having such a policy, which is described on their website here and here. MOM's creative way of selling limited releases, by the dram, raffles and auctioning them for charity, isn't to everyone's taste but it does disrupt flipping. Royal Mile's recent decision to clarify their stockholding policy is another step in the right direction. A clear stockholding policy is particularly important when a retailer and whisky auction site are owned by the same company, given the obvious risk of bottles bypassing the store and being sent straight to auction.  

3. Online auction sites: auction sites voluntarily implementing a policy of not selling new releases for at least 12 months is perhaps wishful thinking but at least such a step would force flippers to take a longer term financial risk than they do today.

To sum up, auction sites are great to find dusties and other bottles that are not available to purchase through normal channels, but seeing newly released bottles being flipped just makes me despair. American whiskey, once thought of as a drink of the layman, is now increasingly likely to be found in a lawyer’s office in a crystal decanter. I can’t imagine Harvey Spector doing the Kentucky Chew with Fred Noe!

How do you like your beer? Aged in Bourbon Barrels?

Words by @edkinguk

If asked to conjure up an image of bourbon whiskey and beer, the first association in the mind of the average American or British drinker will very likely be the blue-collar Boilermaker ‘beer cocktail’, consisting of a cold beer served alongside a ‘chaser’ of cheap bourbon whiskey, sometimes mixed together.

But since the 1990s, the American craft beer revolution has given rise to a new association between these two alcoholic beverages, one that has elevated the traditionally humble and lowly beer or ale into a highly sought after, critically lauded (and sometimes condemned), limited release, wallet emptying product. The ‘bourbon barrel aged imperial stout’ had been born.

The history of storing or ageing beers in wooden barrels goes back centuries, very likely several millennia. Since Roman times wooden casks have been used to store and transport goods, and up until the beginning of the 20th century it was still the only practical method to store and transport beer or ale. Most barrels for storing beer would have been lined with pitch, meaning that almost no character from the barrel would be imparted in the flavour of the beer. Inevitably though, there are some traditional beer styles in which the ageing and use of the wood in the barrel have become an integral part of the flavour and conditioning process of the beer. Belgian wild yeast lambic beers, Flemish red ales, and barrel aged Czech pilsener being a few examples.

The idea of resting a beer in a barrel to impart flavour from the previous contents of that barrel is nevertheless a relatively new concept in beer brewing. Perhaps inspired by the manner in which sherry barrels were being used to ‘finish’ Scotch (as pioneered by David Stewart MBE of The Balvenie in the 1980s), Greg Hall of Goose Island Brewing in Chicago took six empty Jim Beam barrels in 1992, filled them with beer and then presented the end results at the Great American Beer Festival. Thus, according to legend, the barrel aged beer revolution began.

A couple of decades later and the international top 50 beer lists on Ratebeer.com and BeerAdvocate.com are a who’s who list of the most sought after American bourbon barrel aged beers. Goose Island’s ‘Bourbon County Stout’, Three Floyd’s‘ Dark Lord Imperial Stout’, Cigar City’s ‘Hunahpu Double Barrel Aged Imperial Stout’ and Founders ‘Kentucky Breakfast Stout’ being some of the most prized beers. Annual release days for many of these beers result in thousands of people queuing at the breweries to get a bottle. In secret unofficial Facebook groups, bottles exchange hands for up anything up to $1000 a bottle for the rarest releases. It’s a story familiar to bourbon whiskey drinkers trying to get their hands on a rare release, but maybe even crazier for a beer that has to be completely finished in one sitting. The style has now been mimicked around the world, with brewers in Europe and the United Kingdom developing their own bourbon barrel aged beers.

Like many of the ‘ultra-aged’ special release bourbons, barrel aged bourbon imperial stouts are very much an acquired taste and, to those with an unfamiliar palate, the hype around these beers can seem like a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes. This is not an altogether unreasonable reaction: certain brewers go out of their way to limit supply of these beers, use guerrilla marketing to create mystique and reverie, and build support up through online beer geek networks.

Eight years ago my first experience of this style of beer, a bottle of Goose Island Bourbon County Stout Vanilla Edition resulted in a drain pour. A thick, overly sweet, cloying, treacly, bourbon infused liquid, barely resembling a beer. Several years later and that beer changes hands for several hundred dollars between collectors. Had I known it at the time I’d have hung on to it! More recently at a tasting I was given a rare dram of Bourbon County Stout Proprietor’s 2014 release and it was truly epic. Balanced, silky, smooth tasting, rich and not at all cloying.

So, if you’re just starting out in the brave new world of beer, here’s some advice. Before you start throwing your cash around, familiarise yourself with the style. First, try a few of the better priced beers to establish what you like. Remember that in the world of barrel aged beer, hype and price are not necessarily arbiters of quality, good taste or refinement. As seasoned beer connoisseurs will tell you, most of the best beers in the world can be bought for less than a fiver. However, if you’re looking to dip your toe into the world of barrel aged imperial stouts, here’s a list of a few you should be able to get, without breaking the bank:

 

1.     Bourbon County Stout – one of the original barrel aged imperial stouts, released yearly in the UK, and selling out quickly. From 2016 this has been pasteurised due to a high incidence of infections in the bottle in 2015, but friends tell me it’s still decent.

2.     Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS) – less cloying and rich than BCS and with a much better balance of flavours, this beer has become much more widely available in the UK in the last year.

3.     Old Chimney’s Good King Henry Special Reserve – strictly speaking not bourbon barrel aged as it’s actually aged with oak staves in the 8 month ageing process. However, this is the most highly sought after and highest rated English beer on Ratebeer.com. A beautiful ale.

4.     Mikkeller Beer Geek Vanilla Shake (Bourbon Edition) – a ‘Danish gypsy brewer’ (i.e. he gives his recipes to another brewer who makes it for him), Mikkeller is a controversial figure in brewing but the Beer Geek series are probably his best and most successful beers. If you can’t get this particular version, any other will do.

5.     Struise Cuvée Delphine – barrel aged in Four Roses bourbon barrels by Belgium’s original modern craft brewers.

NAB - Whisky Exchange's Black Friday deal: "We're taking one of our whiskies and charging more for it – or are we?"

[This blog post represents the views of @LondonLiquor and not necessarily those of the British Bourbon Society]

As CyberMonday draws to an end, it's worth reflecting on Whisky Exchange's unique Black Friday deal, which offered customers the chance to buy Glendronach 15 Year Old Revival, a delicious but currently discontinued whisky, for £79.95. While this was £30 above the previous price on The Whisky Exchange's website, it was apparently below the "current market  price [of] £100-120".

Apart from winning first prize for sheer Black Friday chutzpah, what else can we say about The Whisky Exchange's deal? Marketing genius? Or a worrying sign for consumers that a huge online retailer has priced a product by reference to the 'market' price? Here are a few, somewhat unstructured, thoughts.

First, the Black Friday deal was a huge success. All 420 bottles had sold out by the end of the day. One Twitter user commented that  it was a "very inventive Black Friday deal [...] Love the marketing the perfect antidote to all the Black Friday madness".

Second, whisky has undeniably become an investment with a 'market price'. Numerous online whisky auction sites have shot up to cater for this demand, including The Whisky Exchange's sister company Whisky.Auction. Grey market Facebook secondary trading groups were shut down earlier this year only to come back to life days later. Whether whisky's emergence as a commodity is a good or bad thing is a discussion for another day but the reality of the situation is that whisky has a 'market price', which might be entirely disconnected from the official RRP.

Third, it's absolutely terrible news for consumers if retailers start bunkering bottles to list at a higher price at a later date. Did The Whisky Exchange do this for their Black Friday deal? It's unclear. The website post states that "we have been fortunate enough to find a small parcel of stock". Whether this small parcel was sitting in their warehouse or elsewhere, who knows.

Fortunately, several online retailers have joined the anti-bunker brigade. Master of Malt's stockholding policy dating from 2013, but still very much in effect, is admirably clear in this regard: "Every single bottle of every single allocation that we’re given by every single supplier is sold directly to our customers. We don’t siphon any stock off for ‘directors’ personal collections’, we don’t hold onto any stock in order to list it at a later date at a higher price, we don’t submit anything to auction sites, and we don’t give preference to trade customers over retail customers". The policy concludes "not that there’s anything wrong with auctions – markets will be what they are – fill your boots. There is however something wrong if retail allocations find their way there without ever hitting the shelves and going through a customer first". Equally, there is something wrong with a retail allocation being bunkered and then priced according to the secondary market (even if at a discount to that price). If The Whisky Exchange has a publicly available stockholding policy, please tweet a link to @london_liquor.  

Fourth, establishing a fair market price for whisky isn't easy as it can be thinly traded. Whisky Exchange declared the current market price of Glendronach 15 Year Old Revival to be £100-120. None of this particular whisky appears to have been sold on Whisky.Auction.  Turning to Scotch Whisky Auctions, there have been multiple sales, with prices veering between £65 and £100 (plus 10% buyer's commission) in 2016. One seller currently has six bottles for sale with a reserve of £500. It will be interesting to see how many of The Whisky Exchange's 420 bottles find their way onto the secondary sites in the next few weeks and what impact this has on the 'market price'.    

Fifth, the Black Friday deal highlights how rarity (perceived or otherwise) can lead pricing to go hayweather, irrespective of quality.  Glendronach 15 Year Old Revival is a fantastic whisky but is it streaks ahead of the Glenfarclas 15 Year Old being sold on Amazon for almost £40 less last Friday? Certainly not.   

So, where do we stand? The Whisky Exchange played a blinder, subverting Black Friday in style. But if RRPs go out the window, with bunkering and dynamic secondary market pricing becoming the norm for online retailers, it will be a sad day indeed for whisky drinkers.

NAB - Exploring the Influence of Oak at The Balvenie's DCS Chapter II launch

By LondonLiquor 

Back in 2006, my tentative efforts to ‘get into’ whisky were going spectacularly wrong. Another run-in with an Islay single malt seemed to spell the end of my whisky journey before it had really begun … quite why I thought it was a good idea to start out with heavily peated whiskies rather than something from Speyside is anyone’s guess.

And then a glass of Balvenie 12 Year Old DoubleWood changed everything. Here was a whisky that ticked all the boxes: rich, nuanced but still accessible with an enjoyable finish. If you have a friend who is struggling to get into whisky or are looking for a solid Scotch, Balvenie DoubleWood is hard to beat.

Despite this breakout role in my whisky education, the rest of The Balvenie range remained something of a mystery. Apart from a hurried dram of the Balvenie Caribbean Cask release proffered by an exceptionally sleep deprived & grumpy Welsh barman in a Parisian pub last year, I hadn’t tried anything from The Balvenie, or any Speyside distillery for that matter, for several months with Japanese and American whiskies having proved something of a distraction. The launch event for The Balvenie DCS Compendium Chapter Two at the Stafford Hotel in London hosted by David Stewart MBE and Sam Simmonds via livestream from Warehouse 24 provided the perfect opportunity to put that right. 

David Stewart, malt master at The Balvenie, can safely be described as a titan of the Scotch whisky industry. Having begun his career at the distillery as a whisky stocks clerk in 1962, he was appointed as malt master in 1974 and subsequently gained widespread recognition for his pioneering work on two cask maturation, now more commonly known as ‘finishing’, in the 1980s. Finished whiskies are now so commonplace that it’s strange to think of a time when they didn’t exist. Thanks to David’s work, they do.

The Balvenie DCS Compendium is an ambitious collection of 25 cask strength whiskies, to be released over five ‘chapters’, aimed at capturing the knowledge that David Stewart has accrued over the past five decades. The focus of the event was the newly released Chapter Two entitled “The Influence of Oak” priced at £20,000, which features five single cask whiskies aged in barrels including American oak bourbon and European oak port puncheon. As discussed previously on this site, decades of wood ageing can have a transformative impact on spirits, elevating the nose, palate & finish to new levels of complexity and depth. But, far more frequently, extended ageing creates spirits that taste of little else but wood. 

Happily, Chapter Two falls firmly into the first category. The first whisky of the night was from Cask 13134, which had been aged for 43 years in a European oak oloroso sherry butt filled on 31 October 1972 (52.4% ABV). This was a truly stunning whisky; surprisingly soft and delicate for such an old, cask-strength whisky but with the depth, complexity and undefinably ethereal elegance that is the hallmark of a true great. Alongside the infamous ‘Bitter Truth’ release, this is undoubtedly one of the finest whiskies that I have tried in 2016.  While a tough act to follow, the remaining whiskies in the DCS Chapter II were also excellent and succeeded in highlighting the fantastic flavour variance that can be achieved through careful cask selection. The Cask 7951 aged for 19 year years in European oak port puncheon filled on 6 August 1997 (61.8% ABV) received particular praise from the attendees on the night.

Super-premium whiskies releases, with huge price tags to match, are not a new phenomenon. To my mind, what stands out about the DCS Compendium is the integrity and rigour of the project. It was clear from David Stewart’s presentation that significant amounts of thought and effort had gone into selecting the 25 casks that make up the project. The final three chapters due for release by 2019 are titled ‘Secrets of the Stock Model’, ‘Expecting the Unexpected’ and ‘Malt Master’s indulgence’. If they are anything like as good as the Chapter Two, they will be very special indeed.

Thank you to The Balvenie for an exceptional evening of whisky and hospitality.

Celebrating Thanksgiving in the U.K. with JW Steakhouse and Wild Turkey

By London Liquor

While Thanksgiving generally passes with little fanfare in the UK, the British Bourbon Society has found at least two bourbon fuelled reasons to celebrate it this year.

First up, several BBS members will be attending the Saturday 26 November ("Let's Experiment") and Wednesday 30 November ("Old School, Old World, Old Times") bourbon dinners hosted by Tom Fisher of bourbonblog.com at JW Steakhouse Bourbon Bar in London. With each dinner on 26, 28, 29 and 30 November featuring tasting flights of up to six whiskies as well as a three course meal, we're looking forward to some great food and drink while hearing from a recognised bourbon expert . Full details can be found here.

If you plan on coming along, drop us a message on the Facebook group or Twitter.

Second, BBS are always looking for new ways to enjoy bourbon so were interested to see the cocktail lists that Wild Turkey has released to mark Thanksgiving. The aptly-named distiller has been working hard to build its profile in the UK over the past few months with the launch of Rare Breed in October of this year. While BBS' verdict on Rare Breed is still out, we are fans of its entry-level whiskies (Kentucky Straight & Kentucky Straight Rye) and recently managed to hunt down a bottle of the elusive Wild Turkey 13 Year Old Distiller's Reserve from the far flung reaches of the internet (review to follow). As well as Old Fashioned's, we'll be trying out Wild Turkey's Manhattan receipe (mix all the ingredients with ice, strain into a glass & garnish with a maraschino cherry) later this week: 

  • 40 ml Wild Turkey Rye (or another quality rye whisky such as Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond)
  • 20 ml sweet vermouth 
  • Dash of angostura bitters 

BBS tends to drink whisky straight up but it's impossible to ignore the fact that the rapid rise of bourbon in the UK has been fuelled by the willingness of bartenders and home enthusiasts to experiment with bourbon in cocktails (in contrast to Scotch whisky, with the notable exception of the Penicillin). This can only be a positive development and we'll be organising a BBS night soon to celebrate bourbon cocktails. Stay tuned for details.

 

America Beyond Bourbon

Word by The Whisky Pilgrim

The Whisky Show is one of my favourite events in the calendar. Two days (or three if you’re lucky enough to be press/trade) of doing your worst at over six-hundred bottles of the best aqua vitae the world can distil and mature. A chance to meet like-minded whiskyphiles, taste ‘unicorn’ bottles I’d never normally get close to affording – if I could even find them, and to learn from the Masters in sessions such as the Four Roses tasting described here.

Over the long weekend I certainly got my money’s worth. Besides Brent Elliott’s finest I made my way through a smidge over 150 pours all told, most of them completely new to me. I tried whiskies from fourteen countries, of every creed and colour available. From storied Scottish Single Malts, to brand new kit from the frozen North of Sweden. I was bowled over by Dutch Rye, delighted by French malt matured in local oak, stunned by the full Kavalan Solist flight and seriously impressed by a Finnish 10yo. And of course I took a look at the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. Out of respect.

But what really stuck in the mind, as I went back through my ‘hit list’ from the show a few days later, was the quality of American whiskey beyond the traditional bourbon and rye. These were the pours I couldn’t get out of my head; the bottles I was still mulling over on the train home, and indeed still am now as I type. Not necessarily because they were the picks of the show – as far as I was concerned that honour went to the outstanding Boutique-y Whisky table – but because they gave the most pause for thought. 

Let’s start with the malt whiskies. If I say Single Malt to anyone – even a member of the British Bourbon Society – I’d put quite a lot of money on their replying ‘Scotland.’ Some might go further, and point out that Japan has nearly a century’s history of distilling malt whisky. They might reference Kavalan, or Amrut, or Paul John. They might even look closer to home and cite Mackmyra, Penderyn, Bushmills, or the English Whisky Company. But America? Surely not – that’s where we look to for bourbon and rye. For whiskey as whiskey isn’t made anywhere else, and drunk as the proverbial ‘good old boys’ would drink it, in half-lit speakeasies and laid-back saloons. Or indeed by the levee, should the mood take you, and you have a levee convenientlyclose to hand.

Even now, nearly a fifth of the way through the 21st Century, the words ‘Single Malt’ conjure for many an image of elitist gentlemen’s clubs; of be-kilted septuagenarians sipping in silence and damning the eyes of anyone who so much as thinks the word ‘mix.’ Quite the opposite, in fact, of the pictures evoked by American whiskey as we know it. Indeed when I mentioned my experiences of American Single Malt to a whisk(e)y friend last week, his comments were: ‘I love their bourbon. But come on Adam. Single malt’s got to be Scottish.’

What a shame. What an uninformed, blinkered shame. Because when I opened my Whisky Show ‘batting’ with a taste of Westland’s American Oak Single Malt, scales fell from my eyes. This wasn’t cut from some ‘oh, that’s a novelty’ cloth, nor could one patronisingly comment ‘that’s quite nice. Nearly as good as...’ This was serious, serious single malt whiskey, every bit as good as – if not better than – anything else at its price point at the show. Let me put it this way: I didn’t buy a bottle of anything at the end of the Whisky Show. But if I had, it would have been of the Westland American Oak Single Malt.

Unless it had been something from the Corsair range. And here we set aside the category of Single Malt for the time being, and plunge into the category of ‘whatever craziness the nutters can dream up next.’ Corsair describe themselves as ‘whiskey for badasses.’ Yes, well, ok. I mean if that were entirely true, I wouldn’t be drinking it, would I? I’m about as badass as a tellytubby. Earlier in this blog I used the word ‘septuagenarians’ and I didn’t even have to look up the spelling. I’m not a badass – I’m the sort of person who direct debits lunch money to the school bully to save time. Branding aside though, Corsair’s whiskeys are, ostensibly, bloody weird. The lineup at the Whiskey Show alone featured a Quinoa Whiskey, a whiskey distilled from a mash containing hops, a whiskey aged in barrels with pumpkin and spices and a whiskey smoked over three different fuels – peat, cherrywood and beech. Here’s the thing though – they were good. Polarising, I’m sure, in subjective terms, but objectively cracking whiskies. And I loved them – with every sip there was a flavour completely removed from any whisk(e)y I’ve ever tried before. And I’ve tried something like 800 whiskies this year alone. (Sorry if that came out smug...)

And then there was Balcones. Another utterly brilliant single malt, but then corn whiskies a million miles from bourbon. Corn whiskies which aren’t simple and bland, as you might expect without the aid of ‘flavour grains,’ and in which the complexity doesn’t simply come from the casks, but from the depth and quality of the spirit. And, in the case of Brimstone, from basically barbecuing it. I wasn’t making detailed notes on the day – there wouldn’t have been time – but no notes required for Brimstone; I can still taste it now. All I wrote was ‘Holy Shit!’ If you’ve been lucky enough to taste it yourself, I think you’ll understand. If not – go looking.

Just three tables out of an entire show. Just three distilleries of the hundreds and hundreds springing up across America – most completely unknown to British consumers. But each of them is crafting something different, something unique; something that is a new flavour. And just look at Charbay, for example, and the prices consumers will happily pay for their pilsner-distilled whiskey. (On that subject, keep an eye on the blog – things of a Charbay nature may soon be happening. That’s all I’m saying...)

A few caveats, before we get too carried away. Not all of these tiny craft distilleries are going to be making spirits to the level of Westland, of Balcones or of Corsair. Many more will find, by nature of their size and production capacity, that they are only able to charge prohibitive prices, not representative of the quality of their product. This is the brutal nature of so called ‘craft’ distilleries; only the very best survive and expand. And even those that survive, such as the three detailed here, are mostly producing in capacities dwarfed by even the smaller Scottish distilleries.

And before anyone does the terribly boring thing of saying ‘oh Scotland had better watch out’: please. Get some self respect. I, for one, am not in any rush to turn my back on the classics. I’d be stupid to. America can’t make a Clynelish, or a Springbank or an Ardbeg or a Glendronach, the same way Scotland can’t make a Westland, or a Balcones or a Rittenhouse 100 Proof or a George T. Stagg. It’s worth noting that whilst I thought the Westland American Oak was superb, I was left slightly cold by their Sherry Oak; a more blatant attempt to ape a Scotch style of Single Malt. It all comes down to flavours, and not all flavours work.

The point is though, that American Whiskey offers a far wider spectrum of those flavours than most British drinkers realise, even bourbon and rye enthusiasts. At the BBS we embrace all those flavours. It’s just that The British All American Whiskey But Mainly Bourbon If We’re Honest But That’s Just Supply and Exports And Don’t Blame Us Society would be a bit of a mouthful. So over coming months you can expect us to explore this brave and comparatively new world in far greater detail. I’m reminded of a comment I made in my first post on this blog, remarking that America’s flavour spectrum was narrower than that of Scotch. For the time being, I stand by that. But we’ll see. I’d love to be proven wrong.

NAB (NOT A BOURBON) – ageing gracefully at Rum Fest 2016

By @LondonLiquor

As any self-respecting whisky geek knows, ageing whisky in wooden casks profoundly affects its flavour, for better or worse. Tasting the 12 Year Old and 23 Year Old Pappy Van Winkles side-by-side shows just how magical an affect ageing can have. The new Balvenie DCS Chapter 2 release ‘The Influence of Oak’ takes this concept to the next level by exploring the diversity of flavours that whiskies can take on when aged in different types of oak casks for varying periods of time (full write up of this exciting release coming soon!)

But do other spirits benefit from wood ageing? About a year ago, an enthusiastic barman at East London Liquor Co introduced me to a Velier bottling of Caroni 20 Year Old Full Proof rum. Despite never having been a rum drinker (too sweet, too sickly I thought), I was instantly hooked. Twenty years of ageing in tropical weather, first in Trinidad and then Guyana, had produced a phenomenal spirit. Several months of hunting followed until I was able to track down a bottle of 17 Year Old Full Proof Caroni that proved to be every bit as spectacular as its older sibling. A few trips to PortSide Parlour rum bar have followed where I’ve gradually explored a few other rum offerings.

That’s all a convoluted way of explaining why I found myself joining several thousand other excited rum lovers at Earls Court on 23 October 2016 for Rum Fest 2016. First stop was the Berry Bros’ stand for a whistle stop tour of their impressive Penny Blue rum range, ably guided by Eleanor.  The Velier stand then beckoned with a full line-up of Caronis on display.

As Angelo, the Velier representative, explained the sad demise of the Caroni distillery in 2002, we gradually tasted our way through each Caroni. Needless to say, the Caroni 1996 Full Proof Heavy Trinidad, weighing in at a mighty 140.2 proof, was the star of the show. A phenomenal rum that you simply must try in the (unlikely) event you ever see one for sale.

Last but not no means least, we joined Su-Lin at the Angostura stand to try the 1787 15 Year Old. By this point, my palate was slightly fried from so many cask strength Caronis but it nevertheless stood out as an impressively complex and interesting pour.

So, Rum Fest 2016 was a great success. If you are a whisky drinker who’s never taken much of an interest in rums, head down next year and you might well be surprised. If you can’t wait that long, East London Liquor Co still has a tiny amount of Caroni 20 Year Old behind the bar …  

NAB (NOT A BOURBON): A night of peated whisky

By @LondonLiquor

The British Bourbon Society is all about celebrating American whiskies. But, every now and then, we still like a decent scotch … particularly when it’s peated – something rarely seen in American whiskies (with a few notable exceptions).  Enter one of the peatiest Islay whiskies of the lot: Laphraoig.

Last night saw the launch of the Laphroaig #OpinionsWelcome campaign at the Hackney Picturehouse. The idea is simple: tweet your most creative descriptions of Laphroaig to #OpinionsWelcome to see it being projected onto the side of their distillery wall in Islay.  A few of the tamer descriptions included “Like wrestling a doctor in a peat bog” and “Wet Arran jumpers aboard a burning boat bound for bedlam”. Milroy’s stalwart William and I tried our best to win the prize for best description of the night but our entry was cruelly overlooked. Fortunately, the excellent Penicillin cocktails (Sam Ross, we salute you) and liberal quantities of Laphroaig helped get over the disappointment.

Check out the #OpinionsWelcome on Twitter to see how it’s all playing out.  

Texas Legation comes to London

By @LondonLiquor

On 10 October 2016, Berry Bros. & Rudd held a launch event for Texas Legation, an interesting new whisky, at their spectacular building on 3 St. James’ Street. The distillate for Texas Legation was produced and aged by Robert and Jonathan Likarish, who opened IronRoot republic distillery in Texas in 2013, with blending duties being taken on by Berry Bros. ‘nose’ Doug McIvor.

Truth be told, a 12 month aged, 92 proof whisky with a 95% corn / 5% rye mash bill didn’t sound particularly exciting on paper but we were all pleasantly surprised by what was in the glass. As Robert and Jonathan Likarish explained, two factors helped add complexity and depth to the palate of Texas Legation. The first is the extreme summer temperatures in Texas, which ensure that whiskies age faster than in Kentucky. The second is the use of purple, red and yellow corn in the mash bill, rather than yellow corn alone.

Having been impressed by Texas Legation, we moved on to cask strength samples from the Likarish brothers’ US only whisky releases. The 2016 Hubris Vintage was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the standout having won best corn whisky earlier in the year at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. It bore a familial resemblance to Texas Legation but with an amplified palate and finish (no doubt assisted by being served at cask strength).

In short, Texas Legation and IronRoot Republic whiskies are worth seeking out in a bar. Failing that, the British Bourbon Society will try to organise a side-by-side tasting with one of Balcones’ Texas Blue Corn whiskies in the coming months. Watch this space.

Finally, there’s an interesting historical footnote to the Texas Legation collaboration between IronRoot Republic and Berry Bros. Back in 1836, Texas declared independence from Mexico and quickly moved to develop international ties. Texan diplomatic representatives were sent to the UK to open the ‘Texas Legation’. This was located above Berry Bros. shop from 1842 until 1845 when it was shut down following Texas’ decision to join the United States of America. Over 170 years later, we were drinking a Texas whisky on the very same spot. 

BBS takes on Milroy’s Barrel Room (twice in one night)

By @LondonLiquor

Push through the bookcase at the back of Milroy’s of Soho, descend the twisting staircase into the Vault and you might stumble upon the gloomy passage in the far corner that leads into the narrow confines of Milroy’s infamous Barrel Room. The Barrel Room has witnessed all manner of legendary tastings in its time, despite only seating 12 at a push, including the infamous grain to grape champagne & whisky doubleheader hosted by Jolyon to mark his departure to the vineyards of the South France in August.

The British Bourbon Society contributed two more excellent tastings to the Barrel Room’s long list on 4 October 2016 with the able assistance of Adam Spiegel, Sonoma County Distilling Co’s distiller, and Brent Elliott, Four Roses’ distiller.

Sonoma County Distilling Co tasting with Adam Spiegel

Let’s get it out the way early: BBS are fans of Sonoma County. Since the distillery opened in 2010, Adam has made whisky using traditional techniques, such as direct-fired alembic pot distillation, and kept every step of the process in-house, from the mashing and open-top fermentation of grains right through to the American oak barrel aging and bottling.  We visited the distillery located on the outskirts of Santa Rosa in June and saw this for ourselves. The authenticity of Sonoma County’s whiskies stands in sharp contrast to the faux heritage stories peddled by a large number of the whisky/gin/vodka distilleries that have opened across the States and UK in the past five to ten years.

Having established that Sonoma’s whiskies have excellent provenance, how do they actually taste? Adam had brought along bottles from Sonoma’s ever expanding core range for BBS to taste: West of Kentucky Bourbon #1, 2 & 3, Sonoma Rye Whisky and 2nd Chance Wheat Whisky as well as Cherrywood and Black Truffle Rye limited releases. As Adam willingly acknowledges, Sonoma County is not currently releasing particularly old whiskies – the majority have been aged for between one and two years. Despite this, BBS members found the complexity and depth of flavour to be consistently high across the range. The Rye (“great sipper and the ultimate Manhattan whisky”) and West of Kentucky Bourbons were particularly highly rated.

The Black Truffle Rye whisky was the perfect way to round off the tasting: a reassuringly big spicy hit coats the whole mouth before dark truffle notes emerge that linger into a long finish. For the adventurous drinker willing to venture outside of the Scotch/American whisky orthodoxy, this would be an excellent post-dinner dram.

So what did BBS learn? In a crowded marketplace, the quality and craft of Sonoma Whisky really stands out. They aren’t cheap in the UK but well worth trying out. We look forward to seeing how the flavours continue to develop in future Sonoma releases as the barrels age further.

[Postscript: BBS stumbled across Adam Spiegel a few days later at East London Liquor Co where he was distilling a new wheat whisky. The new make spirit was something of a revelation: incredibly rich and creamy, without the acetone notes that can often be found. We’ll be picking up a bottle when this hits the shelf in three years].

Four Roses tasting with Brent Elliott

After a brief intermission, it was time for the second tasting of the night to get underway with Brent Elliott, Four Roses’ Master Distiller. BBS has more than its fair share of Four Roses fanatics, which made the opportunity to hold an impromptu tasting of all 10 recipes of Four Roses, along with the Yellow Label, Small Batch, Single Barrel and 2015/16 Small Batch Limited Edition releases, with Brent impossible to resist.

For the uninitiated, Four Roses uses two different mash bills: the low rye ‘E-Mashbill’ (75% corn, 20% rye & 5% malted barley) and the high rye ‘B-Mashbill’ (60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley). Four Roses produces 10 distinct recipes by combining each mashbill with one of five different yeasts: V (Delicate Frutiness), K (Slight Spice), O (Rich Frutiness), Q (Floral Essence) and F (Herbal Essence). These recipes are distilled separately before being aged in 53 gallon barrels in single-storey warehouses (in contrast to the multi-story set up in place at many other warehouses across Kentucky where the significant heat differential between the different stories can have a significant impact on aging).

As BBS knows all too well, getting hold of single barrel releases of all ten Four Roses recipes is extremely difficult - we’ve been trying to do it for the past year with limited success!  Fortunately, Brent put us out of our misery by bringing along generous samples of all ten recipes. For the low rye E-Mashbill, we were treated to: OESV 12 Year Old, OESF 12 Year Old, OESK 8 year Old, OESQ 7 Year Old, OESO 11 Year Old. For the high rye B-Mashbill, we had: OBSV 11 Year Old, OBSF 7 Year Old, OBSK 6 Year Old, OBSQ 8 Year Old, and OBSO 10 Year Old.

Any cynicism that we may have harboured regarding the impact of the different yeasts on the flavour of the two mash bills quickly evaporated as we tasted our way through the ten samples. There were at least three or four contenders for best of the night but the intensely herbal/floral characteristics of the OESF really stood out and showed why this recipe had become such a favourite on Four Roses’ Single Barrel program.

With 10 different recipes available at various different ages, Brent explained the key role that blending plays across all of Four Roses product. Nearly all of the recipes find their way into the entry-level Yellow Label product, in varying proportions, with smaller number of recipes being used at higher ages for Four Roses’ more premium releases. After tasting the Yellow Label (a veritable bargain at £22), Small Batch (a noticeable step up in quality for £26) and Single Barrel (a single barrel product for around £40 has almost no competitors on the UK market), it was time for the Small Batch Limited Edition face off: 2015 versus 2016. The 2015’s blend of OBSK 16 Year Old, OESK 15 Year Old, OESK 14 Year Old and 11 Year Old OBSV recipes had won nearly every award going in the past year. Could the 2016’s blend of 16 Year Old OESK, 12 Year Old OESO and 12 Year Old OBSV recipes compete?

Yes – in a side-by-side tasting, BBS were divided over whether the 2015 or 2016 edged the victory. Tasting these two whiskies side by side also revealed exactly why limited edition releases are so important. While both were recognisably Four Roses releases, they were very different from each other in emphasising entirely different flavour profiles. We can be thankful that Brent didn’t play it safe with the 2016 release by trying to replicate the 2015 release.

After being joined by Satoko Yoshida, Four Roses’ President & CEO, and Benji Purslow, UK Four Roses’ Ambassador & long-standing friend of BBS, for a final tasting of the 2016 Small Batch Limited Edition, it was closing time at Milroys and the end of a fantastic night of whisky.

Special thanks to Milroy’s of Soho for hosting us and everyone who came along.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Roses Masterclass with Master Distiller Brent Elliott at The Whisky Show

By @WhiskyPilgrim

On Monday 3rd October, BBS Co-Founding Father Ed and I made our way to the Press and Trade day of the annual Whisky Show at Old Billingsgate. (Bourbon purists, please excuse the spelling of ‘whisky’ – their orthography, not mine. I guess ‘The Whisk(e)y Show’ would look clunky...) Keen aqua vitae beans that we are, we were first to arrive, and thus first names on the ‘team sheet’ for the Four Roses Masterclass, led by Master Distiller Brent Elliot.

For anyone even half-interested in brown spirit, the Whisky Show is the number one event on the calendar – and this year delivered once again. I was particularly impressed with the quality of American whiskeys outside the traditional hegemony of bourbon and rye; tables from Westland, Balcones and the mavericks from Corsair have stuck particularly in memory. And of course I indulged my love of all things whisk(e)y from the elsewheres of the globe. One standout was the Millstone 100 Rye from Zuidam in the Netherlands, whose quality should give several American distilleries pause for thought.

Eventually it was Masterclass O’Clock though, and once again Ed and I were first on the scene. In fact we didn’t even wait to be led up, and ended up arriving through a somewhat disused-looking stairway.

Having arrived and taken our seats early, we were able to inspect the samples as they were being poured. ‘On tasting’ were the Four Roses Flagships – Yellow Label, Small Batch and Single Barrel. However the main ‘draw’ of the tasting, besides Brent himself, was a sample of each of the 2015 and 2016 Small Batch Limited Editions. The 2016 was yet to land on British shores, whilst the 2015 was last year crowned ‘World’s Best Bourbon.’ An exciting prospect as a comparison, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Fellow enthusiasts having arrived, Brent introduced himself, and began his talk. The whole thing was a fantastically informal affair – Brent even encouraged people to sip away before he had introduced the individual bourbons, asking only that they save a little bit of each for their ‘moment in the sun.’ Through Herculean effort of willpower I left mine untouched until they were the subjects of discussion, though naturally I took a few courtesy sniffs. Out of respect.

I’ve mentioned here before that Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Edition was the whiskey that encouraged me to start feeling my way around bourbon. But the bottle that really got me serious was a Four Roses Single Barrel a few years, and a few thousand pours, ago. In fact, gun to my head, I’d probably cite Four Roses as my favourite US distillery – though I couldn’t promise I wouldn’t change my mind ten minutes later.

By and large Four Roses make bourbon in a lighter, more fragrant style than many other distilleries. It’s an elegant whiskey, rather than a hulking, brawny sort of thing. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that style.) There is a large gulf in character between each of their three core expressions though, and a lot of that comes down to their yeasts.

One key difference between the outlook of Scottish distillers and that of their American counterparts is the importance they attach to individual yeast strains. To an American distiller, yeast takes on far more importance – and nowhere more so than at Four Roses. In fact they have five different strains which they use in the fermentation of their wash, as well as two different mashbills, with one being significantly higher in rye content than the other. The full details can be seen on their breakdown, depicted at the bottom of this article, but the upshot is that between five yeast strains and two mashbills they are creating bourbon to ten different recipes, and thus have a broad palette to draw upon when practicing their artistry. (See, I did mean ‘palette’ instead of ‘palate’.)

Having sampled the Yellow Label, Small Batch and Single Barrel, it was time for the ‘main event,’ which I am sure was the principle draw for many of those assembled. The good news is that both the 2015 and the 2016 Limited Editions were absolutely delicious, that each had their champions within the room, and that a purchase of either would be money very well spent. (How diplomatic am I?)

That being said, my personal preference was the 2015. I absolutely loved the flavours of the ’16, and it’s possibly a tone or two deeper - but the 2015’s balance is just stunning; a perfect equilibrium of body, alcohol and flavour. Nothing harsh, nothing that burns; every element working in tandem and unison. Bourbon, in short, as bourbon should be. Yum. (Technical tasting term.)

Love of Four Roses significantly deepened from tasting the flight and meeting the maker, I trotted back downstairs and continued doing my duty by the bottles available. The health-conscious will be relieved to know I made full use of the spittoons, though I can’t promise that once or twice something truly special didn’t slip down the right way.

Both Ed and I were thrilled to have attended the masterclass, and I was deeply sorry to have flown off to Bordeaux a couple of days later when several BBS members met up with Brent for a few more pours. The take-home is that we all love Four Roses, and we hope to see more of the people involved very soon. Oh – and do pick up a bottle of that 2016 if you can get your hands on one. I’ve a notion they’ll move pretty quickly...

BBS vs Smooth Ambler. And BBQ. So much BBQ.

Article by WhiskyPilgrim for BBS

Well, September has drawn to a close, and with it a month of quite stupendous British Bourbon Society Tastings. We began in rare style; rating the full Van Winkle range blind after two courses of lobster. Then to our subterranean assault on the Michter’s flight, unicorns and all, in the storied Vaults beneath Milroy’s of Soho. And now, at the time of writing, it is less than twelve hours since our last September hurrah, as a motley crew of Society faithful huddled in an alcove of Bodean’s in Tower Hill, devouring barbecued delicacies by the plateful and turning our attention to Smooth Ambler.

Much like Michter’s, Smooth Ambler is a brand you usually discover once your first steps into American whiskey have already been taken. It’s a West Virginia success story, less than a decade old as a brand, but whose cupboards already groan beneath the weight of accrued silverware, and whose fans – on both side of the pond – are as fervent as any supporters of companies longer in the tooth. I should know – I’m one of them.

I arrived at Bodean’s about half an hour early, to discover that many of those invited had already arrived. Which, in itself, speaks volumes! As with the Michter’s tasting we were thrilled to be joined by one of the wizards behind the whiskey – in this case Master Distiller John Little.

A few words about the brand before we begin. Whilst the Smooth Ambler Distillery itself is pretty much still in short trousers, John and his partners have been releasing whiskey sourced from other distilleries under the name ‘Smooth Ambler Old Scout.’ What’s wonderfully refreshing is that they make no attempt whatsoever to imply through marketing that the whiskey has been made by them. Indeed they’ve made a virtue of the art of independent bottling, long practiced by whiskey companies on both sides of the pond. John also compared it to the wine industry’s négociant business – but for the time being let’s stick to grains!

An aspect of the tasting to which we were all looking forward was the opportunity to try whiskey distilled by Smooth Ambler beside that which they’ve snapped up on their ‘scouting’ trips. We kicked off with their most recognisable product to date; the Old Scout seven year old bourbon, passing it around the table as plates loaded with ribs were plonked down in front of us. To this drinker, at least, the Old Scout seven is one of the best American whiskeys you’ll find in the UK for south of £50. It’s very classic in style, and has amongst the most unctuous, mouth-coating palates you’ll come across for the money.

That richness of palate is partially due to John’s commendable insistence on bottling his whiskeys without chill-filtration. The ins and outs of this process are a science lesson for another day; essentially chill-filtration removes several fatty proteins from a whiskey to prevent it from going cloudy in bottle. The actual cloudiness in no way affects the taste, but uninitiated consumers might be put off by it. Don’t be. Those proteins add layers of velvet texture to your whiskey and therefore are a wonderful, wonderful thing which ought to be left in the bottle at all times. Smooth Ambler do, and it shows in the tasting.

Next up was the Smooth Ambler ‘Yearling.’ I was particularly looking forward to this, as it’s whiskey they’ve distilled themselves. It’s still very young, of course – a wheated bourbon of three years and six months – but there’s already a huge amount going on. John anticipates it being ‘ready’ after about six summers, but is releasing the Yearling so that fans of the distillery can track its progress. Scotch drinkers may know that Glengyle distillery in Campbeltown have been doing the same thing with their whisky for the last few years – and look how well that’s turned out. Safe to say, the BBS will be following the Yearling with no small amount of interest.

As platters of dangerously moreish burnt ends and beef ribs the size of house-bricks materialised in our alcove we moved on to the Old Scout ten year old single barrel bourbon. Which I have to say was my whiskey of the evening. What’s great about the Smooth Ambler range is that its viscosity and depth of flavour mean that the alcohol never gets too hot or unbalanced – and that was never better demonstrated than with the ten. Tasted blind you’d never put it at 55%; layers and layers of flavour coupled with that gorgeous mouthfeel keep the heat perfectly in check. In short – it’s a cracker.

Things got a little bit experimental after that, as John produced a bottle you won’t find on the market (at the moment!) A young blend of wheat and rye, this was one of the most unusual whiskeys any of us had ever tasted, boasting flavours I’d never encountered on a whiskey before in my life. Fascinating stuff – and whilst I can envisage it being a little polarising, it’s one to seek out if and when it’s released, because it really is unique.

As plates of food continued to swoop in our direction I looked at my watch and realised that I’d need to make an early exit if I was to get back to Reading at anywhere close to a reasonable hour. But I’m not an animal – there were two whiskies left in the lineup, and what sort of person would leave them unaccounted for? I nipped to the end of the table for a quick chat with James, from Maverick Drinks, explained the situation and had my glasses charged. The Old Scout American Whiskey is an intriguing blend of juice from Indiana and from Tennessee, whilst the nine year old single barrel rye vied with the ten year old bourbon for my pick of the night. It’s rye on steroids, sourced from a distillery who handles that wonderful grain as well as anyone, and clearly housed in an absolutely tip-top cask.    

I was gutted to be leaving early, of course, missing out on the last course of barbecue, as well as John’s presentation of the rye and the American Whiskey. My own fault for not being a native Londoner I guess. But I was so glad I was able to make it to what was a real highlight of the month, and a flight of whiskies from a company I have come to absolutely love.

I thought about the evening, as I always do, on the long series of tubes and trains and taxis home. They’re rich, fulsome whiskies, are the Smooth Amblers – particularly the Old Scout bourbons, and it’ll be fascinating to see how the Smooth Ambler juice itself stacks up when John deems it to have finally come of age. Expectations, as I say, are high. But in honesty, my contemplations were mostly focussed on the evening itself.

You’d not often go to a flight-tasting of Scotch with a Master Distiller in which fully-loaded plates of ribs and pulled pork (or the Scottish equivalent) were handed round with the bottles. Certainly not when it comes to bottles of the quality we enjoyed last night. That’s not a sneer at Scotland – I drink as much of their kit as I do American, and of course there’s a time and place for taking a nosing glass of whisk(e)y and quietly soaking up every last nuance.

But what’s wonderful about bourbon – about all American whiskey – is that you can have evenings such as that the BBS enjoyed last night. Tasting evenings where there’s no worrying about whether or not you’re capturing every aroma and no arrogant one-upsmanship on the tasting note front. Where there’s no call for forensic dissection, and crucially, no suggestion that the whiskey is the only thing that matters. Last night was about the culture surrounding bourbon as much as it was about the bourbon itself. Lose that, and you gut the drink of so much that is important. Which is why the British Bourbon Society embraces that culture. And will continue to do so.

Many thanks to Bodean’s, Maverick Drinks and particularly Smooth Ambler and John for a fantastic evening. 

BBS does London Cocktail Week

By @LondonLiquor

London Cocktail Week will be running from 3 - 9 October 2016 this year with over 250 bars taking part. Each bar will be offering a £5 signature drink for those wearing a LCW wristband (£10). We've listed below a few of the events that British Bourbon Society will be going out of its way to attend: 

(1)    Buffalo Trace Bourbon Empire (Hackney House, Shoreditch):  Buffalo Trace is back with another great pop-up from Monday to Friday. BBS members only need to know one thing: the 2014, 2015 and 2016 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection releases will be available behind the bar. There's also a whole load of cocktail and bourbon masterclasses going on throughout the week. Check out the website here [www.buffalotrace.co.uk/bourbonempire]

(2)    Woodford Alliance (various locations): Woodford Reserve are putting on ‘The Woodford Alliance’ from Tuesday to Thursday, which brings together six of the world’s best bars from London, Stockholm, New York & Amsterdam. Masterclasses are being held at each event demonstrating how to make a classic serve: the Old Fashioned (a key cocktail in every BBS members arsenal). Masterclass tickets are £15, which includes two drinks & a gift. Find out all the details here [https://drinkup.london/cocktailweek/events/10437/the-woodford-alliance/].

(3)    Milroy's of Soho & The Vault (Greek St):  BBS' unofficial clubhouse will be mixing up two special drinks for the duration of London Cocktail Week. We'll be drinking the Hebrides & Ivory (Kilchoman Machir Bay Scotch whisky, Couer de Genepi, St Germain elderflower liqueur and hopped grapefruit bitters) in Milroy's upstairs and the Liquid Dream (Home made rosemary infused Buffalo Trace bourbon with fresh pear, honey and lemon zest) in The Vault downstairs.

If we've missed any epic bourbon bars or events out, let us know on Twitter or the BBS Facebook group!

Full details are on LCW's website: [https://drinkup.london/cocktailweek/]

BBS takes on the Michter’s range – and another Unicorn hunt

Article by WhiskyPilgrim for BBS

If you’re a Michter’s drinker, chances are you’re into your American whiskey in a fairly sizeable way. That’s not to say it’s ‘cult’ or ‘exclusive’, or even terribly rare (a couple of ‘Unicorns’ aside – but we’ll get to those) but it’s not likely to be the first bourbon or rye you’ll ever encounter. Same way it’d be pretty unusual if your first scotch was a Port Charlotte. They’re not supermarket bourbons, put it that way. You get into American whiskey, and then sooner or later someone recommends Michter’s.

There’s every chance, if you’re in the UK, that the person making that recommendation is a member of the British Bourbon Society. We absolutely love the stuff. On the leaderboard of bottle photos gloatingly uploaded to the Facebook group, Michter’s would rank highly. So when the society’s Founding Fathers announced a tasting of whiskies from across the range, there would have been a lot of excitement anyway. Add to that the revelation that the twenty year old bourbon and twenty-five year old rye were to feature, and ‘fever pitch’ doesn’t quite cover it.

So, on 27th September, a group of Society stalwarts made their way to Milroy’s in Soho, which effectively doubles as ‘British Bourbon Society HQ’. Lurking in the Vaults beneath the shop; a line of ten Michter’s bottles, eager to be put through their paces – school-night be damned.

Through the underground web of bourbon connections spun by the Founding Fathers we were privileged to have on hand not only Matt Magliocco, who is a partner in, and global sales director for, Michter’s – but also Andrea Wilson; one of the alchemists responsible for the liquid we were about to consume. Introductions made, Matt and Andrea talked to us a little bit about Michter’s, both in terms of brand history, and of the whiskies being made today. (It’s ‘Mick’, not ‘Mish’ by the way – and don’t let Andrea hear you say otherwise!)  

There was a notable silence when the floor was opened for questions, and several BBS members had the kind of ‘hungry dog’ expression that says ‘those glasses on the counter are looking pretty tasty.’ Without further ado, the US*1 Small Batch Bourbon was handed round to open the innings. As we tasted, Andrea continued to expand on the brand and whiskies, even handing round a few Michter’s staves for us to examine the char level. She also had a stave from an unnamed ‘other’ distillery, though how she came by that one remained a mystery...

One aspect of the presentations from Andrea and Matt that I think everyone present appreciated was that at no point did they attempt to tell us what aromas or flavours we ‘should’ be picking up. Anyone who has been to a ‘tutored’ tasting before has been given a breakdown of flavours they are seemingly ‘expected’ to find in the whiskey, and frankly there’s not much more annoying. One memorable chap at a scotch festival once grabbed me by the arms, fixed me with a glare, counted down from seven and then bellowed ‘GINGER!’ – but that’s a story for another time. Today we were given the freedom to draw our own conclusions, and for that both Andrea and Matt have my sincere gratitude. More than anything else it expressed a confidence in the whiskey, and a respect for the palates of their consumers. Thanks chaps!

We moved on to the Toasted Barrel Finished Bourbon, and the difference in nose and palate – for a matter of mere weeks in a more charred barrel – is immense. It’s easy to see why this is a bit of a fan favourite from the range. The Single Barrel Rye was our next victim; first in a run of ryes which was completed by the Barrel Strength and then the ten year old. Unicorns aside, this might have been my favourite ‘stretch’ of the evening. Not necessarily for flavour – though all were delicious – but for a demonstration of how profoundly strength and maturity can impact a whiskey. Got to love a bit of comparative tasting, right?

The ten year old rye took us into the territory that many of those present had been waiting for. Whilst the ten year olds aren’t necessarily ‘Unicorns’ per se, you’re still not going to bump into many on the average stroll. What’s one rarity step down from a Unicorn? Would a competent England Football Manager count? Or is that one rarity step up? I digress. The ten year old Michter’s’ are rare – and we were excited to taste them. That’s the take-home.

Once they had been savoured it was time for the grand finale. The twenty year old bourbon and the twenty-five year old rye. Prior to imbibing, Simo, who is Milroy’s’ Commander-in-Chief, announced in no uncertain terms that the twenty-five was the greatest rye he had ever tasted, that it made sliced bread look a bunch of crap, that it was the unquestionable pick of the evening, and that anyone found not in agreement would have a photo placed behind the bar with a ‘do not serve’ notice attached. Or words to that effect.

Which means, I suppose, that I’ll have to get someone else to buy my drinks at Milroy’s in future, because for me the twenty year old bourbon took the laurels. Which isn’t to say the rye wasn’t magnificent – and as ever, opinion was divided amongst the group – but hey: one tastes as one finds. I found the bourbon to be my ‘pick’ for the evening. Sue me. (Please don’t – I can’t afford it.)

Unicorns successfully hunted, we milled around the vaults a little while longer. I was lucky to chat to Andrea for a little while, with the upshot that the Sour Mash and the American Whiskey were added to the little black tasting book. (I’m not even speaking metaphorically – I’m that guy. Sorry.) We then received hugely generous ‘party bags’ – and ‘party bags’ here translates as ‘sports bags loaded with goodies.’ Once again, can’t thank Andrea, Matt and Stefanie (who was representing Speciality Brands) enough for how well they took care of us. Huge thanks also to Simo and the whole Milroy’s team, who remain the BBS’s most favourite people.

Being Reading-based I always have a couple of hours of journey home in which to mull over London-based tastings. So what were my reflections on the Michter’s flight? Well, they’re thought provoking kit. I’m glad I didn’t miss out the Sour Mash or the American Whiskey, because there are some real points of difference there that you won’t easily find in other brands. And that, for me, is the buzz-phrase when it comes to Michter’s. ‘Points of difference.’

They’re not necessarily what you think of when imagining US whiskey. The bourbons tend to be a little leaner and dryer than your standard bourbon; the ryes, interestingly, a little plumper and sweeter than your average rye. Michter’s play their cards pretty close on the mashbill front, but I suspect some explanations lie there, as well as in their extraordinarily low barrel entry strength. I also tended to find that the noses of the Michter’s whiskies were their aces-in-the-hole. (Which takes nothing away from some really excellent palates – and that’s a generality, and not one with which anyone has to agree.)

The word I found myself writing down more often than not was ‘cerebral.’ Now that’s partially attributable to my being a ponce, but I do think it sums up my thoughts on Michter’s quite well. It’s thinking whiskey; interesting whiskey – whiskey that deserves time and attention. With the help of Andrea we were all able to give it that, and I think we were all left eager for the next BBS tasting. I know I was.

Happily, it’s in less than 48 hours.

Bourbon or Scotch? (Both, please).

Bourbon or Scotch? (Both, please).

By @WhiskyPilgrim

I remember being rather irritated when I tasted my first Bourbon. Irritated because, being at that time an inveterate Scotch snob of several years standing, I discovered I rather liked it. ‘Eurgh,’ I proclaimed loudly to the assembled masses – one has to save face when one has spent years proclaiming non-Scotch-whisk(e)y to be gutrot. The day afterwards I bought a bottle. The rest is a mixture of history and current affairs.

Bourbon is growing in Britain. As evidence: this group. And eight years after my aforementioned Eureka moment (Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select if you were wondering) I suppose America bears as much pre-emptive blame for my future liver failure as Scotland does. But when a friend asked me how my experiences with Bourbon differ from my experiences with Scotch, and wasn’t satisfied with ‘they taste different,’ it caused me a bit of head-scratching. The scalp has now been sufficiently raked, so here, for consideration, is my answer.

Bourbon is ‘cooler’. Now I don’t drink whisk(e)y because I want to look cool; the spirit’s not been distilled that could help me on that front. What I mean is that the whole image of Bourbon; the branding, the stories, the way it’s positioned and – to generalise horrendously – its consumer base, is more laid back than that of Scotch. Scotch is still sloughing off the stereotype of decanters in expensive Gentlemen’s clubs. Bourbon’s persona is more ‘anyone, anywhere.’ Which isn’t to say it can’t be every bit as ritzy – just look at the Van Winkle Range. But let me put it this way: tasting Pappy after a burger felt absolutely normal. Tasting, for example, Diageo’s annual Special Releases, in the same setting has probably been rendered illegal by the Scotch Whisky Association

Bourbon, on the whole, also offers better bang-for-your-buck at the value end of the price spectrum than Scotch does. Right now the only whisk(e)y available in the UK for £20 or under which can punch with Buffalo Trace is Jameson’s. Which is, of course, Irish. Between £20 and £30 there are a few Scottish gems, but for the most part the likes of Woodford, Maker’s Mark and Four Roses Small Batch mean the best buys are still American.

Where Scotch takes the laurels, as it does over any nation currently producing whisk(e)y, is on spectrum of flavour.  Which isn’t to say that Bourbon’s, or American whiskey’s generally, is narrow – simply that Scotch’s is gargantuan. In the last year I’ve visited 47 distilleries in Scotland, and tasted whisky from probably over 100. And the difference in flavour between the new-make spirit of someone like Ardbeg compared to someone like Glencadam is extraordinary. And that’s before it’s even gone into casks. Glenfiddich alone have about 75 different cask types maturing in their warehouses. That’s a lot of different flavours – and we haven’t even started vatting or blending. Now, granted, not all of those flavours tick everyone’s boxes – peat is particularly polarising – but if, like me, you like a wide range of whiskies, then Scotland is your most amply provisioned Aladdin’s dunnage warehouse.

Generality alert: Bourbon is almost always sweeter than Scotch; new American oak in a hotter climate tends to do that. There are a few exceptions, like Glenmorangie Milsean, or Glenmorangie Ealanta, or Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or, or...gosh, Glenmorangie actually make a lot of pretty sweet Scotches now I think on it... On the whole though I direct my friends with sweeter teeth towards the juice of the New World. Though ‘sweet’ is probably going too far. Most of the time it’s not much more than ‘off-dry,’ albeit Woodford Reserve Double Oaked is currently looking shiftily at the ground and whistling nonchalantly...

The bottom line is that Scotch and Bourbon are apples and oranges, and by and large it’s pointless doing a comparison. In terms of quality, the pyramids are equally high, though Scotch’s is somewhat bulkier, there being, after all, a lot more Scotch about. As British consumers we’re increasingly well-served in Bourbon availability though; without terribly much effort I’ve tried dozens and dozens this year alone – and I live in Reading.

But then whisk(e)y in general has never been more widely available, or in such a diverse array of national colours. I could drink a whisk(e)y from a different country every day for four weeks without trying anything from Scotland, the USA, Canada, Ireland or Japan. And you know what? They’d be four bloody tasty weeks.

Different does not mean ‘better’, and it does not mean ‘worse’. I’m asked the boring, obvious question about Scotch and Bourbon fairly frequently, and I don’t usually dignify it with an answer. Unless an angry rant counts as an answer. Of course they’re different. Thank God for that. ‘Better’ need not apply. My advice: embrace the lot of them. Just maybe in separate glasses.

Oh – one last thing for the prospective British Bourboneer. It’s James Bond’s most regular pour. Make of that what you will...

BBS meets the Pappy Van Winkle family, blind

Get a bunch of bourbon nuts together and the conversation will inevitably head one way: Pappy Van Winkle … “Pappy 23 is the world’s finest bourbon”, “Van Winkle 13 is the perfect rye whisky”, “Old Rip Van Winkle 10 beats its older brothers”. Even in its post-Stitzel Weller days, the five wheated bourbons and single rye that proudly carry the Van Winkle name but actually emanate from Buffalo Trace’s distillery (except the rye but that’s a story for another day) are the rock stars of American whisk(e)y; every bit as hyped as the Karuizawas and Port Ellens of Japan and Scotland.

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BBS Tasting Night @ All Star Lanes Manchester

“I don’t have to sell my soul” said the Stone Roses in the halcyon days of Manchester’s legendary music scene. Fast forward 20 years and there are some bottles of American whiskey where only a deal with the crown prince of darkness himself would grant the opportunity to try. Of course, Ian Brown was most certainly not referring to high end booze, (he’s tee-total on last check) though I’m sure he’d be no less aghast at the fact that All Star Lanes, Manchester has a bourbon so rare, it’s referred to as a ‘unicorn’. 

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