Tales of The Dusty (Part 1) - Old Taylor

Words by The Bourbonator

There is a romance attached to anything old and whiskey is no exception. That point in which a bottle moves into a decade granting it the title of ‘vintage’ or to coin the colloquialism, ‘dusty’ is something that has created a sub-genre within the American whiskey community of which I have fallen for hook, line and sinker. It was a sample of Wild Turkey 8 Year Old 101 from the 1970’s a few years ago that peaked my interest. “This tastes fanstastic” I thought as I pondered why it tasted so far removed from today’s iteration. Though this was no isolated example, many of the bourbons of the 1970’s-mid 90’s I have tasted since have a richness in flavour that coat the palate with a paint roller soaked in butterscotch and now I’m smitten. What’s the point of being in love though if you can’t shout it from the rooftops? Like a Shakespearean play, I’ll be using this blog as my sonnet and regaling you with ‘Tales of the Dusty’ from my balcony in Verona laptop at home.

Part 1: Old Taylor

Old Taylor is a brand that has stood the test of time, changing hands a few times through the decades whilst remaining synonymous with exceptional bourbon. Colonel Edmund Hayes Taylor Jr. was a pioneer of American whiskey. A descendent of two U.S. presidents he had originally pursued banking and political interests before leveraging from his 16 year tenure as Mayor of Frankfort to revitalise a flailing whiskey industry that had little to no confidence from consumers due to lack of regulations around quality. He used his connections within government and the state senate to pass the Bottled-In-Bond-Act of 1897 mandating a higher set of standards that the industry would adhere to. Taylor started and owned seven different distilleries throughout his career, the most successful being the O.F.C. and Carlisle distilleries, the beginners of today’s Buffalo Trace Distillery.

The Old Taylor Distillery, located South of Frankfort was built by E.H. Taylor in 1887 and was known for being the first to produce one million cases of Straight Bourbon whiskey. It later became a showcase for bourbon making in Kentucky with an ornate construction made from limestone with castle-like turrets and beautiful gardens making it a tourist attraction to the public.

Colonel Taylor passed away in 1922 and National Distillers purchased the Old Taylor Distillery in 1935 where they continued to produce there until 1972 when It was sold again to the Jim Beam Corporation.  Beam continued to store and age bourbon in the warehouses there until 1994 when the space was declared surplus and remained empty for many years. After a few failed attempts by outside investors to reopen the now dormant and decaying distillery, it was eventually purchased in 2014 by ‘Peristyle’ who announced plans to restore and reopen the distillery under the name ‘Castle and Key’ whilst employing the first female Master Distiller since prohibition. Marianne Barnes, former Master Taster for Brown-Forman has set to work producing a native Kentucky botanical gin there to be released in 2018 prior to releasing their own Bottled-In-Bond bourbon.

Today, the Old Taylor brand is owned by Sazerac who purchased it from Beam Suntory in 2009 with distillation continuing at Buffalo Trace. The label on the bottles remain relatively unchanged and have retained that nostalgic aesthetic, though each one now comes in a presentation tube that prevents any of these from becoming ‘dusty’ again.

As you can see, whilst the storied history behind the label has remained unchanged, the juice has been subject to the interpretation of three separate distilleries. In my humble opinion, the bourbon was at its best at the original Old Taylor (Castle) distillery operated by National Distillers, exemplifying that  deep caramel and maple sweetness that causes even the hardened bourbon drinker to go weak at the knees. This was released at 86,  bonded 100 and a rare 101 proof all with an age statement of 6 years but as was typical of the glut era would contain distillate above its years.

If you find yourself in the boondocks of some far flung US town and stumble into a liquor store stuck in time with no access to the internet, look for those yellow labels, turn the bottle on its head and look for the year, is it pre-1994? Then look at the back label and locate the first 5 digits above the barcode, does it read ‘86259? If not, is there a distillery code DSP-KY-19 on the front label? If you can check off any one of these, it’s pretty much guaranteed that what you have in your hands is juice from the National Distillers era. Then buy a lottery ticket and make sure you’re not struck by lightning when you step outside.

 

BBS & FEW Barrel Pick Artwork

A FEW weeks ago, BBS picked its first ever Single Barrel Release. You can read about that here.

A special bourbon deserves a special bottle so we got straight to work designing a unique label to celebrate this BBS milestone. We'll leave you to judge how it worked out.

We hope you're all as excited as we are - stay tuned for further details of BBS Release One over the next few weeks! One thing we can say is that this bottle is going to be incredibly limited, with the barrel expected to yield around 100 Cask Strength bottles. We know that not everyone will be able to get one, but don't worry, we're confident you'll be able to try it at our launch event(s) later this year.

The first ever British Bourbon Society single barrel has been chosen!

Words by @WhiskyPilgrim

I promise we didn’t deliberately just pick the booziest one.

So there we are in Milroy’s, doing our best sardine-tin impersonation in their upstairs tasting room. To my left, @The_Bourbonator is using a mixture of trickery and bullying to convince @london_liquor that Sample Four is the best. To my right, Simo, commander-in-chief at Milroy’s, is shouting “drown it in water!” (The bourbon, not @london_liquor, and that’s actually a good tip for seeing if a cask is flawed or not.) In front of me, speckling the table like spots on a pubescent teenager’s face, 28 Glencairns at varying degrees of emptiness.

Tableaux like this have probably framed most of the moments on which the world has turned. I imagine Apple being founded under similar circumstances. You know they were at it at Yalta. Doubtless when King John signed Magna Carta there was some baron or other in the background bellowing for the head of whoever put water in his mead.

This particular moment possibly won’t be studied by 11 year olds in 800 years time. But it nonetheless represents the most significant step for the British Bourbon Society since its founding, almost a year ago. The achievement, in fact, of the society’s primary raison d’être. (Pardon my French.) The selection of the first BBS cask of bourbon.

Huge amounts of time and effort went towards this culmination. (None, I hasten to add, from me.) Through the Society’s growing network of contacts, feelers had been put out to look into acquiring a cask for some time, and Paul Hletko, the man behind F.E.W spirits, was generous enough to offer samples. Which brings us back to Milroy’s, and the small bottles of cask strength bourbon around which we were so eagerly gathered.

But first, a brief look at F.E.W itself. The distillery opened in 2011 in Evanston, Illinois, just North of Chicago. That’s more or less the heart of the historical Temperance movement, but Paul insists that the name F.E.W has nothing to do with the initials of Frances Elizabeth Willard; a local to the area and a leading Temperance figure.

F.E.W is a central part of the revolution of whiskey distilleries springing up across America. In fact Paul is now Board President of the American Craft Spirits Association. Brand ambassador John, who was talking us through the company and samples, emphasised the grain-to-glass nature of the distillery. Everything happens on site; small-scale, labour-of-love stuff. From the individual yeast strains (Belgian beer for the bourbon, red wine for other products) to the ever-so-slightly wider cut, everything seems geared towards making a product with a unique and idiosyncratic flavour. Which has to be applauded. And which makes it, in my opinion, a perfect first whiskey for the BBS to bottle.

John took us through the flagship bourbon and a couple of ryes whilst we waited for the last couple of tasters to arrive. (I know – who turns up late for something like this?) At 8pm we got through to Paul himself via skype to offer our thanks and so that he could talk us though the barrel selection.

And then the main event. @MCRBourbon was standing by somewhere in the North West, samples prepped and ready to go, and without further ado we cracked on ourselves. Initially the plan had been to scribble some scores for each and tot them up at the end, but in the event it felt simpler and more natural to just talk through our thoughts and hopefully reach some consensus.

So how were they?

Sample One, at 61% ABV, felt a little unready. Intense; no slouch in jumping out of the glass, but the cereals felt a little farmyardy and over-prominent, the spirit a little meaty. It’s still an adolescent – needs a bit more time in the barrel to knit itself together.

Sample Two we loved at first sniff. 61.7% ABV, but of all four samples, this one took the alcohol best in its stride. Sweet, balanced and full of lovely caramels and sugars, just edging towards something floral. Cask strength on its best behaviour; heat really dialled back and controlled by flavour and body. Crowd-pleasing in the sense of being a high-proof bourbon you could pour to a newcomer, confident it wouldn’t be met with a wince.

Alcohol jumped upwards for the next one – to 64.2% - and it showed. Sample Three was quite enigmatic. Lots of floral character, with some of Sample One’s cereals returning too. There was certainly a lot to like – but nothing defining really screamed out “pick me, pick me.” Whilst I know I preferred it to Sample One, it still feels the least memorable of the tasting. 

And then there was Sample Four. Biggest of the lot, at 64.5%, but more significantly the biggest by far on flavour. The booze did really wallop you on the nose to begin with, but that died back after a moment or two, after which wonderful things happened. By far the most rye-forward; real firmness and definition of spicy grain, but then layers and layers of deep dark chocolate and caramel and oak. An absolute stunner.

When it came to voting there was an overwhelming favourite, and no prizes for guessing which. Definite honourable mention to Sample Two – shame we’re not taking both! – but all but one of us voted Sample Four as our pick. The first British Bourbon Society Barrel had been chosen.

There’s more work to do. Label designs are flying back and forth, then of course bottling and the small matter of shipping those bottles to the UK needs to happen. But the wheels are in motion. Pretty soon 150 or so lucky people will be charging their Glencairns with BBS-label F.E.W. Cask strength, naturally. We’ll keep you updated.

And hopefully this is just the beginning. After the tasting a lot of the talk surrounded “which distillery next?” ... “who would you most want a barrel from?” ... “there’s still some of that sample left – can I take it?” (That last one was me.) At any rate, it seems certain that at some point in the unseen but imminent future we’ll be back at Milroy’s in pursuit of BBS Bourbon the Second.

in the meantime, it’s fair to say that we’re pretty chuffed with Number One. Hopefully you will be too. Like I say, we didn’t pick the booziest on purpose. But it’s nice when things work out.

Massive thanks to Paul Hletko and the whole F.E.W team. Also to John Young, Michael Vachon and James Goggin.

@britishbourbonsociety @whiskybunker @london_liquor @barrelproofandy @the_bourbonator @mcrbourbon @edkinguk 

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!

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.

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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BBS Tasting Night @ JW Steakhouse

There aren’t many bourbon joints that have a bellhop to greet you but then again JW Steakhouse isn't your typical bourbon joint given its huge collection of ultra-rare American whiskies (Pre-Prohibition anyone?). Overlooking Hyde Park, nestled inside the Marriott Hotel, Park Lane, JW Steakhouse is perhaps more typically frequented by the type of oligarch and business elite that can afford to pour Bittertruth 24 Year Old Rye whiskey over their cereal as opposed to a group of bourbon fanatics whose enthusiasm far exceeds their bank balance!

Karina Elias, the beverage manager for JW Steakhouse, nevertheless kindly invited BBS to sample their recently liberated Jim Beam Single Barrel pick and we were immediately put at ease. Karina is well known in the industry for her enthusiasm and knowledge of America’s finest spirit, which has led to regular television appearances. After enjoying a pour or two of Jim Beam, the exuberant bar manager proceeded to lead BBS through a blind tasting of interesting American whiskies that none of those in attendance had tried before. Needless to say, a memorable night was had by all and the British Bourbon Society looks forward to returning to JW Steakhouse.

BBS Tasting Night @ Barbecoa

Unbeknownst to many bourbon lovers, St Paul's Cathedral in London forms the backdrop to a carefully concealed caged wall of whiskey fit for a Bluegrass King! How such an incredible collection of American, Scotch and Japanese whisky had managed to fly under the radar for so long is a mystery worthy of its own Dan Brown novel but that all changed once the British Bourbon Society got on the scene for their inaugural tasting event! Barbecoa is rightly known as a top-notch BBQ eatery but, ever since the British Bourbon Society got their grubby mitts on their heavy set whiskey tumblers, Barbecoa is finally getting recognition for its mind-blowing inventory of liquid gold!

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