Forty Creek’s John K. Hall tells the tale of how American bourbon showed Canadian whiskey the way from counterfeit hooch to finely crafted whiskey.
Have Your Pappy and Your Dickel Too
The rise of craft American whiskey now extends beyond the bourbon belt. Here’s the shortlist of major players nationwide.
Admiring the Selection at Lexington's Blue Grass Tavern
Call it the Pappy effect if you want, or just plain business savvy, but most distilleries saw an opportunity in limited, premium bourbons in the early 2000s. At one of Lexington’s best bourbon bars, the Blue Grass Tavern, we laid eyes on some of the absolute best.
Wilderness Trail, Four Roses, Wild Turkey and More
In day three of our Kentucky Bourbon Trail adventure, we check out small (Wilderness Trail) and big (Four Roses, Wild Turkey) distilleries on the way to Lexington — and get to taste something particularly special.
How a next-generation master distiller helped relight the stills
Willett Master Distiller Drew Kulsveen doesn’t have time for bullshit. It’s not something he has to tell anyone. The message shoots from his eyes like a railgun. Even at a relatively young age, it’s clear he’s heard it all before. He talks like someone who’s lost years listening to others dribble on, and worked hard to eradicate the behavior in himself; his speech is terse, verging on curt. You can’t blame him for him ignoring the noise. A lot rides on his shoulders. He and his family worked for years to rebuild the family distillery, which reopened in 2012, and now he’s determined to prove a point.
A full command of bourbon terminology is a necessity when it comes to distinguishing between distilleries and knowing what’s in your glass. We asked employees in the bourbon industry to arm us with a basic vocabulary.
A Roaming Journal of America's Spirit
Bourbon is booming, but only decades ago, it was on a path toward failure. This was most evident in the 1980s, at the height of vodka and big hair, when distilleries in the Bluegrass State were shuttering their doors. They simply couldn’t give bottles away, the same bottles that just a generation before were lining executive conference rooms and hotel bars throughout America. It was by definition an all-American drink, and it was quickly fading. But then in the mid-2000s, distillers realized the atmosphere was changing. Bourbon started coming back. Fast.
This explosion, which continues to grow to this day, raises plenty of questions. What’s fueling the bourbon boom? Is it going to burst, like tech and housing? Are some bottles really worth $5,000, and more importantly, who’s buying them? What makes a bourbon good? The best way to get to the bottom of this was to head to the Bluegrass State, where 95 percent of the world’s bourbon is made, equipped with a few cameras, some notebooks and clean livers for five days on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail — a triangle of distillery tours throughout the state with endpoints at Louisville, Lexington and Bardstown — for many early mornings and late nights drinking and talking with some of the foremost professionals in booze. We came back with five days of fear and loathing on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
A pocket-sized whiskey connoisseur
Brent Stiefel and Mikael Mossberg didn’t know much about whiskey when they met up for drinks in May of 2011. Like many people navigating an ocean of Scotch and bourbon, they “were intimidated by folks with mustaches”, Stiefel says, but didn’t want to drain their bank accounts by buying every bottle to learn more about what they liked and what they didn’t. Feeling a booze-filled higher calling to drink better (and more), the two began drawing up plans for the ideal whiskey resource they’d been searching for but never found.
Today in Gear we examine, a grill approved for Gauchos, a newly immigrated Irish Whiskey, baseball hats from the ’30s and wireless routers your IT staff will love.
Limited Release, 13-Year-Old Straight Rye Whiskey
Drinking alone gets a bad rap, but there’s having a drink alone and then there’s really drinking alone, getting after it, sitting on a creaky chair the garage with a case of Keystone and no real plans to speak of except to power through it. Be careful with that. But in the first scenario a man reaches beneath his desk around 6:00 p.m., puts The Best of Dean Martin on the phonograph, starts nodding to the music, and pours himself a measure of something good and strong. During a recent six o’clock hour we opened up a bottle of Lock Stock & Barrel ($118) straight rye whiskey — and it’s just about as smooth and rich as Dino’s voice.
Not for pancakes
Fall is upon us, and there’s no better way to usher in the cooler months than with a spirit seemingly created in autumn’s honor: Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon ($31). To be clear, we’ve been completely satisfied with the standard Knob Creek 9 Year Straight Bourbon, but expanding whiskey horizons can’t be a bad thing. Still, adding flavoring to a solid whiskey can be a risky endeavor. Did Knob Creek gamble and lose by producing something tantamount to being whacked in the face by a maple syrup bottle, or did they win by creating a real bourbon that hums its own tune?
Same country, new port
Pike Creek Whiskey was available stateside in the 90s. Slow sales soon put the importation experiment to an end, despite a budding cult following. Now, Pernod Ricard is reintroducing the spirit back to select American markets. Unlike typical Canadian whiskies, Pike Creek is finished in Port barrels, and left at the mercy of the elements in unheated warehouses. But is it really a different? Read our full review to find out.
Canadian flag, Caribbean taste
Angel’s Envy’s latest creation, a rye whiskey finished in Caribbean rum barrels, supposes to pair a contrasting set of spirit flavors. We take a few sips and find out for ourselves.
A voyage to Midleton Distillery in Cork County, Ireland
There’s a published sociologist somewhere who said integration is the key to acceptance. Maybe we’re just paraphrasing Costner’s journal in Dances with Wolves. Regardless of who penned it, whisk(e)y makes a convincing case for the theory. Various cultures, united by their admiration of the caramel liquid’s charms, have each honed their own rituals for conjuring the spirit — and we, the imbibing people, have reaped the benefits of these diverse forms of worship.
Irish whiskey is one tradition that many beyond the Emerald Isle scarcely know, despite the island’s profound role in molding the drink into the revered male favorite it has become. But this wasn’t always the case. At the height of its glory, the product of Ireland’s distilleries was once the favored drink of the British empire, and its most notable ambassador, Jameson, was the world’s favorite whiskey. What happened next reads like a lost Dumas manuscript, complete with revolution, religion and economic turmoil all ending in the drink’s unjust imprisonment. The good news for drinkers is that after patiently biding its time for well over a century, the era of Irish whiskey’s redemption is finally arriving, and it’s easy to spot if you know where to look.
De’Longhi Icona Espresso Maker Evoking a feeling of la dolce vita, this high-gloss stainless steel and chrome finished espresso maker has us thinking Italy in the ’50s. Skinny tie, convertibles and all. $250 Stitch Golf Covers Picking your own from a huge selection of merino wool and leather golf head covers won’t make you a…
A stagger on the wild side
For the connoisseur of fine spirits, the dabbler of craft brews, arcane wine regions and exclusive distillations, we’ve got a read that’s a cat of a different feather. Twisted like a mixed metaphor, Alt Whiskeys: Alternative Whiskey Recipes and Distilling Techniques for the Adventurous Craft Distiller ($30) offers the experimenting distiller some whiskey recipes that step past the fringe.
Worth jigging over
Handmade retailing specialist Makers & Brothers teamed up with Jameson on a limited edition-packaging worthy of the whiskey brand’s Select Reserve blend. Since the spirit itself is a combination of pot stilled whiskey and small batch grain whiskey matured in charred oak barrels, creating Irish oak tumblers with charred interiors designed by Irish wood turner…
Our neighbors to the north, unjustly the target of crude jokes involving backwardness, snow and a strange dialect, have another reason for national pride. Whistlepig Straight Rye Whiskey ($70), though distributed by a Vermont label, uses 100% made-in-Canada rye whiskey. Whistlepig departs from the usual American experience of rye as the dominant but not sole…
Lock, Stock and Barrel
Building a barrel? Sounds lame, especially when there’s a million more K-Pop stars waiting to be discovered singing about their hood. Wrong. Hold off on “Gangham Style Dubstep remix” for a few minutes and watch something that really matters for once, you sap. You owe these barrels. After all, this special breed made at Jack…
Hold on to yer' kilts
Preface: When our friends at The Glenlivet invited us to don kilts and drink with them at the Speyside Whisky Festival, we removed our pants straight away. No underwear, no problem. Bring on the haggis, neeps and tatties, whatever that means, we said. We knew too that there were riches to be found in Scotland…
Product of Canada, eh?
Mixing two famous Canadian products such as rye whiskey and maple syrup may seem crazy at first, but the result is far from it. Tap 357 Maple Rye Whiskey is the culmination of a match made in heaven, a perfect blend of various aged rye whiskeys ranging from 3 to 7 years and fresh, “Grade…
For many of us, 101 proof alcohols conjure up fuzzy memories of enflamed shot glasses and, well, not much else. For the now more responsible — and presumably with better taste — the Lawrenceburg, Kentucky distillery famed for its high-proof whiskeys, has released Wild Turkey Rye 81 Proof. Aged for 4–5 years in “alligator” char…
Rockin' good bourbon
In the single barrel bourbon space, the Buffalo Trace Distillery is at the top of our list for their variety of well-made, accessible and just generally great bourbons. Their Blanton’s Bourbon gets most of the shelf space — and for good reason, it’s delicious — but our current single barrel favorites in the Buffalo Trace…
Whiskey for the common connoisseur
In addition to its flagship offering, the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY produces some of our favorite bourbons, including Eagle Rare, Rock Hill Farms and Elmer T. Lee ($28). The latter is a small batch, single barrel bourbon that’s named for the former Master Distiller at Buffalo Trace. Mr. Lee created this bourbon with…
Happy anniversary to the original small batch bourbon
It’s been 20 years since Knob Creek shipped its first batch of bourbon. Back in 1992, terms like “small batch bourbon” and “super-premium” didn’t exist. Knob Creek was instrumental in creating this category, which has since been embraced by numerous brands and millions of whiskey drinkers. And now, after 20 years of success and last…
Your favorite Irish whiskey, now stronger
Redbreast, makers of our favorite pure pot still Irish whiskey, recently launched Redbreast 12 Cask Strength ($65). The new whiskey begins its life as regular Redbreast 12-Year, but instead of being filtered and diluted with water to bring down the proof, the Cask Strength version goes straight into the bottle at a potent 57.7% alcohol…
Whiskey fit for a president
Maybe it’s just our nature to root for the little guy, but man, we sure love small batch bourbons. The industry giants put out some fine products, but it’s the smaller players that take up most of the space on our home bars. Like Jefferson’s ($30), a very small batch, hand-crafted and Kentucky-bred bourbon. Jefferson’s…
When Jack Daniel’s invites you to Las Vegas to try their latest whiskey, you don’t say no. Other than Lynchburg, Tennessee, we can’t think of a more appropriate venue for the launch of a new variety of America’s most iconic spirit. So this intrepid reporter, camera in tow, showed up at the MGM Grand megaplex…
Honey Baked Jack
When it comes to an American spirit, it doesn’t really get any more tried, true and blue than a handle of Old No. 7. So you can imagine our surprise when we unboxed a bottle of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey Whiskey ($22). After getting over the initial shock of the bottle’s packaging that says more…
Making the Best From a Bad Situation
Attaching something like “Snow Phoenix” to the name of an otherwise perfectly good bottle of single malt might lead many to think the master distillers have been reading a bit too much Harry Potter after work. The truth is, this special run is actually the result of disaster caused by record snowfall back in January…