A forum for bourbon lovers
Every bourbon enthusiast should maintain a short list of top whiskeys that he or she considers essential to his or her repertoire. An elegant, polished list of your absolute favorites will not only help you provide glowing recommendations for your top bourbons, but will speak volumes to what you value in the character and tradition of a bourbon when discussing amongst fellow bourbon-philes. From the hundreds of recipes available on the market today, the task of selecting your favorite three can seem a bit daunting and narrow. However, we have prepared some genuine Bourbon Journal advice to help guide your quest in building your top shelf line up.
Each bourbon on your list should reflect a different quality or characteristic that you especially value. They shouldn’t all be cut from exactly the same cloth, but rather should represent different regions of the bourbon spectrum that you are particularly fond of. For example, you may enjoy fragrant sipping bourbons, rare small batch bourbons, and bourbons that mix well into your favorite cocktail. Each of these characteristics are going to be represented at their best in different types of bourbon, which means a well rounded collection will certainly be diverse. If you find yourself with a diverse selection, but there are more than 3-5 bourbons in total, try writing a descriptive sentence about each bourbon to help flesh out the subtle idiosyncrasies of each, which may help you narrow your list. The key to this exercise is to avoid using phrases like “notes of”, “hints of” or anything that compares the palette of the bourbon to a fruit. Be metaphorical, and don’t be afraid to be poetic. It’s not a review for an aficionado blog or anything, just a creative way to get you to think about your bourbon as an experience rather than a flavor profile. For example, this is the sentence I came up with to describe Blanton’s:
A distinguished and unique bourbon that is fit to enjoy on the most special of occasions or to help close a deal with a big client who also might know a thing or two about America’s original whiskey.
And this is the sentence that I came up with to describe Maker’s Mark:
Nothing sets off a back porch party on a southern summer night like a 5th of Makers and a bottle of ginger ale; smooth, delicious, and the mark of an interesting conversation just waiting to begin.
The idea here is to capture the experience that you have while enjoying your bourbon without reducing it down to a scientific flavor profile. Access your left brain and think of the things that each sip of that bourbon reminds you of, the rest will be as easy as putting pen to paper.
To balance your selection even further, at least one bourbon should be from “off the beaten path”. This means it should be something that is not so well known by the general population, and most likely, something that you only find in a liquor store on the rarest of occasions. For me, this would be anything that I am genuinely excited to see on a store shelf! In your case, it may just be an old brand that you remember from around the house in your childhood, or a rare variety that that is not sold in the continental US. Regardless, at least one of your top bourbons should be something that only collectors and fellow enthusiasts would recognize. In many ways, this will serve as the true mark of expertise when your list is eventually shared with others.
Lastly, there is nothing wrong with taking a bourbon from the bottom shelf of the liquor store and placing it on your top shelf at home. The great thing about your short list is the fact that it is individual to you. Oftentimes bourbons sell for a higher price just because of the marketing behind them, but at the core, some are no different than an economy brand from the same distiller. I won’t name names, but I have definitely experienced paying $50+ for a bourbon only to find out that the $20 bottle from the same distiller was more pleasant to drink. Also, having an inexpensive entry on your list shows that you are able to find the diamonds in the rough, which is a rare and valuable skill that marks a true connoisseur. Anyone can grab the most expensive thing in the store and call it “best”, but only an expert can pick out a gem from the dusty bottom rack!
All of this being said, I have listed out my current top 5 list for your reference below. Note that even though I list 5, I really only reference a random selection of 3 in conversation.
Blake’s Top Shelf:
- Pappy Van Winkle 20yr Family Reserve
- Noah’s Mill Small Batch Collection
- Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection
- Blanton’s Single Barrel
- Willet Small Batch
As of today, it has been 126 days since my last posting. To all of the wonderful distributors and promoters who have sent us bourbon to review, thank you for your generosity, and thank you for your patience. To all of our wonderful readers, if any are left, I sincerely apologize and I look forward to making it up to you in the forthcoming articles and bourbon reviews.
A lot has happened in the past 3 months, perhaps too much to include in one blog posting. I’ll do my best to recap the highlights (in chronological order): Pruitt and I have both changed day jobs, however I was lucky enough to get to stay in Raleigh. Pruitt’s new job temporarily relocated him to Boston, which has, at the very least, given him the opportunity to get the good bourbon word out to all those “city slickers” up north (no offense if you happen live above the Mason Dixon). The Bourbon Journal BBQ cooking team (Geoff, Shay, Todd, Kevin, and myself) won 1st place in the Cary BBQ Classic for our delicious pulled pork BBQ paired with a Shiver family secret sauce. Geoff, one of my best bourbon buddies, quit his job to go apprentice as a web developer with some of the technical bosses at Groupon. My wife and I celebrated our 1-year anniversary on the beautiful St Simon’s Island, complete with a bottle of Noah’s Mill and a genuine shrimping boat excursion. But most notably, my good old Clemson Tigers pulled it together and won the ACC Championship this year (FINALLY)!
It has been a busy 3 months, but there is no excuse for such a long sabbatical from the Bourbon Journal. I have been working to build momentum by drafting some new bourbon reviews, including Angel’s Envy, Willet, Noah’s Mill, and several variations of the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection. All are phenomenal bourbons that were quite a pleasure to review! I also have a long list of topics that I am very excited to write about.
Just wanted to throw a short post up reminding everyone that the world famous Beer, Bourbon, and Barbecue festival is going to be in Cary this weekend. If you have not yet heard about this wonderful event, check out their website at beerandbourbon.com
This year, we will be entering our very own smoked BBQ pork, baby back ribs, and chicken in the contest! Wish us luck, better yet, come out to support us and maybe even get a taste of our soon-to-be award winning Q!
About 700 miles south of the Bourbon Trail, after you travel through winding mountain roads, dense pine forests, and miles of cotton fields, the Gulf of Mexico snuggles up to West Florida. Drive here and you will certainly find some of our most beautiful beaches, a few coveted coastal islands, and a quaint little place called Dixie County. Like many places that are too small and quirky to attract droves of tourists, one can nearly disappear from the real world and find true peace down at the end of County Road 351. In the little town of Horseshoe Beach, Dixie County’s most treasured secret, you won’t find any fancy restaurants or cute shops; no malls, no traffic lights, not even a stop sign. This is the kind of place where getting a new public access boat ramp is the single largest renovation that the town has undergone in a decade, seriously. People choose to live here because they are tired of living in a changing world and they don’t mind hot, buggy summers. To these people, Horseshoe is life’s little slice of warm, mosquito-infested heaven.
I have been going to Horseshoe for 10 years now. My childhood best friend and his family own a house in Horseshoe, which has been in his family for generations. When we were younger, we would escape to Horseshoe every chance we could get, but nowadays, it only happens about once every two years. A damn shame, I know. This year, we made the long trip from Raleigh to Dixie County for a weekend escape, during which time I realized that this place is the perfect place to write about on our blog. The bourbon culture is all about recognizing those regions of our wonderful country that seem to fade off the beaten path, which is exactly the kind of place that Horseshoe is.
A day in Horseshoe always begins with a trip to The Point where you can breathe in some fresh ocean air and gaze out at one of the most beautiful seascapes you will ever see. There is never a crowd and there is never a rush. Just you, the breeze, and the peaceful Horseshoe Bay for as long as you need it. The Point is also one of the darkest places on earth at night, revealing the thick bands of our Milky Way galaxy like fluffy clouds far up in the sky. During a new moon, if you lie on your back for a few minutes and look up, you will eventually spot a satellite drifting across the sky like a tiny little moon in orbit. But the nights at Horseshoe are full of many, many things, so forgive me for getting ahead of myself here. Back to describing a typical day…
Just as everything begins at The Point, everything eventually goes fishing during its time in Horseshoe. A short ride up the main canal or out the Old Channel will bring you into casting distance of some of the best fishing, scalloping, and marine wildlife spotting in coastal America. Ospreys stand perched on the channel markers while flocks of pelicans scoop up their next meal off the edge of an oyster bar. The sound of cold beer and cut bait echo off the nearby marsh as corks hit the water, dangling fresh bait right next to the mouths of beautiful red fish and speckled trout. About every 30 minutes a boat engine cranks up as the captain heads back out towards the sea for another drift.
But once the sun goes down and the fish have been cleaned and eaten, the back alleys, nooks, and crannies of Horseshoes begin to come alive. Loud 4X4 pickups idle down the main road, making another round at The Point and looking for familiar faces to stop and talk to. The sound of a drum set and an electric guitar reverberate up the side streets as the Steel Bridge band performs a live country rock show at the softball field. It’s right about time to pour a drink and drive the golf cart down to the sand dunes to hear some good music and watch a couple of fist fights. No need to worry about the cops since they probably play in the band anyway. Not to mention, the 35-minute drive from Cross City down to Horseshoe Beach is never worth the trip for one of the two deputies on duty during any given Saturday night. If things get out of hand, the good people of Horseshoe have their own little ways of solving the problem(s), something I hope you and I never have to find out about.
As you can probably gather, I think Horseshoe is truly a wonderful place where people can go to experience a simpler kind of life that we all have the tendency to forget all about. A trip there requires tough skin and a tolerance for bad hygiene, but it all adds up to an experience that is good for your character and necessary for the southern man’s soul. If you are ever lucky enough to find yourself driving through the side roads of this wonderful town, stop by the old marina and tell them you read about them on the Bourbon Journal.
We hit the Bourbon Trail back in April for the second time, which was a long awaited return to our mother ship! Driving through the beautiful countryside filled with rolling pastures, historic tobacco barns, and herds of thoroughbred horses really brought us back to our roots. It is so easy to get caught up in our day-to-day routines, which unfortunately tends to take us away from the modest, simple beginnings that we all came from (in one way or another). I like to think of my trips through Kentucky as both a vacation and a cultural experience that ends up making me feel right at home.
One of our primary goals during this trip, besides betting on horses at the Maker’s Mark Mile, was to visit the historic Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. During our previous trip to bourbon country, we had to miss this landmark facility because of time constraints and blood alcohol levels. But as with most good things, the wait and anticipation only made our experience at Four Roses all the better.
Arriving to the smell of fermenting mash on the backdrop of the 1910 Spanish Mission-Style buildings was like taking a trip back in time. This is one of the very few large distilleries left that has maintained its historical identification, both in the actual buildings that house the distillery, and in the process by which they produce their bourbon. Unlike some of the other mass production distilleries on the Bourbon Trail, Four Roses is truly an authentic facility that has held true to its purpose and roots in the culture of bourbon.
I have to admit, Four Roses was not even in my personal bourbon collection prior to this trip. I had some mental block that prevented me from being able to think of any bourbon with the Four Roses name as the “sipping type”, which has turned out to be my loss. In fact, all Four Roses bourbons (even the “mixin’ types”) are made with extremely high quality and the highest respect for the bourbon tradition. They also produce several top shelf varieties that boast a smoother finish with a richer palette to satisfy those of us who prefer to enjoy bourbon by itself. In either case, if you have any negative pre-disposition towards Four Roses bourbon, I highly encourage you to visit their facility (if possible) and at least give their product another shot at a fair evaluation.
Pruitt and I have stocked up on Four Roses bourbon so that we can taste it and rate it ourselves. Check our Bourbon Reviews page periodically to see what new things we are discovering about these products and the many more that are emerging on the bourbon scene these days.
The discerning taste at the bourbon journal doesn’t just stop at bourbon. Blake and I both love to grill, and through our many experiences cooking over the fire, I would consider our standards pretty high. As such, I have discovered a new grilled bourbon inspired delicacy that I think you all will thoroughly enjoy (recipe included)!
I recently moved to Boston for a new job and am staying with a friend from college, Jamie Bronner. After graduating from Norwich University with a degree in Political Science, Jamie decided to pursue the culinary arts at the Johnson and Whales Culinary School. Needless to say, he has become a fantastic cook! As a “thank you” gift for his hospitality while I look for a place of my own, I bought him a bottle of one of my favorite bourbons, Eagle Rare. Being the culinary expert that he is, Jamie’s mind immediately went to work thinking about how he could turn this gift into something delicious to eat. His incorporation of this spectacular bourbon into a glaze for burgers is the reason I’m writing this post. Among the various items one can cook on the grill, I hold a special place for burgers and can honestly say that Jamie’s bourbon inspired treats are some of the best burgers I have ever had. I have listed the recipe below so that you can try them for yourself. Let me hear back from you (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Bourbon Mustard Glaze
- ½ Stick of Butter
- ¼ Cup of Brown Sugar
- 3 oz Molasses
- 4 oz Maple Syrup
- 3 oz Eagle Rare
- 5 oz Whole Grain Dijon Mustard
- Melt butter in sauce pan
- Whisk in molasses
- Add bourbon and cook off alcohol
- Whisk in maple syrup and mustard
- Cook ingredients on low heat until glaze thickens. Stirring continuously to ensure sugar doesn’t burn.
- Allow glaze to cool
- 2 lbs 80/20 Ground Chuck
- Sliced Sharp White Cheddar Cheese
- 1 Yellow Onion
- 8 Cloves Garlic
- 1½ Tbsp.Chubby’s Blackening Spice
- Chop onion and fold into ground beef
- Mince garlic and fold into ground beef
- Fold Chubby’s Blackening Spice into ground beef
- Form patties and cook to preference.
- While grilling brush glaze onto patties
- Melt on cheddar cheese
- Apply glaze to buns and toast on the grill
- Assemble and enjoy
Not to be confused with any other brewery brandishing the “Carolina” name, Carolina Brewing Company is one of the Triangle’s top breweries. Nestled in an industrial park off of the 55 bypass, this modest brewery supplies fresh, unadulterated beer to most of the restaurants and super markets in the Triangle area. Their motto “Brewers of Tasty Liquids” is not far from the absolute truth, and the omnipresence of their beer in any locally owned food and beverage business is proof of that. If you don’t see Carolina Brewing Company in your favorite area bar, I am sure they will add it if you just ask for it.
The brewery tour is by far one of the best we have been on during Febrewary. Not only is the tour uber-informative, but they give you gratuitous samples of free beer the entire time you are there! No Groupon or drink ticket purchases are necessary at this tour. You just show your I.D., grab a glass, and head for the taps. Our advice: make sure you get a fresh pour right at 1:00 because they turn the taps off after then for about 30 minutes while the tour is taking place. Not to worry though, as soon as the tour is finished, they restart the flow of beer ASAP and happily fill your glasses back up!
During our tour, we were lucky enough to be led through the brewery by one of its owners, Joe. With his laid back, yet detailed oriented approach to brewing, Joe was able to tell us all about the brewing process and even a bit about the history behind their operation. His unique perspective and concise delivery made the tour a very unique and enjoyable experience. Happily answering any question, even at times when other brewers may decline to elaborate out of fear that they are exposing trade secrets, Joe walked us through the brewing process down to what strains of yeast he uses for various beers. We felt as if he was encouraging his audience to go back home and give micro-brewing a try for themselves!
The high level tour specifics are as follows:
- Tour begins at 1:00pm on every Saturday.
- Arrive a few minutes early so that you can acquire a full beer to enjoy during the 30 minute tour.
- No reservation or call ahead is required to participate in the Saturday tour.
- You gotta be 21+ and you can’t bring the kids.
- Location: 140 Thomas Mill Rd. Holly Springs, NC
When you arrive, you’ll walk through the small lobby area where they sell t-shirts, glasses, bottled beer, etc., and into a scene that resembles that of a large house party. Small groups of people will be found chatting, drinking, and enjoying themselves all around the brewery. One of our favorite things about this experience is that you get to peruse around the plant while socializing and drinking your cold beer samples with your new friends. For some, I imagine this doesn’t really make a difference, but we really enjoy getting to drink beer on location where they make the stuff! It is also pretty cool to be surrounded by about 30,000 gallons of CBC goodness and friendly people throughout the affair. The beer and overall tour experience are so authentic, you would think the tap lines were coming straight off of the fermenter tanks. Overall, it is awesome beer, a wonderful tour, and a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon!
I have to briefly interrupt our Febrewary posting series to make a quick plug for the Universal Whisky Experience in Las Vegas next weekend, March 18th – 19th. For those of you who are hearing about this for the first time, it is a huge gathering of connoisseurs, distillers, and collectors that celebrates one simple thing, whiskey! This is where you go to sample everything from the most premium up-and-coming whiskeys to the rarest and most collected whiskeys in the world!
Thanks to some good friends of ours, we have a special discount code for our readers which gets you 15% off of the ticket price! just enter the code “LOH159436” when you are purchasing your tickets and your discount will be automatically applied.
It’s the second Saturday of the month and you find yourself hungover, sitting at the breakfast table, wondering what you’ll get into today. Perhaps you have some friends visiting from out of town or you are looking to show a family member around the local Raleigh scene? Maybe you are just a beer drinking, buzz loving socialite looking for a good deal on something fun to do? Regardless of your motivation, I suggest you make it a point to drag yourself out of bed before noon on a 2nd Saturday and head down to the Big Boss Brewery for the free tour. Trust me, you will not regret waking up “early” on a Saturday for this one! Just head towards downtown Raleigh on Atlantic Avenue until you reach the brewery off of Wicker Drive (just before the Waste Management recycling center).
Between the masses of people and the surplus U.S. Army vehicles parked outside the facility, you really can’t miss this place. It is the largest brewery that we have toured in the Triangle thus far, and no doubt the most popular. My best guess is that there were 300-500 people waiting out in front of the brewery for the Saturday tour when we arrived. Although the line appears long, they move people into the building for beer and tours fairly quick. I am guessing that because of this popularity, they had to stop giving out free samples at some point. Don’t fret though, you only have to pay $1 for each beer that you drink on the tour. If you decide you like their beer, they have a tap room that sells retail pints, growlers, and kegs just upstairs from the main brewery floor.
As for the tour, the staff members all give an excellent walk through of the brewery, accompanied by a very informative talk about the Big Boss brewing process. The tours begin at 2pm, but if you get stuck in the long line out front, it is not a problem. They break everyone out into smaller groups (about 50 people per group) and take each through the tour separately at 15 minute intervals. It takes about 30 minutes to complete the tour, so as always, make sure you have a full glass of beer before your group starts. While on the tour, we took the liberty to look over everything we could inside and out, which was welcomed by the brewery staff. I have listed some “helpful hints” below to make sure you get the most out of your brewery tour experience:
- Show up about 15-20 min before 2 so that you aren’t in the back of the line.
- Bring your ID and at least $3 cash for purchasing samples.
- When you finish your tour, go sit in the back of the U.S. Army truck at the loading dock. Trust me!
- Hungry? Not a problem, they have food vendors set up in the parking lot.
So what is all this Army truck talk about, right? Well that is one of the rather unique portions of the Big Boss tour that you definitely don’t want to miss out on. After you have achieved a nice early afternoon beer buzz, the good people who staff this brewery have been known to take their patrons on a good old fashioned tailgate ride in a real U.S. Army truck! There is no specific agenda for the truck ride, but it is a pretty cool part of the tour.
This is a fantastic brewery tour experience, but it has become rather popular amongst Raleigh locals. Be prepared for a friendly crowd and maybe a little standing in line, but rest assured that it is a wonderful Saturday activity!
Hop on Highway 70 and head North out of Raleigh for about 10 miles until you begin to see the landmark signs for the Angus Barn. There, nestled between old automobile shops and industrial warehouse buildings, you will find the LoneRider Brewing Company. There aren’t any signs, gimmicks, or flashy advertisements. This place is an office, brewery, and bottling plant, plain and simple.
If the bay door on the loading dock is open, you can walk right in to the brewery from there. As you enter the facility, they have a nice little bar set up where you can purchase samples of their fresh brew for a modest price ($3 a pint last time I was there), but if you ask a lineman for a gratis sample, they will most likely oblige. Don’t bother asking for a brewery tour just yet though, the demand for their product has grown faster than their ability to expand so space is a commodity in the main brewery area. If you are really interested in learning about the operation, anyone standing around the tasting room can give you an ear full.
We were able to get a special tour from the good people at LoneRider with a Groupon that we purchased. Mihir, the company’s CFO, took our group behind the scenes to show us where they brew, ferment, and bottle their beer. We trekked through canyons of beer kegs and pallets of 12-packs to witness the elegant operation. To finish the tour off, we enjoyed a freshly bottled Peacemaker west coast pale ale while Mihir gave us some insight to LoneRider’s expansion strategy.
Overall, I would give this tour two thumbs up! The facility is unique, the beer is nothing short of amazing, and the people are very proud to be a part of the process. Until they expand their operation to allow for regular tours again, I highly recommend a trip out to the unique tasting room.