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.
Other than the heat, which us North Carolinians have become quite used to, Friday night’s pig pickin’ at the beer, bourbon, and barbecue festival was a wonderful experience! Once you get into the festival area, you are greeted at the gate by live bluegrass music and pretty girls serving up cold beer, at which point you turn the corner and enter a world of all you can drink and eat. Not a bad way to end a long week in my book!
As for the event Friday night, I really enjoyed the quaint atmosphere. The venue was not overcrowded, yet you never felt alone while traveling from tent to tent. Beautiful bluegrass tunes echoed across the amphitheater while the myriad of barbecue smokers filled the air with flavors of sweet hickory. The true spirit of southern tradition came alive here in Cary, a place so often criticized for its noticeable population of transient yankees. Leave it to beer, bourbon, and barbecue to serve as the great equalizer!
I was quite impressed with the selection of bourbon and beer available for tasting at the festival. Buffalo Trace showed up with their top shelf: Blantons, Eagle Rare, and Buffalo Trace bourbon. Jim Beam and Heaven Hill also had a nice showing of top shelf delights to share with the attendees. From the beer perspective, the big producers were represented, but in no way overshadowed the local breweries. I was back for a refill of the Big Boss Blanco Diablo to enjoy with my barbecue, one of my favorite beers of the evening.
In addition to the great selection of beer and bourbon, there were a few other liquors and cocktails represented at the festival. The most memorable to me were the Patron XO Cafe, which is a very smooth tequila that is mellowed with coffee, and the St. Germains Liqueur, which is a French spirit that is derived from a rare flower. The St. Germains line was by far the longest at the festival, and it was packed with ladies. I can only assume that they were after the refreshing St Germaine Cocktail, which is a real gem! I had one and loved it!
Overall, the event was well planned and very comfortable. We are headed back out on Saturday, but expect it to be much more crowded and hot. My recommendation for anyone planning to go next year is to hit up the Friday night pig pickin’ and then make a game day call whether or not to go back on Saturday.
The Beer, Bourbon, and Barbecue festival in Cary is right around the corner! I don’t know about you, but I cannot think of a better way to spend a Saturday than mingling with good people while enjoying the three essential B’s!
So what should you expect this year? In a nutshell there will be live music, over 60 beers (most locally produced), 40 different bourbons, a Mrs. Bar-B-Que Babe beauty contest (yep, daisy dukes required), a “beer belly” contest, and a lot of really good people looking to have a fantastic time! Plus, if you are really dedicated to enjoyment of the three B’s, a genuine pig pickin is planned for Friday night, which is sure to be a finger-lickin’-good time!
I know there were a few complaints last year about the size of the crowd and the shortage of top-shelf bourbon samples, but Trigger Agency has addressed these head on. They are selling fewer tickets this year and they have added more booths for vendors to serve from. This means that the lucky few who are smart enough to buy tickets now will have a very comfortable and enjoyable experience this year, but those who wait will be SOL!
For your clicking convenience, the link to the main page for the festival is here: Beer, Bourbon, and Barbecue Festival Home Page. Come on out and join us Friday night and Saturday for the fun and festivities! I recommend the VIP ticket if there are any left. Those extra two hours are totally worth the extra change.
As far as I am concerned, Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve (20 year old) is the holy grail of bourbon. There are more expensive bourbons out there, even some that have been aged longer, but none are more elusive. Blake, Shay (a friend of the journal), and I went to Kentucky last year to tour the Bourbon Trail with a goal of obtaining a bottle of the fabled bourbon. Previously we had been unable to find it online or in stores, and had been told supplies were very limited at the distillery. When we arrived at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, it was a rainy day but we were excited to see the tour of this award winning and innovative distillery. We called ahead and made reservations for the hardhat tour, which I highly recommend. On the hardhat tour, you will get to see every step of the distillation and aging process firsthand. From the time the grain arrives at the distillery on the truck, to single barrel bourbon being hand bottled, you get a glimpse at every facet of the bourbon production process.
After a great tour, we enjoyed a delightful tasting of the Buffalo Trace brand bourbon as well as their new Eagle Rare single barrel bourbon and the Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream Liqueur. The Eagle Rare and Buffalo Trace bourbon can be found at most any package store, however, the bourbon cream liqueur can only be bought on sight at the distillery. After the wonderful tasting, we were cut loose on the gift shop which had most of the brands that are owned and produced by the Buffalo Trace distillery proudly displayed. The only thing that we could not find on any of the gift shop shelves was a bottle of the acclaimed Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. When we asked a clerk she said we should check with the bartender in the back. So, in what can only be described as a less than confident manner, we anxiously walked back to the bar tender and asked for the Pappy. With no assurance in his voice, he said he would check in the back and then disappeared behind the rear entrance to the bar area for several minutes. To our delight, he returned saying they had four bottles left, all signed by the current proprietor of the Pappy Van Winkle name, Julian P. Van Winkle, IV. Of course we responded with a “We’ll take ‘em, all of ‘em”. At that moment, Blake, Shay and I each bought a bottle for ourselves and picked up the 4th for a fellow bourbon connoisseur that we knew would truly appreciate it. You could have heard a pin drop in that gift shop as the 20 or so tourists who were waiting on the next tour admired our exit. It was as if we had just cashed in a jackpot in a Mississippi casino and had the world right at our fingertips! Mission accomplished, the trip was a resounding success, highlighted by the fact that we bought the last four bottles of Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve bourbon in existence at the distillery.
We have each been saving our bottles for suitable occasions, each wondering who would be the first to open the stock. I recently bought my first house here in Raleigh and celebrated the occasion with some friends from work. We grilled some steaks and had some beers to christen the new place in style with good food, good company, and good banter. As the party thinned out and only a few of my closest friends remained (Blake, Geoff – another friend of the bourbon journal), the vibe was just right and I decided to uncork the Pappy. I have to say, this bourbon was absolutely worth the wait! Unbelievable complexity unravels on your tongue, a delicate taste that has been developed over 20 years in a barrel reveals immensely intimate flavors of Rich oak with honey and citrus notes chasing each other around in the glass. Add an ice cube and the taste continues to evolve and open up, lightening the taste profile so that you can pick up floral hints, flavors of fig, and as Blake swears, sweet tea! It just keeps giving and giving as it passionately unfolds and develops on your palette. Evolving from the first sip to the last, a truly delightful bourbon. I can see why it is as elusive as it is, and in the words of Farris Buller, “If you have the means, I highly recommend you pick one up”.
I met some friends at a local cigar bar in Raleigh (Havana Deluxe) to kick off a pub crawl for my friend’s bachelor party. Joe drove up from Jacksonville, NC where he lives and works as a USMC 2nd LT based at Camp Lejeune. He and about 10 other Marines stormed Raleigh like the beaches of Iwo Jima, leaving a trail of broken jaws and broken hearts in their wake. Fortunately after a long night of celebration all were present and accounted for.
When Joe told me he was at a cigar bar down town I was surprised not to have heard of it. He had, in fact, stumbled onto a hidden gem. I’m not sure how he found it, but I wouldn’t have had I not been looking for it. A very unassuming entrance with modest signage reading “Havana Deluxe” leads to a dark rich environment. The smell of supple leather and cigar smoke dominate the air. On top of a great atmosphere, they have a pretty solid bourbon selection to choose from as well. I walked in and after exchanging pleasantries with some jarheads, went straight to the humidor to grab an inexpensive cigar and then ordered a Woodford Reserve at the bar. After lighting my cigar, I sat down and took a sip of the Woodford. I had to do a double take at first because I thought I had been given the a different bourbon, but then I realized how much the cigar had changed the taste profile of the Woodfor Reserve. This time, I picked up on a rich caramel sweetness that is typically not present in Woodford Reserve. I enjoyed my Woodford considerably more than I typically do as the taste went from run of the mill to word class.
I in no way consider myself a cigar connoisseur, but I do enjoy a good stogy from time to time, especially when it is accompanying a nice glass of bourbon. When you find yourself at a cigar shop just ask the guy behind the counter to recommend something that goes well with bourbon. Typically clerks at cigars shops are pretty knowledgeable, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy a good cigar. For instance the 2008 cigar of the year was the Casa Magna Colorado Robusto which retails for about $5. When smoking, like drinking, I recommend that you simply find something you like, which does not necessarily have to be what the rest of the world claims to enjoy. It’s always a good idea to try new things but it’s also good to have a baseline to compare from. For the novice, I recommend buying 5-10 different cigars that range from mild to bold in their flavor descriptions, without spending an excessive amount of money because chances are you will not like them all. From those, find level of boldness that suits you the best and next time you are looking at cigars you will know one you like and can ask someone to make a recommend one that is similar. Then start pairing different cigars with different bourbons and see what happens. It is a great way to experience new and exciting flavors every time you drink.
For some reason cigar smoking and drinking bourbon, or dare I say Scotch, just seem to go hand in hand. I don’t know what has given us this impression. Maybe movies or photos from history, but there is some solace in knowing that some important decisions and deals have been made while partaking in these vices. So when you want to sit down with a old friend and solve the worlds problems, grab a couple of stogies from the humidor, leave the watch and the phone where you cant reach them, and keep the bottle handy.
Here at the bourbon journal, we love to blog about the great bourbons that we drink. Some bourbons suit us better than others so they make the cut and end up with an honorable mention on our site. Just to be clear to our readers, we only write about bourbons that we drink, and we aim to drink’em all at least once! That being said, we buy our own bourbon so that we can write about it without bias or influence outside of the regular old enjoyment of it. I might mention getting our hands on a “review bottle” from time to time, but that is only when I want to taste a bourbon before it makes its debut on the store shelves. Any commercially available bourbon that I write about on this blog has been purchased, placed in a brown bag, and carried out of a store, no bells and whistles about it!
The point of this rant is to make sure that you all, my faithful readers, know that you are reading genuine material when you stop by our blog. We don’t sell out to any endorsements and we certainly don’t benefit from any corporate handouts. We love bourbon because it is a down to earth spirit that can be enjoyed by anyone. It would just be a damn shame to disrespect that in any way!
Now that I got that out of the way, I want to let you all know that we are making great progress on our bourbon reviews page. I know it seems like we have been taking our sweet time putting that together, but you should know that my co-editor and I have been busy bees with it for over a month now. Just when we think we got it all figured out, we find a new bourbon or a new idea and it just mixes things all up! It has also been quite a task deciding on the template for our forum, which I think we have pretty much nailed down now. So keep your eyes peeled for bourbon reviews to start popping up on our site soon!
I should start by saying thanks to the good people with the Maker’s Mark ambassador program for hosting the local Raleigh ambassadors at Isaac Hunter’s Oak City Tavern this past Thursday evening. It was a great opportunity to socialize with other bourbonphiles while getting the word out about the Bourbon Journal! We had a unique opportunity to meet the owners of the tavern and hear about its legendary history, which I do not want to spoil for you here. I will at least tell you that the bar itself is made from historic barn wood that was salvaged just before the barn was destroyed for a road expansion project. That alone should tell you that this place is all about preserving history and tradition, which makes it a perfect place for a bourbon meet and greet!
If you have not been to Isaac Hunter’s, you are missing out on one of the most robust bourbon selections that we have seen to date in Raleigh. Most impressively, they have a bottle of the elusive Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection that I spoke so highly about in my post a few weeks ago. While you are there, be sure to take note of the beautiful custom woodwork and see if you can get the bartender to take a second to tell you the story of Mr. Hunter and why his tavern belongs right where it is.
Overall, our trip to Isaac Hunter’s this past Thursday was a great success for the Bourbon Journal. We had a chance to talk with Nikki (the ambassador coach for North Carolina) about the new Maker’s Mark bourbon that is slated to hit the shelves in mid July. Despite our efforts to get her to share a taste from her personal stash, she was not about to let anyone drag her out in the rain to bootleg bourbon out of her trunk! Never-the-less, we should be getting our hands on a review bottle in the next couple of weeks so that we can include it in out first round of bourbon ratings.
So far I have heard good things about the new Maker’s Mark experimental bourbon, code named “Maker’s Mark Profile #51″. Although the idea of mass producing an experimental bourbon is not new for most distillers, Maker’s Mark has managed to resist the temptation for 50 years. I for one hope this departure will prove to be a success for Maker’s Mark and encourage other distillers open up their experimental collections to the general public.
I have lived in Raleigh for about a year now and it didn’t take me long to learn that when you want a good steak, there is only one place to go: The Angus Barn. While the steaks are superb, it’s the overall restaurant experience that keeps me coming back. The Angus Barn is just what it sounds like, a barn; one that just so happens to offer a dining experience unlike any other. From the moment you walk in, it’s five star service, the greeting at the door comes with a genuineness that can not be faked. Every employee carries an air of pride not common even among the epicurean elite. While this blog is about bourbon, it should be noted that the Angus Barn boasts one of the largest wine cellars east of the Mississippi, and they are just as much about quality as quantity when it comes to their wine. They have won the very prestigious and sought after Wine Spectator Award every year since 1989. If you have time I would highly recommend that you ask to go on a cellar tour…you will be glad you did!
Once you have had your fill of steak and wine, maybe even a little creme brulee and espresso if you have the appetite, no trip to the Angus Barn is complete without a trip to the Wild Turkey Lounge. The name says it all… it’s a bourbon haven. Have a seat in one of their oversized leather chairs or love seats. The room is elegantly appointed, the walls adorned with with over 600 Wild Turkey decanturs, the largest private collection in the world. The bourbon list is sufficient, Blanton’s and Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit are among my favorites on the list. There is really no better place to sit down with friends and solve the worlds problems over a glass of bourbon. So next time you find yourself in Raleigh, stop by the Angus Barn for a great steak and an unmatched experience, and be sure to wonder up the the Wild Turkey Lounge for a glass of your favorite bourbon. Don’t forget to grab a free apple, for good luck, on your way out the door (The Angus Barn spends $15,000 annually on apples for its patrons, if thats not the extra mile I don’t know what is).