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THE BOURBON RESOURCE: DECEMBER 2022
We have a group name, big Willet news, holiday meals with bourbon flights
I don’t know why I’ve not announced this, but we have a name for our private pick group. The full name in the Bourbon Resource 32 Staves Society, which we can shorten to 32 Staves Society. (H/T to my friend and reader Sterling for suggesting the name). It’s the group name we’ll use for the paperwork for our picks. If the newsletter keeps growing, I’ll look at developing a logo for merchandise (hats, shirts, glasses).
Sazerac has instituted a complicated system for private picks through its Single Barrel Select Program. Six years ago, I could send an email and get a pick, which led to a Buffalo Trace, 1792 Small Batch, and 1792 Full Proof barrels for our group. Good times. Then, Sazerac changed the system and mandated anyone who wanted a bottle had to log in at a specified time, wait in line, and hope to get a barrel. Not good times. Now, Sazerac has implemented a quarterly raffle that uses a complex system to award points. One point equals one entry into the raffle. The 32 Staves Society has 5 points, and I’m at a loss to explain how we got them. No word on how many barrels will be available per raffle. The first raffle is scheduled for March 2023.
Willett Distillery will spend $93 million to expand its distillery operation, and that’s great Christmas news. Willet makes iconic bourbons, like the Family Reserve and Rye, but also terrific under-the-radar brands, such as Noah’s Mill, Rowan’s Creek, and Kentucky Vintage. Bourbon fans should always celebrate more capacity.
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How hot is too hot? A. Smith Bowman aims to answer that question. The Buffalo Trace-owned distillery announced it would release a 144.5 (WOAH) proof bourbon this month. It’s aged 10 years and retails for $99. I have a bottle of Elijah Craig that’s “only” 139.6 proof, and that’s hella hot. I can’t wait to try the Bowman.
HOLIDAY MEALS WITH BOURBON FLIGHTS
We’re all in the planning stages for holiday and New Year’s meals. Eggnog remains the most popular holiday drink, but don’t tell that to the nearly 14% of us who drink bourbon. We’ll want something a bit more potent for the meal.
So we have two sections here, one that pairs bourbon with common holiday meals and another bourbon-centric dinner that will blow people away. In both cases, I’ve proposed five, one-half-ounce pours. Of course, you can pour as much as you like, but remember, drink responsibly.
The “traditional meals” food comes from surveys that list what Americans like to eat on Christmas. Here’s what I found.
THE TRADITIONAL MEAL:
Meats: Turkey, prime rib, or roast beef
Sides: Stuffing; mashed potatoes; macaroni and cheese, sweet potato
Vegetables: Green beans, corn, glazed carrots
Dessert: Apple or pumpkin pie, sugar cookies, carrot cake
The sides go with anything, so the white or dark meat will determine what you drink. The pairing is similar to wine, with lighter whites with fish or fowl and reds with red meat (that’s simplistic, as my wine friends will remind me, but it’s the general rule).
So if you have turkey, you need lighter, lower-proof bourbons that won’t overpower the dish. I picked this flight, in order, based on their characteristics.
Basil Hayden: This 80-proof product packs in a lot of vanilla and oak. While this is a high-rye bourbon (63/27/10 mash bill), there’s little spice. It’s an easy sipper that compliments any item in the traditional meal. $45 retail.
Michter’s US 1: I’ve always liked the light fruit, honey, and caramel in this bourbon, but reviews tend to be mixed. Some believe it has little character, while others find lots of flavor in this 91.4-proof bourbon. $39.99 retail.
1792 Small Batch: At 93.7 proof, this bourbon has a nice kick of spice with the typical vanilla and caramel bourbon notes. While light, the flavors make it a good buy at $29.99 retail.
Evan Williams Single Barrel: Don’t let the label and price deceive you. The single barrel is just 86.6 proof, but the well-balanced vanilla, oak, and caramel make it one of the best buys on the market at about $30 retail.
Larceny Small Batch: This is a soft, sweet wheated bourbon with notes of honey and citrus, especially orange. At 92 proof, you can sip on this all night, and at under $30 retail, you won’t break the bank.
Beef calls for a big boy flight, one in which the bourbons clock in at more than 100 proof.
Noah’s Mill: I’m glad this bourbon doesn’t get as much as love as it should because that means it’s available. It’s oak, caramel cream, and vanilla easily come through, and it’s not that hot, despite being bottled at 114.4 proof. I find it to be a pleasant sipper. You can read a more detailed review from our friends at Bourbon Obsessed here.
Old Forrester Single Barrel: This is my second favorite OF product, behind the OF 150th Anniversary. The nutty single barrel has huge dark fruit notes (blackberry, cherry) and a little chocolate. Like all of the bourbons on this list it has a thick mouth feel and long finish. The proof varies, but figure at least 130. At $90 retail it’s worth the buy.
Old Grand Dad 114: Many of my bourbon friends laugh when I see a bottle of this bourbon and immediately reach for it. It’s one of the more underrated pours on the market. It’s a blast of thick maple, rye and cinnamon with ample heat that lets you know it means business. Why place this bourbon after one that clocks in at 131 proof? Because it tastes hotter, and I love it. A steal at $35 retail.
Booker’s: This big, deep, rich pour has hints of maple and caramel that come through only after the alcohol gives a swift kick in the nose. Booker’s has different characteristics depending on the batch, so the proof could be anywhere from about 120 to 130 proof. The more alcohol the better, for me anyway. This is a powerful, big drinker that’s perfect with a steak.
Elijah Craig barrel proof: Much like Booker’s, Elijah Craig’s barrel proof contains different alcohol levels, depending on the batch numbers. I have batch B516 --- the second batch (B) of the year, released in May (5) 2016 (16). I pride myself in never putting water or ice in my bourbon but this one broke me like a stubborn muke. The B516 demands ice, which cuts down on heat and brings out the exquisite flavor. Dark cherries, molasses, and chocolate dominate with hints of spice. This finish is as long as that first good kiss you’ve never forgotten.
AN AMAZING HOLIDAY MEAL
I made this for a bourbon dinner at a restaurant. Providing all the recipes would take a lot of space, so if you seem something you like, send me a note and I’ll send you the recipe. The big boy tasting goes great with this:
Appetizer: Bourbon glazed pork ribs with sweet potato puree
Salad: Fried green tomato salad, fried mozzarella, bourbon bacon jam
Fish Course: Bourbon BBQ shrimp and grits with collard greens
Meat Course: Beef tenderloin with bourbon mushroom cream sauce and bacon garlic mashed potatoes
Dessert: Chocolate bread pudding with bourbon vanilla cream
Before you start your meal, you should offer your guests a holiday cocktail. How about a Christmas Kentucky Buck??
CHRISTMAS KENTUCKY BUCK
2 ounces bourbon
1-ounce lemon juice
1-ounce simple or ginger syrup
2 ounces cranberry juice
2 ounces of club soda
Cranberries for garnish
That’s it for this month! Please take a look at our friends at Bourbon Obsessed, which contains a wealth of information and publishes Bourbon Resource reviews.
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Ray Marcano writes and publishes the Bourbon Resource monthly. He’s a bourbon lover and long-time journalist who has worked for some of the country’s largest media brands. He’s the former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists, a two-time Pulitzer juror, and a Fulbright fellow.