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THE BOURBON RESOURCE: FEBRUARY 2023
Another bourbon scandal, Whiskey awards, a bourbon I ignored and should not have and much more
An investigation into the alleged illegal transportation of premium bourbon has implicated one of the country’s most well-known Bourbon houses. Kentucky authorities raided Justin’s House of Bourbon’s locations in Lexington and Louisville, according to a report by Fred Minnick. This is apparently the first time Kentucky has enforced its vintage liquor law, and that’s made the bourbon community take notice. Enacted in 2017, the law mandates that a licensed retail establishment alert the state when it obtains vintage bottles of spirits. Then there’s this snippet in the Lexington Herald-Leader that Justin’s has a cease-and-desist order from two states for “illegally shipping alcohol.”
Justin’s remains open, but for now, anyway, the “rare and vintage” portion of their website has been taken down.
This is a significant development. We all know how the secondary market works. If local authorities begin to clamp down on shipping, that’ll hurt (not kill) the market and make it harder to get sought-after products. Lots of people are watching this one.
Here we go again. An investigation in Oregon reveals officials there diverted rare bourbons, including the Pappy Van Winkle 23 year, from the state’s lottery, for themselves. These officials used inside knowledge to buy the sought-after products and will now likely lose tier jobs, according to the Associated Press. This falls under the category of, people never learn. The same thing happened in Virginia last year, and the state employees in the scheme got busted. So people will lose their livelihoods all for an overrated (though sought-after) bottle of bourbon. Stupid. But all this lunacy has given me an idea for a March newsletter. We’ll cover bourbons that are just as good, if not better, than Pappy, and you can get them without losing your job or going to jail.
Good news for Buffalo Trace fans. The distillery has a new still that can produce 60,000 gallons of distillate each day and will double production. The distillery is also offering a new 90-minute hard hat tour.
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It’s the time of year when publications and organizations announce their Whiskey Awards. I can’t stand these because this means that these brands will now become more expensive and harder to get as newbies rush out to try to buy them. It’ll become harder to get a reservation at the bars and restaurants these lists salute. This sums up how I feel:
The World Whiskey Awards have named their best bourbons. Connecticut-based Proof and Wood Ventures took two top prizes with bourbon distilled at MGP, which I found fascinating. Not long ago, bourbon drinkers would ridicule sourced products as like trying to pass off eye of round steak as a filet. Now look what’s happened.
The big winners.
World’s Best Bourbon: The Representative Small Batch Bourbon (non-Kentucky) and W.L. Weller CYBP (Kentucky)
World’s Best Single Barrel Bourbon: Tumblin’ Dice Single Barrel Bourbon (non-Kentucky) and the 1792 Single Barrel (Kentucky)
World’s Best Small Batch Bourbon: Filibuster Bourbon (non-Kentucky) and Elijah Craig Barrel Proof C922 (Kentucky)
The Weller CYBP is vastly overrated, but if you can get one at the $50 retail, grab it since it’s worth 10 to 12 times that on the secondary. It’s thin with a middling flavor profile and is a classic example of reputation exceeding quality.
The 1792 Single Barrel is already tough to find on the shelf. It’s $60 retail, and I’ve found them secondary for $90. It’s a solid drinker with lots of vanilla already at the high end of its price point. When it starts getting in the triple digits, forget it.
The Elijah Craig Barrel Proof C922 is a home run that everyone should have. Deep, rich maple and caramel make this a winner and is a great buy at $60 retail that will set up back $90-100 secondary. I just got lucky and purchased a bottle for $100, including shipping. That’s a buy.
The awards contain several other categories, and it’s a good read.
Our friends at Bourbon Obsessed have a distillery tour review of the Copper & Kings distillery in Louisville, which produces several spirits, including two rye whiskies. The comprehensive review looks at the Copper & King distillation methods and its “bottle your own” experience, which is becoming all the rage. Bourbon Obsessed had become the bourbon world’s go-to site for distillery reviews that includes Angle’s Envy, Barton, Buffalo Trace, and many more.
WHAT’S NEW ON MY SHELF
Evan Williams Bottled in Bond
Mash bill: 78% corn, 10%, 12% malt
I admit it. I’m a bourbon snob. I stay away from bottom-shelf stuff because it tends to be wretched ... I mean, well drink during happy hour wretched.
But after making eyes at the Even Williams Bottle in Bond for a long time, I decided to take the plunge. What the hell, it’s worth a try for $15.
Once again, Evan Williams surprised me. While tasting, I had to get the price out of my head. I expected this to be a thin, tasteless product that meshed with the cost, but it’s anything but.
This is packed with flavor. The sweet, sugary nose contains hints of figs and dates. There’s no burn or bite on the palate, and I’d guess people who taste this blind would guess this a 90 proof or below drink. But it has strong notes of vanilla, honey, and brown sugar on the palate. The flavor quickly evaporates due to the short finish. In this case, the short finish isn’t a deal breaker because there’s so much flavor and balance elsewhere.
So this is what I get for being a bourbon snob. This $15 bottle has been under my nose (no pun intended) for years and I ignored it because of the price.
I won’t make that mistake again. You shouldn’t either. This is worth a buy.
NEW FEATURE: BARGAIN BIN
Who doesn’t like a bargain? Starting this month, I’ll briefly highlight one under $20 bottle of bourbon worth a try. Most of these will be lower-proof, but they pack value.
It would be cheating to include the Evan Williams Bottle in Bond, so I’ll start with the:
Heaven Hill White Label, 80 proof, $12: Two things about this Heaven Hill product might surprise you. First, it’s aged 6 years, and you don’t see many products aged that long at this price. It also has a bit of a burn, which you don’t expect for a low proof. While it’s thin, it does have a nice vanilla and nose that carries through to the palate and adds rye. This is one of the better values you’ll find, a solid and very average bourbon that’s drinking nicely. The price makes this a winner.
An easy, simple, and delicious cocktail
1.5 ounces of your favorite bourbon
4 ounces of lemonade
2 slices of lemon
Pour the bourbon and lemonade over ice. Shakes or stir together. Add two thin slices of lemon on the glass. That’s it!
That’s it for this month! If you’re an NBA fan, take a look at the Knicks Film School newsletter, the smartest commentary, and all things the New York Knicks and NBA basketball.
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.