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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

KDA v. Sazerac – Who Gets To Be On The “Kentucky Bourbon Trail®” Or Public Television?

As more and more people become interested in Bourbon and want to experience the living histories of Kentucky’s Bourbon distilleries, they might visit the “Kentucky Bourbon Trail” website (link here) to plan their visit.
In the course of planning their trip along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, they might wonder why Buffalo Trace, with all of its venerable history, isn’t included on the Trail or the map:

The answer is as simple as understanding that members can benefit from participating in a trade organization.  The Kentucky Distillers’ Association (“KDA”) is a trade organization made up of member distilleries, which traces its roots back to 1880 when distillers banded together to reduce whiskey taxes and to protect the industry.  The group disbanded during Prohibition, but reformed in 1935 to assist with repeal efforts.  According to its website, the KDA is a non-profit organization with a mission “to protect the trade interests of the industry whenever they may be threatened and to handle common problems in a concerted action.”

The KDA created the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in 1999, at a time when the owner of Buffalo Trace, Sazerac Company, Inc., was a member of the KDA.  Anyone who toured Buffalo Trace between 1999 and 2009 might have noticed Kentucky Bourbon Trail trademarked logos and advertisements, and might have even had their Kentucky Bourbon Trail “passport” stamped at Buffalo Trace to memorialize their visit.

This all changed at the end of 2009, however, when Sazerac terminated its membership in the KDA (Click here to view the December 31, 2009 letter) and then, according to a complaint filed by the KDA against Sazerac in April 2010 in federal court in Louisville, it tried to keep using the Kentucky Bourbon Trail trademarks (Click here to view the Complaint).

Trademark protection has been a recurrent theme in Bourbon litigation, and is a frequent subject of my posts.  While many of those cases arose very early in the development of trademark rights, it’s probably indisputable that trademark rights are well-understood by today’s sophisticated corporations, Sazerac included.  Worse for Sazerac, according to court filings, as a KDA member, “Sazerac participated in the creation and development of the KDA’s promotion and tourist attraction, the KENTUCKY BOURBON TRAIL®, including the creation and adoption of the mark ‘KENTUCKY BOURBON TRAIL®.’”  Buffalo Trace was even one of the first members of the KDA’s promotion and tourist attraction.

Between 1999 and 2009, when Buffalo Trace used the KDA’s trademark for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail on its website, it used the standard acknowledgment that the KDA owned the trademarks.  But then, after Sazerac left the KDA, it kept using the Bourbon Trail name albeit slightly revised to “Buffalo Trace Distillery on the Bourbon Trail,” it tried to register that as a trademark (along with a similar trademark for its Tom Moore Distillery), and it even tried to cancel the KDA’s trademarks.

The case never went to trial, and instead the parties settled, so the case was dismissed in November 2011.  While the terms of the settlement were not released (the Order that the parties prepared for the Court stated simply that all claims have “been resolved and settled to the mutual satisfaction of the parties” – Click here to view), a review of today’s Buffalo Trace website can give us a hint about the result:  neither the “Kentucky Bourbon Trail” nor “Buffalo Trace Distillery on the Bourbon Trail” are anywhere to be seen.

If there were any smoldering embers of the dispute between the KDA and Sazerac, they might have been fanned last week when a prominent whiskey writer complained about the new Bourbon documentary which aired on Kentucky Educational Television (“KET”) earlier this month.  The documentary, “Kentucky Bourbon Tales; Distilling the Family Business,” aired to much acclaim.  For those who missed it or are outside of Kentucky, you can find it at this link: Kentucky Bourbon Tales.

Kentucky Bourbon Tales was produced by the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History and was funded by the KDA.  I’ve linked to the Louie B. Nunn Center interviews for other posts, including great information related to Buffalo Trace.

As the subtitle “Distilling the Family Business” indicates, the focus of the documentary is people who grew up distilling and handed down Bourbon tradition generation after generation.  The Beam family (stretched far wider than Beam Suntory), Wild Turkey with Jimmy and Eddie Russell, Heaven Hill (still a privately-owned company), Brown-Forman, Four Roses with nearly 50 years of Jim Rutledge working his way through Seagram’s and finally bringing the brand back to prominence, were all featured. 

Buffalo Trace – which I’ve written about extensively and which I’m personally a big fan of – wasn’t mentioned, nor were two other distilleries owned by Sazerac.  Maybe that was because those distilleries did not fit into the “Distilling the Family Business” framework due to their changes in ownership and lack of family lineage for Master Distillers.  But, of course, since Sazerac voluntarily decided to abandon the KDA, it’s reasonable to conclude that’s why the Sazerac distilleries were not included in a KDA-sponsored production.  Is there a problem with that?

I didn’t think there was anything wrong with excluding a non-member who didn’t pay any dues that would have supported documentary, so I was surprised to read criticism that the documentary hid an “ugly secret” of a “petty commercial dispute,” and even more surprised to read the claim that the KDA was “lying,” and the pronouncement that KET and the University of Kentucky “should be ashamed of themselves for their complicity in this charade.”  So far as I know, Sazerac has not complained about the KET documentary; it’s just coming from one writer.

Sazerac itself probably hasn’t complained because there’s no “secret” (let alone an “ugly” one) about the membership of the KDA, and trademark infringement is no “petty” matter.  I’m not sure that anyone really thinks that Sazerac should have been given the benefit of a production financed by the group that it spurned, and from which, according to the court documents, it tried to appropriate the Bourbon Trail trademark.  Personally, I’m glad that we’re not going down the road of socialized television.  Sazerac is happy to take care of its own marketing, and the KDA is doing a great job for its members.  Let’s just all enjoy our Bourbon in harmony for the New Year, and not root for a Round Two of the KDA v. Sazerac lawsuit.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel & Small Batch 2013 vs. 2014.

I wasn’t sure that I could contribute much on a straight review of any of these Limited Edition Bourbons, especially when one of these competitors was named the Whiskey of the Year last year (the second year in a row that Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch snagged that honor), so I decided to throw them all into the same ring.  But doing that still makes my head spin.  How can I possibly rank these against each other?  Would the acclaim of last year’s 125th Anniversary Small Batch put subconscious pressure on me to rank it highest?  Or maybe I’ll be expecting too much and score that expression too harshly?  Plus, these are all stellar and they’re all bottles that you’d better buy if you luck into an opportunity, but I have to find some way to critique them, right?

Jim Rutledge – who has been the Master Distiller at Four Roses since 1995 but is pushing 50 years of experience since he goes back to the Seagram’s days where he started in Research & Development in Louisville, before moving with Seagram’s to New York and finally to Lawrenceburg, Kentucky – is pretty much a genius.  Jim is the mastermind who finally got the rotgut off the shelves and real Four Roses available again in the U.S., although it took years of his efforts and the demise of Seagram’s before it was a reality.  Plus, Jim is gracious with his time, meticulous with his art, and proud (without arrogance) of the brand he has built.

Now we’re a dozen years into the return, ten years into Four Roses Single Barrel (OBSV), and eight years into the Limited Editions, so just under the wire before 2015, let’s review 2013 and 2014:

Four Roses 2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel Bottle No. 2,206
Age:  11 Years
Recipe:  OESF
ABV:  54.5% (109 proof)
Cost:  $99.99
Total bottles:  7,122

The color of many Four Roses Bourbons is remarkably consistent, and the dark amber with an orange/reddish shimmer of this Limited Edition is no exception.  The nose is big, with dark fruits, cinnamon, vanilla and mint.  The 2014 Single Barrel doesn’t hold back on flavors.  It has the classic flavors of toffee and caramel with fresh orange zest followed by creamy vanilla, pear and cherry pie, leading to a bit of dark chocolate, leather and mint.  There’s a lot going on.  For the finish, the 2014 Single Barrel brings oak, cherries and fresh mint.  This is a true gem to savor and drink neat.

I had my doubts about the OESF recipe.  The lower rye content combined with the “herbal essence” yeast seemed to me like it was bound to underwhelm.  I was about as wrong as I’ve ever been about Bourbon.  Still, out of curiosity, I compared this 2014 Single Barrel to a private barrel of OESF, which was 10 years and 8 months old, and 56.6% ABV.  While the color is essentially the same, the private barrel has more floral and herbal notes both on the nose and in the taste, the fruit is not as rich, and the finish is not as long as the Limited Edition.  Overall it’s comparable, just not in the same league.  It was also a good lesson about Jim Rutledge being able to pick out the honey barrels; you just can’t match that.

Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Single Barrel Bottle No. 2,725
Age:  13 Years
Recipe:  OBSK
ABV:  57.7% (115.4 proof)
Cost:  $79.99
Total bottles:  6,559

I remember really anticipating this Limited Edition Single Barrel because of the combination of the “B” mash bill (higher rye) combined with the “K” yeast strain (slight spice) because I thought it would be a true powerhouse, and word has it that OBSK is one of Jim’s favorites.

Color-wise, there’s nothing significant; it’s the darker amber expected from a 13 year-old Bourbon, with a slight orange/reddish hue.  The nose is restrained but complex.  It has caramel, honey, citrus zest layered in with toasted almonds and mint.  The taste starts with sweet flavors of butterscotch and honey, pear, and banana, along with the richness of dark chocolate and dark fruits, balanced with the powerful spice that I expected to find.  The finish finally brings a little more oak into the picture, along with maple syrup, for a sweeter finish than I expected.  Overall, this was not the pure spicy beast that I expected, and instead it was full of flavors and incredibly well balanced.

Between the two – based on my expectation of the respective recipes – I thought that I would prefer the 2013 LE Single Barrel, but I actually preferred the 2014 LE Single Barrel.  Normally though, I think I will default to the OBSK.

Four Roses 2014 Limited Edition Small Batch Bottle No. 9,224
Recipes:  OBSK (9 years); OBSV (13 years); OESV (12 years); and OBSF (11 years)
ABV:  55.9% (111.8 proof) 
Cost:  $110.00 (gift shop price)
Total bottles:  12,516

After two years of winning “American Whiskey of the Year,” the 2014 Limited Edition Small Batch heaped pressure on Jim Rutledge, and he answered, while not with a “three-peat,” with an excellent Bourbon.  With a deep amber color, without approaching brown, it looks pretty standard.  The nose has caramel, pears and vanilla, noticeable citrus, and never getting drowned out by the scent of alcohol.  The taste follows up with more of the traditional caramel and vanilla, but more prominently features pear and honey for the sweetness, balanced with rye spice, pepper, clove and oak, and then some mint.  The finish is punchier and more oaky than 2013 and is medium length with great warmth.

Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Small Batch Bottle No. 516
Recipes:  OBSV (18 years), OBSK (13 years), OESK (13 years)
ABV:  51.6% (103.2 proof) 
Cost:  $85.00
Total bottles:  12,468

I’ve tasted the 2013 Limited Edition Small Batch blind, and while I scored it very high, I didn’t score it stratospheric, as might be expected.  So in this non-blind comparison, I tried to be especially cautious about not getting swept up in the wave of accolades heaped on this award-winning whiskey, or the magic that is contained in the 18-year OBSV.

The color is standard amber, with good legs in the glass.  The nose is pretty remarkable, though.  It starts with tea, ripe pear, plum, caramel and vanilla, and also has hints of fresh sweet cherries.  The taste follows up in a huge way with the traditional caramel and vanilla, but adds the richness of dark berries and cocoa balanced with rye spice, pepper, leather and oak.  Both the nose and the taste hid the proof, or maybe that’s because this is the lowest proof of the four.  The long finish keeps the same balance has lingering warmth that slowly fades.  It had the longest finish of the four.

As good as the 2014 LE Small Batch is, the 2013 LE Small batch outshines it in every way.  The bar is so high for the Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch, and the 2013 LE is the standard-bearer.

Single Barrel Winner:  2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel
Small Batch Winner:  2013 Limited Edition Small Batch

Bottom Line:

The small batch winner was a no-brainer and the single barrel winner surprised me because I initially focused too much on the respective recipes.  Between these two winners, my ultimate favorite was really difficult to call, in part because they’re so similar.  The color is basically identical, the noses are similar (but I liked the 2014 slightly more), they have similar taste profiles (but the 2014 is a more robust), and the 2013 has the best finish.  I might pick one or the other on any given day depending upon mood.  Both the 2013 LE Small Batch and the 2014 LE Single Barrel are as close as I’ve considered to an outright “5” on my five-point scale.  But at post time, with the chilly December weather, it’s the 2014 single barrel for me.

A normal single barrel probably shouldn’t ever prevail over a fine-tuned small batch.  Except for a true “honey barrel,” a single barrel will almost always have a raw element that can’t be hidden, whereas with the small batch Jim can complement the strengths of certain barrels and mask minor deficiencies in others.  Still – at least over this month’s comparison tastings – I slightly preferred the robust punch of the 2014 Limited Edition Single Barrel over the lighter, perfectly balanced, flavors of the champion.

Should the color really be this identical?        

Scores on The Sipp’n Corn Scale
2014 LE Single Barrel:  4.5+
2013 LE Small Batch:  4.5+
2013 LE Single Barrel:  4.0
2014 LE Small Batch:  3.5

Liquor Barn’s Private Barrel OESF3.5

The Sipp’n Corn Scale™:
1 – Wouldn’t even accept a free drink of it.
2 – Would gladly drink it if someone else was buying.
3 – Glad to include this in my bar.
4 – Excellent bourbon.  Worth the price and I’m sure to always have it in my bar.
5 – Wow.  I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Wathen Family Pokes The 800-Pound Gorilla (The Whiskey Trust).

Members of the Wathen family were whiskey pioneers in Kentucky, but only the basics are written about them.  At most, some writers briefly mention the Wathen family as being part of the early distilling tradition in Kentucky, and some acknowledge the family’s deft maneuvering to succeed during Prohibition by forming the American Medicinal Spirits Company (“AMS”), which was eventually sold to National Distillers.  More often, however, the Wathen family is relegated to mere passing reference (if at all), or incorrect names and dates are given to fill in chronologies in other stories (like Old Grand-Dad or National Distillers), or the name is only recognized through the current Wathen/Medley sourced brands.

In reality, lawsuits spanning over 50 years (ranging from the late 1800’s through the post-Prohibition era) provide an incredible history of family tradition, partially selling out to the Kentucky Distilleries and Warehouse Company (“KDWC” – the Whiskey Trust) and starting over with the next generation, fighting with the KDWC, battling the temperance movement, defending criminal charges, surviving through the genius of AMS, and helping position National Distillers Products Corporation as a behemoth.

There’s actually too much litigation and history for just one post, so here I’m focusing on the sale of J. B. Wathen & Bros. Co. to KDWC in 1899, and the lawsuit that led John Bernard’s (“J. B.”) son, Richard Eugene (“R. E.”), to start his own distilling company, probably with the support of J. B., and immediately poking KDWC in the eye.

But first, to set the stage, the history leading up to 1899 is important.  Henry Hudson Wathen (1756-1851) settled seven miles south of Lebanon, Kentucky in 1788.  Two years later, in 1790, he started a “very small and crude distillery” according to a family history published in a 1905 edition of The Wine and Spirit Bulletin

In 1852, Henry’s youngest son, Richard Bernard Wathen (1815-1880), started his own distillery just about one mile from Henry’s distillery.  Richard, it turned out, became the father of perhaps the most prolific whiskey distiller brothers in American history.

Richard had five sons who eventually worked in the distilling business, the most prolific of whom was John Bernard (“J. B.”) Wathen (1844-1919).  The other brothers were Richard Nicholas (“R. N.”), Martin Athanasius (“M. A.”), William H. (“W. H.”), and John A. (“J. A.”).  In turn, J. B.’s most prolific distilling son was Richard Eugene (“R. E.”) Wathen, although most of his brothers and other sons were also involved in the family business.

J. B. built his first distillery in Lebanon, near his father’s and grandfather’s distilleries, in 1875.  By 1879, J. B. added the first non-Wathen partners to the family business, H. Mueller and Chas. Kobert of Cincinnati.  J. B. sold out of that partnership in 1880, leaving it in the capable hands of his brother, R. N. and J. A., along with Mueller and Kobert.

J. B. sold out because he had bigger plans.  He moved to Louisville and built the J. B. Wathen & Bros. Distillery in 1880 with his brother, W. H.  Their brother M. A. joined them in 1881, and by 1885 the brothers rolled the partnership into a corporation called “J. B. Wathen & Bros. Company.”  The Wathen brothers experienced incredible success and reinvested in the company by installing one of the first continuous column stills in Kentucky and installing steam heat in the warehouses.  J. A. Wathen joined his brothers in 1887 to manage the company.

On April 13, 1899, J. B. sold J. B. Wathen & Bros. Co. to KDWC, but in the meantime, the family’s other distilleries stayed in the family.  “Wathen, Mueller & Co. was still going strong in Marion County and in 1899 J. B.’s brother, M. A., along with J. B.’s son, R. E., purchased the Old Grand-Dad distillery in Hobbs Station. 

After the sale to KDWC, J. A. Wathen stayed with KDWC as an employee.  In a move that must have led to awkward dinner-table discussions, however, J. B. Wathen apparently orchestrated the formation of a new business for his sons – calling it “R. E. Wathen & Co.” after his oldest son (who was only 22 at the time) – to immediately compete with KDWC and to try to use brand names that infringed on the brand names that J. B. had just sold to KDWC.  R. E. Wathen & Co. even employed former J. B. Wathen & Bros. Co. employees, used the office space from which J. B. had run his company, and used J. B.’s equipment.

The primary brands of J. B. Wathen & Bros. Co., which of course were sold to KDWC, were “Ky. Criterion” and “Honeymoon” and the distillery was sometimes known as the “West End Distillery.”  The new R. E. Wathen & Co. called its distillery the “East End Distillery” and promoted its brands as “Ky. Credential” and “Honeycomb.”  As we might expect, KDWC sued and asked for an injunction.

The court’s July 16, 1901 ruling held that these two brands unfairly impinged on the brands just acquired by KDWC, even though consumers were not necessarily deceived

The court noted that federal law had required, since 1892, that the name of the distiller be stamped or burned upon the head of every barrel of distilled spirits (hence the origin of the term “brand name”).  The court also noted that distillers sold their whiskey in barrel lots to wholesalers, then it was sold by “drummers” to retailers, who then sold the whiskey to the public in bottles that did not necessarily include the brand name of the distiller.  KDWC apparently acknowledged that the wholesalers were not misled by the similar names used by the new Wathen company, but in possibly the first extension of brand name rights, the court still enjoined the Wathens from using “Ky. Credential” and “Honeycomb” simply to protect the brand names acquired by KDWC.

 The Wathens were true Kentucky Bourbon pioneers, and like so many of the colorful characters of Bourbon legend, they had a maverick instinct and didn’t shy away from litigation.  This time though, the Whiskey Trust won the fight in court.  However, the Wathen family fought on, and succeeded with Old Grand-Dad and other brands, even thriving during Prohibition.  Stay tuned for future posts about more cases involving this legendary family.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Orphan Barrel Lost Prophet

Lost Prophet is Diageo’s fourth Orphan Barrel brand, a 22 year-old Bourbon distilled at the George T. Stagg Distillery (now Buffalo Trace) and moved for storage to Stitzel-Weller in Louisville, although I cannot find a definitive answer to the question of when or why these barrels were sold to Stitzel-Weller or its subsequent owners, who continued to age Bourbon after distilling ceased there.

However, I think the reason can be put together from the status of the Bourbon industry at the time.  According to the Buffalo Trace timeline (link here), in 1991 employment at the distillery had dwindled to 50 people and the distillery was in danger of closing.  That’s when Lost Prophet was distilled.  As a reminder, lean times had struck the Bourbon industry, but the resurgence was practically around the corner for any distillery that could outlast the downturn.  The George T. Stagg Distillery had been known by several names before Prohibition, and some of my posts about Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. have tracked its progression. 

The distillery was bought in 1920 by Col. Albert B. Blanton where it served as a concentration warehouse and bottling facility for “medicinal” whiskey, and also continued to distill medicinal whiskey.  Schenley bought the distillery in 1933 and developed the Ancient Age brand with Col. Blanton still in charge of the distillery. 

Ancient Age Distilling Co. bought the distillery in late December 1982, and in 1992 the Ancient Age brands, using what is now known as the Buffalo Trace mash bill #2, were sold to Takara Shuzo Co. of Japan, while the distillery itself was sold to Sazerac.  Sazerac developed other brands, eventually including its namesake Buffalo Trace, using a lower-rye mash bill, now known as mash bill #1, while continuing to use mash bill #2 for Blanton’s, Elmer T. Lee, Ancient Age, and others under an agreement with Takara Shuzo.  Given the timing of the distillation, it is not surprising that the Lost Prophet mash bill is similar to what is popularly believed to be the current mash bill #2.

So now through corporate mergers, Diageo has come to own Bourbon distilled at George T. Stagg in the last years before that floundering distillery was saved by the Sazerac turn-around.  Has it been worth the wait?

Orphan Barrel Lost Prophet

George T. Stagg Distillery
Mash Bill:

75-78% corn; 15% rye; 7-10% malted barley
22 years


90.1 proof

$120.00 / 750 mL bottle

Tasting Notes
Disclaimer: Diageo kindly invited me to an event at Stitzel-Weller to sample Lost Prophet for this review, without any strings attached.
Thank you.

Dark amber to old copper.  Much darker than our comparison Barterhouse.

Some oak, but not overpowering.  Dark fruit, honey sweetness, corn, and clove.

This is a full, creamy Bourbon, with a prominent butterscotch flavor, along with rich fruit, vanilla, nuttiness, and a bit of leather.  Like the nose, there’s some oak, but it’s nowhere near overpowering.

Nice finish with similar sweet flavors and smokiness.

Bottom Line

I’ll have to revisit this since it’s risky to review based on a single tasting, and I’ll hold my normal scoring until then.  I’ll also have to compare Lost Prophet one day to the other Orphan Barrel editions, but more interestingly, maybe to Elijah Craig 23.  In the meantime, from the samples provided, Lost Prophet strikes me as the best Orphan Barrel thus far, although the price dampens my enthusiasm.  Still, this one will be worth shelling out the expected retail price, and I’ll start hunting after the release later this week and next week.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – William Heavenhill Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (4th Edition 15-Year Cask Strength)

Despite my relative disappointment with some recent high-priced Bourbon, my resounding praise of Elijah Craig 12-Year Barrel Proof and this year’s Parker’s Heritage Collection (“Original Wheat”) drew me back into the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience to purchase the latest $250.00 extremely limited edition Bourbon from Heaven Hill:  William Heavenhill 15-year Cask Strength.  Like last spring’s Select Stock, this bottle is only available at the gift shop in Bardstown, but a few bottles found their way to Louisville.  Unlike the wheated, Cognac-finished, Select Stock, William Heavenhill uses Heaven Hill’s standard Bourbon mash bill (75% corn; 13% rye; 12% malted barley), and there’s no fancy finishing. 

What sets William Heavenhill apart from Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof (aside from three additional years of aging) is that William Heavenhill was aged in barrels larger than traditional 53-gallon size.  After some inquiries, Heaven Hill gave me exclusive additional information:  they used nine out of thirteen custom-built 65-gallon barrels for this edition of William Heavenhill.  Parker Beam found these custom-made barrels – that were actually built for a different customer – and he was intrigued.  I was also told that the nine selected barrels only produced about 350 bottles, which seems low even for 15 years and cask strength, at least at average evaporation rates, but apparently three of the barrels in particular were extremely low.

Regardless, the real question is probably whether William Heavenhill is materially different when compared to a $55.00 Elijah Craig Barrel Proof?  I certainly wondered, so I opened an Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof from the spring of 2014, which weighed in at a conveniently similar 134.8 proof.  Let’s see if there’s a $200 difference.

Bourbon:        William Heavenhill Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Distillery:        Heaven Hill (distilled in Louisville and aged in Bardstown)

Age:                15 years (in 65-gallon barrels, stored upright)

Proof:             135.6 proof

Cost:               $249.99

Tasting Notes

Dark brown; some of the darkest that I’ve seen.  It’s even darker than Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof, which used to be the darkest Bourbon in my collection.

The nose is similar to Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof, but it has more oak, and more earthy and leather tones too.  It has a nice balance of oak and spice along with caramel and cinnamon apple.  There isn’t as much burn on the nose as might be expected from the high proof, and it has noticeably less burn than the slightly lower proofed Elijah Craig (to be fair, this particular batch of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof has the hottest nose out of all of them to date).

The high proof is evident immediately, but it’s not distracting.  A little air calmed it down too, but it still has a robust blast of complex flavors.  It has the oak and leather from the nose, with an overall dry taste, but much more complexity than I expected.  The taste has fewer similarities compared to Elijah Craig 12 Barrel Proof than with the nose, but it’s clearly still related.  William Heavenhill is creamier than the Elijah Craig and definitely drier, but despite having slightly higher proof, it’s less hot on the tongue.  William Heavenhill also has a unique dry tang of black tea.  This is a remarkable Bourbon.

The finish was really long, and definitely longer than my comparison Elijah Craig, with the same spice, oak and black tea flavors carrying through from the taste.

Bottom Line

With such a limited release and with such a premium price, I would have appreciated more attention to detail on the bottle.  The thick gold wax seal adds a nice touch, although the thickness and density of the wax made the strip really difficult to pull.  The simplicity of the bottle itself makes it attractive, but hand-labeling the warehouse information and bottle number would have been a nice gesture for anyone dropping this kind of cash. 

Regardless, I pay more attention to what’s inside the bottle than its appearances, and inside it is exceptional.  It’s considerably better than my last $250 Heaven Hill purchase (the wheated, Cognac-finished Select Stock).  Unlike that Select Stock, which I didn’t recommend drinking neat, William Heavenhill’s heat doesn’t absolutely require taming.  Instead, much like Elijah Craig Barrel Proof and Parker’s Heritage Collection 8th Ed. Original Wheat, this is a beast that can be enjoyed neat, and then you’d better cut the proof.  Adding differing amounts of water or ice gives a creamier, somewhat sweeter, taste, without sacrificing the finish.

While I really enjoyed William Heavenhill and would love to have a constant supply, I can’t say that it’s worth $200 more than Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, even though I think that this William Heavenhill is much better than my comparison Elijah Craig Barrel Proof.  On the other hand, this edition of William Heavenhill is unique, so I hope you get a chance to try it.  If I didn’t consider value, or if this were priced in the range of the suggested retail prices for many of this fall’s limited edition releases, William Heavenhill would have easily scored a 4.5, and maybe higher.  But I do account for value, so I had to adjust the score to a 3.5.

Thanks to sharp eyes and good fortune of a friend in Savannah, I just learned that Heaven Hill bottled one of its other 65-gallon barrels of the same mash bill 15-year Bourbon (bottled at 131 proof) as a private barrel under the Select Stock label.  This barrel was selected for Bourbon Bar in Atlanta, where the menu indicates a price of $40.00 per pour.  That leaves three more 65-gallon barrels unaccounted for; let the hunt begin.

Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale:  3.5 (4.5+ if not considering price)

The Sipp’n Corn Scale™:
1 – Wouldn’t even accept a free drink of it.
2 – Would gladly drink it if someone else was buying.
3 – Glad to include this in my bar.
4 – Excellent bourbon.  Worth the price and I’m sure to always have it in my bar.
5 – Wow.  I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Bushel & Barrel by Berentzen

As a sure sign that Bourbon (and American Whiskey in the broader sense) is reaching never-before-seen popularity, a German spirits company founded in 1758, and known for its fruit liqueurs, has launched an apple liqueur blend made with Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.  This new spirit is called Bushel & Barrel, and to be clear, it is not Bourbon.  Instead, one of its components is Kentucky Straight Bourbon, and it is classified as a flavored whiskey blend.  I tend to stick to Straight Bourbon where I know the provenance, so this is branching out for me.

As background, while searching for Bourbon (mostly in vain) in Baltimore this past summer, my wife and I found our way to one of the largest Jack Daniels bars in the country:  The Horse You Came In On Saloon.  After pondering whether I really wanted Jack, let alone one of their fruit-infused Jacks, I decided on the apple-infused option, and was surprised to find that I liked it enough to order a second.  No self-respecting Kentuckian will admit much more, and I’m not turning in my Bourbon Card, but Bushel & Barrel came along so I thought I’d revisit this whiskey-and-apple deal.  Plus, I’m so tired of pumpkin trying to take the throne from apple as the true flavor of fall that this review is the least I can do.

Berentzen Bushel & Barrel

60 Proof
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Berentzen Apple Liqueur and neutral spirits.


Berentzen could not disclose the source of its Bourbon under a confidentiality agreement.

$21.99 / 750 mL bottle

Tasting Notes

Disclaimer: Berentzen kindly gave me a sample bottle of its Bushel & Barrel blended Whiskey for this review, without any strings attached. 
Thank you.

Golden with a red hue.  Note:  it has caramel coloring. 

Apples!  This isn’t a spirit with just a hint of apples, but instead apple pie is prominent immediately on the nose.

Apples!  I was relieved that the apples did not taste medicinal or imitation; it tasted like real, honest apples.  There was a slight cider quality as well, but overall the taste evoked thoughts of fresh apples in the fall, apple pie, cinnamon-apple crumb cake, and caramel apples.  Some Bourbon spiciness is there too, but only in a complimentary capacity.

The finish is short and slightly warm with sweetness of apple, caramel and vanilla.  While the Bourbon is still evident, this apple does not bite back.

Bottom Line

I opened this bottle with friends before heading out for the evening.  Between the six of us, we tried it neat, on ice, and in two easy cocktails available on the website, one with ginger ale and the other with cranberry juice, both garnished with fresh slices of a honey crisp apple.  Everyone really enjoyed each variation.  Two of us also tried Bushel & Barrel on ice with an equal part Old Weller Antique 107 in order to get more Bourbon flavor and bite, and that was my personal favorite.

At only 60 proof, Bushel & Barrel is going to seem severely under-proofed to Bourbon fans, and of course using Bushel & Barrel in a cocktail is going to bring the final ABV down to about 10%.  I’d be interested to see if Berentzen blends a second variety at 90 proof, which I think mixologists and fans of American Whiskey might embrace.  On the other hand, this 60-proof version has just enough genuine Bourbon taste that it strikes me as a fantastic introduction to Bourbon, and even in a cocktail, it still has roughly twice the ABV of popular hard apple ciders and apple ales on the market.  So whether spiked up with a high-proof Bourbon, or tamed down in cocktails, I can picture Bushel & Barrel being a part of many Thanksgiving festivities next week.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Coppercraft Distillery

I’ve traveled U.S. 31 all my life.  It runs along the shore of Lake Michigan through my hometown of Muskegon, north to Traverse City, and south through Grand Haven and more beach towns.  It also connects the West Michigan Lakeshore to my current hometown of Louisville, where it splits into two parallel routes, one of which (U.S. 31E), connects Louisville to Bardstown.  Now U.S. 31 has led me north again, to Holland, Michigan and Coppercraft Distillery (, where Bourbon and other American Whiskies are taking root.

Coppercraft would belong on the Bourbon Trail’s Craft Tour if Indiana didn’t separate us.  Walter Catton and Mark Fellwock at Coppercraft started in 2012 with a 350 gallon Vendome copper still, but they soon knew that they needed something bigger.  

This past June, they put a second Vendome still into operation – this time a 750 gallon still they named “Serendipity” because of the good fortune that landed this larger still from a distillery in Washington State. 

The term “craft” has been ruined by some of the large distilleries, but Coppercraft clearly knows what it means.  They source grain from local farmers, their batches are necessarily small, and they’re experimenting with many different mash bills.

Because of the time needed to age whiskey, Coppercraft started with rum, gin, vodka and citrus vodka (none of which I tried).  While those spirits could hit the shelves, Coppercraft was aging whiskeys with a variety of mash bills – a 95% rye whiskey, a 95% wheat whiskey, a 100% corn whiskey, and … thankfully … Bourbon (70% corn, 25% rye and 5% malted barley).  The non-Bourbon whiskies were barreled about one year ago and the initial run of Bourbon was barreled in May 2013.  Late this past summer, the first batches of the rye, wheat whiskey and corn whiskey from the first distillate run were released, while other barrels were reserved for more aging, and while the Bourbon continues to age (until at least May 2015).

Tasting Notes

Disclaimer: Coppercraft kindly gave me sample bottles of its corn whiskey and wheat whiskey for this review, without any strings attached.  Mark Fellwock also spent some time with me to discuss the past two years of Coppercraft and their plans for the future. 
Thank you.

Corn Whiskey
Wheat Whiskey

Mash Bill:
100% corn
95% red wheat; 5% malted barley


9 months
9 months

Used Bourbon barrels
Kelvin Cooperage New Oak; Char Level 3

$35.00 / 375ml
$35.00 / 375ml

Both the corn whiskey and the wheat whiskey had essentially the same color – amber that looked more gold in the light.  The nose of the corn whiskey was (predictably) heavy on corn – strong like a bubbling mash tub – along with pine nuts and just a bit of vanilla, while the nose of the wheat whiskey was remarkably similar, but with just a hint of cereal and fresh bread.  Also, as expected, both of these had the unmistakable nose of young whiskey – a high-pitched blast of corn and pine nuts without the mellowed balance that comes with years of interaction with the barrel.  I recently tried Smooth Ambler’s 1.5 year-old Yearling wheated Bourbon, and its nose was extremely similar to Coppercraft’s wheat whiskey nose.  In fact, if you’ve had the 1.5 year-old Yearling, it has a lot of similarities to Coppercraft’s wheat whiskey all the way around.

The corn whiskey had a distinct taste of raw grain along with moonshine qualities.  The wheat whiskey was more flavorful in comparison, with some sugary sweetness (maybe pink Smarties?) and a softer grain.  Both finished warm and short.  I know some people who love these raw, lightly-aged whiskies, but for my personal preference, I treat it more as being able to follow the progression of a whiskey (and not as an everyday sipper).

I’m glad that Coppercraft is giving these whiskies some age instead of selling unaged whiskey, and I’ll be really interested in these whiskies – and especially the Bourbon – after additional aging.  There isn’t any substitute for real, no-gimmick aging, and thankfully Coppercraft isn’t trying any of those supposed shortcuts.  It takes time and patience for aged whiskies, so stay tuned for more from Coppercraft.