Gratitude!

Recently, I was given a new assignment at work. Whether I like it or not, the occasional organizational transfer is part of my chosen profession. It’s an aspect you grow accustom to, frankly. I spent almost 6 years in my last position, however, it was time to move on to a new and different adventure. To say I enjoyed my tenure in my last assignment would certainly be an understatement. It wasn’t the position, duties, responsibilities or even the nuances of the job that kept things fulfilling, nearly everyday was a completely new experience. It was the incredible and talented people I worked with that made coming to work every day so rewarding. They made the job easy and enjoyable. These fine men and women developed and maintained a culture of professionalism, dedication and accountability that I had not witnessed in my 20+ years on the job. It was hard to say goodbye. Truly!

On my last day, the group threw a “thank you, we’ll miss you” going away party as a means to celebrate our time together. I was extremely thankful and utterly spoiled, to be honest. They not only paid for my lunch but surprised me with several thoughtful gifts. Since my written word lacks sufficient capability to explain my level of gratitude and how wonderful these people are I will simply show you what they gave me.

Knowing I am the Bourboneer and a lover of the brown water, I was pleasantly surprised by a bottle of Hillrock – Solera Aged Bourbon Whiskey. A very delicious and very expensive bottle of bourbon. According to Clay Risen’s review in American Whiskey Bourbon & Rye, Hillrock has a high rye mash bill. “In the solera process, a barrel of aged whiskey is partially emptied and topped off with unaged spirit. After a few years the process is repeated…After a period of aging, the bourbon is “finished” in twenty-year-old Oloroso sherry casks.” I wanted to save the bottle for special occasions but I couldn’t resist, I just had to try a dram. I am glad I did! The nose was dense, filled with dark fruit, maple syrup, sweet tobacco with even a hint of leather. Chewy fig, raisin and notes of caramel and toffee were evident to the palate. So scrumptious!

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If the bourbon wasn’t enough they also gave me a beautiful stainless steel cocktail shaker with a “To the Bourboneer” engraved inscription. Unfortunately in the picture below, I couldn’t capture the inscription successfully. Every attempt to get an effective shot only reflected my phone and fat head in the picture. My apologies.

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Once again, I just want to say it was truly an honor to work with such professional, thoughtful and incredible colleagues. I am a better person for the experience. Thank you!

-The Bourboneer

 

Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Hillrock-Solera Aged Bourbon Whiskey, 46% ABV or 92 proof (NAS) Hillrock Estate Distillery, Ancram, NY.

References: American Whiskey Bourbon & Rye, Clay Risen, Sterling Epicure Publishing, 2013, New York, NY.

Bourbon Basics

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As I looked back through my past articles, I realized I haven’t really provided a understandable definition of what makes bourbon, well…bourbon. I’ve shared stories, recipes and even some history regarding the distilled spirit, but never why bourbon is the distinctive American spirit, that I love so much.

So here is a down and dirty overview of not only what bourbon is, but the qualifications that define it. Pay attention. Class is in session.

First of all Bourbon is a whiskey (or whisky). Whiskey is nothing more than a distilled spirit produced from fermented grains (mash). Grain varieties include rye, corn, wheat and barley. For example, Scotch is made from malted barley, Irish whiskey is also made of mostly barley and other cereal grains, Rye is made from mostly rye, Canadian whisky is also made of various cereal grains like rye, wheat and corn, and Tennessee whiskey is made from mostly corn. Bourbon is also made mostly from corn. In 1964 however, the U.S. Congress acknowledged, as defined in Title 27 of the Code of Federal Regulation, that bourbon be recognized as a “distinctive product of the United States.” Although all bourbon is whiskey, not all whiskey is bourbon. And here’s why:

  1. Bourbon must be made in the United States (not only in Kentucky)
  2. Bourbon must be made from at least 51% American corn.
  3. Bourbon must be distilled at no higher that 160 proof
  4. Bourbon must be barreled at no higher than 125 proof
  5. Bourbon must be put into a new, charred oak container.

That’s it! So if a spirit that is produced and distilled according to the above regulations then it can be considered a bourbon.

What about the aging process you ask? Bourbon has no minimum specified age requirement actually and it doesn’t necessarily need to be aged in a barrel. As you can read from the regulations above, a new, charred oak container is all that is needed. In fact, Jimmy Russell (Wild Turkey, Mater Distiller) was quoted as saying, “You can take a new charred, oak bucket and fill it up from the still, walk it over to the bottling line, fill the bottle with it and it would be bourbon. You’d have to put an age statement on it that it was aged less than a day, but it’d be bourbon. And if you wanted to do it again, you’d need a new bucket.” That being said, for bourbon to get its beautiful golden amber color it needs to age in the container for some time. The longer time spent in the charred oak container, the longer time the bourbon has to absorb the vanillins and tannins released by the wood that add the distinctive color, aroma and taste.

  • 0-4 years aged is when the bourbon picks up the majority of its color and some of the wood/smoke flavor.
  • 5-10 years aged is when the bourbon will grow a little darker and when the sweetness from the sugars in the wood will be absorbed.
  • 10 + years aged is when the complexity of the bourbon (fruit, sweet, herbal notes) may lessen. Although during this time period the bourbon will become smoother and obviously more “oaky” in taste.

The bourbon lost to evaporation during the aging process is know as the “Angel’s share” and the bourbon absorbed and trapped in the wood is referred to as the “Devil’s cut.

However there are several different types of bourbon as they relate to age. The most common are:

Kentucky Bourbon – Bourbon produced and aged in a new, charred oak container for the minimum of one (1) year in Kentucky.

Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Bourbon aged in new, charred oak containers for two (2) or more years. Most popular bourbon brands age their bourbon for at least four (4) years. If the bourbon is aged more than 4 years then the label does not need to contain an age statement. If less than 4 years, then it must according to law.

Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Bourbon made in Kentucky and aged in a new, charred oak container for a minimum of two (2) years.

Blended Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Blend of straight bourbon whiskies.

Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon Whiskey – Bourbon aged in a new, charred oak container as the product of one distiller, one distillery from one distillation season. The bourbon must have been stored for a minimum of four (4) years in a federally bonded warehouse and then bottled at 100 proof (50% alcohol).

A very important fact to remember is that bourbon does NOT have to be made only in Kentucky. It can be made anywhere in the U.S. as long as the above regulations are followed. Many states such as Colorado, New York, Texas and California have become prominent in today’s burgeoning bourbon market.

Despite the fact that bourbon can be produced in any state of the Union, ninety-five (95) percent of all bourbon is made in Kentucky. Kentucky is bourbon’s birth place for several distinguishable reasons; water, wood and seasons.

  • Water – Kentucky sits on a vast stretch of limestone. Limestone is a natural filter that removes iron from water and adds calcium, magnesium as well as other nutrients.
  • Wood (oak) – The oak tree is the most prevalent species of tree in the state of Kentucky. Oak is naturally water-tight if milled properly. This fact, coupled with the abundance of oak, allowed coopers (barrel makers) to thrive in Kentucky.
  • Seasons – Kentucky is famous for its crazy temperature swings. The Bluegrass state endures brutally hot and humid summers followed by frigidly cold and dry winters. Kentuckians may not appreciate this climate disparity, but it is great for the aging process. The fluctuation in temperature forces the oak to contract and expand which allows the bourbon to interact more with the char providing it’s characteristically oak, caramel and vanilla flavors.

What about Jack Daniels? Is it a bourbon? Technically the answer is yes because it follows the above regulations that define a spirit as a bourbon. But the biggest difference is that Jack Daniels, which is classified as a Tennessee whiskey, purposely wants to be defined differently. Tennessee whiskey became a classification of whiskey in 2013 when the Tennessee state legislature passed a bill which added a step to bourbon’s federally regulated process. The added step requires the bourbon to be filtered through maple charcoal before being aged. The procedure is known as the Lincoln County Process. This added step is the only thing that differentiates Tennessee whiskey from bourbon whiskey.  By the way, Jack Daniels is the number one selling whiskey in the world, so whether you consider yourself a bourbon purist or not, you have to give mad props to Old No.7.

Armed with this new understanding, you are hopefully ready to enjoy bourbon at a much more pleasurable level. You can also feel confident in partaking in conversation on the subject. In fact, you may even find yourself dispelling popular bourbon myths that plague our beloved spirit.

But I can’t leave you without imparting some popular additional terms and classifications to broaden your bourbon education. Enjoy!

Small Batch –  Bourbon bottled from a selection of a certain number of barrels (determined by each distiller usually anywhere from 10-100 barrels from predetermined sections of the warehouse) typically much smaller than the amount used in the routine production.

Single Barrel – Bourbon bottled from one single barrel.

Barrel (Cask) Strength –  Bourbon that has no water added meaning it is the same proof in the bottle as it was when it came out of the barrel.

Flavored Bourbon – No such thing. Anything added to bourbon except water and more bourbon is merely a flavored whiskey. Flavors like Maple, Honey and Cinnamon are very popular. But brands that sell such spirits will never have the word “bourbon” on the label.

Sour Mash – Liquid left over from the distillation process when the grain solids and alcohol has been removed. A lot like the making of sourdough bread, a portion of sour mash (roughly 20%) is set back to add to the next batch. The sour mash process ensures an increase in the pH level helping the yeast strain to excel.

I hope you enjoy this article and I pray it shed some light on bourbon.

-The Bourboneer

Follow me on Facebook @thebourboneer.

Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Kirkland Small Batch KSBW, (Costco’ Private Label) 51-1/2% ABV or 103 proof (aged 7 years) James B. Beam Distilling Co., Clermont Frankfort, KY.

References: Bourbon Curious, Fred Minnick, Zenith Press 2015, Minneapolis, MN. Stave and Thief, Executive Bourbon Steward manual, Distilled Spirits Epicenter 2015, Louisville, KY. American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye, Clay Risen, Sterling Epicure 2013, New York, NY.

You Don’t Have to be a Snob!

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In my education of bourbon over the last several years, I’ve witnessed multiple acts of snobbery that have, quite frankly, turned me (and others) off from enjoying bourbon to the fullest. There have been several disappointing incidents my memory can recollect but, very recently in fact, I can recall patronizing a well known bourbon establishment on Louisville’s Whiskey Row. A customer ordered an Old Fashioned and requested that Blanton’s be the bourbon of choice in the very popular cocktail. The bartender, shaking his head and smirking in disgust, immediately questioned the customer’s selection imparting that, in his opinion “using Blanton’s in an Old Fashioned or any cocktail, is a waste.” Inferring that Blanton’s is too good, too fine of a bourbon to be watered down in a cocktail.

Wait a minute! Now I certainly agree that Blanton’s is a fine, fine bourbon. It’s actually in my top three, and I prefer it with just one ice cube. But I thought a bartender’s responsibilities were to make drinks, gently guide customers and more importantly make money for the establishment that employs them? No?

I understand the bartender’s underlying intentions may have been to steer the customer into making the best selection possible (I am sure he was uber knowledgeable and has forgotten more about bourbon that I will ever know). I also took into consideration that we were in Kentucky where bourbon is king and flows as abundantly as the water, so choosing a bourbon from the thousands of offerings could be quite daunting. I get all that, I really do! However, that’s not where I had the issue. No matter how educated or bourbon savvy the bartender may have been, his delivery came across as elitist and, well, quite snobbish. His approach lacked tact and  alienated the customer without taking the time to understand their level of knowledge before deciding to opine his own. Not to mention that his recommendation cost the bar money and a decent tip for himself. But maybe I am looking at this the wrong way. Maybe his comments saved the customer money. Maybe he was just having a bad night. Hard to determine. But no matter how you look at it, I feel the encounter could have been handled more professionally.

As the Bourboneer (and as an Executive Bourbon Steward (EBS)) it is my job to teach about and promote America’s native spirit. We know that bourbon was born here. We know that it was regulated here, perfected here and represents a prominent thread intricately woven into the fabric of our great history. Therefore it clearly should be protected and most importantly, championed here. Bourbon is part of our culture and thankfully this culture is on the rise once again. Those of us who truly consider ourselves bourbon lovers are members of an inclusive society. We are passionate advocates, enthusiasts and proficient imbibers versed in the knowledge, heritage, art and culture of bourbon. We are Bourboneers! Our promotion of bourbon is crucial in preserving and growing it’s popularity as we move forward.

All bourbon is good, some is just better than others.

As an EBS, my role derives itself from the education of bourbon and of course the hospitality that goes along with the offering of a memorable learning bourbon experience. Teaching others or imparting my knowledge in a welcoming, respectful and professional manner is my strength and in fact an honor. Being hospitable and providing the best experience to those thirsty for knowledge is my primary concern. Not just for the interested, but for the efficacy of expanding the love of bourbon as America’s distinctive spirit. I feel the bartender I refer to in this article, failed to consider this. If you focus on where he actually was employed and where this establishment was located, I know more was expected by not only me, but more so by the the customer served.

So having said all of that, I believe there should be no hard and fast rules to drinking bourbon. It doesn’t only have to be served “neat” to enjoy. Or on the rocks, or with water or in a cocktail. It doesn’t have to only be from  Kentucky or aged more than 4 years to be considered good. Bourbon is to be enjoyed by all. Remember, individuals will drink what they enjoy and what taste best to them no matter how much you may expand their bourbon IQ. Not everyone has the same preferences, is adept or is interested in the intricacies of bourbon and its characteristics. You don’t have to be a snob! You don’t have to stick your nose up in the air if someone wants 20 year old Pappy Van Winkle with diet ginger ale. If that’s truly what they want then that’s what they should order, even if just the thought of that concoction makes you cringe. The idea is to promote bourbon not isolate it. My personal experiences and preferences should not dictate anyone’s taste. I don’t ever want the enjoyment of bourbon to be tainted strictly by my own opinions. Individuals need to decide their own preferences. If done correctly and with hospitality, the bestowing of my knowledge and my experience will be the catalyst to their long love of bourbon. And that is what loving bourbon and being a Bourboneer is all about. Right?

-The Bourboneer

 

Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Why Blanton’s of course! Blanton’s KSBW, 46-1/2% ABV or 93 proof NAS) Blanton Distilling Company, Frankfurt, Ky.

Oh Yeah!?! Prove it!

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Not to undermine Cervantes’ brilliant quote, but for the sake of this article the proof of the alcohol is in the drinking. By a small sample we may judge the whole barrel. Let me explain.

Before you partake in enjoying your favorite bourbon, do you take a look at the proof? Or the amount of alcohol within? Of course you do. In fact, I am pretty sure that between the time you purchased the bottle and the time you completely emptied it you perused the label to see what “proof” or Alcohol By Volume (ABV%) your bourbon was rated. It is common knowledge that the amount (%) of alcohol  is half of what the proof rates. So for example and to keep it simple, if the proof of your favorite bourbon is 100 then the alcohol content is 50%. This is nothing new to any of you I am sure. But where did the term “proof” come from and what was it’s original meaning?

To find out we need to take a trip back in time to somewhere between 16th and 17th century England. Specifically the Royal Navy and the transportation of one of the Empire’s desired imports…rum. I know this is a bourbon site but just bare with me, will ya!

So imagine yourself back in time sailing on the H.M.S Tall Ship from a New England distillery with a hold filled with barrels upon barrels of rum. You’re a young Quarter gunner’s mate on your way back home to England. It’s a long monotonous journey and all that sailing has made you quite thirsty. But you’re tired of the water aboard ship. You can’t help but staring at a small barrel tucked away in the nose of the hold. It’s practically hidden from plain sight. “No one’s going to know if I take a little. Just a few sips to take the “edge” of this long sail. That’s all! No one will be the wiser.” So you pop the bung from the barrel and dip anything you can find into the sweet intoxicating libation. “So good,” you think to yourself as you take a few more sips. You repeat this process over the next several days, but despite your best efforts to remain discreet a few bowmen catch wind of your chicanery. They threaten to report you to the Lieutenant unless you allow them to take part in your artful deception. You oblige to save your neck.

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To make sure the barrel is not left empty, you and your cohorts cleverly sample from numerous other barrels instead of just the one. However, after a few days of inconspicuous imbibing you realize there are several barrels that are much “lighter” than when they were originally stowed. Especially that first smaller barrel. You begin to panic. To rectify the problem you add water, saltwater, urine and whatever you can find to restore the level of the barrels back to the desired amount. Phew! You just prevented yourself from being keel-hauled or being hung from the yardarm.

Or did you?

After the long and arduous sail, the Captain, the Master and the Captain of Marines  decide celebrate their arrival home with a drink from a small private barrel set aside in the nose of the ship’s hold. But these officers are no dummies. They know the temptations that befall sailors during such journeys. As you peak into the galley, you see the Captain make a small pile of gunpowder on an old charred wooden plank. “What is he doing?” you despair. Then, from the small barrel that you and your mates carelessly over-sampled for nearly the entire trip, the Captain fills a small glass and pours it over the gunpowder. “Huh?” you ask yourself. “What is going on here?” The Master hands him a flame from a small desk lamp. Phhhssssst! The flame immediately goes out and the gunpowder doesn’t ignite. “Captain!” the Captain sternly bellows to the Captain of the Marines. “Find out who is responsible for this!” You watch in terror as the Marine commander nods,”Yes Captain, right away!”

A few hours later you find yourself with your hands and feet bound and a rope around your neck being hoisted to the block of the upper arm. As you look down desparately squirming, taking your last breath, you see those scoundrel bowmen grinning as they man the rope. Your last thought, “How in the King’s name did the Captain prove the rum in the barrel was watered down?”

The Captain was wise enough to know that unadulterated rum would ignite when introduced to fire and would subsequently burn with a dull cherry colored flame. This was his way of “proving” that the alcohol was or wasn’t watered down. If it wasn’t diluted then it was considered “100 proof” and worthy of being enjoyed. It was determined that gunpowder would not burn in rum with less than 57.15% alcohol. So if the rum burned or ignited then it contained at least that amount and was defined as having 100 degrees of proof. So there you have it! The etymology of the the word “proof”as it relates to alcohol.

Like most things that were born of British ingenuity, we in the United States eventually changed the proof system to our liking in 1848. At that time, proof became known as the percentage of alcohol in our spirits such as bourbon.

So be sure to check out the proof of your next bourbon purchase. But I think you’re pretty safe in drinking it at your leisure without pouring it over gunpowder. In fact, for the safety of you and your family, I strongly recommend not testing the proof in such a manner. Please just read the label instead.

-The Bourboneer

Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Evan Williams KSBW, 43% ABV or 86 proof (NAS) Old Evan Williams Distillery, Bardstown, KY.

References:

http://www.wikipedia.com -“Alcohol proof”, http://www.hmsrichmond.org, http://www.wikipedia.com-“Royal Navy ranks, rates and uniforms of the 18th and 19th centuries”, http://www.macmillandictionary.com -“Parts of boats and ships”, http://www.izquotes.com

Executive Bourbon Steward

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When I began this Bourboneer experiment back in August I did so with a conviction to not only learn as much about my favorite spirit but to also share what I have learned with others in a manner that was entertaining and easily digested. As I wrote in a past article, “I am a bourbon drinker who likes to write.” So writing stories, sharing experiences and imparting knowledge became the cornerstone in the foundation of the Bourboneer and it’s development moving forward.

In my inaugural article, I defined the Bourboneer to be an advocate, an enthusiast and a proficient imbiber versed in the knowledge, heritage, art and culture of bourbon, it’s production and with an understanding of it’s unique characteristics. Additionally, each Bourboneer could also classify themselves in one of three categories or levels: #1) Imbiber – the casual bourbon consumer, self educated in the subject with a facile knowledge of bourbon and it’s production. #2) Operator – the regular or daily consumer, formally educated and trained in the subject. Someone who is well read in bourbon heritage, art, culture possessing an extensive knowledge of bourbon and its production. Or #3) Master – the regular, daily consumer formally educated, trained in the subject but makes bourbon a profession. Someone who has a comprehensive and practical knowledge of all things bourbon and a refined palate.

For many years I’ve blissfully drifted along as a Bourboneer Imbiber, contently consuming bourbon of all kinds and casually storing tidbits of trivial bourbon knowledge. Not enough to make me dangerous, mind you, but enough to know why I loved it so much. However, this past weekend that all changed. That’s right…I graduated! I can know comfortably consider myself a Bourboneer Operator. How you ask? Well, let me tell you.

November 11-14, 2016, I spent my weekend in Louisville, Ky. My cousin and I made the long, much anticipated pilrimage to Bourbon country to soak up the experiences the region had to offer. We also soaked up quite a bit of bourbon. Our days were filled with distillery tours and our evenings were spent partaking in the local establishments proficiency in serving up Kentucky’s native spirit. (Many of our adventures will be documented in future Bourboneer articles so you will just have to wait for that). As fun and as exciting as visiting bourbon’s birthplace  was, It was not specifically the reason we went. You see, the main objective for our excursion didn’t revolve around merely enjoying bourbon, but rather learning about it. Yes you are reading this correctly. We in fact traveled nearly 1/4 of the way across the country to go to school. Bourbon school that is. Executive Bourbon Steward school to be precise.

The Stave & Thief Society in Louisville, Ky, offers a “premier training and education program established to promote and uphold bourbon’s unique and distinguished culture through hospitality channels by preparing establishments and individuals to deliver on the premise of the authentic bourbon experience.” Phew! That’s a mouthful. In layman’s or Bourboneer terms, The Stave & Thief Society educates the crap out of you in all things bourbon. This was exactly the learning experience my cousin and I had been craving. So we signed up and took the course.

To say the lesson was intensive is an understatement. The course could have easily filled 2 or 3 days, however, it was crammed into a little over 8 hours. The course topics covered such subjects as bourbon history, classification and standards of identity, grain selection, aging, mingling, sensory skills relating to mashbills, proof, congeners yet not to ignore brand awareness and assessing flavor profiles. Oh and there was a 50 question exam at the end to score your proficiency. It was a pass/fail course so not making the cut meant you weren’t worthy enough to become a steward or even be a part of the Stave & Thief Society.

Despite the stress and mind-numbing uncertainty, the course was worth every penny (and that turned out to be aout 50,000 pennies in all actuality) And it was even more worth it when we passed the exam with flying colors. See the proof below.

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So to get back to my point and to the reason as to why I now consider myself a Bourboneer Operator. I am happy to report that I am now a certified Executive Bourbon Steward! As a result of this in depth training,  I better understand the art, history and culture of bourbon. I am able to discuss bourbon confidently and accurately in a conversational manner, as well as assess a bourbon consumer’s preferences and make recommendations based on their specific taste.

Now armed with my new education, I am here to answer any of your bourbon questions. So ask away.

Before I close, I just wanted to pay a special thanks to all of the staff at the Stave & Thief Society (Moonshine University). They were truly professional and made learning so interesting and fun. I learned so much and I am very thankful for the opportunity to be part of the Stave & Thief Society. Additionally, and more importantly, I want to thank my cousin. He practically bank rolled our entire trip and I am  blessed for his consideration to include me in such an endeavor. It had sincerely been a long time since we had the opportunity to hang out in such a manner. I am truly grateful for his generosity and friendship. I look forward to our future bourbon education.

-The Bourboneer

Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Larceny KSBW, 46% ABV or 92 proof (NAS) Heaven Hill Distilleries, Bardstown, KY.

References: http://www.staveandthief.com