South of the Border

south of the border
A few months ago I traveled south of the border for our family summer vacation. No, not south of the border down Mexico way, but South of the Border South Carolina way (Myrtle Beach actually). You know where within 100 miles of the actual SC border you start seeing signs for Pedro practically every mile and you can by fireworks that are illegal in the 47 other contiguous states. Yeah, you know the place. It’s quite annoying to be honest, but I do have a favorite sign, however: “South of the Border – 75mi. You never sausage a place!” Get it? Sausage = saw such. Simple, yes, but it made me chuckle.
Besides looking forward to spending a relaxing week of sun and sand with my loving family, I secretly looked to stockpile bourbon, add to my collection and save some money in the process. I knew that South Carolina only charged a 6% tax on alcohol as compared to 9% in my home state of Maryland and it goes without saying that things are just cheaper in the south. So I figured I’d bring home a few bottles of my old stand-byes like Bulleit and Evan Williams single barrel and potentially add some new or top shelf bourbon to my bar at a discounted price. Prior to our trip I, as any good Bourboneer would,  did some research on area liquor stores near our hotel. To my excitement nearly all the stores in the surrounding area prominently displayed the word “Discount” in their title. The gears in my head began to churn, “Discoooooount booooourbon  ahhhhh” I salivated in my best Homer Simpson. Sweet and provoking thoughts of rows and rows of cheap bourbon cascaded through my mind (and by cheap I mean in price not grade). Not only was there a lower tax rate on alcohol but it was discounted too!?! Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to patronize as may stores as possible.
Now to provide a little background information. In the U.S., there are 17 states in which liquor sales are owned and run by the state government. South Carolina is NOT one of them. Neither is Maryland for that matter. So if the store is not state run then it is individually owned and operated as a small business. This means liquor, beer and wine can only be sold in these stores and no where else. Since the state government does not have a hand in the proprietorship, the alcohol is generally sold for less than in a state owned store which, of course, is music to the ears for any bourbon lover like myself.
Keenly aware of this information, I knew that SC did not participate in state owned liquor stores and I knew the prices would be considerably cheaper there than in a state like, let’s say Virginia (state owned with a 20% tax on distilled spirits). I also knew that MD, even though it shared SC’s self proprietorship and was not state run, had more expensive liquor prices as it is historically famous for being one of the higher overall taxed states in the country. All leading to the conclusion that Myrtle Beach, SC would be a great place to buy my bourbon on the cheap.
The use of the word “discount” is a sales/advertising ploy and clearly a subjective term. I probably should have seen that coming but I let my avarice cloud my common sense. The reason I mention this is due to the fact that there was absolutely no discount in either of the two liquor stores I visited in Myrtle Beach. It wasn’t even close. My favorite mass produced bourbons like Jim Beam, Wild Turkey and Evan Williams were several dollars higher in price than they were in MD. Yes! That’s right! More expensive than Maryland!!! The mid to upper shelf labels like Woodford’s and Michters were priced even higher, averaging about 7-10$ more per bottle (750 ml). And the smaller brand, boutique bourbons…forget about it. They were outrageous. To add salt to the wound, I was laughed at, yes laughed at when I asked one of the sales reps if they stocked Blanton’s (my favorite). Dismissively, he called out to his fellow sales rep and actually said, “We should have shirts made that say we don’t carry Blantons”. Really… shirts made!?! Maybe you should have a shirt made that says you’re an asshole!
What was going on here? How could this be reality. Nothing is cheaper in MD south of the state line! Nothing! Was this price gouging as a result of Myrtle Beach’s high tourist population. I am not sure. But what ever it was, it was disappointing. My ambition of stocking my bar with affordable bourbon was dashed. No way was I going to pay for any bourbon at 20-30% more than what I do at home, vacation or not. I do have some fiscal standards believe it or not.
So I guess the moral to my story is that things aren’t always cheaper South of the Border, especially if you love distilled spirits, preferably bourbon. Oh and by the way SC…I can buy Blanton’s in MD:)
                                                                          -The Bourboneer
Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Old Forge Reserve Single Barrel Tennessee Bourbon Whiskey, 44.5% ABV or 89 proof (Aged 10 years) Old Forge Distillery, Pigeon Forge, TN

Thank You Woodford!


Woodford Reserve small batch Distiller’s Select is, more or less, the reason behind my renewed desire for bourbon. The coup d’etat, you could say, of my perception of the spirit and honestly the genesis of The Bourboneer. And yes, I am man enough to say…Woodford was my first (in a matter of speaking).

I’ve enjoyed bourbon for over 25 years, beginning in my college days. Back then however, I had no appreciation whatsoever for the characteristics of the distilled spirit. The goal was a constant consumption of any bourbon I could afford and what mixer I could pour into it to improve the taste. Believe it or not, I did like the taste of bourbon over other whiskies but the true flavor was lost on me. Like the majority of students, “drinking” was much more about the quantity and effect rather than the quality and flavor. Needless to say, my “budget” at the time only afforded me the less expensive labels or what some may have considered to be of poor quality or even “rotgut.” Today, I better understand that price is not always the plumb line for a decent bourbon. Back then I considered Old Crow, Evan Williams, Early Times and Old Grand Dad to be close friends because they were readily available and cheap. I couldn’t and didn’t care to appreciate the difference. They served a purpose, albeit an extremely narrow one.

Unfortunately, this sophomoric approach to bourbon remained my “MO” until about a five years ago. Even as a professional, who could afford to sample a variety of bourbon at different price points, I still floundered about with what I knew. With what I allowed myself to know, that is. That all changed when I was introduced to Woodford Reserve.

As we did on a regular occasion, my good friend and neighbor often joined me to not only drink and shoot the breeze, but to gripe about some of our common interests; the Philadelphia Eagles being one. One evening in particular, however, my neighbor showed up with a brand new bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon. I had never heard of it before but he raved on and on about it. Of course I obliged, not necessarily because I wanted to broaden my “bourbon horizons” at the moment, but when such hospitality is offered then equal gratitude is returned.

Despite my immediate urge to add something to the bourbon, my neighbor recommended I just enjoy a dram on the rocks. Hold on here, wait just a minute. This went against everything I knew. No soda, no ginger ale? I actually recall thinking this may, in fact, be the last time he is allowed over here. No one tells me how to drink in my house! Internal angst aside, I did step out of my comfort zone and took a sip. His sage advice not to “shoot”, but allow the bourbon to gently cascade over my tongue was the trick to tasting the full flavor. It worked. The anticipated “burn” that I associated with all whiskey, never came. As a matter of fact, I experienced quite the opposite. Surprisingly enough, the customary sting or bite was replaced by an unexpected soothing warmth. The presence of the ice seemed to open up a bouquet of flavor I didn’t even know existed and had been hidden from me for nearly a quarter century. Even to my then uneducated palate, I could taste the nuance of cinnamon spice and a subtle smoky char. This was quite a revelation. Bourbon that had taste and wonderful taste at that. What the hell have I foolishly been missing for so long? Then, remarkably, the spice gradually faded into a silky sweetness of what seemed like caramel and toffee. WTF!?! No way. This is amazing! Candy in my bourbon!?! Absolutely the most refreshing characteristic and something so contrary to what I remembered bourbon to be was how easy Woodford was to drink. Each sip was like discovering buried treasure and now I had the map.

From that evening on, I was hooked. I almost felt a little stalker-ish the way I coveted Woodford. In fact, that’s all I bought for a long time. I think I was afraid to try other labels in fear of experiencing a let down. But once I regained a firm grip on reality, I realized the “bourbon education” that first glass of Woodford provided me, was the doorway to a brave new world just waiting for my arrival.

So, to my friends at Woodford Reserve, thank you for such a proper introduction to the world of bourbon. Just know that all I do with my future, in relation to bourbon and as The Bourboneer, began with that first sip of Woodford Reserve. And yes, I am aware that authentic experience several years ago could have easily been with another fine bourbon label from the dozens out there, but it wasn’t. It was with Woodford and I am thankful for that. I am also quite thankful for my neighbor not only for the introduction but his insistence. I owe him a lot.


-The Bourboneer


Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select KSBW. 43.2%ABV or 96.4 proof (no age statement). Woodford Reserve Distillery, Versailles, KY.