Our Distinctive Products

photo by Amanda Schuster
photo by Amanda Schuster

Welcome, September! Hello, Bourbon Heritage Month! Last year I reported on the state of bourbon, addressing issues such as sourced bourbon vs. scratch made (“Oh, did you make that cake yourself?” “Yes, I made it from craft!” - No One Ever), why there’s so much dang clear whiskey right now, and why neither the moon nor anything shiny really have anything to do with it anymore despite the romantic notion that it does.

Since then, not much has changed for the “distinctive product of the United States” (so named by Congress in 1964). Since its popularity continues to increase, there’s even more pricey, hastily made scratch bourbon out there. In fact, I tasted one over the weekend by an outfit that claimed to make their whiskey “the old fashion [sic] way,” which is apparently in micro barrels with wood staves. Enough already! Simply because one knows how to mix a minimum of 51% corn with other grains and stick it in some approximation of new, charred oak, doesn’t mean our poor tastebuds have to suffer through your post graduate/corporate layoff/midlife crisis.

The good news is, we have some things to look forward to. Some brands who have previously been sourcing their whiskey are properly aging their own scratch bourbon in large format barrels for a prolonged amount of time. Would you trust a surgeon who only spent six months in medical school? Well, the same holds true for whiskey! Producing good whiskey has nothing to do with instant gratification. If you want that, stick to vodka or gin (and please make sure the heads and tails aren’t in it when you bottle it.)

Do I sound angry? I’m sorry about that. You see, I LOVE whiskey. And it’s because I love it so much it pains me to taste bad ones. There are so very many of them, and there shouldn’t be. It’s the same reason I’m not a mother. I like kids. So much so I wouldn’t want to ruin one by making one of my own and not having the capacity to nurture a happy child. As much as I hate to see kids who aren’t loved and fostered properly, the same thing holds true for whiskey. Show it some respect. Show it some pride. Don’t feed it little bits of chips and splinters and call that proper nourishment! This is our product. It's supposed to celebrate our nation's heritage and represent the American spirit! Don't bottle what essentially tastes like our nation's economic and sociopolitical problems; instead take the necessary measures to help to preserve a good chapter in our history. 

Rant over. Something to love about Bourbon Heritage Month - new releases of truly great bourbon. As I await the opportunity to taste this year’s crop of Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection (more on that in the next couple of weeks!), here are a few beauties with which to celebrate America’s distinctive product.

Old Forester 2015 Birthday Bourbon: Every year on September 2, Old Forester releases a limited edition in honor of founder George Garvin Brown, aged from a single day of production. In this case it’s a 12 year-old from June 13, 2003. A divergence from their typical release, the barrels chosen were from the same part of the warehouse, near a heat cycling duct, where they were exposed to very high temperatures. Expect something big, rich and robust.

I.W. Harper Straight Bourbon: It’s a brand that’s been around since the 1870s, except it mostly hasn’t been around here, allocated to the Asian market throughout the 1970s and 80s. It was founded by Isaac Wolf and Bernard Bernheim, who built Bernheim distillery, which has continuously operated through Prohibition, when it made “prescription whiskey,” and is now used by Heaven Hill. Confused yet? Then how about the name "Harper" actually comes from the owner of a Kentucky Derby horse the brothers thought to be lucky? Now back in the U.S. market through Diageo, this straight bourbon is a blend of whiskeys aged between 4 and 20 years at the historic Stitzel-Weller warehouse, with a mash bill of 73% corn, 18% rye and 9% malted barley. The old and young whiskeys in the blend balance themselves out splendidly, presenting a luscious, fruity, spicy and floral elixir.

photo by Amanda Schuster
photo by Amanda Schuster

Booker’s Bourbon 2015 Limited Editions: There’s still more to go, but as of press time, the first four installments of small batch releases have been fun to taste. Each has its own set of characteristics as a tribute from 7th generation Master Distiller Fred Noe for his father, the late Booker Noe - "Big Man, Small Batch” (for honoring the “larger than life” man himself), “Dot’s Batch” (for his iconic dog), “The Center Cut” (a reference to Booker’s favorite part of both the rackhouse and the roast) and “Oven Buster” (for his mother Annis Wickham Noe, who mistakenly reached for high proof instead of low proof bourbon to season a roast and caused a spark which blew the oven door off.) One of the best ways to celebrate Bourbon Heritage Month is seeking out and tasting these little bits of high proof family history from Jim Beam.

Heaven Hill Parker’s Heritage 8 Year Malt Whiskey: Yes, all you purists, this is NOT technically a bourbon. Yes, I have listed a non bourbon whiskey in an article that is supposed to be all about bourbon. And that's the truth, Lloyd. 

Deal with it.

This is an article about the heritage of bourbon, right? The word “heritage” is right there on the label! Therefore, a bit about Parker’s Heritage, named for former Heaven Hill Master Distiller Parker Beam, who in his 90s continues to live with the awful Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). $5 of sales of each bottle of this robust American whiskey (95% malted barley, 35% corn at 108 proof) go toward fighting the disease. The man made a lot of your bourbon. This rich, sweet and tangy whiskey (read: PROPERLY AGED)  is a delicious way to pay your respects.

Cheers, everyone. Happy and safe bourboning to all!

I welcome your comments.