Bourbons to bring back?
My wife and I will be visiting her native Kentucky once again this summer. Part of our agenda is to finish up the bourbon trail (we still have to do Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve and Four Roses) and I also plan on buying some bourbons that are either unavailable or much more expensive back here in southeastern Ct.
If you were going to bring back roughly half a dozen bottles what would you bring?
I'm planning on obtaining a bottle of Maker's 46 which is unavailable here as well as Bernheim Wheat Whiskey (I know, I know, not a bourbon per se). Maker's was my "gateway bourbon" as well as the first distillery we visited; I still think it's decent though I've moved on to other brands. I currently have a bit of the Bernheim Wheat left, really like it, and as it's unobtainable locally I want to bring another bottle.
Other than that I'm not buying anything more of what I currently own: Old Weller Antique, Weller Special Reserve 7, Van Winkle 10, Eagle Rare 10, Blanton's, Elmer T. Lee, Four Roses Small Batch, Buffalo Trace, Maker's Mark, Elijah Craig 12, Evan Williams Single Barrel 2000 Vintage, Booker's, Knob Creek. I also have owned in the past Bulleit and Corner Creek and either didn't really care for them or don't like them enough to buy again.
I know I would definitely buy George T. Stagg if I can find any -- I had a shot of it at the Brown Hotel last December, but I understand it is hard to find. Probably not interested in the Van Winkle 20 or 23 because they are just too expensive. How is the 15?
So what six bottles or so would you bring back, leaving off the ones I've already listed, and leaving off anything that retails in Kentucky for more than $50 or so except Stagg? Explanations of your choices are most welcome.
Something else, in case it interests you, would be to get a bottle of the Buffalo Trace White Dog. Guess that depends on whether it's available at home- it isn't here in GA. I keep thinking I'm going to get a co-worker to pick me up a bottle in Nashville sometime.
There are also the experimental-finish versions of Buffalo Trace. They're something I've only heard about (and seen on Ebay w/ ridiculous asking prices), and I have no idea if you'd find them in KY or if it's a once-a-year and gone kind of thing.
We visited Buffalo Trace last year and had a pour of their white dog at the tasting. We also had a pour of white dog at Maker's Mark the day before and I actually liked theirs better. I was thinking about buying a bottle but at around $15 for a 375 ml I couldn't bring myself to do it. I may break down this time (not at the distillery but I understand it is more widely distributed in Kentucky now) and get some for the novelty factor.
I don't know what is or is not available in your neck of the woods but I do know that nearly every distillery has special bottlings that are only available at the distillery or there and a few local retailers--and as a note, those retailers are not likely to have considerably better prices. SO, my suggestion is to mine the options at the distilleries when you visit.
Now, sometimes those special bottlings are just the same juice in a fancy or special bottle so make sure to check on that unless it is a totally awesome bottle in which case, you should always purchase awesomeness.
This can be for 3 or 4 of your bottles and that would allows for your Bernheim and another couple from places you don't visit. Also, check with your favorite local retailer in regard to Maker's 46. It should be nationally launched at this point and if you don't see it now, it likely won't be long before you can get it in CT.
And that brings me to another point, since you aren't in a control state, there are likely a lot of things available that you don't actually see on shelves--they are sitting in distributor warehouses but not regularly on shelves as at some point, liquor stores have to make choices about what they carry and what they don't. But if you ask them for a list of bourbon's you could get if they ordered it for you, you might find some stuff you want. And that would save you the experience of thinking you brought something back you can't get otherwise and then seeing it sitting in a store somewhere.
When I was in Kentucky last year I was sorry I did not pick up a bottle of Noah's Mill to bring back. We found a shop with a tasting bar in Frankfort (Capital Cellars) where they did bourbon tastings 5 small pours from a list of about 30 for an extremely reasonable price. On a side note they also did wine flight tastings to appease the non-bourbon loving femaies in my family. I was able to try the Ancient Ancient and another local bourbon that is not exported out of Kentucky that the extremely knowledgeable British ex-pat bartender recommended.
Regarding your Pappy van Winkle question. I received a bottle of Pappy van Winkle 23 year old as a present and I was surprised that despite the double price it was almost identical to the 20 year old which is my all time favorite. I have not had the 15 but I have a bottle of the 12 and while nice it is not worth the price.
I had Noah's Mill as part of a bourbon flight at the Brown Hotel. It's a good suggestion. I had the Pappy 20 as part of a bourbon flight on a previous trip and my sense in general is that the Van Winkle bourbons are good but overpriced. I did get a bottle of the Van Winkle 10 last Kentucky trip and while it is good I am not sure I like it all that much better than OWA 107, which I suspect given the Van Winkle/Buffalo Trace joint venture is the same juice but a bit younger.
Stagg comes out in the fall and it usually goes quickly, so it will probably be hard to find at this time of year.
A few Bourbons that don't make it out of the Kentucky area very often but are very good are Very Old Barton 100 proof and Ancient Ancient Age (two "Ancients"). These are very affordable local brands that aren't shipped very far afield.
I don't know what's available in your area, but if you like Four Roses Small Batch, I would try their single barrel. If you are going to be in the Cincinnati area, you can go to The Party Source in Bellevue KY and pick from a wide variety of Four Roses single barrel bottlings using different recipes.
Similarly, if you like Elijah Craig 12, you should try the 18, though it's pretty widely available outside of KY. Since your going to Wild Turkey, the Rare Breed is a great Bourbon in your price range, but again, it's not hard to find outside Kentucky.
I'm not sure what's available in Connecticut, but I can tell you what I would like that isn't widely available.
I read your blog and many of your whiskey-related posts here and your suggestions are more than welcome!
The Ancient Ancient Age is a great suggestion, and given that I tend to enjoy Buffalo Trace products I am looking forward to trying some. I actually did pick up a bottle of the 86-proof Very Old Barton locally and it was just OK, but maybe the 100-proof is better.
As to Four Roses, I actually neglected to mention that I received a bottle of the Park Ave. Liquors single barrel selection for my birthday this year. It's really well-crafted and I enjoy it but it is their high rye mashbill and I tend to prefer my bourbon a bit on the sweeter side. I will have to check exactly which of the formulas it is and see if I can find a single barrel bottle with the same yeast strain but the low rye mashbill.
We will be based in Louisville and the last couple of visits I did my bourbon shopping at Old Town on Bardstown Rd. which is convenient to where we are staying, but I could go elsewhere in Louisville for a better selection, though Old Town has some nice juice and nice prices.