Hello, fellow Bourbon Crusaders!
We’re back! After what has been a harrowing year in our private lives worthy of a soap opera, we are finally back in the saddle of bourbon writing and pod casting for your pleasure and edification.
Once again, I was able to attend the Great American Whiskey Fair here in Columbia, SC on September 29, 2016. Having been the two years prior, I can honestly say that it gets better each year. It’s organised by the owner of a Cajun and Creole restaurant in Columbia appropriately named Bourbon, as well as a very nice Italian restaurant named Rosso Trattoria. The event is catered by Bourbon and included pulled pork, quail gumbo, and all the fixins with locally sourced quail from Manchester Farms.
With over 500 whiskies, one has to do a little…selective tasting. After attending many, many similar events, one learns to try the new and untasted, and forego tasting that bottle you love but have sitting at home. This will just give a little taste of what I felt were the highlights. Granted, this is the Great American Whiskey Fair, but as of last year, they started to allow whiskies from outside the United States, hence the Scotch and Irish whiskies being well represented.
As usual, the bad news first: Smooth Ambler is getting near depleted of all the Seagram’s stocks they purchased, so go ahead and buy up whatever Old Scout you can. Pretty soon, just like the rye, the bourbon won’t ever be available again. They will be replacing it first with an American whiskey (aged ~4 years) and eventually with a properly aged bourbon when they so deem it ready.
Now for some good news! Bellemeade Bourbon made from MGP distillate, a product of Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery outside Nashville, TN has been, of course, distilling their white dog for some years now. It’s not on the market just yet, but shortly, there will be a little side trip of mine to Charleston where a tasting of their not released bourbon as-of-yet will occur. Stay tuned for a review.
Another highlight of the night was sampling Bellemeade’s 9 year single barrel at 111.8 proof. This is of course still from their MGP juice, and it did not disappoint. I’ve long been a fan of regular Bellemeade, and this single barrel selection was a step above. It didn’t hurt that it was barrel proof as well. I’ll be on the lookout for this to hit shelves around here for sure.
Next up was Templeton Rye which is easy to get, and we’ve had it before, but they actually just started releasing a 6 year product, and at the same time added an age statement on their 4 year rye. In an age of dropping age statements, this is always welcome, despite age not necessaarily correlating with “better.” Templeton uses a proprietary mashbill from MGP, so it isn’t the normal 95/5 rye mashbill, and as with Pikesville Rye last year, these ryes with a scoop of corn in the mix are very pleasing.
Now for some more local South Carolina fun! Carolina Moon Distillery in Edgefield, SC, makes several whiskies and other products, among which are Ole Tom whiskey and Tally Ho bourbon. The Ole Tom is a 100% corn mashbill and is aged in used bourbon barrels. Rumor has it the used barrels might come from a distillery which buys a lot of red wax. Ole Tom has a strong but not overpowering corn whiskey taste, somewhat mellowed down by aging in the used bourbon barrels. Now, their Tally Ho offering is interesting. It’s aged just 1 year in new 15 or 30 gallon barrels, and has a 60% corn mashbill, and frankly, was one of the best 1 year aged bourbons I’ve tasted. In the category of year-old bourbons, I’d only put the Elijah Craig experience year-old sample from a few years back ahead of it. Interestingly, they source the smaller barrels from Blackwater Barrels in Bamberg, SC. We’ll be watching this company.
With that, it’s time for some interesting foreign whiskies and tid bits:
Teeling Irish Whiskey had several products for sample, among them their Small Batch and Single Malt varieties. The small batch was very pleasant and light, as most Irish whiskey tends to be. Now, the single malt was actually a bit too floral for my personal liking, but still very quality. A bottle of the small batch will soon be on my shelves, and if we can work out a time, a podcast with the distiller’s son is in the works.
The tasting ended for me with Johnnie Walker Blue, which I had never tried. It’s a blend of many whiskies, with a minimum age of 25 years. So good. So very good. So very expensive…which is why Black exists. Solid tasting blend of at least 12 year old whiskies for those who haven’t won the lottery.
As usual, there was a cocktail competition, wherein four South Carolina bartenders battled it out using ingredients from Angostura to chickoree liqueur and even a smoke gun… These seem usually like it’s more fun to watch than judge, as all the cocktails seem too complicated to be readily made without extensive planning and supplies. It would be fun to taste some, but that’s probably where it would end for me. Give me a well-made Manhattan any day. That being said, it takes quite a bit of knowledge and skill to come up with these complex creations and concoctions, so hats off to all the great bartenders out there. WE LOVE YOU. Of note, Eddie Russel of Wild Turkey fame was there for the second year running as one of the cocktail competition judges, and of course was available at the Wild Turkey station throughout the evening.
So that’s a quick and dirty look at some of the highlights from the Great American Whiskey Fair 2016. It’s not too early to start planning your trip to Columbia next Fall for 2017 which is sure to be even better.