In July of 2019, I was lucky enough to attend the first ever Bourbon And Time event in Kentucky. Bourbon And Time, organized by Eric (@scotchandtime on Instagram), is a gathering of whiskygrammers (I don’t like the “I” word), YouTubers, distillery representatives, and others from the industry. We explored new offerings, learned about up and coming brands, and visited some of the more recognizable distilleries in bourbon.
Make no mistake. This event was sponsored by the brands that were at the event. Eric was the facilitator and organizer but the brands made this weekend possible. In exchange for their participation, these brands were featured on the social media accounts and websites (hello!) of the attendees with an extensive reach of followers/readers.
After an interesting Uber adventure that had us driving back and forth past our destination without finding it, we finally ended up at the Brown Forman Cooperage. Before I continue, it’s worth nothing that much like the Balvenie Cask 191 event I attended in 2017, this was a gathering of people that interact on a daily basis through social media but were meeting face to face for the first time. It was a really cool experience both meeting everyone and observing the casual interactions all weekend between people who had only met in person that afternoon.
We started in the tasting room across the street to learn both about the cooperage itself, the process of making barrels, some rules and regulations for the tour, and to try the two Cooper’s Craft expressions. Cooper’s Craft is an interesting product line as both the label and bottle list “The Brown Forman Cooperage” as the producer. Involving the barrel makers themselves is an interesting twist on making bourbon. We tried the flagship 82.2 proof expression and a 100 proof expression from their “chiseled and charred” barrels. The 100 proof was the better sipper neat for sure. As an experiment, I even mixed the two together and waited a few minutes to see what would happen.
It wasn’t better. (Maybe those blenders know a thing or two.)
Next, we split up into two groups and toured the cooperage itself. Eye and ear protection was a requirement the whole time and with good reason. With wood being cut, metal being bent, and barrels being charred with huge open flames, there were plenty of hazards. When we first walked in, there was a count showing the number of barrels that had been made that day. The screen read 894.
The barrel making process is pretty similar no matter which cooperage you visit. Staves, barrel heads, and hoops are assembled into a barrel shape. That barrel is toasted and then charred. You would think that if you’ve seen one cooperage, you’ve seem them all. This was not the case. Both the scale and process at Brown Foreman Cooperage is on a completely different level than most cooperages. There was a team of at least 30 people all working at various stations. Some were cutting and shaping staves. Others were shaping the hoops. Others still were pressure testing the freshly completed barrels. Everything was fast and efficient. I watched a few barrels get raised (assembled) in seconds. By the time the 20-30 minute tour was over, the barrel count display read 963.
With the cooperage tour and tasting behind us, we moved on to Bardstown Bourbon Company for Friday’s main tasting event. Bardstown Bourbon Company is a fascinating organization because they transcend any one segment of the bourbon industry. They are a distillery: both for their own releases and as the contract distiller for many other brands. They are a full service restaurant and vintage spirits bar. They do events planning and hosting. They are planning construction of a hotel on site in the near future. Since opening in 2016, they are already one of the largest producers of whiskey in Kentucky. It’s safe to assume they are going to be a big part of the industry from now on.
We walked inside and up the stairs past the “Closed for Private Event” sign to find a room lined with tables occupied by the various brands. My eye was immediately drawn to Al Young from Four Roses. It was strongly hinted before the event that we would be tasting the Al Young 50th Anniversary bottling and sure enough, a bottle was on hand for the event. Despite the allure of the whiskey waiting for us, I kept my eye on the true prize to start the evening: the empty food line. After grabbing something to eat, I made my way inside. The room was well represented with both big players and smaller brands in attendance. At the far end of the room was a table for Oak and Bond Coffee, who specialize in barrel aged coffees.
At the other end of the room was the table set up for Bardstown Bourbon Company. In addition to their Fusion and Discovery series bottles, they also had freshly drawn samples of whiskies that will become a part of their Collaborative Series: an apple brandy finish, an orange curacao finish, and a double mistelle finish. I started with the orange curacao finish first and told BBC president David Mandell that it’s the closet anyone has ever come to successfully incorporating that type of finish in an American whiskey. Willett XCF and Parker’s Heritage 12th Edition are not well balanced and the Bardstown Bourbon release was way better in that regard. The apple brandy finish was next and I found it really interesting to find those prominent orchard fruit notes as a separate layer on top of the whiskey as opposed to being baked into the makeup of the spirit itself. Finally, I tried the mistelle finish. David warned me that this was the showstopper and he was right. The closest comparison I can make is that this is like an extra sweet port-like finish. That particular combination of dark fruits and berries was something I haven’t encountered before. It was truly a pour to remember.
Al Young said a few words about his time at Four Roses and introduced his namesake bottle as glasses of the release were passed out to everyone in attendance. It had been at least a year since I had tried the AY bottling and I was more than a bit excited to try it again. Four Roses Small Batch Limited releases have been hit or miss for me over the past 5-6 years but this is an absolute winner. I later asked Mr. Young, who was standing next to the half-full bottle, what would happen if some additional Al Young 50th whiskey ended up tipping into my glass by mistake. He was happy to oblige and I savored that pour for the rest of the evening.
Next up was Nate from WhistlePig and @whiskywithaview fame to take us through tasting a WhistlePig expression so new that it didn’t even have a label yet. As it turned out, it was an 18 year double malt rye that will be hitting the market soon. It’s the oldest rye WhistlePig has ever released and features a unique mashbill (79% rye, 15% malted rye, 6% malted barley). I like my ryes with some age and this was no exception. It was well crafted and had a unique flavor profile that I’ll need to try again to explore further.
Washington state’s Woodinville was next and after a few words from national brand ambassador Ariel Jahn, we tried a bottle of Woodinville Cask 001. As you could probably guess from the name, this was the very first cask ever filled at the distillery on January 24th 2011. At 8 years old, it’s the oldest whiskey they’ve released to date. With only 87 bottles available, it was a rare treat to try something like this from an up and coming distillery. We also got to try their flagship bourbon and rye releases as well as the cask strength version of each.
Next, we heard from new Michter’s Master Distiller Dan McKee. Relatively new to this role, he admitted that he’s still getting used to being a public face of the brand in addition to his other responsibilities. He talked a bit about the brand and his role and introduced us to the latest batch of Michter’s Barrel Proof Bourbon: a Kentucky exclusive. At 107.2 proof, it was dangerously drinkable but still quite flavorful due to the low barrel entry proof of 103.
The Old Carter brand was next up and they had something extra special for us: a bottle of 27 year old Very Old Carter bourbon from a barrel that yielded just 15 bottles. Mark and Sherri Carter have been busy with their own brand since moving on from Kentucky Owl. On hand were a few batches of bourbon, rye, American whiskey, and the bottle of Very Old Carter, which was passed out to the attendees. Those who know me well know that old bourbon (20+ years old) and I don’t get along typically and this 27 year was no exception. The progression from nose to palate to finish was nice but was still too tannic for my personal tastes. The younger expressions, on the other hand, were all quite nice.
Last, but not least, was New Riff Distilling. This is a brand that has been making some waves in the bourbon world recently. New Riff waited until their stocks were 4 years old before bottling and that kind of commitment to “doing it right” goes a long way with me and many other enthusiasts out there. I particularly enjoyed the single cask bottle that was there but the regular straight bourbon and rye bottlings were pretty good as well.
When all was said and done, I found myself gravitating back to David from Bardstown Bourbon Company. We talked about favorite pours from the evening and when I mentioned their finished bourbons, he suggested we head downstairs to the bar to try their Phifer Pavitt Reserve which wasn’t on the table upstairs. This is a 9 year old Tennessee whisky finished in Phifer Pavitt Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels. While I am typically not a fan of red wine finishes, this pour wasn’t overly saturated with typical “red wine” notes.
With the evening officially over, we rode back to Louisville in a luxury coach provided by Pegasus Distilled. In addition to a nice ride all weekend, we were joined by Eddie, the Pegasus owner, for much of our time in Kentucky. I had an extended chat with him during one of our rides and it’s clear that he not only knows his stuff, but he truly loves Kentucky and the bourbon industry.
We reached downtown Louisville and a few people went into the Marriott lounge so I decided to join for a bit. I was about to leave and get some sleep when a bottle of Blanton’s Gold and Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel appeared. I guess I was staying for a few more minutes after all before finally walking back to my hotel. Day one was a whirlwind of activity but as I soon learned, we had no idea what was in store for us on day 2.