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Copper & Kings Brandy Visit & Barrel Selection

 

Outside of Copper & Kings Brandy Distillery

When you think of Kentucky, you don’t exactly think of brandy and when you tour said brandy distillery, you don’t expect to put your tag on a barrel. But then again, as with Alice’s “Drink Me” potion sometimes up is down, the path is blurred and things are not exactly what they seem.

Copper & Kings is a brandy distillery that burst onto the scene recently with the release of some incredible brandies and grape based absinthe. We stocked their product soon after tasting it- while there are many craft producers that seem to be finding their branding and style, Copper & Kings came to the table with both of these elements done beautifully. They offered an exceptionally well made, focused product that was well packaged and marketed. So while in Kentucky to select our next Knob Creek Single Barrel, we figured we’d stop in to Copper & Kings and check out just what the hell was going on over there.

Shipping containers used at Copper & Kings Brandy DistilleryThe distillery is sitting in a neighborhood of Louisville called Butchertown- a name derived from the meat packing business that used to dominate the area. There is one small processor remaining across the street and the tales of screaming pigs almost made us reconsider bacon. ALMOST. The area is one of several up and coming parts of Louisville that are part of what some would call a “hipster revival”. I concede the term sounds negative, but in my mind it’s not at all. Think- independent, well conceived food and drink places without the stiff collars and a little bit of grit. This is happening in urban centers around the country and I, for one, am all for it. Copper & Kings embodies this urban renaissance and adds a well funded shine. They’ve employed repurposed shipping containers for structures on your arrival- a small gift shop, greeting area and food prep area for parties. They’ve installed butterfly gardens in the front and taken what looks to have been a (pardon my french) total piece of shit building, blown off the cobwebs and turned it into a GORGEOUS distillery and event space.

 

 

Copper & Kings StillsCopper & Kings head distiller, Brandon gave as the skinny on the beautiful, mad scientistey copper pot stills that dominate the distillery- three alembic copper pot stills hand made by one of the leading manufacturers, and Butchertown neighbor, Vendome. Lots of shiny copper, piping to take the spirit to all parts of the building, glass peep holes and a gin basket that protrudes through to the second floor art gallery which is used to jam all of those botanicals in for their delicious absinthe. A lot of thought went into both preserving the character of this old structure while providing Brandon an incredible tool box to play with.

Producing brandy (and brandy based absinthe) means starting with grape juice. And since you don’t hear many folks talking about the great wine growing region of Kentucky, Copper & Kings sources their juice from California wineries. After distillation, the brandy is barreled and rested in the basement- a cool, subterranean area with music blasting. I’d heard about their sonic aging techniques and was prepared to call bullshit, but as it was explained I began to understand. It’s commonly understood that 70% of a spirit’s flavor is derived from its contact with wood. Copper & Kings is testing the theory that by blasting music as the spirit ages, the vibration in the liquid and the barrel causes more interaction with the wood and positively affects the end product. Certainly, more testing would have to be done to determine if it’s true or not, but the basement rocked regardless.

 

 

Barrels aging at Copper & Kings Brandy DistilleryThis is where things started to get interesting… Brandon told us a bit about his background- a personal and family history in winemaking and distilling. He showed us the work they were doing with unique barrels- beer barrels on loan from partner breweries, sherry butts, port pipes and some unique wood you don’t normally see in a distillery. He then mentioned there were around ten barrels aging in bourbon casks that they had selected for a single barrel program. Our ears perked up.

 

 

 

Barrel Samples From Copper & Kings Brandy DistilleryWe sidestepped through some very tight racking with a drill and some hand scrawled notes. Brandon had some “honey barrels” identified and we went down the line checking them out. While all were incredible, it came down to two- one aged in a Willett barrel and another in a Woodford Reserve barrel. While the former had the name appeal that would make everyone go crazy- the latter had the quality in the juice. Explosive and all encompassing bourbon flavor with a finish that lingers far beyond your typical bourbon. The nose is just like bourbon and while the flavor is very similar, it activates all parts of the palate. “This is brandy, right?” I asked. We were totally blown away by this spirit, but a bit nervous by the word “Brandy” on the label. We knew if blind tasted, this bottle would sell itself, but most people come to us for whiskey, not brandy, so there would be some education required. Luckily, we had traveled to Kentucky with a friendly competitor who was similarly blown away. We agreed to split the barrel. Our Copper & Kings Cask Strength Single Barrel (from a Woodford Reserve barrel) is now available!

VISIT COPPER & KINGS ONLINE!

Barrel Selection at Copper & Kings

Knob Creek Barrel Selection with Freddie Booker Noe IV

Selecting a barrel of Knob Creek with Freddie Booker Noe IV

We’ve brought in a lot of Knob Creek barrels at Ace Spirits. I’ve selected some based on samples sent through the mail and I’ve had the pleasure of selecting barrels together with Fred Noe. For this trip to Jim Beam, Fred was traveling so we had the pleasure of working with his son, Freddie Booker Noe IV.

It may not be fashionable to root for the big guys, but I’ll say it- Jim Beam is a heck of a company. Sure, they make product that pays the bills, but their small batch bourbons and some of their sleeper brands (read: Old Grand Dad) deserve a closer look. Bottom line is, Jim Beam makes some incredible whiskey for a very reasonable price and now that they’ve merged with Suntory, you’ve got this holy trifecta- America, Scotland and Japan. But I digress… this here post is about Bourbon. Delicious, American bourbon.

Jim Beam ExteriorLike most of the bourbon producers in Kentucky, Jim Beam is nestled in the remote, rolling hills where you can understand how a clandestine moonshine operation would prosper. Good access to water, the cover of trees and some distance from your neighbors was perfect for producing hooch on the DL. Since the fall of prohibition, there’s no need to be sneaky any more, of course. With the bourbon boom, all of these places have been turned into Disneyland for the drinking public which has it’s benefits and drawbacks. Fortunately, when you’re buying barrels, you get to venture past the velvet ropes.

Sure, we get to see the stills spitting out hundreds of gallons of white dog per hour, just like the rest of y’all. Their stills work non-stop, their bottling line is sprawling and efficient and there are tankers of whiskey traveling around the property, but in the middle of all that activity is a whole lot of nothing. Because, of course, it takes time to make good whiskey and when you’re laying down these barrels, time is money. The deep pockets of Beam/Suntory allow for the capital investments necessary to bring you 10 year old whiskey for under $30- a feat no craft distiller could accomplish. Make no mistake- Jim Beam is a whiskey factory that has fine tuned its craft over 200 years to provide us with some of the best bourbon out there. This isn’t to say craft producers can’t be innovative or produce great product, but they have to be aware of the bar and either seek to surpass it or do something different all together.

Knob Creek Barrel with Sample GlassesFor this trip, we were selecting the next Knob Creek Single Barrel for Ace Spirits. Traditionally when selecting bourbon barrels, you are presented with three samples from which to choose, but because we were traveling with a friendly competitor, we had six to choose from.  We were just hoping we didn’t have to fight over the same barrel, but we hung on to the mallet used to knock the bung out of the barrel just in case tings were to get ugly.  A fella named Jason is responsible for overseeing all of the Knob Creek Single Barrels that are aging in the rickhouses, and for the Exclusive Barrel Program, he culls the very best barrels from the herd. It’s incredible to consider the thousands of barrels resting in Beam warehouses and the meticulous data kept on each.  When you show up, Jason can give you the pedigree of each barrel sitting in front of you and why it is special.  It’s almost as if he’s boasting about his children.  While Jason has his finger on the barrels in the rickhouses, Craig (who is seen in the video describing the barrel we selected) is the one who runs the exclusive barrel program.  Though he missed his calling as circus barker, he is an excellent host for this process.  His job has him working with groups twice a day to select barrels- managing a program that started as a handful of single barrels a year to one that now sees hundreds of these barrels leaving the rickhouses each year.  In fact, our very own Butcher and the Boar has maintained the title of largest Knob Creek Single Barrel account in the world.  Go Gophers!

 

Freddie Booker Noe IV Pouring a Sample

 

As I said before, Freddie’s dad wasn’t available this time around, but it was an honor to choose a barrel with an eighth generation distiller who is likely to follow Fred when he retires.  They say Freddie’s palate is like his grandfather Booker’s, which is to say, quite good.  So it was awesome to have him on hand.  In my experience, selecting Knob Creek Single Barrels is like picking a favorite child- all are so good you really can’t go wrong. Jason makes my job pretty easy in this regard. When I’m picking bourbon barrels, I tend to stick to what I personally like in bourbon- full flavor, huge vanilla and caramel sweetness with a mellow burn and long finish. I don’t like any hint of nail polish or sourness- I like bourbon to appeal to my sweet tooth.  So that’s what we were looking for.

 

 

 

Selecting a Knob Creek Single Barrel with Freddie Booker Noe IVAny of the six barrels presented to us would have been great- they all possessed these qualities. But only one had that sweetness followed by a wonderful, sustained burn. And that’s the one we put our tag on.  We were waiting for tinsel to fall from the ceiling or angelic trumpeters, but all we got were quiet nods of approval, a little friendly banter and some handshakes.  Soon after selecting our next barrel, we visited the single barrel dump station and bottling line.  I felt a little guilty.  After all, it’s a bit like stepping on your dog in the middle of the night- so happily resting until you go and mess it all up for them.  But after over ten years in a barrel, stick a fork in this mofo, it’s done.  Now we just have to wait for this barrel to go through the bottling line, put in some boxes and passed through the hands of a whole lot of burly material handlers before being placed on our floor.  Stay tuned…

 

 

Dumping the Knob Creek Single BarrelAs for the rest of it, I’ve never been shy about telling people how I feel (good or bad) about a particular bottle. In my humble opinion, one of the most consistently fabulous and versatile bourbons out there is Bookers. Cask strength, loads of flavor, and priced right. While we sell it for a fraction of what others do, Booker’s is undoubtedly under-priced for what you are getting in the bottle.  So it was good to see where all of this delicious juice comes from.  I’m also a huge fan of Old Grand Dad 114, and hey, guess who makes that?

In all, this visit to Jim Beam was an incredible experience.  Standing in a rickhouse with the smell of aging bourbon wafting about your head is really the way to do this and this barrel selection was an experience I won’t soon forget.  Stay tuned for Knob Creek Single Barrel 1955, coming to Ace Spirits soon!

Knob Creek Single Barrel 1955 Selected by Ace Spirits

A few more images for your enjoyment…

Jim Beam FermentersJim Beam StillSpirit Safe at Jim BeamFilling Barrels at Jim BeamJim Beam Bourbon FactoryKnob Creek Warehouse K where we selected the barrel of Knob CreekKnob Creek- Knocking BungsKnob Creek Bottles Knob Creek Bottling Line  Knob Creek Samples      jim-beam-bottling-line

Stranahan’s Distillery Visit

Stranhan's Distillery Exterior
Stranahan's Whiskey TruckConsumer demand never fails to crack me up.  We’ve sat on bottles for YEARS until a self-proclaimed expert anoints one and we suddenly can’t keep it in stock.  Stranahan’s was one of those stories.  Many years ago I used to stock Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey.  We’d tried it, thought it was pretty good, we liked the packaging, so we gave it a whirl.  While it didn’t exactly gather dust, it didn’t set the world ablaze either.  Early into it’s life on our shelves, I got word that Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey was being pulled from the Minnesota market because they just couldn’t produce enough juice.  After that, demand exploded.  People were calling daily looking for the stuff.  There was a frenzy to find this whiskey they absolutely, positively NEEDED to have.

I was certain that after the Proximo purchase in 2010, a relaunch was inevitable after they had a chance to age some product for a few years.  Alas, that was not the case.  They kept us waiting until early 2015.  Expecting to fill the pent up demand, I bought as much as I could to serve the hordes that were sure to bust down our doors.  Rather than a thirsty mob, there seemed to be a universal “meh” uttered as we stacked the stuff on the floor.  People are funny.

 

Stranahan's DistilleryThe Backstory
As the story goes, a volunteer firefighter and modern day bootlegger named Jess Graber answered a call to put out a barn fire on George Stranahan’s property.  A discussion ensued and a business emerged with a recipe for something a bit out of the ordinary- an American Whiskey made exclusively with malted barley and the first Colorado distillery to be opened since Prohibition.  George’s Flying Dog Brewery would be a key part of the operation initially, providing Stranahan’s with their wash.  I never had the opportunity to visit the old joint that was located directly next to Flying Dog Brewery, but this place has a bit of polish to it.  A working distillery sure, but daddy’s investment really makes this place sparkle.

 

 

Stranahan's Fermenters


Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey

Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey is made from locally sourced, malted barley toasted to four different levels for flavor.  While they state no age on the whiskey, it is a small batch marriage of 2-5 year old barrels cut with locally sourced, Eldorado spring water.  It’s a solid whiskey that lacks the nuance of a single malt scotch and the boldness of a bourbon.  I don’t say that in a negative way- it sits nicely between the two.  Despite it’s higher proof, it’s quite smooth and wonderfully viscous.

 

 

 

 

Stranahan's Stills

Stranahan’s Diamond Peak Whiskey
Stranahan’s Diamond Peak Whiskey is simply a bottling containing the same Colorado whiskey as their flagship, only none of the barrels are less that four years old and they are selected from amongst the best in the warehouse.  You get the smooth, 94 proof Colorado Whiskey, but with all the edges taken off.  Definitely worth the extra money.

 

 

 

 

Stranahan's StillsStranahan’s Snowflake
Stranahan’s Snowflake is a pretty cool program- a distillery only release that happens twice a year with a VERY limited run.  Each release is named after a different 14,000 foot mountain and consists of Stranahan’s whiskey finished in different wine barrels.  The exact finishes varies with each release.  I was lucky enough to try a bit of the 2015 release- Mt. Bierstadt which was finished in 40 year old Olorosso sherry barrels, Cognac barrels, and a cherry wine barrel.  The sherry-bomb lover in me was immediately smitten.  Not over the top, but just the right amount of sherry.  I’m not shy about professing my love for Brenne, the french single malt finished in cognac casks, and you can definitely pick up on the sweetness that the cognac barrels lend to the whiskey.  As stated before, we always want what we can’t have, and with only 1,200 bottles of Snowflake produced this year, you probably can’t get it.

 

Stranahan's Whiskey BarrelsThe Gas Tap
Several years ago, Jess was at a gas filling station, still stewing over the spilled whiskey at the distillery when he heard the “click” of the gas handle.  He contacted Husky, who fabricated a stainless steel version of the gas tap so the barrel wranglers in the distillery wouldn’t spill his special newmake.  Plus, it looks badass.

If you’re in the Denver area, the distillery is definitely worth a peek.  They are relatively central in the city and have an awesome cocktail room to hang out in.  Plus, if you wander across the street, a newly opened horticultural center will show you what they mean by “Rocky Mountain High”.

Good stuff.

 

Visit Stranahan’s Distillery online or shop their products at Ace Spirits!

 

 

 

marijuana dispensary

 

 

Four Firkins Closing

Last night I learned with the rest of you that Four Firkins is closing. Now, it’s not often that we take time to talk about our competition let alone sing them praise, but in this case it is well deserved. I’m not friends with the Firkins crew- I know Alvey only in passing. We’ve worked together on Sunday sales and we’ve bumped shoulders competitively a couple of times. So this isn’t an endorsement of my buddy by any means.

I’ve been in the retail liquor business for just over 10 years and had followed a relatively tried and true model. When I started hearing grumblings of this specialty store in St. Louis Park, it piqued my interest and as more and more of my customers were getting into craft beer I heard more and more about the Firkins. I never made the actual trip to see them until the new store opened and immediately a light turned on in my head. Taking a creative retail approach to this business really hadn’t been done in the cities. I traveled around the country and observed other concepts that were executed similarly brilliant and that light in my head turned to a strobe.

“Head into the light!”

Alvey was a trailblazer with this concept. Sure, in the postmortem you can dissect every wrong business decision he made, but unless you are in his shoes, you can’t ever understand the complexity of issues that led to their closure. This is a note simply to thank Alvey for raising the bar for the competition, recognize the Firkins concept for it’s originality and wish all the best going forward.

Gift Card Redemption
The gift card issue seems to be sticking in people’s craw- understandably so. To lessen the pain for those stuck holding the cards and to turn some people on to a great alternative, Ace Spirits will be offering $10 in store credit for any Four Firkins Gift Card. Sure, there are some limits- You need to make at least a $40 purchase, we will need to keep the card, we limit it to one card per person per day and we reserve the right to terminate this program at any time. But, you’ll get a little something where you otherwise might have none.

Anyhoo… A sad day for the beer community and the Twin Cities as a whole.

Oak by Absolut- Vodka? Whiskey? Whisky?

“I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis.”
-Humphrey Bogart’s last words

Oak by AbsolutMinneapolis is one of three markets where Absolut has launched Oak– a vodka aged six months in new oak and of course, we had to bring it in. But Absolut Oak begs the question- is this vodka? Is this whiskey? Frankly, the release somewhat bothers me as it blurs category lines that can already be a bit confusing.

Oak by Absolut is made from wheat and distilled to a proof higher than allowable to be considered whiskey. Aside from that, it looks and tastes like a very light whiskey. It’s certainly not the worst I’ve tasted, but I’d take a bottle of Booker’s over this any day. Oak by Absolut was launched with the intention of bringing vodka drinkers into the whiskey category. While we love to get people turned on to whiskey here, I’m not sure we want vodka drinkers raiding our increasingly scarce supplies, but I suppose if they stick to this, we’ll be good. 😉

I’m curious to hear what you think about this… Anyone?

Buy this at acespirits.com

Teeling Whiskey Company Distillery Tour

Teeling Whiskey Company- Exterior under construction

Teeling Whiskey Company- Exterior under construction

 

Teeling Whiskey Company Sneak Peek

In the middle of a forgotten corner of Dublin, the Teeling Whiskey Company is emerging from a literal pile of rubble. We were lucky enough to be given a sneak peak tour of the distillery by Stephen Teeling, who protected us from flying sparks, sheetrock dust and dangerous looking construction workers that somehow maintained that unmistakable Irish charm. When we visited, the distillery was very much under construction- it’s black stone exterior was still shrouded in scaffolding, there was no interior lighting, missing stairwells and pesky pigeon squatters that I’m certain will soon meet an untimely end. Much like the phoenix on their bottle, Teeling is in the process of rising from the ashes as they make history by opening the first new distillery in Dublin in over 125 years. The rebirth is also personal for the Teeling family after the sale of their Cooley Distillery in 2012 to Beam Suntory. If you follow these things (which we do) you know that Cooley was producing Kilbeggan, Greenore (soon to be renamed Kilbeggan Single Grain), Connemara, Tyrconnel and 2 Gingers Irish whiskeys. With this experience under their belts, it was clear the Teelings knew what they were doing, but we wondered how this new brand was already producing aged spirit. In the states, it’s not uncommon to source whiskey as you wait for your own stock to mature, but Stephen explained to us how the family retained a significant number of aging barrels through the sale of Cooley and that stock is being used to produce the whiskeys we are enjoying today. Bonus business points to the Teelings.

 

 

Teeling Whiskey Stills

Teeling Whiskey Stills

At the rate we are selling Teeling whiskey, the retained stocks won’t last forever and so the folks at Teeling are already hard at work replenishing those barrels. Despite all of the chaos and construction, we were surprised to see that the functional part of the distillery was already operational. Fermenters, washbacks and stills were already kicking out sweet, raw distillate and Stephen allowed us to sample what we would call White Dog or New Make in the states- in Ireland it’s labeled Potcheen (or Poitín). This was the first batch of legal distillate to be produced in Dublin in over 100 years, and the fact that we were sampling history in a bottle was not lost on us. While new make isn’t generally my thing, Teeling’s raw spirit was smooth, floral and creamy. It definitely had the unmistakable Irish sweetness, but it lacked the burn that new make often possesses. To produce their whiskey, the Teelings are combining state of the art facilities with some throwback touches. Massive, pine wood fermenters currently have a sparkle, but will certainly soon look as if they’d been pulled from an old cherished distilling house as soon as a few batches have run through. Teeling utilizes three, state of the art pot stills in the distillation process- an 15,000 liter primary, a 10,000 liter still for the second pass and a 9,000 liter still that handles the final distillation. I’d never seen brand-spanking new copper stills, and these were all sparkly and purdy. I have to admit to getting a bit weak in the knees. I’d also never seen stills where the bottoms were exposed, so this was a cool and unique setup.

 

Teeling Whiskey Spirit Safe

Teeling Whiskey Spirit Safe

What makes Teeling Whiskey truly unique is their progressive approach to finishing. Their small batch is finished in Flor de Cana rum casks which imparts a delicate sweetness to the whiskey. We often get people in the shop saying that whiskey isn’t their thing- Teeling Small Batch is what we use to change their minds. Teeling Single Grain is 98% Corn finished in California red wine casks and their 100% malted barley Single Malt is finished in 5 different types of wine casks (Sherry, Port, Madeira, White Burgundy & Cabernet Sauvignon). I was able to score an incredible bottle of 21 Year Old Vintage Reserve at the airport, but since it’s not available here, I won’t even tease you with how wonderful it is. (spoiler alert- it’s freaking incredible)

 

 

 

 

Teeling Whiskey Fermenters

Teeling Whiskey Fermenters

Stephen showed us the distillery and gave us some insight into their grain to glass approach to whiskey making. After touring the active part of the distillery, he showed us the ambitious plans for the visitors area before taking us out on a balcony to enjoy a rare spot of Irish sunshine and a few wee drams of his whiskey. There wasn’t much to photograph in the visitors area as it was being sheetrocked, but suffice it to say that the distillery will be very well equipped to delight and entertain the guest with educational tours, bars and spaces to hang out. In the very near future, Teeling Whiskey Company will be setting this up-and-coming neighborhood on fire (hopefully not literally) with a combination of edutaining tours, lively atmosphere and most importantly- FABULOUS WHISKEY. Definitely a must-visit.

 

 

 

 

On the rooftop at Teeling Whiskey Co

On the rooftop at Teeling Whiskey Co

 

 

 

Some Helpful Links

Buy Teeling Whiskey Online
Visit Teeling Whiskey Co’s Website
Stop in and Take a Tour Yourself!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teeling Whiskey Stills

Teeling Whiskey Stills

Evan Williams “Cursed Cask”
Single Barrel Bourbon

After successful runs with some Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon for Ace Spiritsof our own Evan Williams Bourbon barrels, we were informed last year that they just couldn’t keep up.  Evan Williams had discontinued their barrel program.  We were pretty dang pleased when our supplier came to us with news of an unclaimed barrel they discovered in their warehouse!  Evan Williams Single Barrel#1075 Bourbon was bottled on 11/9/13 for the ill fated Mustang Tavern, but before they could take delivery, the tavern shuttered.

 

Finding a way to unload such an item- emblazoEvan Williams Single Barrel for Ace Spiritsned with the logo of the defunct saloon wouldn’t be such an easy task, but we figured we’d give it a go.  We sampled the whiskey and while it didn’t knock our socks off, it was adequate if we could negotiate an attractive discount that could be passed on to the guest.

 

This single barrel of Evan Williams Bourbon has a nose that is a bit harsh.  The body is a bit sweeter than the other Evan Williams barrels we’ve had and lacks the long finish we enjoyed with our selections.  Nonetheless, it’s a fine bourbon for the price and sometimes that’s all you need.  Long story short- you’ve got a 10 year old, single barrel bourbon for just $20 and that’s hard to beat.
Buy this at acespirits.com

 

Our Blog Died- RIP the blog…

So I did something stupid for a change.  With the click of the mouse, I deleted both our old blog and the backup of our old blog.  Because sometimes I’m brilliant like that.   Recreating our old blog posts does not sound like much fun, but there was some good info in there and I might just have to bring myself (kicking and screaming) to do it.  In the mean time.  Welcome to our fresh start!