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Knob Creek 25th Anniversary Celebration & Barrel

 

 

Knob CreekKnob Creek 25th Anniversary Party & Barrel recently released a highly allocated, cask strength, unfiltered single barrel in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the brand. Just prior to the release, we were told about this special bottling and asked to be part of a select few to come to Kentucky for a huge celebration and to taste a single barrel that Fred Noe had selected just for Ace Spirits. This is a release of only 16 single barrels all at cask strength for restaurants and retailers. We would be one of only 9 retailers invited and receiving barrels. Needless to say, I was pretty excited.

The shindig was set up at a relatively recently acquired piece of property just next to Beam’s Clermont, Kentucky distillery. It was primarily acquired for the water source in the back, but there is a quaint house on the expansive property as well as a car port that was transformed into a swank bar for this event. There was music, fishing, bags (aka: cornhole), a barrel charring demonstration, cocktail contest, and of course plenty of food and booze.

 

 

 

For me, the highlight of the day was the Oink & Barrel tasting that paired different Knob Creek releases with different country hams. This was the highlight partly because bacon is AWESOME and partly because things got somewhat fuzzy soon after. Four different Knob Creek whiskeys and four different Country Ham producers, culminating with the 25th Anniversary and a ham smoked in Fred Noe’s back yard. I’d never done this type of pairing before.  It started with a taste of whiskey, then a taste of ham, then a revisit of the whiskey. The result in your mouth is sort of like magic. Weird, oily explosions and all sorts of crazy flavors dancing all over your tongue. Ohmigosh.

What followed was an excellent battery of pre-batched cocktails that went down far too easily, an interesting demonstration of barrel charring by the folks at International Stave, a cocktail competition, and a couple totally inept rounds of bags (a game fondly called cornhole here in Minnesota). I consciously refrained from saying the word “cornhole” as I was in the woods of Kentucky after dark with a bunch of locals that were drinking. All ended without incident, but I will say that the ibuprofen included in the welcome bag was appreciated when the 9AM buzzer roused me from my slumber.

 

Day 2 wasThe tent at Warehouse K held just outside of Warehouse K- the location of all Single Barrel selections for Knob Creek. Once again, the folks at Beam pulled out all the stops with a tent setup that included a bar and a country breakfast that would soak up yesterday’s sins. Once again, there were games and shenanigans as waves of people were introduced to the barrels of 25th Anniversary that Fred had chosen for them. While we were waiting, three very special barrels were popped open in the tent- Knob Creek Rye.

Previously unavailable as a single barrel, this was a prequel for a fall product launch of 30 seven year old barrels that will be bottled at 115 proof. We had the opportunity to sample three cask strength barrels from from very different parts of the warehouses. Tasting proof ranged from 117-127 and the range in flavors was wide. I’m not the biggest rye fan, but the samples from the lower racks where excellent- especially with some water. After a bit more sun and food, it was our turn to head into the warehouse to be introduced to our barrel of Knob Creek 25th Anniversary.

Knob Creek Rye Single BarrelI’ve picked a whole lot of single barrels over the years, and the Knob Creek barrels are consistently some of the best. When choosing, I get to sample bourbon directly from the barrel- a treat that’s never lost on me, and ever since the very first barrel pick I’ve unsuccessfully begged them to bottle at cask strength. While Fred Noe probably won’t stand over a barrel of bourbon and serve you samples from a whiskey thief, this is as close as you’re going to get to that experience at home.

Our barrel was an absolute stunner that clocked in at just over 125 proof. It will sit a bit longer before being bottled in August, so proof will change slightly. Out of the barrel, it wasn’t so much hot as it was tight. Some air helped with that, but a tiny bit of water and BAM!!!! This was one of those mystical honey barrels. Having tried some of the other barrels that day, I’m quite happy with the barrel that was allocated to Ace Spirits- Crazy complex and hitting all the right notes that an exceptional bourbon should. Others that sampled our barrel had a bit of envy in their eyes- some even commented aloud. In all, the perfect cap to a perfect couple days and a highly anticipated delivery that is expected in September of 2017.

Pre-Order yours here and check out a few more pics of the event below…

 

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Four Roses Barrel Selection- December 2016

Four Roses Tasting Room

It took nearly a year of coordination to get a barrel selection date at Four Roses. As it turned out, with total time on the ground of just four hours, this would be the very last barrel selection of 2016 to be snuck in just under the wire!

 

Distillery Entrance of Four RosesOur previous barrel selections were based on samples that were sent to us, but the program has since been dramatically revamped due to supply issues. Four Roses barrel selections are now only available to those that have purchased barrels in the past and selections must be made at the distillery. It makes sense when you think about it- sending out samples ties up barrels until decisions are made. When you multiply those decision trees out among those that want barrels, the math becomes apparent. We went back and forth on availability of barrels and trying to find dates that worked, but I finally made the plans to arrive in the wee hours of the final weekday of 2016, rent a car to make the short trek from Louisville, taste some world class bourbon and then reverse course.

I’d been to Four Roses before, but never to the Cox Creek facility where my appointment was. The barrel selection room is in a nondescript building nestled between a neighborhood of Four Roses’ signature single story rickhouses. These warehouses are tiny compared to some of the monster, six to ten story rickhouses normally used in the area. The diminutive warehouses were built to ensure a more even temperature from top to bottom and therefore a more consistent aging process.

 

Four Roses Bourbon Recipes for Single Barrel

Four Roses makes their bourbon using two different mashbills and five different yeast strains which provides ten different recipe variants.  For some detail about the recipes, check out the Four Roses’ Infographic.  The recipes are noted on the label and there is quite a difference from one variant to the next.  As you become familiar with the distillery you establish preferences, but also an appreciation for the entire lineup.

With barrel selections I’ve made in the past, several of the recipes were unavailable. I was ecstatic to open the door and see nine barrels waiting there for me! The only missing recipe, OBSO, is the whiskey that goes into the 100 Proof Single Barrel product that is widely available. I was told that the resulting shortage of this recipe means no more single barrel selections of OBSO for another two years. Oh well, nine will do! I asked my host if it was possible to assemble a nearly complete set of nine for our shop, but allocations wouldn’t allow me to be greedy- I’d have to narrow the field. We proceeded by drawing barrel samples with a thief, setting up all nine glasses, and getting down to business!

 

 

Glasses of Four Roses Bourbon

 

As with all tastings, I spend some time nosing all of the whiskey we will be tasting. Nine different samples is a lot for one session and it takes a bit of time to get your head around what makes them each special. I asked to blind taste the samples- I didn’t want to know the ages or the recipes until after so as not to be influenced by anything other than the bourbon itself.

Candidates for the Barrel Selection program are hand culled from the general population by distiller Brent Elliott. He focuses on exceptional barrels that best represent each recipe. This ensures the store picks will be a grade above the rest. While there wasn’t a bad barrel in this bunch (I have had what I considered sub-par barrels before), I definitely have my preferences with Four Roses and could pick out the two SQ variants immediately. When choosing store picks, I tend to work backwards and eliminate my least favorite, so these two were on the hit list.

 

 

 

Four Roses Single Barrels of BourbonTasting this many cask strength bourbons straight from the barrel takes a bit of time.  Go too fast and your palate is thrashed too much to appreciate the differences. Slow, small sips with palate cleansers do the trick and reviewing the field a couple of times helps solidify the decision. We tasted, we talked, and narrowed the field down to two. I again implored my host just to release nine barrels to us so we didn’t have to choose, but I’d only get one.

As it turns out, the two the field were narrowed down to were the OBSK and the OBSF, and I was torn between the two.  Both were off the charts tasty with explosive blasts of flavor- vanilla, caramel and the things you’d expect from bourbon.  But the OBSK had a more impressive finish and a bit more cinnamon spice.  It turns out, our OBSK bottling saw 9 years and three months in oak before being bottled at 57.1% ABV and sent to us.  This fine bottle is now available for purchase online while supplies last.

Buy our Four Roses Single Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon OBSK Store Pick Here.

 

Four Roses Single Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon OBSK- Ace Spirits Single Barrel Selection Glasses of Four Roses Bourbon Four Roses Private Barrel Selection House

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

 

 

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