Favorite Bourbons Of 2019

Welcome to the 2019 Bourbonr Year in review. I’ll dive into my favorite three bourbons a little later. For now, let’s recap what all went on this year.

Probably the biggest story of 2019 is the crackdown on the bourbon secondary market. Pappy has long dominated bourbon headlines. It’s the most notable bourbon brand in the world. When the Van Winkles stated that they spent millions to have the Facebook bourbon groups taken down it sent a shockwave through the bourbon world. No matter how you feel about the issue, this was huge. read more

Bourbonr Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, Bourbonrs! Every Thanksgiving I like to offer a challenge to fellow Bourbonrs. Take the day to crack open the bottle that has been sitting on the shelf for a “special occasion”! What fun is the bourbon hunt if you never take a break to enjoy the bottle.

If you need some pairing suggestions for your Thanksgiving meal you can find them here. read more

Pappy Van Winkle Release Map Retires

This is a sad day in Bourbonr history. I’ve gone back and forth on this decision for weeks now. For the last six years, I’ve maintained the Pappy Van Winkle Release Map. It’s how a majority of readers found Bourbonr. I’ve met a countless number of people that only know Bourbonr because of these maps. While the map was work to maintain, I enjoyed doing it. Unfortunately, the Pappy Van Winkle release map has run its course.

First, everyone is looking for Pappy these days. In 2013, when I started the map, Pappy was hard to find. But, with enough legwork, you could find a bottle. That has changed over the years. Everyone wants Pappy now. If there were dozens of people showing up to store releases in 2013, there are now thousands. That’s a good thing for bourbon. Secondly, stores have changed how they handle the release of Pappy Van Winkle. Most stores either hold raffles or sell bottles through their loyalty programs. This is a good solution for a problem with no great answers. However, spending thousands of dollars at a store isn’t bourbon hunting. The third issue I see is the retail price of Pappy Van Winkle. According to Wine-Searcher, the average price is up from $928 in November 2014 for a Pappy Van Winkle 15-Year to $1,651 in October of 2019. The statistic that’s missing, and more glaring, is the number of retailers that sell at (or close) to retail. My rough estimate is around 3%-4%. Finding a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle is rare. Finding a bottle at a reasonable markup doesn’t happen anymore.

Finally, the Van Winkles and parent company Sazerac have taken a hard stand against the bourbon secondary. This felt like an attack on bourbon communities that may also have buy/sell/trade. I.e. your local bourbon Facebook group. Don’t get me wrong. The secondary market is at best a grey area and at worst illegal. But, it served a specific purpose. Didn’t get a bottle of Van Winkle Rye but you did get a 20-year? You could trade. Sazerac’s main (stated) concern has been consumer protection from fakes or counterfeits. There’s no mention of adding anti-counterfeiting measures to the bottle. An open market has done a much better job at policing fakes. It was the secondary that caught multiple fake bottles and shut down counterfeiters. Not Buffalo Trace. There was also no mention of retailers that sell for prices 2x-3x the current market. Some distributors force retailers to buy thousands of dollars in products they don’t want. Or, empty bottle sales. My point, there are a lot of issues. Going after some of your most loyal and vocal fans doesn’t seem like the right path to take.

That was a little more long-winded than I like to be but I hope you understand the decision. There is one postscript point I’d like to make. Current Pappy and LE bourbon prices make people think they need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to taste great bourbon. I know that the Van Winkles and Buffalo Trace would agree with me saying: “That couldn’t be farther from the truth!” Buffalo Trace makes some of the best bourbon on the market today. Most Buffalo Trace brands remain hard to find. But, a regular bottle of Buffalo Trace still beats out most $100 bottles on the market. Here is my list of what I think people should be drinking. I’m not calling these Pappy replacements. These are just great, affordable bourbons.

Wilderness Trail

Old Forester 1910

Barrell Bourbon – Pick Any Batch

E.H Taylor Small Batch

 Chattanooga Whiskey 111 Tennessee High Malt

Baker’s Bourbon 107

2019 BTAC Review Part 2

This is part two of my Buffalo Trace Antique reviews. In this video, I review the George T Stagg and William Larue Weller. Here are the reviews and details for these releases. You can find more information as well as historical data about these releases here. If you’re hunting for the BTAC this year, check out the 2019 BTAC Release Map!

George T Stagg Review:

Proof: 116.9

Age: 15-Years 3-Months

Review: Initially, there are notes of honey, maple, and other sweet notes. The fruit notes are more like a melon or honeydew. I get a little bit of cinnamon and peach tea on the finish.

Conclusion: I enjoyed the fact that this release is a little lower proof. I believe it allowed some other flavors to shine. Overall, it’s not cracking my top 4 of GTS release. It’s a good release but nothing to go crazy over.

William Larue Weller Review:

Proof: 128 proof

Age: 12-Years 6-Months

Review: The nose is drier than most WLW releases. There are notes of spearmint and cocoa powder. I pick up some faint notes of black pepper and bruleed cherries. The taste is more of the same. It stays consistently dry throughout. The palate expands to golden raisins and cedar. The finish is a little short. It’s heavy with espresso bitterness, pepper, and oak. After a few drops of water, the fruit notes begin to shine

Conclusion: This was not my favorite this year. It was a little too dry for my preference. There were some of the traditional WLW notes but none of the balanced sweetness and dark fruits I love.

Overall BTAC Ranking:

1 – Eagle Rare 17

2 – George T Stagg

3 – Thomas H Handy

4 – William Larue Weller

5 – Sazerac 18

2019 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection Release Map

Please Read: Welcome to the 2019 BTAC release map! Each state is highlighted when one bottle is reported in that state. There’s a good chance that means that store, and a lot of times that city, is already sold out. This map isn’t an official release tracker from Buffalo Trace. This is a network of bourbon drinkers looking to help each other. Stores are dealing with smaller allocations and greatly increased demand. Please be understanding of this fact. Happy Hunting!

Bourbon season is upon us! This is the 7th annual Bourbonr Buffalo Trace Antique Collection Release Map! If you’re unfamiliar with the map, here’s how it works. I highlight each state when the antique collection is released in that state. Remember, distribution can be tricky. Because it was released in part of the state doesn’t mean you’ve missed out. The release map is another tool to help in your BTAC hunt.

For more info and to find other bourbon hunters join the Bourbonr Facebook group. I try to add the city which was reported if you hover over each state. If you’re new to bourbon hunting read this: “How to Hunt Bourbon” This is a community-driven map. If you find a bottle please shoot me an email at Blake @ Bourbonr.com. Make sure to include your state as well as a picture of the bottle. I welcome any tips about state releases as well (bonus points for information about Florida 🙂 )!

Considerations of the BTAC release map:

  • Buffalo Trace made the decision not to release barrel counts this year. Because of that, we have no idea what the bottle estimates are.
  • Not everyone likes it or finds it helpful. It’s not perfect. Flippers may use the map.
  • It may not find a bottle of George T Stagg for you. Understand the odds of getting bottles are slim. There are tons of other great bourbons on the market.
  • This is another tool to help you with your bourbon hunt. Bourbon hunting gets more difficult every year.
  •  still believe the release maps provide useful information. And, I enjoy the community that they help build. Because of that, I continue to, dedicate time to them every fall. With that said, Happy Hunting!
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    2019 Pappy Van Winkle Announced – With A Warning!

    It’s a strange time in the bourbon world. Fall is the highlight of bourbon with the release of many different limited editions. Pappy is the crown jewel of bourbon hunting. However, this year’s announcement took a strange turn. There are two major complaints in the bourbon world when it comes to Pappy Van Winkle.  =&0=& First, bourbon flippers. Second, retailers overcharging. Buffalo Trace addressed both in this year’s announcement. As for retailers, we can’t do anything and we’ve asked them nicely not to overcharge. As for flippers, we’re coming for you with legal action!

    I have a lot of other thoughts on this. But, I’m saving them for a later post. For now, I will agree to disagree with Buffalo Trace’s tactics to combat fakes and counterfeits. Which is the goal of every Bourbon enthusiast out there.

    Van Winkle Bourbon Annual Release Coming Soon

    This is the favorite time of the year for bourbon fans, the annual release of the Van Winkle Bourbons.  Like previous years, yields from the barrels are low due to evaporation during the long aging cycle.

    Known for their smoother and sweeter flavor due to the wheat recipe versus the traditional rye recipe found in most bourbons, Van Winkle bourbons are aged years longer than most others and have garnered an impeccable reputation among connoisseurs.  Although bourbon has become increasingly popular worldwide in recent years, very little Van Winkle is sold overseas, so that these coveted bottles are available in the United States. read more

    2019 BTAC Review Part 1

    This is part one of my Buffalo Trace Antique reviews. In this video, I review the Sazerac 18, Eagle Rare 17 and Thomas H Handy.

    Sazerac 18

    The nose is initially floral and fruity. There are notes of baking spice and caramel apples. The taste is filled with dried cherries and apricots. There are some brighter notes but it all transitions into a musty dry cedar note. It’s not as apparent at first. But, it’s slightly offputting when going back to the whiskey.

    Conclusion: This whiskey was promising on the nose. Unfortunately, there were some notes that I didn’t enjoy in the palate and finish. Compared to the 2015 release, it doesn’t compare.

    Eagle Rare 17

    With this whiskey, you dive straight into dry, aged notes. There is a lot of tobacco, leather and dried orange peel. I still get a lot of brown sugar and toasted almonds. The palate is full and bursting with different flavor notes. I get a Bruled banana and toasted walnuts. The finish eases into dried out and bright cherry.

    Conclusion: This was a great surprise. I was hoping for this flavor profile as soon as I heard they were moving to 101 proof in 2018. This is a win.

    Thomas H Handy

    Initially, the whiskey starts with a sweet and spice balance similar to hot tamales candy. There are some different notes. I get sweet-tarts with a little bit of mint. I still pick up black pepper, honey, and apple cider. The taste spicy but the heat slowly dissipates to a medium to shorter finish.

    Conclusion:  This is a solid release. It wasn’t spectacular but I would definitely buy it given the opportunity. It would hold its own amongst any other barrel proof rye currently on the market.

    Overall

    Overall, I felt like this was a strong showing. The Sazerac fell short. Eagle Rare was a home run and the Handy was a great pour.

    Join me tonight as I review the George T Stagg and William Larue Weller.

     

    2019 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection Announced

    FRANKFORT, FRANKLIN COUNTY, KY (Sept. 18 2019) It’s that time of the year – changing leaves, cooler nights and the release of Buffalo Trace Distillery’s annual 2019 Antique Collection of whiskeys. The much-anticipated collection will once again feature five limited-release whiskeys of various ages, recipes and proofs. Here’s what fans can expect:

    George T. Stagg

    The proverbial powerhouse favorite of the Antique Collection, George T. Stagg, comes in at a lower 116.9 proof this year. This is the lowest proof in this whiskey’s history. Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley cites barrels located on the lower warehouse floors as the reason. “Many of the barrels for this year’s Stagg composite were taken from the first floor of the warehouse. The first floor is cooler with higher humidity levels, therefore the alcohol evaporates faster than the water.” The taste, however, is still what Stagg fans can expect, vanilla and toasted oak with a floral undertone, followed by a long finish of cherries, coffee and black pepper.

    Past releases of this uncut and unfiltered bourbon have won many top awards, including last year’s release capturing the Chairman’s Trophy at the Ultimate Spirits Competition. This year’s release contains bourbon from barrels filled in the spring of 2004. Storage location of these barrels varied across warehouses C, H, I, K, and Q. The evaporation loss for this year’s batch was 56%, a bit higher than last year’s release.

    William Larue Weller

    The Antique Collection’s uncut, unfiltered, wheated recipe bourbon is William Larue Weller. Previous editions of this wheater have won many accolades, including receiving 5 Stars – Highest recommendation by F. Paul Pacult’s Spirit Journal. The 2019 offering was distilled in the winter of 2007 and aged in Warehouse I. This bourbon registers in at 128 proof. The bold flavors include toasted vanilla and coffee.

     

    Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye

    Thomas H. Handy is the uncut and unfiltered straight rye whiskey. Last year’s release earned a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. This year’s Handy was distilled in the spring of 2013; aged in warehouses K, M, and N, and weighs in at

    125.7 proof read more

    Bourbonr Blog Turns 6

    The Bourbonr anniversary always brings a time of reflection. I try to make a few minutes to recap the last six years of bourbon. The last six years have provided me with incredible opportunities. I’ve also met some incredible people. I started Bourbonr because none of my friends drank bourbon. It was something I was excited about. To learn I turned to online forums and Facebook groups to connect with others about bourbon. I’m not a writer and I’m not from Kentucky. The early Bourbonr years were fueled by pure passion and naivete! However, instead of looking back at the last six years I’d like to add some observations/advice about the current and future state of bourbon.

  • The bourbon world continues to grow. The whole industry is magnified. That means there will be a lot more of the good aspects to bourbon. But, bad parts as well. This doesn’t mean the bourbon world has changed. It just means no matter where you go in life there will be jerks.
  • There’s more opportunity in bourbon these days. That means more bars with great bourbon selections, stores doing barrel picks, local groups, and meetups, etc! Make sure to get in on the fun.
  • “Dance with the date that brought you” Go buy a bottle of Wild Turkey 101 or Rare Breed. There are still good deals sitting on the shelf.
  • Give yourself a bourbon workout. Test your palate.
  • Expect more entries into the high-end bourbon market. Bourbon production has increased drastically over the last six years. That means we’ll see new sourced brands. New labels from old distillers. Brands resurrected from extinct distilleries.
  • Find reviewers you trust and listen to their reviews! It’s great seeing new blogs, podcasts, and Instagram accounts. It’s easy to start an account and receive free samples. Giving accurate and honest reviews is another thing. There’s a difference between review bias and review blindness.
  • The limited-edition market is here to stay. In the year 2030, you still won’t find Pappy 23 on the shelf. Hipsters have nothing to do with why you can’t find Pappy. Flippers are a small reason why you can’t find Pappy. (But, if you’re looking for an incredible 23-year-old spirit Seelbach’s has you covered 🙂 )
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    Nerdy Post #3: What Is “Malt” And Why Is It Needed?

    In this nerdy post, you will learn what “malt” it is all about – and why it plays such an important role in the production of whiskey. And as a bonus, I will also dig into why “malting” plays a big role in the flavor and taste profiles differences between American and Scotch whiskey.

    For the longest time, I had no clue what “malt” was, what the process of “malting” barley was all about – and why it was relevant. In the process of finding out, another miracle of nature unveiled itself, as many times before, when you dig into the details about whiskey. The word “malt” is derived from “maltose”, which is basically two glucose molecules that are linked together. But more on that topic below.

    So, let’s get started ….

    When the grains arrive at the distillery, they are crushed into what is called “meal”, which is a coarse flour. The grains are crushed to get to the starch inside them. Starch is a “polymeric carbohydrate” and before your eyes glaze over and you close the browser thinking “this is getting a little nerdy for me”, give me one second: “Polymeric” just means that the molecule in question (starch) contains multiple smaller molecules that are repeated. In starch, those smaller molecules are glucose (i.e. sugar).

    Sugar is exactly what you need to get the fermentation going because this is what the yeast needs to produce alcohol. And that’s why we love those yeast cells so much – because they produce alcohol like there was no tomorrow. They basically piss alcohol and fart CO2 (excuse my French).

    There is just one problem: Those repeated glucose molecules inside the starch are held together with a real tough glue called a “glycosidic bond”. Don’t worry about that name – just think of it as glue. Unfortunately, the yeast cells are unable to process the glucose with the glue active.

    And this is where malt and malting come into the picture.

    Malting simply means that you take some grains, put them into some water, wait until they start sprouting (a.k.a. germinating) – and then dry them again. In other words: Malted barley is just normal barley where a little sprout has come out, as you can see in the picture below:

    So why on earth do you want to go through this process? It turns out that grains produce an enzyme called “amylase” when they sprout. Amylase has this amazing property that it destroys the aforementioned glue – effectively converting starch into glucose. And amylase is very effective; By adding just a few percentages of malted grains into the cooking process, it breaks downs the starch in mere hours:

    Cool, right?? And once the glucose has been set free, you add the yeast – they do their thing – and we all hold hands and sing kumbaya.

    So why barley – and not other grains?

    Not many people know this, but you can malt almost all types of grains – including corn. Almost everybody uses barley, though, for three good reasons:

  • The historic aspect. Depending on who you ask, whiskey production started in either Scotland or Ireland (or maybe another place – who knows), and they have been using barley for the longest time. As you can imagine, the American settlers back in the day (that started distilling) came from those countries. (DISCLAIMER: The are extremely few written records from that time, so exactly who did what with whom – as well as where and when – is unclear).
  • Production reasons. Barley is easy to handle, easy to dry and produces a great yield of the enzyme amylase.
  • The flavor profile. Malted barley produces a flavor profile that many people find very agreeable and mating other grains produces a distillate that sort of lack this flavor profile.
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