The Summer 2016 issue of Whisky Advocate magazine will be on newsstands in early June. Here’s an advanced preview of this issue’s Buying Guide; the 10 highest-rated whiskies. Sadly, this Top Ten highlights the current state of the whisky industry: our highest rated whiskies are either limited releases and difficult to find on the primary market, not imported to the U.S., or rather expensive. However, be sure to check out all 115 reviews in this issue’s Buying Guide for quality whiskies that are more easily sourced (and more reasonably priced).
A wheated recipe bourbon that was aged in experimental barrels with staves utilizing various methods of seasoning. Oak spice is important with a wheated bourbon, as there is no rye to balance the sweet notes, and this whiskey does a great job here. Delicate in personality, with nutty caramel, dried citrus, and golden raisin segueing to polished leather, warming cinnamon, clove, and hints of a cigar humidor.—JH
Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 91
#9 – Booker’s Batch 2016-1, 63.95%, $60
If Picasso sketched bourbon, it would look like Booker’s, with deep golden and auburn hues. But higher-proof color can deceive. Not here. Think bourbon warehouse: oak, caramel, tobacco leaf, cinnamon, vanilla; floral with hints of honey and blueberry. And then it really comes alive. Oh, baby! Candy corn, crème brûlée, maple syrup, nutmeg, and traces of chipotle and cayenne. The proof strength doesn’t show. I recommend this batch neat for full, unrelenting flavor.—FM
#8 – Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Edition,
This is bigger, spicier, and more complex than the regular edition Dark Cove. A prickly start leads to heavy peat smoke, pink and Szechuan peppercorns, vanilla, dark chocolate, angelica, then seaweed. The palate is oily, with a detonation of gunpowdery peat, licorice, smoked eel, and a feral edge that adds grunt. Layered and complex.—DB
Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 91
#7 – The Sovereign (distilled at Cambus) 30 year old 1984, 49.4%, £106
The nose is bathed in aromas of lime, bergamot, lychee, and fresh pineapple cores. This is delicate, refined, and complex, with touches of fragrant spices and a calming influence of oak. A web of citrus strands, barley sugar, and toffee is shot through by wood spices and surpassed by a delicious butterscotch flavor that continues into the finish. Effortless, relaxed, and brilliant whisky, and quite frankly, I’m not sure you could find better 30 year old whisky at this price.—JM
Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 92
#6 – Redbreast All Sherry Single Cask, 59.9%, £180
First you think you love Redbreast, and then they go and release a triple-distilled single pot still sherry single cask from 1999. Coffee beans, chocolate buttons, nougat, wet leather jackets, macaroon, and black bananas. A sweet sherry baptism of fresh fig fruit and dark toffee, with blackened char wriggling delightfully under the tongue. Thick and oily, a savory tone surfaces, closed by coffee and heavy clove. Chicory coffee and licorice finish. Epic: extroverted northern cardinal to the chirpy European robin. (576 bottles, The Whisky Exchange only)—JM
Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 92
From this first-fill bourbon cask emerge light, delicate, aromatic fruits: think white peach, poached pear, and lychee with creamed coconut, nutmeg-spiced latte, Simnel cake, Chinese five-spice, and richer apple notes. A seemingly chaste dram that begins with honey, egg-washed brioche, stewed pears, and slender pink rhubarb before innocence is lost as sweet bursts of fruit explode, while dark vanilla, clove, rum and raisin, chocolate, and rye divert the action. Dried apple with Christmas spices marks the finish. (186 bottles, The Whisky Exchange only)—JM
Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 92
This is massive. It even pours thickly, as the aromas spill out of the glass: rich stewed apple, dry oak, a passing digestif trolley wobbling with dark sticky bottles, and currants on the tummy of a gingerbread man. There is a rum-like quality to the thick texture that lands squarely on the palate, bursting out with sweet apple and brown sugar. It hardly loses its grip after swallowing, dissipating almost imperceptibly against the approaching oak flavors. Special indeed. (330 bottles, WoodWinters Wines & Whiskies only)—JM
#3 – Canadian Rockies 35 year old, 50%, NT$19,800
What a shame this whisky will sail to Taiwan with nary a bottle left for North America. It would be the oldest and most expensive Canadian whisky on the continent. And bottled at 50%, one of the strongest. Wood, age, toffee, cooked sweet corn, fruit, and slightly dusty new jeans. Gloriously sweet, showing its ABV in a blistering pepper attack that subsides into sweetness and a mild fruitiness. (Taiwan only)—DdeK
Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 92
#2 – Wiser’s Last Barrels, 45%, C$65
Distilled in May 2001 from a bourbon-style sour mash, this whisky was intended for blending. However, times change and Wiser’s recently vatted all 132 barrels as an Ontario exclusive. High esters, sweet pitchy resins, clean wood, caramel, barley sugar, floral notes, burley tobacco, green grapes, and Granny Smith apples. And that’s just the nose. Rich toffee, vanilla, brisk white pepper, ripe black fruits. Lingering, peppery, caramel corn finish. (Canada only)—DdeK
Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 93
#1 – John Walker & Sons Private Collection 2016 Edition, 43%, $850
Here’s your private audience with the inestimable Mr. Beveridge. After contemplating impeccably selected aged liquids from the big five Distillers Company Limited (DCL) grain distilleries, he’s ready. Three vattings representing cask character, distillery character, and Highland single malt were combined in the final blend. Fresh layers of lemon and honey mingle with wood smoke. A seductive soft and creamy palate, saturated with fudge and delicate vanilla fuse together in a study of honeyed perfection. A fine indulgence. The best yet. (8,888 bottles)—JM
Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 93
Today, Barton 1792 distillery announced the release of a full proof, limited edition bourbon. 1792 Full Proof Bourbon was bottled at barrel entry proof: 62.5%. It’s expected to be available for sale later this month with a suggested retail price of $45.00. See the full press release below for details.
New Limited Edition Full Proof Bourbon
Released by 1792 Distillery
BARDSTOWN, KENTUCKY (May 17, 2016) – A stout 125 full proof bourbon is the latest limited edition release in the 1792 Bourbon line up. Bottled at the same proof it was originally entered into the barrel, the bourbon was distilled, aged, and bottled at the historic Barton 1792 Distillery.
New oak barrels were filled with 125 proof distillate in the fall of 2007 and left to age in Warehouses E, N, and I for eight and a half years. Warehouse I is one of the oldest warehouses at Barton 1792 Distillery. All of these warehouses are seven stories high, metal clad, with concrete bottom floors, and windows all the way around the outside, allowing some direct sunlight inside.
After the barrels were emptied, the bourbon underwent a distinct filtering process, forgoing the typical chill filtration, and instead was only passed through a plate and frame filter. This allowed the bourbon to maintain a robust 125 proof for bottling, as well as the rich and bold flavor.The aroma is powerful – with vanilla and dried cherries notes. The first taste is intense as it meets the tongue, oaky and full bodied, but continues with flavors of caramel and jam-like fruit, before an enduring finish.
This is the fourth limited edition release of 1792 Bourbon expressions, the Full Proof joins previous releases of Sweet Wheat, Port Finish, and Single Barrel Bourbons. Although the 1792 Full Proof Bourbon is very limited in quantities, it will be released annually for the next few years. The 1792 Full Proof Bourbon will be available at retail starting in late May. Suggested retail pricing is $44.99.
About Barton 1792 Distillery
Barton 1792 Distillery is part of Barton Brands. Barton Brands has facilities in Bardstown, Ky., Carson, Calif., and Baltimore, Md. Barton Brands is owned by the Sazerac Company, an American family-owned company based in New Orleans, La. Barton 1792 Distillery was established in 1879 and continues today as the oldest fully-operating Distillery in the “Bourbon Capital of the World.” The Distillery is located on 196 acres and includes 28 warehouses, 22 other buildings, the Morton Spring and the Tom Moore Spring. Distilling, aging and bottling fine Bourbon whiskey are hallmarks of the historic Barton 1792 Distillery. 1792 Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey is produced at Barton 1792 Distillery. This whiskey is named for the year Kentucky became a state and is the recent gold medal winner at the 2015 Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition. To learn more visit www.1792bourbon.com.
Buffalo Trace distillery announced the release of their latest bourbon experiment which involved the use of infrared light waves. This is the first release in their 2016 Experimental Collection. Previous experimental collections focused on the effects of wood type, barrel toast, and mashbills.
All of the details, announced today, are included in the press release:
BUFFALO TRACE DISTILLERY RELEASES BOURBON EXPERIMENT USING INFRARED LIGHT WAVES
Two Experiments Employing Short and Medium Wave Light Make Up the First Experimental Collection Release for 2016
FRANKFORT, FRANKLIN COUNTY, KY (May 11, 2016) Buffalo Trace Distillery has engaged in an unconventional way to use infrared light waves for its latest bourbon experiment, applying the light waves to barrels before charring, with the goal of learning how new and different flavors can be drawn from the oak.
Working with barrel cooper Independent Stave Company in 2009, eight special barrels were constructed. All eight first underwent the same process as standard Buffalo Trace barrels, staves were open air seasoned for six months before being made into barrels.
Then, the barrels were divided into two groups and subjected to two different levels of infrared light waves. The first group of four barrels underwent 15 minutes of both short wave and medium wave frequency at 70% power. The second group of four barrels was subjected to 30 minutes of both short wave and medium wave frequency at 60% power. The barrels were then given a quick #1 (or 15 seconds) char, before finally being filled with Buffalo Trace’s Bourbon Mash #1.
After six and a half years of aging, the bourbon from both barrels expressed distinct flavor notes of wood, caramel, and vanilla, as well as pepper flavors drawn from the oak. Another observation from the experiment was the short wave infrared light seemed to affect more of the inner layers of the wood, while the medium wave infrared light affected the surface and medium layers.
Tasting notes for each describe the 15 minute infrared light barrels as having a floral nose followed by a complex flavor profile. Oak and tannins mingle with dry raisins and sweet caramel. The 30 minute infrared light barrels are described as strong wood notes complemented by a taste of dried fruit. A lingering finish leaves a hint of cracked black pepper.
These barrels are part of more than 5,000 experimental barrels of whiskey aging in the warehouses of Buffalo Trace Distillery. Each of them has unique characteristics that differentiate them in distinct ways. Some examples of experiments include unique mash bills, types of wood, and different barrel toasts. In order to further increase the scope, flexibility, and range of the experimental program, an entire micro distillery, named The Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. “OFC” Micro Distillery, complete with cookers, fermenting tanks, and a state-of-the-art micro still has been constructed within Buffalo Trace Distillery. Buffalo Trace has increased its commitment to experimentation with the recent addition of its Warehouse X. Although small in size, Warehouse X is designed to explore the extent of environmental influences on the flavor profiles of whiskey.
The Experimental Collection is packaged in 375ml bottles, with six bottles from each infrared light experiment in a case. Both entry proofs were bottled at 90 proof. Each label includes all the pertinent information unique to that barrel of whiskey. These whiskeys retail for approximately $46.35 each and will be available in late May, 2016. Experimental Collection releases are generally quite small and have limited availability. For more information on the Experimental Collection or the other products of Buffalo Trace Distillery, please contact Elizabeth Hurst at email@example.com.
About Buffalo Trace Distillery
Buffalo Trace Distillery is an American family-owned company based in Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky. The Distillery’s rich tradition dates back to 1773 and includes such legends as E.H. Taylor, Jr., George T. Stagg, Albert B. Blanton, Orville Schupp, and Elmer T. Lee. Buffalo Trace Distillery is a fully operational Distillery producing bourbon, rye and vodka on site and is a National Historic Landmark as well as being listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Distillery has won 17 distillery titles since 2000 from such notable publications as Whisky Magazine, Whisky Advocate Magazine and Wine Enthusiast Magazine. It was named “Brand Innovator of the Year” by Whisky Magazine at its Icons of Whisky America Awards 2015. Buffalo Trace Distillery has also garnered more than 300 awards for its wide range of premium whiskies. To learn more about Buffalo Trace Distillery visit www.buffalotracedistillery.com. To download images from Buffalo Trace Distillery visit www.buffalotracemediakit.com
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Since 1958, the James E. Pepper distillery has been shuttered and the whiskey was out of production. In 2008, the Georgetown Trading Co. relaunched the brand. A portion of the original distillery site, located in Lexington, Ky., has recently been revitalized within Lexington’s Distillery District.
Yesterday, Georgetown Trading announced that the James E. Pepper distillery will soon be brought back to life. Distilling will take place in the original James E. Pepper distillery building. According to the press release, “Thorough historical research and the collection of historic materials over the years will play an important role in rebuilding the distillery and museum.” A grand-opening for the distillery is planned for mid-2017.
When Colton, an English cleric, wrote this in the 1820s, bourbon was barely a blip on the radar. Kentucky distillers were placing barrels on flatboats and just beginning their rise. Nobody was interested in imitating bourbon.
Nearly 200 years later though, the word “bourbon” is plastered on everything from candles to soup. Today, bourbon is an international powerhouse with signature brand flavor profiles and U.S. geographical protection.
If foreign distillers slap a “bourbon” label on their spirit, Heaven Hill’s Max Shapira, the industry’s de facto foreign bourbon seeker, will find it. The U.S. government will pursue cease and desist efforts on companies in countries with U.S. free trade agreements. There’s also an army of distillery trademark lawyers who will sue you into submission if you use red wax (Maker’s Mark vs. Jose Cuervo), similar names (Woodford Reserve vs. 1792 Ridgemont Reserve), or even a slogan (Wild Turkey vs. Old Crow). So, there’s enough legal protection to prevent Old Turkey’s Aussie Reserve 1793 bourbon bottled with red dripping wax.
But bourbon distillers are seeing a new form of imitation and it’s
creating consumer confusion. Non-whiskey brands are using bourbon’s good name, hoping to capitalize on its popularity. Tequila, rum, and even scotch have “bourbon” verbiage on labels. And while it’s true they’re aged in bourbon barrels, they were also aged in bourbon barrels in 1980. Why use the verbiage now? “We are trying to appeal to bourbon consumers,” a rum marketer told me.
Some examples are Boundary Oak’s Kentucky Amber (cane spirit finished in a “Kentucky bourbon barrel”), Glenfiddich 14 year old Bourbon Barrel Reserve, and Old Pulteney 23 year old Bourbon Cask. The average consumer can very easily confuse these products with actual bourbon.
I spend a lot of time with non-spirits consumers at the Kentucky Derby Museum. While they are attending conventions, they visit the museum’s bourbon experience bar where I educate and hold tastings. They don’t read labels like we whiskey geeks do. They see “bourbon” in bold print and think “oh, it’s bourbon.” They may also confuse a scotch as bourbon, so we’re talking about people who buy one to five bottles of spirit a year as gifts, for holiday parties, and the occasional nip at home. Every overuse of the word “bourbon” is detrimental to the category and creates confusion for the typical shopper.
Just as detrimental, is the use of the word “bourbon” on the labels of other spirits. Unlike sherry and port, which are commonly used on whisky labels, bourbon competes against the spirits categories donning its name for cocktails and sipping.
Distillers can’t or won’t stop other spirits from prominently using “bourbon” on the label because they’re the ones behind the overuse. They are more concerned about protecting their individual brands and it’s potentially a costly legal battle to take on other categories. Some actually like seeing “bourbon” in big, bold print near “scotch.”
The only person who can slow down this overuse is you, the consumer. When you see improper labeling let your voice be heard in your social media platforms, write the U.S. Tax & Trade Bureau, or tell the brand. As bourbon grows in popularity, many conglomerates will do what makes investors happy and protecting bourbon isn’t high on their priority list. Oak by Absolut is a bourbon-flavored vodka. It exists for a reason; because spirits companies want to tap into bourbon’s popularity. So, here’s an idea, spirits executives, don’t try to deceive consumers. Give them what they want—bourbon.
When Four Roses master distiller Jim Rutledge retired last year, he wasn’t the first master distiller to retire before his career was truly over. Woodford Reserve’s Lincoln Henderson retired from Brown-Forman and then started Angel’s Envy. Now, Rutledge joins the extremely rare crop of Kentucky blue blood master distillers to leave the corporate ranks and start his own distillery, which he announced yesterday. Read the Whisky Advocate blog story.
Fred Minnick caught up with Rutledge to discuss his past and new venture.
First, let’s discuss Four Roses. After you retired, speculation surfaced that you were pushed out as Four Roses master distiller. Is this true?
I absolutely did not get pushed out the door. When I started talking with the previous CEO, I said it was time to move on in my career. The new CEO and I negotiated my retirement. Initially, I was asked to give a five-year notice. I didn’t agree to that, but did stay on an additional five months. I hear people thinking I got fired…no truth in that. And I don’t know where this speculation comes from or how it got started. Everything was cordial when I left. Four Roses is a part of my life and will always be a part of my life. Four Roses is an old flame and will always be the best part of my life. It was very mutual departure. No hard feelings on my part. They were disappointed they couldn’t talk me into staying on longer.
Did anybody from Four Roses reach out to you for congratulations?
My text messages and emails were inundated with Four Roses people congratulating me and wishing me the best of luck.
Now that you’re the new distillery on the block, if you need whiskey, would you contact Four Roses for contract distilling?
No, because they need every gallon for themselves. It’s been that way for years. If they had excess capacity, they’d be the first one I’d contact.
Why did you retire from Four Roses if you still have distilling on the mind?
Because I’m 72, and it was time to move on. [My own company] sounded exciting.
After you retired, how many employment and partnership calls did you receive?
Within the first two hours, I received phone calls for consulting work and had several offers to work for other distilleries. Consulting work is fine. I said I’m retired from corporate work and not interested. The two guys I’m working with I’ve known for years…if I was going to do anything, it would be with them.
Let’s talk money. You’re Jim Rutledge, and we whiskey geeks think you can just throw your name on a project and the investors will come. Crowd funding has a reputation for being last-resort funding. Why go this route?
I don’t look at crowd funding as a last resort. It’s a kickstarter to get us on the road and then we have something to offer. It’s a mid-size distillery. You just can’t call people up and say, ‘hey do you want to donate and all we have is our experience?’ I look at it as a starting point. We also want to remain as independent as possible.
How much do you need?
For 100 acres of property, a distillery that can produce 30,000-40,000 barrels per year…about $25 million to $30 million.
Are you only using crowd funding?
We’re also speaking with people for private funding or large investor groups. Not venture capitalists because they want a quick return. Most people willing to put up money want a quick return. A distillery operation is in for the long haul. Once we get to the point that the barrels are matured, earnings increase. Up until that point, we can do contract distillation, barrel warehousing, and offer rooms for events and weddings.
From a banking investor standpoint, they’ll want to see a plan in place for the long haul. You’re 72.
We will have somebody working with me from the start to train in my ways and philosophies to generate the mellowness and smoothness. It’s an exciting time. We’re planning an environmentally-friendly distillery with geothermal and solar power. I don’t know how long I’ll last, but I’m hoping I’m still working 15 years from now. It’s been my life and I want to continue.
Are you planning a flavored whiskey?
Yeah, a honey bourbon [he laughs, obviously joking.] We will not do anything to deviate from the integrity of Kentucky straight bourbon.
Jim Rutledge, former master distiller of Four Roses, announced today his plan to build, “… a modern, highly efficient, environmentally friendly, and sustainable distillery near Louisville, Ky.” Jim retired from Four Roses in September
2015. According to the press release, a 30-day crowd funding campaign will commence in May to kick off the endeavor Jim, along with two friends and business associates, have initiated. Details are available on the J.W. Rutledge distillery website. The distillery’s website offers the opportunity to vote on the first JW Rutledge-labeled bourbon’s mashbill. Plans include distillation of, “very high quality” Kentucky straight bourbons, a wheated bourbon, and to have a straight rye whiskey aging within the first year of operation. A mid-size distillery that ultimately may include a pot still in order to expand into other types of beverage alcohols is planned according to the website.
The recipient of Whisky Advocate magazine’s 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award, Jim is in his 50th year in the distilled spirits business. His career began in research and development at Seagram’s Calvert distillery in Louisville, Ky. He worked in almost all areas of production management at the distillery. “He also worked 15 years in Seagram’s New York Corporate Headquarters, prior to being transferred back to his Kentucky home and Seagram’s Four Roses Distillery operations in 1992,” according to the press release. In 1995, Jim became the master distiller at Four Roses. He is recognized for the high-quality bourbons he produced at Four Roses and the role he played in returning Four Roses bourbon to the U.S. (it had been available only in international markets for four decades).
Welcome back to distilling, Jim!
Today, Brown-Forman announced their agreement to purchase the BenRiach Distillery Company for approximately £285 million ($416 million) as reported in Shanken News Daily. This acquisition will add three single malt scotch whisky brands to Brown-Forman’s portfolio: BenRiach, GlenDronach, and Glenglassaugh. Included in the purchase are three malt distilleries, a botttling plant, brand trademarks, and the BenRiach company headquarters located in Edinburgh, Scotland. The transaction is expected to be complete on or about June 1st of this year.
Paul Varga, Brown-Forman chief executive officer, stated, “The acquisition of these super premium brands will allow Brown-Forman to re-enter one of our industry’s most exciting and consistent growth segments, single malt scotch whisky.” Brown-Forman had a presence in the single malt scotch market as a minority shareholder of Glenmorangie; marketing the Glenmorangie single malt whisky brand from 1992 to 2005 in the U.S. and Canada.
BenRiach Distillery Company’s managing director Billy Walker commented on the deal, “…We are very confident that Brown-Forman will take the GlenDronach, BenRiach, and Glenglassaugh brands to the next level and fulfill their full potential, and prove to be worthy custodians of these historic distilleries.” Speyside’s BenRiach distillery, known for experimenting with wood finishes, began producing malt whisky in 1898. Founded in 1826 in the Scottish Highlands, GlenDronach distillery is famous for it’s sherried whiskies. Glenglassaugh distillery, founded in 1875, is located on the coast in the northern Highlands.
I first heard of Dave Pickerell when we both worked for Allied Domecq – I was in Scotland working on Scotch whiskies and he in the U.S. with Maker’s Mark. Some years later I had the chance to visit Kentucky and one highlight of that trip was to be shown round Maker’s Mark by Dave. Getting answers to some of the more scientific and technical questions on bourbon was a treat for me. He is an expert on so many things in the production of spirits and respected worldwide for his knowledge and work.
Here he tells us a bit more about his background and what he’s doing now. Although spending a fair bit of time with Hillrock Estate as a master distiller, he also consults on the creation of other whiskeys like WhistlePig. I could talk to or e-mail him for hours but we didn’t have that kind of time.
Where were you born and brought up?
Born in Xenia, Ohio. Spent my formative years in Fairborn, Ohio, near Wright Patterson Airforce Base.
Ah – is that what encouraged you into West Point, though not in the Air Force?
No. I was offered a full scholarship to West Point to play football.
A sports star. Did you keep it up at all?
As does mine! You graduated in chemistry from West Point and then served as an Army officer. What took you from military to whiskey?
While getting my masters in chemical engineering, my mentor discovered that I’m an idiot savant in distilling. He decided the beverage alcohol industry needed me.
He was so right. What interested you about chemical engineering that you took a Masters in that?
As a 5 year old boy, my over-inquisitive nature was always met with my Dad’s answer of, “only the chemical engineer knows.” I needed to know.
I like your Dad! Where did you first start in the drinks world – consultancy right away or an employee with a drinks producer?
After military service, my mentor introduced me to a small consulting firm with a global reach in beverage alcohol. Consulted for six years before joining Maker’s Mark.
Okay. You consulted for firms worldwide. What specific kind of activities?
Mostly engineered/managed improvements to existing distilleries. Occasionally built one from ground up e.g. the distillery that Heaven Hill currently operates.
I hope they acknowledge that. Your bio says you’ve designed “systems” for many U.S. distilleries. What kinds of systems?
Principally I have designed distillation systems, environmental protection systems, and process control systems.
That’s impressive. People like you gave people like me whisky to market. You settled at Maker’s Mark for around fifteen years. What did you enjoy about the job there?
I enjoyed the challenge of facilitating the growth of a major international brand, and sitting at the feet of Bill Samuels for fourteen years was a particular joy.
One of the industry’s major characters. When I visited there in 2003 you were so enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Did you feel you’d achieved all you could there?
There are always new mountains to climb, but certainly all the big rocks were in the bucket and I couldn’t ignore the allure of the challenges in the craft spirit world.
It is a thriving scene. What came after Maker’s and before Hillrock Estate, if there was a gap?
Spent most of 2009 designing distillery equipment for Vendome (Copper & Brass Works). Also spent time looking for investors for a brand that would become WhistlePig.
I’ll get to that one later. What tempted you to get involved at Hillrock and is that where you now spend most of your time?
I wrote a magazine article on terroir in whiskey that caught the eye of Hillrock owner Jeff Baker. He proposed the concept for Hillrock and I couldn’t refuse.
Hillrock accounts for about a third of my time presently.
It looks beautiful in photos. What’s the view from your office window – if you have an office there?
My office is usually a hotel room in any Marriott. Presently I’m looking directly at the Empire State Building…
But you must get some views at distilleries.
It’s the fields while I’m at Hillrock, the Green Mountains while at WhistlePig, and the sunrise over the Potomac while at Mount Vernon.
Lucky! Website indicates each grain field at Hillrock is separately harvested and distilled. Will you do individual field bottlings in future or simply blend them?
Good question. Intent at Hillrock is to see if terroir is expressed field-by-field. If so, we’ll bottle by field. If not, we’ll marry together. We’re still learning.
Terroir getting some attention these days. Hillrock Solera Aged Bourbon is a fascinating idea for bourbon. How did you come to that one?
Jeff Baker – old world wine fan; our operations manager was a winery cellarmaster. I’ve always been fascinated with sherry. Seemed a natural marriage of our three passions.
Nice thinking. You also oversee production at George Washington Mount Vernon distillery but I’ve read you produce a rye that is a mix of Hillrock and George Washington distillation.
Actually, I produce limited quantities of George Washington Rye whiskey at Hillrock under license from Historic Mount Vernon.
Now that’s clearer than in the piece I saw. Tell us more about WhistlePig Rye. Rye seems to be important to you these days. Is it an underrated type of whiskey?
Rye whiskey should be America’s historic spirit as it predates bourbon by 150 years. When I started my affiliation with Mount Vernon, rye was almost a dead category.
So what do you get out of the WhistlePig involvement?
I’m excited to see rye come back to life and gain the prominence it deserves. WhistlePig was my first private endeavor to help with the resurgence of the category.
WhistlePig Old World – delicious choice of finishing cask types (madeira/sauternes/port). Tell us why those and how long it spends in them.
I want to supplement the whiskey taste with Old World notes. My style of finishing is short term, 3 to 10 weeks.
How did you get to those cask types?
We tried nearly every type of Old World fortified/ high residual sugar content barrel. We also had about 500 bartenders in focus groups to narrow the field to the top three.
What is the main maturation wood?
By law, the first barrel must be a new, charred oak. Specifically, our first barrel is a 53-gallon #3 (light) char barrel.
Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions as a distiller?
My great grand uncle is Col. E. H. Taylor. I would love my legacy to be that I left as big of a footprint in the beverage alcohol industry as he did. [Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. is known as the father of the modern bourbon industry.]
To help with prep for this chat I asked about your outside interests and was told you just work hard! Do you have any interests outside of work?
I love to travel and to see friends. It’s a good thing that my job facilitates that. I am also co-writing a Rye Whiskey cocktail book with my good friend, Amanda LaFrance.
Any other pursuits?
I really enjoy reading as well and usually have two or three books going at the same time.
Which the travel would make easy. Do you travel a lot for work these days? If so, where do those travels take you?
I travel virtually all the time. Mostly to the major cities in the U.S. However, I am on my way to South Africa in a couple weeks as part of a USDA trade delegation. [for non-US readers, USDA is the United States Department of Agriculture]
What about family time?
I have four AWESOME adult children and three wonderful grandsons. I cherish time with them whenever I can get it. Thank goodness for Skype, phones, and email.
What’s been your proudest achievement in work?
Founding of the Bourbon Trail. I was chairman of the Kentucky Distiller’s Assoc. when we created it. Seems obvious now, but then not everyone was on board with the idea.
What about personal achievement?
Personally, despite lots of obstacles, and with the help of many wonderful people, I am thankful that my childhood dream of being a chemical engineer became a reality.
Why is that so important to you?
My father exposed me to the idea early in life, and at 5 years old, I decided that I wanted to be a chemical engineer. I hope I have honored him with my accomplishments.
Surely he’d think so. If you were stuck on a desert island, what one whisk(e)y would you have with you? Doesn’t have to be one you’ve made.
That’s like asking me to choose my favorite child.
But you have to…
Stuck on a desert island, I’d probably build a jury-rigged still from scrounged components and make my own whiskey from whatever ingredients I could find there.
I should maybe have expected that!
Isn’t that what drove the creation of most of the world’s spirits, necessity and availability?
Probably so. And now we’re done. Many thanks, Dave Pickerell, for taking time to share all this with us.
According to the company-issued press release, “Coopers’ Craft is a celebration of barrel-making and a recognition of the importance of wood when it comes to crafting bourbon. In addition to being matured in barrels raised by master coopers at the Brown-Forman Cooperage, Coopers’ Craft is crafted using a special beech and birch charcoal filter finishing process, creating a smooth and flavorful bourbon.”
It will be released this summer initially in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Cooper’s Craft is bottled at 41.1% ABV and will have a suggested retail price of $29/750 ml.
Stay tuned for a formal review by the Whisky Advocate review staff.