Maker's Mark KSBW Idaho Director's Cut; The Maker's Mark Distillery, Loretto, KY; $70
This past weekend my wife and I traveled to Ketchum, Idaho to celebrate our 26th anniversary. For those of you with a spouse, you know what that means. “How did I make it 26 years with this crazy person?” Well, we made it because of whiskey. And beer. And there was definitely some wine in there, too. No, not that kind of whine … well, I guess there was some of that in there. It was a nice weekend, with some fun times, games, hanging out, eating out, and the discovery of a new whiskey that I’ll review in a later entry.
Prior to leaving town, we did what we always do before a road trip: We loaded up on whiskey. Two bottles were neatly packed into my luggage to insure we had enough for two nights away. I took a bottle of Eagle Rare (which I wrote about over here), and she took a brand new bottle of Maker’s Mark Idaho Director’s Cut. She wanted to try it, so I bought her a bottle.
The Idaho Director’s Cut is part of Maker’s Mark’s Wood Finishing Series, a series of whiskies that are finished after oak aging using the staving process, whereby some chunks of wood are tossed into the whisky to add to it’s aging and flavoring process after the fact. You can experiment with this process by ordering some cute, little oak bits online and dropping them into your (insert favorite beverage here) and letting it sit for a few days/weeks/months/years. It’s a cheap way to dink around with a whiskey’s flavor profile, thus allowing you to create lots of different batch’s from a single barrel — or barrels.
Maker’s Mark uses ten different oak staves for this series and, according to the bottle, lets their fans choose their own profile, whereby “fans” I assume they have some hand-selected folks do the picking for the rest of us. In other words, I didn’t get to pick, because someone else already picked for me, and bottled it as 2021 Batch #1.
Okay, so what does that mean for a whiskey lover like me? Well, for the purposes of this non-video, I happen to have a bottle of regular, ol’, everyday Maker’s Mark KSBW hanging around. It’s easy-drinking, smooth, and carries apricot-oak, a bit of honey, and soft, chewy caramel. It isn’t my favorite — although my wife loves it — but I’ll drink it in a pinch. Someday I’ll write it up (soon, too, wink, wink).
Now, let’s add some staves to it. Baked American Pure, Maker’s Mark 46, Roasted French Mocha, and Toasted French Spice. Roasted and Toasted! For the “exact” numbers, see the picture up there, since Maker’s scribbles them right on the label.
And you know what I think?
Seriously. I’m sure the folks that picked that stave combination know what they’re doing, but I don’t like it. The original, at $30-ish dollars per bottle, is better, in my opinion, than the $70 Director’s Cut, and by no small margin. Somehow, someone at the distillery found a way to ruin an otherwise decent whiskey. The nose is off, the profile takes on a rather “cheap” chemically after-taste, and there’s something in there that reminds me a bit of rotten apples.
The first time I tasted this thing I was up in the hills with the wife, it was Friday night, we had just gotten to our condo, and I had already had a glass of Buzz Buzz Coffee Porter, so I thought maybe my taste buds were off. I was originally going to write this from there, but decided to hold off for fear that my taste had been affected by dinner and beer and maybe the Eagle Rare, which also seemed off after the Buzz Buzz. Waiting was the prudent thing to do.
So, wait I did, and am glad I did so, because my first thought proved to be true: That this stuff isn’t worth $70 per bottle, and I could have had two-plus bottles of the much nicer Maker’s Mark KSBW. I mean, why ruin a good thing with some random bits of wood?
Maker's Mark KSBW Idaho Director's Cut, 2021 Batch #1
Evan WilliamsSingle Barrel KSBW; Old Evan Williams Distillery; Bardstown, KY; $40/btl
Tonight, I sit outside for what will likely be the last time before the nasty Idaho winter crushes all my hopes and dreams. I like few things less than winter. Everything dies, it’s cold and yucky, the ground gets either hard or muddy or both, the sun goes down at, like, two in the afternoon, and winter sports people crowd the roads with their skis and snowmobiles hanging off the back of their cars like trophies.
Since it’s such a nice day, though, I decided to write today’s blog entry from the comfort of the back patio where it is delightfully peaceful. That is, it was, right up until my kid decided she needed to be in the bathroom with the fan on right behind my head. Can you hear me grumble?
Anyway, enough of that nonsense. This a booze blog. No more complaining!
Many, many moons ago I was drinking Jack Daniels as my everyday sipper. Good ol’ Tennessee No. 7! Then one day I accidentally grabbed a bottle of Evan Williams. The bottles are similar and I wasn’t paying attention. By the time I made it home I realized my mistake and wanted to smack myself. But, I didn’t want to drive back to the liquor store to make the exchange, so I just dealt with it.
And do you know how I dealt with it?
A) I cried and threw a tantrum
B) I set the bottle on the shelf and stared at it
C) I drank the stuff
If you answered “C” to the above question, then you’re just the type of person that I want reading my blog. Yep, I drank the stuff, because I am neither a snob nor am I terribly picky (that annoying sound you hear is my wife laughing in the background).
As it turned out, Evan Williams wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was good. Not great, but good. And it was cheaper than Jack Daniels by a few dollars, so I kept buying it from that day forward. My wife learned that I was okay with it, and so she kept buying it for me, too, because she likes to keep me inebriated so I’m easier to control.
Someone else figured out I was drinking Evan Williams and one day a bottle of their Single Barrel KSBW showed up on the dining room table, and to this day I cannot remember where it came from, or who put it there. Either way, it landed there and then promptly went under the house with so many other bottles patiently awaiting the reality of Ken’s Bar.
But, now it's out and my bottle says it was put into an oak barrel sometime on August 31, 2007, which makes it 14 years old as I sip away at it while tapping the keyboard. The bottle also says it was bottled on February 29, 2016, and came from barrel #504. I like that. The whole “custom labeled” thing gives the bottle a little extra character, especially once you realize that the lettering is hand-written. That Evan Williams takes the time to scribble on their bottles makes me think that they might care. And good for them. If you put that kind of effort into the bottle, then you might also put some effort into what’s inside the bottle.
And I’m convinced that they do. This Single Barrel stuff is lusciously smooth (in mouth feel and alcohol) and drinks easy. Its honey-colored and honey-flavored and smacks of caramel candy and charred wood with a touch of cinnamon way back in the back of the mouth. It looks nice, tastes nice, and feels nice.
I think Evan Williams has this sort of “bottom shelf” vibe to it (whereby bottom shelf I’m referring to the world’s definition, not my own). But, their Single Barrel is anything but. To this average, ordinary, everyday Ken it’s a smooth, nice sipper that I can easily enjoy while sitting out back and enjoying the last of the year’s reasonable weather. It actually makes a nice finish to a day of back-breaking chores as I get the place sorted out before the snow starts making a mess of things.
So, to finish things off, my whiskey drinking past is full of accidental treasures, oopses that lead to favorites, and favorites that got supplanted by oopses and accidents. Evan Williams makes a nice whiskey, but heir black-label, traditional fair is easily passed over for bottles found higher up on the shelf, even though they do a nice job. And this Single Barrel stuff is right up there with some of the greats. It’s not very expensive, it’s pretty easy to find, and a treat to sip upon on a beautiful October evening.
Evan Williams Single Barrel KSBW
Ferrari Carano Chardonnay, 2018; Ferrari Carano Winery; Healdsburg, CA; $30/btl
It seems like a million years ago, but I used to dabble in the restaurant business. In fact, it was a long time ago. For 15 years I waited tables, bussed tables, cooked, and managed. Mostly in fine dining, and most of that in private clubs. The Arid Club, Crane Creek Country Club, Spurwing Country Club.
The highlight of those three places was The Arid Club, where I managed the wine program for four years. Prior to that, I wrote the wine list for Crane Creek Country Club with the guidance of our Clubhouse Manager. Between those two places, I probably opened a thousand bottles of wine, and I got very good at it. The technique I learned to de-cork a bottle was one of presentation and efficiency, and I’m proud to say that, 17 years later, I’ve not lost my touch.
There was a day, though, when King Estates released a Pinot Noir with — *gasp* — a screw-top. And it was a very nice wine! So nice that I roamed the dining room of the Arid Club pouring samples for our members and their guests, and I literally sold cases of the stuff that night. But, there was one member who flat out threatened my job if I even dared to bring him a sample. Seriously, he told me that if I put a free sample on his table that he would demand I be fired.
In fact, one of the reasons I wanted to begin writing about adult beverages was because of that encounter. I remember thinking, “What a complete snob!” I mean, I would just never behave like that. At least, I hope I wouldn’t. You see, I loved what I was doing. I was in love with wine, with selling wine, with collecting wine. Everything about it mesmerized me. I loved it! And I wanted to tell people about it.
And I also became acutely aware that screw-tops were going to be making a profound entry into the world of premium wines. No longer would screw-tops live only at the head of names like Ernest and Julio Gallo and other bottom dwellers. No, many of the industry's big names were beginning to read the writing on the wall, and they were curious, if not outright experimenting behind closed doors.
With so much of the industry wrapped up in tradition, though, the idea of screwing the top off of a $30 bottle of wine rather than plucking out a cork was a bit hard to, umm, swallow. It would be especially difficult for traditionalists who would rather their expensive wines go to waste in a million-dollar, bragging-rights cellar than have it last for many years simply sitting on a shelf.
So be it.
That said, If you’ve read my last few posts you’ll know that I’ve been touching on the Feast of Tabernacles. This year, I was supposed to attend in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, but was unable since COVID got my wife all sick and stuff. Fortunately, we were able to send my daughter to a location a bit closer to home — Bend, Oregon — and with her I sent some wine. I was training her to taste and open and such, and we had a little event planned. Not being Able to do it with her, I thought she might enjoy having it there to try by herself. Fortunately for me, she’s not much of a solo drinker and brought all three bottles home.
The three were King Estates Pinot Noir, Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, and Ferrari Carano Chardonnay. This past weekend we opened the Ferrari Carano, and I was shocked — shocked, I say — to find a screw top! I mean, I’ve opened at least a hundred bottles of Ferrari Carano wines, and they always had screw tops. But, I haven’t opened a bottle of it in 17 years. So, seeing that screw top caught me by surprise — pleasant surprise, mind you. Here I was going to show my daughter my patented technique, and all I got to show her was how to do the twist. It was actually funny, but you had to be there.
Anyway, the bottle is open and so I’m scribbling digitally about it. Ferrari Carano Chardonnay is a stalwart in the wine industry. Consistent, loaded with buttery oak, grapefruit, medium-bodied and dry, but absolutely stuffed with fruity character. At $30 per bottle it’s pricey, but worth every drop. Chardonnay is actually kind of difficult to nail. Too much sugar and it falls apart. Too dry and it sucks the life out of you. This stuff nails that balance, and always has.
The moral of this story is that screw-tops are the future, and Ferrari Carano is embracing that future. Fortunately, their wine is as consistently good as my past remembers. They’ve demonstrated definitively — just as King Estates did all those years ago — that screw-tops do not ruin the wine. Just the snobs! And if Mr. Carano can do the twist, anyone can.
Ferrari Carano Chardonnay, 2018
Longbranch KSBW; Wild Turkey Distilling Co.; Lawrenceburg, KY; $40/btl
Not content with being Mr. Popular, Matthew McConaughey also wants to be Mr. Whiskey. Thus, he approached the Wild Turkey people and demanded — demanded, I say — to have his name written on a bottle of Wild Turkey.
And that’s it!
Well, not quite. Apparently Mr. McConaughey is a bit of a whiskey connoisseur and wanted to express his love of the golden nectar by bringing his passion to life. And a good thing, too. The resulting product, Longbranch, is something of a sneaker in the world of whiskey. Now, to this average, ordinary, everyday Ken, Wild Turkey as a brand is remembered solely as “the party whiskey”, especially in 101 form. It’s the stuff I pounded by the gallon the night Clyde Drexler finally got his NBA Finals trophy as a Houston Rocket. That night, as the Rockets swept the Magic of Orlando, I was drinking Wild Turkey 101 by the shot(s) and getting plenty far separated from stability.
It was a night to remember, and one that firmly implanted Wild Turkey into my senses as “the whiskey that makes me go BARF!” I didn’t go near the stuff again for something close to 30 years.
Then, earlier this year while taking part in my friend’s Whiskey Wonder Podcast, I had the opportunity to try Longbranch, not knowing it was part of the Wild Turkey family – even with the big “Wild Turkey” printed across the neck of the bottle. For that I’m probably a doofus, but since when does that stop one from pretending to be a whiskey lover? Boy, was I surprised when I learned the truth.
That was several months before I was motivated to start this blog, and now, 4 months later, I’ve decided that Matthew McConaughey’s contribution to the world of whiskey shall indeed have its time at KensBar.org, even if it is from the Wild Turkey people (and don't tell anyone, but there's a bottle of Rare Breed over there, too).
And here’s the rub: Mike, my friend from the podcast, came over and we had a blind tasting. After all, the very best thing you can do to find great whiskey is to have a blind tasting. It’s also the worst thing you can do if you want to tear down a favorite. In other words, blind taste at your own expense, especially if you happen to be honest and/or not a snob.
Well, I’m honest and not a snob, and I try to be consistent with myself and my two readers. The victims of that tasting were Longbranch, Eagle Rare 10-year, and Uncle Nearest 1856. Both Mike and I knew who would be winning that tasting. I knew — knew! — that Eagle Rare was the best whiskey in that group, and Mike knew — knew! — that he had no idea what we were drinking. Only my wife knew the order, and she was mum. Even so, I was certain!
We tasted, swished, swirled, and swallowed (no spittoons at Ken’s Bar) and Mike was certain he recognized one of the whiskies in our test, but he couldn’t place it. Either way, he made note. At the end and well into too much stuff, I knew I had picked the winner: Eagle Rare. It was just so obvious. So, the labels came off and the letters were revealed and …
Longbranch was chosen by both of us as the best whiskey in that tasting, and Mike suddenly knew what he had recognized.
I was shocked. Eagle Rare is smooth as glass, but Longbranch is like butter next to it. Uncle Nearest is loaded with flavor, and it tastes like water with Longbranch in the room.
We had to be sure, though, so we invited my wife to have a taste of all three. Longbranch is now her favorite whiskey, although I think that has more to do with McConaughey’s muscles than his whiskey (actually, she's a pretty good judge of this stuff).
Longbranch is loaded with notes of dark honey, smoked mesquite (a note I only recognized after reading about it), and orange peel, oddly enough. Smooth is a word I use lightly with whiskey. Everyone uses the word differently, whether to do with the slippery-smooth mouth feel, or the lightness of the alcohol as it courses along the side of the tongue and down the throat. I tend to gravitate toward the latter action, as swallowing sand paper doesn’t make me think of “smooth”. Longbranch is an 86-proof jello-shot when it comes to smooth, and I’ll put it up there with Old Rip Van Winkle in that camp.
So, why isn’t Longbranch sitting on my Bottom Shelf instead of Eagle Rare? Well, as I’ve noted several times on this blog, there is more to my love of a great whiskey than just the whiskey, itself. The bottles on the Bottom Shelf have fun stories tied to them, often involving discoveries made with good friends, or significant events, or just plain creative flare. Knowing that, and knowing how I came to enjoy Longbranch, I can definitely say there is a good story tied to it. Not only did I discover it with the help of a friend who knows an awful lot about whiskey, but it also happens to be the partial brainchild of a guy from Texas, where the Houston Rockets play basketball, and where my beloved Clyde Drexler won his first (and only) NBA title.
So, there is a story in there, which is why Longbranch is a firm contender for that coveted placement on the Bottom Shelf at Ken’s Bar. Deciding which bottle it would replace would be tough work. Perhaps I need more than five spots?
EDIT: Oh, what they hay! I had the room, so I upgraded the Bottom Shelf to include Longbranch. Sometimes, you gotta make things happen!
Buzz Buzz Coffee Porter; Salmon River Brewing; McCall, ID
No, not that kind of buzz, you sillies!
Today at the Bar, I’m drifting from whiskey so that I can talk about another favorite pastime: Beer! Yes, I’ve been known to nibble at a good beer from time to time, although my friends will lie and say it’s more like “from hour to hour”. Liars, all of them.
Truth is, I do like my beer. Lite beer, dark beer, medium-dark beer, medium-lite beer. Beer with alcohol and — dare you say — even some non-alcoholic beer. In fact, I keep some of that stuff in the Bar (but that’s for another day).
So, how does this story go? Well, it all began when I was a young child. I was born in the days when we called ADHD “being hyper-active”. But, that was name-calling (or so I’m told) and we gave it a new name to be more “thenthative”. Because “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” is a better name than “hyperactive” or — as was more common and much simpler still — “That kid is just plain hyper!”
And I was, too! Very hyper.
Okay. The boy is hyper. What to do? In my younger days (the 1970’s) the answer was simple: coffee! That’s right, “Give that boy some coffee.” Apparently, caffeine calms some people suffering with ADHD, because:
“Stimulants are believed to work by increasing dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with motivation, pleasure, attention, and movement. For many people with ADHD, stimulant medications boost concentration and focus while reducing hyperactive and impulsive behaviors.”
Or, so I’m told. I don’t know if it worked or not. I can only tell you that my parents got into the habit of making me drink a cup of coffee every morning (laced with a bit of milk to make it “taste good”), and boy did I hate the stuff. I hated it passionately. So much so that it took nearly 50 years before I could stomach the stuff, and then only because I found out you could lace it with a bit of chocolate, which actually does make it taste good.
So, where am I going with this? Well, it turns out that, like most reasonable humans, I love the smell of coffee. Not the taste, but the smell. If you ask me, coffee tastes like wet dirt, like someone got up in the morning, went outside to the garden, scooped up some dirt, put it in hot water, filtered out the gritty bits, and dumped it down my throat. It tastes like dirt, I tell you!
But it smells like Heaven!
To get to the point, somewhere back a few years ago my wife went to a growler bar and came home with a 64 of something called Buzz Buzz Coffee Porter. At first, my “I hate coffee” brain looked at her like she’d lost her mind (which she has, but that was long before Buzz Buzz came into my life). To ease her sense of self-sacrifice and not to offend, I poured a glass of the thick, dark-brown-going-on-black barley juice and gave it a try.
“What’s this?” I asked with a grin and a happiness I only get when I win the lottery (which is never, but you know what I mean). Let me tell you something about Buzz Buzz. It tastes the way coffee smells. It doesn’t taste like coffee, i.e. dirt, it tastes like the smell of coffee. Those of you who are coffee lovers know what I mean. You wake up and get that morning coffee brewing and the house fills up with a rich, chocolaty aroma that is guaranteed to wake everyone else, including the neighbors. That smell is what Buzz Buzz Coffee Porter tastes like. It goes down the throat rich and creamy and chocolaty and smooth as … hmmm … one has to be careful here. Smooth as what?
Of all the beers I’ve tried in my life, there is only one I like better: Cocoa Cow from Sunriver Brewing in Sunriver, Oregon. That one is my favorite. Buzz Buzz is number 2 on the list, and it’s a very close call at that. Cocoa Cow is finally available here in Idaho at a Growler Guys a few miles from the house, and that’s a good thing. But, right next to it is Buzz Buzz, which is a fair bit cheaper.
I’m a fan of porters. In fact, three of my favorite beers are porters. That this locally brewed masterpiece is, well, locally brewed, makes things that much better. Oddly, two of my top four beers are brewed right here in Idaho, which is amazing considering Idaho is fairly late to the Microbrew game. My list looks like this:
Cocoa Cow Chocolate Milk Stout, Sunriver Brewing, Sunriver, Oregon
Buzz Buzz Coffee Porter, Salmon River Brewery, McCall, Idaho
Powerhouse Porter, Sockeye Brewery, Boise, Idaho
Black Butte Porter, Deschutes Brewery, Bend, Oregon
If I’m being honest (and the whole point of Ken’s Bar is honesty), those are my top four. I want to nail down number five, but this average, ordinary, everyday Ken can’t seem to wade through a bunch of lovely beers to nab it. So be it. For now, it’s a top-four list. Perhaps, one day, I’ll try something that makes the list. Until then, it is what it is
And Buzz Buzz Coffee Porter is very securely planted in that number two spot, just a couple of free cases of beer behind Cocoa Cow (wink, wink). It is delightfully good stuff. If you don’t like dark beers, though, it might not be for you. It’s very dark, and very rich. Not really a “hot summer day beer”. Cheap pilsners are better for that. But, if you like coffee, I highly recommend you get your Buzz on!
Salmon River Brewing Buzz Buzz Coffee Porter
No pricing information. On tap only. Prices may vary.
Who is this guy?
I'm just an average, ordinary, everyday Ken, and nothing more. I like wine, whiskey, and beer. I write when I'm bored (and to prove it I've published three books). I like to garden, work with wood, and laugh with family and friends. Ken's Bar is an expression of my enjoyment of adult beverages of all shapes and sizes, but especially whiskey. My tasting notes are as much about stories and connections with people as they are about fluffy, snobbish adjectives. I've tasted a lot of whiskey (including the costs-way-too-much Rip Van Winkle stuff) and decided to start writing about it. Or something. So, sit back and read. If you can.
How do I rank?
Cost per Bottle:
$ - $0-$25
$$ - $26-$50
$$$ - $51-$75
$$$$ - $76-$100
$$$$$ - Over $100
* - Swill. Dump it out.
** - Mix it with coke
*** - A good sipper
**** - Straight from Heaven.
***** - Heaven called and wants its whiskey back!
Shoot me an email with comments, suggestions, or hate mail!