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.
Jefferson's Ocean Aged At Sea; McLain & Kyne; Louisville, KY; $80/btl
Westward American Two Malts Whiskey; Westward Whiskey; Portland, OR; $90/btl
The title sounds impressive, right? Here we are in 2021 and we are deciding the world championships of Feast Whiskey. And, because this blog is so widespread, and because I have — at minimum — two readers, there will be a whiskey for both of them to love. That’s right, this championship pits two of this world’s 8 million, nine hundred and sixty seven thousand contenders in a head-to-head contest to determine which one is worthy of the coveted “FW” trophy.
And who are the contenders? Well, if you’re smart and you looked at the picture you already know. For those of you who would rather find out after reading two or three thousand words of fluff, well boy howdy I’ve I got some fluff for you!
To begin, it's the Feast of Tabernacles. Many of you haven’t got a clue what that is, and that’s okay. I do, and that’s all that's important right now. In Sunday night’s post I went into very minor detail of this joyous event, and that will have to do for now. After all, this is a whiskey blog, not a sermon.
But, if you paid attention to my last post you’ll know that I sometimes find a whisky at the Feast that is so special that it gets the coveted label of Feast Whiskey, a drink so delightful that I set it aside and only imbibe during one of God’s seven annual feasts (well, six, actually, since one of them is a day of fasting). This year COVID struck hard and I sit at Ken’s Bar rather than some shmarmy snob-bar in Steamboat Springs sipping the good stuff whilst watching the sun set amongst the Rocky Mountains.
Okay, so what to do? Well, as it turns out, I bought two bottles of whiskey in advance since I couldn’t be certain that the two I wanted to take would be available at the liquor store in Steamboat. They were all set to make the trip with me and get their “opening” upon arrival. Since I couldn't make the trip, neither did they. Thus, I happen to have them right in front of me, and I opened both on Monday evening as the Feast of Tabernacles got underway at sundown. I tried both, and both are worthy contenders. In fact, both are very worthy contenders.
And they are as follows:
Jefferson’s Ocean Aged At Sea KSBW, and Westward American Two Malts Whiskey. Now, I've never tried anything from Jefferson’s before, but Westward’s American Single Malt quickly — and definitively — found its way to the top of my Bottom Shelf, a place that is hard to get to no matter how good it is. Ever since I first found Westward, I’ve been coveting their Two Malts, which is a partnership between Westward Whiskey and Bridgeport Brewing. And, when I first read the story behind Jefferson’s Ocean Aged At Sea Bourbon I had to try it. It just sounds … fun!
So, what to do with these two? Oh, I know, drink the stuff and scribble some notes. And then decide which one jumpstarts the truck!
Oh, dear. Decisions sometimes just aren’t my strength. Which means this is actually very tough.
Here’s the thing: Both of these whiskeys are very unique. Jefferson’s Ocean is smooth, stuffed with vanilla and caramel and some woody things happening out on the edges of the ol’ tongue, and the finish has that nice bite of alcohol scraping the back of the mouth as it dumps on down into the liver. It’s absolutely gorgeous, if that word can be used to describe a flavor.
The Westward is a different nut altogether. Westward’s signature bottles are all single malts derived from a common malt and aged in different barrels with marked histories amongst the wineries and breweries of Oregon. But, the Two Malts is, well, two distinct malts: 68% Bridgeport Brewing malted barley, and 32% Kingpin Red Ale malted rye. It’s a single barrel concoction, and mine is bottle number 1427. It’s loaded with nutty goodness, butterscotch rye, and pepper. It’s absolutely beautiful, if that word can be used to describe a flavor.
Both of these bottles is pretty, and the two nectars are nearly identical in color. But it ends there. They’re separated by blend, process, region, and style, and neither is better than the other, although both are better than most. The Westward is more unique — born of Westward’s genuine zeal to stand out from the crowd, while the Jefferson’s is more typical of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. But, even then the Jefferson’s is special. They say that the sea-aging process rolls the barrels and the whiskey thus comes into contact with the oak more consistently. Great! Sure! Whatever you guys are doing, just keep doing it.
Westward is bonkers fun. It tastes like Westward, but it doesn’t taste like Westward. I mean, these guys are just wonderful daddy-juice artists, and they continue to swing for the fences, with at least one home-run and a number of RBI’s.
So, whose the winner in this taste-off?
I can’t decide based simply on the merits of the goodness within each bottle. Both are just too good. But, I have made a decision, and it may come as a surprise. So, here it is:
Westward American Two Malts Whiskey!
Why? Well, the answer came easy once I thought about it. Both are special, but there is something very special about the Two Malts. You see, this bottle represents a partnership between Westward Whiskey and Bridgeport Brewing. But, Bridgeport Brewing was too badly affected by COVID, basic economics, and just plain bad luck. Recently they were forced to close their doors permanently, and no longer exist as a business. Bridgeport is no more. The exact details are beyond this average, ordinary, everyday Ken’s capacity, but it matters not. They are closed for business, which means that the bottle I sip upon will never be produced again.
And that makes it special! In fact, it makes it special enough to crown it with the coveted “FW” trophy. It will be marked with my sharpie, set upon the shelf, and only brought out for a few days each year. It will disappear very slowly, and I will enjoy every drop, and probably stuff a paper towel in the empty bottle so I can wring out every last molecule of tasty goodness.
And of the Jefferson’s Ocean? Well, I was just in the liquor store unloading a small quantity of my stored tithe on something my heart was desiring: whiskey! The shelf was devoid of anything Westward because it simply is not available here in Idaho. But Jefferson’s Ocean was there six deep. I’ll be able to get more of it, but I’m not so sure about Westward Two Malts. I may get online and order another bottle if it’s still in stock.
So, it really is that simple. Westward Two Malts wins this race on a combination of form and function. It’s a beautiful bottle packed with a beautiful whiskey, and it may be hard to find in the future. But it is that one, single enduring quality that sets it apart from it’s Kentucky cousin: Simple availability. I want the Two Malts to last, because I may never see it again. The Jefferson’s is so good that I know it will be there tomorrow. Westward Two Malts is very good, but it may never be there again.
And that’s how I choose a good Feast Whiskey World Champion.
Jefferson's Ocean Aged At Sea
Westward American Two Malts Whiskey
Aberlour HSMSW 16-year; Aberlour Distillery Company.; Scotland; $80/btl
This week’s write-up is both very special and very depressing. Most of my readers will not understand the context, and certainly might disagree with the religious overtones, but I am not going to hold back simply because some of you don’t understand. it’s okay. I won’t hold it against you.
So, as part of my religious faith, I honor God’s commanded Feast of Tabernacles. Once every year, in the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar, God commands that His chosen people travel to a designated place and celebrate a feast before Him for seven days. Say what? you ask? An annual feast!?!
Yes. It’s like a vacation, but with religion!
For those of us who do celebrate this Feast of Tabernacles before God, it becomes the most anticipated time of the entire year. We set aside ten percent of our income for the entire year for just this seven-day period, and we get to use it for “whatever your soul desires” (Deu 14:26). For a nice vacation home, for delicious food, for great wine, and — you guessed it — great whiskey!
Sometimes as we navigate our way through this difficult life, we find things that we want, but cannot afford. It might be something big and beyond our reach no matter what (a vacation in Bora Bora, pehaps?) or it may be something that is just within range maybe once a year. And once per year there are certain things that are within reach for those who faithfully save our 2nd tithe for use at this Feast of Tabernacles. For me, one of those things is a great bottle of whiskey. Not the drink-a-day $20/per stuff, but the nice, $100+ top-shelf whiskies that beckon to us from, well, the top shelf.
When I attend the Feast, sometimes I buy one or two or three of these things (depending on how blessed I am through the year). And, sometimes I mark one of these bottles with two letters: FW. “FW” stands for “Feast Whiskey”, and Feast Whiskey can only be consumed during one fo God’s annual Feasts (there are seven of them, but that is not the purpose of this blog). I literally do not drink it any other time. I reserve said bottles for special occasions, and those occasions are not designated by me, they are designated by God. That’s it. Deuteronomy 14:26 continues by saying, “for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatever your soul desires.”
Whiskey is “strong drink”, right?
Several years ago — and I forget the year — my family and I were attending the Feast of Tabernacles in the Bend, Oregon area (we were staying in Sun River). On the way into town we dropped into the liquor store and a bottle jumped out at me. The first scotch I really enjoyed was the Glenlivet 12-year. The second was Aberlour 12. Aberlour stood out to me as the scotch whisky. Brilliant in absolutely every way. And that particular year its older brother jumped into my arms.
So, Aberlour 16 is this weeks topic. And man, is this a nice whisky. Smooth, glorious, and start-the-truck-and-go-off-roading bold! It is loaded with caramel and oak and apricot and fire all the way down the throat. 16 years this stuff sat around and begged for me to try it, and now the bottle I sip from is better than 20 years beyond the harvest. Its glorious amber glow just demands respect, and I respect it just enough to dump it down the hatch! Man, I tell you it’s nice.
It isn’t cheap, though. $80-plus in most locales, more in others. I’ve had this bottle under the house for years while I waited for Ken’s Bar to become a reality, and there’s only about three shots drained. Which means I still have about $70 worth of good booze left in there. Considering I pop the bottle about once a year and have maybe one drink, I expect it will be around well into the immediate future. And a good thing, too, because big things come to those who wait!
So, why this topic now? Well, the Feast of Tabernacles 2021 begins tomorrow evening, September 20. As I type this it is September 19. I was supposed to be in Steamboat Springs, Colorado enjoying the Feast with my family and the extended group of fellow believers that I call family. But that is not the case. Instead, I type this from my keyboard at home, unable to attend this year’s Feast because COVID has struck my beloved wife. We are quarantined, and we must remain home.
When I was looking over the bar to determine what I would select for the write-up, I really wasn’t in the mood. I mean, who would be? It’s been a rough year filled with human political nonsense and loss of life, and I was really looking forward to the Feast and the physical/spiritual reset it provides. Depression is a funny thing, and sometimes a little reminiscing can really pick you up. So, I looked up there in the far upper left corner and there was Aberlour 16 with those two letters — FW — written on the label in Sharpie black, and I knew.
So, that all said, I give praise to God for His blessings, His love, His mercy, and His whisky. After all, He is the author of Whisk(e)y. We have only recently discovered it. So, Rejoice!
And may we all find peace in this crazy world.
Aberlour Single Malt Scotch Whisky 16-year
Bushmills Black Bush Irish Whiskey Sherry Cask Reserve; The "Old Bushmills" Distillery.; Ireland; $40/btl
For obvious reasons, there will be no joking permitted throughout the entirety of this post.
Some people will tell you that the only good whiskey is made in [fill in the blank]. That place could be Canada, or Scotland, or Tennessee. It could be Kentucky, or Russia, or Japan. It could even be Ireland, but I suspect saying that would start a fight, or maybe a civil war.
Well, I’m not a believer that any one area makes the best whiskey. Some have longer traditions, others have more modern methods, and most have learned to do it quite well at some level or another. And, while I’m no expert at being able to pick out a whiskey’s location with my taste buds, I’m as good as anyone at picking it out by looking at the label. This week’s subject is called Bushmills Black Bush Irish Whiskey, and from the label I can tell that the stuff is made in — you guessed it — Great Britain!
Yep, I’m that good at deciphering things.
So, I was over at my friend Mike’s doing an episode of the Whiskey Wonder Podcast and he pulled this bottle out of a hat. We tried it, and then he gave me the bottle. Knowing Mike, that means one of two things. Either A) He was feeling generous, or B) He didn’t like the stuff. I’m going with B, because Mike loves his whiskey, and there’s no way he’s just gonna hand me a bottle of good hooch because he’s being nice. No way! While I do forget what we tried with the Bushmills, I distinctly remember him turning his nose up and coughing.
No, actually, he’s a really good guy and handed me over a wonderful bottle of Ireland’s finest. Bushmills has been around for a very long time, and like to pride themselves as being the “world’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery”, with the caveat hidden amongst the word “licensed”. Yeah, every other distillery on earth is older when you remove that consideration.
Seriously, though, they’ve been at the game for a few minutes, and they make a rootin’-tootin’ dandy good whiskey. This average, ordinary, everyday Ken thinks the stuff has a nice little kick, is smooth and easy drinking, and stands delightfully well entirely on it’s own. There’s a subtle touch of smoke and honey, something a bit peaty, and a color reminiscent of liquid gold. That last part sounds a bit snobby — which isn’t my style — so it’s important to note that it’s not that *BLING* kind of gold that hip-hop types would wear. Rather, it's a cool, refreshing gold — the kind you want to drink, like good beer. And the bottle is cool, too. It fits nicely in the hand so you can pour another drink. And it says “1608” right on it, which is either a long time ago, or how much gold is per ounce. It doesn't specify which.
Oh, I almost forgot! This stuff is aged in sherry casks, and you know how I feel about that! Sherry casks are known for offering up a touch of sweetness and rich, red fruit. Important note: Those little, red berries you find in the forrest are "rich, red fruit" … and they'll kill you dead! This stuff should be consume with as much caution. It's so good it's dangerous.
I love pointless analogies.
Either way, I’d give this two thumbs way on up, but that would get me in trouble with the trademark people. So I’ll just call it “really good” and then call it good.
Bushmills Black Bush Irish Whiskey Sherry Cask Reserve
Bulleit KSBW 10-year; Bulleit Distilling Co.; Louisville, KY; $35/btl
I don’t know why I have this stuff. Honestly, I just don’t remember what drove me to buy it. But, there it sits, up on the shelf, waiting for me to take it down and swirl a sip around in my mouth.
So I did.
Regardless the reason why I bought Bulleit 10-year KSBW in the first place, each time I drain a shot I’m reminded that it always makes me smile. From the subtle popcorn bite to the rich, caramel gleam, Bulleit just hits the spot. It’s genuinely good bourbon, with a genuinely good heart, and a genuinely good finish. That there is no story behind my purchase just shakes me to the core!
Well, not really, but it’s fun to say that.
And, since there is no story, that’s it for this blog entry thing.
No, wait, we can’t do that. I need to have at least ten paragrahps of fluff. It’s just tradition. So, since there’s no story, I’ll make one up.
The dame sat at the bar staring at me with a set of dark, piercing eyes. Her dress was a bit less than it should have been, perhaps a bit more than I would have liked. Either way, she was a looker. But there was something in her gaze that made my skin crawl. Something stirring, like a cat ready to spring on an unsuspecting mouse.
What does she want? I asked myself. What possible reason does she have for that cold stare?
Perhaps she knew what I was carrying? But how could she? I’d never seen this woman before, and I had told but one person of the gold ingot I had found in the gutter. One person, and he would never betray me.
Suddenly, the woman rose from her place at a lonely table in the corner and began to saunter toward me. She wore high heels and black gloves, and her left hand was in her purse as if she were hunting for lipstick. As she drew closer, however, I recognized the butt of a handgun — a small .38 with a chromed barrel. Her demeanor changed and I could see the hunger in her eyes. The rare ingot was worth millions, and I was no one.
She came closer and the gun began to slide from her purse, the barrel drawing upwards and toward me.
What she did not know was that I was no stupid man. I knew what I was carrying, and as my Gloch barked in her direction she was quickly reminded that one should never underestimate the enemy. She had underestimated me, and now she lay dead on the floor of a back-corner bar in a back-corner neighborhood. I stood from my seat and sauntered past the bartender as if I owned the joint and tossed him a twenty.
“Sorry for the mess,” I said, channeling my inner geek. “By the way, what was I drinking?”
“Bulleit,” he answered, “Bulleit 10-year.”
I nodded. “I’ll have to remember that.” And then I thought to myself, What a coincidence. Bulleit.
And I smiled.
Yeah, it’s Labor Day and I’m bored. That aside, Bulleit 10-year KSBW is an inspiring bourbon that clearly drives the imagination. It’s clean, smooth, and easy drinking, with just that subtle hint of corn, rugged oak, and that nutty thing that some folks like to say when drinking whiskey. Whatever. It’s good.
Bulleit Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 10-year
Larceny Small Batch KSBW; Old Fitzgerald Distillery; Bardstown, KY; $25/btl
Some whiskies jump out at me right up front. The first time I try them, I know they’re winners. I feel the same way about wine and beer. I have a taste for great booze. Well, at least for great booze that I like. What other people like is up to them, although I did spend 12 years working in fine-dining establishments honing my skill, and sort of know what I'm talking about. But, the purpose of Ken’s Bar is not to tell you what you like, but to tell you what I like.
And I know what I like.
Typically, I prefer to tell a fun story that lead to a fun alcohol-laced thing. And, sometimes, there's just simply no story behind something I’ve tried. It was just there. The tale of Larceny Small Batch KSBW is about as simple a story as it gets. I was looking for Larceny Barrel Proof, saw this stuff, and grabbed the bottle thinking I’d just hit pay-dirt. And that’s all there is to the story. It was just an accident.
Unfortunately, that accident doesn’t have a terribly happy ending. This stuff is just kind of average to me. When I first tried it, I remembered being let down, possibly because I was looking for something highly sought after and wound up with a commodity. The thing is, this isn’t expensive stuff at just $25/bottle. But, Jim Beam Black Label is $22/bottle and about 10 times better! Larceny is just missing … something. Something extraordinary that makes it jump out at me, like a swift kick in the rear. Anything! But it doesn’t jump out at all. It’s not bad, it’s just not great, either. I suppose I would describe it as being a bit flat, like a beer that’s been sitting opened — in the sun — for too long, and you come back to it and you think, “Well, that’s disappointing.”
Oh, I’ll drink the stuff until it’s gone, but I won’t be tempted to buy it again. In fact, this bottle is going out in the trailer where it will become my camping bottle. And when I’m done camping for the year, it will take it’s place in the “get rid of it” station next to my Bottom Shelf. That’s where I keep the bottle that I most want to just "get rid of", but which isn’t rot-gut enough to get dumped down the drain. It’s just not good enough for my bar, and so it won’t have a home on the shelf.
Too bad, too. It comes highly rated from a friend whose taste in whiskey I respect. But his taste is not my taste.
Larceny Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
The Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14-year Single Malt Scotch Whisky; The Balvenie Distillery Company; Scotland; $90/btl
I don’t know about you, but I love honey! All kinds of honey. Bee honey, other bee honey, some honey I found under the house that had been sitting there for ten years. And I love my honey, too! She’s pretty awesome. Sometimes she even says she loves me back, although that usually involves liquor, which is appropriate, don't you think?
I bet you didn’t know that the first time my honey tried Scotch she looked at me like death was coming, and then danced around like the bees were making a hive in her bra! Yeah, it went over that well. And boy did I enjoy it. Watching her dance around with that sour-apple look on her face and all the commotion and colorful language. It was fun. Like the kind of fun you have when you get your pickup stuck in three feet of thick mud out in the middle of the desert where there’s no cellphone coverage.
However, the next time she tried Scotch, it scared me even more. Wanna know why? I’ll tell you why: Because the next time she tried Scotch she dipped into my Aberlour … and she liked it! It was one of those conundrum things where you are both elated and saddened at the same time. Oh, I was elated, because my honey now liked Scotch. But, I was saddened because she liked the expensive stuff, and that meant sharing my good stash with her. In other words, I suddenly realized she was going to be drinking all of my 5-star hooch!
But, out of that came a certain … what shall I call it? … how about “an elevated sense of discovery”. I say that because it occurred to me that my honey had very good taste in Scotch, and was all of a sudden finding some delightful gems. Which is what this rant is all about. For some incredibly wonderful reason, she decided that she wanted to try the Balvenie’s 14-year old Caribbean Cask Single Malt. And boy, howdy!
There’s something wonderful in combining whiskies with the casks of other things. Like for instance, Westward’s use of stout beer casks from BridgePort Brewing (now closed; sad panda!), or Aberlour’s use of sherry casks for their delightful A’bunadh. In the same vein, the Balvenie has distilled and aged a true masterpiece with their 14-year Caribbean Cask from which this blog entry gets its name. And before you tell me, “Hey, that’s not in the title!” let me tell you that you’d be wrong, and that you ain’t paying no good attention!
I said she wants honey, and the Balvenie Caribbean Cask is absolutely loaded with it. Where it comes from, I have no idea — maybe they stuff some bees down in there at casking, I don’t know. I just know that honey is what jumps out at me when I pour the stuff down my throat. Right there on the backend as the alcohol dances about on that dangly thing at the back of the mouth — the uvula, or something like that — and just as it swirls down the old sinking drain, it kicks back with sweet, delicious honey!
Apparently that’s what caribbean casks do to Scotch. They honey it up!
And I’m okay with that, because it makes for some jim-dandy Scotch that I can easily recommend to anyone willing to shell out their life savings. Just kidding. It’s not that much. More like a month’s income. Still kidding. Seriously, some lawyers make enough in a given hour to snag a bottle. Thus, it’s a rare treat for me, and I treat it like one, only dabbling a bit in a glass whenever my honey isn’t looking.
The Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14-year Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Eagle Rare 10-year Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; Buffalo Trace Distillery; Frankfort, KY; $35/btl
I have a simple philosophy. Whenever someone offers to buy you a bottle of whiskey, always choose something expensive! Make sure it’s a hard-to-find, rare gem. That way, it will always be special! You see, the harder they have to work for it, the more fun you get to have when you drink it. You get to sit down with that wonderful sipping-sauce in your hand and enjoy every last drop because you know that they went way out of their way to get it for you.
Sounds fun, am I right?
Especially if it’s your mom.
So, yeah, my mom wanted to buy me a bottle of whiskey for some reason or another and, naturally, I got on the interwebs and started hunting for something neat. As is my tradition, I was looking for an interesting label that said, “Hey, we paid our intern a ton of money … well, er, um, we paid this college kid a nice sum of ramen noodles to design a label.” And wouldn’t you know it, I found Eagle Rare 10-year.
Now, who can resist that gorgeous bald eagle swooping down to yank some poor, unfortunate fish out of the lake? Or maybe he’s reaching out to snatch a glass of Kentucky Bourbon from his handler? I don’t know, and it doesn’t specifically say. As with all good art, there’s a bit of room for interpretation. All I know is that the label stood out to me, and anyone who reads my stuff (which is pretty much no one) knows full well that I’m a sucker for a well designed label.
“Mom,” I say, “I want a bottle of Eagle Rare.”
“Okay,” she says as if she knows better.
Turns out, Eagle Rare is named specifically for us Idaho folk, because finding it here is like some kind of reality TV show challenge or something. It seems a bit strange that a whiskey like this would be so hard to find, but in this state it is. Well, outside of McCall, anyway. Why they get it and none of the local liquor stores do is beyond me, but I suspect it has something to do with snobs. At least, that’s what I’m going with. And I don’t drink no snob whiskey! At least, I don’t drink no snob whiskey that requires a 2-hour drive.
Couldn’t get it. That’s the short story. The long story required a trip to Portland back in March of 2021 whence my wife found it (along with three of its pals) at a liquor store in some booneyville metropolitan village south of Portland where my friend lives. They had four bottles of the stuff just sitting on the shelf like they owned the place. And to think those silly girls only brought back one bottle?
Anyway, they found it and bought it. That evening we opened that skinny little turkey up and poured a couple glasses and went to work on it. We learned that Eagle Rare’s finest characteristic is its uncanny smoothness, which is a bit like licking a butter dish. It drinks easy with a subtle front end, a sharp slide across the sides of the tongue, and a pleasant, oaky kick to the back of the throat. It’s the kind of whiskey you want to get drunk on, but that would be silly, because after two or three shots what’s to enjoy? No, get drunk on the easy to find, cheap stuff. Eagle Rare is for sipping and tasting and sipping and tasting and … you get the picture.
Here’s the funny thing. I had my friend, Mike, from the Whiskey Wonder Podcast over and we did a blind tasting with eagle Rare 10 year, Uncle Nearest 1856, and Longbranch, and I knew which one of those three was going to win, because Eagle Rare is just that good. And then wouldn’t you know it, the winner wasn’t Eagle Rare, which is weird. Longbranch won that night, with Eagle Rare sitting in the middle. So, why is Eagle Rare on my Bottom Shelf and not Longbranch? Because stories matter, and they have a great deal of affect when it comes time to sit in front of a favorite.
While my mom wasn't able to find it, she did try, and that means something to me. Had she found it, she would have bought it for me. What I got instead was a rather middling bottle of Four Roses Small Batch, which isn't all that special. And when I was able to find Eagle Rare I learned that it was worth the hunt. Winner of a tasting or not, it's good stuff, and I'll take it any day of the week!
Eagle Rare 10-year Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aberlour A'Bunadh Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky; Aberlour Distillery.; Someplace in Scotland; $90/btl
When I first met her, she was seated at the bar, her tawny legs stretched out oh so temptingly beneath a cream-colored getup that left me in awe. She appeared simple and easy-going, if not possibly a bit moody. I couldn’t help but look her over and wonder what she might be like if I could only get a little closer. To my surprise, she looked at me with that look you only get when there is definite interest, and motioned for me to sit with her. So, mustering the courage to take the next step, I moved over.
"What’s your name?” I asked, trying not to sound desperate.
“Sherry,” she responded, and I could sense her addictive qualities by the sound of her voice.
“Is there a last name in there?" I asked in a tone that told her of my curiosity.
“Cask,” she cooed. “It's Sherry Cask.”
“Where are you from, Sherry Cask?” I asked, my voice musky and protruding.
“A little place called Aberlour. You might know it. It’s in the Highland District.”
“I’ve heard of this Aberlour you speak of. I’ve heard it’s beautiful, like you.”
Sherry Cask smiled at me and turned away, a soft blush in her cheeks. “You flatter me too kindly,” she said as she reached over and placed herself in my hand.
I squeezed her tender fingers softly, and for just the briefest moment I was quite certain she purred. It was a gentle, almost poetic sound, something like, “A’bunadh.”
So, I grabbed her, tore her loose of the bar and wrestled every last drop of nectar from her and now she’s imprisoned on my Bottom Shelf!
Ah, Aberlour. Of all the Scotch whiskies, she is my favorite. Just the 12-year will do nicely, but there are others. The 16-year is a hoot (I’ll write about that one a bit later), and I have yet to try some of the more rare gems (20-year and such) but they’re on my gotta-have-it list.
Such as it is, I happen to have this wonderful bottle of Aberlour A’bunadh (#64) and cannot say enough nice things about the stuff. Right off the bat is that smokey punch in the face you expect from a good Scotch — but not too smokey; this ain’t Laphroaig, after all! Then, just as you’re getting ready to say, “Wow!” you’re hit with this sweet, sherry blast right across the sides of the tongue, and you realize this is really good stuff. There’s a bit of fruit in there, and the finish has a long and addicting quality to it that just loiters in the back of the mouth screaming for her buddies. “More,” she seems to be saying. “Give. Me. More!”
And so I do, because why make the poor girl suffer? And just in case, I invited her twin to hang out in the storage cabinet. I mean, you never know, right?
So, yeah, I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but I took Miss Sherry Cask home on the first date. I mean, she was single and all, and I got her for a good price. I mean, $90 ain’t bad for a Single Malt of such character. Fact to know: I would pay more for such company, and it would be worth every last penny!
Aberlour A'Bunadh Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky
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!