The Whisky Tasting Club The Whisky Tasting Club

In the United States, whiskey tends to mean bourbon, and bourbon tends to mean Kentucky. Only Islay in Scotland can match this wonderful state for its cohesive sense of purpose, its intensity, the quality of its whiskey, and its empathy with - and understanding of - grain spirit. Just as single malt whisky will be dominated by Scotland for generations to come, so, too Kentucky continues to dominate American whiskey.
Kentucky is where you will find most of the US’s big names, such as Heaven Hill, Jim Beam and Buffalo Trace. Bourbon can legally be made in other regions of the US, in practice however about 95 percent is distilled in Kentucky. Tennessee to the South is home to Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel; however Tennessee whiskey isn’t bourbon - unlike bourbon Tennessee whiskey undergoes filtering, and has its own legal definition and style. Bourbon must be made from a mash containing at least 51 percent corn, although it usually contains considerably more, the remaining grains are generally wheat, rye and/or malted barley. The spirit must be matured in new white oak barrels, which may be toasted and charred. Bourbon is bound by strict rules on distilling strengths and the strength it can go into the barrel. After two years of maturation in the barrel it is called Straight bourbon. Nothing can be added at all beyond the grain, yeast, and water, meaning that the rules for bourbon are stricter even than those governing Scottish single malt whisky.
Things have changed a bit since the first settlers of Scotch-Irish descent brought their whisky-making skills with them. Today, the urban bourbon trail boasts world-class restaurants and bars where bourbon is served in salubrious surroundings alongside the state’s finest cuisine.

In recent years, the producers of bourbon have given the drink an image overhaul. While bourbon is still very much a people’s drink, its big-name brands no longer occupy the bottom shelf in liquor stores. It is in this context that you realise that bourbon is looking forward and not back. Its distilleries might still be monuments to hospitality, history, polite manners, and gentle country ways, but bourbon’s businessmen are finding new ways to market and sell their high quality and often very good value whiskeys.

Kentucky Vintage

In its early days as a “territory”, Kentucky had some two thousand farmer-distillers, each creating their own small batch whiskies. Today, the quality is rather better although each batch still differs slightly, so, as with independent bottlings, you never get exactly the same taste profile twice. These small batch whiskies are selected from the best of the thousands of casks in the “rickhouses” and are aged for longer than standard bourbons, to give a greater depth. Their website invites you “enjoy [their whiskies] in a classy manner”. I’ll see what I can do.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Spiced red fruit. Marzipan. Currant buns. Cleansing.
Palate: Menthol. Vanilla. Milk chocolate. Camp coffee. Lemon mousse. A little oak spice and citrus.

Retails for around £30-35

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Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select

Kentucky’s smallest distillery, Woodforde Reserve is also the least typical, with pot stills more akin to Scotland than Kentucky. It also distils three times. Even though there is only one standard expression of their whiskey, Woodford Reserve cannot make enough spirit to satisfy demand, so the output from this tiny distillery is mixed with 9 year old Forester’s bourbon created at another of owner Brown Forman’s Kentucky distilleries. Woodford Reserve are constantly innovating to push the boundaries of bourbon, by trying different casks and grains (including oats!) and tinkering with the process. They also have their annual and limited edition Master Collection series, using whiskey exclusively from the Woodford Reserve distillery.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Rich and sweet. Apricot jam. Banana. Rice pudding. Menthol. Burnt toffee.
Palate: A surprising spiciness, given the nose. Mint. Chilli. Raisins. Vanilla. The finish is long and lightly-spiced.

Retails for around £30-35

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High West American Prairie Reserve

The High West distillery is the first distillery in Utah since 1870s and (and I realise it probably doesn’t have many competitors on this front) the only ski-in gastro-distillery in the world, situated as it is at the bottom of the Quittin’ Time ski run.

10% of the revenue from this American Prairie Reserve goes to the American Prairie Reserve in Montana, which is an attempt to create the largest wildlife reserve in the lower 48 states. This expression is a mix of a 6 year bourbon and 10 year old bourbons, both with mashbills of corn, rye and barley malt.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Quite closed at first. Candy cigarettes. Pears in syrup. Cherries and dark chocolate.
Palate: Soft and rounded at first and then a brief explosion of menthol-led spice, which soon recedes to a lovely apple crumble and custard finish.

Retails for around £40-45

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Bulleit Bourbon

Produced in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, this is another bourbon with a mashbill of corn, rye and barley malt, but, with a higher than usual rye content, it has a pronounced spiciness. Although the Bulleit high-rye content bourbon was started by Augustus Bulleit in the mid-1800s (and then who mysteriously disappeared), it was his grandson Thomas E. Bulleit Jr. who ditched a successful law practice in 1987 to revive the family tradition. In addition to this expression, they also do a 10 year old bourbon and a rye whiskey
10% of the revenue from this American Prairie Reserve goes to the American Prairie Reserve in Montana, which is an attempt to create the largest wildlife reserve in the lower 48 states. This expression is a mix of a 6 year bourbon and 10 year old bourbons, both with mashbills of corn, rye and barley malt.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Very light, gentle and creamy with spoonfuls of honey and fruit. A squeeze of lime?
Palate: Light, creamy and cool. Little spice to speak of to start with, but a light dry spiciness develops along with vanilla and dark chocolate caramel with a definite menthol influence.

Retails for around £25-30

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Johnny Drum Private Stock

Like the Kentucky Vintage, the Johnny Drum brand is owned by the Willett family and made in the heart of the Bluegrass, Kentucky’s famous bourbon country.

Johnny Drum attempted to join a regiment in his home state to fight in the US Civil War, but was too young (i.e. under 18). However, he managed to find another regiment to take him on, but only if he became a drummer boy, which meant his age didn’t matter. Returning home after the war to become a farmer, he turned his excess corn to good use by producing bourbon. His was evidently a good one, for it was declared the “finest sippin’ whiskey” in Kentucky.
10% of the revenue from this American Prairie Reserve goes to the American Prairie Reserve in Montana, which is an attempt to create the largest wildlife reserve in the lower 48 states. This expression is a mix of a 6 year bourbon and 10 year old bourbons, both with mashbills of corn, rye and barley malt.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Honey and blackcurrant. Grapefruit? Spice. A rather un-bourbon-like nose.
Palate: Soft and a little indistinct at first, then honey and lemon, then the spice, chilli, citrus and vanilla all hit and remain through to the long lingering finish.

Retails for around £40-45

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