Interview with Four Roses Brent Elliott

Brent Elliott was nice enough to have a phone chat with me… I have made some minor edits for time purposes, flow, continuity and because I took notes and didn’t record it… on to the interview…

NBD: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today.  So… what is your daily routine?

BE: It’s different everyday, no two are alike.  When I’m here [at the distillery] I usually spend a lot of time in the sensory lab, mingling and blending different batches.  We look at every batch that comes off the still for quality check.  We check the distillate and 99 out of 100 are fine.  After four years we check each batch again to see where it will go.

NBD: How do you define a batch?

BE: A batch is about 290 barrels, coming from eight fermenters.   We make about 22 batches a month.  After four years we have a pretty good idea where it will go.  We test it and it gets designated for Yellow Label or Private Barrel or something different.  At 6.5-7yrs we test them again and at this point we are 75% sure how long they will go for and where they will end up.  From time to time we find a special batch that isn’t too astringent and still have more to go and that will often go into Small Batch Limited Edition.  Most of the longer aging are from the first or second tier.

NBD: What is a tier?

BE: Our warehouses have six stories, which we call tiers, the first being the ground floor and the sixth the top floor.  The first through third often produce batches that can age longer.

NBD: So… what is your daily drinker?  What did you drink last night?

BE: I actually didn’t drink last night, but the night before I had FR Small Batch.  When I first started out I tried everything, tried to understand the different processes, and the taste differences.  And over the years lots of people have brought over bourbons, but I do not have many competitors products at my house anymore.

NBD: So, I tried to Tweet you the other day and I couldn’t find you. Are you on Twitter?

BE:  I am not on Twitter… or Facebook or anywhere on social media.  I do check it from time to time from my wife’s account, but I’m so busy with emails and phone calls that I do not have time for it.

NBD: So, check my math.  22 batches a month, 290 barrels a batch, so you are making over 75,000 barrels a year?

BE: If we ran for 12 months a year that would be correct, but we shut down for about two months a year.  Historically we shut down for almost 4-5 months a year due to the heat in the river but now we shut down for about two months for cleanup, rebuilding and fixing the pipes, pumps and facilities.  We also are in the process of doubling our production and using that time to expand.

NBD: Thank you so much for your time… if there was anything you could fix in the bourbon industry, what would it be?

BE:  The price gauging on the secondary market bothers me and I also wish we have enough inventory.

NBD:  Seems that if you have enough inventory, the supply and demand would be fixed and would solve the price gauging problem.

BE: That’s right…

NBD: Do you think with all the increases in production that a bourbon bubble is forming?

BE: I do think that bourbon will slow down, whether it is in ten or fifteen years, but I do not think that the bottom will fall out.  This is not like cherry vodka and next week people like grape flavor more.  With bourbon, the growth requires more people to be introduced and there is increased recognition; when people try it they love it.  Bourbon has history, tradition, is hand crafted and has a soul; most importantly it is delicious.

NBD: Thank you so much for your time.

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Top 5 Drams of the Year 2016

Another year gone by and I’ve read so many negative stories, yet, there were some pretty awesome bourbons released this year.  Overall the prices have gone up, but you can still find bargains and making friends with your local retailer has never been more important… onto the list!

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#1 2016’s Buffalo Trace Thomas H Handy 126.2 proof 97.5/100  secondary price: $300 (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/11/27/btac-thomas-h-handy-2016/)  This was my favorite of the BTAC releases, with a close second being GTS, but THH is far easier to get your hands on and better price giving it the edge.  Handy may be the BTAC that is least respected, but time and time again it is my favorite release.

#2 2016 Release Four Roses Elliott’s Select OESK 52.9% abv 91/100 secondary price $225 (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/four-roses-elliotts-select/)  There was a lot of worry when Jim Rutledge retired from Four Roses, but when Brent Elliott came out with this bottle immediately afterwards, all fears were assuaged.  In fact, this bottle was substantially better than the 2016 Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition release, although not quite as good as last year’s winner, the 2015 FRSBLE.  I think we can all sleep soundly knowing that Four Roses is in good hands.

3# Barrell Bourbon New Years 2017 retail price $99.99 (for now!) (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2017/01/02/happy-new-year-barrell-bourbon-2017/)  Another top award for this up and comer.  This is their first true marriage release of 4 different barrels from Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, and once again blows the competition away.  Grab a few while you still can as the first release of this bad boy probably will be worth a lot of money in the near future…. keep your eye

#4 Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Bourbon #438 119.8 proof 96/100 $120 @ gift shop (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/willett-family-estate-single-barrel-bourbon-438-holy-moley/)  This was one of the bottles I was lucky enough to buy when I visited Willett in January of 2016.  This was a honey barrel if I’ve ever tasted one.  If you are ever able to get some of this, don’t hesitate!

#5 Garrison Brothers Single Barrel Bourbon #3824 97 proof 96/100 $100 retail price (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/11/24/go-visit-garrison-brothers-single-barrel-amazing/) Garrison Brothers consistently puts out a great product.  I also visited their distillery this year and really enjoyed meeting Dan and the team.  Very excited to see the 2017 Cowboy Bourbon when it is released next year!

There were so many that almost made the cut… I tried a couple rums this year that were really good including one from Balcones (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/06/29/balcones-texas-rum-special-release-batch-15-1-63-9-abv/) and another from Barrell (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/barrell-rum-batch-001-7yr-jamaican-pot-still-rum/).  Barrell’s Whiskey 002 was another one that almost made the cut, but after careful consideration I preferred the New Years (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/04/24/barrell-whiskey-002-magical-sherry-cask-finish/).  Most lists have Booker’s Rye on their top 5, and although it is a good whiskey, it’s just too hot and expensive and does not deserve to make it in my very humble opinion (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/08/23/bookers-rye/).  PHC 10yr was also hotly debated, and I thought it was extremely good, but given the price, just not quite worthy vs the Garrison or the WFE (https://newbourbondrinker.wordpress.com/2016/09/19/phc10-parkers-heritage-collection-10-24yr-bourbon/).

I’ll have my top five disappointments in the world of bourbon coming up soon… thanks again for a great 2016 to everyone who reads this blog.  Readership has gone up 5x and I hope to continue that trend into 2017.  I’d love to hear what your top 5 of the year were?  Happy New Year!

http://www.barrellbourbon.com/  http://www.garrisonbros.com/  http://www.kentuckybourbonwhiskey.com/  http://fourrosesbourbon.com/  https://www.buffalotracedistillery.com/

Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye: Worth the Hype?

The VWFRR is one of those very rare releases that trades at crazy prices on the secondary market and is arguably the hardest to find of the Pappy line. It is the only Rye and it is 13 years old.

Very spicy nose, lots of cracked pepper, strong oak notes, crushed smoked pecans, Twix, s’mores on cinnamon graham crackers and cedar closet. Moderate heat for a 95.6 proof whiskey.

Initially an enjoyable mouthfeel but then comes in with a big punch of oak. Heat is a little higher than expected the first time around but still very enjoyable. The finish is moderate long as it fades away into mostly wood flavors. The palate is dominated by the oak flavors instead of the more complex spicy ones.

VWFRR is a very good whiskey but isn’t one you need to camp out to try. It’s a little too oaky for my taste. Just to make sure my palate wasn’t completely nuts I thought it prudent to pour some of my favorite rye, the 2014 THH. Everything about the Thomas Handy is better: more spice coming through on the palate. The Handy is hotter, but it’s half the age and 35% more alcohol so that’s not surprising. But the finish is more enjoyable and longer. For 1/3 the secondary price, albeit still expensive, THH kicks VWFRR’s butt. I still really enjoy it, but for the price there are just so many better options. VWFRR 93/100.

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BTAC Thomas H Handy 2016

Unlike a lot of bloggers out there, I have yet risen to the level of free BTAC samples; I have to fight and scrape and use the secondary market like the rest of people to get my BTAC. I bought this one on bottle-spot.com (like most of you) for around $300.

The 2016 edition clocks in at 126.2 proof, NAS as always, and forever beautiful in the iconic BTAC bottle. Nice amber color.

Candy corn, rock candy, white pepper, cloves and cinnamon. Not very hot considering the age and proof, but that’s why it’s THH. Smells amazing.

And the taste… Wow. The spices and sweetness come through immediately while firming up a nice grip on the tongue. There is an extremely enjoyable warmness that permeates through your mouth and upper chest creating an absolutely incredible finish. Even after two minutes the flavors are still evolving and improving. This review is without a drop of water; I don’t think it needs it and I won’t even do it because it is just that good.

I’m pretty much obsessed with Handy. The 2014 was one of my favorites of all time and this one is pretty darn close. If you can find one at a reasonable (and I’ll let your budget determine that) price, don’t be afraid to pick it up. And if Buffalo Trace is reading this and wants to add me to next year’s blogger sample list, I won’t say no (please add me to next year’s list–thank you so much). 97.5/100

 

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PHC10: Parker’s Heritage Collection #10: 24yr Bourbon

Another one of the epic releases for the year, exploding in price on bottle-spot… and I had to have it so I could share my thoughts with my readers.  I wish I bought it at retail, but unfortunately I paid up for it… was it worth it?

It has a beautiful dark, root beer-esque color too it.  But is it too dark?  We shall see…

Really rich and powerful nose… stewed berries, cocoa, leather, pencil shavings, cigar box, toasted marshmallows and Twix.  So much going on in the nose and really nice… you can smell wood but the wood is not overpowering, which is tough to do on a 24yr Bourbon.  Mild heat on the nose.`

The taste is great… all those flavors on the nose come out in the palate, heat only on the way down, and the finish is long and it improves as it dissipates.  The mouthfeel is ok, but a little thinned out, and I’m a little surprised that it’s not chill filtered.  I had to wait three minutes before the second sip because the finish was going on and on.

It’s amazing comparing this to Old Blowhard… this really nails it while Old Blowhard is the epitome of everything wrong with an old overoaked whiskey.

This is a very special whiskey.  It’s not going to be for everyone’s style, and it will be in even less people’s budgets, but it’s a great Bourbon from Heaven Hill.  I’ve seen it trade online for between $400 and $600 and I think it will probably settle down somewhere in the $450 area at the end of the day.  It’s my third favorite 2016 release this year so far (behind FRSB Elliot’s Select and Barrell Whiskey 002), but by far the most expensive.  I’ll be savouring this one for a while.  96/100

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Unicorn Alert! Sazerac 18 Fall 2012 Vintage WOW!

Words fail to describe how good this whiskey is.  Sazerac 18, despite being bottled at 90 proof, is probably my favorite whiskey out there.  Thank you Buffalo Trace.  All hail BTAC.  I was incredibly lucky to find this being poured at a bar in London…

Pure candy nose, mushroom in the back. Spicy cinnamon, allspice and cloves. Superb nose.

Super smooth, easy down. So crisp and sharp with sweet and spicy notes.  Small but nice tannins. Long finish. This is epic.

Obviously a special bottle. Expectations met. 98/100.

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Booker’s Rye

Booker’s Rye is one of those bottles that universally has been pegged as the early 2016 Whiskey of the Year… there are a lot of very well respected reviewers and industry folk who believe this.  That is a lot of hype for something that MSRPs for $299, but typically trades at around $450 on the secondary market.  I also did not want to judge it too quickly, so I tried this bottle several times over the course of the past month drinking it down and experiencing the evolution.  Here are my views:

Beautiful packing, easy to open wax, must easier than the regular Booker’s for some reason… Love the green… not sure who decided that rye should be green, but I like it.

Opening the bottle… the color is really deep and dark, very exciting.

Right when you open the bottle, the nose is very hot, you can tell this is going to need some time to settle before truly giving it a full and proper review.

First impressions: very hot nose, licorice sticks, hot cinnamon candy, but just too harsh initially.  The palate initially is pretty awesome though, still pretty hot, but a great mouthfeel, with complex texture.  Initial read is that it needs to settle down, but has a ton of potential.  It’s really hot though.

Two hours later: the nose is still pretty hot, but not as hot as before; cinnamon toast is coming through as well as come anis, cocoa and Twix.  The hotness from before has slightly mellowed into a more round warmth, but it’s still hot on the palate and throat–pretty consistent with Booker’s style in general.  The mouthfeel and texture have improved since opening.

One day later…. still hot, but not getting burnt orange peel, cloves, cinnamon toast and Skittles.  The tongue is ticked by the taste and although the heat it still there, it’s more of a spicy heat than a pure hot heat now.  Really getting the cloved aged orange peel on the palate now.   There is a thick chewiness to it that coats the tongue, although doesn’t linger as long as I expected.  One day later has made a huge difference and hopefully the improvements will continue tomorrow.

Two days later the hotness has finally taken a back seat and is no longer the dominant feature.  The warmth in the chest remains but the sweeter notes from the nose and palate are coming through much stronger than anything else.

One month later the hotness in the nose remains, but it is not overwhelming.  Licorice, anis, buttered cinnamon toast, Kit-Kat, those dried orange cloves are reall coming out and so is a little bit of blackberry.  The mouthfeel is just as good as it always was: chewy, complex, delicious, and long.  It’s also very warm and lingers there in a good way.

When I first opened this bottle it was always too hot to drink.  The hottness mellows over time, but still remains.  This is a very good whiskey, but is it a shoo in for number one of the year?  Even if it were $100, I would say no.  I enjoy this, but there are already several whiskeys I’ve had this year that I enjoy more, and are certainly cheaper. 93/100.