LiquorTN/WineAdvisor: Collector's Bourbon

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LiquorTN/WineAdvisor: Collector's Bourbon

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Sep 29, 2006 1:22 pm

<table border="0" align="right" width="100"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/4grain.jpg" border="0" align="right"></td></tr></table>Collector's Bourbon

Once in a great while (okay, maybe a couple of times a year), I'll switch from wine for a quick look at some other kind of tasty fermented beverage.

Let's make such an excursion today, prompted by the coming release of a rare Kentucky Bourbon that, in last year's inaugural edition, became an instant collectible, an "investment bottle" capable of the kind of quick turnaround resale that most of us are more accustomed to seeing in "cult" Napa Cabernets. The good news, however, is that this potion still comes in at less than $100 ... and unlike most cult Cabs, it's good for immediate enjoyment and need not be cellared.

Every now and then, the folks at Brown-Forman's Woodford Reserve distillery in the Kentucky Bluegrass region plan to offer special, limited-production Bourbon bottlings in a high-end series called "Master's Collection."

The first of these bottlings - called "Four Grain" because it adds wheat to the usual Bourbon "mash bill" (recipe) of corn, rye and barley - sold out its limited supply in just a few days last year.

Four Grain retails for $80 per bottle, and last year's collectibles have been going for $140 on eBay, Brown-Forman publicist Courtney Sandora said.

Get ready, collectors! This week, Brown-Forman is rolling out another batch of Four Grain, and chances are it will sell just about as fast. The 2005 batch was available only in Kentucky, while this year's tiny 750-case allocation will be divided among major metro markets in 16 additional states: California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

Four Grain is a 92.4-proof spirit, "triple-distilled" in Woodford Reserve's copper-pot stills from a recipe that Brown-Forman's Master Distiller Chris Morris says he found in archives dating to 1903.

Sandora found me a small sample for preview, and I'm here to tell you that it's a quality sippin' Bourbon indeed. My tasting report follows. Four Grain goes on sale Oct. 1. If you're in the market, we suggest you line up early.

Woodford Reserve Master's Collection "Four Grain" Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey ($79.99)

Clear, dark but transparent amber-orange color. Characteristic Bourbon aromas are redolent of caramel and butterscotch, vanilla and spice and just a whiff of maple syrup. On the palate it's smooth as silk, even when sipped straight; flavors are consistent with the nose, almost like sipping a liquid caramel candy if not as sweet. Old-line Bourbon "connoisseurs" might wish for more rye character and mouthfeel, but it's a great crowd-pleaser in the smooth and easy sipping style. Wine enthusiasts might blanch at an $80 bottle of booze, but bear in mind that Bourbon, unlike wine, will keep in the open bottle and is best consumed in small doses: I could certainly make an economic case for sixteen 1 1/2-ounce shots at $5 per snifter to last through a blustery winter.

<B>VISITING THE DISTILLERY:</B> The Woodford Reserve Distillery, a National Historic Landmark, is located just off I-64 in Woodford County, Ky., within easy driving distance from Louisville, Lexington and Cincinnati. Originally founded in 1812 and housed in stone buildings that date back to the early 1800s, the distillery - long named Labrot & Graham - was a significant Bourbon producer before Prohibition, but but slowed to a trickle after Repeal.

Brown-Forman Corp., a Louisville-based beverages company, purchased the property after World War II but closed it in 1968 and sold the buildings not long after that. In 1994, Brown-Forman bought the abandoned buildings back and spent several years and $7 million to restore, renovate and refurbish the facilities as a showplace distillery that now receives more than 60,000 visitors a year and declares itself the only American producer that still triple-distills Bourbon in traditional copper pot stills.

The distillery is open for tours and tastings, and offers a luxurious Saturday and Sunday brunch through October. For information, check the Website,
http://www.woodfordreserve.com
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Re: LiquorTN/WineAdvisor: Collector's Bourbon

Postby Hoke » Fri Sep 29, 2006 1:45 pm

Okay, I'm jealous.

I never got to sample the original release myself---it went so damn fast I never had the opportunity. And I work for the company!!!

But I've got some hope. I begged and wheedled with Chris and a couple of other guys, so maybe I'll get a retroactive shot at the first batch. Definitely going to score some of the second batch.
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Re: LiquorTN/WineAdvisor: Collector's Bourbon

Postby wrcstl » Fri Sep 29, 2006 2:17 pm

I am not a Bourbon guy but when last in Louisville Kentucky we toured this distillery. Really great tour, nice people, bought a bottle of something for about $50 but don't remember much about its consumption. The only strange thing I remember about the tour is the tasting room. You could not taste any Bourbon, only bourbon cookies. Just can't understand the crazy laws. Understand Kentucky is in the Bible Belt but why not drive out the heathen distilleries.
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Re: LiquorTN/WineAdvisor: Collector's Bourbon

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Sep 29, 2006 2:23 pm

wrcstl wrote:I am not a Bourbon guy but when last in Louisville Kentucky we toured this distillery. Really great tour, nice people, bought a bottle of something for about $50 but don't remember much about its consumption. The only strange thing I remember about the tour is the tasting room. You could not taste any Bourbon, only bourbon cookies. Just can't understand the crazy laws. Understand Kentucky is in the Bible Belt but why not drive out the heathen distilleries.


Are you sure this was Woodford Reserve, Walt? They do have a tasting room.

Kentucky is a funny state, with drinking, dancing and gambling not merely permitted but virtually required in the Ohio River Valley with its heavily Catholic German/Irish heritage and blue-state leanings, whereas such sinful stuff is frowned upon (in public) in the rural areas dominated by Scots/English Southern Baptists, who prefer to come to the city to sin anonymously.
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Re: LiquorTN/WineAdvisor: Collector's Bourbon

Postby Hoke » Fri Sep 29, 2006 2:49 pm

Ah, to be religious in the South. Otherwise known as Saturday Night Sinners and Sunday Saints. :)

In the retail beverage biz we could always tell the Baptists and Southern Methodists. They were the ones who would buy a bottle or three of wine or spirits and ask for the largest paper bag we had, the one that looked like a grocery bag, so they could get it past their neighbors. In the trade, that's called a "Baptist Bag".

There was a store in Arkansas, in a wet county surrounded by dry counties. It had a drive through. Didn't do much business. They moved the drive through window from the side of the building, visible from the street, to the back of the builidng and not visible from the street. Drive though business skyrocketed.

This same store, which was on the State Line Road between Arkansas and Texas, had a huge Baptist bookstore right across the street. So the beverage store was in Arkansas, and the Baptist bookstore was in Texas. The two places shared a lot of customers, oddly enough. :D

In West Texas the dries voted beverage alcohol out in one county. So an enterprising businessman built a huge store on the edge of the next county over. Huge business. Huge. And mostly from the county that voted itself dry. Now that county supports a series of stores along the strip in the other county----with all that sales tax revenue going out of the county. But as long as appearances are kept up. That's the important thing. :mrgreen:
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Re: LiquorTN/WineAdvisor: Collector's Bourbon

Postby wrcstl » Fri Sep 29, 2006 2:54 pm

Robin Garr wrote:
wrcstl wrote:I am not a Bourbon guy but when last in Louisville Kentucky we toured this distillery. Really great tour, nice people, bought a bottle of something for about $50 but don't remember much about its consumption. The only strange thing I remember about the tour is the tasting room. You could not taste any Bourbon, only bourbon cookies. Just can't understand the crazy laws. Understand Kentucky is in the Bible Belt but why not drive out the heathen distilleries.


Are you sure this was Woodford Reserve, Walt? They do have a tasting room.

Kentucky is a funny state, with drinking, dancing and gambling not merely permitted but virtually required in the Ohio River Valley with its heavily Catholic German/Irish heritage and blue-state leanings, whereas such sinful stuff is frowned upon (in public) in the rural areas dominated by Scots/English Southern Baptists, who prefer to come to the city to sin anonymously.


Hoke,
Guess that would make me a river rat. Think this is the same place, very small, very old, bought out about 10 years ago by a big company. They had a tasting room, just did not serve bourbon, just cheese, crackers, bourbon cookies and then sold nick nacks and bourbon. Have to admit to being a wine, then micro brew and lastly a single malt scotch guy, you just can't drink everything.
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Re: LiquorTN/WineAdvisor: Collector's Bourbon

Postby Hoke » Fri Sep 29, 2006 3:22 pm

you just can't drink everything.


You can't???? Oh, hell and damn! :D

Your visit was then: this is now. That "big company" was Brown-Forman. The place is totally different now. The new Woodford Reserve/Labrot & Graham's is much, much nicer.
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Re: LiquorTN/WineAdvisor: Collector's Bourbon

Postby Jeff Yeast » Fri Sep 29, 2006 4:02 pm

Momma always told me if you can't say something nice...

I will say that this is a unique product and worth a spot on a collectors shelf, sealed.
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Re: LiquorTN/WineAdvisor: Collector's Bourbon

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Sep 29, 2006 4:55 pm

Jeff Yeast wrote:Momma always told me if you can't say something nice...

I will say that this is a unique product and worth a spot on a collectors shelf, sealed.


But seriously, Jeff, it's okay to speak your mind here. I thought it was a little on the Maker's Markish side, that is, made in a very smooth, sweet style perhaps aimed more at the general high-end brown-spirits market than at old-blood Kentuckians, but that said, it certainly struck me as complex and smooth, which are pretty good things. Hope you'll feel up to giving us more details without having to say anything that would prompt Momma to open up a can of ... well, you know.
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Re: LiquorTN/WineAdvisor: Collector's Bourbon

Postby Jeff Yeast » Fri Sep 29, 2006 5:10 pm

OK Robin, thanks for that. I'll ask first, are you sure the sample you tasted was from this bottle? I ask because I am in general agreement with your tastes in food and wine, but this might very be the worst whiskey I have ever sampled. To me the mouthfeel is somewhat thin and slightly oily. Any traditional bourbon flavors are masked by an almost overpowering metalic copper taste, almost like sipping bourbon through a mouthfull of pennies. This is the first "all pot-still" bourbon that WR has released and I think it is the additional exposure to the copper pots that is contributing to this. I find the finish hot and short. I am and have been a fan of earlier batches of Woodford Reserve and Old Forester for years. I appreciate the adventurous spirit in which this was created, but I think the positioning as a top-shelf premium whiskey, in the same class with Pappy Van Winkle 20yo, is a travesty, and the price they are asking borders on offensive. I have spent more, a lot more for a bottle of bourbon, but I have also spent a lot less for a lot better.

These are my opinions alone and are worth what you paid for them :lol:
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Re: LiquorTN/WineAdvisor: Collector's Bourbon

Postby Dale Williams » Fri Sep 29, 2006 10:43 pm

Hoke wrote:Ah, to be religious in the South. Otherwise known as Saturday Night Sinners and Sunday Saints. :)


I was on my way to a speech at a college here in NY Wed and passed a bar -strategically located between 3 colleges, and named Saints and Scholars. Saints and Sinners would have caused them grief with the colleges (2 Catholic), but who could argue with that name?

I'm not one to rag on Southern religious rules. I spent late elementary through high school in Jamestown, NC. A little suburb of High Point and Greensboro. But Jamestown had an ABC store, and HP was dry. The ABC store was about 100 ft on the Jamestown side of line. When the twice a year furniture market was held, the line of traffic waiting to turn into the ABC was a mile long. As local municipality got a percentage, my jr high school (middle school to NEers) had photo lab, live TV studio, etc. etc.
HP eventually came to their senses. But by that point I had finished-yippee!!!
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Re: LiquorTN/WineAdvisor: Collector's Bourbon

Postby Robin Garr » Sat Sep 30, 2006 12:02 am

Jeff Yeast wrote:OK Robin, thanks for that. I'll ask first, are you sure the sample you tasted was from this bottle?


Fair question, and for the record, at my request they overnighted me a sample, which amounted to about six ounces in a flat half-pint bottle sealed with a plastic cap and labeled with a hand-written stick-on. In fairness, though, I'm a reasonably skeptical reporter, but I just don't see Brown-Forman sending me out a ringer.

this might very be the worst whiskey I have ever sampled. To me the mouthfeel is somewhat thin and slightly oily. Any traditional bourbon flavors are masked by an almost overpowering metalic copper taste, almost like sipping bourbon through a mouthfull of pennies. This is the first "all pot-still" bourbon that WR has released and I think it is the additional exposure to the copper pots that is contributing to this. I find the finish hot and short.


With the caveat that I consider myself a serious wine judge but can't claim the same high level of experience with spirits, I do try to bring professional wine-analysis techniques to booze or beer when I have occasion to judge them, and I just didn't see it anything like that. As I said, I could easily see a case made against Four Grain on the basis of "typicity" - it's smooth and sweet and very likely made for the palates of a demographic that wants Bourbon like that - I did think it very fine, and I didn't get a coppery character at all. For what it's worth, I shared it with about four folks on the staff of LEO, the Louisville alternative weekly, and while they're not professional tasters, they're reasonably sophisticated drinkers, and they all loved it.

These are my opinions alone and are worth what you paid for them :lol:


No, your comments are entirely fair. I'm a little bemused, because there are some inteterminate variables here. I don't think it's likely that they sent me a ringer. As you've pointed out, we probably don't have entirely dissimilar tastes. (I think we both reached similar conclusions about that Four Roses tasting where we met a while back.) But I do think it's fair to guess that I'm not as critical a Bourbon judge as you are.[/quote]
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Re: LiquorTN/WineAdvisor: Collector's Bourbon

Postby Jeff Yeast » Sat Sep 30, 2006 6:56 am

It just occurred to me Robin that you might have been sampling from the upcomming release of this bourbon and not last year's iteration, in which case please disregard my previous comments as I was basing them only on the former. I have heard rumors that there was going to be some tweeking done to any future release of this whiskey, so its profile could very well have changed.

I will mention too that my comments on last years four-grain are in line with, if not even a little more forgiving than, the opinions of many of our members on the bourbon board.

Brown Forman is a good company with a nice range of products (if you exclude that Tennessee Whiskey :lol: ) but they struggle sometimes with consistancy in their bourbons. Since about batch #90, when they began introducing pot-stilled bourbon into their Woodford Reserve, no two batches have tasted the same. In fact, between 95 and 125 I thought they were quite bad, but since they have improved markedly. The difference is obviously in the pots. They try to to position them into a romantic story of reviving traditional distilling methods. While true, older isn't always better and what works in Scotland and on the american frontier isn't necessarily a better way to make American whiskey. I think the extra exposure to copper and a difference in aging requirements as compared to traditional column stills is taking a little practice to perfect. I'm confident that they will get it right.
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Re: LiquorTN/WineAdvisor: Collector's Bourbon

Postby Robin Garr » Sat Sep 30, 2006 9:05 am

Jeff Yeast wrote:It just occurred to me Robin that you might have been sampling from the upcomming release of this bourbon and not last year's iteration


For what it's worth, Jeff, yes, that is absolutely correct. This is a sample from the coming (Oct. 1) release.

I'm not sure how this works - if the bourbon has remained in barrel for an additional year, perhaps that's a factor. What else might change? The base Bourbon is obviously still the same, and there's not much involved in bringing the liquor down from barrel proof to bottle proof: Just add water. Are there other decisions that might change the character of the product? Dunno. But the short answer is that my tasting report was assuredly from a fresh sample that B-F assures me is the 2006 release.
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Re: LiquorTN/WineAdvisor: Collector's Bourbon

Postby Jeff Yeast » Sat Sep 30, 2006 5:03 pm

Well first, most bourbons are a mingling of a few or many barrels to achieve a certain style. Tasted individually, any given barrel in the batch may not bear complete resemblance to the final product, so barrel selection is key and can drastically change the profile of the packaged product. Also, as you mentioned, the bourbons included in the mix could be a year older this time and that can impact flavor as well. In particular the extra wood influence may balance some of the distillate flavors that I find unappealing. In fact I am encouraged with your impressions and I think I'll find this one more suited to my tastes.

I would be interested in your opinion of last year's product. Would you accept a sample of it from me in return for your comments?
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Re: LiquorTN/WineAdvisor: Collector's Bourbon

Postby Robin Garr » Sat Sep 30, 2006 6:20 pm

Jeff Yeast wrote:I would be interested in your opinion of last year's product. Would you accept a sample of it from me in return for your comments?


Sure, Jeff, if you can spare it! I'd be very interested to see if I think that it's a very different product. (And in light of the $140 eBay price for last year's, it would probably be a public service for me to report it if I share your opinion.)
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