Every month one of our local wine and liquor stores, Dolce Vita, in Chaska has wine or spirit tasting seminars. These usually cost 10 dollars and if you buy a bottle that day you get $10 off the bottle. This is the first such event I've been able to make. The shop is located in the historic Depot building right next to a cool malt shop, and has a nice cozy feel with pleasant staff.
I have one bottle of Buffalo Trace bourbon that I have used mostly for soaking oak cubes for beer making, but otherwise had very little knowledge of this popular liquor. The seminar was really a good primer on the style and the distributor who gave the talk did a fantastic job of telling us about production, history and tasting of these spirits.
Basic bourbon facts I picked up: bourbon has to have at least 51% corn, otherwise they also use rye, wheat or barley; they have to be aged at least 3 years in new oak barrels; barrels are sold to Scotch producers and brewers once used; use of corn and the new barrels make bourbons sweeter, heavier and thicker than most Scotch or whiskeys. And lastly, to be called bourbon it must be made in the USA.
We tried three bourbons from Four Roses, which use rye and some barley from our local maltster Rahr! We started with the Single Barrel. This one was interesting with a maple-like flavor, but really seemed to burn and stay with you. Not my favorite of the bunch, though it was unique in that the whole batch came from a single barrel and was not blended. The Small Batch was a bit sweeter, fruitier and softer, aged about 7 years. Apparently that version uses 4 different yeasts, which is fairly unusual in bourbon making. Last of those was the Yellow Label which seemed boozy, but sweet and creamy, not bad for $21.95.
Cedar Ridge Iowa Bourbon Whiskey: This was aged about 4.5 years and was more smokey and Scotch-like than any of the others we tried. Also a single barrel, which are made here in Avon, MN.
Pritchard's Double Barreled: This one is barrel aged for several years, then put into a new barrel and aged more, resulting in a much stronger wood character than typical bourbons. I really liked this one, as it was smelled like vanilla ice-cream. I might go back and get a bottle later...
Jefferson's: We had several of these, all were very different.
1) Rye: Aged 10 years, it was made of 100% rye, so not really a bourbon, but tasted to give us a view of the difference between bourbons and rye whiskey. Strong mint aroma, with a nutty/toffee and spice finish. Interesting, but I didn't like this one much compared to the others.
2) Very Small Batch: Aged 10-11 years. Classic vanilla, mildly fruity. This was our intro taste to get us in the mood. OK but nothing amazing.
3) Very small Batch Reserve: Aged 14-16 years. This had a fruit/peach aroma that was pleasant, with similar flavor mixed with vanilla. Creamy finish, with more mouthfeel and smoothness than the Very Small Batch. Not cheap, but much nicer for drinking.
4) 18 Year: This was the winner of the night. Of course it was the most expensive. So I got a bottle. This particular batch is actually 20 years old, despite the labeling, and the liquor comes from the same distillery that makes Pappy Van Winkle. Also most of the barrels they used come from the same supplier as Pappy. Our distributor guy said that this is very difficult to distinguish from that Bourbon white whale. This smells fantastic and sweet with an almond candy and orange character. The flavor is oaky and orange blossom honey mixed with vanilla. Smooth and tasty, lingering but not burning. I will not be wasting this on barrel aging beers...
Overall a great primer on the style. Sj tasted along with me, and it was fun watching her gag and make faces while everyone else was eagerly sipping at these spirits. Interesting that there were as many women at this as men, and not just spouses. Join their e-mail list to learn about the future events. I know I'll go back!