Spirits preview: Opening the Bourbon NotebookNovember 17, 2010
I’m preparing to write about bourbon in my December Spirits column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (usually the column runs on the first Sunday of the month, but sometimes it slips to the second Sunday). To that end, I’ve been trying out some new (to me, at least) brands. ( I’m also open to suggestions.)
Woodford Reserve isn’t my stock sipping bourbon (that would be Knob Creek) but I’ve always liked the brand a lot. It’s got a distinctive “woody”flavor, with a trace of charcoal and chocolate in the finish. It’s a subtle, light bourbon that, if anything, is just a tad too refined for my palate (which was raised up on busthead Evan Williams). I’ll drink it — I’ll even buy it — but most of the time I prefer a little rawer quaff.
And now they’ve issued a new product, Woodford Reserve Maple Wood Finish, with a premium price — a bottle suggestively retails for $89.95. And because they offered me a sample ( a couple of shots, dear ethicists) I tried it the other night.
It’s pretty nice too — like the regular Woodford Reserve but with a mild brown sugar/maple infusion that’s really more detectable in the nose than on the tongue. (According to the distillery, it’s aged in a in a toasted — not charred — maple wood barrel and it’s the first bourbon to be finish aged in barrels made from sugar maple wood.) It clocks in at 94 proof, which is a little less fiery than the 103 to 107 proof Booker’s I keep back for special occasions.
Another new (to me) bourbon I’ve tasted recently is Pappy Van Winkle’s 15 Year Old Family Reserve. (Excuse the surreptiously taken iPhone photo. I just wanted to document the label.) This was sprung on me recently at a friend’s house (not a completely unpleasant experience) and my blind reaction was that it was like a more aromatic, “less syrupy” Booker’s.
Which means, it’s a great, dragon-breathed sipping whiskey. I wasn’t surprised it was a Van Winkle product (I’ve had their stately 12-year-old Special Reserve many times). I’ve seen the Family Reserve in local stores going for around $55 — the Special Reserve is about $10 less — and I might pick up a bottle when it’s time to replenish the top shelf stock. (Which I keep hidden deep in the bar.)
Finally, I want to ask for some help identifying this last bottle, which (as you can see in the photo) is labled “Rare Old Colonel Randolph Very Fine Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.”
Trouble is, I can’t really find out anything about it. My research turned up one dismissive comment on a bourbon blog, and pratically nothing else. It was allegedly bottled in Bardstown (Nelson County), Kentucky.
I’m asking in part, because one of the reasons I want to do this blog is to honor the process of what I do for a living. Writing is, by and large, solitary if not lonely work, and while I’m pretty well suited to it, I’m also convinced that most of us need to get out in the open air more often.
And I know from experience that a lot of my readers know about a lot of obscure stuff. So, who was Colonel Randolph? And what’s the story behind this whiskey? (I would guess the bottle in the photo is from the late 1970s or early 1980s, but it could be a decade later, I really don’t know.)
And watch for the next Spirits installment in the newspaper.