Sunday, February 24, 2019

Some Bottles go to Heaven. Others Don't.

This article originally appeared on Bourbon & Banter on October 19, 2016, and can be found it its entirety here.

You’ve poured yourself that last little bit of whiskey from the bottle. Now that you’ve savored that final drop, the empty bottle is standing on the table next to you. What do you do with it? Most people might look at the empty bottle and toss it in the trash. Wait a minute; you’re a responsible citizen. You don’t just throw it in the trash; you put it in the recyclable bin, right?
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know whiskey is enjoying a huge resurgence and boom, particularly with American whiskeys. Big-name labels that sat on the shelves forever just a couple years ago are now almost impossible to find. There’s an extensive gray market out there to “assist” in the redistribution of wealth – meaning, some areas of the country see a larger number of these precious bottles and others won’t receive much, if anything, at all.
Try to find Elmer T. Lee, Old Weller, or a handful of other labels, and you’ll walk away from the store disappointed. Want BTAC or Pappy? Give me a minute to stop laughing. Go online, though, and you’ll see a lot of people offering to trade or sell these bottles.

Screw Caps vs Corks: Which do you Prefer?

This article originally appeared at Bourbon & Banter on September 16, 2016, and the entirety can be accessed here.

Popping a cork has a certain romantic sense to it. Perhaps that’s why it is used so much. Cork seems to connote quality. Wine and spirit producers even proudly stamp their names on their corks. Buffalo Trace cranks it up a notch with Blanton’s collectible stoppers (Collect them all!). The screw top seems to be something we treat with a snooty, snotty factor (Like, OMG, that’s totally loser!).

What's Wrong with my Whiskey?

This article originally appeared on Bourbon & Banter August 15, 2016... you can read the entire article there. Cheers!

I love opening new bottles. There’s something almost romantic about it, it is something about that first sip. It is especially exciting when you’re opening a bottle of something special your friends have been yammering about, but you’ve never tried.
You pour that brown water into your glass, raise it to your nose, inhale the aroma, put it to your lips, taste it, and the first thought to come to your mind is, “Meh.” 
You’re bound to ask yourself at least one of three questions: “Is everyone else crazy? Did I get a bad bottle? Am I missing something?” Those are very fair questions that deserve answers. 
Is everyone else crazy? Perhaps. I’ve tasted whiskeys with cult-like followings, and in some cases, I’ve missed the appeal. They were decent, but not spectacular.

Want Good Bourbon on the Cheap? Respect the Bottom Shelf.

This article, originally published July 18, 2016, can be read in its entirety at Bourbon & Banter.

Many whiskey enthusiasts, myself included, invest a lot of time, energy and, yes, money into finding that next, great whiskey on our Wish List. We keep up with news of estimated release dates, try to figure out the distribution path to guess when they will hit our states, watch our friends post their new scores on social media, and then we desperately hit up all the stores we know of to find something before it is sold out. Sometimes we are successful; oftentimes not. It can depend on who you know, or just plain dumb luck. 
I often post on social media updates on what may seem to some as my never-ending whiskey hunt: a search, a score, or a review. One of the more usual questions I get from friends, both in person and online, is, “How do you afford all those bottles?”
My collection is one that has been built over several years. I’m not buying a new bottle weekly. It is rare that I can find something allocated, and while I enjoy premium whiskeys, they aren’t the ones that always catch my eye. 
Not all pricey whiskey is great. I’ve had very average, expensive whiskey. Not all great whiskey is pricey. To find a gem, sometimes you have to get your hands dirty. Several of my very regular sippers are not only affordable; you’ll find them on or near that very bottom shelf of your liquor store.

I Have a Problem - But It's Not What You Think

This article originally appeared on Bourbon & Banter on June 21, 2016.

I have a problem. I know what you’re thinking, but no, it isn’t a drinking problem. In fact, it might be just the opposite. 
I have “invested” a lot of effort over the years building my whiskey library. As of this writing, I have 57 Bourbons to enjoy. That doesn’t count my American Ryes, Scotch, Irish and miscellaneous American whiskeys. I know that number because, like any good librarian, I keep an inventory. Some of these bottles have been around for several years, some are fresh faces. 
I have bottom-shelf gems, mid-tier, premium, allocated and limited edition Bourbons… My collection hits the whole spectrum. I love it all. 
You may think the problem is I’m a hoarder, but that’s not it, either. Most of my bottles make my sipping rotation quite regularly. I don’t have a “bunker” like many hoarders do.
To read the rest and find out what my problem is, please head over to the article on Bourbon & Banter. Cheers!


In the whiskey world, one of the most important aspects of tasting is the glassware you choose. This article originally appeared at Bourbon & Banter on March 29, 2016.

If you are new to the world of whiskey, you may be wondering what the best whiskey for you to try is. Let’s be honest. If you’re an experienced whiskey drinker, you’re still probably searching out that perfect pour. There’s plenty of choices out there just in the field of Bourbon. And, as if that isn’t confusing enough, there’s the matter of choosing the right glassware. 
Wait… what? Glassware? Why can’t I just use any old glass to enjoy my Bourbon? 
You could, in all actuality, just grab a glass from your cupboard and pour yourself a drink. There are unlimited options for enjoying your Bourbon. You could select an Old Fashioned glass (also called a rocks glass), shot glass, wine glass, brandy snifter, Highball (also known as a water glass), Glencairn nosing glassCanadian whiskey glassNEAT glass or a variety of other glassware. Some are designed specifically for whiskey. Some look “cool” to drink from because a character drank from it in a movie. 
The real question, however, is, does the glass matter? The answer is a definite, “Yes.” Your choice in glassware is going to determine what experience you want.
The remainder can be read at Bourbon & Banter.  Cheers!

J. Henry & Sons Wisconsin Straight Bourbon Review

 This review was originally published on February 4, 2016...

Is J. Henry & Sons Wisconsin Straight Bourbon is the best bourbon you’ve never heard of?
Most bourbon fans have noticed an explosion in the craft distillery market these last few years with an influx of pricey bourbons with tall tales as backstories. Some of these craft bourbons offer something legitimately new, while others simply purchased bourbon from other sources with a new label slapped on it.
J. Henry & Sons Wisconsin Straight Bourbon is one of those legitimate, new craft bourbons and may, just perhaps, be the best Bourbon you’ve never heard of.
Yes, I said Wisconsin, and yes, I realize Wisconsin is known for cheese, not bourbon. Interestingly enough, dairy has something to do with this whiskey. 
You can read the review in its entirety on Bourbon & Banter... cheers!

J. Henry & Sons Wisconsin Straight Bourbon Review

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Whiskey Acres Artisan Series Bourbon Finished in Maple Syrup Cask Review & Tasting Notes

Yes, I'll admit it... I've been sipping a lot of barrel-finished whiskeys lately. It doesn't matter if it is Scotch, Bourbon, Rye or even Irish whiskey. Barrel-finishing is the big thing right now and has been for a couple of years and distillers are jumping on the bandwagon. Barrel-finishing is so fascinating that I'm hosting my own Whiskey Workshop and Tasting Event on this very topic in a little over a week.

Whiskey Acres Distilling Company is a farm-to-bottle distiller. They grow and harvest their own grain, distill it, age and bottle it in Dekalb, Illinois. Their whiskey ages in 15-gallon barrels. What they distill is their own and with those 15-gallon barrels, can bring them to market relatively quickly.

Last year, I had the opportunity to visit with the folks at Whiskey Acres. I put together a review of their Artisan Series 5.5 Grain Bourbon which earned a Bottle rating based on how unusual and interesting it was as that's something that excites me.

Today I'm sipping their Artisan Series Bourbon Finished in Maple Syrup Casks. This is a limited edition whiskey and is not the same as the 5.5 Grain Bourbon. The Bourbon itself was aged normally in the 15-gallon barrels. What happened next was the Bourbon was dumped and then transferred to ex-maple syrup casks, where it was allowed to absorb the flavor and aroma left behind by the syrup, and once dumped, bottled at 87°. My understanding is that distribution is limited to the distillery in Dekalb. While I don't have a retail price on this, the 5.5 Grain Bourbon was $29.99 for the same sized 375ml bottle. 

In full disclosure, Whiskey Acres provided me with a sample bottle for a no-strings-attached honest review. And now, time to #DrinkCurious.

The appearance was a deep, dark amber. If you've ever had a good barrel-proof whiskey, such as Elijah Craig or Stagg, Jr., this was similar in color. It left a very thin rim on my Glencairn with medium legs that slowly dropped back to the pool, suggesting a heavier body.

Interestingly enough, the predominant aroma while resting in my glass was not maple, but corn. As I went through the various nosing zones, I picked up raisin, throughout and beneath that, honey and much lighter corn. That was surprising considering how heavy the corn was in the air. Only when I held the glass directly under my nostrils did I pick up evidence of maple. When I inhaled through my mouth, raisin and vanilla raced across my palate.

The initial mouthfeel was thin and watery and subsequent sips did not add any thickness to it. At the front, flavors of corn and pepper dominated my palate. Mid-palate, the vanilla came out, followed by dry wood. On the back was the raisin, which cleared out both the pepper and dry wood. 

The finish was long and heavy on the raisin. Some of the dry wood came for a return visit. While only at 87°, it drinks much heavier, likely a product of the smaller barrels. It also gave me one heck of a buzz. What's conspicuously missing? Remember, this Bourbon is finished in ex-maple casks. While it appeared on the nose, it was nowhere on the palate. That's not a terribly big deal, but it does miss out on expectations. It isn't fair to judge a whiskey based upon expectations, that's all part of the #DrinkCurious lifestyle. 

Bottle, Bar or Bust: This is where the pedal meets the metal. I found the Bourbon Finished in Maple Syrup Casks to be unusual. But, I found it unusual only because it was lacking any maple flavor. The Bourbon itself wasn't particularly unusual, and I've got to admit I was a bit disappointed when I think about how special the 5.5 Grain Bourbon was. Saying all of that, this isn't a bad whiskey. This is definitely one to try at a Bar, or in this case, at the distillery.


Compass Box Oak Cross Blended Scotch Review & Tasting Notes

Several months ago, I picked up a Compass Box Whisky sample kit. Inside are five whiskies: Asyla, Oak Cross, The Spice Tree, The Peat Monster, and Hedonism. So far, I've reviewed three of them, and the experience so far has been positive.

Something I respect about Compass Box is its almost obsessive transparency. That's a real breath of fresh air. You can even subscribe to their transparency email blast if you'd like. There are a few trade secrets they don't publicize, mostly the names of their sourcing distillery, but an online search can reveal much of that, too.

Today I poured Oak Cross, a non-chill filtered blended malt from three Scottish distilleries and aged in first-fill American oak (presumably ex-Bourbon) and new French oak casks. Oak Cross was named specifically due to the use of these two different oak casks. The blend is 80% Highland and 20% Speyside, and is bottled at 43% ABV.

In the glass, the appearance was a bright gold, which is its natural color. It left a very thick rim that produced very fat, slow legs.

A fruity, pleasant aroma wafted in the room before I had a chance to nose it. When held at chin level, the vanillas shined through. Lifted to lip level, apple took over. Then, just under the nose, a little spiciness and oak.

The mouthfeel was very thin, and it was tough to get a full coating in my mouth. A buttery vanilla hit first, then at mid-palate was clove and charred oak. Chocolate and apple took over on the back.

The finish is all in the mouth, there was nothing per se in the throat. The initially complex palate gave way to just the clove. It parked on the tongue and didn't dissipate.

Bottle, Bar or Bust: This is about a $50 whisky. It is also the lesser of the four I've tasted from this sample kit. I'm not suggesting it is a bad Scotch by any means, but compared to the other three, I would rate this one a Bar.

I'll get to the Asyla shortly. Cheers!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Distill America Pre-Party at the Old Fashioned

Last night's panel at The Old Fashioned was a blast. Martin Duffy was his usual hilarious self and I finally got to meet Lew Bryson face to face. He's a riot. He signed my copy of Tasting Whiskey.

This was probably one of the best whiskey panel events I've been to... and this afternoon is the granddaddy event Distill America.

The panel itself included Marty and Lew, plus the great folks from Wollersheim DistilleryJ. Henry & Sons and Dancing Goat Distillery There was a lot to learn and everyone was entertaining.

Have a great Saturday... and if you're at DA today, stop me and say hello!


Thursday, February 14, 2019

Things to do in Wisconsin when you're Frozen (but not Dead)

My latest Bourbon & Banter article is up. I took the opportunity to make the most of a truly bad situation...

Polar Vortex. Snowpocalypse. Armageddon. Hell. Whatever you want to call it, I think everyone was aware of the once-in-a-generation cold blast that recently hit the Midwest. I live in Wisconsin, we took most of the brunt of the cold, with temperatures plunging into the negative 20’s and wind chills in the -60s.This meant I was stuck in my house for three days. But, I still had to venture outside. I have a housebroken dog that I need to remain housebroken, and as such, that required letting in a cold blast every time Sammy decided it was “time.” I wanted to make the best of a bad situation, and thought it would be fun to take advantage of some truly brutal weather to conduct a fun whiskey experiment:  What happens to whiskey in arctic conditions?  Yeah, I was channeling Harlan Wheatley...

You can read the entire review at the link above...

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Diversity is a Great Thing!

Diversity is a great thing. One of the things I enjoy about a diverse group of people is that people are passionate about various things.  Me?  I’m passionate about whiskey. I love sipping it, I love the people involved in it, and I love preaching the whiskey gospel and sharing my knowledge in the form of reviews and workshops.

If I didn’t enjoy spending time with folks who are not into whiskey, life would be less interesting. When I was the whiskey consultant at Vom Fass, I loved when customers would come in and when I’d offer them a free pour, they’d decline and tell me they hated whiskey. I’d ask what they didn’t like about it, and when they answered, I’d explain how _____ isn’t representative of all whiskeys. I’d again offer them an opportunity to taste, which included a promise of what I was pouring had no _____ in it. People would sample it, usually skeptically, and discover I was being truthful. Some folks would buy a bottle of what I poured them, some not, but they’d leave with a new appreciation of whiskey they didn’t have just a few moments prior. 

Each month at Yahara Bay Distillers, I host whiskey workshops covering a particular whiskey segment. These workshops are all about learning - either about whiskey in general or a specific type or region of whiskey. Guests are made up of all experience levels. I’ve had people who have never had a dram before and others who are very knowledgeable and everything in between. I’ve not had a guest leave without learning something new, and that brings real joy to my heart. And, I make it easy to attend by making tickets very affordable.

For the whiskey curious, I provide an open environment and encourage folks to comment and ask questions. There are no stupid questions (there is almost universally the What’s the difference between whiskey and Bourbon/Scotch? question). Those newbie questions make great starting points for further discussion. 

For the connoisseur, either of one segment or in general, these workshops are eye-opening and fun because any preconceived notions are left at the door. I love it when a guest tells me a whiskey they would never have given a second thought of was their favorite pour of the night (Wow, I had no idea! is very common). 

Currently, I have two workshops scheduled.  On February 28th, I’ll host a Barrel Finished Whiskey Workshop. We’ll talk about what makes barrel finishing special and compare the standard whiskey to their barrel finished counterparts from Crooked Water Spirits, which has the distinction of being one of the few certified 100% women-owned distilleries in the country. 

For tickets and additional information, please visit MadisonTix at

On March 28th, I’ll host my Ides of March Irish Whiskey Workshop. True, the end of the month isn’t the Ides, but the name is catchy nonetheless. Irish whiskey was once the most popular spirit in the world. We’ll talk about what caused Irish whiskey to lose its lofty position, what the industry is like today, and we’ll taste some very special Irish whiskeys from the old Cooley Distillery before it was sold to Beam-Suntory. These are five “hold back” whiskeys the Teeling family took with them when the distillery changed hands (and before they started their new distillery). 

For tickets and additional information, please visit MadisonTix at

I hope you’ll join me at one (or both) of these events.  Learn, Laugh and Taste Great Whiskey.  Cheers!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Elijah Craig Single Barrel - BWP Pierce's Express Market Pick Review & Tasting Notes

One of the great joys of the Wonderful World of Whiskey is the invitation to do a private barrel pick. It is not only a lot of fun but a great honor.  And, if you're very serious about picking barrels, you have to go in prepared to reject all the samples if they won't be something you're proud to have your name associated with.

My goal when picking a barrel is to find something unusual. Some stores or bars like "safe" picks, where they know it will taste just like the standard release.  I typically reject those.  After all, if it isn't something special, why bother going through the trouble?

Last fall I was invited to pick a barrel of Elijah Craig for BWP - Pierce's Express Market in Baraboo, Wisconsin. The goal was to have this selected and in the store by Christmas. As it turned out, BWP received the barrel just a couple weeks ago. BWP has this single barrel Bourbon listed at $29.99 and it carries no age statement.

The Elijah Craig private barrel program is always 94°. Personally, I wish they'd offer a barrel proof option, but that's not going to happen. Saying that, one of the things I appreciate about the Elijah Craig private barrel program is its affordability. There are a lot of barrel picks that get pricey. Not so with Elijah Craig.

The good news is it has been so long ago since I picked this, I don't completely remember what was picked. That's not quite going into this blind, but it is enough to where any notes I had then are long forgotten, so this is almost a new Bourbon to me. Time to #DrinkCurious...

In my Glencairn, the appearance was typical Elijah Craig's deep amber. It left the thinnest rim on the glass. The rim hung on for several moments before it created thick droplets that just would not release back to the pool of liquid sunshine.  This was a surprise because when I tasted the samples, it was with plastic cups.

After letting the glass rest for about ten minutes, thick fruit permeated the air around me. As I nosed the glass, it started as berry heavy. Underneath that berry was aromas of vanilla and oak.  When I inhaled through my lips, fresh cream rolled all over my palate.

The initial mouthfeel was like the rim:  incredibly thin.  A subsequent sip was much less so, and the more I sipped the creamier it became.  It could have been a factor of the tingling on my hard palate, but I distinctly remember the same experience with the initial sample. Vanilla was up front, followed by red fruit and black pepper at mid-palate. The fruit gave way to oak, but the black pepper remained. There was, interestingly enough, really nothing on the back.

The very long finish consisted of the charred oak you'd normally expect from Elijah Craig. But, added to that was clove that hung on to the front, eventually yielding to a sweet caramel before melting away. I chose the word melting purposefully because that's the best description available.

Finally, this one drinks heavier than the advertised 94°. It doesn't "burn" but it definitely grabs the attention of your hard palate.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  Let's get real here. I picked this, obviously, I'm biased.  Remember my goal:  I always want to find something unusual or unique. The BWP - Pierce's Express Market pick fits that description. I am honored to have been a part of this pick and this absolutely rates as a Bottle.  If you're in Wisconsin, make the drive to Baraboo. You'll be happy.


Monday, February 4, 2019

Winter Storm Survival Tips by Whiskeyfellow

How can whiskey help you survive a winter storm? I'll give out some tips and tricks throughout the winter. Cheers!

Saturday, February 2, 2019

You are invited to my February Whiskey Workshop & Tasting Event

The hottest thing in whiskey right now is barrel finishing. But, what exactly does “finishing” mean? What makes finishing so special?

Please join my February whiskey workshop at Yahara Bay Distillers which is all about barrel finishing, how it works, and what you can expect. I’ll be pouring some amazing, award-winning selections from Crooked Water Spirits, one of the few certified women-owned distilleries in the country.

Date: February 28, 2019
Time: 6pm-8pm
Location: Yahara Bay Distillers
6250 Nesbitt Road
  Madison, WI 53719

Tickets are required and can be purchased for $25 from Madison Tix. Discounts are available.

Learn a bit, laugh a lot, and enjoy some delicious whiskey.


Distill America is two weeks away!

Now that January is behind us, you can almost feel the excitement buzzing around Madison. Why? Because in a few short weeks, it will be Distill America weekend!

If you’re new to the area or just getting into distilled spirits, you may be curious what Distill America is all about. I’ve attended for the last several years and am friends with the folks who make this event come to life. As such, I’ve got the rundown for everything you need to know.

The first thing you need to know is Distill America is on February 16th, 2019.

Distill America was founded eleven years ago by a small group of spirits enthusiasts in Madison known as the Madison Malt Society. They often traveled to Chicago for whiskey events, but growing expenses put a damper on their enjoyment and took from the excitement of attending year after year. Aside from travel costs, they contended with pricey entry fees, both for the distillers and attendees. They were struck with the notion to create an event locally that someone could easily attend every year, whether they were an exhibitor or a fan of distilled spirits. The goal was to attract bartenders, retailers and the general public to learn about what is out there and available to enjoy.

Rather than simply recreating the average whiskey event, the founders wanted to create something unique. The folks at Star Liquor got involved. The group then decided they wanted this to be a big, real event, but they also wanted to introduce visitors to exclusively American-made spirits, not just Bourbon, Rye, and other American whiskeys. That decision opened the door for rum, brandy, gin, vodka, and other brown or clear spirits. Boom! Distill America was born.

Behind the scenes, there was a ton of volunteer work to get the process going with nobody taking a salary. All proceeds benefit the non-profit Wisconsin Distillers Guild, which promotes Wisconsin-made spirits, agriculture, tourism, small batch distillation and the safe enjoyment of alcoholic beverages. Distill America is also in the process of creating scholarships for people to take coursework and learn about the distilling industry.

The Madison Malt Society's desire is and always has been for Distill America to grow and remain sustainable for the future without losing what makes Distill America special. But, that means change will happen. As an example, two years ago, Distill America went a step further by offering educational seminars.

Distill America is, as it has almost every year, held at The Edgewater Hotel, located at 1001 Wisconsin Place in downtown Madison. There are four tiers of tickets available: Designated drivers can attend for $20. General Admission tickets are $65 and get you on the main floor from 6 pm to 9 pm. VIP gets you through the door an hour earlier than General Admission, with distillers offering VIP-only specialty spirits during that hour and this level only costs an additional $10. VIP+ admission is $95, and not only gets you there an hour before VIP but also includes the World Spirits Experience with Marty Duffy.

Last year was the inaugural VIP+ ticket level. I was talked into the extra splurge and the added benefit was absolutely a bargain. Even if I completely ignored the great presentation by Marty Duffy of Glencairn and Tom Johnson of the Aroma Academy, even if I discounted the early admission, VIP+ attendees walked away with a standard Glencairn nosing glass, a Canadian whisky glass and Glencairn’s Wee Dram glass.

Now that you know the background of Distill America, I have a few tips and tricks for attending. First and foremost, enjoy this event responsibly. It is very easy to get a booze buzz as the spirits are free-flowing and there are more exhibitors than you can shake a stick at. Eat a full meal before showing up. There will be appetizers available on the floor but you really need to eat beforehand.

Make arrangements in advance for getting to and from the event safely. Bring a designated driver, who can attend for a mere $20. Hire Union Cab, who will have discounted rates for attendees to anywhere within Dane County. It is also Madison Hotel Week, and all the neighboring downtown hotels, including The Edgewater, have special room rates from $75 to $125 per night.

Should you choose to drive in, The Edgewater has affordable parking on premises. My best recommendation for General Admission ticket holders is to get there early and secure your place in line. Not only will you get through the door earlier, but you’ll make new friends who you’ll already have something in common to talk about.

Each table has “dump buckets” and water and you should make good use of both. You don’t need to swallow all the contents in your glass, and you aren’t going to offend (or miss out) by dumping the contents after a tasting. If you swallow everything poured in your glass at each table, after about the fourth or fifth pour, everything is going to taste the same. Rather than simply using the water to rinse the glass, I try to take a glassful of water in-between pours. There will also be water stands strategically placed around the event. Drinking water will cleanse your palate and will keep you hydrated. You’ll thank yourself the next day.

New this year will be a tonic stand presented by Top Note Tonic of Milwaukee as well as a cocktail stand hosted by Spirited Women. These amazing ladies will teach you how to make various cocktails.

Don't forget to be on the lookout for pre- and post-event parties. Bars, restaurants, and distilleries host these events at their own premises. One huge pre-event party will be Friday night upstairs in The Old Fashioned on the Square, featuring a panel discussion with the folks from the Wollersheim, J. Henry & Sons, and Dancing Goat distilleries, along with Lew Bryson, who will also be selling and signing his book, Tasting Whiskey.

I’ve attended various whiskey events around the country, and we are truly blessed to have one of the premiere events right here in Madison. I’m excited, are you?

For more information, please visit:
Distill America at
The Edgewater Hotel at
The Old Fashioned at