Saturday, February 2, 2019

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

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Stagg Jr - Batch 11 Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


When Stagg, Jr. was first released, it was pretty much a hot mess. Buffalo Trace tried capitalizing on George T. Stagg with a much younger release. Some folks who had those first releases were so turned off they haven’t come back.

And, then, there are those of us who #DrinkCurious...

You can read this review in its entirety over at Bourbon & Banter. Cheers!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Coppercraft Straight Bourbon Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes


Today we share the first post in a three-part series featuring products from Coppercraft Distillery. Each post features tasting notes from three different reviewers - none of whom were in communication with each other while performing the reviews. The result is a series of tasting notes and observations that are unique to each reviewer and helps to illustrate the difference in how even experienced whiskey drinkers interpret and rate a whiskey...

You can read this review in its entirety at Bourbon & Banter. Cheers!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Whiskey Ratings - What Do They All Mean?

Let’s face it, there are a lot of reviewers out there writing for websites, magazines, and books. There are several commonalities:  They’ll tell you a bit about the history or backstory, they’ll talk about mashbills, they’ll describe aromas, tasting notes, and finishes. Some will even mention prices and where you can pick up bottles (we do that at Bourbon & Banter, but we’re cool like that). The crux, however, is the recommendation and rating.

There can be great misunderstanding and confusion as it pertains to ratings. When I write reviews, occasionally folks will comment and ask why I don’t do a rating in their preferred manner or using a more “classical” method. Some want a scale of one to five (along with cute icons like Glencairn glasses, thumbs, etc.).  Others request a scale of one to ten.  And, for some, they want a score of one to 100. Then, there’s the 50 to 100, such as those done by Whisky Advocate...

You can read this article in its entirety over at Bourbon & Banter. Cheers!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Black Feather American Whiskey Review & Tasting Notes

I'm always excited to #DrinkCurious. When I was first approached to review Black Feather, it was something I'd not ever heard of, so I jumped at the chance.

Black Feather is a younger, MGP-sourced Bourbon. It comes in a very nice presentation, using a heavy bottle with “Black Feather” embossed in the glass, a thick, paper label, and a wax top. My bottle is from Batch 1...

You can read this review in its entirety over at Bourbon & Banter. Cheers!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Elijah Craig B518 Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


I'm going to start this off by saying I'm a sucker for Elijah Craig. This doesn't mean that any of the various expressions get a free pass from me, rather, it means when I see a new incarnation, I get excited and will buy a bottle untasted. When reviewing it, I give it the same unbiased opportunity for BottleBar, or Bust as I do with anything else. There have been a couple of unimpressive releases in the barrel-proof versions...

You can read this review in its entirety at Bourbon & Banter. Cheers!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Joseph Magnus Straight Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


We’ve all been there. You have a few friends who pick up a pricey bottle, they tell you what a great whiskey is inside and that you have to get a bottle of your own. You consider what your friends say, then consider other options similarly priced, and you pass on the opportunity - at least for the moment.

Joseph Magnus is an MGP-sourced Bourbon that was triple-finished in Cognac, Oloroso Sherry, and Pedro Ximenez Sherry casks...

You can read the remainder of this review in its entirety at Bourbon & Banter. Cheers!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Litchfield Cask Strength Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


I know the first question many of you have is, “Is this MGP?” The answer is a definitive, “No.”  Litchfield does not source its whiskey. They obtain their corn, rye, and barley from local farmers to create their own mash and distillate.

The appearance was a very deep, dark amber that certainly gave the impression it was much older than three years. It left a very thin rim on the glass and created thick, heavy legs...

You can read the entire review at Bourbon & Banter. Cheers!

Friday, August 31, 2018

#30DaysofBourbon Challenge (2018)


Four years ago I started a little something to celebrate Bourbon Heritage Month. You see, I wanted to go to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. The problem was that life happens, and I couldn't make it work out.

What I wanted to do was start a challenge for myself that would let me feel like I was truly celebrating America's Native Spirit. It couldn't be easy, and it couldn't be something that required little effort. What I did is come up with a 30 Days of Bourbon challenge.

This was something initially just for me. In Year Two, I had a few friends and some of the Bourbon & Banter crew join me. In Year Three it went viral as we put together a calendar and invited all of our readers to join us. What it boiled down to was folks taking part put up over 1800 tweets and 3800 Instagram posts that reached more than 8.5 million people...

You can read the remainder of this post over at Bourbon & Banter. Cheers!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Aged & Ore Duo Glass Review


A bit over two years ago, when I was brand new to Bourbon & Banter, I wrote an article called Glassware 101: Choose the Best Glass to Enjoy Your Bourbon. The purpose was to demonstrate just how important glassware is in the entire whiskey experience. I compared the differences between a shot glass, a rocks glass, a white wine glass, a Glencairn glass, and a NEAT glass. In that experiment, the Glencairn came out the clear winner...

You can read the remainder of this review at Bourbon & Banter. Cheers!