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

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!

Monday, January 14, 2019

Litchfield Vanilla Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


I don’t often get into flavored whiskeys. I don’t particularly have anything against them, and, in fact, I’m a fan of a handful (no, not Fireball). For example, William Wolf produces some enjoyable flavored whiskeys that I will pour every so often. But, for the most part, this is an overlooked category for me.

For today, I’ve cracked open Litchfield Distillery’s Vanilla Bourbon. I’ve reviewed some of Litchfield’s whiskeys before, and they’ve been hit-and-miss. Litchfield Distillery is located in Connecticut and they have their own distillate using a mash of 70% corn, 25% rye, and 5% barley. They age their Bourbon at least three years in #4 charred oak before being bottled at 86°. Retail is about $41.99, and distribution is in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Litchfield Distillery provided me with a sample for a no-strings-attached review, and I thank them for the opportunity.

The label states this is “Bourbon Whiskey with Natural Vanilla Flavors." In fact, inside the bottle is a whole vanilla bean. The flavoring itself comes from Madagascar vanilla extract. As I’m typing this introduction, thick vanilla is wafting through the room, making my mouth water. While the aroma is enticing and I’m actually looking forward to this tasting, the proof is in the pudding - or in this case, whiskey, and it is time to #DrinkCurious.

In the glass, the appearance presented as a soft amber and left a fat rim on the wall of my Glencairn. That rim generated thick, fast legs that raced back to the pool.

I went through my various nosing zones and vanilla was obvious, as expected. At chin level, it smelled like vanilla frosting. Aromas changed significantly as the glass inched closer to my nostrils: I picked up oak, a hint of banana, and sugar cookies. Inhaling through my mouth changed it up again where I picked out corn and caramel.

The mouthfeel was light and airy. Up front, there was less vanilla than I expected as it hit my palate. I was expecting artificial vanilla and this wasn’t that. The vanilla strengthened as it hit mid-palate, and was soon followed by what I can only describe as cake. On the back of the palate was a Bourbon profile of oak and black pepper.

The finish lasted about a minute and was black pepper-heavy, leaving none of the vanilla from the front- and mid-palate. I waited, hoping for the vanilla to make a return trip, but it never materialized. Surprisingly, at 86°, it left my palate buzzing like something 20 points higher.

Bottle, Bar or Bust: This one’s tough. I found Litchfield’s Vanilla Bourbon to be pleasant. I let my wife have a sip and she commented it would be good for baking or desserts. I didn’t find it offensive by any means, but it also isn’t something that wowed me. I could see this being a very nice, easy sipper for folks who aren’t Bourbon purists or even for folks who don’t like Bourbon. My biggest hurdle is the price. At $42, you’re competing against a majority of the Bourbons on the shelf. I can’t ever see myself reaching for this at that price point. It is absolutely something different, and as such, I rate it as a Bar.

On a side note, my English Springer Spaniel, who hates whiskey, was all over this when I offered him a sniff. He rarely does that - he finds very little appeal in whiskey aromas. When I got up, he ran over to my glass while his nose was working.


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Old Ezra 7 101-Proof Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes

If you are still knee-deep in the chase for the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection or anything Van Winkle, you may have missed the accolades received for Old Ezra 7 Year Barrel Strength Bourbon. In fact, I reviewed it back on October 17th, before the hype on that began. And, while I did rate it a Bottle, there is another version out there, albeit discontinued, that is still readily available and quite affordable: Ezra Brooks 7 Year 101° Bourbon.

Ezra Brooks is produced by Luxco, now known as Lux Row Distillers. Produced means that they didn’t do the actual distilling. Instead, they sourced whiskey from Heaven Hill. That’s fine, there’s nothing in the world wrong with sourcing, just so long as there’s no deceit involved on the label. The mash bill is created from 78% corn, 12% malted barley, and 10% rye. If the label didn’t give the hint, it is seven years old and bottled at 101°. It retails for right around $20.00.

While I loved the Barrel Strength version, and have been a fan of the (also) discontinued 12-year Ezra B, I’ve never had the 101° release until now. Is this an opportunity to #RespectTheBottomShelf, or will this be a dud? Time to #DrinkCurious and find out…

In the glass, this was a lighter-colored amber than I would have suspected, both from a proof and age point of view. The color most resembled citrine. Against the wall of my Glencairn, it created a thin rim that generated fat, wavy legs that were in no rush to get back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

A wave of caramel hit my olfactory senses even while still at arm’s length. As I brought the glass through my nosing range, vanilla and berry enticed. There was a bit of oakiness, but again, not amounts that I would have expected. What was missing was any hint of ethanol. When I inhaled the vapors through my lips, the caramel was king.

The mouthfeel had me again questioning how this could be 101°. There was just no burn. It was, however, thick and coating while it ran over my palate. Up front were vanilla and oak, which dominated everything that followed. I picked up orange slice candy and at that point, the mouthfeel became creamy. Behind the orange was a drier oak, clove and dark chocolate.

A deceptive medium finish held onto the front of the palate. This is where the oak disappeared. Vanilla remained along with that dark chocolate. I waited about two minutes before the clove snuck up and proved how long the finish continued.

Bottle, Bar or Bust: There is a big difference between Old Ezra 101° and Old Ezra Barrel Strength. Sixteen points is a big deal, so much so that the Barrel Strength is about twice the cost. I see Old Ezra 101° on the shelves despite being discontinued, but at some point, that’s going to change. I found this Bourbon to be very enjoyable and full of surprises, and for the money, this is a definite Bottle. Grab it while you can.


Thursday, December 6, 2018

Treaty Oak Ghost Hill Texas Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


Recently, I reviewed Treaty Oak’s Red-Hand Rye. I mentioned how impressed I was with the transparency provided. However, with the Rye, I was left confused and stated, “if you poured this for me completely blind, I couldn’t tell you what kind of whiskey I was drinking.” 


I was provided with additional samples of Treaty Oak’s whiskeys, including their own grain-to-glass Ghost Hill Texas Bourbon Whiskey. As before, I thank Treaty Oak for the opportunity to provide an honest review of their whiskeys with no strings attached. 


Ghost Hill Texas Bourbon is created from heirloom grains from Barton Springs Mill.  The mash is made of 57% yellow corn, 32% wheat, and 11% barley. Everything from mashing to bottling is completely handled start-to-finish on premises and aged two years in new, #3 charred American white oak barrels. It is bottled at 95° and retails for $49.99 which is right at the average for American craft whiskey. 


Currently, Treaty Oak distributes its products in Texas, Georgia, Florida, Illinois and the District of Columbia. They do hope to increase distribution as the distillery grows. Is Ghost Hill Texas Bourbon worth checking out?  Time to #DrinkCurious...


In my Glencairn, the color was a darker amber than I expected from a two-year whiskey. It left a thin rim on the glass that produced slow, fat legs to drop back into the pool of Texas liquid sunshine.  


The first aromas to hit my nose were fresh sawdust and cherries. As I perused through my nosing zone, smoked oak and vanilla took over but yielded once again to the cherries.  An obvious maltiness was in the upper zone. Inhaling through my lips was a strong fruitiness that made my mouth water. 


A thin and watery mouthfeel created an almost déjà vu situation. Just like the Red-Hand Rye, my thought was, “What am I drinking?” But, that was the first sip, and as I always recommend, never, ever judge anything on that sip. An additional sip revealed the same watery mouth, and I was able to start discerning flavors. Sweet corn was absolutely up front, however, it was mellowed by the wheat. Behind that, a light fruit, followed by a muted chocolate. Underneath the chocolate was dry oak and bold spiciness, which could cause one to review the mash and look for non-existent rye. 


The finish was shorter than I would imagine, especially considering how quickly the spice built at the end. I typically enjoy whiskeys at higher proofs, and 95° is not a big deal. However, my hard palate was left tingling just a smidge.  There was also a residual smokiness that was reminiscent of peat.  If you’re not into Scotch, peat can be shocking to the palate. Peat is so unusual with Bourbon that whenever it does come up, it is a curiosity. I must stress that the peatiness is very, very slight. 


Bottle, Bar or Bust:  Ghost Hill Texas Bourbon Whiskey hits an attractive quality with me, meaning, it is unique and not another me-too MGP product. That’s a good thing for craft whiskeys. A peated finish, even ever-so-slight, is something that will attract Scotch aficionados and can risk turning off those who haven’t experienced it. I was a Scotch drinker way before I ever tasted my first Bourbon, and as such, I look to it as a positive quality.


My rating is going to be a Bar for two reasons:  the non-single malt Scotch drinker and the Bourbon drinker. The Scotch drinker will likely be intrigued and can appreciate what a blended grain whiskey offers. In fact, the Scotch drinker may be more attracted to Ghost Hill than a Bourbon drinker.  The Bourbon drinker might look at the wheat content and expect something like Maker’s Mark, which will not be fulfilled and, if not a Scotch drinker, could find the peat confusing.