The two King of Kentucky releases

We two Kings: In honor of 5th year, Brown-Forman releases two King of Kentucky expressions

King of Kentucky barrel
There will be two Kings this year. | Photo by Sara Havens

The King of Kentucky brand of whiskey was once a household name — for whiskey drinkers — in and around Louisville. The brand debuted in 1881, and after Prohibition, Brown-Forman acquired the rights in 1936. It was so popular, in fact, a giant replica of the bottle was featured atop Brown-Forman’s headquarters off Dixie Highway, where a bottle of Old Forester can now be found.

King of Kentucky
The King of Kentucky was once the bottle on top of Brown-Forman. | Courtesy of B-F Archives

In 1968, when bourbon started its decline in popularity in the U.S., the brand was sadly discontinued. But in 2018, B-F revived the label as a premium single barrel release.

And now, in the brand’s fifth year as a fancy-pants bourbon, the company is releasing two expressions: a 15-year-old bourbon and a very limited 18-year-old bourbon.

Master Distiller Chris Morris chose two lots of barrels to set aside for the limited-release product: one from 2004 and the second from 2006.

“This year’s releases come from two production days, two years apart,” said Morris in a news release. “This showcases what a difference two years at these extreme ages make on the color, flavor and aroma of this wonderful whiskey.”

There will be about 3,500 bottles of the 15-year King of Kentucky released in Kentucky, Illinois and Ohio, and for the 18-year King, there are only 250 bottles. The former retails for $249.99, and the latter $349.99. Of course your chances of ever finding these on a liquor store shelf are few and way, way far between.

Last week, I was invited as a member of the local spirits media to come out to Brown-Forman to taste the 18-year-old and hear more about it from Morris himself.

Master Distiller Chris Morris
Master Distiller Chris Morris discusses the King. | Photo by Sara Havens

It’s important to note that B-F heat-cycles its warehouses, meaning the distillate in the aging barrels goes in and out of the barrel more often than just the standard four seasons of Mother Nature.

Of course this doesn’t speed up aging — in bourbon, time is time — but it does mean there are more flavor exchanges going on inside the barrel, and also more evaporation. Hence the low yield of older B-F bourbons.

“It’s not all about wood, it’s about maturation,” Morris said. And out of the 12 barrels they pulled for the 18-year King, they only got about 250 bottles. If you’re doing the math, that’s only about 20 bottles per barrel. In comparison, with a standard barrel, you get about 150-200 bottles.

So how’s it taste? Just as rich and decadent as you could imagine. The 18-year-old bourbon especially has wonderful notes of fruit, honey and molasses.

And the color of the bourbon alone looks like something Winnie the Pooh would be guzzling out of his honey jar. It’s something I’d love to sip on slowly throughout a cool fall evening, with new notes jumping out with each taste.

Even at about 130.3 proof, this sipped like a 90-proofer. I get the same experience when I sip on a William Larue Weller, which I’ve only had twice in my life. And because this elder King is so rare, I’m guessing that may have been my only chance for a few ounces of that as well.

The two King of Kentucky releases
The two King of Kentucky releases | Courtesy

I am firmly putting both of these Kings on my Christmas list, so y’all can start shopping early. The press release says they will be out in stores this month.

Amine Karaoud of Old Louisville Whiskey Co.

Say hello to the new Old Louisville Whiskey Co.

Amine Karaoud of Old Louisville Whiskey Co.
Amine Karaoud started Old Louisville Whiskey Co. with his wife Beth. | Photo by Sara Havens

There’s a new bourbon about to hit the shelves of your favorite liquor store, and it pays homage to a historic Louisville neighborhood where the founders spent much of their time.

The Old Louisville Whiskey Co. has just launched its first small batch bourbon that is aged between 7 and 10 years and bottled at barrel proof (114). The couple behind the company, Amine and Beth Karaoud, started the brand after they sold several properties in the Old Louisville neighborhood, including Red Castle Liquors, to fund the project.

The Karaouds have much respect for the notable neighborhood known for its Victorian mansions, and they wanted to honor it with its very own whiskey brand that also celebrates tradition and history.

“We’ve always loved the architecture in the neighborhood, and Old Louisville is really where we learned the trade of whiskey and gained our bourbon knowledge,” said Amine in a news release. “Much like the neighborhood, we wanted to release a whiskey that was aged properly. It took patience, but it has been well worth the wait.”

The Old Louisville brand will feature a variety of mashbills for each batch, and Amine tells me future releases might include a 16-year-old American whiskey and a rye whiskey. All batches will be limited to 2,000 bottles or less.

Old Louisville Whiskey Co
Old Louisville Whiskey Co. celebrates the historic neighborhood. | Photo by Heather Parker

Amine has secured barrels from various distilleries throughout the years, so he’s amassed quite an inventory to work with and blend. For Batch 1, he used rye bourbon that was distilled at MGP in Indiana.

The company operates out of a warehouse off Poplar Level Road, which the Karaouds plan to turn into a tasting room and barrel select experience that will be open to the public.

I attended the launch party last night, where I got to see the space where basically EVERYTHING happens (barrel storage, dumping, blending, bottling, labeling, etc.) and also try a sample of Batch 1.

The gift shop and tasting area are already well on their way to being open (although they aren’t open yet — stay tuned to social media for that announcement at @oldlouisvillewhiskeyco), offering a cozy bourbon experience for someone looking for something off the beaten path of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

And the bourbon, well, it’s a solid pour and a fine specimen for a first batch. At 114 proof, it’s a little hot at first, but the burn soon gives way to the familiar caramel, toasted marshmallow and black pepper notes, as well as some almond and dark cherry flavors as well. It’s also non-chill filtered and is somewhat viscous, which I noticed as I swirled it in the glass.

The suggested retail price for Batch 1 is $149.99, and you should start to see it on liquor store and bar shelves this week. Here are some more photos from the launch party:

Jackie Zykan with barrels

A taste of Hidden Barn Bourbon reveals a bright future for Jackie Zykan

Jackie Zykan with barrels
Jackie Zykan at Neeley Family Distillery | Courtesy

When Old Forester Master Taster Jackie Zykan announced she was stepping down from the position in early July, the bourbon community lost its collective shit. And many questions surfaced on social media and beyond:

How could she leave such a cush job? Where’s she going? What’s next? Is she leaving bourbon forever? Isn’t this what happened with Marianne Eaves? Has she lost her mind? Is she crazy?

After talking with Zykan for nearly 30 minutes, I have quick answers to most of those: No, she’s not crazy — unless you consider the desire to follow your passion cuckoo. She’s not leaving bourbon, and in fact she’s enhancing it with her new brand called Hidden Barn.

Hidden Barn bottle

She is grateful for the opportunities and experiences Old Forester and parent company Brown-Forman gave her, but she ultimately craved the freedom of working in the industry on a smaller scale.

One question I’d like to float out there to ponder: Would people have gotten so worked up about the news if Zykan was a man? I think not, but we can save that discussion for another time.

Unfortunately I can’t go into specifics here about our conversation because the interview was for Bourbon+ magazine — so you’ll have to wait until the fall issue to read it. But I can share some tasting notes on the media sample she sent me, which is going fast because I keep sharing it with anyone who stops by my house.

But first, a little background on Hidden Barn and who Zykan is working side by side with these days.

Zykan joined forces with Colorado bourbon aficionados Nate Winegar and Matt Dankner to help launch Hidden Barn as the master blender. The three partners chose to work with Neeley Family Distillery and the talents of Master Distiller Royce Neeley, who comes from generations of Kentucky moonshiners.

In a news release, Zykan said: “We wanted to produce the kind of whiskey we would be proud to share, we wanted to lift the guardrails and pursue boundless creativity and unmatched quality in our process. Hidden Barn whiskies are full of subtlety and nuance, emphasizing quality at every turn and crafted to be shared in the celebration of good friends and good whiskey.”

Jackie Zykan and Royce Neeley
Hidden Barn Master Blender Jackie Zykan and Master Distiller Royce Neeley | Courtesy

The first release — Batch #001 — is labeled “Whiskey Made the Hard Way” and is made up of seven barrels distilled at Neeley Family Distillery using fermented wild yeast. Royce Neeley controls every step of the process from grain to aging, personally hand-collecting wild Kentucky yeast, carefully monitoring  a five-day fermentation using traditional cypress fermenters, and personally distilling and hand-cutting the double pot distillation.  

The result is a 106 proof, 4-5-year-old small batch bourbon with a suggested retail price of $74.99. The mash bill is 70% corn, 20% rye and 10% malted barley.

So how’s it taste?

Nose: I get some citrus and sage on the nose, and I swear I haven’t spent any time at Yankee Candle store recently. I also get a strong butterscotch note followed by baked cherry.

Palate: Wow! The first sip immediately takes you to Funky Town. There’s so much going on here I don’t know where to begin other than to say it’s different — in a good way. I get that butterscotch again, but it quickly gives way to raisin and fig notes, followed by a peppery zest and a flavor similar to a strawberry Fruit Roll-Up. Seriously. I’m not sure if it’s the wild yeast causing so much chaos, but it’s tingly and bounces off tastebuds like a game of pinball.

Finish: The finish is warm and cozy, leaving you with a bit of cinnamon and baked apple — like Grandma’s famous pie. This is going to be a great sipper for the fall.

The first batch of Hidden Barn should be at Kentucky liquor stores by the first week of August. Let me know if you see any, because I’m gonna need a backup.

Copper & Kings (finally) releases first bourbon

Master Distiller Brandon O'Daniel on barrels
Copper & Kings Master Distiller Brandon O’Daniel shares some samples from other bourbon finishes. | Photo by Sara Havens

Copper & Kings American Brandy has marched to its own double-base drum solo since it opened in Louisville’s Butchertown neighborhood in 2014. A brandy distillery located smack dab in the middle of Bourbon Country that produces just about everything but bourbon might confuse tourists, but locals know their spirits, tours, competent crew and rooftop restaurant have always been top-notch.

Now, after eight years in the industry and under new ownership of Constellation Brands, Copper & Kings is finally releasing a bourbon — but of course it has a C&K twist to it. The sourced bourbons will be finished in used brandy barrels from the distillery and will only be available on a bottle-your-own tour called the Barrel-To-Bottle Experience.

I stopped by the distillery Wednesday morning to find out more about the hands-on tour and, most importantly, the bourbon. Master Distiller Brandon O’Daniel gave me a behind-the-scenes tour and a few samples he drilled right from the barrel, and he explained why C&K threw it’s hat into the bourbon ring after all this time.

Copper & Kings first bourbon
Copper & Kings first bourbon | Courtesy

But first, let’s talk bourbon. At the moment, C&K isn’t set up to distill bourbon on its four Vendome-made pot stills, so the distillery will be sourcing bourbon from “friends in the business.”

O’Daniel said the first batch, which is available now, comes from 5-6-year-old bourbon sourced from Indiana, so it’s likely it is MGP juice. O’Daniel then finishes the bourbon for 13 months in either apple or grape brandy barrels.

If you take the Barrel-To-Bottle tour, you’ll get to try both expressions and select your favorite to bottle — while this first batch of 14 barrels lasts. But don’t worry, O’Daniel and his team have many more bourbon finishes up their sleeves, and those will be released on the tour when the others run out.

If you’re wondering about proof, this bourbon comes out at cask strength, so the grape brandy finished bourbon is 119 proof, and the apple brandy finished bourbon is 122 proof.

Out of the two mentioned above, my palate cozied up to the apple finish as the favorite, but the grape finish isn’t far behind. They both have great spice notes and bourbon staples like vanilla, caramel and oak on the nose, but the taste takes it to another level with the finishing barrels.

The apple finish has a bit more earthy and baked fruit notes on the palate, and the finish is like a scoop of vanilla ice cream plopped next to a slice of fresh-from-the-oven apple pie, complete with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Meanwhile, the grape finish is more floral on the palate, with hints of honeysuckle, fresh green apple and green grapes. The finish on this one is also quite pleasant and fruity.

C&K has an entire inventory of award-winning spirits — brandy, gin and absinthe — so by adding bourbon to the lineup, it only pads their success and pushes them toward more and more innovation.

“We’ve been anxious to get into bourbon for some time, but we’re making sure we’re still doing true to our brand and doing things our way,” said O’Daniel. “It’s been fun.”

The fill-your-own-bottle station
The fill-your-own-bottle station | Photo by Sara Havens

O’Daniel seems truly at home downstairs with all the aging barrels, a mad scientist tinkering in his spirits laboratory and blaring Phish to the barrels while they rest (what C&K terms “sonic aging”). And he assures me that while the bourbon game has been fun to get into, the distillery’s flagship product will always be brandy.

The Barrel-to-Bottle Experience is $35 for the tour, plus $65 for the hand-filled 750ml bottle of your choice. The tour includes all sorts of tastings, including both bourbons, and there are other options at the bottle-your-own station as well.

Breaking ground at the new distillery

Heaven Hill breaks ground on new $135 million distillery, to be called Heaven Hill Springs

Breaking ground at the new distillery
Gov. Andy Beshear, Heaven Hill President Max Shapira and Master Distiller Conor O’Driscoll break ground on the new Heaven Hill Springs Distillery in Bardstown. | Photo by Sara Havens

It was just the kind of weather you’d expect for a June morning if you found yourself, say, standing in the middle of an empty field in Bardstown with a couple dozen folks from the bourbon industry: warm but not sweltering, slightly humid, with a nice cooling breeze.

The occasion was to celebrate — and break ground on — a new $135 million distillery Heaven Hill plans to open in 2024, which is to be named Heaven Hill Springs Distillery to pay tribute to the company’s original distillery that burned down in 1996. The distillery will initially produce 150,000 barrels a year, but over time it can ramp up to more than 450,000 annually.

Heaven Hill also owns the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville — which it purchased in 1999 and is where all of its distillate is made now — and it will continue to produce bourbon and whiskey there as well. So technically, by 2026 let’s say, Heaven Hill could produce upwards of 900,000 barrels a year with both facilities. Now that’s some bourbon!

A rendering of the new distillery | Courtesy

During the ground-breaking ceremony, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear joined Heaven Hill President Max Shapira and Master Distiller Conor O’Driscoll to toast the new distillery and 38 full-time jobs it will bring to the greater Bardstown community.

“We’re honored to celebrate this homecoming with a return to distilling in Bardstown to augment our overall bourbon-making capacity, as well as continue to make an impact in the Bardstown community,” said Shapira. “I’m proud to salute our history and the many Bardstown men and women who helped build our brands over the years by naming our new facility in honor of the original Old Heaven Hill Springs Distillery that my father and uncles founded in this community nine decades ago.”

Gov. Beshear called renderings of the new facility “the Hogwarts of bourbon distilleries” and spoke not only of the booming bourbon industry in Kentucky but also of the many other industries that are bringing people to Kentucky daily — not only to visit but to live.

“This is a significant day for Heaven Hill and Kentucky,” Beshear said. “The return of distilling operations to Nelson County is a return to the company’s roots, and the investment highlights the continued growth of bourbon and spirits in the commonwealth.”

After a toast with the crowd of bourbon industry folks, local and regional politicians, media and many Heaven Hill employees both past and present, Beshear, Shapira and O’Driscoll planted their silver shovels into the ground and tossed up the dirt for all to see and celebrate.

A group toast
Let’s toast to expansion and bourbon at 11:30 a.m.! | Photo by Sara Havens

And speaking of dirt and earth and breaking ground, the new distillery will be built to create a more environmentally conscious distilled spirits industry. According to a news release, it will be engineered to minimize water use and reuse water streams, native plants and natural systems to manage stormwater runoff. It’ll also include a wastewater pre-treatment system to ensure discharged water exceeds environmental standards and reduces the load on the city’s treatment plant.

Heaven Hill Springs Distillery will sit right off KY 245, on Bloomfield Pike, not too far from Lux Row and Bardstown Bourbon Co. It’s also less than 3 miles from the Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience, which just debuted an expansion and renovation exactly a year ago.

newly expanded Angel's Envy Distillery

A sneak peek inside Angel’s Envy’s new $8.2 million expansion

newly expanded Angel's Envy Distillery
Welcome to the newly expanded Angel’s Envy Distillery. | Photo by Sara Havens

It’s crazy to think that a distillery that opened in 2016 already needs some elbow room, but when you’re making bourbon in Kentucky, it’s basically par for the course.

Angel’s Envy will soon open the doors to its latest $8.2 million expansion, which adds 13,000 square feet to the Main Street distillery and will allow more than 100,000 guests per year. The project has been underway since late 2020, and the folks over there have been tight-lipped about what we can expect from the new space — until now.

Every time I’ve stopped by Angel’s Envy during the last year or so, I noticed the construction was always behind closed doors, or more like behind huge black tarps. I tried sneaking a peek on several occasions, but they would threaten to take my bourbon away and I would quickly oblige.

Finally, last week, a small group of local media was invited to witness the incredible vision and foresight Angel’s Envy has to propel them to the next level of bourbon tourism in Kentucky.

Lincoln Tasting Room
One of the new tasting rooms is named after Lincoln Henderson, the co-founder of Angel’s Envy. | Photo by Sara Havens

When your distillery and all its components already fill out 90,000 square feet, 13,000 more feet isn’t a tremendous amount to add. But what they’ve managed to do with that new space completely changes the game.

We’re talking five more private tasting rooms, a full kitchen for caterers, several new event spaces, a new bar, doors that open by themselves when tours begin, a “Bottle Your Own” experience room, and an expanded gift shop for more merchandise. Yes, you really do need some Angel’s Envy socks. Trust me.

Dee Ford, the Brand Home General Manager at Angel’s Envy, told us that this expansion will allow them to accommodate 64,000 more people per year, which is about how many they’ve had to turn away the last couple of years due to space and tour limitations.

Many tourists come to Kentucky believing they can just walk up to a distillery and jump on a tour, but unfortunately, that just isn’t the case anymore. Ford said she hated sending people away who just wanted some kind of distillery experience but didn’t have a reservation, and now there’s room for tastings and special bottles and all the shopping a bourbon fanatic could want.

new bar
Look at this brand new bar! | Photo by Sara Havens

“We’re really proud of the expansion and the opportunities it will give us,” Ford said. “We can’t wait for the public to see what we’ve created for them.”

Angel’s Envy chose the same style of building for the expansion, so you really don’t notice a huge difference when looking at the old vs. the new from the outside, and inside, the connected buildings work as one seamless hub of activity. The five new private tasting rooms are pristine and intimate, allowing you to hear every word the guide says as he explains how to taste bourbon.

One cool new feature that I particularly liked was a new room/foyer where all tours now begin. This is where you meet your guide and he or she gives you the rundown of the rules. Then, as you are about to embark on your excursion, two large wooden doors swing open like magic, welcoming you inside the working distillery.

The newly expanded Angel’s Envy and all of its new facilities will open to the public on Tuesday, June 14, which is fittingly National Bourbon Day.

Big Bar neon wall

Big Bar gets four times bigger on Wednesday; new space celebrates 10 years

Big Bar neon wall
The new Big Bar oozes neon in an awesome way! | Photo by Sara Havens

For the past four years, Big Bar owner Kevin Bryan has had to endure nonstop questioning about some wide open spaces next door. When is it going to open? What are you planning? Will there be more bathrooms? A dance floor? When is it going to open? When is it going to open? When is it going to open?

But first, some background: The little Highlands bar with the Big name is all but 500 square feet, and Bryan knew that when he opened his gay bar in 2012, the first of its kind on Bardstown Road that now boasts two more. He was content with 500 square feet, and the bar quickly found a groove in Louisville’s nightlife scene.

It was small, sure. But Bryan added some patio furniture and an extra urinal, and it worked. It got crowded most nights, but it worked.

Then, at the very end of 2018, Big Bar’s next-door neighbor The Wine Market closed, leaving a massive 2,000-square-foot space that actually shared a wall with the bar. Of course Bryan and his investors swooped in and scooped up the real estate. Bryan says he immediately started envisioning a grand extension of Big Bar, which would actually incorporate two floors.

Big Bar sign
People will finally stop asking: “When will it be done?” | Photo by Sara Havens

But projects, as we know, take time. And if a contractor says one year, you better plan for two. Throw a global pandemic into the mix and supply chain issues that ensued, and you have a valid explanation of why it has taken this long. Plus, Bryan wants to do things right. And he wants his community — everyone from neighbors and friends to his LGBTQ cohorts and regulars — to enjoy a space that is inclusive, fun, vibrant and even glows in the dark.

“Having more space means I can do so much more — more events, more mixers, more drag shows, more drinks and, yes, even more bathrooms,” Bryan says.

I stopped by the bigger bar the week before it was slated to open — Wednesday, May 4 — and Bryan showed off some cool new features. The massive two-level structure just oozes with neon, funk and sophistication. In fact, if you order a certain drink, it’ll come with a pair of 3-D glasses that you can use in one of the two new unisex bathrooms. The wallpaper literally comes to life.

There’s a large dance floor with a DJ booth perched up on the second floor. And lining the walls are pub tables and chairs where you can hang while you muster the courage to cut a rug. There’s also a new bar on the ground floor as well, along with the two bathrooms. And on the second floor, which overlooks the dance area, there’s a swanky lounge where you can chill with bigger groups, and even a small little four-top table hidden away in a private nook.

Bryan seemed excited but stressed with last-minute details that needed tending to.

“It’s been 10 years in the making, so I want it to be 100% from when the doors open,” he says.

Big Bar owner Kevin Bryan
Big Bar owner Kevin Bryan

One of the new features at the bar is the state-of-the-art Highball Machine that pumps out the fizziest soda water you’ve ever tasted. Plus, as Bryan said, there will be more of everything, including a bigger premium bourbon selection, new cocktails, more beer taps, more TVs, and even a handful of zero-proof cocktails.

Big Bar first opened its doors on May 1, 2012, and now, 10 years later just about to the exact day, it’s both growing and showing to the delight of its numerous regulars, including myself. Words can’t really do the space any justice, so be sure to stop in sometime to check it out after Wednesday.

And speaking of 10 years, Bryan says the bar’s official 10 Year Anniversary Celebration will be held the week of May 18-22, so get ready to throw down and dance the night away.

Big Bar is located at 1202 Bardstown Road, and it opens at 4 p.m. most days, 2 p.m. on Sundays.

Check out more before and after photos below:

Big beers

What’s with these huge ass beers at Louisville concerts?

Big beers
24 ounces of ridiculous! I made this poor soul pose for a picture, but he was happy to show off the beer as big as your head.

When I was, say, 22, I would have been thrilled to order a 24-ounce beer while watching Limp Bizkit do it all for the nookie. And in fact, I probably would have ordered a couple throughout the show. But for the love of Chris Kirkpatrick, what the hell is going on at Louisville concert and sporting venues with offering ONLY 24-ounce canned beers???

This is bullshit, and I need to know why I’m forced to purchase a beer as big as my head if I’m in the mood for a little bubbly? Is it all about the cost? The economics of: “Let’s make them bigger so people spend more”?

Big Mich Ultra
More beer = more calories!

I guarantee you people will spend more buying normal sized 12-ounce beers — making more trips to the bar and possibly purchasing some overly priced stale popcorn — than one dumptruck dickload of White Claw.

These 24-ounce Sasquatches of suds have invaded the Louisville Palace, Lynn Family Stadium, Iroquois Amphitheater and so many more of our live music and sports venues.

Not only does the beer get warm halfway through, but I’m forced to haul my ass to the bathroom at least five times during the event. If I wanted to drink that much beer, I would have crashed a frat party and reignited my college namesake of Keg Stand Queen.

(For the record, yes, you can still purchase normal-sized pours of wine and spirits, so I decided to sip on some Maker’s Mark during last night’s Chelsea Handler show at the Palace.)

I need answers. Who is responsible for this careless and ridiculous decision? Is it the folks running the venues? The distributors? Are there supply chain issues with 12-ounce cans — but a surplus of 24-ounce ones? Is it really in the best interest of the venue to have the audience guzzling down vats of beer and seltzer?

Huge Miller Lite can
Here’s the next size, coming soon to a stadium near you!

Someone explain this to me. And also let me know if it’s happening at venues all around the country. I thought the super-sized American gluttonous culture was coming to an end, but apparently not.

Wait, does this make me old?

Bardstown Bourbon Co. Founders Collaboration

Alcohol Professor: 7 of the Best Whiskey Releases of Spring 2022

Here’s my most recent piece for Alcohol Professor on some of the newest bourbon and whiskey releases this spring.

Spring has certainly sprung in the whiskey world, with new releases pushing up through the soil quicker than I can remove winter’s gook. There once was one big release period in the fall, but it seems nobody’s holding back their bourbon-soaked bounty for that anymore. So let’s take a look at some of the latest crop looking for a little sunshine and sippin’.

Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey Finished In Ice Cider Casks

Angel's Envy Cider bottle

107 Proof | $249.99

In 2013, Angel’s Envy came out with rye whiskey finished in Caribbean rum casks that was — and still is — phenomenal. There truly is nothing at all like it in the marketplace today, so it’s no surprise they didn’t mess with it for nine years. Until now. As part of the Cellar Collection, this release finishes the Angel’s Envy rye (sans the Caribbean rum) in ice cider casks from Vermont-based Eden Specialty Ciders for 364 days.

The rye whiskey is 7 years old, so it’s solid even without the cider finish. You definitely get that hint of apple on the nose, and then once you sink your teeth in — er, I mean sip — it’s like Grandma’s apple pie. Straight up baked apple with drizzles of caramel, sprinkles of cinnamon and even some roasted cashews thrown into the mix. The price tag is a bit steep on this one, but if you’re a rye and cider fan, this is your golden goose.   

Uncle Nearest

Uncle Nearest bottle

118.4 proof | $149

Uncle Nearest Tennessee Whiskey first came onto the scene in 2017, and as founders Fawn Weaver and company conceptualized the welcoming distillery in Shelbyville, Tenn., they were smart to lay down some of their own distillate before ground was ever broken.

Now, that whiskey is about 5 years old, and the company will be switching over to that juice, which is 100-percent distilled, aged and bottled by Uncle Nearest. They’ll also be adding to their lineup of offerings, including some rye whiskeys, but first they celebrated the milestone with the release of the Uncle Nearest Master Blend Edition, which is only available at the distillery.

There’s a reason Uncle Nearest is the most awarded American whiskey company for the last few years, and once you pop the top on this bottle, you’ll know why. The whiskey titillates with butter pecan, dark fruit and toffee notes — and that’s just in the aroma. The flavors are very impressive for a 5-year-old whiskey, and the notes I just mentioned are all heightened in that first sip, along with hints of butterscotch and caramel corn. The whiskey is thick and leaves you thirsty for more.

Bardstown Bourbon Co. Collaborative Series: KBS Stout

Bardstown Bourbon Co. Founders Collaboration

110 proof | $159.99

The latest in Bardstown Bourbon Company’s Collaborative Series has them teaming up with the beloved Michigan beer company Founders Brewing. The finished whiskey began as a 10-year-old Tennessee bourbon and then was put into Founders Brewing KBS Stout Barrels for 15 months. As with most of these collaborations, the results are phenomenal. 

This is one that reveals new flavors with each sip. On the nose you get wonderful notes of coffee, cocoa and orange peel, most likely from the stout finish. And then that first sip explodes with black cherry, dark chocolate and even more coffee. It may sound complex, but the bourbon and the stout have intermingled well, making it a fun experiment and treat for both beer and bourbon lovers. I’m thinking about adding this to my coffee to see if those mocha notes come out even more.

15 Stars Timeless Reserve

15 Stars bottle

103 proof | $279

This is the newest bourbon to hit store shelves (in Kentucky only, sorry folks), and yet it’s the oldest one at 14 years old. 15 Stars is a new brand named in honor of America’s 15th state — you guessed it, Kentucky!

The father and son team of Rick and Ricky Johnson sourced barrels for this blend, called Timeless Reserve, and they recently revealed the website, which also highlights many historical artifacts from 1795. Although Kentucky was founded in 1792, it took three more years for a 15-star flag to debut.

The Johnsons will continue to put out sourced blends as well as some of their own bourbons and whiskeys they’ve distilled with the help of Bardstown Bourbon Co. using various types of heirloom corn.

At a perfect and deliberate 103 proof, this Kentucky bourbon truly is timeless, reminding you just how delicate and nuanced whiskey can be as it ages on past a decade. You get a little of that oak on the nose, along with a nice maple and butterscotch. And after that first sip, it’s a spring bouquet of fresh flavors bursting in your mouth. It’s got that viscous mouthfeel from its time in the oak, plus a few dark chocolate and roasted almond notes, along with hints of sweet vanilla and warm caramel. It’s a high price point, but it’s 14 years old!


Heaven Hill Heritage Collection bottle

Heaven Hill releases 17-year bourbon from its ‘vast inventory of extra-aged whiskey’ — so how’s it taste?

Heaven Hill Heritage Collection bottle

Earlier this month, word spread about a new bourbon Heaven Hill was launching that would be a whopping 17 years old. Yes, there are older bourbons on the market — Pappy 23 to reference a popular one — but in this age where many distilleries cite limited supplies of aged whiskey, it makes headlines when out pops any release older than 12.

But then again, Heaven Hill isn’t your average everyday bourbon distillery either. After announcing the release of the new Heritage Collection 17-Year-Old Barrel-Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, they followed it up a week or so later with news that the next Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond release would be 17 years as well. Hot damn!

Call it gumption, call it ingenious foresight or call it great supply management, but Heaven Hill is sitting on a “vast inventory of extra-aged whiskey,” according to Susan Wahl, VP of American Whiskeys. Wahl spoke during a media event on the Heritage Collection via Zoom, which included a tasting of the 17-year bourbon led by Master Distiller Conor O’Driscoll.

There are currently 1.9 million barrels aging throughout Heaven Hill’s six rick house sites, so yes, I can see where some of that probably is older whiskey, which is good news for them and consumers.

The new release is the first of the Heritage Collection, which will debut each spring and always feature some of the distillery’s oldest juice (15+). Their highly sought-after Parker’s Heritage Collection will continue to be released each fall and focuses more on the experimental side of the coin, including finishes, mashbills and more.

Tell me about the bourbon already!

OK, OK. This first iteration of the Heritage Collection features Heaven Hill’s standard bourbon mashbill of 78% corn, 10% rye and 12% malted barley. The proof on this one is a stout 118.2, so it does pack a punch for an older guy.

Heaven Hill Heritage Collection bottle
Fancy bottle, fancy box. | Courtesy

And, as we know, the age statement comes from the youngest bourbon in the batch — which is 17 years old — but O’Driscoll told us it also contains a good amount of 19- and 20-year-old barrels, which brings its average age to 18.7.

The barrels were also pulled from several rick houses, including Deatsville, Glencoe, Schenley and the main campus in Bardstown, and most barrels were from floors 1-4.

The suggested retail price on this fancy 750ml bottle is $274.99, and Wahl said it should be hitting store shelves any day now in Kentucky as well as across the country.

So how’s it taste?

It tastes delicious, thank you. I’ll have another.

Only kidding — about having another … unless I can get lucky and find one on the shelf.

From first sniff, you know this bourbon is going to be complex. It smells like walking into a rick house and all those wonderful notes that invade your nostrils — vanilla, caramel, toffee, oak, baked apple and dark chocolate.

Now onto the sip …

This bourbon is not overly oaked at all, which can be the case with older whiskeys. It’s also quite sweet for being 118.2 proof. Along with the aromas I mentioned above, I get some nutty flavors, like pecans and almonds, a lot more of that apple, this time with a sprinkle of cinnamon, and even a tinge of leather on the long finish.

If your tongue was a dance floor, it’s waltzing from left to right, gliding effortlessly like the mature spirit it is. After sitting inside a barrel for 17 years, this is the bourbon’s time to grab the spotlight and never let go — until the last drop has been savored.