Barrel pick bottles

Don’t sleep on these barrel picks for your bunker

Barrel pick bottles

The current lineup for sale at Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen. | Photo by Sara Havens

Yesterday, Pennsylvania called for a closing of all of its liquor stores. I’m hoping that’s just a weird Pennsylvania thing and the idea won’t spread to other states (plus, I think PA is a state-run liquor store type of deal). In any case, while you’re hoarding all that toilet paper, you might want to grab some bottles of bourbon while you’re at it.

While you’re likely to find a great supply of everyday bourbon, wine, beer and other spirits at your neighborhood grocery or mega-store, just remember that it’s important now more than ever to SHOP LOCAL. Plus, your local stores are likely to have special barrel picks, and barrel picks are the best because they are truly one-of-a-kind.

Which exact stores am I talking about? Well, it would be impossible on my Bar Belle budget to name them all off the top of my head, but here are a handful: Westport Whiskey & Wine, The Wine Rack, Old Town Liquor, Liquor Barn, Liquor World (the ones way out in the East End, like off of Old Henry Road), Prospect Wine & Liquors, and the list goes on.

Also, don’t forget about the bars with the special package license that can sell you bourbon by the bottle. These include Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen, Butchertown Grocery and Butchertown Grocery Bakery, Justin’s House of Bourbon21c Museum Hotel, Taj and The Pearl.

I stopped into Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen around lunch today to check in with manager Wayne Sweeney about what bottles he’s currently selling. It’s also important to note that Merle’s offers carryout service from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and this is also when they’re open for bottle purchase. While I was there, I was happy to see business was steady — every time he hung up the phone with an order, it would ring again.

I didn’t want to bother him too much, so I just grabbed a few photos (above) and took down some notes. Here are the bottles and prices. And remember, they are all private barrel selections:

  • Elijah Craig Single Barrel — $40
  • Jefferson’s Reserve — $65
  • Jefferson’s Ocean — $105
  • Knob Creek — $48
  • Maker’s Mark — $78
  • New Riff Bourbon — $55
  • Old Forester — $44
  • Woodford Reserve — $61
  • Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit — $67

Wayne had a few minutes to mention some facts about the bottles. He said the Knob Creek is about 13-and-a-half years old, the Elijah Craig is almost 12 years old, and that Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris actually helped his team pick the blend for the barrel-pick Woodford.

There you have it. If you’re looking to beef up your bourbon, I’d go sooner rather than later.

Butchertown Grocery’s picks

I found a list online courtesy of Butchertown Grocery, and I believe these are all available now for purchase at the Butchertown Grocery Bakery on East Main Street.

  • Maker’s Mark — $70
  • Elijah Craig (9 years old) — $45
  • Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit — $65
  • Dickel 11 Year — $60
  • New Riff — $50
  • Peerless — $55
  • Peerless Rye — $75
  • Peerless “Ryediculous” — $22 (200 ml)
  • Knob Creek (15 Year) — $60
  • Knob Creek (10 Year) — $50
  • Knob Creek Rye — $45
  • Four Roses — $55
  • Eagle Rare — $75
  • Willett Rye — $150
empty bar

Bars are closed! Say it ain’t so …

empty bar

Art by Kris Tremblay (Twitter: @h00tcom)

Beginning today at 5 p.m., ALL Kentucky bars and restaurants will be shut down due to this horrendous and sinister coronavirus, which should not even be allowed to share a name with a beer! The mere idea of bars closing is something I never thought I’d have to live through, unless I time-traveled back to 1920 when Prohibition started.

And St. Patrick’s Day is Tuesday! The horror!

Carryout, drive-thrus and delivery options are still available, but how does that help me at happy hour?

Luckily, we’re Kentuckians, and our private bourbon collections are museum-worthy. Plus, I know you’ve been hoarding wine, beer and other spirits since Trump took office, so we will survive.

And hey, they didn’t shut down liquor stores, so at the moment, there’s still a supply to your demand.

The time for you to take up bartending is now. Jump in there and start mixing ingredients like a mad scientist! Trust me, when the bars open back up, you’ll have a new appreciation for our hard workers who shake, stir, strain and maintain quality and consistency with each and every drink.

In the meantime, here’s a suggestion on how to support to your favorite watering hole: Go online and buy gift certificates from them (if that’s an option). That applies to all local businesses, including your favorite local bourbon tour company named after a popular Southern cocktail (shameless plug).

I’m not a thoughts-and-prayers type of gal, but if that’s what it’s gonna take, then Amen! It’s gonna be a long week inside the Bar Belle’s Bourbon Bungalow.

Wash hands, be smart, support local businesses

It’s a mad, mad world, y’all. I’ve always wondered how mass hysteria would start, like in the case of a zombie apocalypse or “The Handmaid’s Tale” premise. And now we know.

I’ve never made a meme before, or whatever they’re called, and frankly I’m getting tired of them. But I learned a long time ago from Punky Brewster that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Anyway, most of you might be content to isolate yourselves and binge on Netflix and toilet paper. But some of us are social creatures, and we refuse to let fear win. Yes, we will take every precaution necessary and wash our hands 80 times a day and bathe ourselves in Purell like it’s Dundee Dip.

Truth is, our local businesses need us right now. And it just so happens that I need a drink. So Saturday afternoon, despite the St. Patrick’s Parade being postponed, I will still patronize the bars and restaurants on Baxter Avenue and Bardstown Road because I believe it’s my civic duty as The Bar Belle to do so. I even thought of a name: Corona Crawl 2020.

I extend the invitation to anyone who wants to join. And I also will not judge you if you don’t, as long as you don’t judge me if I do. We all operate under free will, and if my will is craving green beer (I mean Guinness), then so be it.

Be safe, be smart, tip well and wash your damn hands!

#supportlocalbusinesses #keeplouisvillelit #barbellelou #coronacrawl2020

shots of bourbon

Shots of Bourbon Classic 2020

shots of bourbon

The ultimate tasting mat. | Photo by Sara Havens

It was a wild ride — one full of bourbon, bourbon knowledge and more bourbon. But Bourbon Classic 2020 is now in the books, and all I have to show for it is a tad bit of a hangover and, thankfully, an encyclopedia full of experiences.

I tasted Pappy, I tasted William Larue Weller, I tasted bourbons not available to the public and I got a taste of what happens when the bourbon industry comes together with local chefs and bartenders for an extraordinary evening of blissful food and cocktail pairings.

I hope this doesn’t come off as, “Hey, look what I got to do and you didn’t!” I’m simply sharing my experiences here so that next year, when this event rolls around, you maybe get a ticket and try it out for yourself. In fact, I think tickets might already be on sale for 2021.

This past weekend’s event was completely sold out, and I met people from all around the country — just one one afternoon session! My table, during the “Best Whiskeys of the World” Bourbon University class, included people from Cleveland, Michigan and Florida. That’s the most fun part of it — witnessing all of these people flock to your hometown for a one-of-a-kind experience in your own backyard.

Instead of giving a laundry list of the sordid details, I thought I’d just share some shots of Bourbon Classic 2020.

Bourbon Classic shot

Soak your curiosity: Bourbon Classic 2020 starts Thursday

Bourbon Classic shot

Bourbon Classic 2020 takes place Feb. 26-29. | Courtesy of Bourbon Classic

Most of us are chomping at the bit for March to arrive, which will bring warmer weather, St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans and a closer proximity to Derby. Sure, I’m looking forward to all of that as well, but let’s not forget to savor the last weekend of February, which plays host to the eighth annual Bourbon Classic.

What? You say you’ve never been? And you claim bourbon is your favorite spirit? Well, unfortunately it’s a little too late this year, because most of the events are sold out. But I’d still like to inform you about it so you know what to expect when tickets go on sale for next year!

But before I soak your curiosities with bourbon knowledge, let me just say that I’ve attended every year of the Bourbon Classic, and I not only have the time of my life enjoying whiskey, cocktails and food, but I also learn something each time — whether that be a process of bourbon-making or more about my own preferences and tastes.

I’ll be attending this year’s festivities, of course, so stay tuned to my social media outlets for annoying, nonstop posting. If you need a reminder:

Now, let’s get to the Classic.

The only event not sold out is Savor, held on Wednesday, Feb. 26, at Volare. It’s a five-course dinner created by Chef Josh Moore, served alongside Barton 1792 bourbons. The full menu is available online, as are the tickets, which are $95.

Here’s a brief synopsis of the main events, all of which are sold out. So why even mention them? Well, like I said before, so you know to pounce on tickets when they go on sale next year, and also so you know where all my pictures are coming from this coming weekend!

Top Shelf — Thursday, Feb. 27

Held at 21c Museum Hotel, this event lets attendees sample four Pappy Van Winkle products — usually the 10, 12, 15 and 20 years. The bourbon also is paired with upscale food pairings at various stations throughout, courtesy of Chef Cassidee Dabney of Blackberry Farm and Executive Chef Jonathan Searle of 21c’s Proof on Main. When you’re not savoring the Pappy, there’s also a secondary bar of bourbons featuring some Buffalo Trace heavy-hitters like Weller 12, E.H. Taylor and more.

Cocktail & Culinary Challenge — Friday, Feb. 28
Bourbon classic bartender

The Cocktail & Culinary Challenge is fun for attendees, serious for participants! | Courtesy of Bourbon Classic

This is the event for those who crave cocktails and food pairings. Held at the Henry Clay, this event pairs bourbon brands with bartenders and local chefs/restaurants for a sampling and drinking extravaganza like no other. And once you work the room and try every cocktail and paired dish, the stations are reset for another round of samplings of different items! Celebrity judges choose a winner in various categories, and attendees also get to vote for their favorites.

It truly is a who’s-who of Louisville chefs and bartenders, including Josh Moore, Isaac Fox, Ming Pu, Bobby Benjamin, Ouita Michel, Damaris Phillips, Drew Hutchinson, Keri Smith … the list goes on and on! And participating bourbon brands include Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, Michter’s, Heaven Hill, Woodford Reserve, Peerless, Rabbit Hole, Barton 1792, Bulleit and George Remus.

Bourbon University & TASTE — Saturday, Feb. 29

The final Bourbon Classic event starts with two Bourbon University sessions, which are basically hour-long classes you can attend to learn more from the folks in the bourbon business. Held again at the Henry Clay, these classes cover anything from cocktails to food pairings to rare bourbon tastings. These are typically my favorite, because I’m a nerd and actually miss college.

Then, the TASTE event takes place at the same location that night and features tables and tables of bourbon samples, hosted by each brand mentioned above. There’s also food, of course, as well as cocktails and more. This is the event you want to go to if bourbon is the name of your game, as industry folks and master distillers are usually in attendance.

Evan Williams Kentucky Derby Festival bottles

Evan Williams limited edition Kentucky Derby Festival bottle now available!

Evan Williams Kentucky Derby Festival bottles

The bottles are here! | Photo by Sara Havens

Forget the damn groundhog. The first sign of spring in Louisville typically comes courtesy of the Kentucky Derby Festival, and this most recent announcement makes us yearn for warmer weather, flowering dogwoods and all things Derby and bourbon, of course!

The limited-edition Evan Williams Kentucky Derby Festival Single Barrel bottles are launching today — right now, in fact — and you can even swing by the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience from noon-4 p.m. and dip your own bottle and affix the gold Pegasus Pin.

New this year is the color of the wax — a hunter green that replaces the gold wax from years before. This darker color both complements the bourbon and the label and also makes the gold pin pop!

dipping bottles at Evan Williams

Derby Festival Chair Judy Hess and President Matt Gibson watch as Artisanal Distiller Jodie Filiatreau dips a bottle. | Photo by Sara Havens

I swung by the downtown distillery to watch them dip the first few bottles, and it truly is an experience.

There are only 600 of these bottles available to the public, and each one comes with a gold pin that is part of the bottle, and also a Kentucky Derby Festival Pegasus Pin for you to wear.

The bottles retail for $74.99 and are a stout 113 proof — commemorating both the 65th Kentucky Derby Festival and the 48th year of the Pegasus Pin (64+48=113). Look, Ma, I did math!

The bourbon was distilled in 2012, making it 8 years old.

Artisanal Distiller Jodie Filiatreau started the press conference off with a toast (gotta love bourbon press conferences), saying, “Let’s raise a toast to Kentucky’s heritage and usher in the 2020 Kentucky Derby.” He said Evan Williams always is happy to partner with the Kentucky Derby Festival, and he’s looking forward to sharing the bourbon with the public.

Again, today, Wednesday, Feb. 19, you can dip your own bottle from noon-4 p.m. at no cost other than the price of the bottle. And remember, only 600 bottles are available.

More photos on the high-tech dipping experience — and cookies — below.

Woodford Reserve

New releases: Batch Proof, Barrel Proof and bourbon-battered beer

Just when you thought it was safe to enjoy your bourbon collection as it now stands, along come more damn releases — but that’s a good thing! Right?

Batch Proof
Woodford Reserve

Courtesy of Woodford Reserve

First up, Woodford Reserve is releasing another limited-edition Batch Proof, which is up slightly in proof from last year’s first-ever Batch Proof release (123.6 vs. 123.3). Hey, we’ll take what we can get, right! I thought last year’s was incredible, so I’m excited to try this one on for size.

“Most people do not get to experience Woodford Reserve at such a high-proof presentation, so we are honored to share this special bourbon with the public,” said Master Distiller Chris Morris in a news release. “The intensity and depth of flavor found in Woodford Reserve Batch proof is truly remarkable.”

Thanks, Chris. Now I really need to try it!

According to the release, some flavor notes include rich raisin, brown sugar, “spicy leather character” (huh?) and cedar wood. Sounds like Grandma’s old closet to me.

Regardless, this is going to be great stuff. It’ll retail for $129.99.

Barrel Proof
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof

Photo by Sara Havens

Next up, it’s the 2020 release of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (A120), at a whopping 136.6 proof! Each year, the Barrel Proof starts trickling out to thirsty bourbon fanatics, and it has garnered top accolades throughout the years, including Whisky of the Year.

This is bourbon in its purest form, you all! The only thing they do to it after dumping from the barrel is filter out the flecks of char.

It’s uncut, 12-year-old bourbon that packs a punch as well as a fascinating flavor that you just can’t put down. It’s hot, it’s sweet, it’s sticky. It’s what you’d taste if you found yourself in a rick house with a long-ass straw.

This usually retails for around $60-$70.

Bourbon-aged beer

And finally, Angel’s Envy is preparing to launch a barrel-aged beer program called “Angel’s & Ale,” and its first partner in crime is Against the Grain.

Angle's & Ales

Courtesy of Angel’s Envy

Apparently, AtG created a Belgian Quadruple Ale that was aged for three to four months in port barrels formerly used to finish Angel’s Envy core product.

While the beer will be available for the entire month of March at AtG, they’re having a kickoff party on Feb. 28 at the Angel’s Envy Distillery, just right across the street from AtG. And more good news: They’ll be announcing additional “Angel’s & Ale” collaborations throughout 2020.

Can’t wait to try this brew out, as I’m curious how much flavor resonates from a used port barrel that has aged bourbon for a few months.