Rum and rye whiskey meet again for another Fortuitous Union

And here we have another installment of “happy accident turns into a damn fine spirit,” courtesy of the guys behind Rolling Fork Spirits.

In 2018, Louisville rum fanatics Turner Wathen and Jordan Morris joined forces to create a rum company in bourbon country. Of course they would utilize the plethora of bourbon and whiskey barrels we have here in Kentucky as finishing agents to their rum, which they source from Jamaica, Trinidad, the Dominican Republic, Barbados, etc.

During one of their finishing sessions, they accidentally poured their precious Trinidad rum into a vat full of rye whiskey, and thus was born Fortuitous Union, a blend of rum and rye that actually was quite delicious and nabbed much attention from whiskey drinkers near and far.

Fortuitous Union Batch 2
Say hello to FU2! | Courtesy

You can read the full story of that here.

Now, four years later, there are some new Fortuitous Unions on the market.

While the process of blending rum and rye whiskey was fully intentional this time, there was still a small hiccup of forgetting a barrel or two of rye whiskey in the finished product. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

Let’s talk about the ingredients here.

FU Batch 2 consists of 4-year-old rum distilled in Barbados; 4-year-old rum distilled in Jamaica; 4-year-old rum distilled in the Dominican Republic; and 6-year-old rye whiskey distilled in Indiana (MGP).

The spirits mingled together for three days in a stainless steel tank, and then the rum-whiskey hybrid (aka distilled spirits specialty, or DSS) was put into highly sought-after, used bourbon and rye whiskey barrels.

The brands of those barrels weren’t named in the press release, but I was fortunate … or fortuitous? … to hang out with Wathen and Morris one Sunday afternoon in their barrel rick house, which happens to be at Starlight Distillery in Indiana. So I got to peek behind the curtain of this year’s FU and I took note of the brands.

One batch went into a used Weller barrel, one in a used Thomas H. Handy barrel, and one in a used Woodford Double Oak barrel. How about that charred oak real estate?

Turner Wathen
Turner Wathen is proud of his rum experiments, which will be revealed soon. | Photo by Sara Havens

The guys then created a small batch using the juice from all three finishes, as well as single barrels from each of the three.

So if you see this on the shelf, take a close look at the bottom of the label, and it will present you with a clue as to which one it is.

Wathen and Morris are doing some interesting things with rum finishes, especially in their Rolling Fork line, and as Wathen thieved barrel after barrel of experiments they have going on at Starlight, he was as giddy as a kid getting a pony for Christmas.

The FU sample I was most drawn to came from the Weller barrels, and it was bottled at 111.8 proof. It’s got some sweet tingles up front, followed by a little heat and spice from the rye, and then finishes long with a pleasant taste that reminds me of the frosting that goes on a cinnamon roll.

And the longer I let the sample sit out, the richer and more complex it got.

This would be great in a traditional daiquiri or even an old fashioned, but I’ll probably end up sipping most of it on its own. Wathen and Morris came up with their own cocktail, FU-Man-Daq, which merges a manhattan with a daiquiri, and I’ll post that recipe below.

I promised you earlier that there was a small snafu to this year’s FU, so here it is. When the FU brain trust was blending the rum and rye whiskey together, they forgot to add two barrels of the MGP rye. Thus the final product is about 85% rum and 15% rye.

But don’t fret: That rye really comes out on the palate, and the result is a perfect blend of two spirits that work well together. FU sells for about $55.

FU-Man-Daq Cocktail

  • 2 oz. Fortuitous Union
  • .75 oz. Antica vermouth
  • .75 oz. fresh lime
  • .75 oz. simple syrup

Shake with ice, strain and top with lime bitters.

old record player

What’s with the ‘Throwback Content’?

Today I published my first article with the tagline “Throwback Content,” and I wanted to quickly explain what that means. Basically, when Insider Louisville went under in 2019, they moved all of our content to a different site and disabled the photos and links.

You could still find the stories if you really dug through the interwebs, but then, about a year later, everything ceased to exist. Luckily I saved backup PDF copies of most of what I wrote for Insider Louisville the five years I worked there as Culture Editor.

Insider Louisville logo
RIP Insider Louisville: 2010-2019

So this “Throwback Content” is a way to bring those stories back to life. The first one is the comical story of the guys behind Fortuitous Union, a rum and rye whiskey combo that was created by accident.

It was a bit tedious to get the text from PDF to Word and then onto the website, so please excuse any spacing errors you might see. A few paragraphs I had to re-type because of glitches caused between the three platforms.

I hope to streamline this process and figure out a way around some of the issues I ran into today so that I can put up more of my old copy from IL. Stay tuned for more throwbacks!

Turner Wathen

Throwback Content: Fortuitous Union or happy accident? How a local spirits company turned an oops into an opportunity

Fortuitous Union bottle
Fortuitous Union came about by accident. | Courtesy of Fortuitous Union

Note: This story was originally published by Insider Louisville on June 21, 2018.

If you would have talked to Turner Wathen on the day it happened, it would have been a completely different story — a story that involved one giant accident and the demise of a business, a dream, a passion.

But hope springs eternal, and after a night’s rest, Wathen revisited the scene of the accident and discovered, lo and behold, that his mistake “was pretty fucking good.”

More on that in a bit.

Business partners and entrepreneurs Wathen and Jordan Morris had a solid plan for their startup company, Rolling Fork Spirits. After years of discussing, researching, brainstorming, scrapping ideas and starting new ones, the two decided they wanted to create rums that bourbon aficionados could get behind.

Wathen comes from a lineage of Kentucky bourbon-makers, and Morris has been a fan of whiskey long before it became cool. Wathen lives in Louisville and works in sales, while Morris lives in Portland, Oregon, and works as a lawyer.

The two met at a party through an introduction by their wives, Wathen recalls, and ended up talking whiskey all night long. Both men had a desire to get into the spirits business, but neither had the deep pockets needed to open a distillery.

After researching and testing out a sorghum-based spirit, which did not end up being a commercially viable product, Wathen and Morris set their sights on rum.

“Our objective was to be rum evangelists out of Kentucky and do cool things to rum that we think bourbon- and whiskey-centric audiences would appreciate,” says Wathen.

Turner Wathen
Turner Wathen | Courtesy of Fortuitous Union

Since making their own rum would be too costly, the two began looking to source rum from places like Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. They soon stumbled upon a batch of 12-year-old rum from Trinidad that contained no sugar, no color and no additives — ingredients sometimes added to mass-produced rums.

“There’s a lot of really good spirits out there that we can access through our contacts that we think are deserving of consumers’ appreciation,” Wathen explains. “We’re not the first to do it, we’re not the last to do it. We just try to be transparent about it.”

It ended up being some of the last Trinidad rum to be sold in the United States, so Wathen and Morris knew they had a solid base product. The plan was to release a high-proof, triple-finished spirit that had been aged in three different barrels — bourbon, port and then sherry. The plan was in place, a name was chosen and a label was even in the works. And then, that dreaded day in July of 2017 …

With Morris in Portland, Wathen was supervising the finishing process at an area distillery and warehouse they contracted for storage and services. The rum had sat about seven months in used bourbon barrels, so it was time to move it into the port barrels.

Jordan Morris
Jordan Morris | Courtesy of Fortuitous Union

In order to do that, Wathen says, all the barrels had to be emptied into a stainless steel dump tank, and then the rum would be pumped into the port barrels from there.

What could go wrong?

“Well, we pulled a dump tank we did not know had 90 gallons of rye whiskey in it,” he admits. “So we dumped our rum into this dump tank, and all of a sudden it scaled 1,000 pounds over what it should have been. I’m sitting there freaking out. My partner is on the West Coast, so he didn’t even know yet.”

Wathen recalls the sudden silence that fell over the room and the pale, frightened look on everyone’s faces. He figured he had just flushed his business down the toilet, so he told everyone to go home. The rum surely was ruined by the five-year-old rye whiskey.

After explaining the situation to Morris and his wife and anyone else who would listen, Wathen decided to go back into the distillery the next day and clean up the mess. Perhaps something could be salvaged, he thought.

And then, he tasted it. Color returned to his face as his taste buds savored the intricate, balanced and delightful flavors coming from the rum/rye whiskey hybrid. A big smile appeared when he realized his company was not doomed. Although it wasn’t what they planned, it still fit the mold.

Thus, Fortuitous Union was born.

“If it had been vodka, we would have had failure. If it had been a younger bourbon or a corn-heavy mash bill, it probably wouldn’t have tasted that good,” says Wathen. “Ninety percent of what we do are accidents. We’re just dumb enough to put money into our accidents.”

Wathen and Morris quickly readjusted the plan for this new, unexpected product. They also sought opinions from local spirits experts like Larry Rice, co-owner of The Silver Dollar and The Pearl and also an investor in the company, and author Fred Minnick. In fact, it was Rice who helped come up with the name — Fortuitous Union — which fittingly abbreviates to FU.

Local graphic designer Bill Green already was working on a label for the triple-finished rum, so he put that on hold and started from scratch on this one.

And as the label and bottling came together, Wathen and Morris worked on finding a supplier.

Fortuitous Union now is available in Louisville and Chicago — two markets the guys want to tackle first. You can find it by the pour at The Pearl or on the shelf at Old Town Wine & Spirits in the Highlands and eventually more liquor stores as distribution expands. It retails for $65.

FU is more rum than whiskey, but when sipped, it displays those familiar spicy notes common in rye whiskeys or high-rye bourbons. At 103 proof, the finish tingles with heat, which is definitely not a characteristic of most rums.

And while it can certainly fare well a fine cocktail, we preferred to sip it neat and let those flavors — sweet and spice — mingle in our mouth.

But don’t take our word for it — in April, it won a silver medal at the annual San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Wathen says there will most likely be other iterations of Fortuitous Union, but for now, they’re focusing on this product and also working on their original triple-finished concept, which they may call Rolling Fork Rum.

“We literally roll dice and hope it’s going to work, but also we spent a long time teaching ourselves how to partner with the right people — and we’ve gotten lucky,” he says. “It’s a lot of luck, a lot of risk, and there’s some vision in there between.”

This story was originally published by Insider Louisville on June 21, 2018.

Pappy Van Winkle

Oh Pappy Days! This year’s Pappy will be plentiful … or will it?

I just received the annual Pappy Van Winkle press release from Buffalo Trace, and it looks like all six expressions will be released this year — and there will be more bottles available than in the past. Does that mean you’ll be able to walk into Liquor Barn and find one on the shelf? Hell no!

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Van Winkle line partnering with Buffalo Trace Distillery.

 “(Buffalo Trace Master Distiller) Harlen Wheatley and his predecessors had been distilling the W.L. Weller wheated recipe for many years before our 2002 joint venture. We trusted their expertise in distilling and aging, and it paid off, as many of Buffalo Trace’s brands are just as sought after as our own,” said Julian Van Winkle III, president of Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, in the news release.

“My son Preston and I still take care of the marketing and management of our brands, but we leave the rest of it to the team at Buffalo Trace. The 20-year partnership has flown by, and I feel confident we’re leaving it in good hands for the future Van Winkle generations.” 

Pappy Van Winkle
The full lineup of Pappy Van Winkle whiskeys. | Courtesy

The bottles should be hitting shelves in October. If you’re curious about the suggested retail pricing and tasting notes of each expression, here are the notes from the news release:

$69.99 — Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon 10-Year-Old 107 proof

Tasting Notes: 

Color: Tawny in color.

Nose: Very sweet, with notes of honey, dulce de leche, caramel corn, rooibos tea and lightly toasted nuts. Hints of the wheat and corn are present which enhances the complexity. 

Taste: Medium-bodied palate with dried fruit and nuts. Each sip finishes with a very long bold wave of floral honey, caramel, and toasted barrel flavors which counter the weight of the alcohol.

Finish: An elegant balance between oak, grain, and maturation.

$79.99 — Van Winkle Special Reserve Bourbon 12-Year-Old (90.4 proof)

Tasting Notes:

Color: Brilliant amber.

Nose: Rich and decadent with butterscotch, toffee, vanilla and hints of nectarine and satsuma adding to the complexity. There is still a wisp of bready wheat present which is perfectly balanced with the spicy and rich oak notes.

Taste: Butterscotch and toffee are prominent in the taste but there are also hints of spiced praline which contribute to the long, round finish that is sweet without being cloying.

Finish: An outrageously well-crafted bourbon that pays homage to its source ingredients but shows that oak, the right distillate, and patience can create unparalleled depth and balance.

$119.99 — Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13-Year-Old (95.6 proof)

Tasting Notes:

Color: Rich copper color.

Nose: An incredibly enticing and complex aroma with notes of toasted pumpernickel, plum, fig, and sweet-tobacco aromas

Taste: Smooth with medium-to full-bodied palate bursting with bold and delicious flavors of toffee, caraway, and dried cherry, and a hint of leather and mint.

Finish: A symphony of flavors sits endlessly on the palate, causing the unsuspecting drinker to wish there was an endless supply in their glass.

$119.99 — Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 15-Year-Old (107 proof)

Tasting Notes:

Color: Striking, brilliant, copper color.

Nose: The aroma is seductive with intense sweet brown notes like maple, caramelized sugar, toffee, and toasted almond.

Taste: Waves of caramel and toffee meld into familiar memories of fresh-baked holiday spice cookies made with molasses. The mouthfeel is rich, supple, full-bodied and briefly veers toward decadent before the wood influences lend a balancing dryness.

Finish: Long, flavorful, and complex. An unbelievably opulent and flawless bourbon that takes wood and distillate to its absolute pinnacle.

$199.99 — Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 20-Year-Old (90.4 proof)

Tasting Notes: 

Color: Dark amber in appearance with ruby highlights.

Nose: This full-bodied bourbon has a sophisticated forefront of leather with complementary notes of smoke, warm tobacco, treacle, espresso, and charred oak.

Taste: The aromas and flavors are endlessly complex and each new sip reveals something new to discover.

Finish: Suave and confident with layers of bold, integrated nuances.

$299.99 — Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 23-Year-Old (95.6 proof)

Tasting Notes: 

  • Color: Rich mahogany color.
  • Nose: Reminiscent of a crisp fall day, with aromas of ripe red apples, cherries and tobacco.
  • Taste: Wood is the star here with supporting notes of caramel, apple, apricot, leather, walnuts, and vanilla Crème Brulé.
  • Finish: Long-lasting and rich, opening with bold flavors of oak and caramel that tease the palate before fading slowly and elegantly until the next sip.

Frazier History Museum invites you to Bourbon Limited, an exclusive bourbon club

Bourbon Limited
Frazier History Museum invites you to Bourbon Limited.

If you live in Kentucky, love bourbon, enjoy trying new whiskeys and are one of the first 5,000 people to read this here blog, you just might be a great fit for Bourbon Limited, an exclusive new bourbon club curated by the folks at the Frazier History Museum.

The subscription-only club offers one-of-a-kind bottles from some of Kentucky’s top distilleries, as well as craft brands, to its members through the mail. While there is no membership fee to join, the bottles will cost you about $200 for each release, which will occur roughly every two to three months.

If there happens to be a release you don’t want, however, you might lose your spot in the club if you decide to pass on it. That’s the biggest difference between this mail-service club and the ones offered by distilleries like Maker’s Mark and Jim Beam.

But if you’re up for trying bourbons that run the gamut, Andrew Treinen, president and CEO of Frazier Museum, says they’ve got some special bottles lined up from some of Kentucky’s best distilleries.

Bourbon Limited box
Each release will come in a fancy box like this.

Also, he emphasized that these bottles will not be available to the general public in stores or even at the distilleries, and that each distillery they’ve partnered with so far has big plans for their unique bottles for this club.

If you’re wondering why a history museum is hosting a bourbon club, then you haven’t been paying attention. The Frazier History Museum is the starting point of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and it has an entire floor (No. 3) dedicated to Kentucky’s native spirit.

Plus, the gift shop sells bourbon and very cool bourbon-related items, so if you haven’t been for a visit in a while, you should check it out.

But let’s get back to Bourbon Limited. Treinen says in a news release: “The members-only club will serve as a showcase for all the things that make bourbon so unique and uniquely American. It will provide participants with a wealth of inside information — and the stories that bourbon lovers love to share with their friends. And every now and then, members can expect a little something extra in appreciation for their support.”

If you’d like to join, just click the link here and sign up. You’ll have to enter a credit card to reserve a spot, but it won’t be charged until you approve it for the first release. Details on that will come soon, Treinen says.

As for the distilleries involved, that is somewhat of a mystery, and the curators are in the process of adding more each month. From a quick look on the website, some of the initial partners include Wilderness Trail, Blue Run, Peerless and Four Gate, and I’ll throw in Rabbit Hole because I have some inside information. Anything else you’re gonna have to feed me bourbon.

So am I joining Bourbon Limited? Well, I already beat you to it.

Bourbon Women

Another successful Bourbon Women SIPosium is in the books

Although I only attended the luncheon at this year’s Bourbon Women SIPosium, held Aug. 25-28 in downtown Louisville, I felt every bit a part of the annual bourbon extravaganza that brings together women from all over the country to mingle, sip and learn more about their beloved brown spirit. The energy was high, the mood oozed with excitement, the speakers were inspiring and the samples runneth over throughout the entire event.

Jackie Zykan
Jackie Zykan gave a touching speech about taking risks.

I kick myself every year that I don’t sign up to do more events during the SIPosium, which include classes, meals and excursions to distilleries. This year they even expanded the agenda to four days, and I spoke with some ladies who said they would be here all week if they could.

During the Welcome Lunch, hundreds of attendees gathered — myself included — to hear both Marianne Eaves (formerly of Woodford Reserve/Old Forester and Castle & Key, now with Sweetens Cove and Eaves Blind, to name a few) and Jackie Zykan (formerly of Old Forester, now with Hidden Barn) talk to the crowd that was filled with industry folks, whiskey fanatics and, of course, Bourbon Women (often those three are one in the same).

Eaves talked about her numerous consulting projects around the country and also about her decision to leave her job as master distiller of Castle & Key a few years back. Since then she’s started her own consulting business and also Eaves Blind, where people can join to taste samples of some of the things she’s working on.

She said many people questioned her sanity when she left the role as master distiller, but ultimately she had to follow her passion and march to the beat of her own drum.

“I discovered that so much more is happening in bourbon than just in Kentucky,” she said.

Speaking of following your own path, Keynote Speaker Zykan echoed that sentiment when she spoke to the room. She focused on her bourbon journey and where it has taken her, and she gave an inspiring pep talk on the importance of listening to yourself instead of society’s “shoulds.” In fact, she didn’t view her recent job change as a risk — it’s more of a calling.

Sherrie Moore and Alex Castle
Whiskey women Sherrie Moore and Alex Castle

“I’m a 5-foot-2 stack of mistakes,” she said about making the leap from master taster of Old Forester to starting a new brand with Hidden Barn. “I’ve never been happier in my entire life.”

To me, the luncheon was what I imagine the Oscars to be like. As I sat at my table awaiting the speakers, I was fan-girling out on all the talented industry women in the room.

From Sherrie Moore (formerly of Jack Daniel’s and Uncle Nearest) to Alex Castle (of Memphis’ Old Dominick Distillery) to Bourbon Women founder herself Peggy Noe Stevens, it was a who’s-who of the whiskey industry, and it was truly awesome that they were all badass women.

Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2022

Four Roses’ 2022 Limited Edition Small Batch will be up for grabs through a lottery

I’m not sure what I’m more excited about: the cool weather and crisp leaves of fall or a boatload of new bourbon releases. Either way, both will be here soon, and one of the first big releases (besides King of Kentucky and Old Forester Birthday Bourbon) is the annual Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch.

Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2022
A beautiful pour | Courtesy

The 2022 iteration features four recipes hand-selected by Master Distiller Brent Elliott that range in age from 14 to 20 years. For all those Four Roses fanatics out there, the recipes are:

  • 14 year-old OESF
  • 14 year-old OESV
  • 15 year-old OESK
  • 20 year-old OBSV

Last year, Four Roses released a special 20-year-old single barrel at the distillery, so I know how special and tasty those older bourbons can be.

“From the beginning of crafting this year’s Limited Edition Small Batch bourbon, two particular batches stood out to me as potential candidates to go into the blend: a 14-year-old recipe batch that is remarkably smooth and rich on the palate, and a 20-year-old recipe batch that exhibits the best fruit barrel and spice qualities of extra-aged bourbon,” says Elliott in a news release. “The test blends revolved around those two batches until we landed on a liquid with a perfect balance that is unique, layered, mellow and elegant.”

I was fortunate to receive a small press sample of the bourbon, and I can attest to its nearly perfect balance and mellowness, even at 109 proof. On the nose I get a bowl full of cherries and a slight black peppery spice. And on first sip, I get tingles of banana, brown sugar, creme brûlée and plum, finishing off with some of that lingering spice from the high-rye recipes.

The 2022 LE Small Batch will be released around the country on Sept. 17 at a suggested retail price of $179.99. There are approximately 14,100 bottles.

Since they don’t want people camping out at the distillery, they’re opting for the public lottery draw via the Four Roses website. You can enter to win the rights to purchase a bottle from Aug. 22-26, and if you win, you must pick up the bottle yourself.

You can better believe I’m entering for a chance. Fingers, toes, arms, legs, nose hairs crossed!

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.