Kentucky Kroger stores are about to get busy — as if they’re not busy enough this time of year. It’s time for the annual Pappy Van Winkle lottery, where thirsty bourbon hunters and gatherers descend upon every Kroger store within a 50-mile radius to enter their name for a random drawing of five varieties of the highly sought-after bourbon.
I’m included in this badass bombastic bourbon bunch, and lucky for us, we’ve got some extra time to make it to as many stores as we can this year. Entries will be accepted at all participating Kroger liquor stores between Friday, Dec. 17, and Tuesday, Dec. 21.
If you’ve never participated, here’s a quick rundown. You walk into the Kroger liquor store, fill out a slip of paper with your name and phone number, and then do a “Gettin’ Lucky in Kentucky” rain dance while dropping the slip into the large bin filled with everyone else’s bourbon wet dreams.
If your name is selected Wednesday morning when they draw winners, you will win the chance to buy one of these five Pappy brands:
Old Rip Van Winkle Bourbon 10 Year Old: $69.99
Old Rip Van Winkle Special Reserve Bourbon 12 Year Old: $79.99
Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 15 Year Old: $119.99
Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 20 Year Old: $199.99
Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon 23 Year Old: $299.99
It’s as simple as that. And let’s say you win but don’t feel like spending that much money on bourbon. In that case, you message your favorite Bar Belle (email@example.com) and she will happily purchase the bottle from you, plus $20 extra for your troubles. It’s the least I can do.
Each store will have at leasts six bottles up for grabs, and you can only enter once per store (although I’m not sure that’s once, period, or once per day).
Here’s the list of participating Kroger stores in Kentucky, starting with the Louisville area. Gather up a group and go hit all the nearby Krogers while singing carols and sippin’ eggnog. Good luck!
It had been quite some time since I last visited the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ky., so when I pulled into the long driveway, I shocked to see a brand new Spanish mission-style building sitting right alongside the rest of the distillery like it had been there all this time — since 1910, that is.
Obviously that new building is the reason why I was there — it was a day of celebration as the media was invited to gather with state and local politicians and industry leaders for a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the brand new 14,446-square-foot Visitor Center.
Gov. Andy Beshear was one of the first to take the podium, and spoke with both enthusiasm and optimism for the future. Despite making it through the last grueling year of COVID and crisis, Beshear said, “What is in front of us is as bright as the commonwealth has ever seen. This new Visitor Center is another exciting accomplishment for Four Roses, the Anderson County community and Kentucky’s $8.9 billion tourism industry.”
A highlight of the ceremony was a toast led by Four Roses Master Distiller Brent Elliott, which included a pour of the single barrel he hand-selected for the occasion: a 20-year-old OBSV recipe bourbon that was simply incredible. (The lucky guests at the ceremony were able to purchase a bottle of this special release, and the rest went on sale Wednesday morning when the Visitor Center opened to the public for the first time.)
After the ribbon cutting, we were ushered inside to check out all the fancy new bells and whistles. The size of the retail space alone is breathtaking and beautiful, made with white oak floors and ceilings, as well as 100-year-old reclaimed wood from a barn on site.
Off to the left is Bar 1888, named for the year Four Roses was first trademarked, where I found myself a Maple Old Fashioned — hey, they offered! Visitors will be able to get cocktails here while they wait for their tour, as well as tastings from all Four Roses expressions as well as the brand’s Limited Edition Small Batch series.
And on the right side of the retail space, you’ll find the Al Young Archive Collection featuring an interactive display showcasing the range of bottles and memorabilia from the bourbon’s 133-year history. I was lucky enough to call Al a friend, and although he is no longer with us, I know he would have absolutely loved this archive, especially since he helped unearth most of it throughout his 50+ years at Four Roses.
The Visitor Center also has four seated tasting rooms as well as a 3,850-square-foot outdoor covered patio and cocktail area.
If it’s been a while since you’ve visited Four Roses, it’s definitely time to book a tour and check this out for yourself. Hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., and Sunday, noon-4 p.m.
December is the prime month to eat, drink, be merry and give back, and there’s no better way to do it than with an awesome bourbon event that gives back to the service industry.
Bourbon & Benevolence, which will be held Saturday, Dec. 11, from 6:30-9:30 p.m., is an annual event hosted by KOBBE (Kentucky’s Original Black Bourbon Enthusiasts), and each year they pick a different charity to raise funds for. This year it’s APRON, Inc., a local nonprofit that provides financial relief to professional food and beverage workers in the area who are experiencing financial distress due to illness, accident or emergency.
Basically, for three hours on Saturday, you get to sample bourbons from 11 different brands, enjoy food from several food trucks, bid on highly coveted bottles in a silent auction, smoke cigars in a fancy outdoor lounge, and also sip on wine, champagne or beer (if bourbon isn’t your thing — gasp!).
I’ve been to this event several times the last few years and it’s quickly become one of my favorite bourbon-centered events. Everyone is looking for a good time, whether you’re new the to spirit or an old coot like me, and appreciation for charity, bourbon, community and fellowship is felt throughout the room.
So which brands will be there, you ask? Check ’em out:
Smooth Ambler from West Virginia
Bulleit Frontier Whiskey
Rolling Fork Rum
Barrell Craft Spirits
“This year our focus is fully on fundraising,” says Jamar Mack, founder of KOBBE. “We’ve always prided ourselves on bringing people together, so we’re glad to get back to that.”
And speaking of raising funds, the silent auction is going to be insane, with a list that includes many “unicorn” bottles you only dream about owning.
These include big hitters like Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, a 19-year-old Willet Family Estate Single Barrel, Pappy, Weller, Stagg, Blanton’s, and even some vintage bottles.
Tickets to the event are $110, which includes the full tasting experience, access to the silent auction and everything mentioned above, as well as two tickets for the food trucks. A proof of COVID vaccination or negative 72-hour test is required. Bourbon & Benevolence will be held Dec. 11 at Mint on Mellwood, 1631 Mellwood Ave.
For 18 long months, the James B. Beam Distilling Co. (aka Jim Beam Distillery) in Clermont, Ky., was closed to the public. The powers-that-be decided, in essence, that while the world dealt with the ensuing global pandemic, it would be best to shut down tours and renovate and expand the campus.
After all, this was part of Beam’s five-year expansion plan, which included constructing a new distillery (Fred B. Noe Craft Distillery); expanding and renovating the visitor center, which is now called The American Outpost; and adding a full-service restaurant and cocktail bar called The Kitchen Table; among other projects.
Turns out the Beam crew was quite productive in those 18 months, and now the distillery is open again for tours — as well as delicious meals and creative cocktails.
I recently visited The Kitchen Table as part of a media experience, and I can say — with all due respect to the other distilleries in Bourbon Country — that Beam has just one-upped every other distillery in Kentucky and beyond. The restaurant is not only approachable and welcoming, but it offers gorgeous views of the distillery grounds and spectacular cocktails that highlight each Beam brand — from Booker’s and Basil Hayden to Baker’s and Knob Creek.
The restaurant was inspired by the Noe family kitchen table, where generations of Beams have shared meals and, of course, lots bourbon! Beam partnered with QED Hospitality out of New Orleans on the project, and the food as well as the vibe of the place is Southern hospitality at its finest.
Here are a few things I was able to try, which are a great representation of the menu.
Jim Beam Highball — I love a refreshing highball, and this was top-notch!
Spiced Pork Rinds — Yum! Cajun-seasoned rinds were delish!
Venison Poppers — I don’t usually eat venison, but I did, and it was pretty tasty.
Pulled Pork Empanadas — One of my favorites of the day: The pulled pork was smoked on the premises.
Lamb Ribs — A savory treat, with fall-off-the-bone meat.
Golden Hour — This cocktail was made with Basil Hayden, Aperol and fillet blanc, and it was light and crisp.
Hot Brown Pizza — Fun fact: The chefs use the same yeast for the pizza crust that is used in Jim Beam bourbon. This pizza is a best-seller so far.
Smoked Pork Pizza — My favorite pizza of the bunch!
Wild Mushroom Pizza — The smoked gouda on this one was a highlight.
Smash — A cocktail made with Old Grand-Dad 114, lemon, mint and sugar. It was kind of hybrid of a mint julep and hot toddy, served cold over crushed ice.
Burger — Wow! This was my favorite of the day, a double-decker fried burger that tasted like a Frisch’s Big Boy back when Frisch’s used quality meat.
Smothered Catfish — I don’t usually eat fish, but I made myself try this because it looked like chicken tenders. It was pretty darn good! Fluffy and fried.
Smoked Trout — I hate to say it, but I passed on this dish because of, well, fish.
Basil Hayden Caribbean Cask — A neat pour, tried and true.
Bourbon Balls —Can’t go wrong with these balls.
Spiced Apple — This as a treat: vanilla pudding with caramel, granola and baked apple pieces.
Chocolate Blackout Cake — Can I get a hell yeah!? This was my fav dessert because of the luscious hot fudge poured all over it, plus bourbon whipped cream and bourbon-soaked cherries.
As you can see, there’s a wide range of food here, and it’s all sourced locally (when possible). The table I sat at was patterned after a similar table in the Noe kitchen, and it’s reserved for VIPs, although you can request it when making reservations. Because everyone is a VIP at The Kitchen Table, right?! You better believe it.
And I also tried the Black Manhattan, which was made with Baker’s — one of my favorite Beam products.
Right now, The Kitchen Table is only open for lunch Wednesday through Sunday, and it’s recommended you just stop by and come on in. If you’re waiting for a tour or are killing time after a tour, it’s also recommended you sip on a cocktail or two from the oval-shaped center bar.
And lastly, I just love how the restaurant is all windows, showing the dazzling, serene sights of the distillery grounds. I could just sit there all day and look out onto the campus — as long as they kept my glass full, that is.
Here is a collection of photos from my experience. Enjoy!
The last time I attended Louisville’s best beer fest, also known as the Tailspin Ale Fest, I was unaware that a global pandemic was on the horizon and shit was about to hit the fan. It was February of 2020, and I still had a job, I didn’t own a single face mask, and I had a fondness for the word Corona — it goes well with a lime.
Had I known everything that was to come after, I would have cherished my time at the festival more. But honestly, I had a frickin’ blast sucking down samples left and right, and I don’t know how I could have had more fun.
Good news is, while Tailspin got postponed in February 2021, organizers are bringing it back for a Halloween-themed party on Saturday, Oct. 30. It’ll once again be held at Bowman Field, but this time at the Central American hangar closest to Taylorsville Road, which is outside. And it’ll run from 3-7 p.m. as usual.
Tickets are still available, and guests are encouraged to dress in costume for the 8th annual Tailspin. So what all is planned? I’m glad you asked.
First of all, there will be more than 250 samples of craft beer from near and far, along with cider and wine. Need more? Check out this list of amenities:
Shuttle stop options and a dedicated shuttle entrance
Cox’s Cigar Pavilion
Bourbon Barrel Beer Bar
Drake’s Silent Disco
Live music from 100% Poly
Tarot Card Readers and other festive Halloween fun
Kentucky Heritage Section – Brews brewed in the bluegrass
If you’ve never been, trust me on this, it’s worth every penny of admission. And if you have been, then what are you waiting for? Buy your tickets already!
VIP tickets are $80 and include early admission at 2 p.m., a free food voucher, a souvenir taster glass, and a Bell’s Brewery VIP Tailspin souvenir. And general admission tickets are $50 and include a souvenir taster glass. If you have a DD who doesn’t plan on drinking, tickets for them are $15. You must purchase your tickets online before the event, as no tickets will be sold at the gate.
Shuttle rides to and from Tailspin are an additional $15, and locations include Against the Grain downtown, Cox’s Spirits on Ruckreigel Pkwy., Drake’s Paddock Shops, Drake’s St. Matthews, Drake’s Hurstbourne, Evergreen Middletown, Highlands Tap Room, New Albanian, Union 15 near Iroquois Park, and Nachbar.
On an unusually warm Monday afternoon in October, media gathered at the historic Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Ky., to hear more about the exciting things planned for the Brown-Forman brand’s 25th anniversary celebration.
Master Distiller Chris Morris and Assistant Master Distiller Elizabeth McCall were on hand to raise a toast to the milestone and fill us in on some upcoming events and news.
“We see no sign that the global demand for bourbon will diminish,” Morris said. “More and more consumers worldwide are discovering one of the greatest exports from Kentucky — bourbon. And they are especially enjoying Woodford Reserve.”
Morris added that Woodford Reserve is the top super premium whiskey in the world, and under his leadership and the rest of the Woodford team, the brand has grown exponentially from 1996 until now, adding four other expressions to the Woodford cannon: Double Oaked, Rye Whiskey, Wheat Whiskey and Malt Whiskey.
Morris and McCall also showed off the distillery’s newest expansion, which will double the capacity.
Not only are they adding three more iconic pot stills to the facility, but they also constructed a new building that’ll make more room for more fermenters in the current distillery.
During the event, the Woodford team topped off some newly filled barrels that’ll soon — well, in five or six years — be part of a commemorative 25th anniversary release.
To celebrate the big 2-5, the distillery will be offering special tastings, cocktails and releases all month long. And on Friday, Oct. 15, Morris and McCall will be at the distillery to sign bottles and answer questions from 2-4:30 p.m.
It’s not fun trying to be healthy. I don’t care if you’re name is Oprah, I’m never going to eat a pizza with cauliflower crust and pretend it’s better than the real thing.
Trying to be healthy as you get older is also quite a challenge, and by challenge I mean damn impossible. My metabolism, which has never quite fired on all cylinders, has seriously left the building. I may have to hire Dog the Bounty Hunter to help me find it.
Anyway, we all know what we should be eating, but rarely do we stick to rules. So when I can find compromise in my diet, I’m all for it. Case in point: The Louisville-based salad shop Green Districtnow has its own beer, so I can eat like a rabbit and drink like a fish!
If you don’t know what Green District is, there are a few locations around town now, and there’s about to be a whole lot more. They told me they hope to open about 100 new locations around the country in the next five years, so there’s that.
Think of it like the Qdoba of salad … the employees can help you create your own salad from dozens of topping options, or you can just pick one of the already created salad concoctions if you hate making decisions.
The beer, which is only available at the Highlands location (1449 Bardstown Road) for now, was made by Falls City Beer and is called Not A Kale Ale. The description on the can is a “Light & Bright Citrus Ale.”
I stopped by the other day to try out the $3.50 beer and grab a fresh salad as well, and I must say that the beer pairs very well with a cob salad drizzled in ranch dressing.
First of all, let’s talk about the salad. They way it was chopped made it simple to eat. I just plunged my fork into the greens, and up came a perfect bite. No big lettuce leaves or huge bits of broccoli — everything was perfectly sliced and diced. They may actually get me to eat salads on the reg if this is how it’s going to be.
Now the beer. It was light and refreshing for an ale, and it really did complement my salad. The citrus notes in the ale worked perfectly with the greens and the grilled chicken. I secretly wondered how many calories and carbs the beer had, but I didn’t want to ask. I figure if my meal is healthy, then I can at least enjoy a beer.
Go check it out next time you’re in the Highlands. It’s located in the building that formerly housed a Comfy Cow, right near the intersection of Bardstown Road and Eastern Parkway.
Of course I couldn’t stop thinking about all my hot and sticky ice cream memories in that space, but I suppose I’m better off sticking to salad and a beer.
Welcome to another edition of Tasteless Tastings, which is exactly what it sounds like: tasting notes from the riffraff. If you follow the liquor industry to any capacity, you probably have come across snooty tasting notes from classy people who make the new spirit sound more like a science experiment than something you consume for fun. I want to shoot gayly forward from the hip and tell you how it really tastes. So each time the nice mailman brings me a sample to try, I’ll gather up some friends and we’ll have a candid, lively and unpolitically correct discussion about bourbon.
I’ve been embarrassingly behind on holding this Tasteless Tastings, and I have no one to blame but myself. I’ve had some of these bottles for months, and I’ve tried my hardest not to break into them until I could get some buddies over and do it to it. I invited five friends to join me, and we dove right in, tackling the most in the history of TT. We also had an Olympic theme going and awarded our top 3 with a gold, silver and bronze medal.
This is a four-grain bourbon from the new-ish Penelope Bourbon folks, and it’s a blend of three bourbon mash bills sourced from MGP in Indiana. The four grains include corn, wheat, rye and malted barley.
Give me the nerdy numbers:
80 Proof | $34.99
What do we think?:
Elizabeth: It has a nice nose. I like it! It’s got nice legs, too.
Heather: It’s smooth.
Kat: I like how smooth it is, but nothing really jumps out flavor-wise.
Bar Belle: It sure is a mellow little fellow.
Tonya: It’s light and airy. I could sip on this all night.
Elizabeth: I’m not sure I like the bottle because it looks too much like wine.
Zanne: Yes! It looks like a rosé!
A light and refreshing take on bourbon, this standard Penelope release is definitely a gateway whiskey.
This is a blend of 4-6-year-old Kentucky bourbon and is partly backed by famed sports announcer Bruce Buffer, aka “the voice of mixed martial arts.” We’ll let Buffer explain the name of the product himself: “A puncher’s chance means that anyone has the potential to succeed, whatever the odds or circumstances, if he or she works for it.”
Give me the nerdy numbers:
90 Proof | $34.99
What do we think?:
Kat: The bottle is not appealing to me. It looks like a rum!
Zanne: It looks like a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream!
Elizabeth: It looks like it came off a pirate ship.
Kat: It drinks young.
Zanne: There’s a subtle hint of burnt tire in this.
Bar Belle: I’m detecting some mustiness here.
Heather: It’s like watered down Irish whiskey.
While most in our panel did not prefer this bourbon, that doesn’t mean others won’t enjoy it. It drinks a little young, but there are some who prefer those flavors of green apple and pear, drizzled with some caramel. This is Kentucky bourbon, after all, so it’s got potential to be your everyday drinker. Note: A 21-year-old crashed our tasting session during this pour, and he not only loved Puncher’s Chance, but he said he’d buy it just because of the cool bottle. So there you go.
Most likely to get bought by college dudes named Kyle.
This is Batch No. 6 that is a barrel-strength version of the Penelope Four Grain. Again, the mash bills come from MGP, but the bourbons have been aged a bit longer, at 3.5-4.5 years. The uncut, unfiltered juice won Double Gold in the 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Awards, and here it took the third-place Bronze Medal.
Give me the nerdy numbers:
115.8 | $57.99
What do we think?:
Elizabeth: It noses well.
Zanne: P does not stand for packaging — I still think it looks too much like a wine bottle.
Elizabeth: Wow! I’m really impressed with the rich caramel and butter notes in this.
Kat: I like this! It’s smooth for being so high in proof.
Heather: I’d even say it’s sweet, with a little smack to the rear on the finish.
Bar Belle: This is quite amazing and another reason why I prefer barrel-strength to, say, like 80 or 90 proof. If I want to add water, that should be my decision.
It’s a very well-balanced, high-proof bourbon that doesn’t feel high proof. With flavors of orange peel, fruit and caramel, this is the perfect bourbon to sip by the bonfire.
A project by the Barrell Craft Spirits folks, this one blends rye whiskey barrels from Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana to pay respect to the tried-and-true Indiana rye whiskey mash bill of 95% rye and 5% malted barley.
Give me the nerdy numbers:
116.24 Proof | $54.99
What do we think?:
Bar Belle: Wow! I’m getting maple syrup right up front. It’s delightful! Like a bourbon waffle!
Tonya: Whoa … I might set something on fire with this!
Zanne: I’m liking it with a few cubes of ice. It puts out that fire just a bit.
Bar Belle: No ice! Step away from the ice, Zanne!
Kat: This is a great example of a rye whiskey, and even though the bottle also looks like wine, I think it’s sharp.
This tasty little rye snack would make a wonderful treat on a cold night. With hints of maple syrup and brown sugar and a respectable proof of 116, this is a solid choice to add to your bar.
This is the single barrel, barrel-strength edition of the Old Forester Rye Whiskey.
Give me the nerdy numbers:
124 Proof | $79.99
What do we think?:
Kat: I really like this one. Wow!
Zanne: I’m in!
Tonya: It’s smooth, and it’s toying with my tongue … in a good way!
Heather: It’s the Pop Rocks of whiskey!
Bar Belle: Holy wow! You better cash me outside with this one! Is that how you say the phrase?
Elizabeth: Not really, but we’ll let it slide. This whiskey has a wonderful after taste!
Tonya: You get all the flavor up front, and then the heat on the back. It’s a fun spirit.
It’s the Pop Rocks of whiskey. This one has the flavor, the punch and the subtle flavors of a candy factory sprinkled with black pepper. Although we sampled this one last, it was the obvious winner of the night, proving that good things come to those who wait. We want more!
The assignment: Write about the Great Bourbon Release Season of 2021 and provide some tasting notes.
My response: Do chickens have lips?
I enjoy writing these roundups because they keep me organized and up to date on the latest releases. I try not to make them too boring, because who wants to read about what someone else tastes? Bourbon is subjective, after all.
A few caveats here: Most of these you might not be able to find at your corner liquor store, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try them by the pour at your favorite restaurant, bar or liquor store that offers tastings. Also, samples from each of these eight whiskeys were provided.
There are also many I probably failed to mention, but this category is growing like my waistline during a pandemic.
It’s as anticipated as the coloring of the trees, the cool, crisp nip in the air and pumpkin spiced lattes. The great bourbon release season is upon us, and this year, for some reason, it felt like it couldn’t get here quick enough. Perhaps we’re all preparing for another global shutdown, but as long as we have some damn fine bourbon to keep us warm and occupied, we’re ready for what’s to come.
Here’s a list of a few anticipated releases these next few months, along with some newbies to the scene that are worth your effort in tracking down. Of course there are more bottles coming out now than we could possibly cover in one article, so just think of it as a buffet of bourbon. And remember the golden rule of buffets: Take all you want but eat all you take.
If you’ve been keeping up with the Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series, then you’ll be happy to hear the second FAE release will be available any day now at liquor stores around the state (and beyond).
FAE stands for “fatty acid esters,” and that’s what Maker’s Master of Maturation and Director of Innovation Jane Bowie focused on while coming up with this second iteration of the FAE line. Here’s the piece I wrote about FAE-01 back in March.
If you’re wondering what fatty acids have to do with bourbon, it’s all about the mouthfeel. These are the compounds that make some bourbons thicker and more viscous than others. And I like a thick, creamy bourbon.
So the focus for Bowie in 2021 was on texture. And she and the team split up the experiments with two separate releases — the FAE-01 and now the FAE-02.
For No. 2, the team started with the finishing staves, which were double heat-treated to really bring out the luscious mouthfeel. The staves were put into a fully mature barrel of Maker’s Mark for eight weeks and four days, and then the bourbon rested for a month in a stainless steel tank (thus ending the aging process).
Why let it rest in the tank?
Bowie says she believes this extra time allowed the fatty acids to “come together.”
“I notice the texture on this before the flavor,” Bowie adds. Flavor notes include milk chocolate, caramel and toasted nuts.
Here’s an info graphic showing the differences between 01 and 02:
The Wood Finishing Series is Maker’s way of sharing the story of distilling with its fans. The FAE-02 is the fourth release in the series. It’ll be available soon for a suggested retail price of $59.99.