Angel's Envy Cask Strength bottle

Bourbon sips & scoops: Maker’s, Parker’s, Angel’s, Michter’s and more!

Things are starting to pile up on the Bar Belle desk, and my boss is nowhere to be found! I should have written this sooner and I apologize, dear thirst nuggets.

But alas, here I am with a mound of announcements and a handful of samples. What’s a bourbon journalist to do? Let’s take ’em one at a time.

Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup bottle

Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup bottle

You might see these pop up at your local liquor store this weekend! It’s the Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup commemorative bottle, which also helps raise funds for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

As you know, the Breeders’ Cup will return to Keeneland Race Course Nov. 6-7, so this limited-edition bottle celebrates the partnership between the two entities — as well as Maker’s Mark, which is the official bourbon of the race.

I kinda like the white bottle with the purple wax — it would definitely make a nice show piece on your bar or nightstand. Hey, no judgement here.

Buffalo Trace expands soda line with ginger ale and ginger beer

Freddie's Ginger Ale

If you’ve visited Buffalo Trace Distillery within the last year, you probably noticed Freddie’s Root Beer for sale in the gift shop.

Freddie Johnson is a longtime tour guide — and all around great bourbon ambassador — at Buffalo Trace, so the line is named in his honor.

Word is, they’re expanding the line with ginger ale and ginger beer. These will make perfect mixers for that bourbon you pick up there, or consumed on their own, of course.

The new products should be at the distillery by mid November and will sell for $1.25 a bottle.

New Releases:

Angel’s Envy Cask Strength 2020

Angel's Envy Cask Strength

Despite the craptacular year we’ve had, good things do happen. Case in point, the release of the annual Angel’s Envy Cask Strength.

This biting baby doll will be 120.4 proof and released on Nov. 1 — just in time for the election. (Maybe we’ll be celebrating, or maybe we’ll be drowning our sorrows — who knows.)

There are only 17,400 bottles divided up between all 50 states (for the first time ever), so dust off that hunting gear and get prepared for next week.

I was fortunate to try a sample of this year’s release and can say that it does not sip like 120 juice — it’s quite smooth, and it’s teeth are not as sharp as you’d imagine them to be. There’s a lot of vanilla, caramel and brown sugar up front, but there’s also a nice ripe cherry note in there, as well.

And the finish … ah, the finish: It’s like licking the spoon after Mom made some sugar cookies. I could sip on this all night long.

Angel’s Envy Cask Strength will retail for $199.99.

Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Rye

Michter's Toasted Rye

These delectable dudes were released in September, so I’m sorry I’m just now getting to them. You may be able to find a pour of them at your favorite bourbon bar, and I suggest you give them a sip!

The Toasted Rye consists of fully matured Michter’s Single Barrel Rye (at barrel strength) that is then put into a second custom toasted barrel and aged a bit longer.

The result is gorgeous notes of caramel and spice and everything nice. I was also fortunate to receive a sample and will tell you without hesitation that this juice is richer than a cheesecake the Golden Girls are huddled over at midnight.

I love the viscosity in this one, as well. It’s thick and coats my mouth like a North Face. Think of the consistency of a cherry juice — if you buy the right ones, especially Luxardo — and you get the idea.

This limited release is bottled around 109.2 proof and goes for about $85 if you can find it in a store.

Parker’s Heritage 2020: Heavy Char Bourbon

Parker's Heritage 2020

This is the 14th edition of this annual, highly anticipated release, and it’s a 10-year-old bourbon that was aged in a heavily charred (level 5) barrels.

The brand is named after the late Heaven Hill Master Distiller Parker Beam, and it raises funds for ALS, the disease Beam passed away from in 2010.

This one is bottled at 120 proof and retails for about $120. And like these other releases, it’ll be hard to find.

I was fortunate to try a sample of this, too, and would describe it as a maple bomb. It’s got a touch of spice and sips easy — I can imagine sipping it next to a fireplace as it gently snows outside.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof C920

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof

This is the third barrel-proof release from Elijah Craig this year, and it’s the second highest proof — at 132.8 proof.

This seems to be a theme here, but despite the high proof, it sips quite smoothly. It’s got deep flavors of toasted marshmallow, caramel, and I’m even getting some milk chocolate in the sample I got.

This is uncut, 12-year-old bourbon bottled straight from the barrel, as God intended. If you haven’t explored the Elijah Craig portfolio, I’d recommend getting acquainted with it. It’s delicious and pretty darn affordable.

This one retails for around $65.99.

Larceny Barrel Proof C920

Larceny Barrel Proof

This wheated barrel-proof bourbon is also a product of Heaven Hill, like the Elijah Craig above.

Bottled at 122.4 proof, this bourbon is consists of bourbon aged 6 to 8 years and is non-chill filtered.

To me, this is definitely getting better each time I try a new Larceny release.

Since it’s a wheat-based bourbon, it’s a little sweater on the palate and less spicy, but you get those wonderful full-time flavors — think s’mores, campfire and soft baking spices from the kitchen.

This one retails for around $67.99, and I would recommend the barrel proof over the standard Larceny.

Maker's Mark SE4+PR5

New Maker’s Mark release comes out swinging, amplifying fine flavors of vanilla and caramel

The thousands of aging bourbon barrels perched in black rick houses that dot the vast yet quaint Maker’s Mark Distillery grounds in Loretto, Ky., all hold the same recipe. It’s the bourbon Margie and Bill Samuels Sr. envisioned in 1953 when they created the beloved brand.

Maker's Mark 2020 releaseSo when it came to new products and essentially drawing outside the lines of the familiar dripping red Maker’s Mark wax, nothing had been done until Maker’s 46 was launched by Bill Samuels Jr. in 2010.

Bill Jr. didn’t mess with his family’s recipe to create the new product — he knew better than that — but he did run wild with a finishing process that involved soaking various toasted staves in a barrel of mature Maker’s Mark for about nine weeks.

In that small amount of time, more flavors were imparted into the juice, creating a familiar yet vastly different flavor profile that many today prefer over the original.

And since 2010, there’s also been a Maker’s Mark Cask Strength release (again, not messing with the family’s recipe), a Maker’s 46 Cask Strength (just released last month), Private Selection Single Barrels, and a new line of products Maker’s is calling its Wood Finishing Series. The 2019 release, titled RC6 after the name of the stave, was the first, and now the company is excited to release the 2020 experiment: SE4+PR5.

What does SE4+PR5 mean?

I was fortunate to join a Zoom call with Maker’s Director of Innovation Jane Bowie, plus about a dozen of Kentucky’s top bourbon writers, on Thursday to learn more about the 2020 release and taste through the process with samples the distillery provided.

Zoom call of Kentucky writers

Zooming with Maker’s Mark and fellow bourbon writers.

The personable and very talented Bowie was eager to let us in on the project that had been consuming her time the last 18 months. The goal was to highlight two prominent flavors found in Maker’s Mark: caramel and vanilla.

“I thought this was going to be the easiest one we’ve done, but it ended up being the most complicated,” said Bowie.

Turns out trying to highlight those two flavors exclusively was not an easy task, and in fact, it took Bowie and the Maker’s team two separate staves to do so. The team ended up using a blend of three finished Maker’s bourbons — two from French Oak staves (SE4) aged different weeks (one at five weeks and one at six weeks) and one from American Oak staves (PR5) aged for four weeks. These staves were toasted and made just for this product by Independent Stave Co.

Bowie said that due to the pandemic, she relocated her mad scientist bourbon lab to her living room for the last six months, trying out 50-60 different staves and more than 1,000 blend trials.

During my call with Bowie, I was able to taste through the bourbons at different ages, ultimately leading up to the final product, and it was truly a glimpse into the tough process of blending and having the end goal in mind during each and every sip.

It’s a lot of this: Maybe this stave tastes better at five weeks instead of two, but at six weeks it imparts too much of its flavors, so let’s go back to four weeks and see if we like it better than five.

So how does the final whiskey taste? It’s like soaking one of those Kraft caramel chews in a small bowl of pure vanilla extract and melted butter. It’s sweet, it’s viscous, it’s creamy and it’s dreamy. And it has a hint of baking spices on the finish.

Let me just say, this masterpiece hits all those harmonizing caramel and vanilla notes better than Barbara Streisand could if she were a bourbon. 

The 2020 SE4+PR5 release (Bowie said you can call it either the 2020 release or those crazy stave codes) is bottled at 110.8 proof, and it’ll start showing up on store shelves on Sept. 1. Liquor stores can charge whatever they like, but you should expect it to be in the range of $60-$70. It’s also a limited release, and you won’t want to miss this one!

Maker's Mark bottle

Check out this cool new Maker’s Mark limited-edition bottle

The bourbon world is no stranger to cool-looking glassware, but this new Maker’s Mark bottle had me doing a double-take. It’s sleek with the black wax, sharp with the retro logo, and that black bottle is, in one word, breathtaking.

So what’s the new bottle for?

Well, Maker’s Mark has teamed up once again with Keeneland Race Track in Lexington to create this bottle that gives back to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF), a charitable organization that provides financial assistance to jockeys who have sustained debilitating on-track injuries.

Maker's Mark bottle

Love it!

And, according to a news release, each bottle has been signed in advance by the five leading active stakes-winning riders at Keeneland — Julien Leparoux, Robby Albarado, John Velazquez, Javier Castellano and Mike Smith — in addition to  Maker’s Mark Managing Director Rob Samuels and Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason.

The illustration of a jockey in white and red silks aboard a racehorse is the work of Louisville artist (and my friend) Jeaneen Barnhart, who is famous for her equine art. In fact, her art once adorned a Derby bottle of Woodford Reserve, and she’s done a few Derby Festival posters throughout her career as well.

“The people in the horse industry of Central Kentucky have played a big role in the history of Maker’s Mark,” said Rob Samuels, who is an eighth-generation whisky maker, in the release. “When my grandfather started Maker’s back in the 1950s, the horsemen supported him and helped spread the word that his bourbon was worth sharing. So, we’re honored to share something back in a meaningful way.”

The limited-edition bottles should hit store shelves in Kentucky starting July 3.

BourbonVille apparel

Let’s ditch ‘River City’ for ‘BourbonVille,’ shall we? Also, a bourbon roundup for your Friday morning

BourbonVille apparel

The staff of the KDF love showing off the BourbonVille gear!

The folks at the Kentucky Derby Festival might be on to something. A few years back, they created the BourbonVille event — which offers bourbon tastings, food pairings and more — to their lineup of actives that begin three weeks before the Kentucky Derby. It’s one of my favorite Derby Fest events, second only to the Great Steamboat Race, of course (as long as I’m riding on the Belle!).

Anyway, they’ve decided to launch a line of merchandise with the BourbonVille theme, because why limit the cool name to just one day? I believe it would make a fine nickname for Louisville, definitely better than River City. BourbonVille or Bourbon City — I’m cool with either one.

From T-shirts to glasses to bags, the line of apparel went live this morning, so check out the full array. They’d make great holiday gifts, just sayin’. Instead of a rock in my stocking, how about a BourbonVille rocks glass, Santa?

“Like the Derby Festival, bourbon is part of our city’s history and tradition, and we wanted to help celebrate that,” said Matt Gibson, KDF President and CEO, in a news release. KDF is partnering with local company 12/13 Apparel by Synergism for the products.

Check out BourbonVilleUSA for all the details. Also, notice how much fun the KDF staff is having modeling the products!

Michter’s drops a $5,000 bottle of bourbon!

Michter's Celebration bourbon

I’ll also take this in my stocking, Santa.

OK, so hopefully nobody will EVER actually drop a bottle of the new Michter’s Celebration Sour Mash Whiskey, because if they do, they’ll be out an instant $5,000!

After a three-year break, Michter’s is releasing the blended whiskey, which was carefully selected by Master Distiller Dan McKee.

“Working on my first Celebration release was a labor of love for me,” he said in a news release. “Ultimately, I chose to take whiskey from two Kentucky straight bourbon barrels and four Kentucky straight rye barrels in our stocks. Each Celebration release is special and unique, and this year’s release differs from the 2016 one, where the whiskey came from three bourbon barrels and three rye barrels.”

In other words, this is what happens when a master distiller is let loose in a rick house and challenged to pick his or her very favorite honey barrels.

So why is it so expensive? Because there are only 277 bottles of the 2019 edition. And it’s in a fancy box!

Yeah, you’re right. Me and you will never get a sip of this, but a girl can dream.

Meet the makers of Maker’s Mark … and drink with them!

It’s rare to catch both Bill Samuels Jr. and Rob Samuels in the same spot, and it’s even rarer to get a chance to drink bourbon with them — unless you’re invited to their Thanksgiving or something. But in a partnership with Liquor Barn, the father and son team behind Maker’s Mark are inviting folks to come out and learn, sip and mingle with them this holiday season.

Called a “Taste of Heritage,” the sessions will be held at both Lexington and Louisville Liquor Barns and cost $25 — but they sound well worth the money, because you’ll be sampling all sorts of Private Select bottles and even some rare vintage MM bottles.

Here’s the schedule, and here’s the link for more info.

  • Liquor Barn Beaumont (Lexington) — Friday, Nov. 22 — 5:30 & 8 p.m.
  • Liquor Barn Springhurst (Louisville) — Friday, Dec. 6 — 5:30 & 8 p.m.
  • Liquor Barn Hamburg (Lexington) — Thursday, Dec. 19 — 5 & 8 p.m.
Other end-of-year releases 

So the Pappy line should be rolling out as we speak. Good luck finding or winning one! Other new releases include the Knob Creek Quarter Oak (which I received a sample of and will be part of my next Tasteless Tastings — hint: it’s yummy!); the last Booker’s Bourbon of the year, called “Beaten Biscuits” after the small, cracker-like biscuits Booker liked to make; and another Four Gate Whiskey release that goes by the name of Foundation. That one is a nearly 10-year-old bourbon that is bottled at barrel-strength — a whopping 119.4 proof!

Stay tuned for more bourbon news today …

samples with pumpkin

Tasteless Tastings: Halloween 2019 Edition

samples with pumpkin

Let’s all gather round for this here Tasteless Tasting …

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 or to forget the world around you. 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 said sample. So let’s do it …

What are we drinking today?:

Mount Gay Rum

The Wizard!

Mount Gay Rum Master Blender Collection: Pot Still Rum

What the hell is it?:

This is the second edition of the Mount Gay Rum Master Blender Collection, created by Master Blender and Badass Trudiann Branker. This small batch of rum was matured in American oak barrels for 10 years and then placed into used whiskey barrels for six months prior to bottling. The pot still process honors the original method of rum-making, as Mount Gay dates back to 1703.

Give me the nerdy numbers:

96 proof, $170, only 1,002 bottles available in the U.S.

What do we think?:

Anna G.: This is the twister taking us to Oz! That scary lady is riding by trying to take our dog, and then we land in world of Mount Gay color!

Bar Belle: Wow, those woody, oaky are crazy! It’s like we’re in that forest where the trees are throwing apples at us.

Anna G: We’re not in Kentucky anymore.

Bar Belle: Indeed, we are not. We’re in Barbados!

We add a cube of ice to our samples.

Anna G.: Holy hell! We’ve just gone to Munchkin Town with Glenda the Good Witch!

Bar Belle: Ice changed this thing’s life!

Anna G.: This is the world of sweet, sweet color.

 

Halloween Costume:

The Man Behind the Curtain … The Oz Himself

 ———————————— 

What are we drinking today?:

Yellowstone Bourbon

Cajun Sasquatch!

Yellowstone Limited Edition 2019

What the hell is it?:

Straight from the Limestone Branch Distillery, this hand-picked batch includes barrels of extra-aged 9-year and 12-year Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. It’s the oldest barrels yet used in a Limited Edition.

Give me the nerdy numbers:

101 proof, $99.99, 12,500 bottles available in the U.S.

What do we think?:

Bar Belle: This is like a warm embrace from a vampire. Definitely a cinnamon bomb, with a little Heath Bar at the end — toffee, brown sugar and that lovely caramel, of course.

Anna G.: Do Heath Bars have caramel?

Bar Belle: No, but they should!

Anna G.: Vampires are sterile — this is a warm hug from a sasquatch! The after taste comes from his backwoods muskiness.

Bar Belle: I don’t want to think about sasquatch musk, because in my mind I’m unwrapping those cubed caramels for caramel apples. Good stuff!

 

Halloween Costume:

Cajun Sasquatch

———————————— 

What are we drinking today?:

Maker's Mark RC6

Han Solo!

Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series: RC6

What the hell is it?:

This cask-strength Maker’s Mark has been finished with proprietary wood staves that go by the name of R2D2 … er, I mean RC6. These unique staves are American oak that was first “seasoned” for an extended 18 months outside and then toasted in a convection oven. Since Maker’s Mark technically only makes one type of bourbon, the stave process — adding different staves to fully matured Maker’s Mark — allows them to experiment and release one-offs like this one. And not all will be one-offs, as Maker’s 46 is technically part of this new Wood Finishing Series.

Give me the nerdy numbers:

108.2 proof, $59.99, this limited-edition small batch was made from only 255 barrels

What do we think?:

Anna G.: This is delicious!

Bar Belle: I swear it reminds me of a backyard barbecue … on the Millennium Falcon!

Anna G.: It’s Han Solo after being frozen in carbonite, then being delivered to Jabba the Hut, and then saving the day!

Bar Belle: Princess Leia looked hot in that scene, when she was strapped to that fat blob.

Anna G.: Remember before Han gets all froze, she runs to him and says, “I love you,” and he responds, “I know.”

Bar Belle: Typical man. But man, this stuff is legit! Quite smooth for 108 proof.

Anna G.: I want to say “I love you” to this sample, but I’m afraid it’s just going to say, “I know.”

 

Halloween Costume:

Han Solo

———————————— 

What are we drinking today?:

Booker's Bourbon

Jaws!

Booker’s “Country Ham” Batch 2019-03

What the hell is it?:

They say Booker enjoyed curing ham almost as much as he did making bourbon. Almost. This batch pays tribute to his proclivity for pork, and like his bourbon, he kept it simple — pairing the pork with only a cracker or biscuit.

Give me the nerdy numbers:

124 proof, $79.99, 6 years, 4 months and 2 days old

What do we think?:

Bar Belle: Wow, this bites without being provoked. Like Jaws let loose in Sea World!

Anna G.: The flavor is really nice, but the after effect is chaos! It’s making my nose run and it’s burning my mouth! Dammit!

Bar Belle: You better get your mouth out of that Kentucky water! This warms my palate like it warms my heart when I stumble across “Jaws 3-D” on TV on a lazy Sunday morning.

 

Halloween Costume: 

Chief Brody (or shall we say Chief Booker?) from “Jaws”: “You’re gonna need a bigger glass!”

Maker's Mark bottle

Maker’s Mark debuts the high-proof RC6, latest release of its Wood Finishing Series

Maker's Mark bottle

Welcome to Maker’s RC6. | Courtesy

For a company with one single recipe of bourbon, it’s been inspiring to watch Maker’s Mark expand its limited-edition offerings to consumers thirsty for “something different.”

A few months back, they released Maker’s Mark 101, which you could only procure overseas or at international airports, and their innovative Private Select program keeps Maker’s Mark fans and bourbon fanatics in general enthralled and wanting more.

Now, it’s time to introduce RC6, which the company is releasing under its Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series that also includes Maker’s Mark 46 and the Private Select bottles. The bourbon is the result of a two-year project that is yet another experiment with different types of wood staves added to the barrels after the Maker’s Mark is fully mature.

Maker's Mark

Want!

According to a news release, it is made with a proprietary finishing stave called RC6 that enhances the fruit notes and baking spice notes found in regular Maker’s Mark bourbon, with a brighter finish.

And it’s going to be bottled at cask strength, which in this case is 108.2 proof.

And for those who don’t have the luxury of living in Bourbon Country, this limited release will be shipped nationwide starting in late September.

Also worth mentioning, it’s a one-time release, and only 255 barrels were used for the project. If you can find it (at your favorite liquor store or at the distillery), the suggested retail price is $59.99.

It’s funny, because I still have a handwritten note from Bill Samuels Jr. that came in a package with a small sample of Maker’s 46 — when that debuted in 2010 — saying that he’s been working hard on a new expression, and he wants my humble opinion on it.

I told him he’s definitely onto something great, and that I look forward to the new product and everything else that seeps from the quaint Loretto distillery. I still do. And this new release is more proof of that.