Saturday, February 7, 2015

Drinking With[in 30 feet of] Bourbon Legends

They did say, "Please."
As soon as I heard about the "extraordinary Meet & Greet with the living legends of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail" at Jack Rose Dining Saloon on February 3, I was determined to attend.

It certainly was an impressive guest list -- for Washington, at least; I suppose in Kentucky events like this are called "Saturday" -- and I did want to meet Jim Rutledge to shake the hand of the man who said, "If you ever see a bottle of Four Roses with cherry flavor, you know I’m retired." And sure, it would be neat to meet Jimmy Russell, and if given the opportunity I'd thank Bill Samuels Jr. on behalf of my brother-in-law, a Maker's Mark devotee.

Except -- well, it's a "Meet & Greet," right? You walk up to a fellow in a bar and say... what? "Thank you for making whiskey?" "What's the variability in pH as a function of warehouse location?" "Do you even own a still yet, you fraud?"

Apparently, what you say is, "Will you please sign my bottle?"

I can understand doing that if you buy a bottle at the distillery, and the Master Distiller happens to be there. But it seems odd to me to bring a bottle I already own to a bar in order to get it signed.

"What do you do with a signed bottle?" my wife asked. I told her I didn't know.

I said the same thing to the woman sitting next to me at the Jack Rose bar, while her boyfriend was waiting to have his bottles signed. She shrugged and said, "You put it on a shelf and look at it."

I answered, "You should drink it, refill it with tea, and then look at it." She thought that sounded sensible.

Is that...can that be... @WhiskeyLibrary1?
All this is special pleading, though, since bringing a book I already own to a bar in order to get it signed makes all the sense in the world to me. I keep books even after I read them, or at least far more often than I keep bottles after I drink them. And I just happen to have a copy of Four Roses: The Return of a Whiskey Legend, by Bourbon Hall of Famer Al Young, so I'd at least be able to have a brief conversation with him (and, presumably, Jim Rutledge too).

Unless, you know, I forgot to bring the book in all the commotion of getting home from work and back out the door on a weeknight evening.

But there are worse things than being at the best whiskey bar in the world without talking to the famous people sitting a few feet away from you. In addition to some coffee and an apple and cranberry cobbler -- so now I can't use the "Jack Rose has food?" joke -- I tried five new-to-me bourbons. Here are my notes as I tapped them into my phone:

1. Old Forester Bottled in Bond from the 1990s
Nose: sweet, raisin toast, with time there was a dry floral note
Palate: savory, with some banana bread
Finish: lightly peppered
Overall: Great bourbon, my favorite of the night.
2. Old Heaven Hill 8 yo (43% abv)
Nose: nothing much
Palate: cherry cough syrup, medium mouthfeel
Finish: more cough syrup, plus dry oak
Overall: Not for me, my least favorite of the night.
3. Maker's Mark Cask Strength (Batch 14-01, 56.6% abv)
Palate: roasted, coffee-like
Finish: astringent, then way at the end some vanilla milkshake
Overall: Tight when first poured, opens nicely with a splash of water.
4. Four Roses 125th Anniversary (51.6% abv)
Nose: lemon zest, caramel/burnt sugar; with time, floral notes and cherry juice
Palate: dry, a lot of fruit
Finish: dry, more as a texture than a taste
Overall: Frankly, too fruity for me, but I can believe fans of their fruity yeast would love it.
5. Larceny (46% abv)
Nose: sweet
Palate: very smooth
Finish: fruity
Overall: A pleasant drinker, a good nightcap after more complicated bourbons.

Even without meeting and greeting anyone famous, it was a good night in town. After the great things I'd heard about it, I was surprised by how little I liked the Four Roses 125th Anniversary, though having heard Old Forester BIB is coming back I was delighted by the 1990s version. Maker's Cask Strength needs some wrestling with to figure out the right amount of water. The Old Heaven Hill is not something I'd want to drink again, but if I saw Larceny at a good price when I'm out shopping I'd pick it up.

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