*Continued from Ky Bourbon Tasting Part I, May 3rd, 2016
Greg: All right. We’re back, we’ve refilled, Carla you want to tell us what we have here?
Carla: Yes. We now have Old Forester Signature. This is the Brown-Forman flagship brand. Old Forester was the brand created by George Gavin Brown. It was one of the first bourbons to be commercially bottled, consistently bottled. Some people would say it was the first one to be bottled, period. That’s not exactly true. It was the first to be consistently bottled.
The reason for that was back in those days you would bring your own container to get your bourbon and the merchant would dip it out of the barrel and so it was really hard telling what you were getting. Even if it wasn’t adulterated in some way it might not be the same as what you got last week. He came up with this idea of let’s put it in a bottle and seal it up, and so every time something that has our name on it it’s going to be the same thing and the same quality product. Old Forester’s been around forever. It’s made a resurgence in popularity with the whole bourbon boom lately.
John: It’s kinda become Louisville’s bourbon.
Carla: It has been. People have really claimed it. They call it Ol Fo. I know a lot of people order old fashioned with Old Forester and call it O-F squared because it’s Old Forester, Old Fashioned. It’s neat to have that history reclaimed. Old Forester comes in several expressions. There’s an 86 proof and then this is the signature which is a hundred proof. I prefer the hundred proof to the eighty six proof but you can also get single barrel sometime.
Anyway, if you want to smell this one… rven though this one is higher proof than the one we just tasted, it doesn’t have a lot of alcohol fumes here … I’m getting a lot more fruit, cherry…
Greg: John have you had this one before?
John: I have not, no.
Jason: It’s much sweeter as well.
Carla: It is sweeter. It smells … There’s some chocolate, it’s kind of a little bit of chocolate covered cherry in there. Now we can take our sip here…
John: It’s funny that, it’s got a harsher burn but it takes a little longer to show up after the swallow.
Carla: It goes in a little cool on the front. Then it kinda blooms on the mid palate, but to me it’s still a little smoother than Eagle Rare. I don’t get as much of that lingering spice as I did with the Eagle Rare.
Jason: This one, you talk about hitting different parts of the tongue, this is definitely for me, a lot more on the center part of the tongue while the other one’s around the perimeter.
Carla: Right. This goes straight back. This is a good one. I’ve served this before with a cherry cobbler dessert. A lot of people don’t think of pairing bourbons with food but you can pair them with food just the same as you can with wine typically or beer. That’s right.
Greg: With all three of those; beer, wines, spirits do you like to go with a contrasting style, so that if you have a sweet dessert you want something to cut through so you’re going to choose your drink to counter that? You’re both nodding your head.
Carla: That’s typically what I would do. There’s different schools of thought. If you want to amplify the flavor of something, if you have a spicy food and you want it to be spicier you might pick a spicy drink but I like to do usually a sweeter bourbon with a spicier food. It was interesting I had a dinner recently where we did three desserts in three different pairings. Some people really liked the spicier and some people liked the one that made it sweeter. We did like creme brulee and a chocolate dessert and this cherry tart. The Old Forester really matched well with that cherry tart because it has some of those fruit notes in it but it didn’t overpower it.
Jason: Where’s our desserts Greg? Are they still in the oven?
Greg: We ate them before you got here. I apologize. You were talking about sweet just a minute ago and the Mint Julep is known as a sweet drink. Do you have use or you’d rather talk about publicly here on the Mint Julep or should I save that for a private conversation?
Carla: Oh no. I’m firmly on record against Mint Juelp…
Greg: This is not breaking news?
Carla: Now. I’m not a big fan of Mint Juleps. Everybody who comes to Kentucky feels that they must try one. It has become inextricably tired especially to the Derby I think.
Greg: Right. They sell a gazillion of them, right?
Carla: Yeah. The one at the Derby are particularly egregious. They are very, very sweet. I think a cocktail of any type is failed when you can’t taste the spirit in it anymore. That’s to me the big flaw of the Mint Julep. All you taste is the mint and the sugar. It’s like drinking mouthwash or toothpaste. I have had bartenders make one up from scratch that were pretty good. They went heavier on the bourbon-
Greg: Maybe a suggestion of mint or …?
Carla: Yes. Just a little bit of mint and not as much sugar and that can be good although if I’m going to put mint in liquor I’d rather have a mohito. For some reason mohitos come away with that … I don’t know-
Greg: That works.
Jason: They get away with it, with the rum and … Is that what mohito is?
Carla: Yeah. I’m not going to say you shouldn’t drink a Mint Julep, maybe you can try one maybe but I wouldn’t go … What happens at the Derby is people don’t remember after a couple that they are drinking so … They want the glass, there’s the souvenir glass aspect but you can pick a lot of those on the ground afterward. That’s insiders tip here.
Greg: It sounds like if you’re going through the time to pick a fine bourbon to taste that you’re defeating the purpose for the most part with a Mint Julep. If you’re going down that route, go cheap and easy but if you want to take your tim,e enjoy the flavor, enjoy the complexity of the drink, choose a nice bourbon, take your time and save the mint and simple syrup. Skip that?
Carla: Right. Just skip that.
John: What was the quote you mentioned earlier when we were on commercial break?
Carla: Oh, the Henry Watterson quote? Henry Watterson, the fiery long term editor of the Courier-Journal has a recipe for Mint Julep that starts out.. pluck the mint from the bed in the early morning when the dew is still on the leaves and gently place it here and measure out the simple syrup and then measure up the bourbon and the take out all that other stuff, shove it to the side and drink the bourbon. That’s my favorite Mint Julep recipe. I run that every year on Derby day on the blog. I would definitely, if you’re out there at the track I just usually drink, I go for bourbon, just bourbon and don’t worry too much about the juleps.
Jason: As the bourbon babe it seems like there’s a lot more women now drinking bourbon than what there may have been before it got so popular. What have you seen amongst different social circles?
Carla: Women have always enjoyed bourbon. The industry as a whole is not marketed to women at all. It’s all been focused on men, the man’s bourbon, whatever. There’s definitely been an increase in interest across the board. I’m a founding member and board member of The Bourbon Women Association, which was formed … It’s a networking group that formed in 2011 and we now have nine hundred members across the country and we have one person in Australia and one person in Mexico, so three countries! And we have behind the scenes access kind of events. It definitely beats any other kind of networking event I’ve ever been to because most of them don’t include drinking bourbon. I do think that more young people too, of both genders, are enjoying bourbon. It really felt out of fashion in the sixties you started seeing blended whiskies and then you started seeing the vodkas and bourbon just became like, “That’s what my grandpa drank and I don’t want anything to do with that.” Then Mad Men came out and that was … All this mixology, the cocktail culture, they brought back a lot of these classic cocktails. There have been a lot of things that people now think oh but it’s like cool to like bourbon again. That’s really helped and the best place to drink it is here in Kentucky.
Greg: Couple more questions for you, we are coming up on half an hour, we’re well over our… If you’re going to treat yourself, it’s been a long day or it’s been a great day or anniversary, whatever, what would be a go to treat for The Bourbon Babe?
Carla: I like that question better than, “What’s your favorite bourbon?’ I usually say Kentucky bourbon-
John: It’s like what’s your favorite kid?
Carla: Yeah. What are you buying, free bourbon… Let me think. I am a big fan of Blantons. I like Blantons from Buffalo Trace which is one of the bourbons that they featured on Justified, that was Raylan’s expensive bourbon. The great thing really now about bourbons too is that a lot of people have this mistaken idea that if it’s a great bourbon it has to cost a lot of money. You can certainly, you can throw down a bunch of money for a bourbon but there are a lot of really great bourbons in the 25, $35 range and they are actually … There’s no such thing as a bottom shelf bourbon anymore.
There’s some on the bottom shelf but that’s because they ran out of room. It’s not because they’re rot gut whisky that they’re trying to hide. I will say probably one of the best bourbons I’ve ever tasted was a limited edition from Wild Turkey called Tradition. You can find it every once in a while in a place where nobody knows much about bourbon or something, but that was a fantastic bourbon and it came in this amazing box that had a wooden box and you opened it and there was a little gold stand that the bottle was on. All it needed was lights and music playing or something, but that was a great bourbon. I still have a little bit of that at home too.
John: How many bottles do you have at home?
Carla: I stopped counting after a hundred. A hundred plus… but what I like about my collection is that almost all of them are open. That’s another thing I don’t understand these days. People are collecting bourbon and hoarding bourbon and they post these pictures of their collections on Facebook and none of the bottles are opened. I don’t get that.
John: Do you find … In the beer world there’s a lot of trading. People buy stuff for trade bait essentially, and do trades, which is not really legal to ship over state lines, I don’t think, but do you find that in the bourbon world too, the trading?
Carla: There’s a lot of that. There’s definitely the people who are on the Pappy hunt and I’m also going to go on record here and say that Pappy is not my favorite bourbon and especially my least favorite expression of that is actually twenty three year old. When the bourbon has been in the wood that long it’s just too tanic. It picks up some of the bad qualities of the oak. It gets bitter. I’m not saying that Pappy is bitter but if I’m going to drink Pappy I’d rather drink twelve or fifteen year old Pappy ,but that used to be the big thing people fought over and stood in line for and traded, but now anything that’s limited edition, anything … Buffalo Trace has the antique collection that comes out every year with like George T. Stag and some of the Sazerac Rye.
A lot of the stuff never even hits the shelves anymore. It goes directly into preferred customers hands and then people are trading and selling which is, as you mentioned, it is illegal. The latest thing I saw, people are selling empty Pappy Van Winkle bottles for like 100 and $200. First I thought, “Okay. These people have gone insane but what’s happening is people are buying those bottles ,filling them with something else, resealing them and then selling them as Pappy Van Winkle on the secondary market. There’s this rallying cry of “break your Pappy” bottle after you drink it or make a lamp out of it or something. If you seep a Pappy price on the secondary market that’s too good to be true it probably is. It’s probably not Pappy Van Winkle.
John: What is the going rate for twenty three?
Carla: On the secondary market, at retail is still at $250, it has been for quite a few years and Buffalo Trace is not the … They make Pappy and they’re not the ones driving up the prices. The retailers can charge whatever they want. A lot of retailers are jacking the prices up at the stores too but on the secondary market I’ve seen twenty three go for as much as $3,000 for one bottle, which is crazy.
Jason: Talk about limited edition bourbons. My friends always go crazy when the Birthday Bourbon is released. What is Birthday Bourbon?
Carla: Okay. That’s a good question. Birthday Bourbon is a limited release from Brown-Forman. We mention George Garvin Brown earlier. It’s released on September 2nd every year on George Garvin Brown’s birthday. That’s essentially a really special bottle of Old Forester selected by Chris Morris the master distiller. He’ll find several barrels that he thinks are in a particular location that are really, really good. They’ll bottle those and they bottle them in a bottle that evokes that 1800s era decanter style bottle. That’s something that even four years ago you could find it on the shelf a week, two weeks after it was released and now it’s gone immediately. It typically is really good. It’s very different. One thing that’s fun about single barrels, I do some … I’m on the Bourbon Board of Directors at Party Mart, there are three of us and we go out and we make the single barrel selections for Jerry’s store. They typically will bring out three barrels they think are good and then we will sample directly, at barrel strength, we take the whisky, and get some whisky out there and sample and pick the one we like the most…
Greg: This is at the distillers?
Carla: Yes. At the distillery. It’s remarkable how different they can be because most things in the bottle that aren’t limited editions are being mingled from hundreds of barrels to get that consistent taste. We typically try to pick something that’s good but doesn’t taste just like what you’d get on the shelf because what’s the point of having a limited single barrel if it doesn’t taste different? If we go to do Old Forester, that’s the one we’ve done, one barrel might taste really, really spicy, one barrel might have more of that sweetness. It’s all the components that you’re tasting in what we’re drinking here but sort of broken down into their parentage or whatever you want to call it.
John: How many barrels would go into a small batch?
Carla: That’s funny. As regulated by law as bourbon is there’s no federal or any other legal definition for a small batch. Small batch could be what … It’s pretty much whatever the distiller wants to call it. It could be as small as one barrel, but they would call it a single barrel. For Four Roses, theirs are small batches of blend of four of their recipes but if you’re a huge producer and typically you’re mingling eight hundred barrels you could say this one only has five hundred barrels so it’s a small batch. It’s become a buzz word and some of them are really good but it doesn’t really mean anything. It just means it’s less than what we normally put in our bottle.
Greg: Before we go, two questions. Do you want to touch on the tourism of bourbon real quickly? The Bourbon Trail in Louisville and around Louisville, and then I know you have a big project coming up this fall that I want to give you time to talk about.
Carla: Great. Okay. Thanks. The Bourbon Trail has done a great deal in reviving interest in bourbon, that is in 1999 the Kentucky Distillers Association established this official tourism experience. There are now nine stops on the Bourbon Tour and there’s a new craft distillers tour as well. That’s something that’s just happened in the past couple of years. A lot of these little guys are starting up all over the state. That’s been made possible once the large distillers started coming out with single barrels and small batches and conditioning the public to pay a lot of money for a bottle of bourbon it made sort of economically … I’ve had too much… economically feasible…
John: Cut her off.=!
Carla: … or maybe not enough, I don’t know… for small producers to make bourbon or rum or whatever. There’s a tour of ten small distilleries as well and last year, in 2015, over nine hundred thousand people came to Kentucky to tour at least one of the distilleries on the trail. We’re sort of now where Napa Valley was in the 70s when people started saying, “I don’t want to just drink this one, I want to go see who makes it. I want to tour,” and that piece of it will sustain bourbon even if demand… demand will eventually will taper off. The tourism piece is really huge.
Greg: It becomes an experience. You get to meet someone who made it and you get to take it home and sort of lock that memory in and then it becomes more than just the drink or more than just a trip. It’s a whole … You were there with your buddies, you’re there with your family, it’s a …
Carla: It’s a very sensory experience. A lot of places will let you stick your finger in the fermenter while it’s fermenting and taste the mash, you feel the heat coming off of that… it engages all your senses, it’s a very agricultural, natural product. A lot of people like that, who are really into this natural foods movement.
Greg: And it’s fermented…
Carla: And it’s fermented.
Greg: Fermented foods are good for you.
Carla: Yes. You often will run into a master distiller. These guys are like rock stars now. I’m sure Jimmie Russel sixty years ago couldn’t imagine he’d be flying to Australia, and people wanting him to sign stuff ,but if they’re there, they’ll often sign things. It’s a personal connection to a product you really like. Alot of these guys are real characters so it’s fun to hear them tell stories.
Greg: All right. Then what do you have coming up this fall?
Carla: Well, thank you for letting me plug it. I have a book coming out this fall. Right now the working title is Barrel Strength Bourbon. It’s a look at this … explosive is probably a bad word to use around distilleries because they do sometimes explode, but the remarkable growth of this industry over the past five years and whether or not it can sustain what the future holds, my best guess.
Greg: Do you have a publication day?
Carla: It’s scheduled to come out in late August, right before the Bourbon Heritage month in September.
Greg: Wow. We’ll find it …?
Carla: At your favorite liquor store. It will be on Amazon.com. It will be hopefully a lot of places, at the distilleries, it will be wherever your favorite bourbon is sold.
Greg: I would imagine if people follow you on thebourbonbabe.com you’ll make announcements and …
Carla: Absolutely. That will probably be all that’s on thebourbonbabe.com!
Greg: You’re on Twitter.
Carla: Yes. I’m on Twitter as @CarlaCarlton. I’d be happy to autograph a copy or-
Greg: I will come down to your house and knock on your door and I will ask for an autographed copy.
Carla: It’d be so nice. I’m available to do tastings, bar-mitzvahs. I do tastings, if you go on, there’s a contact page on the website where you can contact me about doing a tasting events.
Greg: Do you walk people through? There might be a party of thirty people and you walk them through five, six, whatever, however many different bourbons?
Carla: Right. We typically stick with three of four just because of that high alcohol content, so we don’t send out a lot of people on the road after six bourbons but…
Greg: I’ve had two and I’ve got excited, right, five or six.
Carla: All I can say is I did a tasting for a couple last Derby week. They bring in fourteen guests every year and they have two boxes out at Churchill Downs and they have a big party so every year they do a different entertainment at their home. At the end of it they said, “Thank you so much, you were so much better than the magician we had last year.” I don’t really know how to take that but I’m taking that as a compliment…
Greg: Absolutely. That’s the best way to take it. Carla thanks so much for coming down tonight. It was really a pleasure.
Carla: Thank you. Cheers.