Can Buffalo Trace Put Pappy on the Shelf?|

Can Buffalo Trace Put Pappy on the Shelf?| On Whiskey

WARREN BOBROW (this article was originally published on April 2, 2012)

On Whiskey is a monthly column on whiskey and whiskey drinks by Warren Bobrow.

On Whiskey is a monthly column on whiskey and whiskey drinks by Warren Bobrow.

Johnny Dodds is on the short wave radio, crooning to me from another world.

“After you’ve gone, after you’ve gone away.”

What better series of words are calling out for a restorative sip of Buffalo Trace Bourbon Whiskey…  This venerable bottle has graciously rested over there on the shelf, alongside many other bottles, and it remained under-sipped and under-appreciated until now.

Music from the 1920s makes me want to drink good bourbon whiskey like Buffalo Trace.  Maybe it’s because Johnny Dodds left New Orleans in 1920 – never to return; yet his music is firmly grounded in the essence of New Orleans.  This passion for the whiskey seems to ooze out of my pores even more intensely when I listen to music from this man. Enjoying a bottle of Bourbon in New Jersey is, to me, at least akin to Johnny leaving New Orleans.  Once this bottle left Kentucky, it would never return.

Buffalo Trace is not a mass-produced liquor. Nor is it overpriced for a spirit being produced in such small batches.

Most importantly a bottle of Buffalo Trace shouldn’t set you off by more than $25 a bottle or so.   That makes it a good deal in a market clogged with expensive expressions of Kentucky bourbon.

Whiskey this well made usually costs double or even triple the price.

There are flavors in the Buffalo Trace that harken to Pappy. And that would be correct, because the same distillery makes Pappy.

Which Pappy are you speaking of?  That Pappy is Pappy Van Winkle!

Of course the recipe is different. That’s what makes Buffalo Trace so unique!

Buffalo Trace is made from Corn, Rye and Barley.  In order for them to call it bourbon, the product must be 51% corn.  There is certain spiciness to each sip from the rye and a creamy quality from the cask.

I like it a lot.

So, I’ve been up to my ears in Pappy. I brought a bottle of the 15-year Pappy down to Charleston for the Wine and Food Festival.  It was much less expensive to drink my own rather than someone else’s Pappy at $30 per GLASS!  Why drink anything else?  If you have it, drink it.  That was until I opened this bottle of Buffalo Trace.  I cannot believe that this expression has rested so long without even being sipped.

The aroma of dark maple syrup permeates the room almost immediately upon opening the cork-finished bottle.  I have a wood stove fire going and the wind is howling outside in more of a shriek than a mere whisper- but this shouldn’t make the situation any less conducive to enjoying a few nips of this lovely hand-crafted bourbon whiskey.  Given the fact that it is suddenly frosty as winter outside, what better reason than to breathe in the sweet aroma deeply?  It is woven into the smell of the earth, the fire and the wind all at once. This is good stuff!

Pappy, go back up onto the shelf. I think I’m going to enjoy this glass of Buffalo Trace!

Packaging Notes:

Nice hand-torn-looking label and natural cork finish!  Very nice touch.

 

Photo by Warren Bobrow

 

Tasting Notes:

The memorable aromatics of freshly tapped maple syrup fills the room almost immediately along with notes of sweet toasted corn and charred cinnamon toast slathered in freshly whipped butter.  There is the warm underpinning of scraped nutmeg along with a deeper backbone of sweet molasses.  I love the scent of this elixer and I jam my nose deeply into the glass, breathing the toasty flavors aggressively into my nostrils.

On the tongue, flavors of Asian spices predominate with vanilla and caramelized peaches.

The sharpness of the alcohol is in the background of the almost juicy mouth-feel.  This would be the perfectly marvelous mixing bourbon.  There is so much going on in my mouth, across my tongue and down my throat.  It’s quite remarkable to taste.  There is a certain density to this bourbon.  It is not thin or cloying in any way.  The sugars reveal themselves slowly and the finish just goes on and on.  There is a certain dusty quality to the finish as well as unmistakable flavor of the earth.  The unique terroir of this whiskey differentiates it from all other liquids on earth.  This terroir is unique to the place.

Weighing in at 45 % ABV, Buffalo Trace has all the stuffing to lead in a mixed drink, not play follower.

Think about Sazerac cocktails, Manhattans, and of course my favorite, a Bourbon Hot Toddy.  All are perfectly suited to Buffalo Trace’s full-bodied approach and long finish.

I’m going to err on the side of craftsmanship.  This bourbon needs creativity- but it also needs simplicity.

This afternoon I’m sprinkling a bit of branch water over the top of a little hand-blown Murano glass from Venice to release the secrets held deeply within.

This is truly delicious stuff.  Now go grab yourself a bottle and share it with your friends!  You don’t even have to tell them how much you (didn’t) spend.

Pre-1960 Bourbon tasting notes

Tasting Notes: Pre-1960 Bourbon

  WARREN BOBROW grew up on a biodynamic farm in Morristown, New Jersey. He is a reluctant cocktail/wine writer and a former trained chef/saucier.

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Photo Credit: travelingmcmahans; creative commons

My grandfather, a Yankee like myself, truly enjoyed Bottled in Bond, 100 Proof Bourbon Whiskey.  I didn’t know about his passion for Bourbon because he never drank it around me and he never ordered it in a restaurant. Usually he ordered an extra dry Dewers Rob Roy.  For many years I only thought he drank Scotch whisky. What I didn’t know at the time was that his true passion was Bourbon.

My grandfather owned his own company and one of the things that people would give him at Christmas time were some very special bottles of Bourbon.  These bottles remained hidden from me for many years.  After he died I learned from my grandmother that there were several nice looking (from a design perspective anyway) bottles of pre-1960 Bourbon in a hidden compartment of the bar.

She went on to tell me that she was going to pour out the contents (the historic Bourbon) and turn them into flower vases, because the bottles were so pretty.  I got over to her home as quickly as I could.  She showed me the hidden compartment in the bar.   Inside there were several bottles of Bourbon from the 1940’s to the late 1950s. These bottles of Bourbon had rested, in the dark, away from my youthful fingers since he placed them there and forgot about them.

These remaining bottles are a liquid history of the last of my grandfather’s Bourbon collection.

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Truth be told, as a “damned” Yankee, I know the true value of these ancient spirits.  Not as an investment in dollars, but as a flavor-driven window into my family’s past.  The bottles that I hold in my hand are a history of flavor.  This is a specific type of history that could never be duplicated today, primarily because the people who crafted the contents of these historic Bourbon bottles are now long gone.  The ingredients used today are similar, but the Whisky is different because each sip holds liquid ghosts belonging to the past.

Tasting notes:

Old Forester “Bottled in Bond” Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky.  100 proof. This bottle has been filled and stamped under the provisions of sections 5008 and 5243 of the Internal Revenue code.

Set into wood 1954. Bottled 1959.

A gentle, almost cedar nose gives way to candied orange peel, sweet jasmine flowers and caramelized pecan. The brooding heat burns the tongue.  With a texture almost as thick as maple syrup, the freshness and liveliness of this Bourbon hasn’t changed a bit since entering the bottle over fifty years ago.  Charred notes of Anson Mills stone ground grits stuck to the bottom of an ancient cast iron pan is the next thing tasted as I rolled a few precious drops around my mouth.  The soft, mineral finish goes on and on, revealing itself with another slow burn as if the bottom of the glass was aflame.  This Bourbon, when served with a bit of Kentucky Colonel mint from the garden, awakens ghosts from one’s grand-pappy’s generation.

Ancient Age.  Date uncertain due to the loss of the tax stamp, estimated somewhere between 1945-1950.  Space Age in design, this Mid-Century modern bottle is filled to just over a pint in liquid.  Marked straight Bourbon Whiskey.  The bottle reads: carefully distilled according to the finest old traditions. 86 proof.  Marked Full Six Years old. Distilled and bottled by Ancient Age Distillery Co., Frankfort Kentucky.

Warm aromas of sweetly delineated, hand-hewn oak- remind me immediately that Bourbon Whisky is not Scotch Whiskey or Tennessee sippin’ Whisky.  One reason for certain is the lack of smoke, peat and saline in the nose.  Normally, I find these flavors to be overpowering.  I suppose I just don’t understand Scotch.  The nose of this Bourbon Whisky resembles a liquid caramel candy.  A burst of fire from the nearly 90 proof alcohol makes itself known then a finish of fleur du sel and freshly cut herbs like thyme and tarragon.  This Bourbon, although “only” 86 proof, acts on the palate like one almost double the potency. In fact it resembles in many ways the potency and grip of some un-cut corn whiskies I’ve tasted recently.  Each slurp reveals sharply aromatic Asian spices with a razor sharp finish that exposes itself on the back of the tongue; with a nearly 2 minute long finish!  This Bourbon tastes nothing like the roughness of the neither 1952 Old Forester, nor does is resemble the overly oaked  “modern-style” of the 1955 Old Grand Dad. With a crumbled leaf of Kentucky Colonel spearmint this Bourbon really opens up, revealing its wood-driven flavors as a contender for a (very rare and expensive) mint julep.  This Bourbon has all the stuffing for a drink made with its primary ingredient over a half-century old!

Old Forester 1952. Bottled in Bond in 1957. Freshly baked charred- corn “hoe” cakes are smeared with melted, sweet strawberry butter. The first flavors take a bit to get used to.  Sweet is usually a flavor more akin to Canadian Whisky or Irish Whisky.  Freshly brewed sweet iced tea reveals itself- then flavors of caramel corn and cinnamon laced red-hot candy folded into a mug of boiling hot water, Asian spices and sugar cane lurk in the background.  The backbone of alcohol is a sudden wake up call to the throat.  It BURNS!  A glass of this Bourbon has amazing heat for spirit almost sixty years old!   The 1952 taste as lively a drink in the glass as a 2002 bottle of Knob Creek Bourbon!  It’s just amazing how little the alcoholic power has diminished over the past half century!

Old Grand Dad “Head of the Bourbon Family” 1955. Set into bottle 1959.  Part of a more modern and new style of Bourbon Whiskey, this is a roughly hewn, heavily oaked version of the classic drink.  It’s just amazing to me how much Bourbon has evolved during the late 1950’s.  The soft almost billowy quality of the Bourbon is ever-present, yet the finish is much sharper, but it lingers on the tongue for several minutes.  The 1959 bottling is more akin in many ways to Four Roses or Pappy Van Winkle with an almost lemon oil, citrus tinged mouth-feel.  The oils from the cask rise to the surface creating an illusion of a rainbow.  Each sip is laced with banana, vanilla bean, toasted corn bread, the char from well- seasoned cast iron pan and brook trout cooked in that pan with a handful of toasted hazelnuts thrown in at the finish.   An Amaretto-liqueur nose predominates.  The finish is like the first day of golden sunshine, streaming into the windows after a spring thunderstorm.  This is serious stuff and it deserves a drop or two of branch water to release its secrets.  The next flavors are like authentically seasoned Thai food served Thai spicy.  Flavor before heat is the mantra of this Bourbon.  A few sips signal the essential drink to take the edge off the afternoon or evening like none of your neighbors have ever imagined or enjoyed.

These bottles are a bit less than ½ full … As much as I want to share them with well- meaning friends, I know that once they’re gone, they can never be replaced.

I’ll be drinking small glasses from these bottles without any mixers from now on.  Well, maybe with a few drops of some sweet, local branch water flicked over the surface to connect these liquid history lessons with the flavor driven memories of the past.

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3 Responses to “Tasting Notes: Pre-1960 Bourbon”

  1. prufrock

    October 28, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    What a great find! I love having a window into the past, in any way that I can. And to have that connection to your granddad is a sweet thing indeed. I was able to get a cache of a grandparent’s booze about twenty five years ago, too. Cognac, B&B, some Scotch…. and I was excited to compare them to contemporaries. But they were pretty much the same; I didn’t know at the time that spirits stop aging once they are bottled, so I was all worked up for a big taste explosion! But, alas… that 8 year-old whisky that had been bottled in 1958 was still just an 8 year-old whisky. It did have a bit of funkiness, but not necessarily in a good way.

    Still, the thrill of opening something that had last been opened by someone long dead held a thrill for me, and I enjoyed sharing their liquor. During the Republican Convention in 2008, a very old bar in St Paul reopened for the week. The owners’ family had been keeping the place pretty much as it had been since the 40s forever, though it hadn’t been open since… maybe the 70s? 80s? Anyway, they brought ought some Old Forester and Ancient Age and others and were selling them at low prices. It was cool to see the old labels– nostalgia for a guy who started tending bar back in the 70s. But the whiskey was pretty bad. It wasn’t bonded, just normal proof, and they might had been spouted for God only knows how long. Still– it was really cool.

    I did read somewhere that Tequila and Mezcal actually do change in the bottle, though I guess it is just a mellowing rather than added complexity. Not my cuppa tea, though.

  2. HahlerGirl

    August 1, 2011 at 7:26 am #

    What a swell bourbon rememberance. You certainly saved an important liquor legacy and did your “Old Grandad” proud. Thank you to sharing!

  3. Cocktail Cloister

    July 24, 2011 at 9:08 am #

    Liquid ghosts indeed. What a pleasure, Warren. Thanks for sharing!