View Full Version : Unfamiliar bourbons
Oregon (where I live) not exactly being known as Bourbon Country, I've taken to looking outside my area for new things to try. I recently encountered a place that offered a number of bourbons I'd never seen before, namely:
Bourbontown Club 12 YO
Kentucky Pride 10 YO
Pure Kentucky XO
Rowan's Creek 12 YO
Stillbrook 4 YO
Anybody have information or opinions on any of these? Can't seem to find any distillery info on any of them, nor much in the way of tasting notes or opinions of quality. Any opinions or facts in either regard would be much appreciated (as would any leads on where to order Four Roses over the 'Net; No, I'm not holding my breath).
Kentucky Vintage, Pure Kentucky XO, and Rowan's Creek (along with Noah's Mill, which you didn't mention) are all marketed by the same outfit. According to Julian Van Winkle (in a message in this discussion forum), they're bottled by Evan Kulsvein, possibly at the old Willett distillery just up the hill from Heaven Hill. It's likely that some of these were the remnants of the old Willett stock, but most folks think Heaven Hill makes the whiskey now being sold under those labels. I've tried all of them, and I really don't see much similarity, except maybe Kentucky Vintage. All are a bit overpriced (but not really any more than other "small batch" brands). Rowan's Creek is one of my all-time favorite bourbons, and Pure Kentucky XO is another. I'd really like to know a lot more about these labels and the people who market them, but there is almost no information available.
I suspected as much re: the Kentucky Vintage, Pure Kentucky XO and Rowan's Creek. Just had my first taste of Willett whiskey last week with the Johnny Drum 15 YO and I'm sold, to say the least. I've now had one vote for and one vote against the Rowan's Creek, but I know that eventually I'll break down and try all of the above. The order I'm about to place is already over the $200.00 mark, so these can wait for now. Is the Willett stock really so low that they're using Heaven Hill stock now? My Johnny Drum still says it was distilled in Bardstown...hmmm, perhaps I ought to stock up?
These same folks (Kentucky Bourbon Distillers ... ex-Willet) also bottle John Fitch and Noah's Mill. Apparently most of what they bottle is Heaven Hill stock (and a few others), though distilling is alledged to be in the works there now; Julian would probably know.
Evan has been threatening/promising to turn that distillery on for about 10 years. He is, I think, Norwegian, some Scandinavian origin. The spelling is Kulsveen, I believe. His wife is a Willet. Nice people. Kentucky Distillers doesn't show up on the annual KDA list of who has bourbon aging, so presumably he's buying what he needs and bottling it immediately. That tells me the Willet stock is long gone. Evan's business traditionally was mostly export, but I guess he is getting more and more domestic distribution, although some of these products he is just bottling for others, who are actually doing the marketing. Johnny Drum and Pure Kentucky he has had for awhile. He could be buying whiskey from Heaven Hill or Barton, both of which are in Bardstown.
I believe if you had Johnny Drum you had the real stuff. I don't believe that's been continued past the point where the old stock ran out. If you can get more, you should. I'd sure buy a bottle from you!
This is a relief. After reading reports of Willett whiskey being dried up, I was afraid I had actually not acquired Willett stock, but I can rest easy now. The 15 YO I ordered was beyond-words good, firmly in my upper echelon of bourbons with the Hirsch 16 YO, Old Rip 15 YO, Elmer T. Lee, et.al.; if the 12 YO I just ordered is half as good I'll consider it $11.00 well spent. The place I order from (Randall's in Something Heights, Illinois) doesn't seem to be too low, so you might want to buy a bottle from them. Even though I could get more, I don't think I could live with the symbolic implications of parting with my own stash to sell to anyone. Loony, I know, but this is no ordinary bourbon.
For anyone who is interested, Randall's has an online store called Internet Wines & Spirits (http://www.internetwines.com). They are located in a suburb of St. Louis on the Illinois side of the river.
I hate you. You know that, don't you? You and Chuck Cowdery both.
Now I'm going to have to find yet another place on yet another wall to put up yet another shelf to hold the four new bottles of bourbon I've just ordered to add to the collection. Thanks a LOT, fellas!
Seriously, I really do thank you for turning me on to Randall's (and Chuck for giving the URL). They sure do have a great selection (even though several brands are not really available). I ordered both ages of Johnnie Drum, a bottle of Joseph Finch and a bottle of Kentucky Pride.
The $11.00 price on the Johnnie Drum 12-year-old leaves me with two thoughts:
(1) At that price, this probably is NOT original Willett whiskey, and
(2) The fact that you've already tasted this and loved it so much confirms my opinion that Evan Kulsveen must be doing SOMETHING very right. Like I said before, two of his whiskeys are among my all-time favorites. I can't WAIT for my order to arrive!!
Eh, I've been hated by better.
I'm really trying to hold back from ordering more from Randall's/Internet Wines & Spirits, but each day I feel my resolve breaking down further. $39.00 Booker's just doesn't come around everyday - at least not in Oregon. The Johnny Drum and the entire Bourbon Heritage Collection don't ever come around in Oregon; our state-monopoly liquor board doesn't carry them. In short, they've been a life saver and aside from them being out of some very tantalizing items (that I shouldn't be buying right now anyway), I've got nothing but good things to say about them.
I too am curious about the Johnny Drum 12 YO, but the 15 YO was only $17.50, so maybe it's possible Willett stuff is still in there...but I'm not holding out hope. The 15 YO was good enough to merit taking a chance (and already ordering another bottle of the 15 YO). Thing is, as long as it's half as good as the 15 YO, I couldn't care less whose whiskey it is.
> I too am curious about the Johnny Drum 12 YO, but the 15 YO was only $17.50, so maybe it's possible Willett stuff is still in there...but I'm not holding out hope. The 15 YO was good enough to merit taking a chance (and already ordering another bottle of the 15 YO). Thing is, as long as it's half as good as the 15 YO, I couldn't care less whose whiskey it is.
Well, that's kinda the other part of the same story. Considering that United Distillers were getting upwards of $90 a bottle for the last remains from the old Boone distillery (which they sold as Henry Clay), I seriously doubt that there's any Willett left in the $17.50 Johnny Drum 15 YO. But, as you said, I couldn't care less. In fact, my whole point is that the quality of some of these bourbons can be far above what you'd expect from Heaven Hill. Now does that reflect our prejudice against well-known companies that produce on a large scale? You know... How can they possibly make whiskey as good as some little old distiller producing a barrel a week out of a little shack in the backwoods?
Or is there really something that a master bourbon-maker can do with the same whiskey to make it really special? That's one of the things that fascinates me the most about bourbon, and one which I continually (and so far unsuccessfully) try to pin bourbon-makers down to. Notice that I call them "bourbon-makers", rather than distillers. I've talked to enough of them (Julian, I know you're out there, and you're certainly one) to know that bourbon is made by "bourbon-makers", who may or may not have EVER been "distillers". Perhaps Evan Kulsveen is another.
Recently my wife Linda and I had an opportunity to sample the product of a bourbon-maker (who must remain nameless for the moment) who purchases his raw product from a well-known distillery. He then does SOMETHING to it that is perfectly legal (he's taken pains to make sure of that), but seldom if ever done, to make the whiskey the way he wants it. This man is a purist who believes that the only ideal age for bourbon is four years. His bourbon (at 107 proof) is deep, dark, complex, and unbelievably beautiful. It is also single barrel, which means that ALL of the bourbon is four years old, not just some four-year-old mixed in with a lot of old 12 and 15 YO that he found in warehouse somewhere. He (of course) would not say just what it is that he does, but I have no doubt that anyone who could make Heaven Hill into Rowan's Creek or Pure Kentucky XO could do the same. I wouldn't be surprised to find that it's even better than the old Willett bourbon would have been!
A couple of points.
First, don't be too sure the Johnny Drum isn't Willett whiskey. Randall's may have had it in stock for a long time and not know what they have (please don't tell them), because they haven't had occasion to order more. Since whiskey doesn't spoil, stores may have bottles in stock for 20 years or more, especially if they have loose policies about monitoring that sort of thing. They also may not raise the price on old stock unless they are hit with a tax increase that forces them to raise the price of everything in the store. This is how you find rare whiskies at bargain prices, so please don't share too much of this information with any retailers. Luckily, there aren't too many of us looking for this sort of thing. In fact, I'll bet the majority of them are reading this right now.
To answer your question, John, about how a distiller can get such a range of products out of the same whiskey, the answer is in selection from aging stock. Especially when you are bottling a small volume, premium brand, you can scour the warehouses tasting whiskey from different barrels (tough job) until you find one that has just the qualities you want, or that is on its way so you can predict it will be what you want in x months. That is, of course, a great talent, which is why some people can do it and some can't.
You also talked about the producer who "does something." There are a couple of things you can do. One is moving barrels to different warehouse locations, due to the aging qualities of that location. Another is to "force" the aging by temperature and humidity control of the warehouse. Another is to rebarrel. All of these practices are perfectly legal and ethical. Your un-named producer's determination to use only 4 year old whiskey may be more economical than aesthetic. Raw age isn't really the issue. It's maturity.
I am sad to say that one of your very favorites (and mine) 15 yo Johnny Drum sold out today at internetwines. I took too long to re-order, darn it. How's the 12 yo? There's no word on "when or if" they'll get more of the 15 year old. Do you know any other shop selling it?
> I am sad to say that one of your very favorites (and mine) 15 yo Johnny Drum
> sold out today at internetwines. I took too long to re-order, darn it.
Oof. This is bad news. I was actually looking to order some more soon.
> How's the 12 yo? There's no word on "when or if" they'll get more of the 15
> year old.
The 12 YO is a decent substitute, but lacks the smoothness and richness of the 15 YO. Imagine an oakier take on Elijah Craig 12 YO and you're part way there. Good enough for me to keep a couple bottles stockpiled, I'll say that.
> Do you know any other shop selling it?
*Maybe* Sam's, but their online bourbon list is, as you probably know, pathetic. Calling the store will get you farther, but be prepared to deal with some less than clued-in staff people.
I was in Sam's not too long ago and they don't have any Johnny Drum on the shelf, so I suspect they don't have it. I know they don't have everything on the web site, but I don't think they hold back anything in the store.
--Chuck Cowdery (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com)
For the record, Mike and I each ordered a different bourbon last week at D Marie's - his the Vintage, mine the XO. We each tasted our own and each other's. Both of us thought the Vintage was good, the XO a bit too long in the barrel. I see that John posted before that he liked both. Maybe what is out there now is of different stock. I'd probably question my tasting and not post this except Mike had the same opinion. Of course, one of my themes is that we all taste different things at different times. That, I believe, is one of the beautys of bourbon tasting.
> Both of us thought the Vintage was good, the XO a bit too long in
> the barrel. I see that John posted before that he liked both. Maybe what is
> out there now is of different stock.
Not a slim possibility, given that Evan Kulsvein bottles them. From what I've been told, and Julian/Chuck/Mike would know better than me, the whiskey in Evan's bottles now contain largely Heaven Hill stock instead of largely Willett stock as they once did. Judging by the sudden rapid decline in quality of two of his whiskeys -- Old Bardstown and Noah's Mill -- I tend to trust this line of thinking.
Greg, I have only had XO once, but your evaluation of "too long in the wood" does sound appropriate to the way I found it also. Respectable, just too much of a good thing for my tastes.
Mark A. Mason, El Dorado, Arkansas
Mark and Greg,
Pure Kentucky XO is on my Top Five list and the bottle I have is the one Mark tried. I agree with both of you that many would find it too "barrel-ly". I just happen to like that part. I don't think it's as oaky as Johnny Drum 15 year old (which I'm pretty sure Evan also bottles), or Wild Turkey 12 year old (which goes even beyond my taste preferences in that direction).
Ooops!! I'm sorry, Ryan. I misread Mark's reply and answered to him and Greg, rather than him and you. I didn't want you to think I'd left you out on purpose!
> I don't think it's as oaky as Johnny Drum 15 year old (which I'm pretty sure
> Evan also bottles), or Wild Turkey 12 year old (which goes even beyond my
> taste preferences in that direction).
Evan does bottle the JD 15 YO. Thing is, while some of the things he bottles are too oaky (Noah's Mill 15 YO, Old Bardstown 10 YO -- though I think there's something wrong with the OB beyond just oakiness), other things of the same age aren't, to my taste. Namely, the JD 15 YO. I also really, really like the WT 12 YO, though I acknowledge it too is oaky. But really, are these any oakier than the 12 & 13 YO Old Charters, which to my tastes are the oakiest of any bourbons out there? I know I tend to like a little more wood than most, but the JD 15 YO and WT 12 YO got nothin' on the OC's oak.
Try the following URL for Four Roses bourbon on the net:
I've ordered from them once, thus far, and they are quite good.
Will they ship to U.S. addresses? Also, will they ship brands such as Wild Turkey Legend and Olde Saint Nick that are not distributed in the U.S.?
I think it depends upon what state is involved. I'm in MA, where mail and internet order is no-go because delivery is prohibited (hence my use of a German friend as a willing mule for my one purchase, thus far, at The Whisky Store). I will contact the fellow I "e-know" there and inquire about the bourbons you mentioned (and, of course, Four Roses) and see if they will deliver to the USA and, if so, just where.
I sent an e-mail to Horst Luning at The Whisky Store and this is his reply:
Start of quote:
Thank you for your enquiry. Unfortunately, we are not able to deliver into
the US in a whole, because all packages go over a centralized port (airport)
and all alc. beverages are confiscated.
It happened already to us.
We are not able to deliver directly into a certain state, because the
carriers do not distinguish between destinations. UPS ships over Louisville
KY and FedEx has another hub.
We have at least 30% Internet-Traffic from the US on our site. So this is
definitely a market for us. We will try again to find ways to deliver into
certain states. Can you provide me with a list of states, which allow
delivery of alc. beverages? With this list I will try to contact my carrier
to let him have a look at it.
I have sent Horst the URL of the site listing state shipping laws/rules and we can hope for the best, but I still count this as a long shot for the time being. Sorry to have raised hopes, but I'll keep trying to find a way to do this.
> I have sent Horst the URL of the site listing state shipping laws/rules and
> we can hope for the best, but I still count this as a long shot for the time
> being. Sorry to have raised hopes, but I'll keep trying to find a way to do
Keep up the good fight. I've actually used this site a lot for information about all kinds of whiskeys/whiskies, and have drooled over their selection before. Luckily a friend of mine is moving to the Netherlands in a few months and will act as my mule. Unfortunately I anticipate shipping charges from Europe being much worse than within the USA.
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