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  1. #1
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Chicago WhiskeyFest

    The Malt Advocate's Chicago WhiskeyFest was last night at the Hyatt Regency. This is the fourth year for the event and it really seems to be taking on a life of its own, with related events taking place at local bars and retailers, and private events put on by producers for customers and press, such as the Bulleit event I described elsewhere. In the past (this is the fourth year) I have not spent much time in the seminars but this year I attended two, one by Mark Brown of Buffalo Trace, the other by Fred Noe of Jim Beam. Both filled their rooms to overflowing.

    In these seminars now, it is typical to provide the audience with something to taste. At Freddy's show, he went through the Small Batch Collection, starting with Basil Hayden and working up to Booker's in order of proof. I haven't seen him present before and he's very good, very funny. As good as Booker was at that sort of thing, Freddy is more of a showman.

    Of course I've tasted all of the Small Batch bourbons before, but there was a treat. Fred passed around a bottle of white dog. I think the intention was to have a smell but, hey, I had an empty glass so I tried some. It was really quite good, although it never ceases to amaze me how different white dog tastes from mature bourbon, it changes so much in the barrel.

    At Mark Brown's presentation he gave us a chance to try three "experiments" the distillery has underway in its quest for the "perfect bourbon." All three were the standard Buffalo Trace mash bill. The variations were in the barrels and aging practices. The first had been aged in a #7 char barrel, which is supposed to be impossible. The typical barrel inside is burned for less than a minute. This one was burned for almost 4 minutes. Ultimately, though, the whiskey that resulted wasn't very interesting. The second experiment was a "double wood" bourbon. After being aged for several years in a new, charred oak barrel it was transferred to a second new, charred oak barrel and aged for several more, 11 years in all. It was interesting and not unpleasant, although it tasted like a trick. It almost tasted like two competing whiskies laid on top of each other. Finally, the third experiment was bourbon aged in new, charred French oak. The difference compared to American oak was striking. The whiskey was much spicier, white pepper spicy, very flavorful and complex but with few candy notes. Inevitably the question was asked, "can it still be called bourbon?" The answer is that the regulations say "new charred oak." They specify neither white oak nor American oak.

    Finally, in the main hall itself all of the usual suspects were there, along with a couple of surprises. I teased Chris Morris that he should have had some of the 4-grain for us to taste. He didn't, but he confirmed that it is coming and they're just waiting for a name. Suntory was there for the first time, obviously trying to get some play from the success of "Lost in Translation." I tried their 12 year old. It was scotch-like, light, but not offensive.

    For anyone who might be concerned, I took a cab home.

  2. #2
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    Re: Chicago WhiskeyFest

    Chuck,

    Thanks for the update of WiskeyFest.I plan on attending
    the fall version in NYC. Do any of the
    "experimental" whiskies have any future marketing appeal?

    Yes, we do care,Chuck. Glad you were smart enough to hail a cab.


  3. #3
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: Chicago WhiskeyFest

    I think the French oak experiment will get some very serious attention and the double wood may even be looked at further. Brown didn't say. Consider, though, the fact that an experiment such as this takes 7 to 10 years to play out, and an equal or greater amount of time to scale up into something marketable.

  4. #4
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Re: Chicago WhiskeyFest

    Nice report Chuck, thanks.

    Gary

  5. #5
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    Re: Chicago WhiskeyFest

    I was at Whiskyfest, also. I don't know what most of the Bourbon Forum members look like and could not tell who was there. I wished I had known everybody, to say "Hi!" and to discuss Bourbon.

    I was at the same two mini-seminars. They were great! I especially enjoyed the Buffalo Trace "experiments" presentation. It was informative, highlighting all the ways you can change parameters to get a different bourbon product. It is also amazing that it could take half a career (at a distillery) just to get a new bourbon to the public, starting with the "experiment" and ending with bottles of bourbon on store shelves, which the public is willing to purchase (and re-purchase)!

    My question to the CEO of Buffalo Trace was: "Which is more important, the mashbill/fermentation, the barrel or the warehousing [conditions]? The answer:
    they all are important! In other words, there is no answer! I guess they are, truly, important and not one will give you the "perfect" bourbon.

    Fred Noe is always a showman! I love to listen to him. I told him, that night, that I was sorry to hear about his father and that he (Fred) had big shoes to fill. He said that his dad was a great man and that he would try. Like many other families, the Beam (Noe) family have bourbon in their veins! While not necessarily a master distiller, like his father, Booker, I hope Fred can keep up the tradition!

    I asked about the Woodford Reserve "Four-Grain" bourbon, also. I got the same answer. Can't wait! This may be real different!

    I have enjoyed Whiskyfest for the past two years and intend to go again next year. I haven't gone to the Bardstown Bourbon Fest, yet, and am looking forward to going in the future. I can't go this year, so it will have to wait until next year, due to previous vacation plans. Boy, how I hate conflicts!

    Again, I wished I could have met you and some of the Bourbon Forum members at Whiskyfest!

  6. #6
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: Chicago WhiskeyFest

    Now that Mark Brown has publically revealed (at WhiskeyFest) that Buffalo Trace is experimenting with French oak, a story can be told.

    A month or so ago, Mark showed up at a gathering of whiskey fans in Cincinnati, where I was also in attendance. He proffered whiskey from a small, unlabeled bottle, told us it was an experiment, but asked us to try and figure out the rest. After a few general comments around the room, Marvin Franz blurted out, "It's not American oak," or words to that effect. To the astonishment of all, but especially Mark Brown, he was exactly right and Mark revealed that the whiskey had been aged in a new, charred French oak barrel.

    I wanted to tell this story so I could let Marvin know that, at WhiskeyFest, I heard this story repeated several times in reverent tones. Marvin's palate has indeed become legendary within the bourbon industry.

    I have often said that tasting is mostly about experience, patience and going to the trouble to think about and write down what you experience. For most of is, that's what it is, but I think a few people have a special gift and Marvin is one of them.

  7. #7
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    Re: Chicago WhiskeyFest

    Chuck,
    Actually what Marvin said was that it reminded him of that Beam product aged in the cognac barrels. Still pretty damn amazing but he never said "French Oak".
    Mark was also stating that he was looking more into the role of barrels in the aging process. He was unhappy with the amount of leaking Buffalo Trace was having with their barrels and very unhappy when one cooperage tried to place the blame for excessive loss of whiskey during aging on "Gobal Warming". French Oak barrels are one of many different options they were looking at. The down side to French Oak barrels was the excessive cost - about six times the cost of American Oak barrels.
    Mike Veach

  8. #8
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Re: Chicago WhiskeyFest

    This experiment sounds interesting but because of the cost of French oak barrels (Limousin or Troncais wood are both used) the market clearly is very limited for any bourbon aged in whole or in part in such wood. I think adherence to traditional U.S. methods is the way to go, i.e., continue to use U.S.-made barrels but from older trees and naturally- and well-seasoned lumber; distill to not much over 100 proof; employ good proportions of barley malt and rye in the mash; age in well-ventilated warehouses. I would give attention to the yeast too, a top-ferment type (not fermented too cold) would seem ideal and historical. If dent or other heirloom corn could be employed to make the mash, even better. All this can be done from existing plant and by adapting present (not creating new) methods. Clearly the capacity to do this would need to be available. I don't know if modern distilleries are running full tilt and can adapt enough based on their scale of operation and budgetary requirements. But the results would, I am sure, be very good, and I think they could be obtained at earlier ages than is now thought needed to make a really fine whiskey.

  9. #9
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    Re: Chicago WhiskeyFest

    Gary,
    I agree. I would like to see a distillery do a bourbon with low distillation proof and barrel proof. It would cost more - barrels are one of the biggest expenses in making bourbon and it would take 25% more barrels than what most distilleries are using now, but if the taste came out as good as some of the older whiskies I have had, it would be worth it. Of course that is a big "if". It could be a costly failure. It also takes time for these experiments - probably 10 to 15 years from conception to market.
    Mike Veach

  10. #10
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    Re: Chicago WhiskeyFest

    Chuck,

    Thanks so much for the very nice comments. It is very much appreciated, but I know for a fact you have forgotten more about bourbon than I will ever know.

    Cheers,
    Marvin

 

 

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