I hope everybody in Bardstown is having a great time today (and tonight) - in fact, I hope everyone could have as perfect of a day as I'm having (and it's only noon).
I set out this morning on a Dusty ol' Bottle Hunt. It started off fun and turned into the Holy Grail.
The first place I stopped was a venerable old corner liquor store that still had some stamp-sealed bottles. Nothing above average, but it was still neat to get a National Distillers version of Old Taylor and Bourbon deLuxe (which I believe would have been distilled at the Old Crow distillery adjacent to Old Taylor).
The second place really got my blood pumping. But first, a little background.
The first bourbon I ever loved was a tax-stamped Old Forester 86 that I bought in about 1997. When I subsequently bought a then-current bottle, I noticed a lighter body, less sweetness to balance the heavy rye spice, and a stronger alocohol presence. I scoured around my community and found 3 more old bottles that I have rationed myself with ever since. I still have one of those. I have always guessed this flavor change is due to the advent of Woodford and Birthday Bourbon taking choice barrels and/or the "virtual triple distillation" that Jim Murray refers to in his 1997 "Complete Book of Whiskey" lightening the body and oils some, but I don't really know.
Anyways, at the second place, on the floor under the shelves, mostly hidden by cases of soda and Red Bull were some tell-tale tax-stamp bottles. The clerk pulled the cases aside and let me sift through what was there.
First I found some Yellowstone, which must have been from the Glenmore days. It has the cool "Mellow Mash" moniker cast into the bottle. I hadn't tasted it before, but I've never had an old bourbon that wasn't at least good enough to mix drinks for friends before, so I went for it. I'm tasting it now, and it is indeed mellow and nice.
Second I spotted IT - the tax-stamp Old Forester 86!! The most desirable object of all my Dusty ol' Bottle campaigns of the last decade, because even if simple, volume-priced Old Forester isn't the greatest bourbon ever (even to my taste buds now), it's still the one that the neophyte bourbon drinker Roger Hodges of years ago loved most. And still does. I bought 4 bottles of each, at a low price that made me happy and made the storeowner happy to move that dusty ol' inventory.
The last place I stopped this morning may be the liquor store of bourbon future for me. I had stopped in there several years ago, and found they were primarily a paper bag liquor purveyor. In the meantime they have tried to reposition themselves to be a quality shop, and I reaped the bounty of their efforts today. They had too much for me to buy, even in the giddy state I was already in. They had the last bottle of Van Winkle Rye 13 that I've seen in some time (perhaps the whiskey I like most of all time, and one that I would only ever use _mixed_ in an uber-Manhattan for my lovely wife) . Of course I got it. They also had the first bottle of Pappy Family 15 that I've seen in person. They had an Old Forester Birthday Spring 1990. And the last 2 things I purchased caused some turmoil within me. They had 2 bottles each of Stagg 129 and Sazerac Fall 2004 and as much as I tried, I just couldn't justify buying both bottles of each. I now have 3 unopened bottles of Stagg 129, which I just have to say is enough. Especially since I haven't even seen Spring 2005 around here yet.
The clerks at this store were, understandably, quite excited by my interest, as I'm sure that I'm the profile of customer they want to develop more of as they reposition themselves as a quality liquor store (with the cheapest prices on good stuff I've seen in the East Bay). They pressed their business card upon me, gave me their website address (www.ledgersliquors.com), insisted that if I wanted anything they didn't stock that they'd try to order it for me, and even gave me a notecard to jot down any suggestions for inventory. They're trying hard, and I like that. If you live in the Berkeley area, give them a chance.
After all this excitement, I changed my plans and came straight back home. I had already had as perfect a day of bourbon huntin' as a flawed human should wish for.