Bill Thomas and I worked together a couple of years ago to make four barrels of Bourbon at Kentucky Artisan Distillery. The barrels were filled on January 4, 2018. Last year I tasted the barrels on Halloween day when they were just shy of ten months old. I waited almost a year before tasting them again because I wanted another summer of aging to mature the barrels. I decided to do the tasting this year as part of my yearly BARDS meeting. BARDS is the Bourbon And Rye Drinkers Society. It has twelve members so that each month a different member hosts the meeting. I had October for 2019 and decided that it would be a good time to taste the barrels and get plenty of opinions on how they are progressing. I also invited Matt Kohorst and Rebecca Hammer to return to the meeting since they were with Rosemary and I last year when we sampled the barrels. I also invited Lisa Roper Wicker, President of Distilling for Widow Jane, to join us because she was in Kentucky and I have always highly respected her ability as a distiller and wanted her input on the barrels. 

Kentucky Artisan Distillers (KAD) allowed me to host the meeting in their tasting room and Jade Peterson, the Master Distiller at KAD, was there to give everyone a tour of the newly remodeled distillery and to talk about the barrels. I fixed a pot of vegetable soup and a pot of chili since it is now getting to be soup weather here in Kentucky, and Rosemary made cornbread (using the corn meal sent to me by Seth Dettling), brownies and put together all of the condiments for the soup. It was a very fun evening enjoyed by all.

We arrived early and I went to the warehouse to pull the samples to be tasted. Steve Thompson, the founder of KAD, was at the warehouse and tasted a couple of the barrels as we pulled the samples. He was very pleased with what he tasted. The barrels are on two barrel storage racks and are usually stored one on top of the other. Jade rotates the two racks every six months, switching the top and bottom racks. That is all they moved over the year. One of the warehouse workers was there and testified that Jade does not let anyone move the barrels other than when they make the switch. 

These barrels had cobwebs on them when we got there, so I am sure that they are not moved unless we come in to taste. The fill level of the barrels is very good. No leaks from the barrels but there had been a leak from a barrel of rye whiskey stored in a used cognac barrel that had been placed above these barrels. Barrel four was almost black from this leaking whiskey. I was also very pleased with the deep color of the whiskey. This is going to be a rich amber color by the time four years have passed. We pulled the samples and returned to the tasting room and waited for the members and guests to arrive. 

The meeting started with a pour of the latest Whiskey Row Bourbon. Everyone enjoyed it. A tour of the distillery was followed by dinner. Everyone loved the food and the cornbread was excellent. We started by tasting the Billy Goat Strut Rye whiskey from KAD. This was the 110 proof version available at the gift shop. Another hit with the group. Next, I started to pour the sample from barrel one. This barrel had a very fruity nose with just a hint of chocolate and rye grass from the 25% rye in the mash bill. The taste was citrus, caramel and a hint of chocolate. Everyone thought it was very good. Lisa stated that she is not a huge fan of chocolate malt because it does not seem to work with the yellow corn that distillers usually use to make Bourbon, but the Hickory Cane white corn we used complimented the chocolate malt very well.

Barrel two was a very different profile. More chocolate on the nose, and the corn was also very apparent in the aroma. The taste was a little more corn forward with chocolate and a hint of leather or pipe tobacco – depending upon who was describing the flavor. Barrel three was also very different. Some of the members did not like the nose. They thought it had a little rancid butter note in the aroma. I did not find this myself, but these people are probably more sensitive to such aromas than I am so I will have to watch for this as it matures. The taste however, was very well rounded with corn, spice and chocolate. Once again some of the people thought there was a harshness to the finish. The last Barrel Four, was very heavy with chocolate notes on the nose. I think Jade compared it to chocolate bread pudding at one point. It had some of the fruit notes and a hint of hazelnut.

In the end, most people thought barrel four was their favorite, but a couple of people liked barrel one. I was the odd ball out because I liked the well-rounded and complex flavor of Barrel Three. Chris Zaborowski married all four pours into one glass. The result was superb! It was a very tasty, well rounded Bourbon. Maybe Bill will want to make these into a small batch rather than single barrel product. I guess we will find out in a little over two years. Or maybe more, it depends upon how well they mature in the next two or so years and if Bill wants to sit on them longer. It does make me wish next October comes quickly, as that is when I plan to taste them next.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller