The Proof is in the Barrel

IMG_20160428_174041One of the cool things about working in the wine and spirits industry is sometimes being able to do things you normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to experience—meet winemakers, sample rare spirits, get up close and personal in breweries. But one thing that really topped the list was sampling bourbon straight from the barrel.

In April, a group of bourbon-crazed ABC employees took a trip to Bourbon Country to learn more about the people and processes behind this intensely popular spirit. The views did not disappoint and the people bottling your booze were so Kentucky-welcoming that it was hard not to feel like we were arriving at a relative’s home—a home that produces and bottles tons of bourbon each year and always serves incredible barbecue.

While traveling the Bourbon Trail, the group made stops at a few places you must add to your bucket list:

Heaven Hill
Maker’s Mark
Buffalo Trace
Wild Turkey
and Jim Beam.

Our time at Jim Beam was the primary reason for our visit: to sample from a selection of Knob Creek barrels and select five to be bottled exclusively for ABC Fine Wine & Spirits.

And I’m going to be real honest right now: It was incredible.

20160421_121556.jpgIn the past, we’ve left the barrel selection to the master distillers, trusting them to select bourbons with a flavor profile to match our request. This time we’re getting hands on.

Aside from the gorgeous grounds, stillhouse, gift shop and over-the-counter barbecue cafe, Jim Beam is comprised of seemingly countless warehouses for aging their bourbon, many of which are painted black, creating a stark but interestingly beautiful effect against the lush backdrop. Upon arrival, we were whisked away for a tour before driving further into the property to Warehouse K.

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Laid by the door was a set of 10 Knob Creek barrels, buttoned up and ripening in the cool, dank warehouse. Opposite the barrels were sets of tasting glasses.

But first, the barrels had to be opened. With nothing short of strength and a giant wooden mallet, each person in the group was put to work to pop the bung out of the barrel. It was worth it after sipping your first, second, third bourbon.

You see, tasting bourbon from the barrel is not the same as sipping it from the bottle. For starters, bourbon from the barrel is much higher in alcohol and the flavors are more concentrated. It takes a clean palate, a clear mind and some serious concentration to recognize the differences in one glass to another, especially when you get to sample no. 10. The caramel flavors weaved in and out and each glass showed a certain level of spice, toffee or vanilla. Still though, my palate was piqued and alert, and as a group, we were able to narrow our selections down to five barrels. These bourbons will be available in select ABC Fine Wine & Spirits in the coming weeks.

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Side note: This is Eddie Russell, master distillery of Wild Turkey, serving me bourbon from the barrel using his trusty bourbon thief.

And while we wait for those ambrosial bourbons to hit our shelves, we’re eager to do another round of samplin’ and selectin’. Because we can’t get enough. But this time, we want you to help. Visit our Facebook page today to enter for your chance to win a spot on our tasting panel at our Store Support Center in Orlando, Florida. The winner will have a chance to help select the next batch of Knob Creek Single Barrel Select Bourbon that will be available exclusively to ABC. Plus you’ll get to keep one of the barrels after it has been emptied, which is almost as good as flying to Kentucky to do the samplings in the warehouse.

Enter today for your chance to win this incredible tasting opportunity!

Meghan Guarino, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits

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