Bourbon Tales – part 1
There are many reasons that people from all over the world end up delving deep into the world of bourbon. The main reason for many of course is simply the enjoyment involved with drinking it. However for some the enjoyment doesn't end there - in fact they become so obsessed with the drink that they end up wanting to know, not just how it tastes, but where it originated, and the great stories that lay behind their favourite tipple.
The Bourbon Gents are firmly in the camp of those who love finding out about these stories which seem to surround each and every creation. Nearly every distillery claims that they are the oldest 'this' or the oldest 'that', or such and such a person was the first to do 'this' and the first to do 'that'. We sometimes think that the marketing departments at bourbon distilleries appear to be the hardest working folks in the industry.
Not only are there great historical tales associated with many types of bourbon, there are also some absolutely ingenious ways companies have created new techniques of producing, extracting, and maturing the good old brown liquid. Below, and in no particular order, we have listed some of our favourites.
Elijah Craig, the drink, is a very well-respected bourbon from the Heaven Hill Bernheim distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. There are 3 main variations of the bourbon - small batch, barrel proof, and a number of different age statement single barrels.
Elijah Craig, the man, is supposedly the inventor of bourbon as we know it today. The claim is that the Virginian Reverend was the first to age the distillation in ‘charred’ oak barrels, thus giving the spirit its now renowned colour and unique taste.
The story goes that the origin of charring oak barrels was the consequence of a warehouse fire - and that the ever thrifty Reverend Craig decided to continue to use the burnt barrels to store his spirit, and in doing so stumbled upon the way bourbon has been produced ever since. Now there are a few obvious holes in this legend. The most puzzling of which is that it seems mighty odd that he would risk ruining his normal bourbon output by taking a vague chance that sticking it in, now very burnt barrels, would produce anything remotely drinkable...
While the warehouse fire is probably a myth, the man himself was real. You can find a nice little biography of him here over at the 'Whisky Reviewer'
In conclusion it is probably safe to say that we shall never truly know, or agree on, the inventor of the drink we all know and love today. For example there are many others who claim that the true inventor of bourbon was Jacob Spears, who allegedly came up with the name bourbon, and was the first one to use that term on the bottle labelling. However for the Gents it doesn't really matter, we're just happy that someone did it!
It started as an experiment. What would happen to bourbon if it was aged at sea? How would it be affected by the temperature changes? Or the constant movement of the barrels on the waves? And would the saltiness and brininess of the ocean be embedded into the liquid? Well it turned out to be liquid gold (well accoring to one of the Gents – Mr Pie) and is loved by many.
No matter what you think of the marketing story, this is an absolutely fantastic idea. Aged between 6-8 years on dry land, the barrels are then finished on a journey by sea for between 6-10 months. There are several different voyages now available but each one typically visits 5 continents, stops at over 30 ports, and crosses the equator 4 times.
The next experiment by Jefferson’s is also pretty quirky, they are recreating bourbon's first ever journey. Two barrels of aged bourbon have already started their journey on a boat from Louisville, Kentucky down the Mississippi river to New Orleans. The next stage is onto the sea via Key West and up the Atlantic Ocean to New York. You can even follow the progress of the journey on the Jefferson’s website blog Jefferson's Journey
Jim Beam Devil’s Cut
Devil’s Cut is 1 of 7 current expressions (we are not counting flavoured whiskies) which are available from Jim Beam, and was first launched in 2011. According to Jim Beam, 4% of their bourbon a year is lost through evaporation. This is commonly known as the ‘Angels Share’ and is lost forever.
As much as 2 gallons of whiskey remains in the barrel wood (soakage) and used to be extracted by using an old technique called ‘sweating the barrel’. From what we understand this is simply refilling the emptied barrels with water and rolling them around a bit. Today Jim Beam has developed what they are calling a ‘proprietary twist’ on this technique using heat, water and agitation to extract what is now known as the ‘Devil’s Cut’. This is then blended with extra aged bourbon and bottled at 90 proof. Marketing baloney? Or exactly what Scotch whiskey makers have been doing for years? Either way, let’s be honest it is a greatly entertaining tale and makes for one hell (pun intended) of a name.
Wild Turkey Forgiven
So, imagine if you will, it's an ordinary day at the Wild Turkey distillery. You are busy going about your daily routine, doing whatever it is you do at a distillery, when all of a sudden... you realise you’ve actually made a huge mistake and mixed up bourbon with rye whiskey! Master Distiller Eddie Russell comes marching over to investigate, tastes the concoction and (instead of firing you on the spot) quickly realises that this is an exceptional drink and more than worthy of bringing to the market. Phew! You keep your job and turn into a workplace legend - and presumably annoy every master distiller in existence who has spent decades trying to do what you just achieved completely by luck!
The 'accidental' blend is comprised of 6 year old bourbon (78%) and a 4 year old high rye whiskey (22%). Apparently it has a bold, creamy vanilla and oak opening, a long smooth finish with hints of pepper, clove and cinnamon. The Gents have not yet tried this so we better hurry up, as Eddie Russell did declare last year that there were no plans to make it a permanent addition to their itinerary. The labelling backs this up as it is released as a limited edition small batch whiskey.
Part 2 coming soon!