As the event approached, I could hardly keep myself from opening the three bottles of bourbons that arrived at my door step a few days prior to the tasting. I really have to hand it the Real Estate Practice Group Leader, Adam Lustig, for inspiring such a terrific event!
The tasting was run by Kentucky Spirits Ltd., a virtual bourbon tasting company that launched in the middle of Covid as an offshoot of Hartfield and Co. Distillery. The founder of both companies, Andrew, led us on a bourbon tasting journey from three different distillers, sampling bottles that he hand selected.
As luck would have it, Bilzin Sumberg has a bourbon savant of our own on staff in Real Estate Partner, Timothy P. DeKeyser. Tim ostensibly served as our moderator for the evening and skillfully led our guide Andrew with insider questions.
We started the event with an Old Forester that sported a mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley. As Real Estate Partner, Phillip S. Sosnow expertly identified, the geranium notes instantly came front and center. We also noticed the rich notes of caramel and butterscotch, but it was hard to escape the geranium.
With tasting, we learned, there are no wrong flavor notes—except gasoline and glue sticks. (If you taste gasoline or glue sticks, you might have parosmia and should examine your olfactory system immediately.) Luckily, this was no problem for our group, as evident by Phil Sosnow’s refined pallet, yet again, accurately distinguishing the precise notes of sorghum in the Elijah Craig we tasted next. With a mash bill of 78% corn, 12% malted barley, and 10% rye; the bourbon also exuded notes ranging from vanilla to bubble gum, but the lightness was something that most tasters agreed on.
Last, we tasted a 72% corn, 13% rye, and 15% malted barley from Old Bardstown. This bourbon seemed to have more of a fruity nose and flavor. But once we added a drop of water (or for some, the frozen variant) the flavors opened up to include walnut and anise.
Adding to the sensory experience, Andrew and Kentucky Spirits Ltd. included 2 x 2 inch bourbon barrel staves in our tasting packages. The warm, smoky, and fruity smell of the stave certainly added to the experience. Some of us enhanced the sensory immersion further by using the stave as a smoking source—covered with a cloche—to create an even more innovative experience.
We also received excellent, practical tips on which bourbon* to order at your local watering hole when trying to ensure to receive the best Manhattan or Old Fashion. Another of Andrew’s pro-tips is to substitute demerara syrup for traditional simple syrup, to even further heighten the complexity of bourbon-based cocktails. But, he advised, if you add lemon to your whiskey—like in a proper egg-white frothed whiskey sour—stick the cheap stuff, as the complexity is lost with the addition of the citrus. Also, finding a $65 single pour of first-run Boss Hog at a bar in California is apparently a steal.
When it was all done, there were surely some watery eyes and some mouths on fire, but certainly some memories made too. As Andrew pointed out, enjoying bourbon is as much about the flavor as the fun you are having while tasting. When you try a new bourbon while enjoying the company, it just seems to taste that much better. That might explain why the three bourbons we sampled are now amongst my favorites—or perhaps, I just really like geranium and sorghum.
* The best bourbon they have, but most bar programs worth their salt should at least have Old Forester, so go with that.