Gin Fever: Part IV - Heritage

Since we've tackled the history of gin in England, why not learn more about two of its oldest and most iconic brands? Often times people assume that smaller distilleries are making higher-quality, more-artisinal, "hand-crafted" gins than the big boys, but as I explained in the previous posts: gin is just redistilled grain neutral spirit with botanicals. There's nothing particularly romantic about taking bulk, non-hand-crafted, non-small batch, non-artisinal, agricultural GNS and simply adding flavor to it. Yet people think that Plymouth and Beefeater are industrial giants? To shed some more light on this issue, I tracked down Beefeater/Plymouth brand ambassador Trevor Easter (who used to manage Heaven's Dog here in San Francisco) to discuss some of the specifics of each brand:

David D: What is your role with Pernod-Ricard?

Trevor: I am the West Coast brand ambassador for Plymouth and Beefeater. I've got from Seattle to San Diego and a bit of Texas as well.

David D: So when you talk to people about gin, how do you distinguish Beefeater and Plymouth from other brands on the market?

Trevor: One of the things that we do uniquely -- which is easy when you have two historic gins -- is to educate people on the history of gin in general, not just ours, and hope that they find their own way. Usually consumers like the more aromatic, carter-head distilled gins like Bombay Sapphire and Hendrick's, things that are very soft and delicate. The way that we distinguish ourself is with our heritage, especially with Plymouth, and we have very citrus-forward gins that work very well in cocktails, which is kind of the intention of gin in general.

David D: When you talk about the history of both brands where do you usually start?

Trevor: When I talk about gin as a category I always start with Plymouth because it's the oldest brand that has been continually made, since 1793. The brand is based out of Plymouth, England and is the official gin of the Royal Navy, so when you talk about Plymouth it's as a rather iconic gin. There are the roots buried in the history of the gin and tonic cocktail, which helped save the military from malaria, and then there are its roots in the Gimlet cocktail, which the navy captains would drink with the sailors. We start there along with the fact that it's made in an old monastery that was also a prison at one point, so it's never moved -- it's been in the same distillery since the beginning, it has never closed, and it's made from one still -- about three guys make it -- which tends to blow people's minds because they think it's some industrial product. It's not, however, it's actually quite a small production.

David D: What are the key botanicals for Plymouth? Plymouth is its own geographically-recognized gin, so what exactly makes Plymouth so special?

Trevor: Water is such a big element when it comes to making gin -- any spirit for that matter -- and when we talk about the water for Plymouth it's part of what makes it unique. Plymouth sources its water from a nearby national park called the Dartmoor and what the geography of that landscape plays a big role. It looks a lot like Scotland with the peat moss on granite, and the water there has this lack of minerality, this really nice smooth and oily texture. I was taking a hike up through Dartmoor once and had a bit of the water. It's quite incredible the way it comes out of this natural spring -- it's really delicious -- and I think that's one of the things that gives the gin its unique flavor. Also, if you go back to a lot of old school cocktail books, like the Savoy, and from anyone who did anything significant with cocktails in the late 1800s, you'll see a good amount of drinks specifically call for Plymouth. I think at that time they were the only ones doing a proper, dry English gin that mixed well.

The key botanicals for Plymouth are obviously the juniper, which is really heavy, and a lot of really great citrus -- lemon. Coriander is also a big one, along with cardamom, which is a nice addition and somewhat unique.

David D: Moving over to Beefeater, what do you usually tell people about the brand and the role of London gin?

Trevor: Beefeater is interesting because it's one of the last London dry gins that is actually still made in London. Many of them have moved to Scotland for production reasons. For Beefeater, if you look at the time period the distillery itself opened in 1820, but the first batch of Beefeater came off the still in 1860 after James Burrough purchased the facility. When you look at that time, London was really the center of great gin. All of the brands at the time were named after the last names of families -- the Tanquerays, the Gordons, the Brokers. Those are the last names of the distillers. Beefeater decided to do something different and be a bit iconic, so they named their gin after the Beefeaters who guard the Tower of London. They wanted to embrace what London was: a progressive, artistic, and modern city. When you look at them now it's a big part of why they're still there -- they can't stomach the idea of leaving because that's their heritage.

Beefeater is still made the same way today, they've never changed the recipe, which is really cool. Desmond Payne, our master distiller, has been making gin for about fifty years. He's the longest running gin distiller alive today.

David D: What type of still are they using at Beefeater?

Trevor: We use five copper pot stills with four guys who actually make it -- including Desmond, which is interesting because we're talking about the number one selling premium gin in the world. It's quite amazing that they make it all with four guys. What's also really interesting is that -- if you do this experiment and you add a bit of water to gin -- lay out a couple of great brands like Tanqueray and Bombay and add a bit of water to them, then go back to them about five minutes later you'll notice that they change. But when you get to the Beefeater it still tastes exactly the same. It's for that reason that I think most bartenders, if forced to choose one gin to do everything, would go with Beefeater because it cuts through the citrus and the aromatics of most drinks, while keeping its flavor.

A lot of that has to do with something we do that's unique to Beefeater. On Monday morning at the distillery all of the botanicals go into the still, but we don't turn it on until twenty-four hours later. So there's a twenty-four hour steeping period that is proprietarily ours, and it's something they've been doing since 1860. Not only do we have the most experienced distiller in the world, but also a recipe that's been working for one hundred and fifty years. That's pretty amazing, right?

David: It is amazing. So when people ask you, "What is London dry gin as opposed to just regular gin?" what's your answer for that question?

Trevor: If you want to get down to technical laws, our laws here in the states are not the same as they are in the UK. The rule over there states that everything that is put into London dry gin must come from distillation. The only thing that can be added after the fact is water. So the product comes off the still and the only thing you can add at that point is the water, but the gin doesn't actually have to come from London. Tanqueray is a good example. It comes from Scotland, but it's considered a London dry gin. And then Tanqueray 10 is just a distilled gin, rather than a London gin, because they add flavor after the distillation.

David: So London dry gin is just a style of gin, rather than a place of origin?

Trevor: Right, it's kind of like Bourbon in that regard. What's also interesting is that, with all of the new gin makers now, just an incredible amount, there are a lot of people making great gin -- i.e. St. George and Aviation. But one thing that differentiates Beefeater is the control Desmond has over that steeping period because that's where you can really blow it. A lot of people can simply put botanicals in a still and get a great product on the other end, but the long extended finish on Beefeater really comes down to that steeping period, which doesn't seem like a process many other people can replicate successfully.

For me, my biggest obstacle is the idea of Beefeater as, you know, "grandma's gin." It's "old," or it's a "well gin." But people don't realize that we win just about every contrast we enter into. The San Francisco Spirits Competition, the Oscars of the spirits world, and we win "Best Gin in the World." People are like, "What the hell? Beefeater?" But when you close your eyes and taste a whole bunch of gins side-by-side you realize that this is an iconic tasting gin and is really the foundation of what other gins are built off of. It's a bit like the cool kid on the block, the kid that other kids aspire to be.

When reaching out to new drinkers, however, we always want to try and get people to start with Plymouth because it's such a beautifully aromatic gin and it's one of the oldest. We actually changed the bottle to get that point across, the heritage, you know? We're still battling daily, however, with accounts that say, "Well, we really only carry small batch, hand-crafted gin." And I'm thinking, "There's nothing more small batch and hand-crafted than a gin made by four guys on a pot still!"

David D: We're going to see a backlash against that, though. The terms "hand-crafted" and "small batch" have been co-opted completely by some of the worse possible brands. I think you'll eventually see people rebel against that because it doesn't mean anything now. I taste new gins all the time that that absolutely terrible, but label themselves as "artisan" or "craft" because they're small.

Trevor: We're really fighting the hard fight. With a brand like Plymouth I just want people to start there because, both historically and stylistically, that's really where you should start. Start with the most classic of styles before moving on to the more modern gins, the gins without juniper like Hendrick's, but at least understand what gin is supposed to taste like before branching out.

David D: I agree with you 100%. You can't understand any subject well if you don't know the history, the heritage, and the foundation that it's build upon.

-David Driscoll


Gin Fever: Part III - Juniper Berries

So gin is really just flavored vodka. But flavored with what? Anything? No, not anything -- primarily with juniper berries. What are juniper berries? They're the little, dark-colored seed cones (technically not a berry) that, according to Wikipedia, have "unusually fleshy and merged scales, which give it a berry-like appearance." Juniper berries grow on juniper trees, which consist of over fifty different species grown all over the world. The trees can vary in size and height, from low-growing to tall with long-spreading branches. Juniper berries have been used as a pungent spice since the time of the Romans, who used the seed as a cheap domestic substitute for pepper when unavailable from India. It therefore makes sense that the Dutch, credited with inventing genever, used it along with other medicinal spices, to flavor their distilled malt wine with a peppery accent. 

Part of what makes gin such a fun spirit for producers to make is the role that foraging plays in the overall flavor of the spirit. With gin production, it's not so much the act of distilling the flavor out of something as it is distilling the flavor into something. Working with local farmers, growers, and suppliers to source these flavors can add excitement to the experience. Dave Smith mentioned yesterday that working with herbs and botanicals grown in the Bay Area was part of the fun when making the Terroir gin. In the same vein, regional gins like Bruichladdich Botanist express the terroir of Islay with locally sourced juniper. However, it appears Scotland is in a bit of trouble when it comes to juniper at the moment.

Read the story from this past summer about how a local fungus is endangering the juniper crop in the UK and putting gin production into jeopardy. And you thought whiskey producers were the only ones who had to worry about a shortage!

-David Driscoll


Gin Fever: Part II

William Hogarth's 1751 depiction of London's "Gin Lane"

By the 1720s, the streets of London were looking like the Tenderloin on Turk between Gough and Laguna. Gately writes:

Statistics suggested that every man, woman, and child in London knocked back more than a pint of gin per head per week. This alarmingly high level of consumption generated shocking levels of drunkenness in the capital. The problem was aggravated by the squalid living conditions in the slums. Tenement houses were packed from their cellars to their rafters. People dossed down ten to a room, and the only recreation or relief they could afford was drinking gin.

It prevailed into the 1730s. The press had a field day with the drama. Stories of intoxication were abound in the daily news, working like modern day paparazzi presses. The story of gin as a cultural destroyer was too good to pass up. Gin was causing mothers to murder their infants. Infanticide rates were rising. Gin might cause one to die in their sleep. Gin drinkers were seen as bad for capitalism--"they ate less, and they pawned their clothes instead of buying new ones." Anything to garner support for the temperance movement. Much like modern street drugs, gin had acquired a variety of new names like "kill-me-quick," or, my favorite, "strip-me-naked." A new gin act was passed in 1736 with harsher penalties, but it still did little to stem the tide. The next decade was a mess, full of gin-drinking anger, more reforms, rewards for snitches, snitches gettin' their stitches (modern-day street slang for beating down a rat), and more excessive drinking.

Gately writes that:

By 1750, London had been in the thrall of (gin) for a quarter of a century. (It) had been legislated against five times, declared the enemy of religion and health, yet persisted nonetheless. Gin had been a constant in an age of change. However, London in 1750 was no longer the rowdy place it had been at the turn of the century. The threat of rebellion has been countered and suppressed, wars had been won in Europe and elsewhere. The best and cruelest work of the golden age of English satire had been written. In 1751, approximately 7 million gallons of gin were taxed, the following year less than 4.5 million. The fall reflected declining demand and, best of all, the common people responded positively to new legislation, having seemed to have lost the desire to debase themselves.

While gin spurred several decades worth of debauchery in London, like all trends, it eventually calmed down and became less extreme of an intoxicant. Gin would never lose its status in popular drinking culture, however. It played a key role in the cocktails of the Belle Epoche, and the Gatsby-era libations we celebrate now as pre-Prohibition. It carried on into the tropical novels of Hemingway, and the colonial stories of Graham Greene in the Caribbean. It may have taken a back seat in the 1980s, but Snoop Dogg brought it right back with his 1993 gangta-rap anthem "Gin and Juice" ("Now that I got me some Seagram's gin, everybody got their cup, but they ain't chipped in). Along with Bourbon, it's now the biggest mainstay of today's craft cocktail revival.

St. George's Dave Smith working on our Faultline gin

We know of gin's importance to the history of alcohol and our drinking culture, but how is it actually made? To answer this question in detail I decided to call my good friend Dave Smith, distiller for St. George in nearby Alameda, to make sure I had all my facts straight.

David D: I was hoping you could just walk me through how a batch of St. George Terroir gin was made so we could help people reading the blog understand the process. You start with the grain neutral spirit, the GNS, right?

Dave S: Sure, uh....without giving away too many state secrets....the concept of the Terroir gin, and with any project that has multiple components--gin is an example--some producers want to distill all of the ingredients separately and then combine them, which sort of allows you the ultimate level of control. You have the ability to fine tune the flavors and find the ingredients' weight in that blend. We also believe in the integration of these components and their potential for being distilled together. So some of the ingredients for the Terroir gin will actually be distilled together in a 400 gallon pot still with GNS, to which we actually have a steam basket attached through which those vapors travel though. That gives us the option of actually boiling certain ingredients themselves or to steam certain ingredients that will benefit from that process.

David D: Do certain ingredients work better when boiled rather than steamed?

Dave S: Yes, a good example is bay laurel. Bay laurel is going to break down a lot more thoroughly when boiled, it's going to give off a some different flavor compounds aromatically. At the end of the day it's a leaf. It's going to fall apart. If you think about spinach, just as a point of reference--fresh spinach, steamed spinach, and boiled spinach are three uniquely different things. Citrus peels also benefit from boiling as heat helps to open up the pores, it can withstand that boiling, and we can do a better job of capturing the essence of that citrus peel. Bay laurel, not so much. The laurel goes into the steam basket with the juniper berries, so that we can get the aromatic, blueberry components, rather than the resiny, seedy aspects of the berry.

David D: So you're saying that some ingredients in the Terroir are put into the steam basket, while others are boiled?

Dave S: Yes, that's right.

David D: Are you also distilling them in different batches, then marrying them together?

Dave S: Actually, on those ingredients we'll distill them together in the same process because we believe strongly in the value of marrying those components together in the pot still. The still will help break down and capture the most balanced version of these botanical elements. You want to be mindful of how you manage each component, but the ingredients of the Terroir work together. The Douglas fir component, however, isn't something that we can forage for year-round, unlike bay laurel which we can get from Lance's yard. In that case, we have to do that as a separate component. But that helps us to isolate that flavor and control it as we blend it in. Coastal sage is another ingredient we can only get maybe once or twice a year.

David D: What about the coriander?

Dave S: The wok-roasted coriander is another big process. Every 400 gallon batch in the pot still is a an hour and half or two hours of distilling wok-roasted coriander seeds. It brings out almost a citrusy, grapefruit quality of the seeds. You can, however, run into certain botanical ingredients that are so intense that controlling them on a large scale batch, while I want to make sure they're well integrated, the choice is also to actually focus on re-integrating them--to have them out of the main batch and to use them almost like garnish on a plate. We do a separate distillation of citra-hops for Botanivore, and for Douglas fir for the Terroir.

David D: As someone who distills whiskey, fruit brandies, vodka, pretty much everything, where does gin fall in the hierarchy of spirits for you?

Dave S: A lot of people talk about gin, saying things like, "I don't like gin, but I like flavored vodka,"--I've got news for you: gin is flavored vodka.

David D: That's what I said!!

Dave S: That being said, what I would liken gin to actually is absinthe. You know about our time with absinthe and how long we worked with it. The real interesting challenge with absinthe and gin is not only to act as a supply chain manager with your ingredients, finding the best possible products and understanding how to work with them, how to utilize them and work safely with them, but also how to actually balance those ingredients. And if you're choosing not to balance them, then understanding how to do that specifically as a stylistic choice in response to other products on the market--you're looking to stand out.

For us, the dry rye gin is rye whiskey-based with coriander, caraway, black pepper--these are elements that are really focused and dialed in to make something that's a play on a London dry style, but also very malty creating a spirit that's very unique. When you first smell it the rye shows immediately. The black pepper shows later, but there are very few ingredients involved. The Botanivore on the other hand has nineteen specific ingredients, yet comes across as softer and more balanced. The challenge in making gin, and with absinthe, is to make choices and to understand your ingredients as a painter would understand his paints. You have to understand how to layer your colors to make a balanced picture. Or, if making an unbalanced picture, to understand why you're doing so.

David: Wouldn't that be an argument for viewing gin as one of the tougher spirits to produce, rather than seeing it simply as "flavored vodka"?

Dave S: I can see where you're going with that and I think there's a strong argument there, but I hate to say that distilling gin is harder or easier. Sometimes we get caught in that idea that something is better or worse. I don't think there's anything better about a four piece quartet versus a twenty piece orchestra, or even a soloist--a unique beautiful voice. None of these things are better, greater, or harder than another, but their processes are very unique and the challenges that they present are all very different.

-David Driscoll


Gin Fever: Part I

Someone asked me the other day: "David, you've done week long reports on tequila, rum, whiskey, etc. When are going to do a series on gin?"

To tell you the truth, I'd never really thought about it. I love gin. I personally drink more gin than I do all other spirits combined. My mother drinks gin every day. Her mother still drinks gin every day (at 94 years of age -- maybe that's the secret?). Gin is simply something I take for granted. I don't really think too much about where it comes from or how it's made. Gin is essentially just flavored vodka--neutral grain spirit with juniper and a number of other botanicals and spices. There's a lot of room for creativity and exploration when it comes to gin production (see our Faultline series with St. George for examples, along with our Rusty Blade barrel-aged gins from Old World Spirits), but is it a process that will interest drinkers and engage them in the same way that other spirits do?

Let's find out. I'll fill you in on the details and you tell me whether or not you think it's worth knowing.

If we're going to get technical, no tongue in cheek allowed, then let's get technical. The European Union breaks gin down into four categories. I could type them all up, or I could just copy the definitions off of their webpage:

Juniper-Flavoured Spirit Drinks - This includes the earliest class of gin, which is produced by pot distillinga fermented grain mash to moderate strength (e.g. 68% ABV), and then redistilling it with botanicals to extract the aromatic compounds. It must be bottled at a minimum of 30% ABV. Juniper-Flavoured Spirit Drinks may also be sold under the names Wacholder or Genebra.

Gin- This is a juniper flavoured spirit made not via the redistillation of botanicals, but by simply adding approved natural flavouring substances to a neutral spirit of agricultural origin. The predominant flavour must be juniper.

Distilled gin- Distilled gin is produced exclusively by redistilling ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin with an initial strength of 96% ABV (the azeotrope of water and ethanol) in stills traditionally used for gin, in the presence of juniper berries and of other natural botanicals, provided that the juniper taste is predominant. Gin obtained simply by adding essences or flavourings to ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin is not distilled gin.

London gin- London gin is obtained exclusively from ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin with a maximum methanol content of 5 grams per hectolitre of 100% ABV equivalent, whose flavour is introduced exclusively through the re-distillation in traditional stills of ethyl alcohol in the presence of all the natural plant materials used, the resultant distillate of which is at least 70% ABV. London gin may not contain added sweetening exceeding 0.1 gram of sugars per litre of the final product, nor colorants, nor any added ingredients other than water. The term London gin may be supplemented by the term "dry".

In the EU, the minimum bottled alcoholic strength for gin, distilled gin, and London gin is 37.5% ABV.

In the United States, gin is defined as an alcoholic beverage of no less than 40% ABV (80 proof) that possesses the characteristic flavour of juniper berries. Gin produced only through distillation or redistillation of aromatics with an alcoholic wash can be further distinguished and marketed as "distilled gin".

Some legal classifications of gin are defined only as originating from specific geographical areas without any further restrictions (e.g. Plymouth gin, Ostfriesischer Korngenever, Slovenská borovička, Kraški Brinjevec, etc.), while other common descriptors refer to classic styles that are culturally recognized, but not legally defined (e.g., sloe gin, Wacholder and Old Tom gin).

Let's get less technical now. If you'll notice, the EU distinguishes between gin and distilled gin. Both are neutral grain spirits with juniper as the dominate flavor, but one is simply macerated with juniper (i.e. simply soaking vodka with juniper and other botanicals like tea) while the other is "distilled" with the botanicals. However, this does not mean that the wheat or corn is fermented and distilled with juniper in the mash. It means that the GNS is essentially re-distilled and the vapors pass through a basket of botanicals placed in the still that add the flavor before the alcohol is condensed back into a liquid. This is how most producers I am familiar with do it (although with Faultline Batch #2 we did soak the orange peels and leaves in the liquid, giving it a slight greenish tint). They buy neutral grain spirit from the bulk market, put it into their still, and then re-distill that spirit with botanicals of their choosing. There are some producers who actually distill their own GNS, but I personally haven't found that the extra work and expense has helped to create a better gin. I know it doesn't seem very romantic or "hand-crafted" to buy bulk GNS for agricultural producers and then flavor it, but that's what gin is. Why we think it's cooler and more "authentic" than vodka is beyond me, but it sure does taste good.

While the production of gin may not thrill our geeky inhibitions, the history of gin is fascinating. Iain Gately's tome of alcohol's longstanding past, Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol, has an entire chapter on the subject. While the story of gin probably should begin in Holland, for the sake of this blog post it begins in London in the 1700s. Imagine it. A huge metropolis brimming with 600,000 people living in cramped quarters, side-by-side, the rich and poor alike. Gately writes:

The British prided themselves on their drinking. Foreigners marveled at their consumption. A Swiss traveler wrote home: "Would you believe it, though water is to be had in abundance in London, and of fairly good quality, absolutely none of it is drunk? The lower classes, even the paupers, do not know what it is to quench their thirst with water. In this country nothing but beer is drunk.

While beer was the drink of choice for London, gin would take over by the year 1720. Gin, just the English word for Dutch genever, was about to get a boost from the royal crown. Due to a huge surplus of grain in England, King William was bound to help growers and landowners maintain their wealth even with the price of the commodity dropping quickly. As Gately writes:

William had witnessed the phenomenal demand Genever could create for grain in his native Holland and hoped the same might occur in his new kingdom. An "Act for the Encouraging or the Distillation of Brandy and Spirits from Corn" was passed, which allowed anyone in England to distill alcohol using English cereals, upon ten day's notice to HM Excise and payment of a small fee. The act was a great success and stills sprang up all over the country. ("corn" being a generic term for wheat, barley, rye, and oats)

The increased production of gin lowered the price of the juniper-flavored spirit across the country, which spiked consumption. The demand helped to stabilize the price of corn, making the landowners very happy. The spirits boom mirrored many of the same trends we see today in the American craft spirits movement. People with little knowledge of distillation began jumping into the industry, hoping to find success in this budding market. They used anything from professional copper stills to converted bathtubs. Gately adds:

Among them they produced a torrent of gin, which was sold from shops, houses, the crypts of churches and inside prisons from kiosks, boats, wheelbarrows, baskets and bottles, and from stalls at public executions. Gin was cheap, and above all a quick way of getting drunk. Why work your way through porter at three pence a pot when the same money would buy a pint of gin?

This is the same logic the National Geographic special I watched last night made comparing methamphetamine to crack. Cheap white crystal on the street is angering the cartels in control of the cocaine trade. Much in the same vein, the brewers in England were not pleased. Tales of "scorch gut" from gin consumption were spread, and a link was quickly drawn between London's rising crime rate and gin usage. It wasn't until 1929, however, that Parliament acted, declaring a new gin act that restricted sales to licensed retailers, putting a high price on those licenses (much like we have in the U.S. today). The act didn't do much, however. Illicit gin distillation and sales were still a problem. The issue was revisited in 1933 with "a more liberal attitude" towards the issue. Gately states:

The '33 Act stimulated supply, and Londoners debased themselves with fresh abandon.

But we'll save all that for Part II.

-David Driscoll


Where Can I Get Barton Bourbon?

Are you wondering where to find Barton Bourbon in California? Yes, I too had read often online about how there was an incredibly tasty, value-priced brand of Bourbon out there called Very Old Barton that whiskey enthusiasts liked to site as an example of pricing stability. I read about, looked around for it, and then realized like everyone else that you can only get it in and around the state of Kentucky. Needless to say, I bought a flask of VOB 100 proof for about $8 when we visited a few weeks ago to see what the fuss was about. And I got what the fuss was about. The whiskey is mellow, round, easy to drink, and quite rich for what you're paying. You won't find a bottle of VOB in California, but you're not out of luck completely.

Very Old Barton is indeed a Sazerac brand, but it's not made at Buffalo Trace -- it's made at Barton Distillery down the road from Heaven Hill in Bardstown. Sazerac owns two different Kentucky distilleries and this is the one that often gets overlooked because there's not much Barton whiskey available out west.

You can get Barton-distilled Bourbon whiskey in California, however. It's just not called Barton, but rather 1792 Ridgemont Reserve. We've had it in stock for ages. We've done single casks before and we've got another one on the way that we found while in Kentucky. Having stowed my flask of Very Old Barton away in my suitcase, I was looking forward to comparing it against the open bottle of 1792 Ridgemont sitting on my bar at home. They're very similar. That same rounded, mild-mannered creaminess is the key characteristic, lacking the force of spicy wood tannins or big rye character. It drinks like a richer version of Four Roses Yellow much of the time -- and it's well-priced for an eight year old Bourbon of said quality.

If you've been wondering what Barton whiskey tastes like, but don't want to fly out to Kentucky to find out, you can get it here. Just under a different name.

1792 Ridgemont Reserve Kentucky Bourbon $25.99

-David Driscoll