Making Our Mark

Getting to see the tour at Maker's Mark through Julio's eyes has been an absolute blessing. I'm falling in love with Bourbon once more. I see the excitement. I can feel the passion once again. The energy is electric. Julio is stoked to be here. I'm stoked to be here with him. 

We were back once again with my buddy Scott from Maker's Mark, along with my Beam-Suntory rep Glen (who—I'm sorry—puts you other industry reps to SHAME). We did the standard distillery tour, dipped our fingers in the mash, tasted the new make, and dug deep into everything wheated. I don't care how jaded you are about big business—Maker's Mark is an outstanding Bourbon. It's so sweet and delicious! I was excited to do the rounds once again to re-envigorate my emotions.

The Maker's 46 custom barrel program is pretty damn cool. Here's how it works: there are four additional seasoned staves alongside the standard Maker's 46 French Oak plank, for a total of five different oak choices. Each barrel of Maker's 46 gets ten planks, which means you can choose your own combination of wooden staves; a total of 1,001 different combinations. You preview the variant choices by blending whiskies aged with only one type of stave to a test run of 100ml, each stave getting 10ml in the blend. If you choose six Maker's 46 staves and four American oak staves, then your blend will consist of 60ml of Maker's 46-only whiskey with 40ml of American stave-only whiskey. The results are incredibly accurate. This system of prognostication is surprisingly succinct. I think we chose quite wisely (and since there were two of us, expect two separate barrels!).

In the middle of our blending exercise, who should walk in but Bill Samuels Jr. himself—the man who invented Maker's 46 and took over the distillery from his founding father before the Beam takeover. As if that wasn't enough, he was joined by a pair of Kentucky (Republican) state senators—Jimmy Higdon and Damon Thayer. Julio and I took a real shine to "Big" Jimmy Higdon from the 14th District. This guy was pure gold; as smooth as they come and a real character. He was larger than life—a storyteller with a big personality and true grit. It was an experience, to say the least!

But we didn't come to Maker's Mark to shake hands or kiss babies. We came to make some dynamite Kentucky Bourbon. After a few test runs, Julio and I came up with a pair of absolute beauties. We linked our seasoned staves to the the ring of fire, coopered our casks with care, and filled them with a few gallons of sweet wheat, cask strength Maker's Mark. Get ready to tempt your taste buds with a bit of Loretto sunshine. These babies should carry the day before too long.

-David Driscoll


Historic Louisville

Ahhh....the old Seelbach Hotel. Founded in 1905 by the brothers Louis and Otto Seelbach, the aim was to bring the best of swanky European living to America—to Kentucky, no less. Sitting in the lobby, sipping a glass of fine Kentucky Bourbon, that splendor lives on today more than a century later. To think: F. Scott Fitzgerald was inspired to write The Great Gatsby while staying here! Elvis slept on these beds while playing in town! The Stones threw parties in these rooms while touring the states! Al Capone played illicit poker games in these halls and was even chased out by the police on one occasion! That's where I am right now. I'm sitting in the middle of an American pop culture landmark. I'm drinking whiskey in a den of vice and venom. And let's not mention the ghosts!

Then there's the Old Seelbach Bar, mind you. It's not just the hotel that's of legend, it's also the in-house watering hole. With a list of Bourbons that spans multiple menu pages, you can have it your way just a few footsteps away from the main lobby. This is where Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Clinton drank while manning the White House! This is where they plotted and planned! My God, is that not enough for you? This is where Fast Eddie Felson stayed while downing a few glasses of JTS Brown. This is the pride of Louisville, in a nutshell. It's the epitome of everything great and grand from Bourbon's lascivious lore.

"Should we take a cab to the restaurant for dinner?" our host asks as we stumble out into the warm Kentucky evening. "God, no!" I reply indignantly; "Let's walk and see the sights." We're headed to the Garage Bar from downtown and on the way we must pass by a number of historical buildings. I need this, now more than ever. These are the edifices that fill me with romance. The old bricks. The Victorian stalwarts. The vestiges of Americana that line the road to Butchertown, the Star-Spangled Banner adorning each one—furrowed in the evening breeze.

Down the side streets I can see the bridges spanning the Ohio River, connecting Kentucky to neighboring Indiana. My thirst is building. The more I take in the sights, the history, and the atmosphere, the more that sweet brown water calls my name. I need whiskey—post haste! Barman! Fetch me a glass.

It is a happening Monday night at the Garage Bar, my all-time favorite Louisville locale. The old pump station that now houses a full-scale whiskey bar with a custom-built wood-fired pizza oven is just the place for me. The beer is cold. The room is full. The vibe is electric. There are families here. There are lovers. There are first dates, too. There are skaters, hipsters, nerds, and Louisville University jocks. There is a complete cornucopia of cultures. It's the full gambit. This is not a scene, my friends. This is an institution. It's a place to let your hair down and relax, not merely somewhere to be seen. This is real life. This is San Francisco's Mission without the shitty attitude or the pandering pretense. This is where I want to be.

It is night in Louisville. We are drinking Bourbon: first Blanton's, then Johnny Drum, then Rowan's Creek, and then on to Maker's Mark. We hit up the local CVS for my traditional 1.75 liter of Very Old Barton. We stop to inhale the essence of the evening. 

It's back to the Seelbach for more rounds. Destiny awaits.

-David Driscoll


Kentucky Ho!

I'm on a roll as of late. I've been on a plane almost every week since February and it's not stopping in April, nor will it stop in May or June. I'll be traveling off and on until mid-July, so I'm going to need to find another gear, settle in, and make sure to get my beauty sleep. The open road awaits! This morning I'm at SFO early awaiting my flight to Louisville along with this journey's partner-in-crime Julio Santos. Julio runs all of the operations in Redwood City and is a huge help to the spirits department in terms of managing inventory and keeping track of all my orders. Since he loves Bourbon and has taken a real shine to whiskey over the last few years, I thought I'd bring him along for the ride this time. We're scheduled to land in the Big L later this evening where we'll grab dinner and a few drinks before catching a few Zs. We've got a full day at Maker's Mark tomorrow putting together a new custom batch of Maker's 46 at cask strength. Considering our first experiment sold out in a matter of hours after sending the email, I'm assuming the demand is there for another round. 

As usual, I'll be reporting from the road. Let's see if Kentucky has a few surprises up its sleeve this year.

-David Driscoll


White Burgundy Secrets

I don't quite yet have the same experience with Burgundy that I do with single malt, but I can share a few secrets with you over my evolution into one of our regional specialists. Where do I look when I want white wine that tastes really expensive, but still clocks in under fifty bucks a bottle? St. Aubin, my friends. It's the Brooklyn to Montrachet's Manhattan. I'm not sure how much longer that will last, however.

I've got a few selections here if you need a party showstopper. Just remember who made you look good. But don't tell anyone. Just coolly say: "Oh yeah, I've been drinking St. Aubin for years. It's the only real value left in Burgundy."

-David Driscoll 


Same Folks, Different Genre

If you follow the news, or more specifically politics, you start to notice trends. You notice that the guys (and it's almost always men) who talk the loudest about an issue tend to get caught doing the very opposite of what they say they stand for. For example, the guy who speaks the loudest about morality usually gets caught doing something completely immoral. The guy who leads the committee on ethics is discovered doing something entirely unethical. The puritan demanding transparency eventually has the most to hide. It's ironic, yet it happens all the time, which often forces me to ponder about how ironic it actually is. At this point, haven't we figured out the pattern? It's just over-compensation, isn't it? An evolutionary trait—like how small dogs often have the loudest bark to make up for their lack of size. 

There's a tendency for insecure humans—those who know they're doing something particularly wrong or indecent—to compensate for the guilt or shame they feel by attacking the same character flaws in others. It's like a form of denial or redirection, and I see it happen so often today that sometimes I feel like my head is going to explode (although I do live in the world capital of smug, so that's probably a big part of it). In the food and wine industry, we have our own versions of over-compensation anger, when a person who's feeling particularly uptight about their own anxieties lashes out at someone else. Examples? There are plenty....

- People who grew up in America eating McDonalds, microwave dinners, and bologna sandwiches and are for some reason embarrassed by that history tend to have food over-compensation, so they go around proclaiming their love of French delicacies and various organ meats as a defense. If you order a vegetarian option in front of them, they'll probably call you out or ask what's wrong with you. "What's the matter? You don't like fois gras?" (queue a hearty condescending chuckle). 

- People who grew up in America drinking Bud Light, wine coolers, and various other flavored spirits, yet want to pretend like none of that ever happened, tend to have alcohol over-compensation. They've read a list of what's considered cultured and appropriate, and—believe me—they've memorized that list to a T. If you dare drink something sweet and fruity, prepare for a lecture on dry wines and an unsolicited list of opinions about them.

- People who grew up in America without foreign language training and feel insecure about that lack of cultural preparation can often over-compensate with an in-your-face display of foreign awareness. That's a Bay Area specialty for anyone who's never visited. I've been invited to numerous French contests in my life, where people try to prove how French they are and how much French they know. In theory, I would have avoided these situations had I known I was heading into one, it's just that no one told me in advance. They simply said, "Hey, why don't you come over for dinner?" 

For the majority of us out there who drink because we like to get drunk and have fun, it can come as a shock when over-compensation takes over a party or an entire restaurant, but believe me it happens. All you can do is smile politely and back away slowly. 

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-David Driscoll