My First Bourbon Tasting Panel

Apart from tasting a lot of different whiskies, being a whiskey blogger has its perks.  Every now and then a unique opportunity presents itself.  A few weeks back I was asked by Luxco if I had any interest in helping them choose a possible future bourbon release.  I’d be joining several other whiskey writers in St. Louis, where Luxco is based, to take part in a tasting panel.  I’d be stupid to pass this up.  

I became increasingly excited as the date grew closer.  A couple of days before my flight, I found out who my fellow tasters would be.  It was a who’s who of whiskey writers.  I’m talking BIG TIME names here:  Chuck Cowdery, Lew Bryson, Patrick “Pops” Garrett (Bourbon & Banter), Nino Marchetti (The Whiskey Wash), Josh Peters (The Whiskey Jug), Carla Carlton (The Bourbon Babe), Bill Straub (Modern Thirst), Julia Ritz Toffoli (Women Who Whiskey) and Timothy Doty (Bourbon & Oak).  Whoa!  All these giants and they want ME?  I’m just a whiskey fan with a blog.  Nervousness set in.  I took a breath and thought to myself, “Just go in, taste some bourbon, and tell ’em what you think.”
Some background on the event.  John Rempe, Luxco’s master blender, came up with four different bourbon blends.  Luxco thought it would be a good idea to bring in some whiskey writers to give their opinions on the blends.  Whichever blend the group chose as its favorite might be released in the future, whether as a new brand or an extension to an existing Luxco brand.

The tasting itself was very formal.  It took place at Gamlin Whiskey House in St. Louis.  We sat around a large table with a place setting for each one of the attendees.  I was seated next to Chuck.  Honestly the man probably forgets more about bourbon in a day than I’ll know in a lifetime.  We were each passed a pour of a blend, labeled “A”, in Glencairn glass.  We took notes quietly, as we weren’t allowed to share our thoughts until the very end.  Once we were all done with that particular sample, the next blend, “B”,  was passed around and the whole process started over until all four blends were tasted.  Blends “C” and “D” were the two favorites of the group.  We were given a fresh sample of those two blends for another taste.  The overall choice of the group was “D”. 

Afterwards, John Rempe detailed each of the blends.  What follows is the breakdown with my thoughts of each.  All blends were comprised of 4- and 7-year-old sourced bourbon sourced.

  • Blend “A” was finished in used brandy barrels.  It felt very young to me, with not much complexity. A little rough around the edges.
  • Blend “B” was a straight blend.  It was a middle of the road, standard bourbon.  Serviceable, but not memorable.
  • Blend “C” was filtered through homemade applewood charcoal.  Much more character than the first two.  Lots of sweet red fruit and spice, along with vanilla and oak.
  • Blend “D” was finished in a California red wine barrel.  There was a sweet rich entry, with slightly wine-like fruit notes along with a floral top note in addition to standard bourbon notes.  A nice spice ramp led to a dry finish.  My favorite of the bunch.

Afterwards, a delicious dinner was served. I had the pan-seared & roasted duck breast.  So good…

The bar was then open for cocktails, and we were given samples of the new David Nicholson Reserve as well as an upcoming edition of Rebel Yell, which was a stunner of a bourbon.  

I appreciate Luxco’s decision to bring in a roundtable of whiskey writers to bring some honest insight on a potential future bourbon release.  I’m curious if any of these blends will make it to market.  Personally, I’d love to see either “C” or “D” hit store shelves.  

Not pictured is Chuck Cowdery and Carla Carlton

In between checking into the hotel and the tasting, I walked over to the St. Louis Basilica.  I’ve heard of it and have seen a few pictures online, but there’s nothing like seeing it in person.  If you visit St. Louis, I urge you to visit this architectural marvel.  I’ll leave you with a few pics from the rest of my trip.

The mosaic tile work is one of the largest in the western hemisphere.

This trip was completely paid for by Luxco.  A very big thanks to them for a fantastic whiskey experience.

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