My Tales of the Cocktail Adventures: 2017 Edition

July in New Orleans means only one thing: Tales of the Cocktail. This spirits industry convention celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2017, and probably its largest gathering yet. Major and craft spirits brands show up in full force to showcase their spirits and spread knowledge through tastings and seminars. This is my third year attending. It’s easy for me because I live in NOLA, so I’m in the middle of the chaos after a short 10 minute drive from home. Wow, what a week! Here are some highlights:

Photo courtesy of Bulleit Distilling Co.


My Tales adventure this year kicked off with a Copper & Kings Happy Hour event to enjoy a delicious brandy cocktail before heading off to dinner with Tom Bulleit at Compère Lapin. Tom was in town to promote a new partnership between Bulleit and Revelator Coffee. Revelator created a Bulleit barrel-aged coffee syrup. It smells and tastes heavenly, by the way.  I’m already experimenting with the syrup at home.  Let’s hope it becomes available to the public in the future.


Irish whiskey was the star of the show at Kilbeggan’s Single Grain launch.

Wednesday started with a visit to the Kilbeggan Rambling House, where Kilbeggan Single Grain Irish Whiskey was the star of the show. Because my schedule was packed, I was only able to stop by for a few minutes as they opened. Unfortunately, there was a slight hiccup with the distributor and the new Single Grain expression hadn’t arrived yet. No problem. I enjoyed a pour of Tyrconnell 10-year-old Madeira cask finished whiskey. That’s no consolation prize. It’s a delicious malt worth seeking out.  The good news is a small sample is on its way as I type this post.  A review will soon follow.

Hennessy’s Director of Distillation Olivier Paultes walked us through a sampling of different cognacs.

Next up was the Hennessy Experience at Bevolo. National Brand Ambassador Jordan Bushell was on-hand to walk visitors through the cognac making process before introducing us to Hennessy’s Director of Distillation Olivier Paultes, who also sits on the Hennessy Tasting Committee. Olivier led us through a tasting of several cognacs, including a 52-year-old cognac from Grande Champagne. There was so much to see and taste – a quick recap won’t do it justice. Expect a separate post soon.

The Napoleonic Complex, the winning cocktail at Exotico’s cocktail competition. Photo courtesy of Hank Allen.

I managed to stop over to see the tail end of Exotico Tequila’s 2017 cocktail competition. “The Napoleonic Complex,” a margherita pizza-inspired cocktail saw its creator Megan Deschaine take top prize.  Here’s her winning recipe:

  • 1.5 oz Exotico Blanco Tequila
  • .75 oz lime juice
  • .5 oz agave syrup
  • 4 dashes Bittermens Hellfire Bitters
  • 2 dashes Scrappy’s Celery Bitters
  • 1 ripe roma tomato (quartered)
  • 8-10 basil leaves

Muddle tomato quarters and basil in a mixing tin.  Add remaining ingredients and shake vigorously with ice.  Double strain into dressed rocks glass over one large ice cube.  Garnish with a skewered mozzarella ball and basil leaf and half of a salt and pepper rim.

Redemption’s Joe Riggs met me to go over some of the whiskey brand’s offerings, including the newly released Wheated Bourbon. Delicious and priced right at about $45 a bottle. It has a whopping 45% wheat in its mashbill – much more than most, if not all, wheated bourbons out there. It was softer in character, with a nice non-cloying sweetness up front.  Those barrel proof bourbon and rye expressions Joe pulled out at the end of the tasting were no joke!  Fantastic stuff.

Balvenie Malt Master David Stewart and I at the William Grant & Sons Portfolio Party.

Wednesday night ended with the William Grant & Sons portfolio party. It was great catching up with and meeting new Balvenie and Glenfiddich brand ambassadors – and sipping on Balvenie 14-year-old Peated Cask and 21-year-old Port Cask finish. Oh, did I mention Balvenie Malt Master David Stewart was just hanging around. I walked up and introduced myself. We chatted for a good while. As our conversation drew to an end, spirits author extraordinaire Fred Minnick offered up a cigar. Who was I to turn him down? After a wonderful evening, I was off to bed. I had to rest up for what was to be a busy Thursday.


A lovely dram of The Balvenie DoubleWood 17-year-old.

A quick coffee to start the day? Nonsense! I had a morning meeting with Balvenie’s Brand Ambassador Jonathan Wingo, who brought along pours of Balvenie DoubleWood 12- and 17-year-old whiskies. We talked all things Balvenie, which I’ll cover in-depth in an upcoming post.

Courvoisier Master Blender Patrice Pinet pouring me a glass of XO during a marvelous chat.

Then a quick Lyft ride to the Ritz-Carlton was the only way to not show up for my next appointment soaked in sweat. It was HOT out there! That meeting was with Courvoisier’s Master Blender Patrice Pinet. He makes it to the U.S. only once a year, so I was extremely fortunate enough to meet privately with him. We chatted about cognac cocktail trends and misconceptions, among other things, while tasting through Courvoisier VSOP, XO and L’Essence de Courvoisier. That last one… what an exquisite cognac!

Next on the agenda was a tasting of something new from Japanese spirit maker Nikka. No, it wasn’t whisky. I was there to taste their new gin and vodka. Both spirits were distilled in Nikka’s Coffey still. Emiko Kaji led an informative presentation that included tasting a 100% corn spirits distilled in a column still and one distilled in Nikka’s Coffey still. The latter was much creamier with more body. I also got to smell the different botanicals found in the gin. It was nice to get away from whiskey or cognac, even if was only for a few moments.

Now there are whiskey geeks and then there are whiskey geeks.  All showed up for “Better Drinking Through Chemistry,” a seminar that took a microscopic look at what gives whiskey and cognac their unique flavors.  Moderated by Diageo’s Ewan Morgan, this molecule and compound filled science orgy featured Wiser’s Dr. Don Livermore, Diageo’s Dr. Matthew Crow, and Hennessy’s Jordan Bushell.  We learned why rye grain gives the flavors it does and how barrels and different types of oak affect a spirit’s nature.  Those in attendance sampled Lot 40 Cask Strength, JP Wiser’s Dissertation, a 10-year-old whiskey finished in a cask whose wood staves were seasoned for four years, a 12-year-old Cardhu, an 18-year-old Glen Ord that matured in recharred casks with new American oak ends, as well as Oban Little Bay.  Bushell guided us through a tasting of three different cognacs: a 4-year-old Fin Bois aged in a grade D barrel (an old, used barrel) in a dry cellar, Hennessy Master Blender’s Selection No. 1, and Paradis Impérial to cap off the seminar.  The inner whiskey geek in me walked out with a smile.

Later that night I grabbed a cocktail and a bite to eat at High West’s Spirited Dinner.  The theme was “A Toast to Old Orleans.”  The familiar (to me, anyway) creole food, ragtime jazz band, and Highwest cocktails proved to be a pleasant way to end a hectic day.


My Friday evening started with a visit to The Macallan’s “Flight for a Cause” tasting at the Ritz.  Sure, it was pretty exciting to get to taste Macallan’s 1824 Series, including Rare Cask, Reflexion, No. 6, and exquisite (and expensive) M, but what impressed me most was the charity aspect.  For every person who attended, Macallan donated $250 to support wounded veterans and their families.  Brand Ambassador Raquel Raies led small groups through a tasting of the series.  I have to say, the small amount of pre-WWII peated casks added to this expression was a masterstroke.  It was one of the most memorable pours in a week of unforgettable spirits.

Westland Whiskey Master Distiller Matt Hoffman

Deep in the French Quarter, I met up with Westland Whiskey Master Distiller Matt Hoffman.  I was pretty pumped to be able to chat with Hoffman and taste Westland for the first time.  “We’re all about balance,” Hoffman said as he poured a few of his single malts:  American Oak, Sherry Wood, Peated, and Garryana.  They were all rich, balanced, and easily drinkable.  The limited edition Garryana offered the same with an added complexity.  That last one is a great example of terrior.  Garryana is a type of American oak only found in a minuscule area in Washington state, and, to my knowledge, Westland is the only whiskey distillery utilizing it.

Capping off my Friday was Diageo’s portfolio party, featuring a performance by Snoop Dogg.  Since I’ve never seen Snoop in concert, I was able to check it off my bucket list while enjoying a Guinness and Bulleit 10 Boilermaker.  This was by far the most crowded portfolio I’ve attended since coming to Tales.  Lots of people, but a helluva lot of fun.


Saturday morning started with a meet-and-greet with Cedar Ridge founder/owner Jeff Quint.  We talked about how he started the Iowa distillery and his aim to put out a quality product that doesn’t taste like anything currently on the market.  Quint brought along some expressions for me to try.  The corn whiskey was light and sweet (perfect for a highball), while his malted rye had some nice characteristics not found in standard rye whiskies.  Cedar Ridge single malt was rich but not overly complex.  The two bourbons were nice, especially the 5-year-old expression.    I hope to get the chance to try these whiskies again.

As someone who runs a whiskey blog, I wouldnt miss Noah Rothbaum’s “The Original Whisky Writer: Alfred Barnard” seminar.  He impressive panel included David Wondrich, Dr. Nick Morgan, Dave Broom, and Lew Bryson.  The group tackled the life of the enigmatic Victorian whisky writer whose book, “The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom” served as a blueprint for most future whisky writers.  Though Barnard wrote other books, they didnt have the gravitas of that first one.  This may have been the most entertaining panel I’ve attended.

Capping off my Tales experience was a visit to Cafe Adelaide, where the restaurant was celebrating its newly launched Breakfast for Dinner menu.  The food was to die for, as were the cocktails, wich were made using spirits from the local Donner-Peltier distillery.  If you make it down to New Orleans, you should really stop by Cafe Adelaide.  There’s simply no friendlier hospitality in the city.

What another wonderful year!  It was probably my most hectic.  Next year’s goal is to slightly scale back, which could prove difficult if there are as many great events as this year.  Till then, cheers!

The Search for the Perfect Boilermaker

I have to confess – I’m not much of a beer guy.  I like beer, but I don’t LOVE beer.  More times than not I’d rather reach for a glass of whiskey than a pint of beer.  That said, there are a few local brews I keep around for a pour from time to time.  So when Bulleit asked if I’d like to put together Boilermaker pairings with their whiskey brand and write about it, I thought this could be fun.  Bulleit provided their standard bourbon, rye and 10-year-old bourbon for this little experiment, along with gift cards to purchase some beer to pair with their whiskies.

If you don’t know, a Boilermaker is a glass of whiskey and a shot of beer.  Wait… that’s not right, but it’s definitely not wrong!  A Boilermaker is a pairing of beer and whiskey.  There are three traditional ways of enjoying the pairing.  First, you can down a shot of whiskey and chase with the beer.  Secondly, you can drop the whiskey inside the beer and drink, a la the Car Bomb.  Lastly, and my preferred method, is to alternately sip on both.  I decided to stick with two different beer brands – Louisiana’s Abita and Irish favorite Guinness.  What follows is a rundown of my favorite pairings.

Let’s start with Bulleit Bourbon.  Bulleit stands out of the crowd a bit with its signature spicy flavor profile, due to the large percentage of rye in its mash bill.  Tom Bulleit told me in the past that percentage is about a third, with the other two thirds being corn and a touch of malted barley.  Bulleit is bottled at 90 proof, so it is strong enough to stand out in cocktails but also makes a great daily sipper.

I first paired Bulleit with Abita Amber, the brewery’s best seller and one of my favorite beers.  According to Abita’s website, Amber is a “Munich style lager brewed with pale and caramel malts and German Perle hops.”  It’s medium-bodied, and has some caramel and malt flavors.  Bulleit’s own caramel notes sit nicely with the beer.  The bourbon’s spicy character shines here, cutting right through the beer’s caramel/toffee nature.

Next up was a pairing with Abita’s Sweet Orange Lager.  This beer, brewed with pilsner and wheat malts, with Louisiana sweet oranges added, is on the sweet side.  It is light, slighlty malty, and features a heavy dose of sweet citrus.  Citrus pairs well with bourbon – see just about any old cocktail!  Bulleit’s rye spice interweaves beautifully with the lager’s sweet oranges.  Delicous, but definitely on the sweeter side.

Please ignore the poor pour of Guinness.

Next on the docket was Bulleit Rye.  Distilled at MGP in Indiana using their 95% rye mashbill, Bulleit Rye whiskey is a spicy and a bit dry.  I thought I’d start with Guinness Draught.  The rich, chocolate malt creates a nice bed for the spicy rye whiskey.  However, there was something about it that didn’t quite click.  It wasn’t my favorite pairing, but it was an interesting one.  

I also tried Guinness Blonde, which worked much better.  The beer was light and crisp, allowing for the rye whiskey to take center stage.

Bulleit Rye was also paired with Abita Amber, but the rye whiskey’s spice threw the whole thing out of balance.

Bulleit 10-year-old bourbon is the brand’s oldest offering.  The extra years maturing in oak barrels give its caramel and vanilla notes a bit more richness than the standard Bulleit.  It’s still spicy, but that spice is more rounded.  Nice baking spices add  some complexity.  

The first pairing was with Guinness Draught.  The rich, chocolately stout provide a perfect background for Bulleit 10’s deep caramel and integrated spice to shine.  Speaking of chocolately beer, Abita’s brown ale, Turbodog, works well with the decade old bourbon.  The deep caramels of both drinks build upon each other.

I also tried a Boilermaker with Bulleit 10 and Abita Amber.  Like the earlier pairing that included the standard Bulleit Bourbon with this beer, Bulleit 10’s richer caramel nature hit all the right spots with Amber’s caramel and slightly bittersweet flavors.

Some pairings didn’t work for me.  Bulleit Rye and Sweet Orange Lager, for one.  The beer was just too sweet for the rye spice of the whiskey.  It was suggested I pair an IPA with the rye, but I can’t stand IPAs.  Maybe I haven’t found the right one.   Bulleit and Bulleit 10 paired with a blonde beer just didn’t click.  Abita Mardi Gras Bock was okay but wasn’t memorable.

I appreciate the opportunity Bulleit provided me here to explore some great beers while trying to find the “perfect Boilermaker.”  My two favorites of this experiment were Bulleit 10 paired with Guinness Draught, as well as the Bulleit and Abita Sweet Orange Lager combination.  Delicious. I think I’ll have to continue on with my experiments. 

Last Minute Holiday Gifts 2014

The holidays are right around the corner, and if you still have gifts to buy, here’s a handy little guide.  I’ve listed some of my favorite bourbons of the past year.  I’ve posted about some of these here on AdventuresInWhiskey.com.  What you won’t find on this list are super-rare, ultra-premium releases.  The bourbons listed here are widely available, for the most part, in most higher-end liquor stores.  Each entry in the list contains two bourbons of different price points from the same family.  Want to buy something other than whiskey?  I’ve got some non-whiskey holiday items that I’ve enjoyed throughout the year.

Whiskies, in no particular order:

1.  Bulleit 10 year old bourbon ($45) is a slightly more mature version of Bulleit.  The extra time in the barrel helps bring out more of the vanilla and oak notes.  If you’re looking for something cheaper along those lines, you can’t go wrong with Bulleit bourbon ($30).  It’s great neat and makes for a old fashioned.

2. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof ($50) is a monster of a bourbon.  Not for the faint at heart.  It’s barrel proof, so that means no added water.  In this case, that equates to a delicious full flavored bourbon.  Elijah Craig 12 ($27) is a nice substitute for the budget-minded.  Its the one I generally refer people to when asked which bourbon to buy.

3.  George Dickel 9 year old ($40) is a single barrel offering of George Dickel Tennessee Whisky.  You’ll have to check with your local store to see if they carry it.  Full of caramel, vanilla and oak.  My bottle has become one of my favorites.  George Dickel No. 12 ($25) is one of the better whisky values on the shelf.

4. Woodford Reserve Double Oaked ($50) offers more of that great oak flavor in your bourbon while still staying young and vibrant.  Woodford Reserve ($32) is no slouch and comes recommended as a nice everyday whiskey.  This is the first premium bourbon I fell in love with.

5.  Four Roses Single Barrel ($35/$50) comes in two slightly different versions.  There’s the standard single barrel bottled at 100 proof, and the more expensive private selection bottled at barrel strength.  Really, you can’t go wrong with either one.  Four Roses Yellow Label ($20) is a budget-priced, lighter style bourbon that’s great as a daily sipper.


Non-whiskey items:

1.  Noble jeans from Noble Denim.  Everything from these guys is handmade.  I can attest to the quality and fit of their raw denim jeans (I received a pair of their small batch barrel-aged jeans.  While not completely broken in, they fit like a glove).

2. Books.  Nothing like reading a whiskey book while drinking a little whiskey.  “American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye:  A Guide to the Nation’s Favorite Spirit” by Clay Risen profiles more than 200 American whiskies.  Another one aimed at the whiskey novice is “Whiskey Distilled:  A Populist Guide to the Water of Life” by Heather Greene.  This one is full of stories and is a nice guide through the world of whiskey.

3.  Ice Spheres mold.  The larger surface area on these ice spheres melt slower,  diluting your whiskey less.  Plus they look great in your glass.