Pappy Van Winkle

Louisiana Barn Smoker Photo Recap

A few weeks ago at L.A. Poche in St. James parish, about an hour’s drive from New Orleans, Drew Estate kicked off their first Louisiana Barn Smoker. More than 300 attendees joined Drew Estate founder Jonathan Drew, Master Blender Willie Herrera, and Carrie & Louise Van Winkle for a firsthand look at the barrel fermentation process unique to St. James parish.

St. James parish grows Perique tobacco, and has been barrel fermenting for a long time. Tobacco typically ferments in covered piles. Using an ex-bourbon barrel for the fermentation process helps impart a touch of the spirit’s qualities into the tobacco as well as breakdown the leaf’s unwanted flavors. A few years back, Jonathan Drew got together with L.A. Poche and started barrel fermenting their Kentucky fire-cured tobacco. It is this tobacco that is used as the wrapper near the head of the Pappy Van Winkle Barrel Fermented cigars, giving the cigar its signature character.

Jonathan Drew and Willie Herrera walked attendees through the process of how tobacco is processed, from tiny seedling to ready-to-smoke cigar. These guys answered all questions honestly, which is something not always found in the spirits industry. Transparency and education seem to be major themes of the Barn Smoker events. Kudos to Drew Estate for that!

A raffle was also held at the event, which generously raised $12,000 for Cigars for Warriors. The group sends cigars overseas to deployed soldiers, providing a little comfort in the process.

Angel’s Envy, MB Roland and Jonathan Drew’s own spirits were also available for attendees to sample. Add to that the deliciously spicy Cajun catering that was served for lunch and the gorgeous weather, and it was a recipe for an unforgettably entertaining, educational and relaxing event. If you have even a passing interest in cigars, you have to make it out to one. Let me tell you, future Barn Smoker events are now on my radar.

L.A. Poche, the site of the first Louisiana Barn Smoker.

Cured tobacco awaiting rehydration.

A rehydrated tobacco leaf.

The warehouse was filled with barrels fermenting tobacco. On a side note, the smell in here was quite nice.

A closeup look at fermenting tobacco. All that’s added to the barrel is tobacco and water.

Jonathan Drew giving attendees a bit of the Drew Estate history. The company, founded in 1998, is celebrating its 20th anniversary next year.

Drew Estate Master Blender Willie Herrera recounting how the Pappy Van Winkle Barrel Fermented cigars came to be.

Every attendee walked away with a few sticks and some swag as part of their ticket price.

A special thanks to the good folks at Drew Estate for the invite. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 Years Old Bourbon Whiskey Review

IMG_1898I thought I’d kick off my first whiskey review with what’s up to now my favorite bourbon overall – Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15 Years Old.

You probably already know the background, hype, and near unobtainable status of this whiskey.  Making Pappy 15 year my first review tells you a little about my bourbon leanings – I prefer bourbon on the sweeter, slightly woodier side.  I enjoy a high rye mash bill, but I lean towards the softer wheated bourbons a little more.

I find this particular bourbon sweet, soft, and smooth, even at 107 proof.  I guess 15 years in a barrel will do that to whiskey.  It’s not too woody, which is an observation I often come across when reading about Van Winkle’s 23 year old expression.  I know it’s cliche, but there’s a lot of caramel, vanilla, and butterscotch here.  The folks at Buffalo Trace really know what they’re doing.


It’s got just the right amount of burn.  It’s not too much and not too sharp.  It’s nearly perfect.

Okay, cost.  The suggested retail price is about $79.  By some stroke of luck, I paid only slightly more than that.  Is it worth $79? Yes, if you can find it. You can get great whiskies for under $25, but this one’s special.  For me, this is a bourbon that comes out for special occasions only.

This one lives up to the hype.  9.5/10