The 2018 New Orleans Bourbon Festival


New Orleans Bourbon Festival 2017: a chat with Fred Noe and Eddie Russell, moderated by yours truly.  Photo courtesy of New Orleans Bourbon Festival

Back for its second year, the New Orleans Bourbon Festival really didn’t have to change much from its first outing in 2017.  It wasn’t just a successful first year festival.  It was a successful festival, period.  But the festival’s founders aren’t resting on their laurels.

Tracy Napolitano, one of the festival’s founders, is the only full-time employee.  After taking a short breather following last year’s festival, Tracy and fellow founders took all the feedback they received to heart.  Their mission was to improve upon their first outing without losing its spirit.

The festival takes place Thursday, March 8th through Saturday, March 10th.  Festivities kick off with several bourbon dinners at restaurants around New Orleans, each sponsored by a different brand.

Like last year, this year’s festival features two Grand Tasting nights filled with pours from both large and craft brands.  The biggest change is the inclusion of all American whiskey.  The first festival was generally limited to bourbon only.  That means a whole lot of rye whiskey, Tennessee whiskey, and more.  More than 100 different whiskies will be poured.  If you happen to see me at one of the Grand Tastings, please say hi.  I’ll be the guy with the glass of whiskey in his hand.


You can’t drink whiskey and not smile.  Photo courtesy of New Orleans Bourbon Festival

In addition, this year’s VIP ticket holders are getting more attention.  Some really special pours can be expected in the VIP area.  I’ve been told the list confidentially, and yeah… those VIPs should definitely heed the phrase ‘first come, first serve.’  Better yet, “the early bird gets the worm.”  There’s also a special welcome reception for VIPs entitled “Bourbon & Burlesque.”  ‘Nuff said.

Again this year is a whiskey judging by Ultimate VIP ticket holders.  From what I’m told, these tickets sell quickly.  We’re less than three weeks away.  Go get your tickets now.

Seminars have been spread over two days, now taking place the Friday and Saturday of the festival, which gives folks more access to attend more seminars.  This year’s speaker lineup is a doozy, featuring Fred Minnick, Michael Veach, Peggy Noe Stevens, Bernie Lubbers, Maggie Kimberl, Trey Zoeller, and many, many more.

The festival’s theme this year is “Generations,” a theme very important in American whiskey.  I again have the pleasure of moderating not one but two panels related to that theme. On Friday, I’ll chat with Jim Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe and his son, Freddie.  Saturday, you’ll find me moderating Eddie Russell and his son, Bruce.  I simply cannot wait!

Festival proceeds go to Kids Can Nola, a new non-profit benefitting the welfare of children.  It’s a classy touch from the festival founders.

I’m sure this year’s festival will far surpass last year’s wonderful inaugural event.  NOLA and bourbon are made for each other.  If Kentucky is bourbon’s wife, New Orleans is definitely the whiskey’s mistress.




Review: Jim Beam Distiller’s Cut Bourbon

Every blue moon, a value whiskey comes around that’ll have me doing a double take.  This is one of those whiskies.  Jim Beam just released their limited release Distiller’s Cut.  The straight bourbon is aged five to six years, un-chill filtered, bottled at 100 proof, and priced at $23.  Let me restate that.  Aged five to six years, un-chill filtered, bottled at 100 proof, and priced at $23.  Yep, a double take whiskey.

Distiller’s Cut is five to six years old, which puts it in Jim Beam Black Label territory in terms of age.  Black Label used to be eight years old, but lost its age statement a few years back.  Chill filtering is applied to most whiskies.  It’s done to keep the whiskey clear when adding water or ice.  Skipping the chill filtering allows the whiskey to retain all those fatty acids that help contribute to flavor and mouthfeel.  So, when you add some ice and your whiskey clouds up, it’s completely normal.  Jim Beam didn’t mess around when it came to proof, leaving Distiller’s Cut at a hearty 50% ABV.  This just about guarantees a big, bold flavor.  The surprise is the price.  A bottle will set you back $23, but you’ll most likely find it for less than that. That’s even cheaper than Jim Beam Black Label!

The nose is signature Jim Beam, full of caramel and vanilla with a touch of nuttiness, spice and oak.  Here the aromas are a bit more cohesive than the standard Jim Beam White Label and more robust than the Black Label, thanks to the higher proof.  Taste-wise, we’re talking about hints of caramel chews, grilled corn, charred oak, vanilla bean and a sprinkling of baking spice and herbs.  The finish is medium-long with a sweet and spicy cinnamon cake note.

Wow.  The whole experience for $23 or less?  Is this an answer to the criticism of late concerning some of  Beam Suntory’s high-priced releases like Knob Creek 25th Anniversary or Booker’s Rye?  If so, Jim Beam Distiller’s Cut is a proclamation that great bourbon doesn’t have to cost a lot.  Off the top of my head, the only other options that comes to mind when I think of a big, robust bourbon at around $23 is Elijah Craig Small Batch or Henry McKenna BIB.  And generally those are priced a few bucks higher.  If you know of a better value than Jim Beam Distiller’s Cut, I’m all ears.  Keep in mind this is a limited run, so find a bottle sooner than later. Jim Beam should consider making this a permanent entry in their lineup.  Highly recommended!  8.5/10


Thanks to Jim Beam for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Review: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (Batch C917)

The 12-year-old cask-strength powerhouse known as Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is hard to beat. It usually delivers an utterly delicious concentration of classic bourbon aromas and flavors that is almost impossible to pass up at $60 a bottle. The third and last release of 2017, batch C917, is bottled at a respectable 131 proof.

Batch B517 was an outstanding release in what is generally considered a very consistently solid line.

As I previously mentioned, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is the only EC release to carry a 12-year age statement. A couple of years ago, Small Batch’s 12-year age statement was controversially removed.  I’m not an age statement diehard, so the disappearance of that age statement didn’t bug me one bit.  I’m going off on a tangent.  Focus, Bobby.  Focus.

Back to the whiskey at hand.

The nose on Batch C917 features hints of sweet oak, molasses, grilled corn cakes and some spice.  On the palate, big, bold waves of caramels and spice cake almost overwhelm the senses.  Hints of cardamom, vanilla, and dark chocolate pop through mid-palate.  A nice, strong dose of oak, an expected note in the Elijah Craig brand, and leather hit the palate late.  The finish is long and warm, with a bittersweet note reminiscent of caramel-coated dark chocolate lingers.

Heaven Hill has another lively and fantastic bourbon release with Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch C917.  It does what a great barrel proof whiskey should do – transport you to a Kentucky rickhouse with every sip. I slightly prefer the previous batch B517 over this one.  The differences are minute.  Bad batches of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof simply don’t exist.  Recommended! 8.5/10


Thanks to Heaven Hill for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.