With all due respect to Rick Springfield: sometimes it is OK to talk to strangers.
I view the internet as a way for strangers to talk to each other, share ideas, and give unsolicited advice. As whiskey maniacs we are all guilty, at one point or another, of this last part. Sometimes it looks like steering a casual conversation about whiskey into the topic of mashbills and barrel entry proof. It could be that you listened in on a conversation another consumer had with a store associate and then gave your opinion that nobody asked for. Maybe someone asked you for a gift suggestion and instead of just naming two or three bottles, you gave the backstory on each one.
Now, how do we the whiskey elite (sarcasm) take advice ourselves? We read articles from people we respect. We take their suggestions on Twitter and Instagram as that gentle nudge to try something. This time I allowed myself to be “open to be influenced;” if that doesn’t make sense, let me explain:
In this case it was an Instagram conversation with someone who had worked with one of my friends. They were planning a birthday trip to Louisville and looking for non-bourbon things to do. Louisville is a great city, and in my many trips there I’ve found that, while you may not be a bourbon fan you can fall in love the pace of the city and the role bourbon has historically played in its growth. We did cover the Bourbon trail of course, and it eventually led to the gentle nudge I am writing about today: she asked if I had heard of Lucky Seven Spirits, as her friend was involved with the brand.
I had, indeed. The only thing I knew about it was the gorgeous bottle that had been tempting me on the store shelf at my local store for the better part of this year. We have all been burned by the pretty bottle before and, in this case, it was discouraging me from trying the whiskey. This was the gentle nudge I didn’t know I needed. It was time to take the plunge. After all, if I expect someone to listen to my advice, then I should surely be willing to take advice as well, right?
If you’ve read my articles, you know I love three types of bourbon: wheated, 4-grain, and finished. I stepped into the store and knew immediately what I wanted. Holiday Toast is Lucky Seven’s finished bourbon. To that point, I had become burned out on bourbon; a summer of sourced Tennessee whiskey had exhausted my palate. Perhaps my mind was just ready to fall in love, and I did. I fell hard.
In my opinion, this finished whiskey is a revelation. I remember Woodford Reserve Double Oaked being my first try of finished whiskey and, for a long time, it was the only widely available option. The next revelation for me was Michter’s Toasted Rye. That marshmallow dream changed the game and suddenly we saw an explosion of finished whiskies. I would also have to include J. Henry Cognac Finish as one of my all-time favorite finished whiskies. J. Henry & Sons is a Wisconsin distillery that really was ahead of their time with that bottle. I would put that bottle on my Mount Rushmore (sports fans love doing Mount Rushmores) of finished bourbons. An honorable mention goes to Angel’s Envy and their rye… actually, I might have to revisit that one and add it to my starting five.
So, to take things further, I reached out to Lucky Seven. Michael Lahalih is the CEO of Lucky Seven Spirits, and he was nice enough to answer some questions:
Malt: What inspired you to get into Bourbon?
Michael: JP (John Pals) and I started to realize about 6 years ago we both enjoyed the brown spirit. We’d often send each other pics of bottles we’d bought at our local liquor stores and call each other when we stumbled upon a must-have bottle. That led to us taking a few “man” trips to Louisville where we fell in love with the bourbon culture, the people, and the history.
Our original goal was to just have the chance to do a barrel pick with some of our favorite distilleries. Unfortunately, it was around that time that distilleries were slowing/closing down their private select programs. During those trips, however, we met some key people that would later become our Lucky Seven team.
To sum up this long answer: the inspiration behind getting into bourbon was having the ability of taking some amazing juice and making it better. JP and I have similar palates and have similar taste profiles that we strive for with our expressions. That’s what really gets us excited about being in this business.
Malt: What were the steps you wanted to take to ensure the Whiskey was authentic to you and your tastes?
Michael: It is really important to us that we remain a Kentucky brand. We realize that Kentucky Bourbon is the best in the world, and we work diligently trying to find barrels that are worthy of putting into a Lucky Seven bottle.
Additionally, we knew none of these barrels would mean anything without the talent of a Master Blender. We were fortunate to have been introduced to the very humble and talented Ashley Barnes. Ashley’s impeccable palette aligned quite well with ours and ensuring she was our Master Blender was extremely important to our brand.
Generally, when we taste any of our barrels we sit around and decide what to do with them. It’s a collective effort that decides if we should finish in a secondary barrel, offer it as a Single Barrel or blend, and what to proof it at. Once that’s been decided then Ashley disappears for a few weeks and does her magic. It’s a very fun process and we think that effort and pride is shown through our expressions.
Malt: How did you come up with the name Holiday Toast? Any fun backstory there?
Michael: We had come across some younger bourbon that we fell in love with when we tried it. Up until that point we had been sourcing older, more mature bourbon but knew we had to have this new juice. That being said we wanted to offer something really special with those barrels, so we had all decided to look into a secondary barrel finish.
We took a trip to Kelvin Cooperage and with the help of Ashley’s amazing skills we had decided on a toasted barrel recipe to finish the juice in. We had filled those barrels in early Spring and had asked Ashley to go and sample the juice in late September. Once she did, she called me right away and enthusiastically said the juice was so delicious and we needed to dump the barrels immediately. Being right before the holidays and it being a toasted finish, we decided on the name The Holiday Toast. We are all very proud of this expression and hope to offer it for many years to come.
Malt: When doing a double barrel product like Holiday Toast, did you go in with a certain profile in mind?
Michael: Ashley, JP, and myself all have a very similar flavor profile we strive for. It’s very hard to verbalize what that profile is, however it is innate within our group, which is why I think we work so well together. When we hit that profile, we all know it and that’s when we get really excited to offer that expression. The Holiday Toast was exactly that; once Ashley sampled that barrel in September we all knew we had a winner.
Malt: Can you disclose what the second barrel was like in terms of char and length of aging?
Michael: The barrels were new American Oak barrels we had made especially for us at Kelvin Cooperage. They have a heavier toast and lighter char.
Matt: I have to talk about the bottle; it might be the most gorgeous thing on a shelf that I have seen. In fact, it is one of the reasons I both noticed the brand and passed on it. I’ve been burned before by pretty bottles, but this one definitely did not disappoint. I’m glad Sarah gave me the gentle nudge towards your brand. What went into the design of the bottle?
Michael: Oh boy, the bottle. This probably took the most of our time and energy. It was really important to us that we had a gorgeous bottle and went down the road of designing our own. That took many months of revisions and caused many sleepless nights for us both.
We had decided that designing our own bottle from scratch was going to be too troublesome and costly. Fortunately, around that time we were attending a Craft Spirits convention in Denver and came across our bottle at the Saver booth. It was tucked away in the corner, barely visible, and I had asked to see it. We then “borrowed” the bottle and walked around the convention mocking up labels and talking to designers. It was also there we met our designer team Dan and Dennis from Flow Design. The team at Flow took all our crazy ideas and made them a practical and functioning reality.
Our goal for the bottle was to make it a showpiece, something you would be proud of displaying on your bar and/or gifting to someone. To your point: we knew fancy bottles might scare off the true bourbon enthusiasts, which is why we had entered so many spirit competitions. We figured with the accolades we’d received at all the prestigious spirit competitions, it would help validate the juice that was in our fancy bottle, as well as the bottle itself.
Malt: How many states are you in and where can people find you?
Michael: We are currently in 12 states and growing rapidly. We also have an eCommerce page on our website which sells our expressions to about 30+ states.
Thanks to Michael for his time and insights.
This is Holiday Toast Batch 01. It comes bottled at 115 Proof (57.5% ABV) and I paid $70 for my bottle.
Lucky Seven The Holiday Toast – Review
Color: Deep and dark wood with a reddish tint.
On the nose: Honey up front, with a red hot cinnamon lurking. Will this be a sweet treat or a spice bomb? You become intrigued. Rarely do I see people hesitate with this one. It’s been smell and go in the best way. The warmth of the honey but promise of cinnamon dares you and welcomes you all at once. Straight to the palate we go.
In the mouth: The honey fades to the back as the cinnamon comes raging up front. The honey and cinnamon wane and meld to merge with a woodiness; a nod to the second barrel. Maybe it’s the Hollywood vibe, but I can only describe the trip a lavish thriller with a twist and a subtle turn at the end. The higher proof on this one helps it stand out against the current market (Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel, Old Forester 1910, and Woodford Reserve Double Oaked all come in under 100 proof).
To make sure I wasn’t smitten and just bouncing back from my mineral-driven Tennessee hangover and easy on the rebound, I suggested the bottle to those that would ask. In the past six weeks I have done three tastings and suggested this to four people who have all come back raving. It stands out, it really does. Blender Ashley Barnes has created a uniquely approachable, high-proof finished whiskey. I want to give this my highest score ever. Perhaps it’s an 8/10 because I was burned out on bourbon at the time? Should I allow the ravings of everyone else that has tried this influence me, or does it just make me more confident in my first impression?
They say time tells the tale and – all these months later – I still say this is a must-try.