This time last year, your friendly neighborhood whiskey reviewer was in a unique position. For the first time in a decade I was unemployed. I was let go. Services no longer needed. As a new father, your mind races to the worst of places. Of course I had my health, and that always helped me to keep things in perspective. Still, a person worries about how they can support their family when things like this occur.
So, I had to venture into the job market. I knew very little about job searching in this big new connected world. How much did companies care about social media presence? How many would view my whiskey hobby as a negative? Was it time to scrub all the fun I had from visible internet memory?
It is true that people do drink. Some drink one type of liquid exclusively. Few make drinking one spirit exclusively a hobby. Fewer people than that collect bottles of a spirit and store it. Few share pictures of their collection online. Even fewer feel compelled to write reviews and post videos talking about it!
I had to wonder about what a potential employer would think? Surely, there had to be productive members of society that one could look at and say, “Hey, he drinks whiskey and does good things!” Would a glance at the other citizens of the whiskeyverse create a more positive impression? Sure there could be some role models out there.
Then I looked at some of my whiskey groups online. Some bottle photos are beautifully shot and combine other hobbies like watches or sneakers. Others are garish to say the least; and involve firearms and children. We get it: birthday bourbon for your kid’s birthday. My search for redeeming qualities of whiskey groups was not off to a good start.
When I started writing this article, what I really wanted the world to know is that we aren’t all tasteless buffoons and social media follower chasers who resort to stunts and distasteful pictures. Please let this be a warning to never combine alcohol, children, and/or firearms in your photos. I can deal with the watch and sneaker combos, but those prior examples perplex me to this day.
The amount of generosity and professionalism among the folks on Whiskey Twitter is astounding. I find it sad that the hobby doesn’t show off more of our best members. There is the current leader of Malt, Taylor Cope, who seems to have a full-time job and somehow edits all these articles while writing an amazing amount of his own pieces. Are there more? For sure there are.
This made me want to showcase my own little niche of fellow golfers, basketballers and sneaker heads that are whiskey drinkers. That led me to create my series of Instagram live interviews known as “Bottle in Common.” Forbes writer Chris Cason and Bourbon Pursuit/Pursuit Spirits owner Kenny Coleman have visited me. Another two-time visitor is the author of Bourbon Justice and Bourbon Crusader Brian Haara. Brian is a lawyer by day and Whiskey reviewer by night. That’s right, he’s the opposite of Batman; his crimefighting occurs in the daylight.
Brian was kind enough to sample me a 2014 William Heaven Hill 4th Edition bourbon. This is a 15 year that came from 65-gallon barrels. You see, I suspect that Brian is like me: when we get our hands on a great bottle of whiskey, we cannot wait to share it with like-minded enthusiasts. It is this spirit that I see alive today at Malt.
Taylor and other authors get samples from our readers, and they cannot wait to see our opinion, good or bad. We want to discuss the points of the whiskey-making process and what might have led to the creation of such a spirit. Every bottle encapsulates a moment in time. That liquid will rarely ever be replicated. Even the same mash-bill and same equipment cannot guarantee that same amount of temperature fluctuation over time.
All this leads to my most recent trip to Kentucky. A day trip that had me drive to Kentucky in the morning and back to Chicago in one day. I love driving. The spirit of the open road and seeing all parts of this country is the same spirit captures my imagination when I crack a fresh bottle of bourbon. What will I experience? This nation has redeeming qualities and good people. What will I find? What will I experience next?
That night driving back my cellphone went off. A warning from the weather service. The warning recommended seeking shelter. That a tornado was possible in my immediate area Indiana that I was traveling through on my way back to Chicago.
If many of you have driven through Indiana you know that there isn’t much. It’s farm land. Wide open in most areas and a marvelous wind farm of turbines that remind you how far you have between Indianapolis and Chicago. I was well north of that wind farm; but the rain was pouring and visibility next to nothing.
That Friday there was mention that bad weather was coming. I left after my distillery trip to ensure I got ahead of it; but now it seems there was something behind me. I called ahead to my friends and family in Chicago. They assured me that there was rain up north; but nothing serious. With little in the ways of shelter and rain pouring thick and heavy I decided to move forward. A few large trucks on the road with me shared the road. We forged ahead at a slow but steady pace. My vehicle felt as though it was moving through a pool. Slow and steady hands on the wheel, I just wanted to get home. The winds were not sending the rain sideways yet, but the direct downpour felt as though my car was pulling a trailer with us.
I made it home that night and exhausted I fell asleep. I awoke that morning to text messages of people checking in on me. They had seen my social media posts in Kentucky and wanted to know if I was ok. I assured them I was; but then I turned on the morning news. Tornados had decimated towns in Kentucky and Illinois. I had the luxury of driving north; others had no choice but to hunker down and await.
So by now you’re wondering where am I going on these two subjects? You see there is one group that I feel has always reflected the best qualities of the Bourbon community and that group is the Bourbon Crusaders, a group of which Brian Haara is a member. You will see a later article of mine about him that I have been sitting on. Taylor has also written about his experiences in the group.
The Bourbon Crusaders sprung into action after those storms. The tornado hit on December 10th. By December 16 an online auction and fundraiser was set up by Fred Minnick, The Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA) and the Bourbon Crusaders. Our own Taylor Cope and Brian Haara donated bottles to the cause. I did what I could to make some purchases that would go towards relief for people who weren’t as fortunate as I was. An amazing recap of the efforts can be read on Brian’s site.
So, in this crazy whirlwind of personal stories that seem vaguely connected I implore you the reader of two things. First, keep those who were victims of the tornado in Kentucky in your thoughts and prayers still. Communities are still rebuilding and donations (if you can afford them) are still welcome. Second: If you consider yourself a member of the “whiskey community,” look to the folks that do it correctly. Celebrate those stories and share them. Retweet them. Like and follow. You can set a good example daily even if you’re not raising millions of dollars, or wearing an ascot (shout out to Fred Minnick), or a bowtie like Brian, who I am proud to call a friend.
Onto Brian’s sample: This comes from the William Heaven Hill series that is sold at the Heaven Hill gift shop. It’s retail price was $250; mind you, that was in 2014. Even in today’s market, a price tag this high is still is eye catching. A cynic can certainly look at this with a raised eyebrow. I have done several tastings at Heaven Hill and can say that this series has gone both ways for me. One time I made a purchase; another time I didn’t. Would I have bought this at $250 after the tasting? Let’s find out…
William Heavenhill – Review
4th Edition (2014); 15 years old from 65 gallon barrels; 67.8% ABV.
Color: Reddish wood.
Nose: Sharp oak and alcohol hit you on the first note. A second whiff is eye opening; this is what special bottles have. The sharp oak is surrounded and enveloped in leather. This is the kind of smell that takes you to a study with a lit fireplace.
In the mouth: Cinnamon apple pie up front. A delightful heat tickles your palate as it gives way to a sweet heat. That warm apple pie melts away in your mouth. Indeed, this reminds me of a Popeye’s apple pie (moreso than McDonalds); both are unrivaled for deliciousness. A second taste gives me more wood, but not that much. More of the evaporated apple pie persists for me. The finish has no sweetness for me at all. All I’m left with is a flavor that I imagine is the exact equal to an emptied and dried barrel. It’s like chewing on a stave in the very best way possible. It makes you take another sweet sip and before you know it, you’re in a cycle of country dessert and easy living.
A little bit more about my point of view on pricing: When you get a rare bottle and it is this good; the price becomes irrelevant. It might even become part of the story. “Yes I got this at the gift shop, and yes it was expensive, but damn it is good.”
In the way that Brian’s article noted that “it’s not just about the bourbon,” this review is not just about this particular whiskey. It’s about the kind of friendship to be found in the whiskey community, among the type of folks who would band together to raise millions for those in need as quickly as they’d help out a new dad who had just lost his job. Fortunately, I found new work quickly, without deleting online evidence of my passion for bourbon. After all, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather associate with than Brian and the rest of those who stepped up in that moment of need. Cheers to them!
If you wish to further support the relief efforts for the state of Kentucky, please follow this link:
Great article and review.
I really liked your comment on price when it comes to rare bottles. At the weekend a group of us were sharing fantastic whiskies we’d all brought along. It was very rare that price came up in that context, it was all about the flavours.
Indeed. The joy a rare bottle like this brings to someone who hasn’t had it yet is almost priceless in my opinion… almost. Thanks Graham. Cheers!