Kevin and I recently visited Kentucky to select a barrel of Buffalo Trace to serve as Anvil’s own private barrel-selection. Yes, I am aware that this makes our jobs at Anvil seem like the cushiest dream jobs ever. Watch yourself there – you’re drooling with envy all over your screen. Well, truth be told, when we get to take trips like this, you have every right to be exceedingly jealous. There is arguably no other place in the country at this time of year that is as beautiful as Kentucky, and, of course, there’s the bourbon – lots of it. These types of opportunities definitely balance out those 18 hours days, and when you get to taste a barrel of bourbon as good as the one we selected for Anvil, you start to consider never leaving.
UPDATE: We’ve since received our wonderful selection of Buffalo Trace, and it is phenomenal. As of today, February 17, 2011, we still have some left in the bar, so get in there quick and give it a try!
It’s no secret that Buffalo Trace is my favorite go to bourbon. In my opinion, you can’t find a regularly available bourbon under $40 that comes anywhere close to how wonderful this one is. However, the namesake bourbon isn’t the primary reason why I’m one of Buffalo Trace’s biggest fans; instead, it is the distillery’s ongoing efforts to push the dusty bourbon industry forward. Simply put, these folks are making the best and most exciting products available in the American whiskey category, and there’s no sign that anyone is going to challenge them any time soon.
Each year’s release of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection release consisting of the William Larue Weller, George T. Stagg, Eagle Rare 17 Year, Thomas Handy Rye, and Sazerac 18 Year Rye yields arguably the best bourbons and ryes annually. In addition to these limited products, the distillery also makes the younger version of the Sazerac Rye, Weller Bourbons, Blanton’s, the Pappy Van Winkle line, and other important non-bourbon products, such as the recently release original formula Herbsaint, Regan’s Orange Bitters, and even Peychaud’s Bitters. The lineup, which includes others as well, is really quite incredible. There are distilleries everywhere that would love to claim just one of these products as their own. There is no other distillery in the country I would rather tour, and to be given unrestricted access on our own private tour was an unforgettable opportunity.
One of the definite highlights of the trip was our visit to the lab, where Buffalo Trace samples and blends their bourbons. In a blessed coincidence of divine bourbon intervention, we happen to be there on the day that this year’s Antique Collection was being selected. Kevin and I were actually the second and third individuals to taste what will be the upcoming lineup, Maybe it was jut the setting, but I think the upcoming release is going to be the best yet. The Thomas Handy and William Larue Weller were two of the best whiskies I’ve ever had, and I can’t wait to pour them at the bar.
While we were definitely there for bourbon, the cocktail fan in me just couldn’t resist the opportunity to find out more about one of Buffalo Trace’s lesser-known brands. I persistently prodded every Buffalo Trace employee available to tell me more about the composition and process used to make Peychaud’s, but I was shot down time and time again. The only information the staff gave me about the secretive Peychaud’s process was that it was becoming a real pain in the ass to keep up with the continually escalating demands caused by people like me who force feed everyone sazeracs. I bet they really won’t like it when our new menu launches soon and our bartender Matt Tanner’s Peychaud’s Spritz starts using an ounce and a half of Peychaud’s per drink – sorry guys.
Yet, despite the extensive private tour, tasting lab access, and bitters exploration, we were here for one reason – to select our own barrel of Buffalo Trace for Anvil. Buffalo Trace pulled five preferred barrels out of the warehouse and let Kevin and I dive right in. Buffalo Trace is regularly blended from 25-30 barrels to acquire the signature flavor of the bourbon, but when selecting an individual barrel, the flavors can vary greatly. Kevin and I narrowed the five barrels down to tour two favorites. One was lighter and full of a unique delicate vanilla flavor that was drastically different than any bourbon I had tasted before. The other was bold and full of aggressive charred flavors; it was outstanding and reminded me of a complex rye that asks you to explore all of the spice, char, and other qualities that endlessly sing on the palate. I would have loved to have taken both, but we could only choose one.
As is typical of Kevin and I, we argued back and forth about which barrel to select. I won’t tell you who won, but we eventually decided to select the bolder barrel for Anvil as our guests typically enjoy more aggressive whiskey such as rye and assertive bourbons. With our patrons in mind, we know we chose the ideal house selection for Anvil. Our barrel is slowly working its way through the distribution channels and will be at the bar very soon. We are even considering allowing a local retailer to make a few of these bottles available for sale. Personally, I can’t wait until the barrel gets here so that we can taste the bourbon side-by-side with the Buffalo Trace White Dog and standard bottles of Buffalo Trace. We just started offering cocktail classes at Anvil on the last Saturday of each month (our gin class is this weekend), and I am really looking forward to offering this comparison when we do bourbon in a few months. By the way, if you want to get a jump start on learning about bourbon you should check out the first article I wrote as one of my weekly cocktail columns for the Houston Press in a two part series on the Mint Julep – it’s Bourbon 101.
I’ll re-post when our private Buffalo Trace selection comes in. Next time, I will tell you about our the barrel-aged beer collaboration we are working on with the barrel we selected. That’s right house Buffalo Trace Bourbon, house barrel-aged beers – watch out; there’s that jealousy again! Fortunately, the best part of my job is getting to these experiences with everyone that comes into Anvil. Kevin and I will try and remember the sharing aspect of our job and not drink all the bourbon when it comes in. We’ve been craving it for months!