Touring the American Whiskey Trail, Day 4

Eddie Russell, master distiller, leads a bourbon tasting class in Wild Turkey’s visitors center. Photo credit: Kevin R. Kosar

Thirty years ago, most whiskey distilleries were lonely places — industrial factories in remote rural areas. For the most part, the proprietors of these places saw themselves as manufacturers, the first tier in the three-tier system. They made whiskey, which was then trucked away. Customers were far removed.

Some, but not many, folks might drop by for a look around. “If we had 100 people come in a year, we were lucky,” says Eddie Russell master distiller at Wild Turkey. When folks showed up on the Lawrenceburg, Kentucky property, whoever was around the office would give them a tour of the property. Wild Turkey built a small visitor’s center in 1987. “Maybe 3,000 or 4,000 people a year would visited in those days,” says Russell.

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Touring the American Whiskey Trail, Day 3

The many fermenters at Jim Beam’s Clermont distillery. Photo credit: Kevin R. Kosar

It was difficult to feel anything but awe standing in front of the still at Jim Beam’s main distillery. It is six-stories tall, and 200 gallons of beer pour into the still each minute. The still pours forth 30 gallons a minute of 135 proof white dog — the water-clear liquid that gets watered down to a respectable potency and popped into charred barrels for aging.

About 300 employees work at this facility in Clermont — but this is not the only Beam factory. There is another distillery in nearby Boston, Kentucky (also employing 300 folks), and a third distillery 75 minutes away in Frankfort. All told, Beam shipped eight-million cases of whiskey this past year, which includes its famed white label and all the other brands (Booker’s, Basil Hayden, Knob Creek, etc.). One Beam barrel house I visited holds 20,000 53-gallon barrels of bourbon. It is one of 70 Beam booze storage facilities.

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Warming Winter Whiskeys

clyde-may-old-tub-angels-envy-reducedI am a seasonal drinker. What tastes best to me in the summer swelter is not what I hoist in the chillier months. Since the cold began its bite some weeks back, I have not had a single gin drink, for example, despite it being a spirit I adore.

Mostly, my glass of late has been filled with whiskeys. Bourbon tastes especially delicious during the dark months. I picked up a handsome package of Calumet Farm Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey (86 proof), which came with two nice glasses. It proved a bit of a disappointment—the flavor was thin and not very nuanced. Who exactly makes this Bourbon is far from clear—the rear label lists “Western Spirits” and “Three Springs Bottling Company.” Google those and you don’t get much. There is no Western Spirits distillery, so maybe this bourbon was bought from Heaven Hill. (Rating: Not good)

I got much more satisfaction from Clyde May Straight Bourbon Whiskey (92 proof). May, as many of you likely know, was a famed Alabama moonshiner who operated between the 1950s and 1980s. His son Kenny took the business legal, but not before running into some troubles with the law himself. Clyde May bourbon is made by Conecuh Ridge Distillery, and is aged in heavily charred barrels. It offers an intense apricot and nutmeg notes, and costs about $40 a bottle. (Rating: Very good)

A friend brought me a bottle of Old Tub sour mash, which one has a hard time finding beyond the grounds of the Jim Beam Distillery. This bottled in Bond whiskey is good stuff—a 100 proof, 4-year old spirit that tastes of corn, vanilla, barrel char, and apple. (Rating: Very good) Why is it called “Old tub”? Bourbon historian Chuck Cowdery explains:

“In 1892, Jacob’s grandson, David M. Beam, transferred the family distillery to his sons James and Park, and his son-in-law Albert Hart. They called their company Beam & Hart but gave their distillery the name of their best-selling brand, Old Tub Bourbon. As whiskey marketers are wont to do, these newly large scale commercial distillers tried to cast themselves as old-timey. Jack Beam, an uncle to Jim, Park, and Al, called his brand (and distillery) ‘Early Times’ and used terms like ‘hand made’ and ‘old fire copper’ to suggest timeless craftsmanship. His nephews’ ‘Old Tub’ was a reference to the wooden tubs in which mash was cooked, laboriously stirred by hand. Historic Old Tub labels show the mash being stirred by a dark-skinned worker, possibly a slave. The modern version just shows the tub.”

Last year, I crowed over Angel’s Envy in the Spectator. Here I will do it again. This year they released a cask strength (124.6 proof) version of their port-barrel aged bourbon. Only 8,000 bottles came to market. It is an immense drink—on must add drop after drop of water to it to find the soft spot where the flavors release. The size of this whiskey is the product of the considerable work used to produce it. Carin Moonin explains that Angel’s Envy is “made from a mash of 72 percent corn, 18 percent rye, and 10 percent malted barley. Once the bourbon has aged a minimum of four years (and up to six years) in white American Oak, it’s finished for up to six months in 60-gallon casks that were formerly used to mature port.” (Rating: Very good) Angel’s Envy cask strength runs about $180 a bottle.  Somewhere above Lincoln Henderson, the late distiller who invented this whiskey, is smiling.


Old Grand-Dad Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (80 proof)


Don’t let the orange and gold retro label fool you—at $22 for a 1.75 liter handle, Old Grand-Dad is a grand bargain.

It is a Bourbon with a higher rye content than most of the other Bourbons on today’s market, which gives it a different and less sweet flavor profile. Those who drop cash on Basil Hayden Bourbon should know that Old Grand-Dad tastes very similar. (Both are Beam products, and the Old Grand-Dad pictured on the label is Basil Hayden.)

Like Buffalo Trace and Evan Williams Black Label, Old Grand-Dad 80 proof makes a fine house Bourbon. (Rating: Good)

To see if our retailer can sell you a bottle, click here. Read more at 


Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Editor’s note: We’re republishing this article from our archive as part of a reorganization of the site’s content.

Knob Creek
by Colin A. Dodds

If you ever wondered what was behind the grimace of Humphrey Bogart or John Wayne as they drank some nonspecific mixture in the movies of yesteryear, Knob Creek Straight Bourbon Whiskey is an edifying experience.

The key word in its extended name is ‘Straight’- this is alcohol first (100 proof) and beverage second. It has a dark, sharp

flavor with very little of the sweetness that characterizes bourbons like Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, and Old Crow. What sweetness it does possess takes the form of a subdued, almost smoky syrup-like undertone.

There is something refreshing about the flavor- in the way that standing out in the freezing cold until half of you burns and the other half is numb is refreshing. Even Wild Turkey and Old Grandad are not the trial by fire that Knob Creek is. To the less experienced bourbon drinker, Knob Creek burns in such a way that the drinker is torn between being proud of having swallowed it and the urge to

immediately wipe the taste from memory. The flavor reminds you of the very pain that alcohol supposedly undoes, elusive to the degree it is intense, unremitting…It is a fine bourbon for the ‘man on a mission,’ when that mission is to get drunk via a merciless and honest (for aren’t all merciless things ultimately honest?) bourbon.

Knob Creek had a brief advertising campaign a year or so ago. It had no laughing, socializing people in it. No indication is made of the of the goodtime possibilities of this drink. The ads consisted of the label, blown up to ad size. I realize now that this was the closest I have come in my short life to truth in advertising. The reason is this, Knob Creek is a bourbon of reckoning.

Sure, you can swill a couple glasses among friends and be howling happy. It will be the night of your life- provided you don’t end up in jail.  Then again, it still might be the night of your life.

But to me, Knob Creek is a solitary drink.  It’s just you and this rectagular, ancient-looking bottle, and a whole lot of taste. (Rating ****1/2)

Click here to order Knob Creek Whiskey, and surf here to read more about this Jim Beam product.


Angel’s Envy and Jim Beam Devil’s Cut Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Most whiskey drinkers have heard abut the angel’s share—that portion of the spirit that evaporates while the spirit is aging in a cask.

Two new products have come to market in the past year that play off that nomenclature—Angel’s Envy and Jim Beam Devil’s Cut.  Both of these products are straight Bourbon whiskeys, which means they have spent not less than two years in barrel as required by federal regulations.

Angel’s Envy ($45 retail) is the more refined of the two products.  This Bourbon (86.6 proof) is aged four years in charred white oak barrels and then finished for three to six months in barrels that previously held port wine.  It is quite good and designed to be sipped neat or with perhaps a couple drops of water.  You might detect burnt orange, vanilla, and a bit of maple. Robust and delicious.  Knob Creek fans might be especially beguiled by this whiskey. (Rating ****1/4)



Jim Beam Devil’s Cut ($23 retail) is a 90 proof whiskey that is made by mixing six-year old Bourbon with the Devil’s Cut—that is, with Bourbon that is stuck inside the wood after after the barrel has been emptied.

The cynic might look at this is Beam finding a way to take a loss (trapped Bourbon) and monetize it.  The thinking drinker wants to know how the Bourbon is released from the wood and whether these barrels are then scrapped or resold to Scotch whisky-makers.

The casual drinker will care little about any of this and will want to know—is it any good?  It is.  Devil’s Cut tastes like Beam White label but it is more robust. The Bourbon flavors are more intense, and you can really taste wood.  This ornery whiskey is probably best taken with an ice cube.  (Rating ***1/2)

If you would like to acquire either of these Bourbons, please consider checking with our retailer.




Angel’s Envy is available in a limited number of states, which you can find listed here.