It’s looking like many of us will have additional time at home – events postponed, schools closed, jobs on furlough. It’s tough, but in these times, necessary. While difficult, I’m encouraging myself to look for a silver lining in all of this. For months I was looking forward to my April trip to Kentucky – gathering with friends, visiting Wild Turkey, and sipping bourbon straight from the barrel in rickhouse A. That must wait.
But there will be time for future gatherings and I don’t think Wild Turkey will be running short on barrels anytime soon. Our collective health – not just nationally, but globally – is far more important. I sincerely believe these cancellations, closures, and restrictions are making a difference. We may not feel its benefit immediately, but losing money now is better than losing life later.
Seeing the Glencairn Half-Full
So here we are – at home with more time. Surely there are things that can be done to not only pass the day, but better ourselves and foster happiness in our whiskey community. I’m not talking about broad or bold steps. Simple things – small acts of self fulfillment and online fellowship might just be a thread in that silver lining we’re looking for.
Here are a few whiskey-centered ideas and suggestions that should help you discover a new smile or two, all while practicing social distancing in the comfort of your own home. They’re in no way perfect, and the list is certainly incomplete, but if any one of these inspires or gets you motivated, that’s a win. I think we could all use one of those right now.
Get Your Nerd On
While we all appreciate sipping our whiskey, learning more about it can be just as rewarding. Besides, if you’re practicing moderation, sipping whiskey is a limited practice. Reading a book … not so much. There’s many to choose from, each with their own way of approaching the hobby.
If you’re new to whiskey – particularly bourbon and American rye – I suggest Fred Minnick’s Bourbon Curious or Clay Risen’s American Whiskey, Bourbon and Rye. If you’re already an armchair whiskey expert, check out Brian Haara’s Bourbon Justice or Lew Bryson’s Whiskey Master Class. And for other suggestions, I recommend reaching out to Twitter’s @obky_bourbonite, who’s literally read every modern whiskey book printed in English to date (not joking). If he can’t find the right whiskey book for you, I honestly don’t know who can.
And finally, if you enjoy writing, consider authoring your own whiskey book. I know it sounds like a daunting task (trust me, I’ve been there), but sometimes all it takes is getting started. It doesn’t have to be an all-encompassing guide. It doesn’t have to be historical. It can be whatever you want it to be. Zero in on a topic that interests you. You could write about modern-day bourbon legends like Elmer T. Lee, Booker Noe, or Parker Beam. You could write about stills or cooperage. Or, you could write about a specific sub-category, like single-barrel bourbons or finished American whiskeys. The choice is yours!
Blend Like a Master
So, you have a cabinet full of bottles but don’t want to leave your house to acquire new flavor profiles. What can you do? Create them, of course.
This topic is sure to get a few eyerolls – particularly on social media and salty forums. Few enthusiasts will appreciate your latest mad scientist discovery or how you’ve cloned Pappy 15. They could care less about your epic infinity bottle or solera-like experiments. Don’t worry about those folks. Blending whiskey is about having fun and discovering new things. And it’s easier than you might think.
You don’t need twenty bottles of rare booze to fashion an expert blend. Hell, some of my favorites involve two or three whiskeys. For example, take a choice Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon private selection and mix it with Russell’s Reserve 10-year at (near) equal parts. Boom! You’ve just created your own personal Wild Turkey 101 8-year. Now try it with single barrels from different rickhouses and see which combination you prefer. It’s that simple.
One blend that I go back to again and again is W. B. Hackell, which as the name implies is a knock off of Campari’s W. B. Saffell. You can find the recipe in my Russell’s Reserve 10-year review from last November. You might also check out my posts “Wild Turkey Blends” and “Hacking Wild Turkey,” as well as Aaron Goldfarb’s book Hacking Whiskey. They’re all good starting points, but above all else remember this: you’ll likely fail before you succeed. The goal is to have fun, and if you’re lucky, you’ll teach your palate a few tricks in the process.
Support Online Content
Bourbon tourism in Kentucky may have slowed to a crawl, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy learning about your favorite distilleries or exploring their many expressions. From blogs and podcasts, to YouTube and premium services like The Spirits Network, there’s plenty of avenues to explore. Some are educational, such as Michael Veach’s blog, the University of Kentucky’s Nunn Center, and Fred Minnick’s YouTube history videos, while others focus on enthusiast discussion and entertainment, like It’s Bourbon Night and The Mash & Drum. And if you want to hone in on Wild Turkey knowledge, check out Bourbon Pursuit’s interviews with the Russells, as well as the same from One Nation Under Whisky and Dads Drinking Bourbon. There’s literally hours of interviews with Jimmy, Eddie, and Bruce all at your fingertips.
Also, it’s important to mention that if you appreciate what these creators have to offer, consider supporting them by subscribing, following, or signing up for their Patreon communities. Your assistance can make a difference in future content – both in quantity and quality. I can tell you from my own experience, that every like, follow, and penny counts.
Hang in There
If things seem tough, know that it’s okay. You’re not alone. Times like these test our patience and resolve, but please don’t give in to fear or panic. We as a whiskey community can support each other – we do already (I see it almost every day). So if you’re frustrated or down, look to your neighbor. Chances are they’re more than happy to chat, share tasting notes or samples, or even vent if necessary. And if you’re new to the hobby, feel free to reach out to me. I’d be happy to answer any questions I can. And if I can’t, I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction.
Stay smart, stay safe, and above all else, stay positive. Here in the shadow of COVID-19 there’s hundreds of reasons to be wary; it only takes one that’s hopeful to make a thousand times a difference.
Special message: If you’d like to help bartenders currently out of work due to the coronavirus pandemic, please tune in to Fred Minnick’s Ultimate Craft Whiskey Challenge, Friday, March 20th on YouTube.
Also, if you’re looking for vintage (or modern) Wild Turkey bottles and want to help a small Kentucky business, give Justins’ House of Bourbon a call at 859-317-8609. Use the code “RareBird101” and receive 15% off ALL bottles. (Limited time offer.)
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