After a spill in the water this afternoon, I knew that I was going to talk bourbon tonight. I love to sink a few cold beers in a Spring Creek on a hot summer day. Likewise, a black cigar in the height of mosquito season is pretty hard to beat. But both are seasonal for me. I’m not a big beer drinker in cold weather (okay, I sneak in a few), and I rarely smoke a cigar when the bugs have died down or I’m on open water. But bourbon whiskey?
I’m a fan. A fall in the water? Nothing better on the way back to the car heater. Guides icing up and fingers number? Crack a bottle. Warm fire, full moon, good friends and music? Perfect complement. Whiskey in a flask is my all-season, all-terrain vice. Listen, I’m a oenophile (props to the good naming taste of Stonefly Vineyards) but wine doesn’t travel quite as easily as a hip flask, and definitely doesn’t have the same velocity.
So, if you’re still with me here, these are exceptional traveling bourbons that are worth investigating for the next day on the water. They don’t come cheap, but an excellent day on the water and a beautiful fish in hand deserve a fitting toast.
Pappy Van Winkle – Phenomenal whiskey. The 12 year special reserve is an award-winning burbon, and the 23 year family reserve was Bourbon of the Year in 2010 (and packs a wallop at 107 proof). Distilled in Frankfort, KY. This is the top-shelf, freezing-your-ass off choice. http://oldripvanwinkle.com/products/
Jefferson’s Reserve – Really, either Jefferson’s (8 years) or Jefferson’s Reserve (17 years) are exceptional bourbons, and the Presidential Select is top of the line. My favorite for the campfire or sipping on the deck. Don’t ever cut this one with anything but ice. Distilled at McLain and Kyne in Bardstown, KY. http://mclainandkyne.com/
Woodford Reserve – From my childhood hometown of Versailles, in Woodford County, KY. As smooth as it gets, you’ll name your first son after this one. When you’re out and about, odds are that the restaurant or pub will have Woodford Reserve when they don’t have Pappy or Jefferson’s. My favorite for any and every occasion. http://www.woodfordreserve.com/
Four Roses – Out of Lawrenceburg, KY, their small batch bourbon rivals Pappy’s Family Reserve for me. Not always for others. It’s a complex bourbon, hitting hard and fast before mellowing. It’s hard to find, but if you’re a real bourbon aficionado or want to be, try to get your hands on a bottle. http://www.fourroses.us/
If you’ve been a diehard Jim Beam fan since your college (or high school) days, try Basil Hayden small batch. It’s an 8 year that is as smooth as the other side of the pillow. Jim Beam Distillery also has a few other top notch, small batch entries in Baker’s, which is a little sweet for me, presumably from a heavy corn; Booker’s, which is a little stiff for me at 126 proof; or the more familiar Knob Creek, which is richer and heavier and at the other end of the spectrum from Baker’s. All three give the superior Basil Hayden a run for the money. Skip the Beam black and white labels for any of these.
If you like a black bourbon, give 1792 a shot. Though I’m not a fan of Barton Distillery, which produces some very low-end bourbons, this one is hearty, smooth, and thick. A darker version of Knob Creek, maybe.
If you’re a Maker’s fan, you can step up your game by trying to get your hands on Maker’s 46. Maker’s itself isn’t a bad way to go, and is my go-to when a restaurant only has only Beam, Jack, and Maker’s…which unfortunately is too damn often.
Jack is a Tennessee bourbon whiskey, and a different drink in many ways. It’s filtered over maple charcoal and aged differently. And it's from Tennessee. I’m Kentucky through and through (in basketball, bourbon, and bluegrass).
There are too many great bourbons to highlight – this is a fly fishing blog, after all. But if you really want some immersion therapy, try the Southern version of Napa Valley - the Kentucky Bourbon Trail (http://www.kybourbontrail.com/). A phenomenal trip, and more importantly not too many out-of-staters (nor in-staters) realize what a great smallmouth fishery weaves in and out of the Trail. Elkhorn Creek forms around the county lines of Scott and Franklin, where the North and South Elkhorn Creeks merge at a falls. All three are great smallmouth fisheries, but the larger Elkhorn is exceptional and only runs for about 7 miles (the overall length with the forks is 99 miles, just short of river designation) until it meets the Kentucky river. Find a great bluegrass band in Frankfort, mix in some bourbon and smallmouth – makes for a great weekend!