March 10, 2014

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Bourbons are an acquired taste. Too sickly sweet for some. Hangover inducing for others. And downright nasty to few.

Luckily I don’t fall into any of those categories. Quite the opposite actually. Those who know me know I love my bourbons. So much so that my outspoken support of this drink from the Wild West has now prompted death threats from the single malt purists in my Malt Society.

Oh well, you know what they say. Dissent is the highest form of patriotism. Which makes sense because if it wasn’t for bourbon we might not have Scotch whisky today.

Allow me to explain.

At the end of the Second World War the Cooper’s Union and lawyers formulated the law that stipulated that all American whiskey had to be matured in new wooden casks. This was done to boost the coopering industry that had collapsed during Prohibition in the 1920s and 30s. As a result, there was a massive increase in the number of casks available.

The American bourbon whiskey industry slowly recovered from Prohibition and the Scots and Irish began using their casks for maturation. This was due to the good availability and price of bourbon casks compared to the more traditional sherry casks, whose numbers were declining and becoming more expensive.

Thanks to the Scots being so shrewd about money (read cheap) they decided to employ used casks to mature their spirits. A strategy that was purely cost-saving turned into one of the greatest strokes of genius ever.

And this was precisely the theme of this bourbon tasting I visited last night: The Bourbon Connection. Organized by our local distributor MMI I had the chance of not only indulging in some of the finest bourbons money can buy but meeting, once again, Mr Henry Joe of Heaven Hill Distillery.


Henry is one of the nicest guys you’ll find in the industry. It was thanks to him I had my first real taste of bourbons some three years ago and I largely credit him for putting me on this path to eventual liver damage.

He was nice enough to take some time out and answer a few questions for me. (The answers below are at best paraphrasing and loose quotes. If there’s anything that is bound to spark controversy it’s because I didn’t phrase it right!)

Malt Activist: So, what’s your favorite whisky?

Henry Joe: What defines a favorite? Something that you have once and may never have again? Or is it something that you really like and can have any time you want? For me it’s the latter. I’d rather have a favorite that I can have every day rather than pining for something I may never have.

MA: Smart words! So what difficulties do you face in todays’ age producing bourbons?

HJ: Well, there’s a severe shortage of white American Oak. We should be producing way more than we are right now but we just don’t have enough casks to mature our whiskies in. And then there’s the rising Angels’ Share. Thanks to climate change there’s been an upward trend in evaporation of stock. Percentage wise it might be small but multiply that by a million barrels and you’re looking at a really high number of bottles that won’t see the light of day.

MA: Ouch! Finally, what’s your advice on buying some whisky.

HJ: I seriously suggest you get your hands on the 18 Year old Single Barrle Elijah Craig because stocks are now over. We had a fire 18 years ago which destroyed a lot of our stock which means the next batch of 18 year olds is only going to come out in five years! So stock up while you can!

MA: Henry, thanks for the lovely chat but I think we’re ready to drink your bourbons now!

HJ: Oh, you’re so witty and smart!

Okay, so he didn’t say the last bit. But I’m sure he was thinking it.

Anyway, enough chit chat. On to the bourbons.

Like a nerd I sat down in my chair with my notepad and pen and the first of the five bourbons for the evening was placed before me. There was some scrumptious Southern food as well (a lot of it, by the way) but I’m going to comment only on the whiskies of the evening.

FightingCock 2

ElijahCraig 2

EvanWilliams 2

RittenhouseRye 2

ParkersHeritage 2

Now let me tell you something. Every single one of these bourbons is a work of art. It helps if you’ve already developed a taste for this stuff because these are not for the faint of heart.

Exploding with bold flavors and packing as much as 68.95% ABV (Parkers Heritage, by the way) in every sip these whiskies truly carry with them the attitude of the Wild West.

Bold. Daring. Brash. Full of attitude. And almost illegal!

It was one of the better evenings I’ve spent nursing a glass of whisky. The food was excellent, though it was a bit much and I felt it took a little away from the whiskies. But that’s just me being a nerd.

It was a pleasure meeting Henry again.

Kudos to Craig Johnston and Chris Riley of MMI for putting on events like these with alarming regularity.

If you want to get your hands on these beauties you can find them at Le Clos at Dubai Airport or at MMI outlets. Just be sure to let them know you’re part of the MMI Malt Society and they’ll hook you up with a special price.

This is the Malt Activist signing off. Need to recuperate before the next event. Which I believe is in the next couple of days.



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