Johnny Cocktail has been VERY busy!

There are many more posts to come so stay tuned. This Blog is getting ready to see quite the face lift!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My First Professional Bourbon Tasting (With in depth notes and photos)

In a Shot:  Johnny Cocktail took on a task to produce, set up and perform a professional 101 Bourbon tasting mid November, 2010 at Food Matters, Alexandria and did so with a sold out room!

Blogging is the new big thing.  Many people have gone on to become celebrities or authors while some have had their blogs printed in magazines or turned into movies.  Still yet others get to travel new directions, discover themselves or find perks in other ways with blogs.  As the current mixologist, bartender and manager of the restaurant Food Matters, my blog delivered a new possibility.  Late one night after taking care of a particularly daunting job, I chatted with the owner, Christy, and we started talking about good drink.  We started talking about all the tastings I've conducted at my house, with friends and family or have participated in on a larger scale as a taster.

It was here where she started saying "I want to get in on that!" and I suggested doing one at her house some time.  She responded by asking me "Why don't you do one here?" - The restaurant's major focus is local and seasonal and she felt that it was both time and place to do a Bourbon tasting.  The next dinner she hosted, she spoke with guests attending the event and with their help in conversation, set up a Bourbon tasting.  Christy suggested a Bourbon 101 tasting, so that's exactly what I did.

It took place in their fabulous private dining room at six o' clock with a full audience of twenty two people.  Mostly regulars, family and friends along side a few new faces and the owners themselves, I took on a wild ride to finally land on both my feet and in that room with five bourbons chosen for their "class 101" nature and began to tell the story of what bourbon is, where did bourbon come from, how to taste bourbon and then paired it with foods and told several stories along the way!

Owner of Food Matters Christy Przystawik introduced me to the room as the manager and creator of the cocktails of the month and said many kind words of my four year relationship coming to this moment.  Chef Tom Przystawik showcased pork bbq and sticky toffee desserts with aged cheeses and spiced nuts for bourbon food pairing options.

The tasting went off without a hitch!  There were a lot of laughs and a lot of questions answered and left everyone hanging in for more.  I had one guest interact and read to the group at one point while others started knocking glasses over (not because of drunkard wildness, rather I put so many glasses on the table that it was bound to happen).  I answered a lot of questions and left everyone with lots of personal stories of distillery tours, tastings and fun facts about bourbon and the whiskies themselves.  There was a touching toast by my father at the ending of the tasting.  One gentleman that happened  to sit in on the tasting, one Michael G. is the very reason this bourbon blog is even being produced this month so extra hats off to him and his wife Michealle for being such spectacular people!

Now, a break down of the tasting.  I promise to bore you all with another post filled long and high with the complete tasting notes so you can read the whole lot of what you missed during the festivities (that and the fact that a lot of the stuff simply didn't get out of my mouth so in short, it's all of our faults we don't remember it all!)

When tasting bourbon it is recommended to start with the lightest in alcohol and work your way up to the stronger ones where the heat could numb your palate.  I of course rebelled against this and put the strongest bourbon half way through the tasting, specifically because I enjoy the final two so much and with food and water to cut against it, I wanted to show case the last two as a finale.

I chose Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon for  a few reasons.  One, it's story of how the distillery came to be is as sweet as the drink it showcases.  It was once the most popular bourbon in our country, but disappeared off the face of our maps and was infamously remembered by aficionados as rot gut.  Four Roses has come back with a far higher quality product line and it's small batch bourbon deserves to be recognised.

The next bourbon on the list, John J. Bowman Single Barrel "Pioneer Spirit" debunks the argument that bourbons can only be made in Kentucky or that Kentucky is the only state that can state it's name on a label of Bourbon.  John J. Bowman's Virginia Bourbon hails from A. Smith Bowman's distillery, also remembered fondly by many as the producer of bottom shelf plastic bottled spirits and Virginia Gentlemen.  I will post a separate blog about the private tour I took with Joe Dangler, the Master Distiller at A. Smith Bowman's distillery.  It was on this tour that I bought the first legally sold bottle of bourbon at their distillery courtesy of recently adapted ABC law.   

I chose to pour Bookers Barrel Proof Small Batch Bourbon for two reasons.  First, it is the first bourbon to be marketed as a 'small batch' bourbon.  Because of Booker's, the bourbon industry as we know it has exploded with literally hundreds of high end, superior quality whiskies, many of which are delivered to us from small family distilleries with as little as 2 or three employees.  The second reason is it was also the first bourbon to be bottled 'barrel proof' meaning literally, the whiskey ages in a barrel (in this case between 6 and 8 years) and then gets bottled without being filtered or cut with water thus being a far higher proof than traditional bourbons.  So in turn, I also chose this bourbon for the cask strength scotch drinkers out there giving them a chance to try something that may be more up to their personal tastes.

Blanton's Single Barrel is smooth, smokey, sweet and just golly gosh darn good!  Aside from that, it was also the first bourbon to be labelled as a single barrel.  The maker worked at the distillery for 55 years and thus it's the man's life work.  A true expression of bourbon.

Finally, Van Winkle's 12 Year Reserve Wheated Bourbon was chosen for several reasons.  A lot of people don't know that bourbon can be aged the way a single malt scotch can.  I also wanted to have a bourbon that used wheat instead of rye as it's small grain to showcase the difference in style.  Not to mention that this family owned whiskey has improved generation after generation from son to son.  Mostly, however, I chose Van Winkle's 12 Year specifically because it is beautiful.  It's soft, delicate palate fills you up with creme brulee desserts and is overall an experience to enjoy.

When we finished tasting things and using the water droppers to break open the undertones of quality bourbon and enjoyed all the food, post toastings and celebrations, I gave everybody a copy of The Bourbon Review as a thank you for supporting my first endeavor and look forward to many more to follow!  More from this tasting will come in the next entry.  Thank you again for your love, support and the opportunity to do tastings such as this and expect MANY more to come!



  1. Congratulations on a successful tasting! The world needs more Johnny Cocktail events.

  2. Yes. Oh yes does it ever. We should collaborate sometime ;p