Earlier this summer, Barton 1792 Distillery released a limited-edition bottle of its namesake 1792 bourbon to celebrate the 225th anniversary of Kentucky joining the United States. I had the rotten luck to be on vacation and miss the press event in Bardstown, but the good folks at Barton made sure a sample was delivered to my office after I returned.

And they are good folks, not just because they’re generous with their whiskeys. If you’ve not toured this this amazing and old distillery, you’re missing out on a glimpse of history that’s slowly being modernized to keep up with pressing demand for its products. For now, tours are free, fairly lengthy and among what I like to call “the dusty and gritty tours,” which give enthusiasts a firsthand impression of the non-glamorous side of whiskey making. Nothing at all against modern, streamlined facilities, I like them also. But tours like Barton’s, its big sister, Buffalo Trace and Four Roses hold special places in my heart.

But ‘nuff said on that. Let’s talk about this whiskey.

A quick glimpse at the bottle shows a blue neckband that mirrors the color of the Commonwealth’s flag, and a proof of 92.15 (46.075 ABV), which is a tad lower than the standard 93.7 proof (46.85 ABV) bottling. Other than that, the only difference you’ll find in stores—if you can find this Kentucky-only release—is the price: suggested is $35.99 (about $6 to $8 more than the standard pour), though secondary market sales have pushed it modestly north of that.

According to the distillery, a small batch of barrels aged 10 years at Barton were dumped for this release. It is the sixth limited-edition release of 1792 Bourbon expressions, joining the High Rye, Sweet Wheat, Port Finish, Single Barrel and Full Proof Bourbons. (For all you Port Finish fans, I saw loads of those barrels aging in a Barton warehouse earlier this winter. So expect that whiskey to be re-released in the future.)

I first tasted it in June, and for whatever reason—I’m sure it’s not the modest 1 proof difference—this whiskey, sipped neat, seemed softer than the standard 1792. Somehow its typically prominent rye character shifted into the background, which is neither good nor bad, just different. All by itself, it’s a delicious pour I think any bourbon fan would like.

But shortly after my first sips, I added a couple of cubes of ice and the flavor was notably subdued. The spicy, oaky roundness was all but gone, leaving a whiskey without its usual complexity. Same result starting with it neat and adding a few drops of water. Added to an Old Fashioned, it was just, well, there, not asserting itself as hoped.

To be fair, my mind is recently and deliciously imprinted by the significantly spicy 1792 Full Proof Single Barrel selection, a near-cask-strength barrel pick in which I took part last winter. That 125-proof liquid is the boss in a cocktail, stands up to rocks without dissipating and, before it got some good air in the bottle for a month or two, was almost too tough to tame sipped neat. It’s since calmed down nicely and now presents more caramel than rye sizzle; the beast has mellowed nicely.

The thought of beneficial air time then sent me back to the Barton 225th. Half consumed, it too had been exposed to some air, which made me curious to see whether that altered its flavor. Bottom line is it became a better neat sipper, somewhat fuller bodied and delivering more campfire and orange than I’d noted in the first several samples. In every respect, it was more of a good thing.

But I also got more of the same after adding rocks, making cocktails, adding water, the usual test drill, and it was again subdued in every application.

The verdict? It’s a great neat sipper, and one that, ironically, befits its connection to Kentucky’s heritage. When the Bluegrass State joined the union 225 years ago, no one here was sipping whiskey on the rocks or making Old Fashioneds, they were drinking their bourbon neat. So let’s call this one “bourbon sipped as it should be.”

As I said, if you can find it, get it and drink it. You’ll not be sorry.

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Every Louisvillian knows what and where Millionaires’ Row is: the upper-upper deck at Churchill Downs where, as the name implies, where the wealthy gather to eat, drink and wager stacks of cash on unpredictable and pampered steeds.

But while locals know of this lofty perch, few have ever been there, including me, until last Friday night. Hoping to promote its Guest Chef Series, held on Fridays during its Downs After Dark races, some reporters were invited to take in the experience. Far as I could tell, only three of us accepted: one online reporter (me), one from print and one from TV. Those who skipped it missed a pleasant evening on someone else’s dime.

Flash the guest ticket to Millionaires’ Row suite 6, known as “Mil 6,” to track employees, and an escort walks you to the elevator, past the stairs and escalators created for non-Mil 6 folks. Once arrived, if you walk through the dining room and to the outdoor standing-room-only observation deck at Mil 6, it’s immediately clear why that elevator is preferred: you’re at least 60 feet off the ground. Regardless of how well you see, the height leaves you wondering what and how the little people down below are doing.

“It’s making me a little dizzy to look down,” a woman near me said. “I’m going to ease away from the rail. Step back. Step back.”

Looking down from Millionaires’ Row, you can’t tell what the “little people” are doing. | Photo by Steve Coomes

The Guest Chef component of the evening saw Harvest executive chef Patrick Roney serving a dish he calls Three Little Pigs. Portions of pork charcuterie, cured belly and smoked pork shoulder were served atop tomato bread, greens and biscuits respectively, and Roney got to tell guests how he made it. Naturally affable, it’s clear Roney likes the interaction—or perhaps he’s just happy to be free from the confines of the spot in which he spends 65 hours a week. Either way, guests liked him and his food.

“It’s just fun to get out, be out, doing something different,” Roney said later. Leaning over a handrail and smoking a cigarette on the observation deck over the track, he added, “You can’t see this from a kitchen!”

The rest of the buffet was laden with dishes of seared beef, sautéed shrimp, and seasonal salads of blends like tomato and watermelon, and butter bean and radishes. Drinks are included in the price, which allows access to a modest bar, or a trio of tickets to a Finlandia Vodka-sponsored bar where, on that evening, Harvey Wallbangers (vodka, orange juice and Galliano) were on offer.

Before visiting Mil 6, I only half tried to imagine what such a suite would look like. Would the wealthy insist on heavy curtains with gilded edges, Victorian high-backed chairs and carpets so comfy they felt like the 13th green at Augusta National?

Au contraire, mon miséreux.

This was far more casual. The night’s theme was a sock hop: tables decorated in black-and-white checked cloths, chairs sheathed in poodle-skirt covers, plastic LPs dangling from the ceiling and ‘50s rock throbbing through the sound system.

At left, Harvest executive chef, Patrick Roney, greeted guests during the Chef’s Experience at Churchill Downs. | Photo by Steve Coomes

And though I can’t say I could spot a millionaire from a distance at any location, most everyone there looked, well, like me: ordinary, modestly dressed up, happy to devour delicious food we didn’t cook from dishes we’d not wash and have drinks made at our whim. It surely was better up there, where the cool, gentle breeze never ceased, than among the throng below, gobbling down heartburn-inducing hot dogs and scoping out shelter from a rapidly approaching thunderstorm.

Perhaps the true millionaires show up only during Derby Week, when their horses are the ones on whom they bet—at a private counter located a few paces from the buffet, of course. On slower nights, such as this last day of June, when less-esteemed ponies circle the dirt track below, the hoi polloi can enter if their expendable income can support a $149 splurge.

And why not? You only live once. Add a trip to Millionaires Row to the bucket list. You won’t regret it.

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Growing Market for ‘Store Picks’ Adds Interest to Whiskey Hunting Market

July 1, 2017
Growing Market for ‘Store Picks’ Adds Interest to Whiskey Hunting Market

Written originally for WhiskeyWash.com. With the American whiskey boom stronger than ever, it’s unlikely people’s lust for anything branded “Pappy,” “Elmer,” “Stagg,” or “Sazerac” will wane soon. Even here in Kentucky, where 95 percent of the world’s bourbon is produced and practically spilling off the shelves, the desire for “a 23” or “this year’s Birthday” […]

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Jefferson’s Zoeller To Repeat History On Riverboat Ride

July 1, 2017
Jefferson’s Zoeller To Repeat History On Riverboat Ride

Written originally for The Bourbon Review. There are those who read about history, those who go see it, and those who set out to reenact it. Count Trey Zoeller among the latter group. On June 6, the owner of Jefferson’s Bourbon and his captain, Ted Gray, pushed away from an Ohio River dock at Louisville, […]

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Chilly Rain Couldn’t Dampen Derby Eve Stitzel-Weller Affair

July 1, 2017
Chilly Rain Couldn't Dampen Derby Eve Stitzel-Weller Affair

Written for The  Bourbon Review. Louisvillians are generally an easy-going lot—until you mess with Kentucky Derby week. In the run-up to the first Saturday in May, we place unrealistically high expectations on truly unpredictable things like fickle and pampered steeds and on-time restaurant reservations. We’re even worse about Derby Week weather, claiming entitlement to a […]

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Nethery plants, harvests and distills her own corn at Jeptha Creed

July 1, 2017
Nethery plants, harvests and distills her own corn at Jeptha Creed

Written for The Bourbon Review magazine Joyce Nethery’s role as a woman master whiskey distiller is unusual enough. But she further breaks the mold since she is often spotted behind the wheel of a large farm tractor pulling a planter. On the farmland behind Jeptha Creed Distillery in Shelbyville, Ky., she’s the person depositing Bloody […]

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Bottoms up! Whisky Live tasting returns to Louisville Saturday

June 7, 2017
Bottoms up! Whisky Live tasting returns to Louisville Saturday

Whisky Live returns to Louisville for its second year, bringing the broadest sampling of international whiskeys to a single tasting ever seen in the Bluegrass. Serving as the closing event for Kentucky Bourbon Affair on Saturday, June 10, this premier tasting event will allow guests to sample world-class Scotches, bourbons and other whiskies from around the […]

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Whiskey Review: Four Roses 2017 Limited Edition ‘Al Young’ 50th Anniversary Small Batch Bourbon

June 7, 2017
Whiskey Review: Four Roses 2017 Limited Edition ‘Al Young’ 50th Anniversary Small Batch Bourbon

Few people from any generation spend 50 years working for a single employer. These days, five months seems a long stretch for some; clearly not for Al Young. When a newlywed in 1967, he was a bottom-rung clock puncher at Four Roses Bourbon Distillery who would go on to become its Lawrenceburg, Ky., distillery manager, […]

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Lucie Slone Meyers is cooking with a purpose

March 24, 2017
Lucie Slone Meyers is cooking with a purpose

Four days before Valentine’s Day, Lucie Slone Meyers held court at a table in her nearly opened restaurant, The Red Light Kitchen & Lounge (780 N. Limestone). Between directing staffers on where to place tables, décor and bottles behind the bar, the grande dame of the Lexington restaurant scene talked shop with some of her […]

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BULLEIT DISTILLERY OPENS STATE-OF-THE-ART FACILITY IN SHELBYVILLE, KY.

March 15, 2017
BULLEIT DISTILLERY OPENS STATE-OF-THE-ART FACILITY IN SHELBYVILLE, KY.

Published first on EatDrinkTalk.net SHELBYVILLE, Ky.—If Tom Bulleit didn’t buy a lottery ticket on March 14, he should have. As the founder of Bulleit Distilling Co. welcomed a crowd of about 200 to the ultra-modern, Diageo-backed distillery that day, he mentioned that Tuesday was not only his birthday, but his 30th wedding anniversary. 2017 also […]

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