Sometimes my job as a chocolatier is difficult. And then there are days where my research includes a bourbon tasting! And then I’m so lucky as to be invited by a local hotspot of good spirits for a tasting of their special edition and hard-to-find bourbons! You guys, you may want to consider becoming a chocolatier…

For the first tasting, I went to one of my favorite whiskey bars in town: Ceol Irish Pub. It was here that several years ago I fell in love with the darker spirit. I had been a wine and beer lady for some time and had not ventured into drinking anything on the rocks, let alone neat, before hanging out here regularly with friends. I found out that I prefer scotch, and it appears that anything with Glen is a safe bet for me: Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, and Glenmorangie are all high on my list of go-tos.

It was also here that I learned the difference between scotch, bourbon and whisk(e)ys. The general group of spirits is called whiskey which means a spirit made from grains and then aged in a barrel. Scotches are, yes originally from Scotland, but also means that they can be treated with the peat from the bogs of valleys and deltas to achieve a smoky flavor. A good example of something “very peaty” is the Laphroiag scotch which is what we use in our Scotch truffle (available year-round). Bourbons, while originally from Kentucky, do not need to be made within the state and their main difference is that producers add corn to the grains and needs to be at least 51% of the grain mixture. Corn, high in natural sugars, produces an often sweeter tasting spirit.

Because my tastes seem to run toward savory over sweet, I gravitated to the scotches with their complex flavors though sometimes I’m a bit thrown by the peat-ier stuff – good gracious! As such, I knew very little about bourbons and the varying flavors that you can find. Time to get educated!

At Ceol, I told the friendly bartender my intentions: to find an interesting bourbon that people would know of or be excited by. He poured the first four spirits as seen in this picture knowing that they were popular choices and a bit more complex in flavor.

Other patrons were now asking questions too, what better way to learn than from a purveyor or enthusiast? I eliminated two that were not interesting enough for me, one in particular because it tasted very hot of alcohol but then faded instantly. As I sat there, other people came up and said, “You know what you need to try…” and suddenly I had about seven bourbons surrounding me! Luckily all small pours and with a big glass of water!

Finally, I narrowed it down to what I thought was my favorite: Blanton’s Bourbon. It was drinkable and distinctive – have you seen their bottles? I loved that it felt like the sweet bourbon I was expecting at first, notes of vanilla and caramel and then the finish is closer to a floral rye whiskey which I like. Though I had picked a favorite, I decided not to make the ultimate decision until another day because by this time they were all tasting pretty good!

The next day, Chapel Tavern reached out and asked if I’d like to try some of their select bourbons. I don’t know if you’ve been in Chapel lately, but dang – that wall of spirits is an impressive sight! It turns out that the owners of Chapel have purchased an entire barrel from Russell’s Reserve and it is now exclusive to them. And they wanted to know if I’d like to try it? WOULD I!?

Another day of bourbon tasting was in the works! This time I brought a friend to bounce ideas off, especially since he’s the big fan of bourbon. And we kept the tasting limited to four – the three that Chapel recommended to try and another of the Blanton’s to see if I liked it as much as I thought I did.

And boy – this is where my job gets difficult – I couldn’t decide between the Russell’s Reserve for Chapel and the Blanton’s. Both were amazing in different ways. In particular, the Russell’s Reserve had peppery spice and the Blanton’s had the smoother almost caramel taste.

What’s a chocolatier to do? As a big advocate of local business and a fan girl of limited edition flavors, it became obvious that the choice should be Chapel Tavern’s Russell’s Reserve bourbon. So try this limited edition flavor before the bottle is done. And I swear, I won’t do any more tastings – it’s just for the chocolate!

June 06, 2017 by Ashley Ullrich