Best Brands Holiday Trade Show, Nashville, TN 2012

by Ernie Ayres on September 28, 2012

I went to the Best Brands Holiday Trade show thinking I would get to sample a few good whiskies and get to talk with the people responsible for making them. Not only did I do just that, but I was also able meet a few restaurant and liquor store owners from the Nashville, TN area. These are the people responsible for bringing these tasty treats to our area.

Cover of the trade show booklet

When I walked into the trade show area I was overwhelmed with the number of vendors present. Not only did smaller, newer distilleries like Collier and McKeel and Short Mountain Distillery show up but so did industry heavyweights like (Jim) Beam, Inc. and Diageo. My day was definitely looking up!

To start things off, I stopped by Collier and McKeel to speak with the owner, Mike Williams about their new facility and some side projects going on. Mike gave me a tour of the old facility a couple of years ago and I already knew that he is a good guy and very easy to talk to. They have since moved into a new facility and I hope to be able to stop by for a tour soon. I was able to try the new batch of C&M which is a little woodier than what I’ve had before. Definitely a good move. As I was moving on to the next booth Mike stopped me and handed me a pound of the new Collier and McKeel infused coffee beans. I have since made a pot of coffee with these and I have to say it is a good cup! Being a non-flavored coffee drinker I was skeptical of how this would taste, and as I mentioned, it was very good!

At the next booth I met Jeff and Jenny Pennington from Whisper Creek Tennessee Sipping Cream. Even though I’m not usually a big fan of creams this is quite good. It is touted as the only cream to be a true Tennessee Cream, meaning it uses Tennessee Whiskey (Collier and McKeel) instead of vodka as most other creams do, seemingly to keep costs down. Creams usually seem to be too thich and heavy or the alcohol overwhelms the cream taste but not Whisper Creek. It’s just about perfect as far as that goes. Whisper Creek Tennessee Sipping Cream is brand new but looks to be going places fast! It’s been in the last two liquor stores I have been in. According to a friend, he found it at Iroquois Wine and Spirits in Bellevue, TN at $20 per 750ml bottle which is cheap.

Best Brands Whisper Creek

Me, Jenny Pennington, and Kendall Mitchell Gemmill from Whisper Creek

Moving down the row I next stopped at the Prichard’s Distillery booth. Prichard’s has a nice selection of products ranging from Rum to Tennessee Whiskey. The only thing I tried was the Double Chocolate Bourbon. All I have to say is WOW! I’m not sure how’s it made but it completely went beyond my expectations! It’s not sweeter than bourbon normally would be but has a nice chocolate flavor with a little wood and caramel. After expecting a novelty whiskey I was very pleasantly surprised. Phil Prichard was there as well so it was nice to meet him.

Several booths later I stumbled upon Bacardi USA. Of the several options they had I chose to sample Dewar’s 18 Blended Scotch Whiskey. I have had Dewar’s 12 several times and like it so I was really looking forward to the 18. I found it to be very lightly smoky with a bourbon like taste, lighter than your typical Scotch. Obviously, Dewar’s is an extremely well established name so this is going to be a very polished whisky! Definitely a step up from the 12.

After passing several wine stations there was one of the best known names in whiskey, Jim Beam (as Beam, Inc.). I got to speak again with Kristy Zabrowski, whom I met a couple of months ago while at a Jim Beam tasting in Nashville. She’s the territory manager in Nashville and is always a pleasure to visit with. Jim Beam is one of the first whiskies that most people try. However, in addition to the good ol’ standby of the original Jim Beam, Beam, Inc. has introduced several new products over the last few years. One of which is Jim Beam Black which I reviewed a few weeks ago. In addition to the Jim Beam products, Beam, Inc also owns Knob Creek which has a small batch feel to it. I tried the Knob Creek Single Barrel and I have got to say, it is one of the best bourbons I have had to date! I am going to do an official review soon and when I do I will post a link.

Jim Beam's Red Stag Ladies

Jim Beam’s Red Stag Ladies

Moving down the line, I stopped at the Marsalle Company and was able to visit with Kyle Roberts, the Southeast Division Manager for a few minutes. He gave me a lot of the back story on the MacGavin’s brand. Of the six products to choose from I chose MacGavin’s Islay Single Malt Scotch. The other MacGavin’s options were Highland Single Malt and Speyside Single Malt. Three other brands were offered as well. All three of the MacGavin’s expressions were true to the regions they claim to be from. The Islay was nice a peaty and actually sweeter than I thought it would be. Not that it’s a bad thing, just unexpected. The suggested retail price for the Islay SM is $25. Frankly, I think that may be a bit high. I would definitely pick this up at the $20 range though.

Up next was a brand that I’ve been wanting to try for some time, Hudson Whiskey. The booth was William Grant and Sons and other than Hudson they also had Tullamore Dew in 4 expressions. I was sticking to the ‘one small taste’ rule for most booths, however, having wanted to try Hudson for so long, I had a small taste of each of the three whiskies, Baby Bourbon, Corn, and Manhattan Rye. Of the three, I really like the Baby Bourbon the best. The Corn is, essentially, White Dog or Moonshine but it had a different flavor than you usually get from un-aged whiskey. In my area, a 375ml bottle (yes, half of a standard bottle) sells for $40 to $50 on average. I’d probably buy the Baby Bourbon in a 750ml bottle for that price but not a 375ml. I’ll wait until the newness wears off of this brand before buying a bottle. And even though I really wanted to try the Tullamore Dew 12 Year Special Reserve, I had to move on to the next booth.

Here is where I got to meet the fellas from Short Mountain Distillery which are headquartered on a 300 acre working farm in Cannon County, Tennessee. These guys are the real deal when it comes to Moonshine. If you’re not man enough to throw back a couple of shots that remind you why whiskey is aged in charred oak barrels, then keep your mamby-pamby self away from this stuff! Unlike other “shines” or white dogs that I’ve tried before, Short Mountain doesn’t try to change what moonshine is. They just make shine the way it has been made for generations. They even have a certified moonshiner, Jimmy Simpson, running the distilling operation. As with most of the companies I spoke to, these guys know their stuff and love to talk about it. When they found out about, I was invited by John Whittemore, the Hospitality Director, for a private tour…that I will be taking them up on soon.

A little farther down the line was Tipton Spirits where I was able to try W.H. Harrison Governor’s Reserve Indiana Straight Whiskey. Now there’s a mouthful! Here, I met Jerry Knight, Founder and CEO of Tipton Spirits. He was extremely knowledgeable and really seems to enjoy making and talking about his whiskies. Governor’s Reserve does a great job avoiding one of my pet peeves with bourbon…too much rye! GR, I thought, was a good balance between the rye and the corn along with a good mix of sweet caramel with a good bit of a spicy bite. At $67 a bottle, it is more of a special occasion pour, but definitely worth trying if you see it at a restaurant.

Against my better judgment I stopped at the Frank-Lin Distillers booth. I say “against my judgment” because I just do not like Canadian Whisky. From Canadian Mist to Crown Royal, I have tried what I thought were all of them. Then I’m given a sample of 8 Seconds Black Canadian Whiskey. Wow! It’s Canadian Whisky that I actually like. As a matter of fact, it tastes more like a bourbon only not so sweet. The gentleman doing the pouring (sorry, didn’t get his name) just kind of chuckled when I seemed surprised that I actually liked it. He must get that a lot.

Up next, I stopped at what many would call “the Empire” of the liquor industry…Diageo. Expecting to see a massive display and several scantily clad ladies, I was kind of shocked to see one woman and a single man manning the seven product booth. Hmm. I sampled the Buchanan’s 18 year blended Scotch whisky. The other Scotch options were Coal Ila 12 year and Clynelish 14 year. I have always wanted to have a dram of Buchanan’s though, and I have a bottle of Caol Ila 12 already, so Buchanan’s it was. As expected, it is an experience. I have become a fan of blended Scotches over the last few years and I have to say, this is one of the better pours that I have had. It is $86 a bottle, so for Scotch it is not that expensive. After tasting the Buchanan’s, I took a minute to speak to the Diageo rep about the recent acquisition of Cabin Fever Maple Whisky. I asked him if Cabin Fever would be able to maintain control of the brand and the process. He got a little squirrely and I couldn’t get a straight answer so I can only expect what will happen eventually. Like I said in my previous post about the acquisition  “Buy as much as you can now, before it changes!” I even mentioned the Diageo/Star Wars Empire analogy and he said something to the effect of, “I forgot my Darth Vader helmet.

Moving on. The next booth was Sazerac, which is where Buffalo Trace and Fireball were located. First of all, coming into L.P. Field, Fireball had their full size fire truck parked outside that was quite impressive. Inside, the Fireball ladies were making the rounds with Fireball shots. In addition, the Buffalo Trace products seemed to be pretty popular. I tried the Bourbon Cream. I told the guy pouring the samples that i’m not a cream drink fan but he said that I had to try this because it’s not like any other cream out there, and he was right. It’s made with real cream and uses only bourbon, not vodka like Bailey’s and most other creams. It was good, but too thick for me as a straight pour. I have since had some on ice cream and it is much better that way. I imagine that pouring some in coffee would also be good. Right before moving on, I noticed a bottle of Buffalo Trace’s Eagle Rare Single Barrel. That’s another one that I have noticed but just never picked up. Eagle Rare stole the show as far as I’m concerned! It was hands down the best bourbon product I have ever…yes…ever tried. I won’t go into too much detail here because I plan on doing a full review soon. Go out, tonight. Buy a bottle, it’s only $32 in my area. If you don’t then go to a restaurant that serves it. Find it! You will not be disappointed!

The second to last booth I stopped at was the Heartland Distillers booth. Stuart Hobson, the President and Distiller gave me a brief background of the company and how they are the only sweet sorghum based spirit. I tried the Sorghum Dark and was pleasantly surprised. To be honest, I was unsure of what to expect. If you have ever tried the Scotch, Loch Du…maybe that is what I was expecting. So with that in mind, Sorghum Dark Bourbon was surprisingly very good. The bad thing is that I think it is a little faddish and would be surprised if it is around in a few years once the micro-distiller fad sweeping the U.S. wears off.

The last place I stopped was actually one of the first booths on the floor, Louisville Distilling Co., home of Angels’ Envy. I spent a few minutes with Ryan Easterly talking about the bourbon and how it is made. When he found out about this blog, he pulled a small bottle from behind one of the displays and said, “You’ve got to try this!” It turned out to be the as yet to be released Angel’s Envy Cask Strength. I tasted it and thought it was very good. It’s definitely got a bigger bite than most bourbons and maybe even a little more rye than I usually like. I am saving the full review for my next post, so be sure to check that out.

**Click here for the Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon review**

Angel's Envy small cask

Angel’s Envy Small Cask

All in all it was a very good day. As I said initially, my plan was to meet people that make the whiskey business a good, and fun, place to be. Absolutely everyone involved was gracious, knowledgable and excited to talk about their product. Special thanks goes to Jenny Pennington with Whisper Creek Tennessee Sipping Cream who made it possible for me to be there! Thanks, Jenny!! I look forward to going again next year and meeting more people and trying out new brands that we don’t even know about yet!

More pictures can be found on our Facebook Photo Album.


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