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Know when to hold ’em, know when to sell ’em: Rumor has it Brown-Forman has hired Goldman Sachs to help it sell Southern Comfort and Chambord, two liqueurs in its spirits portfolio. At least that’s what Reuters is reporting. Though Reuters said multiple sources close to the story say it’s true, neither B-F nor Goldman will confirm the rumor.

Why sell a legacy brand like “SoCo” and a modestly sexy brand like Chambord, a terrific raspberry liqueur? For many years, SoCo sales have sunk, and it appears B-F has drunk its fill of it. And Chambord? Totally unique and recognizable in its market niche, but not a huge seller as a little goes a looooong way.

Observers say it’s likely that B-F is paring back its portfolio to devote more resources to promoting brown liquor: its goldmine Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey line, Woodford Reserve Bourbon and its rapidly re-emerging Old Forester brand.

And speaking of Old Forester, fellow cocktail fan and IL colleague Sara Havens says she wasn’t crazy about the 2015 Birthday Bourbon release. I absolutely loved it. Just proof of how we all have different palates.

A beast of a brandy: Copper & Kings has just released Butchertown American Brandy, a non-chill filtered, 124-proof spirit that, to my taste buds, is the ideal gateway drink for bourbon drinkers not yet won over by fine grape distillate.

Co-founder Joe Heron shared a pre-release bottle with me last week with these words: “This is badass, Stevie!”

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Butcher town Brandy | Courtesy of Copper & Kings

He wasn’t kidding.

This mahogany-colored liquor is a huge-bodied spirit, full of oak, dried and fresh stone fruit and, of course, powerful grape notes.

High-proof bourbon drinkers will find it impossibly soft for 124 proof, and since most brandies are 80 proof, it may leave brandy devotees scratching their heads. Regardless, it is an easy sipper neat or on the rocks, and it stands up well to any common bourbon cocktail treatment.

It’s not cheap at $60 for a 750ml, but good thrills sometimes cost a little extra. If you’re a bourbon drinker who’s on the fence about brandy, give this one a try at a local bar soon and then see if you don’t wind up with a bottle of your own.

Speaking of C&K, I also tried their new Stray Cat Gin recently, and it’s different but intriguing. It’s strongly herbaceous and bears a woodsy nose. Long-short: Don’t expect this cat to give off a profoundly juniper-forward aroma as in London dry gin. She’s unique, and if you’re a gin drinker, you definitely should try it.

I couldn’t make the release party where Stray Cat cocktails were made, and so far the C&K website doesn’t list any cocktail recipes for the gin. The only one I’ve tried at home is gin and tonic, which was fine, but didn’t do a lot for me. (Heron says that’s his favorite use so far.) Doubtless, I’ll keep experimenting with it. Lots of fun stuff coming out of that distillery.

Ballotin Chocolate Whiskeys set for October rollout: Following an unveiling at IdeaFest’s Taste event on Wednesday, Louisville’s own Saloon Spirits is introducing a four-product line of Ballotin Chocolate Whiskeys in October.

Now, before you cringe at the idea of flavored whiskey, stick with me, for they’re quite good.

Founder Paul Tuell, a longtime marketing executive with Brown-Forman and Papa John’s Pizza, isn’t trying to knock off Fireball or Wild Turkey Honey with his products, he’s looking to make your cocktails better.

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Ballotin Chocolate Whiskeys | Courtesy of Paul Tuell

“Millennials have palates oriented to sweeter flavors,” Tuell told me recently. “And when you combine that idea with the surge in brown spirits, you start to come up with a lot of ideas for pairing them up.”

His four 60-proof creations include Chocolate Mint, Original Chocolate, Bourbon Ball and Caramel Turtle. Tuell said he sips them on the rocks (and they sip nicely neat, too), but he’s working with local bartenders to see how they play in place of simple syrup or fortified wines in cocktail standards.

Though Tuell shared some samples for me to experiment with, I’ve not yet gotten beyond spiking a chocolate milkshake with the Chocolate Mint Ballotin. It was dandy!

The whiskies’ role in food is unlimited, too. If Quasimodo could have created a Ballotin-infused cheesecake, he’d have landed Esmeralda in no time and without all that rigorous bell ringing.

“Mixology is a big part of what we want to do,” said Tuell, who credited Louisville-based Flavorman with helping to create the lineup. “But I’d love to see where else it fits in. Bourbon finds its way into food recipes all the time, so I know there’s room for these whiskies also.”

Though retail costs are determined by liquor stores, Tuell estimates the price for each bottle will come in near $26 when it hits shelves later this month.

They shake ’em, you drink ’em at the Louisville Cocktail Competition: Most cocktail competitions aren’t great for spectators since only judges get to drink contestants’ creations. But Rye and Galaxie partner Doug Petry is changing all that with this year’s third-annual Louisville Cocktail Competition.

12038374_864510930312154_7311816555502806347_nThe contest will be held from 4-6 p.m. at the Green Building (where Galaxie is located) on Sunday, Oct. 11. About a dozen bartenders will make creative versions of the Seelbach, Julep or Old Fashioned, all with Old Forester bourbon, and submit them to four judges.

“We wanted to pay homage to the drinking history of this city,” Petry said. “Those cocktails are their templates to basically do with what they want.”

While judges dissect each drink, bartenders will be batching 150 to 200 versions of their drink to serve what’s expected to be a sizable crowd. The past two competitions were held at Rye, a venue it’s outgrown.

The point of the competition, Petry said, is to showcase the talent driving the emerging craft cocktail scene in the city. To be able to engage bartenders, patrons can approach their stations to get a closer look at their craft.

Admission to the contest is $10, but you can get that fee waived if you have a fully stamped spirits passport from participating bars. To get your passport stamped, order any drink prepared with Old Forester bourbon. If you get five stamps by Oct. 11, your admission is free and you get a bonus drink ticket. Drink tickets at the event cost $5.

Roll Out the Barrel cocktail competition at Down One Bourbon Bar: As Petry said above, bartenders are serious about their trade, and here’s a super-serious contest coming Tuesday, Oct. 6.

Roll Out the Barrel is Down One’s way of celebrating being Jim Beam’s choice as the first restaurant in America to receive its new Single Barrel private pick. That bourbon will be the competition’s lone bourbon, and 50 bartenders are submitting recipes using it.SWSKY_1367550_DownOneBourbonBar

That group will be winnowed down to eight semifinalists who battle in a live contest this coming Tuesday. Two finalists from that group will then go head to head using Beam bourbon, a mystery ingredient and a separate bar rack of ingredients from which to draw.

“Those two will be put on the spot to think fast and make a new and original cocktail,” said Beth Burrows, assistant manager at Down One. “Bartenders have lots of customers who sit down and say, ‘I like this to drink. Make me something fun with that.’ They love hearing that because they get to be creative.”

Here’s where the event gets really serious: First place wins $500 cash and an overnight stay for six, dinner and all the Beam beverages they can enjoy at The Knob Creek house behind the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, Ky. Second place wins an overnight package for two including a room at The Galt House, dinner at Down One, limousine service and tickets to Broadway Across America.

“We all love barrel heads,” said Burrows, referring to the common trophy for many cocktail competitions, “but we wanted to make this really different.”

The evening’s featured cocktail will be Noe Regrets, a $12 concoction of Beam Single Barrel, Aperol, simple syrup and blood orange. Proceeds from that drink and the event overall event will be donated to APRON, the local restaurant employee assistance fund.

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Steve Coomes
Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 24-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Louisville magazine, Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass and Food & Dining Magazine. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.