Pappy Van Winkle isn't the only small-batch bourbon, and if you don't know that then you're probably not a good candidate for membership in the Charleston Brown Water Society, a burgeoning group of bourbon lovers. Formed in August, the CBWS has been busily organizing events and growing their membership. They'll be making a big debut during the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, but if the idea of a group of brown water lovers has piqued your interest, then put this event on your calendar.
On Wednesday night, Trey Zoeller of Jefferson's Bourbon
will be appearing at the bar at Husk
to unveil his Ocean II small-batch bourbon, and the CBWS members will be there in full force because they'll be getting a private meeting with Zoeller before the event opens to the public. After the public meet-and-greet with Zoeller, the CBWS will take the bourbon maker out on the town for a pub crawl (and maybe even a horse-and-buggy drawn tour).
Zoeller's latest creation is called Ocean II, because it was literally aged at sea. He loaded up 62 barrels on a ship that sailed around the world and stopped at more than 40 ports. Roderick Hale Weaver, head barman at Husk and a founding CBWS father, says the first Ocean release sold for about $300 a bottle, but this one should go for around $70. "The bourbon sloshes around, expands and contracts and gets more flavor from the barrel," he says, when asked what sailing around the world does for the spirit. On the website, Jefferson's says this: "The caramelizing of the sugars in the barrel combined with the constant motion of the ship resulted in a dark bourbon with a briny, savory taste aged beyond its years."
Weaver says Zoeller is correctly referred to as a master blender, because he does not distill but buys his spirits from established distilleries and then blends and ages them himself. For the CBWS, this sort of honesty is part of what they celebrate. "There's a lot of smoke and mirrors in whiskey making," says Weaver.
At a recent CBWS meeting, the term LDI kept getting bandied about as the members swirled and sipped glasses of a rye whiskey from Oregon. A look at a recent blog post on GQ.com
and a whiskey tree graphic created by Colin Spoelman and David Haskell helps wade through the meaning of LDI. Nearly half of rye whiskeys on the market are made at one distillery, LDI, in Indiana, which means that blending and aging is a big part of the art of bourbon making. So there's your first brown water lesson. If you're interested in getting more, stop by and meet Zoeller on Wednesday night.
And if you're interested in learning more about CBWS, I'll have a story about them in the City Paper's
W+F issue, which hits the streets March 5.