Our first stop was the Heaven Hill Distillery. The largest family-owned, and second-largest holder of barreled bourbon in the world, clocking in at 1.5 Million 53-gallon barrels. According to Heaven Hill, bourbon came about when Elijah Craig had a barn fire that charred the inside of his barrels. After deciding to use the barrels anyway for his corn whiskey, the long trail south to where the whiskey was being delivered had mellowed the whiskey and turned it a nice caramel color. Drinkers began asking for the whiskey from Bourbon County, eventually shortened to Bourbon.*

After a massive fire in 1996 that consumed 90,000 barrels of bourbon, Heaven Hill built a new distillery at a different site, but the aging still happens at the rickhouses on the original site. They lost so much product in the fire that all the major area distilleries donated one full day of production to Heaven Hill to help them get back on their feet.

Heaven Hill uses a 70% corn mashbill and a #2 char on their barrels. The number designates the amount of time the barrel is charred, and thus the amount of char it receives. We were fairly surprised to learn on the trip that most of the distilleries make a surprisingly small range of raw distillate. Very little of the character of the bourbon (20%-40%, depending on who you ask) comes from the whiskey itself, the vast majority of the flavor coming from the barrel, location, heat and time.

Inside the rickhouses, an interesting feature is the X-beam running through the center of the building. Because of the sheer weight of all those barrels, the buildings need to be able to shift slightly, and the barrels need to be removed evenly to prevent a large shift in weight that could damage the building itself.

Beams to deal with the shifting of all that weight

But the one thing that really sticks when you walk away from the rickhouses is how amazing they smell. You might think all those decades of aging whiskey would fill the building with an astringent alcohol smell, but that isn’t it at all. They smell like sweet wood and vanilla, and if they had a way to make my house smell like that, I’d pay an awful lot of money for it.

Following the tour of the ricks, we had a tasting of a few of their bourbons. Their standards are solid, if a little sweet and mellow for my tastes. I also picked up a bottle of their newest limited release, William Heavenhill, an 11 year old bourbon that was one of my personal favorites of the trip. Big and flavorful and delicious. If you somehow manage to come across it, I’d definitely recommend shelling out for a bottle.

Next up: Willett Distillery


* A lot of the history and majesty surrounding the bourbon industry is a little magical and hazy, so you learn pretty quickly to take what you hear about the origin stories with a grain of salt. Everything has a charming and fortuitous story tracing everything back to one man whose name you’ll see on bottles today. With a little research, I’m sure you’d find all the claims to be exaggerated at best, but for our purposes, I’m just repeating what the distiller told me. The same goes for the “largest,” “biggest” and “most” statistics. They’re not incorrect, just bent to sound a little more triumphant. Just about every distillery you go to has a (rightful) claim on being the biggest producer of X or first producer of Y.  


A couple of weeks ago, Whiskey Club took a trip to Kentucky with the singular purpose of enjoying some great bourbon and rye. While we achieved that, we also managed to learn a ton of stuff about where my favorite spirit is made. There’s a veritable mountain of history and tradition that differs from distillery to distillery, and each little difference at the outset becomes a BIG difference 4, 10 or 20 years down the road.

Bourbon trail tours are big business down there, so we tried to choose where we went carefully. In the end, we settled on four: Heaven Hill, Willett, Buffalo Trace and Four Roses. Jen took a ton of great photos, so I’ll be giving each of them their own post. The overall gist: I’d recommend doing this for anyone really into the stuff. Just head down, rent a house, and taste all the bourbon. There are a lot of great bars and restaurants, too.

First up: Heaven Hill.

A Preview of Bank & Bourbon


Yesterday, I had a chance to check out the newest in the recent string of whiskey-centric bars opening in Philadelphia. Bank & Bourbon (infuriatingly similar in name to the also-new Bourbon & Branch in Northern Liberties, sure to confuse me more than it should for the foreseeable future) is located at 1200 Market Street, attached to the lobby of the Lowes Hotel in the PSFS building, and is a lot more centrally located than most of its whiskey bar peers. Whether that will work for or against them is yet to be seen.

What they hope will help them to stand apart from those peers is their aging program. In a small room off the main dining room, accessible through an (admittedly cool) false-bookcase door, is a tasting room built for 10-12 people and a wall full of 10-gallon American white oak barrels. These barrels will be used to experiment with aging their own white dog, as well as cocktails, and anything else that might grab the interest of bourbon master Brian Bevilacqua. In addition, there are several 5-liter barrels for smaller-batch aged cocktails behind the bar.


A third set – 3-liter barrels – sit in lockers on either side of the bar and are available for 12-month customer lease as part of Bank & Bourbon’s  barrel aging program. Under the guidance of the bourbon master, you’ll fill the barrel and have access to it as it matures. If you’re so inclined, you can have the bartenders make you a cocktail out of your own aged whiskey. All-in-all, it seems like an interesting program. The biggest drawback is that we are still in Pennsylvania, and all the draconic liquor laws that entails. Anything added to the barrels must come from a bottle of alcohol purchased in PA. Sadly, this rules out high-proof distillate sourced from your favorite smaller craft distiller. On the bright side, most whiskey producers have jumped on the white dog band-wagon, and for the first time I can fathom purchasing a bottle of un-aged whiskey. I’m still a bit unclear as to the difference between the Silver, Gold and Platinum levels, but Brian stressed repeatedly the flexibility of the program, and its experimental nature. After all, that’s how the distillers you all know and love had to approach their product in the beginning, too. You’re never going to create the next great American whiskey in a 3 liter barrel with 80-proof distillate, but you do get to taste it as it progresses until you’re happy, then sit down and drink something wholly unique to you.

Overall, it’s an interesting project. I’m curious to see how it turns out. Judging by the attendees of the preview, the vast majority of the patrons will think of all the barrels  as part of the decor, but if they can keep the place afloat while the few that are interested have a chance to play around, it could turn out to be pretty neat.


Bank & Bourbon is located at 1200 Market Street, Philadelphia. It opens to the public tonight, Wednesday, April 9th. 




On our honeymoon, we stumbled across what is apparently the only whisky distillery in New Zealand by sheer dumb luck. The distillery itself hasn’t been up and running for quite a few years, but all the stock was bought by another company and is still being packaged and sold. This means everything they have is very old, and very limited. I brought back a bottle of the 21 year old single malt for Whiskey Club, and decided to run with the theme by getting one single malt from 4 different places around the globe.

After finally finding SOMETHING made in the US (PA has a sad lack of American malted whisky available in stores), the four we settled on were:

1) South Island Single Malt 21 Year – New Zealand
2) Yamazaki 12 – Japan
3) The Dalmore 12 – Scotland
4) Hudson Single Malt – USA

We were a bit surprised by the results. The South Island Single Malt was good, but very mild with very little memorable character. Everyone agreed that they enjoyed it, but it was forgettable. The term “Sessionable Single Malt” was thrown around only half-jokingly.

The Dalmore wasn’t very well received. I’d never had it before, but more than one person opted to not finish their glass. It was astringent, and stronger than it should have been at such a low proof. Not one person stepped up to defend it. Universally panned. Granted, this is in the context of single malts. I wouldn’t hesitate to drink it over something like Johnny Walker.

The Yamazaki was the crowd favorite. More “Scotch” than the Scotch, It had a great flavor, nice burn and was just pleasant to drink. Everyone making a stink about Suntory buying Beam would really do well to try a glass of this. I’m willing to bet it would change their mind. It may not be a 1:1 comparison, but you can tell these are people that care about making a good whisky.

Surprisingly, I found the Hudson the most interesting of the lot. I didn’t like the first sip, but warmed to it quickly. It smelled and tasted briny, almost like oysters, and of cinnamon. It wasn’t as harsh as I expected it to be after just 4 years in the barrel, but admittedly it didn’t taste exactly like a single malt. For all it’s odd flavors, it was almost a bridge between malted whisky and rye, with a boldness and sweetness not really common in the Scotch family. I may not always love what Hudson is making, but for a young producer, I really do like that they are erring on the side of interesting and bold and not trying to play the “micro-batch aging because we have science” card at every turn, opting for innovation over actual substance. I’m looking forward to seeing how the whiskeys evolve over time.

All in all, another successful meeting. I never cease to be amazed at what surprises me in the side-by-side tests. My favorite is almost never what I thought it would be.

In other news, Jen has a surplus of frozen smoothie fruit, which means it’s time for me to make some syrup. Hopefully I’ll have a cocktail experiment to post soon, especially if we’re going to get snowed in again. No better time to drink than when you’re trapped in your house.

SHORT VERSION: South Island Single Malt: smooth, drinkable, forgettable; The Dalmore: not fantastic; Yamazaki: predictably great; Hudson Single Malt: surprisingly interesting.

Housekeeping and Site News


Hey everyone! Happy holidays!

It’s been a hell of a year. Jen and I got married in November, after which we spent 3 weeks drinking our way around New Zealand. As soon as we got back, we celebrated the one-year anniversary of our (if I do say so myself) super fun Whiskey Club with a great party put together by Denise at Twisted Tail in Philadelphia. Before all that, most of our time was spent doing the absolute mountain of work associated with throwing a wedding.

But, 2014 is a new year, and if I’m going to make one resolution, it’s to stop neglecting HomeSpeakeasy. We haven’t been doing quite so much cocktail experimentation lately, but Jen has been getting really into learning about wine, and I’ve been dedicating a lot of time finding and trying interesting whisk(e)y. So in the coming year, you can expect a wider array of alcohol-related things. Rather than just mixology, we’re going to be posting more about what we are drinking, even if it only happens to have one ingredient. There may even be a trip to New Orleans or the Bourbon Trail in a few months.

In the meantime, we’ll start trying to update the Liquor Cabinet section, and posting more frequent updates about all things alcoholic. We’re looking forward to it!

-Jon & Jen



Two weeks after initially bottling up the first step of our bitters, it was time to move on to step 2.

For this phase, we need to separate the solids from the alcohol by placing a cheesecloth-lined funnel over a new, clean jar. Strain out all the solids and squeeze the cheesecloth bundle to get everything out before transferring the solids to a saucepan. stir in a cup of water and bring it to a boil. Once it’s boiling, let it simmer for 10-15 minutes, and then pour the whole thing back into the original jar. Let it cool to room temperature, seal it up, and let it sit for another week, shaking daily.

At this point, you’ve got 2 jars for each batch of bitters you’re making. If you happen to be making four at once like we are, make sure you label the jars clearly so you know which alcohol corresponds to which jar of botanicals.

Some of them are starting to smell REALLY good, so I’m pretty excited to see what we come up with this time. If the smell is any indication, I’m going to have to re-name the “Cherry Cola Bitters,” because they smell nothing like cherry cola and smell very much like the forrest. We’ll find out for sure in a couple of weeks!

Check out the original post for Step 1.


South of the Border, West of the Sun
1.5 oz Monte Alban mescal
1 oz grapefruit juice
1 oz bell pepper syrup (see below)
0.5 oz Benedictine
2 dashes Aztec chocolate bitters

Shake well with ice and strain into a coupe. Garnish with a wedge of grapefruit.

NOTES: This one was a bit of a shot in the dark. Inspired by Cantina’s Tequila Club meeting, I wanted to play with mescal, and I wanted to try working more savory flavors into drinks. While the pepper is sweet in comparison to other vegetables, in the context of a cocktail it added a pretty interesting complexity. The drink was overall surprisingly drinkable. Lightly smoky and herbaceous, a little tangy, spicy and just a touch bitter. It was a nice change from the norm for me, and while I wouldn’t want every drink to taste like this, it was a welcome difference. Might be well suited for a breakfast drink with some alterations, as well. It’s nice to screw around with something unusual and have it end up better than you might expect.

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Whiskey Society write-ups are guest authored by the host of that month’s meeting. This month we were hosted by Sean Mellody of Mellody Brewing, and his well-behaved dog Barley. 

After joining this new group of friends and whiskey drinkers last month, I was excited to host the group at my place in Queen Village. I was equally happy to share with them a special bottle of whiskey that I procureed during a work trip to India. Mind you, hosting is no small task. You need proper glassware, proper ice options (I had some issues making the large ice balls) and of course some food to make sure we aren’t all crawling home on a Tuesday night or too hung over the following Wednesday (mental note – need to eat more food next time.)

Once everyone arrived and was properly greeted by my dog, Barley, we took pour orders and opened the Amrut Fusion. I got the bottle of Amrut when I was in India in January, and it was brought to me by a coworker from the city of Bengaluru – where the whiskey is distilled. It’s a 50/50 blend of Indian Malt, grown at the foot hills of the Himalayas, and Scotish malt.  We were able to track our tasting notes this meeting as Jon designed and printed out some nice note cards for us to do so. It tracks on a sliding scale of 1-5 things like the whiskey’s balance, burn, smokiness, floral and other attributes, and the cards have come in handy in writing this review of the night. The Amrut poured with a beautifully balanced nose of oak and peat, with hints of flowers and what I can only call sugar. It smelled sweet. Upon tasting, it has a nice subdued smoke, which for me is good as I’m not a peat fan overall, but struck a good balance of sweetness and oak and smoke. The consensus was this was a good pour – thankfully I bought two bottles while in India so I can enjoy it again.

After putting some music on the turntable and lighting us a proper fire we opened our second bottle – The Glenlivet 18. I consulted with Jon on this bottle as we tried to find a good follow up to a whiskey we’d never had. The Glenlivet 18, in my world, is a classic scotch. It’s a single malt that poured quite bold with aroma of fruit, “maybe cherries,” I wrote and oak. No smoke here, which was refreshing for me. It was a smooth scotch, with little burn and a nice long dry finish with just a hint of oak aftertaste.  All in all, a nice way to finish the tasting. Some of us went on to try some Dad’s Hat Single Barrel I had, and some homebrew I’ve kegged with rye. Let’s just say – I’m probably not the only one who needed some help the following morning at work.

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2013 Winter Bitters Project


Since the last batch of bitters went over so well we decided to take another shot at it, this time with a little more risk in the flavors. Jen and I each made two jars for phase 1, and in 2-3 weeks we’ll separate and move on to phase 2.

If anyone else is interested in trying this at home, I’d definitely encourage it. As we learned from helpful comments on past posts, Penn Herb Co. (if you’re in Philadelphia) is a great source to find just about all those ingredients that you’ve never heard of. The dried fruit peels & zests are easy to make on your own by putting them on a cookie sheet and setting the oven as low as it’ll go with the door propped open for a few hours. If anyone does make their own, we’d love to hear what went into yours and how they turned out. We’re still just taking shots in the dark. Delicious shots, but shots in the dark all the same.

For now, recipes for what we’ve got steeping after the break!

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new bottles

We’ve been slacking a bit with the updates (and remembering to photograph practically anything we’ve made in the past 6 months), but we’re making a concerted effort to be less lazy. In that vein, we’ve got a few new things to report on:

  1. We’ve posted a whole slew of new bottles to our Liquor Cabinet, and instituted a new system for marking bottled DECEASED once we’ve finished them and decided they aren’t worth replacing. No point in purchasing something we don’t enjoy with so much great booze out there. We got a bunch of pretty great stuff this time, even if most of it is whiskey.
  2. Started a new shrub last night: Lemon Lime & Star Anise, so in about a week we’ll see what we can do with that.
  3. We also made a rather unusual syrup that we’ll be posting about once we work it into a drink. Earlier this week has me inspired, so I’m going to venture a guess that tequila will pop up in there somewhere.
  4. Finally, we’ve started 4 new batches of bitters. Those will be setting for a while. but once they’re done, Jen and I are hoping to do another giveaway for any that turn out nicely. We had a lot of fun with that last time. I’ll put together a post with the recipes for step 1 of the bitters later today.

More on all those coming up shortly!

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