06 December 2011



It all started with a man named Van and a bottle of Beam Inc.’s Maker’s Mark® handmade premium Kentucky Bourbon. Van loved his bourbon and his friends knew it, so they bought him a bottle of Maker’s for his birthday, for his holiday parties and for any other Saturday night party in Northern Virginia. He always had a bottle in the house.

After a while, Van’s friends thought that he needed to class it up a bit so they bought him a bottle of higher caliber bourbon. Before long, Van had a collection of bourbons ranging from Maker’s Mark to the ultra-premium brand that CNN Money called a “cult brand,” Pappy Van Winkle, courtesy of his amazing wife, Katie.

In 2009, Van decided to take his friends on a tour of his collection as a testament to drinking fortitude, which created a challenge that few have accepted and even fewer have completed without stumbling somewhere in the middle. And by stumbling I mean tossing their cookies and maybe taking out a toilet paper holder in the process.

Two men began the journey and only one man reigned victorious. The second decided that he was brave enough for a repeat adventure but, sadly, his journey ended expectedly. The poor soul ended up running away from the scene as he profusely vomited in his hands. Then he passed out on the bathroom floor. Thank God I was not there to witness that endeavor.

Saturday night I had the pleasure of observing an edition of the Bourbon Trail, taking detailed notes and photos to document each stage of the journey. I did promise to change names but I advised that I would not be changing faces so feel free to make fun of anyone you recognize.

Before we begin, I must explain that the Bourbon Trail might be based upon a fantastic American childhood game back in the days of the original Apple MacIntosh computers. A good time was had by all travelling the Oregon Trail; a version of the game can be played on Facebook for those who are unfamiliar.

And so we begin.

It was a beautiful night in Northern Virginia. Friends gathered around a fire, enjoying some fine drinks and a crazy game of the celebrity name game. When the chatter got too loud for the neighborhood watch, we moved inside for the night.

A party goer, who will now be referred to as Sheldon because this guy is like a posh version of the famous The Bing Bang Theory character, inquired about the legendary Bourbon Trail, which immediately set Van into action. 

The official unwritten rulebook states that one cannot travel the Trail alone so Van volunteered another man, henceforth called B.D.*, to join Sheldon.

*NOTE: B.D. does not refer to Mr. Beattie with the same pronunciation. Although Beattie went two rounds and then utterly failed the Trail, the name B.D. was given because the Asian cowboy could be B.D. Wong's brother. Seriously, how am I the only person who noticed this?

Van scanned the table and selected his bourbons, ranking them along the way. Sheldon and B.D. were presented with the selection of nine bourbons they would be sampling and both accepted the challenge that awaited them with wide eyes and nervous stomachs.

First on the list was the bourbon that was Van’s first love: Maker’s Mark. The bourbon was first bottled in Kentucky in 1958. Margie Samuels, wife of the Maker’s Mark founder Bill Samuels, Sr., designed the bottle and dipped the first batch in wax at home, creating the production standard.

The second bourbon, Maker’s 46TM, was first produced in 2010. The Labrot & Graham Woodford Reserve® ranked number three on the list, working our way from least lethal to most. At number four, Knob Creek® was a popular choice for Sheldon and B.D. The 100 proof bourbon is a full-bodied beverage with a maple sugar aroma, a sweetness and a rich, woody, caramel flavor.

Basil Hayden’s® was not as popular. The spicy, light-bodied bourbon has hints of pepper and honey. The sixth stop on the Bourbon Trail was Blanton’s®, the world’s first single-barrel bourbon at 93 proof. Jefferson’s ReserveTM was unlucky number seven. Castle Brands Inc. describes the 90 proof bourbon as complex, elegant and sophisticated.

At this point, sometimes known as the Seventh Inning Stretch, B.D. wasn’t looking so stellar. He excused himself and commenced the walk of shame as we began to yell, “MAN DOWN! MAN DOWN!” and then he likely broke the toilet paper holder off the bathroom wall – the third time someone damaged the wall in the exact location within nine months.

B.D. returned a few minutes later with a renewed attitude and some vomit splatters on his shirt.

Van carried on and led the boys down the home stretch, beginning with Rock Hill, a 96 proof bourbon that one reviewer called, “a wonderful rich bourbon that puts the other bourbons in its price range to shame.”

The final selection in the Bourbon Trail was Booker’s® at an obnoxious 128.4 proof. To compare,
Absente is 138 proof and that might kill a person. Sheldon and B.D. took their last shot with pride…well, with drunken pride anyway. 

Van does not share his Pappy Van Winkle. Selfish, I know, but, in his defense, it is quite rare – many stores do not stock the bourbon because the bottles fly off the shelves due to the small number of batches produced. Waiting lists to receive a bottle average six months if one can obtain a space on the sacred list.

Throughout Sheldon’s and B.D.’s journey, their smiles got bigger, their attitudes were more relaxed and their eyes shown more sparkly. They were happier as well – giddy, really.

When asked how it felt to complete the Trail without default, Sheldon replied quite loudly, ”I expect a medal for this.”

B.D., on the other hand, coyly replied, “I’m a little drunk,” and then stumbled into the next room.

I felt honored to witness the two men’s journey on the Bourbon Trail but I was intrigued by the order of Van’s selection. He methodically lined each bottle on the table but I noticed that he fidgeted a bit and changed the order a couple times.

Only Van can best put into words what went through his mind during the selection process, so please, enjoy:

“These are all good bourbons, and I wouldn't say the order is determined by the class of the bourbon so much as the desired outcome. The trail (much like the Oregon Trail game) starts off pretty easy. For no real reason, I'm going to explain the Bourbon Trail in Oregon Trail terms.

“The beginning of the trail is the Maker's. It's nice, smooth, and pretty easy. You just left town, you got plenty of supplies and all the members of your party (and your stomach) are still with you. You think you have what it takes to make it all the way. Then you make your way up the trail and get to the Basil.

“At this point, you may have to get some supplies for your party. You'll see some people get a chaser right around the Knob or Basil point. Then you get to the Blanton's and you think to yourself, ‘Do I have a fever? Or am I about to die of dysentery?’

“The Blanton's is 93 proof, so you're starting to feel the burn. At this point, you may have had to make a detour and lost a member of your party along the way. The Jefferson serves as a nice break. It's the point at the top of the mountains before you make your way through the most treacherous part of the journey.

“Now you're into the Rock Hill. This one's 96 proof and you're going to feel it. At this point, you realize that when you left town, one of your oxen just died and you're asking yourself why you wanted to go to Oregon in the first place.

“Finally, we save the hardest one for last; the Booker's, a.k.a the Widow-maker. This bourbon is almost 130 proof, so when you finally get to Oregon, you're thankful it's done. You can't remember why you wanted to travel the trail, or, sometimes, even who you are, but you're going to be O.K. The journey's been tough, and you most likely lost most of your party along the way, but you're relieved it's over.

Well said.

That night Sheldon became a true champion. He is now one of only two men to conquer the Bourbon Trail without falter, which earned him the right to not only wear someone else’s sunglasses at night, but inside well into the next morning.

There was morning and there was evening on the sixth day and Van saw that everything was good. On the seventh day, they rested. A lot.

I hope you enjoyed the story of the Bourbon Trail. When asked if readers may continue the tradition, the almighty creator replied, “I highly encourage it.”

True story, brah.


m3kilpat said...

This is hilarious. Though you may have "profusely" enhanced some of the details I still enjoyed it, especially the pictures. B.D. Wong lmao. The last sentence is epic. Your next blog post should involve a certain kind of shower.

Anonymous said...

1.spending or giving freely and in large amount, often to excess; extravagant (often followed by in ): profuse praise.
2.made or done freely and abundantly: profuse apologies.
3. abundant; in great amount.

I would argue that anytime a person throws up in their hand, and it spurts out onto the kitchen floor, that's profuse. Or, as Trotter so eloquently put it, "Suck it!"