Category Archives: Distillery Tours

Bottles On The Bourbon Trail

Liam and Eric recently returned from a trip to Kentucky in search of private barrels of Bourbon that will be sold exclusively at Bottles. The barrels will be in store within a matter of months, so to tide you over, here are a few highlights from the guys’ trip:

Day One
Welcome to Kentucky! We arrived just in time for an early lunch at Mammy’s Kitchen in Bardstown (Liam had a hot brown, and Eric had the country ham plate with fried apples and green beans, and “coffee”) before heading off to the Willett Distillery.

The iconic Willett copper pot still is glorious. It was great to see how hands-on the distillery is in this highly technological age. Once made, all of Willett’s bourbon is transferred by hand into the barrels and weighed on a big manual scale (at the bottom of the photo) before being rolled into the rickhouse to age.

Willett isn’t yet available in RI – but perhaps soon!

Next stop: Maker’s Mark, where Eric did a thorough inspection of the private barrels in their new warehouse. Dug into the limestone hills, it was built to house their barrels of Maker’s 46, which require a 9-week cold aging process to finish. The private barrels that are aged there are finished with a different type of oak staves for 9 weeks. The wax dipping line was pretty cool to see, though the lady on the left wasn’t all that impressed with Eric.

Fun Fact: All of the trees outside of the distilleries are black. This is due to a whiskey fungus called Baudoinia. As barrels age in their warehouses, the liquid inside evaporates – the ‘angel’s share.’ This evaporate is full of ethanol, which Baudoinia feeds on. Since ethanol is denser than air, the angel’s share actually moves along the ground, and as soon as it hits anything moist (which there’s plenty of in the damp morning Kentucky dew) the fungus sticks and goes to work. Tree bark makes an especially good breeding ground. These lovely trees in bloom at Maker’s Mark show what we mean.

After a taxing day of bourbon tasting and dinner we were off to taste more whiskey! Here’s a shot from our barstool perch at Haymarket in downtown Louisville. That’s 300+ bottles of whiskey you see there, including the full cadre of Pappy and the antique collection, about 12 private barrel Four Roses, a bunch of stuff that isn’t made anymore and a lot more. We tried their own private barrel of Four Roses (picked by the Haymarket staff and Jim Rutledge the day before he retired). We needed a “calibration” on Four Roses before we headed over to pick out our own barrels. Also, their “well” bourbon is Heaven Hill 6-year – only available in KY. We might have had to bring some back with us.

Day Two brought us to the Heaven Hill distillery. One of many highlights from our trip was stumbling upon our very own private barrel of Elijah Craig, number 5017812, which we selected from a slew of samples last month. Our guide was astounded – hundreds of barrels move throughout the facility each day – the chance that we were here on the one day that our barrel was in line for bottling was one in thousands. It’s bourbon kismet! It’s also how we found out it’s 10 years old. Not quite 12 years, but not too bad for some pretty good juice. We grabbed a sharpie and signed it. Keep your eyes open – it will be in store before you know it.

We then watched as barrel number 7673766 was rolled onto the line to be filled with new make whiskey. Once filled, it was carted off to the rickhouse to age anywhere from 4 to 30 years. Heaven Hill numbers their barrels sequentially, so this tells you they’ve produced over 7 million barrels. They come in one door to be filled, and robots pack them onto a truck to be moved to the rickhouse. The second photo below is a huge pile of what comes out after the barrels are dumped. It’s bits of charcoal from the charred barrels in which the bourbon was aged that need to be filtered off before bottling. It was still damp from however many barrels were dumped that day, and smelled amazing.

Another astounding sight was that of the distillery warehouses themselves. The shot below is of just 4 of the 53 Heaven Hill rickhouses. The photo shows 7 stories of bourbon barrels, thousands of barrels in each – and these aren’t even the largest on the property. Over a million barrels are aging at Heaven Hill right now. These rickhouses caught on fire in 1996, sending rivers of flaming bourbon cascading down the hill, exploding barrels shooting overhead like fireworks. It’s very difficult to give a sense of scale, but these things are huge – gargantuan behemoths of bourbon rising over the horizon as you drive through the Kentucky countryside. Our heads came to about halfway up the bottom row of windows. The smell in the air was quite literally intoxicating.

Next stop was to Jim Beam to select a barrel of Knob Creek. We got to open 3 samples ourselves, popping the bung out with a giant hammer, and sampling them fresh and raw right from the barrel. The difference in flavor from barrel to barrel is always surprising. Two of our samples were aging right next to each other, but couldn’t have been more different. We chose barrel C06B22, which was aged in Warehouse K (which abbreviated in the photo looks like “whiskey,” doesn’t it). The code on the barrel tells where the bourbon was made and its age: C is for the city of Clermont where it was distilled, 06 is for 2006, B is the second month of the year, and 22 is the day of the month. February 22, 2006. Our barrel is 11 years and almost 2 months old! It’s older than our store!

We then went to Copper & Kings brandy distillery where (as we wrote about last month in our blog) the distillery pulses music via 5 major sub-woofers into their aging room. Unlike bourbon, brandy doesn’t like the temperature fluctuations that force the liquid in & out of the barrel staves – it’s too harsh for the delicate fruit flavors. In France, for instance, they will often rock the barrels by hand to agitate the liquid. At Copper & Kings, they use musical vibrations to jostle the booze in each barrel, allowing for more contact time with the wood. Sonic aging! You can see where they are aging brandy in ex-beer barrels as well. We were there on Al Green’s birthday, so it was Al’s tunes all day. That’s going to be some sexy brandy!

Next stop was at Four Roses, where we selected two private barrels. While there, we had the great opportunity to hang out with Al Young, Four Roses’ newly-minted Senior Brand Ambassador. He’s a great guy to know, and he even co-signed the barrels we chose for ya’ll back in little Rhody. We chose the OESQ recipe, one that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, but there are barrels that are just starting to hit their mark. We had a chat with Brent Elliot (who recently took over as Master Distiller from legend Jim Rutledge) about the barrel, which he personally selected as a sample for this program. He was excited that we chose it, and mentioned that several “Qs” had caught his eye recently (you can read more about the different Four Roses recipes and the significance of ‘Q’ yeast on their website. Our barrel has a nice interplay of flavors and is not too hot on the finish. It helps that it comes from warehouse M, rack 8, 6 high, so pretty much right in the middle of the warehouse – the sweet spot.

We mentioned that we bought 2 barrels…so what about the second one? It’s a surprise! But you’ll find out soon enough. We can’t wait for you to try them.

On Day Three we mozied over to the old Stitzel-Weller distillery – where Julian Van Winkle (the first Pappy) began the modern bourbon craze all those years ago. Though the distillery is in the process of being modernized, they still have some of the original buildings. Imagining Pappy walking through that exact door was pretty cool. The iconic Old Fitzgerald smokestack was great to see in person.

We then went to the unbelievable Vendome Copper & Brass works, where almost 100% of the fermentation equipment for distilleries in the country (even that used by Rhody’s own Sons of Liberty) is made. The craftsmanship is amazing. Each still is a unique piece – and while they are 100% functional, they are complete works of art in and of themselves. The facility isn’t open to the public – we were so thrilled to have had a guided tour through it.

Later in the day we watched as artisans made barrels at the Brown-Forman Cooperage. The most important part of the bourbon aging process is the barrel, so to be able to see how they’re made was a rare treat. Brown-Forman makes their own barrels for Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, and Jack Daniels, among others. The barrels are charred with incredible heat for about 40 seconds. These barrels are right in the middle of their charring, and it was hot by the kiln. The char is what helps filter the bourbon and give it its distinctive golden caramel coloring. One of the most skilled jobs in the cooperage is that of fixing issues on defective barrels. This talented gentleman is replacing a split stave with a new one.

We ended our trip with a visit to Buffalo Trace where we saw their indescribably huge (seriously – we couldn’t get a great shot) fermenters. They have 12 of them. Each is 3 stories tall and holds 92,000 gallons. Each. They were full & bubbling. The sheer size of them made us truly wonder why it’s so hard to get their bourbon – where is it all going? Or is it all still aging?

The bottling line for Blanton’s Single Barrel is tucked away in a quiet corner of the distillery grounds. When the barrels are ready, they are individually vatted & proofed, hand bottled one-by-one, hand numbered, etc. It truly is a gem of a hand-made Bourbon. Wish we could get more of it at the store, but when you see the small number of bottles that each barrel yields, you can understand why it’s so hard to come by.

We couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the business side of our trip than a visit to ‘Bourbon Pompeii’. Not open to the public yet, this is the excavation of the ORIGINAL O.F.C. distillery from 1873, built by Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. The history is amazing. Those big square holes were 12 copper-lined big fermentation tanks, and there is some sort of cistern (no one knows what that was for yet). It was a step into history that few get to see.

We couldn’t leave Kentucky without a trip to a race track! Before heading to the airport we made a pit stop at Keeneland for the Maker’s 46 Mile. Liam bet on horse 6, ‘Conquest Panthera’ & won $2! Eric bet on horse 4…

We saw a ton during our time in Louisville, more than we have room to share here. We had lovely visits with the Alltech Brewery & Distillery (makers of the popular Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale and Town Branch Bourbon), Woodford Reserve, Against the Grain Brewery, and other hot spots around town. We tried some amazing bourbons, met some very cool people, and found some very tasty whiskey to bring home and share with all of you. Keep your eyes peeled over the next few months for the arrival of our private barrels, and your own taste of the best Kentucky has to offer.





Mad River Distillers: Spirits With a Sense of Place

mad river barn

photo courtesy of Mad River Distillers

We’re mad about Mad River Distillers.

Maura Connolly, a co-founder of the Warren, Vermont-based craft distillery, visited Bottles on an unusually warm day in January to talk about and taste our team through the line of Mad River small-batch spirits.

Her distillery, a red-roofed, renovated horse barn, is cradled in the heart of the Green Mountains. In that quintessential New England structure, their craft Mueller still (designed specifically to make brandies, rums and whiskies) produces spirits that are distinctly of their place. That is, they are all made by hand and from scratch using raw materials from Vermont and neighboring regions. Nearly all ingredients — from the water drawn from a nearby mountain spring, to the corn in their bourbon and the apples in their brandy — are from local land, farms and orchards. And for those ingredients that aren’t indigenous, such as cane sugar, Mad River purchases from fair-trade certified, sustainable sources.
We started with their First Run Rum, which is distilled from fair-trade demerara sugar, and like their bourbon and rye, is aged in charred barrels. We all agreed that with its rich bourbon-like texture, and smooth, caramel finish, it was indeed how Maura described it: a rum for whiskey drinkers.

Next was the Mad River Maple Rum which is as good as it sounds. Like the First Run it has whiskey-like qualities. Its unmistakable maple flavor comes from a secondary aging in oak barrels that once held pure Vermont maple syrup. Maura suggested that it makes a terrific Old Fashioned on the rocks, and that it’s also great just out of the freezer, on ice.

The Mad River Bourbon is a four-grain wheated bourbon, made from a special strain of a non-GMO corn grown in VT just for the distillery, as well as wheat, oats and malted barley. We were all impressed with the strong though not overbearing corn flavor, and could imagine how great it would be served in front of a roaring fire with a bowl of popcorn.

The Mad River Rye made from 100% organic rye grown in nearby New York was a hit with the team as well. We all agreed it would make a great sipping rye, with classic pepper and winter baking spice flavors, all complemented by a surprising, subtle mocha note that we were told was from a dark chocolate roasted rye in the mash bill.

We ended our tasting with Malvados, Mad River’s flagship apple brandy. A wink and a nod to the classic French apple brandy Calvados, Mad River’s tart, sour and sweet version is made from eight varieties of Vermont-grown heirloom apples and cider. It recently won a highly coveted Good Food Award – we can see why.

Because Maura and her team are so focused on quality and small-batch production, their spirits are only available in three states. We’re so glad Rhode Island is one of them and are honored to currently be the state’s exclusive purveyor of the entire line of Mad River spirits.

Here are a few Mad River cocktail recipes that we love. Visit their website for others, and enjoy!

Russell Warren Old Fashioned 
Created by Ashish at the Russell House Tavern, Boston
3 oz Mad River Maple Rum
.5 oz Honey Syrup
1 dash Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters
Optional: Club Soda
Stir all ingredients with a pinch of mint. Serve over ice. Garnish with Mint.


1.5 oz. Mad River Rye
1.5 oz. Campari
1.5 oz. Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
Stir Rye, Campari and vermouth over ice. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with an orange swath.

Fancy Pants

2 oz. Mad River Bourbon
1/2 oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
2 dash orange bitters
dash Angostura Bitters
orange twist
Combine all ingredients except orange twist in a pitcher and stir. Pour over ice into a rocks glass and garnish with the twist.


Hillrock Estate Distillery: An Exclusive Whiskey Pairing for Father’s Day, Only at Bottles


Hillrock Estate Distillery. Grain to Glass. Barrel to Bottles.

Bottles is proud to announce the release of our private barrel of Hillrock Estate Double Cask Rye just in time for Father’s Day.  Barrel No. 40—personally selected earlier this year at the Hudson Valley distillery, by our own Eric Taylor and Liam Maloney—was bottled last month. Each bottle is individually numbered and signed by Hillrock’s Master Distiller, Dave Pickerell, and bears a special label signifying it as a “Bottles Special Edition.”

On a beautiful winter day at Hillrock, Dave shared with us his philosophy of distilling (“Play with your whiskey. You can’t be lazy with it. You’ve got to get your glasses steamy.”) and his thoughts on what makes the estate so distinctive. And of course, we tasted. After sampling more than 8 single barrels, we settled on Barrel No. 40. We were charmed by its full, creamy and smooth mouthfeel, the Hillrock characteristic hints of clove and cinnamon, and its warm, long finish.



Limited quantities of The Hillrock Estate Double Cask Rye – Bottles Edition, are on sale now exclusively at Bottles. Make it the perfect Father’s Day gift this year by pairing it with an AVO No. 9, a mild-to-medium cigar with a smooth and slight spicy flavor. $100 for the pair, while supplies last.

Show your dad he’s one of a kind and give him this one-of-a-kind whiskey, available only at Bottles.





Sons of Liberty Distillery – Pumpkin Whiskey Made in RI

Sons of Liberty Distillery Pumpkin Whiskey
Pumpkin Whiskey is here! If you haven’t heard, Sons of Liberty Spirit Company from South Kingston, Rhode Island, makes an award-winning seasonal whiskey: Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey. And guess what? You can get your bottle at our store! We can even ship it to you, if you’re not fortunate enough to be located in New England.

Check out our visit to the Sons of Liberty distillery, where we met up with owner/distiller Mike Reppucci:

Sons of Liberty Spirits Co. is the first distillery to offer seasonal craft whiskies. Breweries have seasonal brews, so why not whiskey? And, this Pumpkin Whiskey uses all local Rhode Island pumpkins that are roasted to perfection. Add some winter spices like clove, allspice, vanilla, cinnamon, & sweet orange, and you have a buzz-worthy American craft whiskey. No artificial flavor or coloring here!
Make a Pumpkin Cider Martini, a Pumpkin Manhattan, or enjoy the beautiful aromas and flavors neat. Cheers!


Bottles Fine Wine
141 Pitman Street, Providence, RI

Meet the Sons of Liberty Spirits Co. – A Rhode Island Distillery

Uprising - Sons of Liberty Distillery in RI

Get a backstage tour of the Sons of Liberty Spirits Co.,  Rhode Island’s second newest distillery since the 1800s. Mike Reppucci, Sons of Liberty owner/distiller, showed our store manager around the distillery. Learn how they make their great single malt American whiskey, Uprising, and welcome in their seasonal winter release, a Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey that uses local Rhody pumpkins. A winner of the World’s Best Whiskies!

Visit us to shop local, and for a full selection of Sons of Liberty spirits: Uprising Whiskey, Pumpkin Whiskey, Loyal 9 Vodkas, and more.


Sons of Liberty Whiskey Distillery Sons of Liberty distillery - Rhode Island

Thomas Tew Rum – Drink Rhody Rum!

Thomas Tew Rum - Rhode Island Rum Distillery

Thomas Tew Rum is made by the Newport Distilling Company in nearby Newport, Rhode Island. Watch the tour and overview of how their barrel-aged rum is made, with Brent Ryan, master distiller. Brent was kind enough to give us the behind-the-scenes tour of the distillery. Watch, sip, and enjoy!

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Thomas Tew Rum - Distillery Tour Newport Distilling Company