by Mitchell T. Parker

It appears that I was not voted off of the island. I’m quite happy about that, as I rather like it here. There’s bourbon aplenty at Chasing Neat and I am keen to sample as many of them as I can. So long as the powers that be keep inviting me over that is.

To say that I have been trying to set up this tasting for over a year is a gross simplification. This weekend has been in the works for just going on two years and has been on the cusp of happening a handful of times only to sputter and fall apart at the last hurdle. But such is the innate challenge of coordinating multiple busy schedules. The main thing is that, at long last, we were able to make it happen. 

Some context first. Mike and Dawn live in northern Indiana, just outside of South Bend and the University of Notre Dame. I, however, live in Indianapolis, which on a good day is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive away. More importantly, my good friend Grant also lives in Indianapolis and has a schedule that makes this office slave’s eyes water. Great guy. Lousy schedule. But as Grant is a burgeoning bourbon enthusiast, I deemed it imperative that he and Mike and Dawn meet. The only issue was when and where.

Enter Notre Dame football games. 

For two years I have been trying to get this former Purdue football player up here to see a game and while he was in the area have a few sips. Alas, each foray north saw all parties passing like ships in the night. Until now. 

The date: April 20, 2024. The 93rd edition of the Notre Dame Blue-Gold game.

The people: Grant, his friend Erik, Mike, Dawn, myself, and both of my parents, Pat and Denise.

The pours: Old Forester Whiskey Row Collection

After an afternoon spent at a windy and chilled Notre Dame stadium (the Blue team defeated the Gold by a score of 28 to 21 if you care for such details) we headed over to the Chasing Neat speakeasy for food and drinks. Sadly, due to taking separate cars, I was not there for the moment Grant finally laid eyes on the collection, though Mike has assured me that there were multiple utterances of “oh my god” and copious amounts of drooling. There may have been a tear shed as well, but no one was willing to verify this to me upon my late arrival. 

In any event, Mike and Dawn had certainly brought out all the stops for this long-awaited tasting and we settled in around the table to see seven bottles lined up for us to try. Or, in the case of my mother who is not much of a drinker, several bowls with animal crackers and other assorted palate cleansers and sweets. (She enjoyed herself, I swear!)

We started things off with the Statesman, a 95-proof bottle inspired by the 2017 film Kingsman: The Golden Circle. It was a bold way to wake us up after sitting in the cool April air for the past few hours and the heat was welcomed at that point in the day. Leather and pepper hit you hard and fast and it was a good taste, pardon the pun, of what was to come next.

The best thing that can come out of a tasting, in my mind, besides simply finding a new bourbon you enjoy, is learning something new. If you’ve ever been on a distillery tour or two you’ve most likely heard some variation on the same process. There are only so many different ways you can dress up what is, at its core, a straightforward process. Having been to tastings before I knew much of it, but getting to see Grant and Erik listening and engaging with Mike as he talked with them about the history and process of making bourbon, it struck me that even for a novice like me it was fun to see things from a fresh perspective again. They were like kids in a candy store who had been given free rein to ask anything that came to mind. 

Did we get distracted by the shelf full of bourbon behind us? Yes. Were we pulling them off the self and studying the labels and admiring the bottle shapes? Of course. Did we continue on? Absolutely.

We proceeded up the timeline, tasting the 1870 – a touch milder than Statesman, but with a little more of an oaky taste to it – and then the 1897– harsher with a burn on the back end that I wasn’t the biggest fan of – before we decided to pause for dinner.

Sadly, it was at the end of dinner that Grant and Erik had to say their goodbyes to make it back to Indianapolis at a somewhat reasonable hour. And yes, before you ask, both made arrangements and penciled in their next stop at the speakeasy. They will be seen again, don’t you fret.

Once dinner was tidied up and our numbers reduced, we returned to the speakeasy to finish what we started. 

Now, whether it was simply the matter of a full belly, or that Mike and Dawn had saved the best for last, I cannot rightly say, but I will simply note that the next two bourbons we tried were my favorite of the Old Forester set. 1910 was smooth and sweet and right up my alley. Vanilla and caramel are the way to my heart and the smokey finish was better than I expected. 

The 1920 was one I had been eyeing when Mike, Dawn, and myself had been down in Louisville back in March after I’d read its tasting profile, and I was delighted to see that it lived up to it, with a sweet and spicy taste and a loooong warm finish on the end. Not quite a true Kentucy hug. More like a squeeze. 

The Rye was one I did not personally try, but one that my father – not normally a rye drinker himself – said was quite good. As he’s not typically a man to mince words when it comes to his bourbon, I’d say that’s high praise. 

Finally, the night concluded with the Single Barrel 100 Proof which I will freely admit was the most complex to me. I tasted cinnamon right off the bat and then a brief moment of something refreshing and bright before it gave way to a brown sugar taste that lingered on the back end. It was a little warm but pleasant. 

Grant let me know via a text later that night once he’d made it back to Indy safe and sound that the tasting was everything he’d dreamed it would be and I would agree with that. You never know if something you’ve talked about for so long will be as good in real life as it is in your mind, but this one certainly exceeded my expectations on every front. A chilly afternoon watching football followed by some warm drinks inside with friends and family is about as good a day as you can hope for. 

Now Mike, about that E.H. Taylor…

Mitchell’s final grades:

  • Statesman – 5/10
  • 1870 – 6/10
  • 1897 – 5/10
  • 1910 – 7/10
  • 1920 – 7/10
  • Rye – n/a
  • Single Barrel 100 Proof – 8/10

Mitchell Parker is the nephew of Michael’s and lives in Carmel, Indiana. He is an Indiana University grad now working in the financial industry. Hopefully soon, building his own distillery [hint, hint] so that his favorite Uncle and Aunt can have a new place to play!

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