During all the hubbub surrounding Chef Paul Smith’s James Beard finalist nomination earlier this year, another local star was making a name for itself on the international stage.
That “star” is The Bullock Distillery’s flagship Karst Water Select Straight Bourbon Whiskey, which recently won a rare and coveted Double Gold designation at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
This competition is the largest in North America, with thousands of entries, but only a few dozen Double Golds. Other whiskeys to receive this designation include Jack Daniel’s 12-Year-Old Tennessee Whiskey, E.H. Taylor’s Small Batch, Eagle Rare, Kentucky Owl’s The Wiseman, Four Roses Single Barrel and other fine whiskeys.
At $50 a bottle, this locally made spirit is less than half the price of many other Double Gold recipients.
And the story about how this big win came to be is priceless.
• • •
As Sales Manager for The Bullock Distillery in Charleston, Royce Tanner remembers sitting around a table with a bunch of distillers at a big industry event last year and being surrounded by all of these bottles of bourbon, whiskey, vodka, gin, rum and what-not with all sorts of shiny medals hanging from them.
“We had talked about entering a few of our bottles in some of the big competitions last year, but it takes a lot of money and time to coordinate all of that,” she said. “But just sitting there seeing those medals on all of the other bottles and not ours? I was, like, I want that too!”
With her eye on the prize, she got to work creating a massive spreadsheet showing all of the major spirit competitions they could enter. The more research she did, the more the San Francisco contest kept rising to the top as one of the most prestigious of them all. So enter they did.
“Every bottle we entered won,” she beamed. “Our vodka won Silver, our gin won Gold and our bourbon won Double Gold.”
It’s that Double Gold designation that is REALLY big news.
“Every spirit entered in the competition is blind-tasted by 36 different judges during the scoring process,” she explained. “And to get Double Gold, a bottle has to receive a Gold score – the highest you can get – by all 36 of those judges.”
That puts this little West Virginia-made bourbon in a class right up there with some of the industry’s heavy-hitters.
“You’re almost expected to win when you’re one of the big players,” Tanner added.
“But we’re a local craft distillery and we’re super proud of what we’ve accomplished. We’ve had people call from all over to congratulate us and we have locals coming in wanting to try our stuff now. That’s so cool.”
• • •
What makes this little distillery have some of the finest bourbon in the world?
They say it’s the Greenbrier County Karst water and fine attention to detail they use to make it, which results in the Karst Select’s deep cooper/burnt amber color with aromas of light brown sugar, cream soda and subtle floral notes. Each sip, they continue, offers traces of vanilla and cinnamon with prominent cashew and almond flavors.
And the finish? “A semi-sweet cream soda-esque trail that flows into peppery barley.”
Bullock’s Gold-winning Jupiter Gin is rested in rye barrels that help develop unique notes of burnt sugar, honey and oak to complement the expected juniper, cardamom and other botanicals found in traditional gin.
The Silver-winning and French-inspired Leblanc Vodka is triple distilled from 100% grapes (quite unusual for a vodka) into a stainless-steel tank to mellow for 30 days, before being “proofed down” using sweet Karst cave water from Greenbrier County.
These award-winning bottles are available at the distillery’s storefront on Charleston’s West Side, along with a market full of West Virginia food products, art, clothing, gifts and more.
• • •
Steven Keith is a food writer and restaurant critic known as “The Food Guy” who writes a weekly column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and has appeared in several state, regional and national culinary publications. Follow him online at www.wvfoodguy.com or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or at email@example.com.