Ride the Kentucky Bourbon Trail – Investment Research?

I have friends who take great pleasure in discussing the latest wine releases, and some who have built temperature and humidity-controlled rooms in their homes to store hundreds of bottles of wine they’ve collected.

More surprising, I recently read that vintage wines make great investments, and that soon (if not already happening) even institutional investors will consider it an asset class like stocks or bonds.

Not much of a wine or beer guy, and as the few folks who read my rants know well I’m not one to follow a trend, I decided to blaze my own trail.  Why not learn more about a beverage that suits me better?  I decided somewhat whimsically to ride my HD Springer Classic (rather than my touring bike since round trip would be only about 700 miles or 1000 km) down to Kentucky, in order to study up close the investment merits of Kentucky bourbon.

I’d accumulated some Hilton points, so two nights in Lexington would be covered.  Major expenses would be limited to food and fuel.  A cheap trip!

Heading south from Toronto, Ontario (that’s in Canada my American friends) I was anxious to get there quickly and save the touring for down in Ohio and Kentucky.  It was pretty much highway riding most of  the way with a brief first stop in Cleveland, Ohio.  Why not? My guess is that rock stars of my own generation were not inclined to drink much wine either (certainly not Jim Morrison) and therefore some preliminary research at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame might help put me in the proper frame of mind.   And indeed, seeing displays of the old guitars and costumes by my favourite musicians – Jimi, Stevie Nicks, even the King himself – definitely put me in the mood for further study.  I lost (…IDIOT!) my favourite pair of $150 sunglasses somewhere in the Hall of Fame, so my inexpensive research excursion got a bit more expensive, but I was not to be discouraged.

I was getting very thirsty by the time I got near Columbus, Ohio and decided to spend a night in the quaint and historic German Village community. Okay, an added expense but manageable.

Schmidt’s is a famous little spot in the heart of German Village with a reputation for a darn good Bahama Mama:

 Our famous beef and pork, hickory-smoked sausage deliciously spiced with our secret seasoning, stuffed in old world natural casing links. Awarded Columbus Monthly “10 Best Entrees”.

Had to try one, and for dessert gobbled down their famous “JUMBO” cream puff.  Hmmm.  After a few good german beers I was ready to call it a day…..I’d need my rest because a sudden new obstacle to my quest had presented itself.

A couple of blocks before stopping at the delightful German Village Guest House I was staying in, my rear wheel began to wobble like the belly of a fat man at a wedding, dancing vigorously to the Twist by Chubby Checkers.

In the morning I called the nearest Harley dealership, and was told they’d be happy to come and pick me and the bike up, but that their service department was backlogged for weeks and they’d probably not be able to fix my bike for quite awhile (nice eh?).  Yet one more disappointment with HD dealerships.

So instead I called on Reiser’s Cycle Service – the proprietor Tom Reiser diagnosed the problem right on the phone (bearings) but since their trailer was out of town for a few weeks I’d have to get the bike to the shop on my own.  Thank goodness for AAA who sent a flatbed to deliver me to the shop.

Yup, the bearings had pretty much disintegrated (caused by the spacer that came with my custom Sinister rear wheel being just a tad too short, as Tom explained it).  It was a delight to watch an experienced pro at work – over $400 bucks later Tom and his sidekick Bill had me on the road again.  The trip was getting a bit more costly, but I refused to let my spirit be diminished.

I elected to take country roads from Columbus to Lexington.  A wonderful ride – except for the phone call from Reiser’s Cycle to tell me I’d left my leather jacket (…IDIOT!) back at their shop.  Delightful roads through scenic farm country and so many pretty small communities.  Farms here (huge) would be called ranches in Texas.  I wondered why there were so many horses, then remembered I was approaching the home of the Kenucky Derby.

Arriving in Lexington I checked into the Hilton , and soon discovered that every Thursday night there’s live music in a nearby park where the friendly people of Lexington come downtown to listen, mingle and party.  The party continues after the concert into the late evening centered at the outdoor Cheapside Mall (no cars, good bars).

Every Friday was movie night – a jumbo movie screen is erected and a few hundred people bring lawn chairs and blankets downtown and watch a free film (yes, you could even buy beer).  I indulged my feminine side (normally imprisoned deep within my psyche) and watched Dirty Dancing with the locals while sucking back a couple of Budweisers.

During my stay I sampled a generous variety of bourbons I’d never find up north. For example Angel’s Envy (unique because they use port-wine barrels) was “friggin’ good.” That was my review….now here’s how professional would articulate the same sentiment:

Angel’s Envy has one of the most sensual bouquets ever nosed on a bourbon. Soft, gentle and with aromas of warm caramels, maple candy, satsumas, brown sugar and praline, the bouquet is a study in subtle complexities.” by Lance Mayhew.

I remember enjoying the better known bourbons like Maker’s Mark and Woodford Reserve  (which tasted so much better in Kentucky); but for some strange reason most of the sampling of more obscure brands – ‘research‘ – that I would conduct in the evenings would be near impossible to recollect the following morning.  So I’m afraid I can’t list the many exceptional brands of Kentucky bourbon I studied so intensely.

However one delicious bourbon I won’t soon forget was Pappy Van Winkle.  I had to pay $100 for just one shot….and it was worth every penny.  This quote is from Fortune:

“Pappy’s secret recipe substitutes wheat for rye. Says Van Winkle: “Think of the taste as the difference between rye bread and wheat bread. A bourbon made with rye is kind of spicy, has a bit of a bite in it, and is a little rougher on your tongue. Wheat is sweeter, softer, smoother.” There’s more. Pappy’s wheat recipe ages very gracefully in oak barrels, not picking up as much, as they call it in the trade, “wood and char,” which can give it too much of an oaky and burned taste.”  By Brian Dumaine, senior editor at largeFebruary 25, 2011.

A bottle of the 23 year Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon is almost impossible to find, and therefore expensive when you do find one.  When I asked the bartender why he charged so much just for a shot?  “If I didn’t charge so much, someone would come in, sit and drink the whole bottle in one sitting.  Then I’d be looking for weeks or months to find another bottle.”

There are several distilleries nestled in the rolling hills between Louisville and Lexington. My first stop was Maker’s Mark distillery – buried in a remote valley closer to Louisville.  I bought a bottle (having a label actually signed by the owners) to give to Tom at Reiser’s Cycle since I’d be going back to retrieve my jacket on the way home.

Many of the bourbon distilleries offer tours, but after a couple of them it became way more fun to just get lost in the hills of Kentucky; riding along the twisty scenic roads.  I took lots of photos! Unfortunately, at one of the frequent stops I made, in order to try and figure out exactly where the heck I was, I managed to lose my wife’s camera (…IDIOT!).  Add another $200 to the cost of the trip.   And lost with the camera were all those magnificent pictures.  Sorry, but you’ll just have to tour the Kentucky Bourbon Trail on your own to see how great it is to ride in Kentucky.

After getting a T-shirt from Man O’War Harley-Davidson back in Lexington, I parked the bike and resumed sampling some more obscure bourbons before retiring for the night.  I was ready in the morning to begin my ride home.

A quick stop in Columbus (to gift the bottle of bourbon to Tom, and get my jacket) and then another stop at Century Harley-Davidson in Medina, Ohio – to visit and meet a few fellow enthusiasts – were the only interruptions during my iron-butt trip back to Toronto.

You’re probably wondering whether or not I decided to actually invest in an assortment of rare bourbons?  Maybe start a bourbon ETF?  Two problems:

  • Hard as heck to remember the brand names after sampling them thoroughly.
  • Even harder to put a bottle away without drinking it all.

So let’s say that my investment in time, and signficantly more money than I had budgeted for, to discover Kentucky and its plethora of outstanding bourbons was well worth it in my opinion.  But investing in bottles of bourbon?  Don’t think I can stick to a buy-and-hold strategy personally.  It’s definitely a short term trade at best.

CHEERS!  Please enjoy the video below about Maker’s 46 straight bourbon whisky – tasty and it’s even available in Toronto liquor stores.


About Mal Spooner

Malvin Spooner is a veteran money manager, former CEO of award-winning investment fund management boutique he founded. He authored A Maverick Investor's Guidebook which blends his experience touring across the heartland in the United States with valuable investing tips and stories. He has been quoted and published for many years in business journals, newspapers and has been featured on many television programs over his career. An avid motorcycle enthusiast, and known across Canada as a part-time musician performing rock ‘n’ roll for charity, Mal is known for his candour and non-traditional (‘maverick’) thinking when discussing financial markets. His previous book published by Insomniac Press — Resources Rock: How to Invest in the Next Global Boom in Natural Resources which he authored with Pamela Clark — predicted the resources boom back in early 2004.
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2 Responses to Ride the Kentucky Bourbon Trail – Investment Research?

  1. Bill Howe says:

    I enjoyed his comments about “he couldn’t buy and hold this fine bourbon. Also, he felt this would likely be a short term investment.”

    Clearly Mal, you missed the “liquidity” benefit of bourbon!

    Bill Howe
    Raymond James

  2. Dennis Hewko says:

    After many years I can still remember the taste thickening the saliva in my mouth like a good cigar. 🙂

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