Barrel pick with the Kentucky Bourbon Festival
CaskX joined the crew of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival to help pick a barrel at Angel’s Envy. | Photo by Sara Havens

One of the highlights of the three-day bourbon extravaganza known as the Kentucky Bourbon Festival is access to one-of-a-kind, single-barrel bottles that are hand-picked by the astute festival crew each year. Most of the Kentucky distilleries that partner with the Kentucky Bourbon Festival participate in the experience, and the bottles go on sale each morning of the fest — many selling out within the first hour.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, it’s held each year in Bardstown, Ky., the “Bourbon Capital of the World.” Thousands of people flock to the small town to get their fill of bourbon, bourbon-inspired food, master distillers, music and so much more. This year’s fest will be held Sept. 13-15, and GA tickets are still available.

CaskX is a proud sponsor of the event, and we’re looking forward to our second year as one of the leading companies that host the VIP tent. As a sponsor, we were invited earlier this month to join the Kentucky Bourbon Festival crew on a barrel pick at the renowned Angel’s Envy Distillery for a truly unforgettable, behind-the-scenes experience.

Welcome to Henry County

Angel's Envy rickhouse
One of the several Angel’s Envy rickhouses in Henry County

While the Angel’s Envy distilling operations and visitor’s center are located in Louisville, we were whisked out to the company’s satellite barrel warehouse campus in Henry County, Ky., which is about a 45-minute drive from the city. Henry County is known for its picturesque countryside dotted with farms and even some Amish communities. It’s also known as the birthplace of Kentucky poet, novelist and activist Wendell Berry.

You might think that large, black, bourbon rickhouses would stick out like a sore thumb among the rolling hills and cornfields, but this is Kentucky and rickhouses are as common as bluegrass and fried chicken. Angel’s Envy bought the property a few years ago and have built several barrel warehouses — both ricked and palletized — on site, and many more are planned as they lay down more and more bourbon each year.

Angel’s Envy was founded in 2011 by bourbon legend and Hall-of-Famer Lincoln Henderson and his son Wes Henderson. Lincoln had worked for years at Brown-Forman and even helped develop the premium brand Woodford Reserve. Upon his retirement, he decided to create his own niche of bourbon with one that was finished in used port barrels. Thus, Angel’s Envy was born, and in 2016 the distillery opened its doors near Louisville’s famed Whiskey Row.

The creative team at Angel’s Envy often experiments with various finishes, including their tasty Angel’s Envy Rye, which is finished in Caribbean rum barrels. So the mission on this barrel pick was to select a single barrel of bourbon that was finished in used sherry barrels — thus making this pick even more coveted since it’s not a typical product the distillery offers.

Angels Among Us

Angel's Envy Master Distiller Owen Martin
Angel’s Envy Master Distiller Owen Martin

The Kentucky Bourbon Festival crew was joined by Angel’s Envy Master Distiller Owen Martin for the barrel pick, and he had us thieve samples from three different barrels in one of the palletized barrel warehouses.

(Since sherry and port barrels are larger than bourbon barrels, they cannot fit in standard rickhouses — thus the reason Angel’s Envy has both types of warehouses.)

As we used the whiskey thief to steal bourbon from the barrel, I couldn’t get over its beautiful dark amber color and rich aroma of oak and caramel. Owen talked about their process of finishing bourbons and whiskeys and what makes their brand so different than the others.

And while the team took the three samples to the tasting room, he snuck us into one of the standard rickhouses nearby so we could taste the aging bourbon directly from a barrel. It was a big treat to get to try Angel’s Envy bourbon before it had mingled in a port (or sherry) barrel, and I found it to be just as delicious on its own as it is finished.

Picking a Winner

After a quick lunch, each of us had all three samples on a mat in front of us. We were told to smell and taste through all of them and write down what we tasted and which we liked best. After about five minutes, the room was abuzz with shouts of “2” and “3.” Turns out everyone pretty much discarded sample No. 1, but 2 and 3 were in a tight race for the top spot.

The Kentucky Bourbon Fest & CaskX crew
The Kentucky Bourbon Fest and CaskX crew

It was then time to proof down the two samples — since we had a hard time choosing — to the proof they will be when bottled (110, if I recall correctly). After a few back-and-forths, the group unanimously decided on sample No. 2 as the winner. The notes I wrote for that one included: “fig, sweet, raisin … tastes like Fig Newtons!”

Everyone was happy and content with our selection, and now we wait until September to enjoy the liquid Fig Newtons once again.

CaskX was honored to be a part of this barrel pick for the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, and we can’t wait to try all the others the team has chosen throughout the year, too! We’re also thankful to Angel’s Envy for opening their rickhouse doors and letting us peek behind the bourbon curtain.

We’ll see you all in Bardstown in September!

Here are some more photos from our day:

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