Bourbon Zeppelin
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Steve Akley Presents...

This Month's Bourbon Zeppelin Feature Article:

Can an Amateur Beat a Pro?
Our blending contest lets you try!
Adam Stumpf of Stumpy's Spirits (Columbia, Illinois)

by Colonel Steve Akley

Our 2nd Annual Blending Contest

There really isn't anything out there like our Blending Contest. I mean where in the world can you compete against professionals, in their line of work, and see if you can best them?

That's exactly the concept of our Blending Contest. You get a kit containing five different whiskeys and the tools you need to create a blend. Then we have a class for you to learn how to make a great blend. Finally, we put your skills to the test by having you create a blend, mail it in to us and have it judged blind competing against Adam Stumpf of Stumpy's Spirits for a great prize.

Is our pro so good, the deck is stacked against you and you have no way to win?

Not a chance!

Last year, our field competed against Royce Neeley of Neeley Family Distillery. Blending can be a very fickle process and Royce didn't make it to the finals. Our 2020 winner was John Kelley out of Columbus, Ohio, with Justine Mays, from our ABV Network team, finishing second in a very close vote (our judges were initially split on the finals).

John took home a Vendome whiskey thief valued at $390 (believe me, these are so nice our pros want to win them).

Will John Kelley defend his title with back-to-back wins?

Can Justine Mays raise the ante and get just a little better to take the prize this time?

Does someone new rise up and take the crown?

Will Adam Stumpf triumph and give us our first "Pro" win?

We'll learn all of this and more with this year's contest. Sign-up by
clicking here. The class, featuring Adam Stumpf and Royce Neeley is scheduled for October 6. It's going to be fun!

Things are going well in bourbon. We've got the Kentucky Bourbon Festival going on as this issue comes out and the fall releases are starting to hit. For us at BZ, it's just business as usual, though. Just like we always do, we're writing great content just for you. Like I always say, I hope you have as much fun reading this issue as we had putting it together for you.


Editor-in-Chief of Bourbon Zeppelin, Owner of the ABV Network, Podcast Writer, Producer & On-Air Personality, Filmmaker, Blogger, 30+ Years Bourbon Fan, Bourbon Staff Writer Food & Dining Magazine, Maker's Mark Ambassador (Ambassador #14,903/member since 2000), Four Roses Mellow Moments Club Member (2016), Author of the Best-Selling Cocktail Book Series Bourbon Mixology (Four Volumes, 2015-Present), Apprenticed at a Bourbon Distillery (2016), Completed the Bourbon Trail (2016), Executive Bourbon Steward (2017), Whiskey Warrior Award Winner (May '17), Founding Member Jefferson's Bourbon Ambassador Program (2017), Bourbons Bistro & Total Wine Barrel Selection Committee Member & Kentucky Colonel (2016).
Editorial by Colonel Steve

Can Our Production Company Have an Impact?

Three people set out to do something in bourbon!
by Colonel Steve Akley
Bourbon Sasquatch, the video production company named after a nickname given to me by Jason Brauner, owner of Bourbons Bistro, is really ramping up our presence on the Vimeo platform. It's a work in progress at the moment as we load up past projects into the system and introduce Bourbon Reminiscing an episode show and our first Vimeo-exclusive content.

In the short-term, Vimeo is going to look like a warehouse for some of our projects. Long-term, we're talking an all out channel of bourbon content that pulls from a large library of original bourbon content. At this point it's probably hard to believe we would call this important work, but as we look at the end game, we will be documenting as much bourbon history as time allows us via our Vimeo Channel. We're going to shoot as much film as we can, documenting and preserving firsthand accounts of the bourbon business.

Does this feel incredibly important as we do it... yes and no. Yes, because we've captured it, no because so can anyone else. As the years go by, though, and we lose people you begin to see how important this is. It's like our movie Blending is Trending. We have a whole unedited interview we can now release via Vimeo that documents Al's telling of Four Roses history. With Al's passing so recently, most bourbon fans have probably heard Al himself telling these stories, but, as the years go by, and new bourbon people find bourbon, it's important for them to learn who Al was and hear him tell the story of Four Roses.

We couldn't be anymore excited about what's happening and ask that you check out what we are doing over at Vimeo now, but keep checking back as we grow our content and expand it from a simple listing into a richer channel content with many more features. In the meantime,
click here to see the trailers of what we have and the pricing to rent or buy them is in the upper righthand corner as you watch the trailer.

About Colonel Steve Akley
Steve Akley, a Kentucky Colonel, is the company owner of the ABV Network, LLC, as well as an author, podcaster,  movie/TV show producer. He has been a bourbon fan (legally) since 1989, but notes that while his family didn't drink very much, when they did, it was a cocktail with bourbon as the base so he's always been around it. He enjoys splitting his time between his home with his family in his beloved hometown of St. Louis and Kentucky, where all of the bourbon fun is. You can reach Steve via social media or the web with everything under the name Steve Akley, or, you can go through the company website at:

Click the button below to head to the ABV Network's online shop:

There is only, what’s next!


So, how are you in your bourbon game right now?  

Rhetorical, unless you’re talking to your computer or phone right now. However, if you are, I hope the answer was,  “good." I’m in a good spot, although things are a bit different in Charlotte. This is my first time in a controlled state and trying to figure out the lay of the bourbon, specifically, where to get the good stuff. I have made some good acquaintances and joined a local bourbon group. A not for profit bourbon group, I might add. Pure trade, dope!
A new city brings challenges, but we like to explore the new, meaning food and drink, especially those places people would probably drive right by, without checking out. That’s us. We’ll have info on your city, when you actually think you know what’s popping after you’ve been there for years. No doubt. 

I was lucky enough to hit up an ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) store and find a surprise bottle on the shelf, at a really really low price. Win win. Other than that, the highlight has been catching up with college friends, family etc.
Next up, house hunting. Ugh. It’s been stupid. Not stupid good, but stupid BAD. The market's….crazy; you would be amazed at the amount of money people are throwing at properties, but I won’t bore you with that. Maybe in another post… next year, (smh).

The reason we’re here is bourbon, so let’s talk a bit shall we?  

I have friends, yeah, right? Much like me, they enjoy the hunt. On a recent trip, one friend acquired a particularly hard to find bottle. A few days ago we opened it, tasted it, tasted it again, and I must say it did not disappoint, even at the price, which was very north of where it should have been.  

My question, has the secondary market begun to ruin the bourbon game?  

Some of the markups I have seen personally, really make me wonder how people bums can do that. It’s just my opinion, I know people are out here trying to make a buck, but can we agree to be fair? Everyone deserves to enjoy a pour of good bourbon or whiskey, no? More than one question sure, but as these things normally do, they spiral up more questions. I find, well, found bottles when I lived in a certain location and would share those, but that was me. No markup, no “penal” games. 

Here is a free “pro-tip”,  If you can share a bottle you can readily get, why not do that and maybe it will be reciprocated in the future.

I apologize for the rant, the shortness of the post, but I’m in between spaces, in between places, and hoping that the crew will be together again soon. I’ll be back next month to dazzle you with my journey, and I have a good story to tell!  


About Raymond Culbert
Raymond is a current resident of New England and is here purely because someone loves the four seasons that living here brings. He loves beer, bourbon, food and golf, not necessarily in that order, but it works alphabetically. You can usually find him drinking beer, sipping bourbon or eating good food in the company of my 5’ roadie, the four-season-lover! He is an Air Force veteran, but isn't biased and shares love with his military peeps, both veteran and active alike. Time away from the day job is in search of the next great craft made IPA! You can contact him on Twitter and Instagram via @My_Government_Name_Is 

All hate mail can be sent to: madlef2000 [ at ] 
ABV Network Texting Successfully Launched!
On June 14, 2020, the ABV Network successfully launched texting as means of communication. The first text blast was used to announce a one-day only sale for National Bourbon Day at the ABV Network Shop. Don't miss out on these message by filling out the opt-in form at
The ABV Network is the fastest growing podcast network on the web. Here's the latest news with this exciting group of shows, many of which are helmed by Bourbon Zeppelin contributors.

Todd Leopold
Co-Founder / Distiller
Leopold Bros. Distillery
Featured on The Bourbon Show - Today!

We have some great programming coming up on the ABV Network. Here's a sneak peek at some of the upcoming shows:
The Bourbon Show
September 15 - Todd Leopold, Leopold Bros. Distillery
September 21 - Is $200+ Bourbon the Fastest Growing Segment in the Category?

The Bourbon Daily
September 15 - Super Fan Accreditation Part 1 of 2
September 16 - Super Fan Accreditation Part 2 of 2
September 17 - Bracket Challenge: What Song Should Susie Write?

ABV Network shows can be found on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Libsyn and more. Just search for the name of the show!

Bourbon Nuggets
Key West in January? Heck yes. Join the ABV Network team, fans and bourbon industry celebrities January 27-30 in Key West, Florida. Click here to learn more.

Zach Lane Byran & Old Fitzgerald Decanter Series 

It’s now mid-Bourbon Heritage Month. I’m sure all bourbon hunters are spending all of their free time searching for the greatest of allocated products, going to all the raffles and hoping their relationship building with local retailers had paid off. I’m not much of a bourbon hunter myself as I prefer things that are easy to find without much effort on my part, which brings me to how great YouTube is for finding new artists (of any genre really). Zach Lane Bryan isn’t necessarily new if you’re into Red Dirt Country like myself but he made his debut on YouTube in 2017 being recorded singing on an iphone. Besides being amazing at covers, Zach has many original songs, and now has two full studio albums. This boy can sing, and tell stories with lyrics like that’s what he was born to do. He has an old sound to his voice, and sings about the type of things you’d think only an old, well- lived man would know about, but he’s only 25. 
Tying in Bourbon Heritage Month with things that have old appeal, but are new I would pair Zach Bryan’s music with Old Fitzgeral’s Decanter Series.  The wheated bourbon released in a beautiful decanter bottle released every spring and fall by Heaven Hill since 2018. The decanter bottle is beautiful and looks like it should have been sold in the 50’s or 60’s. Yet here we are, able to buy it today, if we’re lucky enough to get our hands on it via it's twice-a-year releases. 

About McNew
Stephanie McNew is a regular co-host on The Bourbon Daily, an ABV Network podcast. In addition to her work on TBD, she can be heard hosting her own shows, W(h)ine Time with McNew and Bottle Kills and Last Meals. McNew lives in Indiana with a veritable zoo of dogs and cats. When she isn't podcasting, running the ABV Network Patreon page or writing, she can be found drinking Larceny bourbon from Heaven Hill... her all-time favorite bourbon. Follow McNew's journey on Instagram: @miss_mcnew.
A repository of whiskey knowledge for beginners and experts alike. As a tasting room manager at a craft distillery, I serve everyone from bourbon aficionados to whiskey acolytes, which can be an adventure in vocabulary and definitions. Hopefully, this series helps illuminate the obscure and refine the understanding of the obvious, for me, as much as you. 
Entry #23

Cognac, Armagnac and all about Brandy

Despite it possibly being the oldest type of distilled spirit in the world, brandy is often overlooked, at least in my experience, by distillers and drinkers alike. Liquor store shelves overflow with whiskeys of all kinds, tequilas, rums and vodkas, but the choices are rather limited when looking for brandy. That's a travesty. Brandy is simply spirits distilled from fruit, so the possibilities are almost endless. There's apple, pear, peach brandy and more; just imagine brandy from pineapple, guava or other tropical fruits. However, grapes or more precisely wine has been the fruit of choice for the oldest and most famous styles of brandy.

The TTB's standards of identity define brandy as “an alcoholic distillate from the fermented juice, mash, or wine of fruit, or from the residue thereof, produced at less than 190° proof in such manner that the distillate possesses the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to the product, and bottled at not less than 80° proof.” There are some nuances and other classes, but that's the gist. It's important to note, however, that the standards specify “Cognac” as a special designation of brandy, but they don't give special designation to another French style of brandy that actually holds the title of oldest documented spirit variety.

The first documented mention of brandy came in 1310 in reference to Armagnac, the spirit from the southwest region of France of the same name. Armagnac is distilled in unique continuously-fed pot stills with rectification columns, only once leading to a spirit between 52 and 72.4% ABV. Single distillation leads to more fragrance and flavor compared to double-distilled Cognac. The process is steeped in tradition and history; only 10 grape varieties are allowed and the spirit is protected by the Appellation d'Origine Controlée which defines its production. Much like Cognac, Armagnac is usually aged on oak.

Cognac might not be the oldest brandy style, but it certainly has the largest brands. Hennessy and Rémy Martin are ubiquitous, at least in the USA. Cognac is double-distilled in pot stills, and aged on oak in the French region known as Cognac (duh). The list of grapes is restricted just like for Armagnac, and production also falls under the Appellation d'Origine Controlée. The wine is distilled from about 10% ABV up to around 70%. There are some designations on labels that let consumers know how long the Cognac has been aged. Very Special or VS means two years old, while VSOP or Very Superior Old Pale means years; XO or Extra Old means the youngest Cognac in the blend is at least ten years old.

Despite the history and dominance of French brandy, there are at least dozens of other styles and brandies from all sorts of fruit. America's most profound contribution to brandy must be Applejack. First distilled in New Jersey in 1698 by William Laird. To say it was distilled isn't quite right because initially it was “jacked,” or frozen to separate alcohol and water, then the ice was removed to strengthen the alcohol content. These days applejack is distilled like other spirits, and so meets the definition of brandy set out by most governing bodies.

From Calvados to coconut brandy and Armagnac to applejack, the world of brandy is vast and I'd argue, under-explored. American craft distillers should visit this spirit category, and drinkers should consider it as an untapped reservoir of potentially interesting and aged spirits – instead of waiting in line for more Buffalo Trace. 

About Ryan Blackwell
Ryan is a tasting room manager for Silverback Distillery at their Poconos location. Several years ago, he discovered a passion for homebrewing that led him to look for work in the beer industry, but somehow he ended up in the whiskey biz - crafting cocktails and getting to light things on fire isn't a bad gig. When he's not slinging drinks or contemplating fermentation, he likes to run 5Ks very slowly, and play rugby very poorly.
Bourbon Nuggets
Join us on a Virtual Bourbon event by clicking here.

Love is Blind

Like it or not, we all have biases towards one thing or the other. These biases are caused by society, marketing, culture, geographic location, the list goes on-and-on. The Netflix hit original series “Love is Blind,” places single strangers in separate rooms from one another, allowing them only the opportunity to talk to each other through a wall. The idea is that you can only judge someone based on their personality and on their personality and the chemistry of their conversations. Like most other “reality” television programing, this show is a "hot mess express." Though, it did make me realize that I have biases and those biases carry over to whiskey.
There is a ton of thought and marketing that goes into every bottle of every brand. The way the bottle looks can influence a consumer to buy the product by looking at it for less than 3 seconds. This important fact makes every detail in the way it looks including factors like bottle shape, cork type, cork size, labeling, images on the bottle, topper, wax/no wax, font, name, and a million other factors. Brand biases continue us down the rabbit hole. Many times, we (whiskey geeks) will hype up a product so much in our head and the whiskey doesn’t live up to our own expectations without ever trying it before.
How can we attempt to end these biases?

Blind tastings, that’s how! By removing your ability to project your preferences onto the offerings you create a level playing field and equal opportunity. Start out with a group of products (I suggest 2-6 with 4 being my sweet spot) and you have someone else pour them into similar glasses and label them (A, B, C, D or 1,2,3,4) without knowing what product they poured in what glass.

All four products cannot be ranked and rated while eliminating a lot of the biases that go along with it. I really enjoy what is called double blinds. Same process, but you do not know or see any of the bottles that were poured. This way it is completely blind and bias free. This method is a little harder to accomplish for several reasons.
Usually, we want to compare apples-to-apples. When we are doing blinds there is some reasoning behind it. It might be a certain finish, or proof point, or mash bill. Having someone with this insight to have this mindset/ thought process who is willing to sit out of the tasting is rare. I have found I can usually con my fellow whiskey drinker to share samples or pour it into samples while over and for myself to come back to it later. Easier said than done, because drinks are involved and sometimes, they forget what he/she poured or what order it was poured.
When tasting blind, I try not to guess what the product is only because those biases will creep in. Most of the time, I cannot guess it even if I want to, but still I try not to let my brain venture off in that direction. When doing a side-by-side blind tasting with a friend, I will often help guide them through this process. I will let them know not to try to guess what whiskey is in the glass, but to taste it as if it doesn’t have a name and is a brand-new whiskey. If I don’t do this, the conversation/guessing will usually start and derail the tasting. Try to focus on the flavor and which one you prefer over others. Even people who are just getting started into whiskey drinking can articulate if they like this or that pour better than another.
I have found the results of many of my blind tasting shocking. Whiskies that I usually don’t turn to, or pour will end up winnings. While favorites of mine will be in the middle of the pack. All of this is to say, love is blind. You could find something special that you can really enjoy that your biases had previously kept you from. Try your own blind tasting and let me know your experience.

About Shane Leonard
Shane Leonard is an editorial writer for the Bourbon Zeppelin. Shane is a 30-year-old Kentucky spirit with bold flavor. His articles have a easy to read feel with a long lasting finish of spice. The proof of his journey can be followed on Instagram @BarrelofKnowledge. #openbottles
Further Reading...
by the ABV Network Team
Our blog is on our website and it's called the Whiskey Corner. You can check out this ABV Network exclusive offering by clicking here.
Items from Steve and the Bourbon Zeppelin team
Bourbon Mixology is author Steve Akley's best selling book of all-time. The premise is simple: have 50 iconic bars share their signature bourbon cocktail. The bars selected do not fail to impress with their unique takes on some classic drinks and well as some very original creations.

The book literally becomes a travel companion piece as you will want to see out these bars on your next business trip or vacation. Get your copy right now!
Buy Now
Bourbon Mixology Volume 4 is author Steve Akley's newest bourbon cocktail book. In this edition, 50 craft distilleries share signature bourbon cocktails made with their bourbon. 

Grab your copy today!
Buy Now
Mules and More takes a look at beer cocktails which have increased in popularity with the resurgence of the Moscow Mule. In this book, 40 craft breweries share their signature beer cocktail. 

Grab your copy today!
Buy Now
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Bourbon Zeppelin is a 25-times yearly newsletter publication sent out to the 80,000+ social media followers of author Steve Akley (monthly plus a special "Black Friday Gift-Giving Edition"). If you would like to have any questions about the publication, would like to say, "Hello" or you are interested in promoting your product/brand via Bourbon Zeppelin, please email Steve.
The Bourbon Zeppelin Sample Policy
Bourbon Zeppelin accepts product samples in exchange for a fair and honest review by a B.Z. team member or members.

The Bourbon Zeppelin Jack Daniel's Policy
We love it. While it's classified as "Tennessee Whiskey" it's treated with the same as any other bourbon here.
By the way, the same goes for George Dickel (we love them, too!)
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Like any business, Bourbon Zeppelin has expenses. While we've elected to go with a strict no advertising policy, those fans who enjoy reading BZ and want to assist in helping with some of these expenses now can since we have started a Patreon page. We've got rewards and recognition for those who can help us continue to deliver incredible and unique bourbon-focused content.
Bourbon Zeppelin - The Team
In addition to the guest contributors, Bourbon Zeppelin has an incredible staff in addition to editor and publisher Steve Akley. Steve's daughter Cat runs the BZ Facebook page. The writing team includes: Editorial Writer Shane Leonard and the following Columnists: Abby H., Six Feet of Dynamite, Andrea Holak, Wes Hardin, Greg Schneider,, Stephanie McNew and Kim Moser.

Interested in joining the B.Z. team as a contributor? If so, just email Steve Akley to talk about it!
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