Tasting Setup

Binny’s ‘Meet the Whiskey Hotline’ Part 1

On Thursday February 4th 2016 Binny’s Lincoln Park hosted the first event in a new educational series. The inaugural event was titled “Meet the Whiskey Hotline”. It was hosted by Joe Maloney and Brett Pontoni, the men behind the Binny’s Whiskey Hotline and so much more. The hotline is an incredible resource for whiskey lovers and novices alike (the number and email address are listed at the end of this post). The man behind the phone is Joe Maloney, Spirits Specialist for Binny’s. Joe has an immense knowledge of all things whiskey and makes himself available to answer any and all spirit questions. Customers from all over the world call in to ask about availability, opinions on brands or releases, general whiskey questions and more.

Binny's Lincoln Park
Binny’s Lincoln Park

Back in the early 90’s a different Joe, Joe C., was the whiskey buyer for Sam’s Wine and Spirits. In the late 90’s Joe left Sam’s to become the head buyer for Binny’s (In 2009 Sam’s was purchased by Binny’s). Joe C. was the original voice behind the Whiskey Hotline. When he passed in the early 2000’s the job of whiskey purchaser and head of the hotline passed to Brett Pontoni. Brett holds the position of Corporate Beer and Speciality Spirits Buyer for Binny’s today. Though the hotline is now primarily run by Joe Maloney.

(Bonus fact: As a tribute to Joe C., you can find his name printed on the back of every bottle of Buffalo Trace’s Eagle Rare.)

Eagle Rare
Eagle Rare

We had the pleasure of meeting both Joe and Brett at this event. Both guys are clearly passionate about whiskey, as should be evident by their career choices. The evening started with Kristen Ellis, Wine Education Coordinator, giving an introduction to the event and talking about the new program and upcoming educational events at Binny’s. Kristen said to “think of this as continuing education”. Going into the event we expected a standard whiskey tasting experience. But Kristen’s words truly set the tone for the evening and couldn’t have been more accurate.


Joe went on to discuss the process of whiskey tasting. He explained how they receive hundreds of whiskeys a year to taste and decide if they will end up on the shelf, or not. He shared the guiding principles of balancing taste, price, and desirability by the general public in choosing whiskeys that make the cut. Brett then led a blind tasting of three whiskeys. Two of which are on the shelf at Binny’s today, the third is under consideration. Brett asked us to share our perceptions of the type, nose, age, taste, and perceived value of each.


Product # 1

This one was quickly identified as a bourbon. The deep and complex nose consisted of wood, fruit, and some citrus. It was definitely an older bourbon. We were told it was 90 proof. The taste was smooth and a bit oaky. Brett explained how the different areas of the tongue process various characteristics of the whiskey. We added a few drops of water, nosed and tasted again. Brett went on to discuss his own tasting method of adding various amounts of water to open up the nose and taste while he continues to evaluate. This first product was identified as Black Saddle Bourbon from Frank-Lin Distillers Products. It is a 12 year old Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey bottled at 90 proof and selling for about $50. It won gold medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2014. The group agreed it is a very enjoyable bourbon worth the asking price.

Black Saddle 12 year Bourbon
Black Saddle 12 year Bourbon

Product # 2

After nosing, number two was identified as a rye. Brett guided us to look for a specific smell to associate with rye to help identify it in the future. Joe’s nose identified wintergreen; when Brett detects a hint of dill he knows he’s holding a rye. He said this was a straight rye, meaning it was aged a minimum of 2 years. Though the nose and palate were both young and woody signifying it wasn’t much older than 2 years. This sample benefited from a moderate pour of water. The sample was revealed to be Spirit Works Straight Rye, bottled at 90 proof and retailing for $65. Currently under consideration to be carried by Binny’s. Though it didn’t list a mash bill on the label Brett said it’s likely the required 51% rye but not much more.

Spirit Works Straight Rye
Spirit Works Straight Rye

Product # 3

Our third sample was a doozy, and not in a good way. This was clearly a flavored whiskey with a nose of grape or cherry. After the group quickly expressed a general distaste for drinking this neat it was revealed to be Jim Beam Red Stag Black Cherry flavored Bourbon. Brett encouraged us to put it into the context of the general public’s desires and asked if we would put it on the shelf at Binny’s. He said this has been a huge seller for Jim Beam and for Binny’s. Selling at less than $20 a bottle many people find it to be a good mixing whiskey. This whiskey also opened the door for others, including the highly respected Angel’s Envy. Jim Beam fought to get bourbon regulations changed to allow not only for “bourbon flavored” spirits but also for finishing bourbon in previously used casks. The official aging, that goes on the label, stops when the bourbon is removed from its original new charred oak cask. But the juice can then spend additional time in used casks, such as sherry, madeira, or rum. While we weren’t fans of Red Stag; without the effort behind bringing it to market we wouldn’t have Angel’s Envy and others.

Red Stag Black Cherry Bourbon
Red Stag Black Cherry Bourbon

Next week we’ll discuss our Buffalo Trace barrel selection in part two of the Meet the Whiskey Hotline event! We sampled four single barrel sample bottles of Buffalo Trace and compared them to a control. We then finished with a sampling of three very limited release Binny’s hand selections. Subscribe to our blog below to get part two delivered right to your inbox!


Binny’s Whiskey Hotline Contact Info


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