Booze Banter

Banter with Bourbon Masters: Daniel Kulisek of Philadelphia’s Bank & Bourbon

G-LO: Before we get started, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Daniel Kulisek (DK): My name is Daniel Kulisek, and I am the Bourbon Master and Beverage Manager at Bank & Bourbon in the Loews Philadelphia Hotel.

G-LO: So you run the bar…

DK: Yep. Cocktails, spirits…

Limpd: Oh who cares about that. He’s the Bourbon Master!

G-LO: The Bourbon Master! So how does one become the Bourbon Master?

DK: There are certain certifications out there, but for me, it was just a lot of self-education.

G-LO: We do that. Oh wait, we self-medicate, not self-educate.

DK: A lot of this is self-medicating.

G-LO: Well, spirits are the ORIGINAL medicine.

DK: It is. It’s good for you as far as I’m concerned. But yes, it’s a lot of self-education. I mean, it’s not as formal as becoming a sommelier, but it’s along the same vein, and you need to know everything about Bourbon, because when you work at a place like Bank & Bourbon, guests really like to keep us on our toes.

G-LO: When you say “on your toes”, do you mean they’re a little douchey, or that they have a lot of questions and really want to know about what you have on offer?

DK: Let’s just say that it’s a little bit of both. Sometimes you get the guy that’s trying to trip you up with a “Gotcha!” question, but for the most part, it’s just people that are on the lookout for something new, or something that they haven’t had before.

G-LO: So how long have you been in this business?

DK: I’ve been at Bank & Bourbon for a little over a year. Before that, I worked for Hotel Palomar and ran the beverage program at Square 1682. Overall, I’ve worked in bars and restaurants in and around Philadelphia for 20 years. A good bit of that time was also spent playing in my cover band which was my main source of income for many years. I spent a good bit of my time working in bars, and even more time playing in bars with my band, so I was surrounded by cocktails and spirits all the time. Thankfully, this stuff has always fascinated me, so I started asking questions and reading books on the subject, building my knowledge base and eventually becoming a Bourbon Master.

G-LO: Were you always a whiskey person?

DK: Oh yes! You know how it goes. You start out in high school with a plastic bottle of Old Crow and then you go from there. My tastes have definitely changed over the years. Jameson is always a standby given my Irish Catholic background.

Limpd: I’m with ya! No Bushmills though. Damn Protestant whiskey!

DK: No no no! No Bushmills! Seriously though, I really like Irish Whiskey, and I used to be really into Scotch. Bourbon was kind of an afterthought for many years because I associated it with the cheap stuff I drank when I younger, but that all changed around 7 or 8 years ago during a Jim Beam Distillery Tour. I started tasting samples and all the while was thinking, “This stuff is way better than any of the stuff that I was drinking in high school”. That was pretty much the moment when I committed myself to learn everything about Bourbon.

Limpd: So no more Irish Whiskey or Scotch for you?

DK: I still enjoy them, but my feeling is that Bourbon definitely gives you more bang for the buck.

Limpd: I would agree with that. Bourbon is so crafty now with many different variations being made all over the country, whereas Scotch is still Scotch. Don’t get me wrong, I loooooove Scotch, but you really have to pay up for the really good stuff while you can get a great bottle of Bourbon for $20 to $30.

DK: The standard-issue Four Roses is a prime example of a high-quality Bourbon that hovers around $20. It’s a staple in my house.

Limpd: We call that table whiskey. One we always recommend.

DK: The variety today is incredible. If someone tells me that they don’t like Bourbon, I tell them that maybe they just haven’t found the right one. It’s like that line from Wayne’s World, “Zeppelin didn’t write tunes that everybody liked. They left that to the BeeGees”.

G-LO: So tell us a bit about the different levels of tastings that you offer at Bank & Bourbon.

DK: We have three different tiers of tastings, but regardless of the tier, it’s always going to be premium Bourbon, i.e. no standard-issue Bourbon like Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Maker’s Mark, etc..

We’re going to find some whiskeys that are interesting, and I’ll make my selections on the day of the tasting based upon what I’m feeling that day, or maybe I’ll go with a theme like Bourbon vs. Rye, Single Barrels, or Small Batches. Each tier also includes different food expressions that are added to it. In my opinion, Tier 3 is the best value because it includes charcuterie and cheeses that are designed specifically for the tasting followed by a three-course dinner with wine pairings.

G-LO: Good god! Does it also come with an Uber or Lyft coupon? Or how about a hotel room for the night?

DK: Whenever we do a Tier 3 tasting, I make sure to tell my guests to pace themselves. You have three whiskeys in front of you. Do not slam them down!

Limpd: It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

DK: Exactly.

G-LO: Are all the tastings and dinners done in private rooms like this?

DK: Yes. This room can handle up to 6 people, but we have larger rooms for larger groups. We also have banquet rooms available for REALLY large groups.

Limpd: That sounds like a really good night for conventioneers coming to town. Instead of a casino night or a pub crawl around Philly, why not an intimate Bourbon tasting and dinner with friends?

DK: We can customize our tastings at will, especially for the higher tier options.

G-LO: I guess the whole point of these tastings is to expand someone’s horizons beyond the regular Bourbon offerings.

DK: My goal is to educate our customers and make them feel at home. I don’t want them to feel intimidated. I want them to love this stuff as much as I do. At the end of the day, I want you to forget about all of the crap that happened during your day and have a good time.

G-LO: Three healthy pours of Bourbon can help you forget a lot!

Limpd: Absolutely! I’m all in.

After our brief origin story chat with Daniel (because much like Superheroes, Bourbon Masters need origin stories too!), we moved on to a Bourbon tasting session featuring three Single Barrel Bourbons that were handpicked by Daniel and bottled exclusively for Bank & Bourbon.

The first was a Russell’s Reserve Private Select from Wild Turkey…
The second was a Weller from Buffalo Trace…
And the third was a Four Roses from, well, Four Roses.

All three were well over 50% ABV (we LOVE whiskey with a 5 in it!), and even though all three were quite excellent, we definitely had our preferences…

DK: I was lucky enough to handpick this Russell’s Reserve Private Selection during a tasting with Eddie Russell, one of the coolest guys you’ll ever meet. What’s fascinating about Wild Turkey is that the mash bill for all of their Bourbon whiskeys is exactly the same, and yet all of their Bourbon brands (Wild Turkey 101, Long Branch, etc.) taste completely different.

Limpd: So I guess it all comes down to how old each whiskey is, where it aged in the rickhouse, the level of barrel char, etc..

DK: Exactly. It’s amazing what they can do. This Bourbon is 10 years old and 55% ABV. They proofed it down some, so it’s not really cask strength.

G-LO: So this was specifically bottled for Bank & Bourbon?

DK: Yes. The rest of the bottles are downstairs in storage and we managed to get around 200 bottles out of the barrel. The Weller was not proofed down (it’s cask strength), so we only got around 188 bottles out of that barrel, and we squeezed just under 200 bottles out of the Four Roses. If we would have proofed these down to around 50% ABV, we could have yielded around 230 bottles from each barrel.

G-LO: Shall we dig in?

DK: Let’s do it! I always recommend adding a couple drops of water to your whiskey. Because it’s high proof, adding water will create a chemical reaction whereby the oils and lactic molecules will be released, and the whiskey will actually open up. And when you nose it, you’ll get many more aromas out of the whiskeys if you breathe with your mouth open.

G-LO: This is delightful! Strong for sure, but also very drinkable.

Limpd: This is really, really nice. What’s the mash bill again? I’m not getting much Rye.

DK: 73% corn, 18% rye, and the rest is malted barley.

Limpd: I like that the rye content is pretty low. Much more in my wheelhouse thanks to the high corn content.

G-LO: Question for ya. Is Pappy the most asked for whiskey at the bar?

DK: Yes. People ask for it all the time.

Limpd: People that actually know what they’re asking for, or people that heard it mentioned on a TV show and don’t really know a thing about Bourbon?

DK:  For the most part, many of the people that are asking for Pappy don’t know what they’re asking for. It’s like people that ask for Remy XO or Louis XIII.

G-LO: Or Johnnie Walker Blue.

DK: Correct. All good stuff, but rarely worth the asking price. Let’s move on to the Weller which tends to be a crowd-pleaser.

Limpd: This is much softer than the Russell’s. You would never know it’s 57% ABV.

DK: This is the trouble maker!

G-LO: This is very nice. Really dry too.

DK: I think that has to do with the wheat.

Limpd: I think I prefer this to the Russell’s Reserve.

G-LO: They’re both delicious, but the Russell’s is more to my liking. I feel like it’s more multi-layered, whereas the Weller’s is too soft and maybe a bit too dry.

DK: If you like the Russell’s, you’re gonna love the Four Roses. This particular whiskey was bottled on May 16, 2019. It was aged for 10 years and 3 months. The fine people at Four Roses made this beautiful label for us, but they kinda screwed it up…

We sent a pic to them and they were kind enough to send us replacement labels, but we decided to stick with the misprint. Because I think it’s funny.

Limpd: It’ll just be a talking point. 10 years 3 years that would be 13 years to some people, but 10 years and 3 months to others.

DK: I like this one. It’s my favorite of the three, but then I’m partial to Four Roses in general. They’re my go-to brand.

G-LO: I like them too. Their core range is solid and a superb value.

Limpd: What’s the ABV on this?

DK: 58%.

Limpd: That’s really good straight.

G-LO: Mmmmmm. They do a really nice job.

Limpd: I’m not getting a lot of spice on the nose. It’s really well balanced when you taste it, and the mouthfeel is superb.

DK: I always equate Four Roses Bourbon with Cherry Coke because there’s always something cherry in their Bourbon.

Limpd: Nose the Russell’s and then nose the Four Roses. You can really smell how much more rye is in one and how much more corn is in the other. The Four Roses has so much spice, but it doesn’t burn. It goes down so easy.

G-LO: I’m with ya. This is going down really easy. Now I don’t know about you, but for whatever reason, Bourbons and Ryes get me tipsy and slurring my words much faster than Single Malt Scotch. Maybe it’s the sweetness that makes me drink it faster and in higher quantity?

Limpd: I have no idea. When we all started drinking together, I was into Irish, G-LO was into peated Scotch, The Wookie liked obscure one-offs, and The ROK was our Bourbon guy.

It took a while for me to adjust to Bourbon. Maybe it was because of the sweetness or the higher ABV when compared to the standard-issue Scotch and Irish Whiskeys that we would always have out during our sessions. I called it Demon Bourbon for many many years until I got used to it.

DK: I’ve been drinking higher proof Bourbon for quite awhile, so I guess I’m just used to it, but I know what you mean. Really good Bourbon goes down really easy.

Limpd: Now that we’ve had all three, I gotta admit, I thought for sure that the Weller would be my favorite. Boy was I wrong. It’s my third favorite.

DK: Really? I guess you two aren’t the bougie clientele that I thought you were gonna be.

Limpd: Not that the Weller is bad, but the Four Roses is just extra special when compared to the other two. The Russell’s Reserve is a close second.

G-LO: I completely agree. The Weller is really nice, but it’s missing something. Four Roses, Russell’s Reserve, and Weller is my ranking order for this trio.

DK: Here’s how I like to look at this trio. Weller is the prom queen…

G-LO: Screw the prom queen!

Limpd: She’s a little full of herself.

DK: Russell’s is the girl that listened to Heavy Metal and smoked cigarettes. That’s more my speed.

G-LO: But I don’t want to kiss her. I don’t like cigarettes.

Limpd: Yeah, but you’re not trying to kiss her.

G-LO: You’re a bad man.

Limpd: Yes, I am.

DK: I’ve been trying to quit cigarettes for years.

G-LO: Ya gotta stop. It’s not good for you.

DK: None of what I do is good for me.

G-LO: But are you having fun?

DK: Absolutely!

Limpd: Just to be clear. Nobody gets out alive.

G-LO: Good point! Ya gotta die of something. It may as well be good Bourbon with great company.

DK: Going back to my analogies…

G-LO: Did we digress?

Limpd: Yes. We digressed. Please continue, Bourbon Master.

DK: The Four Roses is the cool artsy chick that listens to Velvet Underground.

G-LO: Does she go by Sweet Jane? I liked a girl named Jane when I was in college. She was pretty sweet, but had no interest in me.

Limpd: Just to be clear, none of these girls would give me the time of day.

G-LO: Please. I wouldn’t stand a chance either. They’re way too cool for me.

Limpd: You’ve now made me want each and every one of these girls!

So how many barrels of each Bourbon did you sample before making your final picks?

DK: We tried 7 barrels each of the Russell’s Reserve and the Weller’s, and 5 barrels of the Four Roses.

Limpd: Were you looking for particular flavor profiles, or did you just go with your gut? And did you tell them what you were looking for, or did they say, “Here are the barrels you can pick from…”?

DK: They just pulled barrels from all over the rickhouse, and we got to pick the ones we liked.

G-LO: That had to be a blast! Can we get an invite to the next barrel picking session?

DK: No comment.

Limpd: Oh come on! We both work down the street, so if you ever want to have a tasting panel, we’ll gladly help a Bourbon Master out. We work for whiskey, a truly liquid currency.

DK: You guys drive a hard bargain. Let’s just leave it at “We’ll see…”.

G-LO: That’s farther than I got with Sweet Jane. So any final thoughts or questions?

DK: Oh crap! It’s almost 6:30. My wife is gonna kill me. She’s waiting for me at Central Taco.

Limpd: We love that place! I have just one more question. If you could have only one whiskey, what would it be?

DK: So I’m sitting at home, and I’m on my death bed? What whiskey would I want as my last dram before I’m damned?

Limpd: That’s a little darker than where I was going, but yeah, what’s your “get” if there can be only one?

DK: Please. I’m Irish Catholic. We always go dark. We’re taught to hate ourselves.

Limpd: That’s true. Things are never just “good”. They’re always “awfully good”. And sometimes, they’re just awful.

DK: We are simpatico.

Limpd: So what’s your final dram?

DK: I’m going with the Four Roses Single Barrel that we just sampled together.

Limpd: And if money was no object?

DK: I’m going with Elmer T Lee or George T Stagg.

G-LO: Is the Stagg your favorite of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection?

DK: I like the Weller Antique, but again, it’s a prom queen. A prom queen that I like.

G-LO: So you’re more of a Courtney Love or Debbie Harry kinda guy?

DK: Yes!

G-LO: One last question before we wrap this up. What was the name of your band and what instrument did you play?

DK: We were called Technical V. I was the lead singer and played rhythm guitar and keyboards.

Limpd: Any particular genre of music?

DK: We played clubs, weddings, and casinos from as far north as Vermont and as far south as Virginia, so our musical selections were all over the place. And depending upon the venue, we were either a 5 or 7 piece band. We spent a lot of time in Atlantic City.

G-LO: And the last, last question. What was your most requested song at a wedding? Sweet Caroline?

Limpd: Brick House?

DK: You would think Sweet Caroline would be the most popular, and I do a hell of Neil Diamond impression…

G-LO: For an Irish Catholic boy.

DK: Interestingly enough, Shout was our most requested wedding song, but I think that was because we played a lot of weddings when Wedding Crashers came out.

G-LO: Shout is always a good one. I think we’re done here. You can go meet up with your wife and son now.

DK: That’s mighty big of you.

G-LO: I’m that kinda guy.

Limpd: Yes. You are free to leave. Thanks so much for the tasting and for spending time with us. You picked some great whiskeys! I can’t speak for G-LO, but personally, I had a great time.

G-LO: Yes yes! This was great. We’ll have to have you over for our next bottle share. We’re practically neighbors after all.

DK: Glad you guys had fun! Y’all come back now, you hear?


Many thanks to Daniel Kulisek of Bank & Bourbon for this FABULOUS Bourbon tasting session!

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