Tuesday, August 30, 2011

INTERVIEW: Harlen Wheatlee

I was very fortunate to have the good luck of sitting down with Master Distiller, Harlen Wheatlee.  He was actually at the Ohio Bottles in Bond Bourbon Fesitval in Mt. Peate, OH.  We had a raucous time.  I was about 3 bourbons full to the till while Harlen was 5 deep.  Still, we were both able to keep our composure and put on a good interview.  It was crazy, we had about 10,000 people who impromtuly gathered around us trying to get their listen on.  So here it is:

ME:  Harlen, it's great to have you here and thank you for sitting down with me.  Whatcha drinking?

HARLEN:  First let me say, I am a huge fan of your blog.  And this is just a quick shout-out to all you listenin', go visit straightbourbonblog.blogspot.com for the most accurate information you'll find on the 'net about bourbon.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, has knowledge that this guy's got (HUGE APPLAUSE FOR LIKE 10 MINUTES OR SOMETHING).

HARLEN:  But to get back to your question, John, I'm drinking one of your recipes, funny enough.  Of course, I've tried them all but this here one is the Mexican Lollipop and it's a damn fine drink, I tell you.

ME:  Tell me a little bit about your first time in a rick house and working at a distillery.

HARLEN:  I musta been 5 years old and I was so enchanted with the rick houses that I snuck away from my Daddy, Waldo Wheatlee, and ran up to the tippity top of the rick house.  Now, I know you're familiar with a rick house but for those of you who ain't, they're made out of 100% pine and rickety as all get out.  Anyway, there I am on the top floor and it's starts swaying and I got so scare I nearly mussed my overalls.  So, I comea runnin' down only to see my Daddy at the bottom of the stairs and he, right then and there, gave me a beatin' I will never forget.  Actually, I kindda did forget it since I was knocked unconsious and had a sever concussion that landed me in the hospital for a couple weeks.  But I do know it was 'cause a Daddy hittin' me.

ME:  Ain't nothing wrong with putting a beating one of your own.  In fact, I just beat the crap out of my 29 year old daughter for coming over to my house for dinner and not domesticating enough with her Mom.

ME:  So tell me, Harlen, what's your favorite bourbon?

HARLEN:  Of course I'm gonna say one of our own, and I'm not bein' biased neither.  My favorite bourbon is Ten High.

ME:  That's one of my faves too.

HARLEN:  I know.  I saw it on your blog (ALMOST UNENDING UNCANNY LAUGHTER).

ME:  How about for mixing?

HARLEN:  Oh for that I go with somethin' not special at all, like a Sazarac 17 year.  Overage bourbon is perfect for mixin'.

ME:  Damn, we think alike.  I feel the same way.  So, let me ask you about this White Dog you came up with and I'm seeing all over the market.  Give me the lowdown on that if you would?

HARLEN:  Sure, I'd be delighted.  I came up with this myself and got the whole industry sucked into it.  White Dog is nothing more than distilled vodka fed through a filter, walkin' the dog, as we say in the industry, but instead of using charcoal we use raisins.  And that's why you get that potato/raisin flavor up front.  It's the cheapest thing to make and we charge like $50 a pop to the suckers out there who don't know no better (ABSOLUTE LAUGHTER FOLLOWED BY "SUCKERS" CHANT).

ME:  So what's next, what's brewing?  Any new expirements going on at the Trace?

HARLEN:  Oh yea.  We are currently aging some distillerate in used pine box coffins and also we've got some plastic barrels with led floating in it that we've been aging for 12 years now.  In fact, I just tasted it and it's wonderful stuff - got sick for a week after, but I honestly think that once the human body builds a tolerance to it, it will stop all the hurtin'.  What's weird though, is all the black smoke and funky burning plastic smell but other than that, it's awesome.  We'll be bottling and packaging next week.

ME:  You're going on 99 this October.  Tell us what your secret is.

HARLEN:  Me and Ernie (Earnest Bourgnine) subscribe to the same theory.  It's called "self love" (puts his right hand in the air), meet Mary Palmer and her 5 sisters (UNCONFORTABLE SILENCE AS HARLEN FONDLES HIMSELF THROUGH HIS JEANS).

ME:  Well that wraps it up.  I've got to run, it was real nice talking to you until you broke out Mary and her sisters but it was still a pleasure.

HARLEN:  Oh, it's a pleasure indeed.


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