Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What's New In The Bourbon Country Reader.

The new issue of The Bourbon Country Reader, Volume 12 Number 4, went into the mail just before Christmas. No doubt its arrival warmed hearts much like a holiday toddy.

Sometimes people ask if the articles in the newsletter also appear here, on the blog. Usually, no, and in this particular case, 100 percent no.

Here's the line-up.

The headline for the lead story probably speaks for itself; "Decoding The Bottom Shelf; The Quest For Good, Cheap Bourbon."

We also mine a document filed in the Wild Turkey acquisition last spring for tidbits about the brand's future under new owner Campari.

Is the rye renaissance real? We have data.

And we review two of the 2009 Buffalo Trace Antiques, the Weller and the Handy.

You may wonder why we still publish a paper newsletter sent through the U.S. mail. The real reason is because it's still hard to sell information on the web for what it's worth. The romantic reason is that we're writing about an industry that values tradition, so we do too. Take your pick.

You may also wonder why I'm affecting the imperial "we." We don't know, it just sounds right.

Click here to subscribe, with a credit card or PayPal. We publish every other month, or thereabouts, and you get six issues for $20.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

History Of Yellowstone, Part Two Of Two.


The Gethsemane Station distillery was rebuilt after Prohibition, but not as Yellowstone and not by Dant. It closed for good in about 1961. The Taylor & Williams name lived on, as both a distillery name and brand name.

After prohibition, J. B. Dant and his sons built a new distillery in the Louisville suburb of Shively to make the revived Yellowstone bourbon. Various Beams and Dants were involved in that operation too. Another Louisville-based whiskey maker, Glenmore, bought Yellowstone, brand and distillery, in 1944.

Yellowstone was a significant brand in its heyday, but as a mass or popular price brand, it suffered brutal share losses during bourbon’s sharp decline in the 1970s.

Production started to slow in the 1980s, as bourbon sales declined, and Yellowstone closed for good in 1991. What little bourbon Glenmore was making was being made at Medley in Owensboro. A portion of the Shively plant was later used to make blending spirits from fruit, but it never made whiskey again.

The Yellowstone brand was sold to Luxco, a bottler and rectifier in St. Louis. Luxco is a non-distiller producer which acquires whiskey where it can, much like the way Yellowstone began 137 years ago. Unfortunately, these days it is not very good.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

History Of Yellowstone, Part One Of Two.


This is a short history of the Yellowstone bourbon brand and the distilleries that have borne that name. Part two tomorrow.

The Yellowstone whiskey brand was created by the wholesale firm of Taylor & Williams shortly after the national park was established in 1872. Taylor was D. H. Taylor, who started the firm in Louisville about 1865. J. T. Williams joined the company in 1877. They were wholesalers and bought whiskey from various distilleries.

Sometime in the 1880s they contracted with J. B. Dant to make Yellowstone bourbon for them. Dant had a (then) new distillery in Nelson County, Kentucky, at Gethsemane Station. It was called Cold Springs Distillery. In about 1903, Taylor & Williams merged with the Cold Springs Distillery. Dant became president and the distillery was renamed Yellowstone, as that brand had become very successful.

Taylor and Williams themselves were out of the picture by then, but their names lived on.

In 1910, Dant acquired an adjacent distillery owned by M. C. Beam, which was itself a combination of two older distilleries, the oldest dating to 1872. Thereafter the whole complex operated as Yellowstone, and was run by members of the Dant and Beam families, until Prohibition.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Bourbon Trail Schedule.

Still looking for that unique gift? Or perhaps a holiday adventure with friends and family? Why not celebrate the yuletide season on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail?

"Several of our historic distilleries and their gift shops are open this week for the Bourbon lovers on your Christmas list," said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. "We wish everyone a safe and happy holiday, and ask that you enjoy Bourbon responsibly."

All of the distilleries will be closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, but open most other days. Here's the schedule. (All times are Eastern Standard Time). For complete directions and more information, please visit www.kybourbontrail.com.

Buffalo Trace, Frankfort
Thursday, Dec. 24, 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 26, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 27, closed
Monday, Dec. 28 – Thursday, Dec. 31, 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 2, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Four Roses, Lawrenceburg
Thursday, Dec. 24, closed
Saturday, Dec. 26, 9 a.m. – 3:p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 27, closed
Monday, Dec. 28 – Wednesday, Dec. 30, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 31, closed
Saturday, Jan. 2, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Heaven Hill, Bardstown
Thursday, Dec. 24, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 26, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 27, noon – 4 p.m.
Monday, Dec. 28 Wednesday, Dec. 30, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 31, closed
Saturday, Jan. 2, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Jim Beam, Clermont
Thursday, Dec. 24, closed
Saturday, Dec. 26, 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 27, 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Monday, Dec. 28 – Thursday, Dec. 31, 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 2, 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Maker’s Mark, Loretto
Thursday, Dec. 24, closed
Saturday, Dec. 26, 10:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 27, 1:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Monday, Dec. 28 – Thursday, Dec. 31, 10:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 2, 10:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Beginning Jan. 3, closed on Sundays until March 7.

Tom Moore, Bardstown
Thursday, Dec. 24, closed
Saturday, Dec. 26, closed
Sunday, Dec. 27, closed
Monday, Dec. 28 – Wednesday, Dec. 30, tours at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 31, closed
Saturday, Jan. 2, closed

Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg
Monday, Dec. 21-Thursday, Dec. 24 – 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 26, 9 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 27, closed
Monday, Dec. 28, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 29, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Wednesday, Dec. 30, 9 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 31, 9 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 2, 9 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Woodford Reserve, Versailles
Thursday, Dec. 24, closed
Saturday, Dec. 26, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 27, 12:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Monday, Dec. 28 – Wednesday, Dec. 30, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 31, closed
Saturday, Jan. 2, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Beginning Jan. 3, closed on Sundays until March.7.

Send A Bourbon Lover To School.

Dates for the 2010 Woodford Reserve Bourbon Academy will be March 6th, April 3rd, and June 12th. The sessions run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

This is a unique opportunity for any bourbon lover to become an expert on bourbon and American whiskey. Students spend an interactive day at the beautiful Woodford Reserve Distillery near Versailles, Kentucky, with Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris. They enjoy a delicious bourbon-inspired lunch, and participate in hands-on demonstrations, a behind-the-scenes production tour, and a series of tastings.

Cost is $150 per person, plus tax, and includes lunch. Reservations are required and can be made by contacting Kandi Sackett at (859) 879-1934, or kandi_sackett@b-f.com

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bourbon Is Good For Kentucky In So Many Ways.

I don't know Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, but he has been smart to support the state's whiskey producers like he did yesterday. Obviously, distlleries provide jobs and are good for the commonwealth's economy, but the full scope of those benefits isn't always obvious.

Straight whiskey is just one of the types of distilled spirits you can find in a liquor store. There are many others. To be labeled 'Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey,' the whiskey has to be distilled and aged in Kentucky, which in addition to distillery and warehouse jobs, means they buy corn locally too.

You can't make Kentucky bourbon anyplace except Kentucky. You can make bourbon anywhere in the United States, but Kentucky bourbon is what people look for and want.

You know, like California raisins or Wisconsin cheese.

Kentucky bourbon does not have to be bottled in Kentucky. When the industry was struggling, a lot of it was not. When the industry is strong and the Kentucky business environment is positive for beverage companies, there is an incentive to bottle the bourbon close to the distilleries. Bottling is the most labor-intensive part of the process, so that means lots of jobs.

It makes sense for the big, international companies that control the worldwide beverage industry to consolidate their bottling as much as possible. If there are good reasons to bottle your bourbon in Kentucky, you might as well bottle other things there too. Typically the bottled and cased goods go into an adjacent finished goods warehouse, then are shipped from there to distributors. That means even more jobs, as well as business for local trucking companies.

Brown-Forman and Heaven Hill Distilleries have their headquarters in Kentucky and their bottling is there too, even for products not made in Kentucky or even the United States, such as Canadian Mist Canadian Whisky, which is bottled in Louisville.

Like bourbon, brandy is usually aged, but it is usually aged in used barrels, and since bourbon makers only use new barrels, they always have a lot of used barrels to sell. Heaven Hill brings its Christian Brothers Brandy in tanker trucks from the distillery in California to be aged in Kentucky, rather than shipping empty barrels out there. When it's ready to be bottled, that happens in Kentucky too. Constellation, which used to own the Tom Moore Distillery in Bardstown, does the same thing with its Paul Masson Brandy.

Sazerac Inc. is technically headquartered in New Orleans and the company has major operations there, but Mark Brown, Sazerac's President, lives and works in Kentucky. Earlier this year, Sazerac bought a large bottling house in Owensboro, Kentucky, along with several bourbon aging warehouses there. The company has three bottling houses in Kentucky. The others are in Frankfort and Bardstown.

When Beam Global acquired National Distillers in 1987, two of the assets it got were a distillery and bottling house in Frankfort and a rectification and bottling plant in Cincinnati. Cincinnati primarily made the company's DeKuyper Liqueurs line. Making liqueurs is relatively simple. You're mixing together ethanol (i.e., vodka), sweetener, and flavoring concentrates, then bottling the result.

Beam closed the distillery in Frankfort back in '87, but the site had a modern bottling house and good access to the interstate highway system. Beam still uses the aging warehouses there and has steadily expanded the bottling capacity.

It was recently announced that Beam will close the Cincinnati plant and those operations will move to Kentucky. Beam Global has three bottling plants in Kentucky. Cincinnati is its only bottling facility outside of Kentucky. 

The change, which is expected to be completed sometime in 2011, will add 21,600 square feet to Frankfort. It is expected to create about 120 new jobs in Kentucky. Beam Global is headquartered in the Chicago suburb of Deerfield but its roots are in Kentucky and its biggest product is still Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. So, sorry Ohio.

Kentucky is a socially conservative state and about half of its counties prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages. You'll probably never persuade someone who believes alcohol comes from the devil that it is nonetheless good for business, and therefore good for the state, but that has always been the uphill struggle Kentucky's whiskey-makers face. In recent years it has gotten better. Let's hope it continues.

Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame Inducts U.S. President William Howard Taft.


Kentucky’s signature Bourbon industry last night marked the 100th anniversary of a landmark decision by President William Howard Taft at a ceremony to induct the former leader into the prestigious Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame.

In December 1909, President Taft released an official decision that defined whiskey standards in the United States. Before that time, imitators trying to capitalize on the growing success of Kentucky Bourbon often made counterfeit whiskey using artificial colors and flavors.

But Taft’s decision set the standard for how whiskey is labeled – straight, blended or imitation – and protected the time-honored process of Kentucky Bourbon. “By such an order as this decision indicates,” Taft wrote, “the public will be made to know exactly the kind of whisky they buy and drink…

“It injures no man’s lawful business, because it only insists upon the statement of the truth in the label.”

In recognition of the anniversary of his historic act, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association Board of Directors unanimously voted to induct Taft into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. The ceremony took place last night at the Governor’s Mansion in Frankfort, hosted by Gov. and Mrs. Steven L. Beshear.

Taft, born in 1857 in Cincinnati, Ohio, was President from 1909-1913 and later the 10th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He died in 1930.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Old Forester Is In Favor Of Clean Water.

You hate to reduce it to that, but worthy cause tie-ins are a marketing strategy. They work best for the product and the charity when the tie-in is natural and not forced.

This one is just about perfect. Here is the text of an email that was sent today to members of the 1870 Society, the Old Forester enthusiasts club.

It takes a plentiful supply of crisp, clean water from limestone springs to make Old Forester. And we’re eternally grateful to have such a valuable resource right where we live.

Sadly, for too many people around the planet, there simply isn’t enough safe, clean drinking water just to survive. Together, we can help change that.

So, in the spirit of the giving season, we’re pleased to announce that Old Forester is making a donation of $2,500 to charity: water on behalf of you and Old Forester enthusiasts everywhere.

charity: water is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations.

So thank you for enjoying our bourbon, and for helping make a difference.

Favorite whiskey myths debunked.


All of the following statements are false, although many of them are widely believed. (The statements in parens are true.)

Bourbon whiskey must be made in Kentucky. (Bourbon may be made anywhere in the United States.)

Kentucky is the only state legally allowed to put its name on a bourbon label. (No such law or rule exists.)

To be called bourbon, a whiskey must be aged at least two years. (Two years is the requirement for straight bourbon. Although the rules say bourbon must be aged in new charred oak barrels, they don't say for how long.)

Jack Daniel’s cannot be called bourbon. (Not true. Its owners just prefer to call it Tennessee whiskey.)

A bourbon mash must be at least 51 percent corn and not more than 80 percent corn. (The 51 percent floor is right but there is no ceiling. The difference between bourbon and corn whiskey depends on the type of barrel used.)

Sour mash whiskey tastes sour. (Sour mash is a technique for keeping whiskey mash at the ideal pH from batch to batch. It does make the mash taste sour, but not the whiskey.)

Only some American whiskeys are sour mash whiskeys. (Although not every maker puts the words 'sour mash' on the label, they all use the sour mash method.)

Whiskey made in a pot still is superior to whiskey made in a column still. (The two types of still are different, but in the end what they do is the same.)

Canadian whisky contains neutral spirits. (It doesn’t. The base whiskey in Canadian is the same as in blended scotch, nearly neutral but technically whiskey. The base spirit in American blends is neutral spirit, i.e., vodka.)

There is some reason why Scottish distillers spell their spirit whisky while most Americans spell theirs whiskey. (No reason. Whiskey is just one of hundreds of words that Americans and Brits spell differently. The spelling difference means nothing.)

Moonshine is un-aged corn whiskey. (Moonshine is any distilled spirit made illegally. Most of it is made from sugar, making it rum.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Moonshine Today.

People are enamored of moonshine, mostly the idea of it, since few have had the real thing.

What is moonshine? Moonshine is any distilled spirit that is made illegally. It is not, contrary to popular belief, always corn whiskey. These days it is rarely whiskey of any kind, as the base ingredient is usually table sugar, which makes it rum.

We’re talking here about modern moonshine, produced by people who are doing it to make money. We’re not talking about history or hobbyists.

Recently in Eastern Kentucky, a person of my acquaintance obtained a gallon of moonshine. It was packaged in a one-gallon plastic jug of the type in which milk is commonly sold. It even had a sealed closure, just like the jug of milk you get at the grocery store. On top of the lid was the ‘Kentucky Proud’ logo.

This moonshiner has access to a bottling line, perhaps through a small dairy or orchard, as cider often comes in the same packaging. ‘Kentucky Proud’ is the official trademark of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, meant to promote Kentucky agricultural products. This moonshiner has a sense of humor.

The one-gallon plastic milk jug has become the standard package for commercial moonshine, which competes today not so much with whiskey as with the cheapest legal vodka/ethanol or rum on the market. It is consumed the same way, usually mixed with fruit juice or a soft drink. Some of it is sold to bars, who substitute it for vodka and rum without their patrons ever knowing.

Many people assume that moonshine is unusually strong. It’s usually not, because the producers use cheap, throw-away, often homemade equipment, so they’re not out much money if it gets confiscated and destroyed. The equipment is usually a simple pot still, perhaps with a rudimentary doubler, and they’re lucky if they can reach 50 percent alcohol with it. In many cases, moonshine is sold below 40 percent, which is the most common proof of legal spirits.

People think a strong taste indicates a high alcohol content, when in reality a high distillation proof removes flavor. That’s why the best vodkas taste like water. Moonshine tastes strong because it is low proof, so a lot of flavor from the raw materials is retained, as well as congeners produced during fermentation which are not removed by low proof distillation. It doesn’t so much taste strong as bad.

Is moonshine dangerous? It can be, if the maker is sloppy about making the heads and tails cuts, which can contain high levels of poisonous methanol. These are, however, commercial producers and poisoning your customers is bad for business, so most of them have mastered that technique.

In terms of raw material and production cost, moonshiners can’t produce spirits less expensively than legal distilleries can. They make money because they don’t pay taxes. Since taxes account for about 60 percent of the cost of a bottle of legal distilled spirits, that gives them a lot of room to maneuver and keeps the ancient art of moonshining alive and well.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Alcoholic Energy Drinks Bring Out The Worst In Politicians.

I'm not a big fan of caffeinated beer or, if you prefer, alcoholic energy drinks. My interest here is in the politicians who love them, and love to misrepresent them for political purposes.

"Disgusting" is what Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler called them. "The caffeine is a stimulant that triggers the false impression that kids can drink more and still function normally. The kids won't recognize they are actually drunk...And then all of a sudden, over a short period of time, it goes BAM, and they're gone."

That's right. It goes BAM! And they're gone. All of a sudden.

This notion that caffeine somehow masks intoxication is bogus, just like the common but mistaken belief that caffeine is a remedy for intoxication.

Gansler's ridiculous statement is quoted in a May, 2008, Time Magazine story by John Cloud, who himself offers the ridiculous conclusion that "alcoholic energy drinks are different because they are so obviously marketed to kids."

That was written before pressure from politicians, the public health agencies they control, and the well-funded advocacy groups that generate this nonsense, forced the two biggest U.S. malt beverage manufacturers, Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors, to stop making alcoholic energy drinks and pledge never to make them again.

Lies about alcoholic energy drinks are spread by advocacy groups that sensationalize the risks of alcohol consumption, and demonize alcohol producers, usually with wildly exaggerated or entirely false claims.

Some people call these groups neo-prohibitionists or "new dries." Their primary purpose seems to be ensuring their own revenue growth, though in the process they make a nuisance of themselves to everyone who enjoys alcohol in a normal and responsible way, which is almost everybody. Their best lie is the one about companies marketing alcoholic beverages to children, which none do.

I write about this from time to time, most recently about two weeks ago when FDA announced that manufacturers of alcoholic energy drinks must prove their products are safe. The irony here is that the only reason FDA can do this is because of the way alcohol is regulated in this country. All of the ingredients in these beverages, other than alcohol, are Generally Regarded As Safe by FDA (the term is in caps because as FDA uses it, it has a specific legal meaning).

What the manufacturers really have to prove is that alcohol doesn't change one or more of the ingredients for the worse. Can they do it? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe they'll just fold their tents like Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors did. If they couldn't take the pressure, how can these little guys?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) praised FDA's decision in part because, "emerging research suggests that the young consumers of these products are more likely to be the perpetrator or victim of sexual aggression, to ride with an intoxicated driver, or to become otherwise injured."

Who wouldn't want to prevent those bad things?

Energy drinks, including alcoholic ones, typically contain some or all of the following: sugar, caffeine, taurine, niacin, vitamins B-12 and B-6, ginseng, ginkgo, and other herbs and dietary supplements commonly associated with energy and alertness. The alcohol content is usually about the same as a beer, although one brand is more like a malt liquor.

Nutritionists say the perceived energy boost comes primarily from sugar and caffeine. Opinions vary about the efficacy of the other ingredients. People have been mixing sugar, caffeine and alcohol forever, from rum and coke to Irish coffee. There is no mystery there.

Most people don't know these facts, and furthermore don't care, because they want those horrible booze merchants to stop selling these terrible products to their kids. All the lies work because people are so ready to believe them. That makes them perfect for cynical politicians, and is there really any other kind?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Emollient For Red Stag Haters.

Back in February, when Beam Global announced that it was launching Red Stag, "Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey infused with natural flavors," I couldn't decide if they were brilliant or crazy.

Many other American whiskey enthusiasts used much stronger words. Even before anyone had tasted it, they were calling it "Red Gag" and worse. The reaction was visceral and the anger real. There are, of course, some people who take personal offense if you put water or ice in your whiskey, let alone Coke or, heaven forbid, concentrated cherry juice.

Beam Global now reports that Red Stag has been the most successful new product launch in the whiskey category in the past five years. They also said this: "With the creation of a new segment through Red Stag, Beam Global continues to grow the American whiskey category and entice new legal purchase age consumers to try whiskey for the first time."

The Red Stag haters should ponder that. Younger people (and I mean young adults, not kids) tend to like sweeter drinks. Most of today's popular cocktails feature sweet fruit flavors. If a young adult goes for Red Stag rather than a drink made with Captain Morgan Rum, or Southern Comfort Liqueur, or Starbucks Coffee Liqueur, which choice is better for keeping the bourbon distilleries in business?

I doubt anyone would accuse me of giving any producers a free ride. My main criticism of Beam, as I wrote here, is that even if I, as a serious whiskey lover, accept that Red Stag has its place, what are you doing for me?

Another way for the serious whiskey lover to look at Red Stag is that, for what it is, Beam did it the right way. Every cook will tell you that you can't make a great dish without great ingredients. To make Red Stag, Beam took their four-year-old flagship bourbon and infused natural cherry flavor into it using a fairly complicated process that they tried to explain to me but I don't quite understand. Suffice it to say that they didn't take shortcuts.

It would appear that Beam set out to make the best, finest quality cherry-flavored bourbon that they could. They didn't have to do that. There are flavored whiskeys out there that don't go to all that trouble. Beam did and they were proud enough of the outcome to risk their most valuable asset, the Jim Beam name, on it.

I like it when companies take chances.

They didn't just do it right on paper. The product delivers, you can taste the difference. It has a richness and depth of flavor that, for example Phillips Union cherry-flavored whiskey can't touch.

Ninety percent of the time, my drink of choice is bourbon neat, but last night I had a whiskey sour. (Okay, I had two.) I've also been known to quaff a manhattan or margarita.

I found that I liked Red Stag on-the-rocks with a little Stirrings orange bitters and it didn't take me long to go through my first bottle.

Some people worry that accepting something like Red Stag lowers the standards and threatens the quality of American whiskey, which is admittedly always battling a bit of an inferiority complex vis a vis single malt scotch. Though before any scotch snobs get all high and mighty, what do you think a sherry cask finish is?

Buffalo Trace Ups The Ante.

The new issue of Malt Advocate is out (Volume 18, Number 4) and it contains a story by me entitled "Buffalo Trace Ups The Ante," starting on page 52. You can go to the web site and read it online, but if you're a whiskey fan you really should subscribe.

I started to bug Angela Traver, who runs the PR shop at Buffalo Trace Distillery, about this months ago. Buffalo Trace was doing all sorts of bold things, big and small, from buying the Tom Moore Distillery and all of the Barton spirits brands from Constellation, to acquiring the Old Taylor brand from Beam Global. I speculated that there had to be some kind of master plan in place. She didn't tell me much but encouraged me to talk to her boss, Sazerac president Mark Brown.

The opportunity came when I was in Frankfort in August for Elmer T. Lee's 90th birthday. John Hansell and Lew Bryson of Malt Advocate were also there, with some other writers and Buffalo Trace folks, at lunch in the Clubhouse, when I started to pepper Brown with questions. After lunch, John and Lew came over and asked me to write it up for Malt Advocate.

So, what is the master plan? That would be telling. Read the article.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thankful For Bourbon? Visit A Distillery.

Several of Kentucky’s bourbon distilleries will be open during the holiday weekend so you can celebrate the spirit of Thanksgiving with America’s only native spirit.

"Thanksgiving is a perfect time to visit our legendary distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail," said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. “If your family and friends are looking for an adventure this weekend, come savor the spirit of the holidays with us.

"And, as always, we ask everyone to enjoy Kentucky Bourbon responsibly."

All distilleries are closed Thursday, but open the following days (hours are Eastern Standard Time). For directions and more information, please visit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail web site.

  • Buffalo Trace, Frankfort – open Friday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., closed Sunday.
  • Four Roses, Lawrenceburg – open Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., last tour at 3:00 p.m., closed Sunday.
  • Heaven Hill, Bardstown – open Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday noon to 4 p.m.
  • Jim Beam, Clermont – open Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Maker’s Mark, Loretto – open Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Sunday tours 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m.
  • Tom Moore, Bardstown – Closed for tours Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
  • Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg – Tours Friday and Saturday at 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Closed Sunday.
  • Woodford Reserve, Versailles – Tours Friday and Saturday at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 12 p.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Tours on Sunday at 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.  

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Retro Bourbon You Really Must Try: Old Grand-Dad Bonded.


With its bright orange label, there is no chance you will mistake Old Grand-Dad for one of those new, trendy bourbon brands. Old Grand-Dad Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is proudly retro, from its package to the taste of the whiskey inside.

There are several expressions of Old Grand-Dad, but my favorite is Bonded Old Grand-Dad. As a bond, it must by law be 100° proof (50% ABV) and the product of a single distillery during a single distilling season. There can be no mixing of younger and older barrels. It must also be at least four years old.

Old Grand-Dad is a bourbon, but it contains about twice as much rye as most bourbons do. The rest of its unique taste must come from its yeast. It's very flavorful, spicy and earthy like a rye, sweet and satisfying like a bourbon.

Many bourbons today are eight years and older, so wood notes overshadow the grain and yeast. Old Grand-Dad seems to have those three flavor elements more equally apportioned.

Old Grand-Dad is a genuinely old brand too, one of the oldest still on the market. It was created by Raymond Hayden in the late 19th century and dedicated to his grandfather, Basil, a follower of Lord Baltimore who brought the family to Kentucky from England by way of Maryland.

Basil Hayden Bourbon, which is one of those trendy new brands, is Old Grand-Dad bourbon aged eight years and diluted to 80° proof (40% ABV).

Old Grand-Dad itself also comes in 86° proof and 114° proof expressions. Unlike Basil Hayden, none of the Old Grand-Dad expressions bear an age statement, so they are at least four years old and probably less than six. Although bonded bourbons today are a shadow of their former selves, Bonded Old Grand-Dad has long been the most popular bottled-in-bond bourbon. It is a product of Beam Global.

Old Grand-Dad is, I imagine, what many bourbons tasted like back before blended scotches and Canadians spoiled the American palate for real swallow hard and make a face whiskey. It's the other end of the flavor spectrum from something like Weller 12-year-old, which I also favor. It's often overlooked but is an essential part of any whiskey fan's education.
 
It's also a great value at about $20 for a 750 ml.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Templeton Rye. Hoist On Its Own Petard?


There are some subjects that keep recurring, so often I get tired of writing about them. One is the great spelling controversy--to "e" or not to "e"--another is Jack Daniel's; bourbon or not?

Today it's whiskey producers who call themselves distilleries but whose products are made by somebody else. I wrote about it here and many, many other places, but when I saw this picture I just couldn't resist.

It's a picture, supplied by them, of Templeton Rye barrels. See, it says "Templeton Rye" right there on the head. But look at what else it says, "distilled 10/03."

Leaving open the possibility that "10/03" does not mean October, 2003, one can compare that date with the fact that Templeton Rye was formed and received its alcoholic beverage producers license in 2005. You can figure out the rest.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gifts for Bourbon Lovers.

What should you give to the bourbon lover on your list? Well, it's pretty hard to beat bourbon, but let's say you want to give them something else.

Two great suggestions are, BOURBON STRAIGHT; The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey, and "Made and Bottled in Kentucky," the definitive bourbon documentary on DVD.

Need more? Many of the top American whiskey brands have online stores, where you can pick up T-shirts, hats, flasks and other gifts, helpfully emblazoned with the brand's logo. Here are a few of them.

Woodford Reserve

Jack Daniel's

Jim Beam

Evan Williams

Buffalo Trace

Maker's Mark

Knob Creek

Although you'll probably have to go through the age check, these links should take you directly to the online shops. By the way, not all brands have them. Wild Turkey does not, neither do Four Roses and Bulleit.

That does not, however, mean that just because a brand isn't mentioned here they don't have an online store. Don't hesitate to check the brand's website. A page of links directly to most producer web sites is here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

FDA Orders Manufacturers To Prove Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages Are Safe.

You've seen it a thousand times in movies and TV shows. Someone needs to sober up quickly and starts pounding black coffee, even though science tells us that doesn’t work. Caffeine will not counteract the effects of alcohol, it just makes the drunk more alert.

A decade ago, Red Bull launched the craze for so-called energy drinks, which deliver a big dose of caffeine. Pretty soon, these drinks were being combined with alcohol. No one should have been surprised, therefore, when drinks companies put two and two together and started to sell caffeinated alcoholic beverages.

Almost immediately, these products became easy targets for anti-alcohol crusaders. They dubbed them alcopops and claimed, among other things, that they were being marketed to children. About a year ago, yielding to pressure, the big beer companies dropped their caffeinated products and promised not to make new ones.

But caffeinated alcoholic beverages did not go away, the niche was simply filled by small manufacturers who don’t have big market shares to protect in the mainstream beverage arena. Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered those companies—about 30 of them—to prove their products are safe or risk having them banned.

While it may sound like the FDA is requiring the manufacturers to prove a negative, it’s not quite that bad. Go here to read the FDA’s press release and see what the standard of proof is. The key is something called GRAS—Generally Regarded as Safe—a term-of-art. Caffeine itself is GRAS but that is apparently not good enough.

This order only affects pre-packaged products that contain both alcohol and caffeine. Bars can still serve Jager Bombs (Jagermeister and Red Bull) or any of the other popular energy drink-and-alcohol combinations. Or, for that matter, Jack and Coke or Irish Coffee, two popular caffeinated alcoholic drinks of long standing.

So is this just a political stunt? The FDA in its announcement today cited letters from 18 Attorneys General and one city attorney expressing concerns about caffeinated alcoholic beverages. Illinois AG Lisa Madigan chimed in over the weekend.

It will be interesting to see how the manufacturers respond, especially since the small fry are on their own now without a mega brewer to show them the way. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Latest Research Provides Nuanced Picture Of Alcohol-Releated Problems.

"Alcohol abuse" is defined as use that repeatedly contributes, within a 12-month period, to the risk of bodily harm, relationship troubles, problems in meeting obligations and run-ins with the law. "Alcohol dependence" includes those symptoms, plus the inability to limit or stop drinking; the need for more alcohol to get the same effect; the presence of withdrawal symptoms; and a consumption level that takes increasing amounts of time.

With that as a starting point, everyone who enjoys beverage alcohol should frequently monitor both their own actions and those of the people close to them. The good news in the latest research is that most people can and do address their own alcohol use issues without drastic action, without outside intervention, and often without giving up alcohol.

This is not some kind of self-serving revisionism that denies alcohol abuse is a problem. For some it is a very big problem, a problem for which the only solution is complete abstinence. But not for everyone; not for most people.

To learn more, read Shari Roan's article in today's Chicago Tribune.

Popular beliefs about alcohol always have been driven more by ideology than science, in part because ideology provides unambiguous answers. We also have in this country a virtual industry dedicated to demonizing alcohol and stigmatizing drinkers, with a goal of reviving Prohibition or something like it. The facts are that most adults drink and have little or no trouble related to their alcohol consumption. Now there is science showing that most people who have problems solve them themselves, without a lot of drama. Good to know.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Canadian Whiskey Spills In Kentucky.

Early yesterday morning a tanker carrying 7,000 gallons of Canadian whiskey ran off the road and overturned in Scott County, Kentucky. The accident occurred on US Route 460 near the Craig Lane intersection. US-460 was closed for most of the day. Although the tank was damaged and some of the whiskey escaped, it is not yet known how much of it was lost. Fire is the primary danger in an accident of this sort, which is why the road had to be closed.

Craig Lane was named for Rev. Elijah Craig, who founded Georgetown, Kentucky (the county seat of Scott County), and was an early Kentucky distiller.

The shipment was on its way to the Beam Global bottling facility on US-460 at Forks of the Elkhorn, just east of Frankfort. It was destined to become Canadian Club Canadian Blended Whisky.

No other vehicles were involved and Scott County Emergency Management Agency director Jack Donovan told the Lexington Herald-Leader that the truck driver was not hurt, although another media report said he was taken to an area hospital complaining of leg pain. The driver has not been identified.

Why was Canadian whiskey being shipped to Kentucky for bottling? Beam Global owns the Canadian Club brand but not the Canadian distillery where it is made, which is owned by Pernod. The distillery is in Walkerville, Ontario, just across the river from Detroit. The whiskey is distilled and aged there. When it is ready for sale the barrels are dumped and the whiskey is tankered for bulk shipment to the U.S. for bottling.

The tanker would have entered the country at Detroit and come down Interstate 75 to Georgetown, Kentucky, then to US-460.

Beam Global has substantial bottling lines at Forks of the Elkhorn, which is the former Old Grand-Dad distillery, and also at the Jim Beam Distillery at Clermont in Bullitt County, near Shepherdsville. Canadian Club is bottled at both locations.

Much of the Canadian whisky intended for sale in the U.S. is bottled here, frequently by bourbon producers in Kentucky. This is also true of other international spirits such as rum, tequila and scotch. A substantial amount of California brandy is shipped in bulk to Kentucky to be aged (in used bourbon barrels) and bottled.

By consolidating bottling at as few locations as possible, the producer automatically consolidates its finished goods inventories, which makes distribution more efficient.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Celebrate 76 Years Of Legal Drinking December 5.

Repeal Day is Saturday, December 5, and if you are going to be anywhere near Louisville, Kentucky, you might want to consider the Bourbon Society's Repeal Day Party. Special guests include Chris Morris from Woodford Reserve, Al Young from Four Roses, and Mike Veach from the Filson Historical Society. Somebody (they don't know who yet) is supposed to be there from Wild Turkey too.

Those folks are great and all, but the real attraction is the venue; the fabled Pendennis Club.

Louisville's Pendennis Club is a private club, so you can't just stroll in on a normal day and have a drink at their bar. Back when Louisville was full of whiskey barons, this was their hang out. By legend, the Old Fashioned Cocktail was invented there. On December 5, 1933, you can bet the place was jumping.

It's a jacket-and-tie affair, but tickets are only $30. For more information go to The Bourbon Society web site.

Steve Cole, Whiskey Professor

I had lunch today with Steve Cole, Whiskey Professor.

Cole is quick to admit that "whiskey professor" is a marketing term. He doesn't have a PhD in Whiskey nor is he tenured faculty at Whiskey U. He is an employee of Beam Global and his job is more generically known in the industry as brand ambassador. Beam chose the whiskey professor title, according to Cole, because his job is education, not sales. He teaches consumer and trade audiences about whiskey generally and the Beam Small Batch Bourbons Collection specifically.

The Small Batch Bourbons Collection consists of four brands: Knob Creek, Booker's, Baker's and Basil Hayden. The biggest seller of the group is Knob Creek and most of the time, that's the brand Cole and the other two whiskey professors talk about. He was wearing a Knob Creek fleece pullover when we met.

Steve Cole grew up in Sioux City, Iowa, and went to college at Middle Tennessee State, where he discovered whiskey. His roommates happened to be from Lynchburg and patronized their local brand. Rebelling against that peer pressure, Cole became a Maker's Mark drinker.

In the course of post-graduate job seeking, Cole worked as a bartender and fell in love with that profession. He moved to Chicago and began tending bar at an upscale joint on the North Side that had a good whiskey selection. Fear of appearing unknowledgeable to his patrons fueled his desire to learn all he could about bourbon, scotch and other whiskeys. One day about three years ago, one of those customers happened to be a Beam brand manager and a new career was born.

During the next phase of his whiskey education, Cole was put to work at Beam Global distilleries in Kentucky and Scotland. Suddenly he was working beside one of his idols, Fred Noe, then digging peat on Islay. Heady stuff.

In addition to making presentations at whiskey shows, whiskey professors answer questions submitted to the Knob Creek web site.

As more and more audiences clamor for information about whiskey and other spirits, and the public schedules of people like Fred Noe and other distillers and blenders become overbooked, more and more companies are recruiting people like Steve Cole for the brand ambassador role. Diageo, for example, has its Masters of Whiskey, who perform a similar function.

As the saying goes, nice work if you can get it.

Want To Learn About Distilling? Apply For A Michael Jackson Internship.

Readers of this blog are one of the few audiences that won't immediately associate the name "Michael Jackson" with the recently-departed King of Pop.

Our Michael, also deceased, was a writer, lecturer, thinker, and champion of beverage alcohol. The English-born Jackson made his reputation educating the world about beer, then became the world's leading authority on whiskey too.

The Michael Jackson Education Fund was initially created by the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Wine & Food (AIWF) in the early 1990s. The Fund is now managed by the AIWF Foundation which has partnered with the American Distilling Institute (ADI) to develop an internship program. Applications are being accepted now.

The Michael Jackson Internship is intended to foster scholarship in all aspects of distilled spirits manufacture. Though based in the United States, international applicants and international hosts are welcome. Applications for the internship are reviewed by a committee of distilled spirits professionals drawn from the spirits production, sales and writing communities. Depending on the availability of funds, there will be at least one internship awarded per year. The internship will be awarded at a special dinner in honor of the Michael Jackson Fund in conjunction with the annual ADI meeting.

For more information, contact:
Daniel Farber
Chair of the Michael Jackson Internship Committee
Osocalis Distillery
5579 Old San Jose Rd.
Soquel, CA, 95073

Monday, November 9, 2009

Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2009


I finally had a chance to give the 2009 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon a good tasting. I had tasted it, briefly, in a bar when it was unveiled a few months ago. I thought it was okay but I didn't have a strong impression one way or another.

Then all hell broke loose on straightbourbon.com. The very first reviewer wrote, "Odd… must and baby diapers were my first impression as I waved it past my nose." It went downhill from there.

Now that I've had a chance to taste it properly, I can see what some people might not like about it. There is very little of the candy notes that many bourbons, and even typical Old Forester, exhibit. It's slightly bitter with what I characterize as a dry wood note predominating. It's not char and it's not the caramel-vanilla flavor you usually get from wood. It's more like what you expect from an old scotch that has spent a long time in a barrel that was already spent before the whiskey even got there.
 
It is 12-years-old and in some ways tastes older. It definitely leans toward the herbal side of the bourbon taste wheel.

One thing I enjoy about the Birthday Bourbon series is that it's always different, sometimes very different. That's not what producers usually do. Even Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage strives for continuity from year to year. Old Forester Birthday Bourbon doesn't. What Master Distiller Chris Morris is going for, I think, is more of a "that's interesting" reaction.

I'm not saying the people who dislike it are wrong, it's not for everyone, but I would hate for someone to be scared away from it because it got so many negative reviews.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Please Don't Give Food To Food Banks.

Stay with me on this.

My neighborhood food bank, Lakeview Pantry, is one of my favorite charities. They do great work right here in my neighborhood at very low cost, and they use food as an entry point for assisting their clients with other needs, such as clothing, housing and employment. I donate to them whenever I can.

I encourage everyone to support their local food bank, but please give them money, not food. The reason is simple. Unless you are a food producer yourself (farmer, processor), you probably will buy all the food you plan to donate. Since very few of us are food producers, virtually all food donations start with the donor buying the food at a supermarket.

Why is this a bad idea? In addition to it being a hassle, lugging all that food from place to place, you are cheating the charity out of the full value of your intended donation. You might be the smartest shopper in town but I guarantee that the food bank can make a dollar go much further than you can. Plus, they can't pay the electric bill with macaroni.

Yet this is counterintuitive to most people and when I have tried to make this argument in the past, I have gotten some really angry responses. People just don't get it. Part of the problem is that food producers and retailers heartily support food drives. Why wouldn't they? It's more money for them. The food pantrys don't discourage it, also for obvious reasons. They're afraid that if they tell people, "don't give us food," they won't get anything.

Food drives have their place, especially when children are involved, because it helps them understand the importance of feeding hungry people, but if you are older than about ten you should be able to grasp this simple logic. A check for $25 dollars feeds many more hungry people than the $25 you spend on their behalf at the supermarket. By all means, write that check, but let the food bank do the shopping.

Scotland Moves To Protect Scotch Whisky.

New Scottish regulations aimed at protecting Scotch whisky will come into force later this month. Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy announced the new regulations, which will require single malts to be bottled in Scotland. At the same time, the Scottish government is also considering minimum pricing standards for all alcohol as a way to combat alcohol abuse, on the misguided theory that buyers of cheap alcohol are more prone to abusing it.

How important is scotch to Scotland's economy? It represents fully 20% of all export income.

Under the new rules, all scotch whiskies must carry a category description, such as "blended Scotch whisky." Use of the term "pure malt" will be banned, to prevent this description from being applied to blended whiskies in an attempt to make them appear superior to single malts.

There will also be new protection for the traditional regional names associated with Scotch whisky, and clear rules on statements about the age of the whisky.

The Scots want to get their own house in order before they take on India and other countries that make imitation scotch.
 
Although Scotland sells five times more of its whiskey to the rest of the world that the U.S. does, the U.S. has done a better job of protecting its product, probably as a result of learning from Scotland's mistakes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Gets New Look, Earlier Ship Date.


The annual release of Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage is coming early this year. It usually doesn't ship until after the holidays. “We have dumped and individually bottled over 700 ‘honey barrels’ for the 1999 vintage," explained Master Distiller Parker Beam, "more than any other prior year, and we feel like we need to switch over to the next vintage a bit earlier than in the past to account for the growing demand.”

The new vintage is shipping now.

Fans of Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage will also notice a new label, intended to better align the Single Barrel's look with the flagship Evan Williams Black Label, the world’s second-leading selling Kentucky Bourbon.

This is year 15 of the series, which is always a 9-year-old, rye-recipe bourbon, named for its distillation year. As in the past, each bottle is marked with the exact entry date and bottling date, as well as the barrel serial number. It is bottled at 86.6° proof (43.3% ABV). Suggested retail price is $25.99 for a 750 ml bottle.

Heaven Hill Distilleries, which produces the Evan Williams brand, makes a lot of whiskey. The Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage series can be viewed as the companys "best foot forward." Every year, they pick the very best whiskey they have available at that age and bottle it. Because it is a single-barrel and a vintage, it varies from bottle to bottle and year to year, but is invariably excellent.

For anyone who is just starting to explore American whiskey, especially the more esoteric bottlings prized by enthusiasts, Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage is an excellent place to start.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Jimmy Russell, Rock Star.

Bruce Schreiner does a good job covering the American whiskey business for AP. His article today describes how the master distillers of American whiskey have become like rock stars on the international circuit of whiskey festivals and other events. As usual with an AP story, you can find it on the web in about 5,000 places, but one of them is here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Where Are The Enthusiast Bourbons From Beam Global?

Red Stag by Jim Beam is bourbon whiskey infused with a cherry juice concentrate and other natural flavors. I first wrote about it way back in February.

This post isn't about Red Stag. Let's just say that a lot of whiskey enthusiasts are viscerally offended by the very existence of Red Stag. Others are primarily offended by the advertising slogan, "A New Breed of Bourbon," arguing that Beam Global should be prohibited from calling it bourbon without a modifier like "flavored."

I'm not as hostile to Red Stag as some people are, but as I've said from the beginning, it's not for us. Red Stag is intended for people who like to think of themselves as whiskey drinkers but want it to taste like Peach Schnapps. You know, Southern Comfort drinkers.

My criticism of Beam Global is a little different. Potentially, gimmicks like the Knob Creek drought, or gimmicky products like Red Stag, can be viewed as floating the corporate boat and making it possible for them to also give us truly great products. Ideally, these things will make them a pile of money that they can invest in making something cool that we might like. I might be able to sell that rationale to the bourbon enthusiast community. Producers such as Four Roses, Heaven Hill and Buffalo Trace understand and keep that bargain. Beam Global gives us plenty of gimmicks, but they aren't giving us the esoteric products we crave.

Okay, fair is fair. Knob Creek--promotional gimmicks aside--is an outstanding whiskey. So are Booker's and Baker's. But they're all 20 years old! Where is the single-barrel Booker's? Where is the 15- or 20-year-old Beam bottling? Where are the Beam limited editions; not fancy bottles, but truly exceptional whiskey?

Beam Global owns Maker's Mark and, again, fine whiskey in itself, but their one and only expression is 50 years old. The only variation they ever give us is different colored wax.

Bourbon enthusiasts buy a lot of bourbon. We also influence a lot of people about what bourbon they should buy. We try new stuff. We fill the web with bourbon talk. That's why all of the producers cater to enthusiasts in one way or another. Beam just isn't pulling its weight.

As we say here in Illinois, ubi est mea ("where's mine?").

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Woodford Seasoned Oak Finish Out November 1.


Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Seasoned Oak Finish will be released on November 1. I told you about this limited edition bottling here, but with the official launch comes a press release. Here are some excerpts:

It is the fourth in the series of limited edition bottlings and continues Woodford Reserve’s tradition of crafting rare whiskeys that extend the category in bold new directions.

Seasoned Oak Finish features bourbon finish-aged in unique barrels crafted with wood that has been seasoned longer than any previously used in the industry.

"Of all the distillers in our industry, we are the only bourbon company that crafts its own barrels, giving us unique knowledge and control of the process," said Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris. "As the rough oak staves are exposed to seasonal weather changes and subsequently dried, this natural cycle develops a new range of flavors in the wood."

This seasoning progression changes the wood by reducing tannins and ultimately creates a new range of flavor compounds. The staves for most bourbon barrels are seasoned for three to five months; however, Seasoned Oak Finish combines fully-matured Woodford Reserve with barrels crafted from wood that has been exposed to the outdoors for three to five years -- the longest seasoning known in the bourbon industry.

Released periodically at the master distiller’s discretion, the Master’s Collection whiskeys are extremely limited in quantity and bottled only once in a proprietary package inspired by the copper pot stills of The Woodford Reserve Distillery.

Woodford Reserve Seasoned Oak Finish will be sold in 44 U.S. markets, and a limited quantity will be available in Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, New Zealand and Australia. Each bottle is individually hand-numbered and presented at 100.4 proof. Available in major metro markets, only 1,337 cases are available with a suggested retail price of $89.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Monday, October 26, 2009

How Much for Stitzel-Weller Whiskey? How about $350?

If you are looking to spend about $350 on a special gift for a bourbon enthusiast, here’s a suggestion: a very limited Old Rip Van Winkle Family Selection 23 year-old bourbon in an engraved and numbered decanter from Glencairn Crystal of Scotland

Although the press release doesn’t say so, the whiskey was distilled at the legendary Stitzel-Weller Distillery. It aged there initially, then was transferred to Buffalo Trace to finish aging there. It is wheated bourbon, of course.

Julian and Preston Van Winkle personally selected the barrels to be dumped for this bottling. The bourbon is not chill-filtered, leaving all of the flavor and complexity intact. It is bottled at 114° proof, which was the original barrel entry proof.

"This is some of our best whiskey," commented Julian Van Winkle. "I’m thrilled to offer this new expression of Old Rip. Hopefully, whiskey aficionados will appreciate the rich taste of this bourbon as much as I do."

Only 1,200 decanters were produced. The set comes in a solid wood, leather-lined box and includes a crystal stopper and two crystal glasses.

Look for it in stores late November. If you are interested, don't wait for it simply to appear. Talk to your whiskey monger now. For more information go to www.oldripvanwinkle.com.

It may seem like there is a lot of Stitzel-Weller whiskey turning up lately, but there is very little left, and none of it will be sold cheap. These days, the only way to get Stitzel-Weller whiskey cheap is to go dusty hunting.

It also should be noted that not all Stitzel-Weller whiskey is created equal, although it ranges from merely great to stupendous. Selections made by Julian and Preston usually lean toward the stupendous. If you are looking for something a bit more affordable, their Family Reserve 12-year-old, known as Lot B by enthusiasts, can be had for about $45.

Stitzel-Weller was the distillery put together after Prohibition by Julian Van Winkle's grandfather, best known as Pappy. Stitzel-Weller made wheated bourbon long before Maker's Mark did. The family sold the distillery in 1972 and it stopped producing in 1992. It is now owned by Diageo, which uses the warehouses and some of the other facilities. It is located in the Louisville suburb of Shively. The Van Winkles, Julian and son Preston, are presently affiliated with Buffalo Trace.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The House That Old Crow Built.


This is Berry Hill Mansion, in Frankfort, Kentucky. It was built by George Berry, who made his fortune as vice president of W. A. Gaines & Co., makers of Old Crow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

Old Crow Bourbon was first made by Dr. James C. Crow when he was master distiller at what is now Woodford Reserve. His whiskey was so famous that when he died suddenly in 1856, it seemed like a good idea to keep selling it anyway. A company was formed for that purpose, which after a couple of iterations became known as W. A. Gaines & Co. Hiram Berry, George's father, was one of the original investors.

The money was in New York, so was the company's president; but the distillery was just outside of Frankfort and Berry was the senior executive on the scene. He wasn't a distiller. We don't know for sure but he was probably more like the general manager. He was also a major shareholder. It made him a very rich man. He built the mansion he called Juniper Hill in 1900. In about 1910 he added a music room, the home's most spectacular feature.

Today, Berry Hill Mansion is owned by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. It is meticulously maintained and beautiful, inside and out. It is open to the public and also used for conferences, weddings, and other events. W. A. Gaines & Co. ceased to exist as anything other than a name at Prohibition. Today, Old Crow is made by Beam Global Spirits & Wine.

If you have any questions about the mansion, or want to rent it for an event, e-mail my buddy Paula Weglarz or call her at (502) 564-3000. If she doesn't answer they're probably racing at Keeneland.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

This Is What Else I Do.

If you wish you could make a good living just writing about whiskey, so do I.

Like a lot of artists, if I may be so bold as to call myself that, I do several different things to get by. Most of them involve writing, but I also produce (video, audio) and consult. I have been a fulltime freelance writer for more than 20 years, primarily in marketing but not exclusively so.

I'm always looking for new business and since many people read this blog, I make a brief sales pitch from time to time. Here it is.

The main advantage to working with me is my depth of experience, in marketing and everything peripheral to it, with clients of every size. I am very good at translating corporate jargon into everyday English, for internal and external communications. I am also good at making technical material understandable to a non-technical audience. I’m a lawyer, which can come in handy for insurance, financial services, healthcare and other categories. In addition to writing (ads, brochures, scripts, speeches, features), I can help with strategy, planning, branding, you name it. Whatever it is, call me. I can help.

To reach me by email, click here. To download a one-page PDF with more information about my work, my clients, and how to contact me, click here. For my full CV, also in PDF format, click here. To get the free Adobe Reader, so you can read PDF files, go here.

Beam Global Announces Major Reorganization.

Reading corporate tea leaves (i.e., press releases) is never easy. So it is with Monday’s corporate reorganization announcement from Beam Global Spirits & Wine.

For one thing, you can bet that the words used to sell it in the board room are not the same words that appear in the press release. At least you hope savvy directors of a multi-billion dollar corporation are not dazzled by sentences like, “In addition to further building a high-performance organization that will enable faster decision-making and sharper focus on customers and consumers, the initiatives will also unlock resources that can be reinvested in driving brand growth.”

Although ‘unlock resources’ is corporate-speak for cost-cutting, the rest is gobble-dee goop.

But this part is interesting. The brand portfolio is being realigned into three groups. One of those groups is bourbon, just bourbon. One presumes rye is included, blends as well, though it’s not surprising they aren’t mentioned as neither amounts to very much business.

Beam’s bourbon portfolio includes Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Knob Creek, Booker’s, Baker’s, Basil Hayden, Old Grand-Dad, and Old Crow.

The other two brand groups are ‘mixables’ (rum, tequila, vodka and cordials) and ‘classics’ (cognac, scotch and Canadian whisky).

That this realignment involves brand management is to be expected but the three groups will also have their own finance, operations and human resources functions, with profit-and-loss responsibility. Presumably, ‘operations’ includes production, i.e., the distilleries. All this suggests that the groups will not be simply marketing divisions, but more like wholly-owned and self-contained subsidiaries.

Sales will be separate and will sell all three groups. The U.S. sales organization will be distributor-specific. It and the three brand groups will report to Bill Newlands, president of Beam Global’s U.S. business.

Internationally, Beam Global will merge its two current European regions into one, resulting in three groups based on geography: Europe, Asia/Pacific, and Emerging Markets/Travel Retail. The international units will report to Donard Gaynor, senior vice president and managing director – international.

Newlands and Gaynor will report to Matt Shattock, president and chief executive officer of Beam Global.

Beam Global has had a fascinating history to this point. It traces its origins to the Beam family and specifically to Jacob Beam, who started to make and sell whiskey in Kentucky in the late 18th century. It was a Beam family-owned business until 1920. After Prohibition, a group of Chicago investors owned it. After World War II, the son of one of those investors bought the others out. He and then his son-in-law ran the company, which made and sold Jim Beam Bourbon Whiskey and very little else. They sold it to American Tobacco Company, makers of Lucky Strike and Pall Mall cigarettes, in 1967.

Even though they no longer owned the company, members of the Beam family continued to have a major role at its two Kentucky distilleries, and in marketing its bourbons, as they do to this day.

It continued to be essentially a one-brand company; run, in very top-down fashion, by the tag team of Barry Berish and Rich Reese. Along the way, American Tobacco changed its name to American Brands, then sold its tobacco assets and changed its name again to Fortune Brands.

In 1987, Beam acquired National Distillers, a larger but poorer company. Although it was billed as a merger, Berish and Reese remained in charge.

But the National merger did change the company by making it a player in most distilled spirits categories, not just bourbon. This was crucial, considering the state of bourbon sales in 1987. Although the National deal netted three whiskey distilleries and such venerable brands as Old Grand-Dad and Old Crow, the real prize in Beam’s eyes was DeKuyper, whose Peachtree Schnapps had become a million-case brand.

Reese got the top job in 1997 when Berish retired. Reese himself retired in 2003. Reese was an interesting guy, who came to Beam as a salesman after a 12-year Major League Baseball career, at first base and in the outfield, mostly for the Minnesota Twins. He is perhaps best remembered as the batter who gave Nolan Ryan the single-season strikeout record in 1973.

In 2005, the Beam company transformed itself again. It helped Pernod Ricard buy Allied-Domecq, then the world’s #2 distilled spirits company. They split the spoils between them, giving Beam control of Maker’s Mark, as well as Canadian Club, Teacher’s Scotch, and several other major brands. The deal elevated Beam to the top rank of worldwide spirits companies. This time, unlike in 1987, senior management of the acquired company came on board in key positions.

The reorganization announced yesterday is further fallout from 2005. It is the first major move by new CEO Shattrock, who was hired in April from outside the company.

Although the faces change, Beam has always been a very smart company. They don’t make many mistakes. That’s why, from the narrow vantage point of the bourbon enthusiast, yesterday’s announcement should be regarded as good news. In effect, Beam has set-up an independent company just to look after its American whiskey assets, a company that is free to compete aggressively against its own stable mates in the scotch, Canadian, and other spirits categories. It will also have to live or die by its own success, more or less.

You can’t know for sure if this realignment will work, or even take, but considering Beam’s track record you probably should not bet against them.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Here's What's New In The Bourbon Country Reader.

The new issue of The Bourbon Country Reader, Volume 12 Number 3, has flown to its eager subscribers all over the world, whose drab days are brightened when they see that simple white envelope amidst the day's bills and catalogs. "Oh Joy!" they exclaim.

This time, we wonder why Americans don't do what the Scots figured out 150 years ago, which may account for scotch's five-to-one lead over American whiskey in worldwide sales. We really don't put it that way at all, though we could. Instead, we explain why Americans make whiskey the way that they do and how, maybe, the new breed of micro-distillers might exploit the oversight of the seven companies who make 99 percent of America's whiskey. The headline is: "The Case for Reviving the Fine Art of Whiskey Blending in America."

We also review Chester Zoeller's new book, Bourbon in Kentucky, A History of Distilleries in Kentucky. Preview: we hate the title, guess why.

You may also wonder why we still publish a paper newsletter sent through the U.S. mail. The real reason is because it's still hard to sell information on the web for what it's worth. The romantic reason is that we're writing about an industry that values tradition, so we do too. Take your pick.

Click here to subscribe, with a credit card or PayPal. We publish every-other month, or thereabouts, and you get six issues for $20. You should also buy my book, Bourbon Straight, The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey; and my documentary on DVD, "Made and Bottled in Kentucky."

By golly, they make great gifts.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Score One For Heather.

I have given Heather Steans, my state senator, a hard time in the past for this and that, including for how she got her job in the first place, but she did something good recently for which she deserves due credit.

On October 1st, Senator Steans, in her words, "was able to do something as a Senator that has never made me feel more proud or honored." She filed the Equal Marriage Act, a bill that would allow same-sex couples in Illinois the right to marry. Senate Bill 2468 will clarify equal marriage rights for same-sex couples across the state - a right which, she says, "is already enshrined in our constitutional language and traditions."

Rep. Greg Harris (D-13th) has introduced civil union and equal marriage bills in the House each session for each of the past two General Assemblies, but nothing had ever been filed in the Senate. Harris is my state rep. I've given him a hard time too, but they both have my support on this one.

The Best Little Still House In Texas.

Garrison Brothers Distillery is a small distilled spirits plant located in the Texas Hill Country, very close to the LBJ Ranch. They manufacture Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey there, just outside the tiny town of Hye. They just posted their Fall 2009 newsletter, here.

Unlike some so-called micro-distilleries that make a lot of noise but sell whiskey they didn't make, Garrison Brothers is doing it the right way. For the last couple of years they have just gone along, quietly filling barrels, waiting for them to mature into a bourbon they'll be proud to sell. They still won't predict exactly when that will be, but they've filled more than 400 barrels, and even though their casks, at 10 and 30 gallons each, are smaller than the standard 53 galloners, that's still a lot of whiskey.

If you are interested in American whiskey you might just want to bookmark the Garrison Brothers web site. This is one to watch.

No Sympathy For Polanski Here.

In today's Chicago Tribune, columnist John Kass takes on the case of director Roman Polanski, who is currently in a Swiss jail awaiting extradition to the U.S., to be punished for his 1977 statutory rape conviction. Kass's kicker is that the sactimonious Hollywood types pleading for Polanski's release are showing how little they think of us, their audience.

I wrote a piece about Polanski the last time this kicked up, in 2003, when he won the Oscar for his movie The Pianist. It contains many details of the case that are omitted in most accounts.

In 2003, Polanski’s defenders noted that his film contained elements of his own traumatic childhood as a Jew in Nazi-occupied Poland. Polanski was imprisoned at Auschwitz and his mother died there. Stories about Polanski invariably also mention that in 1969 his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was brutally murdered by the Charles Manson cult.

Yes, very bad things have happened to Roman Polanski in his life. Apparently, he has always viewed the rape incident more as something bad that happened to him than as something bad he did. In defending himself against the charges, Polanski often claimed that his 13-year-old victim was a "Lolita" who "knew all about sex and drugs." After he fled he told a BBC reporter, "I've been tortured by this for a year and that's enough."

Like Kass, I have no sympathy for Polanski and feel nothing but contempt for those who defend him.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Maxwell Street T-Shirt And Poster Available Online.

I have, for a long time, been active in the movement to preserve the heritage of the Maxwell Street neighborhood, the home of the world-famous Maxwell Street Market, and the birthplace of the Chicago Blues. To that end, I have been involved with the Maxwell Street Foundation, a small, grassroots group dedicated to that mission.

To find out more about Maxwell Street, and order our cool, new t-shirt and poster, click here. Proceeds from sales help support our preservation and education mission.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Kentucky Should Protect Its Signature Industries.

Congressman Ben Chandler (Kentucky's 6th District) had an excellent guest commentary in yesterday's Lexington Herald-Leader about protecting Kentucky's signature bourbon and horse industries.

If the name sounds familiar, Ben is the grandson of Happy Chandler, who was Governor of Kentucky, a U.S. Senator, and the Commissioner of Baseball (1945-1951).

More Maker's Anyone?


Here is another angle to the issue of Maker's Mark not making any enthusiast expressions. If that was "The Maker's Mark Dilemma," call this "The Torch of Stitzel-Weller."

Arguably, the Maker's Mark Distillery is the natural successor to the legendary Stitzel-Weller Distillery, which distilled its final batch in 1992. Why? For several reasons.

First is the "Pappy gave Bill Sr. the Stitzel-Weller recipe" story, which came to me many years ago from a guy who worked for Stitzel-Weller when Pappy was still alive and the Van Winkle family still owned the distillery. It apparently was common knowledge among insiders at the time. I've talked to Bill Jr. about it and he more-or-less confirms it, saying his father sought and received input from many of his friends in the industry. He mentioned, for example, that Pappy told Bill Sr. that you can't cook a wheated mash under pressure.

The second reason is the Maker's Mark stills. They were made by Vendome, which also made the Stitzel-Weller still, and the specifications are the same, according to former Maker's Mark Master Distiller Dave Pickerell. The stills have some unique characteristics in common which Dave can explain much better than I can.

Third, Joe Beam and his sons worked at Stitzel-Weller at various times and Will McGill, the longtime Master Distiller at Stitzel-Weller, was Joe Beam's brother-in-law. One of the sons, Elmo Beam, who had worked for his Uncle Will at Stitzel-Weller, was the first Master Distiller at Maker's Mark.

Fourth, some percentage of Maker's Mark whiskey is aged in the warehouses at Stitzel-Weller, where Maker's Mark has been renting space from Diageo for a decade or more.

So the premise is that since Maker's Mark is the natural successor to Stitzel-Weller, it should take the torch and try to reach some of the exalted heights of excellence that Stitzel-Weller did with some of its higher proof and longer aged expressions, such as Very Very Old Fitzgerald (12-years-old, 100 proof), which some consider to be the best bourbon of all time.

It is probably impossible to exactly duplicate the whiskey made at one place someplace else. There are just too many variables. Is the Jim Beam White Label made at Booker Noe exactly the same as the Jim Beam White Label made at Clermont?

Still, if Maker's has the best possibility of duplicating what Stitzel-Weller did, shouldn't they try? On the contrary, Maker's Mark follows practices that would inevitably make their whiskey less like Stitzel-Weller rather than more, because they are aiming for a consistent product in the 5- to 6-year old age range to be sold at 90 proof.

According to press releases issued at the time, Julian Van Winkle has since joining Buffalo Trace provided guidance to help BT's wheated juice more closely resemble Stitzel-Weller whiskey, but of course the distillery itself is very different.

Has he succeeded? The proof, I think, is in the excellence of the Van Winkle bottlings, where I no longer care if, in fact, there is any Stitzel-Weller whiskey in there or not, or where the whiskey was made (Bernheim? Buffalo Trace?) because the quality is there (e.g., Lot B).

But the question persists about Stitzel-Weller because real Stitzel-Weller whiskey is becoming so scarce.

The actual successor to Stitzel-Weller, arguably, is Heaven Hill's Bernheim Production Facility, which was designed by the owner of both plants to be the successor, and which was set-up by Ed Foote, the last Master Distiller at Stitzel-Weller.

Although Buffalo Trace produced a little bit of wheated bourbon prior to acquiring the W.L. Weller brand in 1999, it didn't produce enough to fully support the brand and even today a lot of the Weller on shelves is Bernheim whiskey. So is some of the Van Winkle. Of course, all of the Old Fitzgerald on shelves today, except for the odd Stitzel-Weller dusty, is from Bernheim, which Heaven Hill acquired along with the Old Fitzgerald brand.

Dave Pickerell was also deeply involved in the design of Bernheim and probably no one alive knows more about all three facilities.

Finally, I tasted some of the Jefferson's Presidential Select yesterday at Binny's and I agree with what some others have said. It's definitely Stitzel-Weller whiskey and is very good, although it's not the best Stitzel-Weller whiskey I've had by a long shot. It reminds me of that Everett's bottling of Weller 12-year-old from a few years ago, that contained 16- and 14-year-old Stitzel-Weller whiskey. But that was $20 a bottle. This is $90.

For the money, I prefer two bottles of Van Winkle Family Reserve Lot B.

Friday, October 9, 2009

"Double Wood" Experimentals in Stores Soon.

Back in August I told you about the latest experimental bourbons from Buffalo Trace, the two "double woods." Today, Buffalo Trace announced that they will be released at the end of this month and retail for approximately $46.35 each. These bottlings are very rare and limited. They are packaged in 375ml bottles and each label includes all of the pertinent information unique to that barrel of whiskey.

Buffalo Trace says they have more than 1,500 experimental barrels of whiskey aging in their warehouses. Each of the barrels has unique characteristics that make it different from all others. Some examples of these experiments include unique mash bills, types of wood and barrel toasts. In order to further increase the scope, flexibility and range of the experimental program, an entire micro distillery, complete with cookers, fermenting tanks and a state-of-the-art micro still has been constructed within the Buffalo Trace Distillery.

For more information on the Experimental Collection or the other products of Buffalo Trace Distillery, you can contact Kris Comstock at kcomstock@buffalotrace.com.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tourism Groups Unite To Promote Kentucky Bourbon Experience.

Team Bourbon, an unprecedented coalition of eleven tourism groups, was unveiled today at events in Lexington and Clermont. Their mission is to showcase Kentucky’s signature bourbon industry and the communities that celebrate its spirit.

At today's events, the new group also announced its new campaign to market the bourbon lifestyle and its unique place in the Commonwealth’s history and hospitality, said Eric Gregory, President of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. Its theme: "Kentucky Bourbon – where the spirit leads you."

"Pour some Kentucky bourbon and you’ll taste more than the world’s finest whiskey. You’ll sample the flavors of Kentucky," he said. “There’s an experience and an adventure for everyone, from history to horses, arts and fine cuisine, nightlife, wildlife, sports and much more.”

The announcement was timed to coincide with this weekend’s inaugural Bourbon Chase overnight relay race. More than 2,000 runners will compete along the legendary Kentucky Bourbon Trail from Friday morning through Saturday night.

Gregory pointed to the relay race, which sold out months in advance, as an example of the skyrocketing bourbon tourism industry that’s drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world.

“That’s why Team Bourbon was created,” he said. “Kentucky is the only place on earth where you can enjoy the true bourbon experience. Once you get here, there are so many exciting places to visit and things to do. So we all decided to join forces and share our spirit.”

Team Bourbon is made up of the tourism commissions of Anderson County, Bardstown-Nelson County, Frankfort, Lebanon, Lexington, Louisville, Shepherdsville-Bullitt County, and Woodford County, as well as the Kentucky Department of Travel, Kentucky Bourbon Festival, and Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

The group’s web site – kybourbonspirit.com – contains information and links on places to visit in each community along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. A lot of it is still a work-in-progress, but there is a nifty, Bourbon Trail-specific driving distances chart. There is also a terrific, one-minute video that perfectly communicates what they mean by "the bourbon lifestyle."

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Maker's Mark Dilemma.

On a recent webcast he hosted, Malt Advocate Publisher and Editor John Hansell tasted three different Laphroaig whiskeys and Maker's Mark, the one and only. "I kept thinking this past week how nice it would be to have more than one Maker’s Mark expression to choose from–especially given that there are so few wheated bourbons on the market," he wrote today on his blog.

Kevin Smith, Maker's Master Distiller, was also on the webcast. Smith demurred that "they are having enough trouble just making enough of the standard Maker’s to put out anything else." (Laphroaig and Maker's are Beam Global products and the webcast was the latest in a long series of bourbon-versus-scotch events staged to promote Beam products.)

The more nuanced position Maker's has expressed in the past is that offering different expressions would suggest that Maker's Mark is not already the best bourbon they can make, since if the additional expressions are not better than the standard, why bother to make them? Yet no one can deny that Maker's gets less coverage because of its lack of news. That's the Maker's Mark Dilemma.

Both sides have a point. To whiskey enthusiasts, it's not about 'best,' it's all about 'different.' I have had the experience of roaming through a whiskey warehouse, tasting the 'same' whiskey from different barrels. Inevitably, some tasted better than others, but the pleasure was in the multiple, different sensory experiences. In the real world, you do that by sampling different products of the same type which are, ideally, all as good as their makers can make them.

But that's whiskey enthusiasts. Not all whiskey drinkers are true enthusiasts. Many whiskey drinkers settle on a product they prefer and, in many cases, believe is 'the best.' Every producer tries to reinforce that choice. The Maker's brand personality, carefully cultivated since the brand was created in the 1950s, supports a belief that it is not just a very good bourbon but is, in fact, the ideal bourbon. As such, Maker's appeals to a consumer who seeks 'the best' in everything. Maker's has been very successful with that positioning and is loath to disturb it.

With Laphroaig and other single malts, the main variation is aging. According to the Laphroaig web site, they sell it at 10, 15, 18, 25, 27, 30 and 40 years-old. Is the 40-year-old the best? If price is any indication, yes.

Some American whiskey makers offer their product at different ages, but Maker's does not. When Maker's lets people taste its whiskey at an advanced age, say 10-years-old, as they have at whiskey festivals, their purpose is to show how bad it is, how you wouldn't want that, and why Maker's would never sell it.

A solution that would satisfy both camps might be single-barrel bottlings. Keep all of the offerings within the Maker's standard profile, but look for individual barrels that are both outstanding and clearly different from each other. Everybody understands barrel variation and even though Maker's tries to diminish it in the standard version, letting consumers taste what Maker's makers inevitably get to taste in the course of achieving the ideal would be consistent with the brand's personality and promise.

Production planning isn't the only crystal ball gazing whiskey makers have to do. They also have to predict future differences in consumer tastes and attitudes. Maker's Mark is a fine bourbon and most whiskey enthusiasts give it due respect, even though the brand doesn't give them the variety of experience they seek. Single-barrel bottlings might be a way for Maker's to have it both ways.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Carnivore Carnival 2009

A friend of mine in Houston has a party about this time every year called Carnivore Carnival. Here is what typically is on the board.

Two 40-pound hogs
200 hand made chicken/pork/beef enchilladas with homemade sauces
Smoked leg of lamb
Red Deer tenderloins (grilled)
Pasta salad
Smoked chickens
Smoked rib eye roasts

Beer, wine, whiskey

How did pasta salad get in there?

Celebrate White Dog Days at Buffalo Trace.

You are invited to celebrate “White Dog Days” at Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, Kentucky, October 15-17.

White Dog Days is a new annual event (last year was the first) at the Frankfort home of such iconic bourbons as Blanton's, Eagle Rare, W.L. Weller, Van Winkle, Ancient Age, and Old Charter, as well as Sazerac Rye.

Last week I wrote about how Buffalo Trace keeps coming up with new ways to entertain and entice fans of American whiskey. Here is another example, although this one is directed at their Frankfort neighbors as much as it is at whiskey enthusiasts.

White Dog Days celebrates the Trace’s first white dog of the fall distilling season. By Federal law there are two whiskey distilling seasons. January through June is spring, June through December is fall. Most distilleries take some kind of break in the summer and resume distilling according to their own production planning needs. For Buffalo Trace, the fall season begins the second week of October.

This will be the 236th distilling season at the plant now known as Buffalo Trace.

For more information, direct from the source, go here.

The main public event is Saturday, October 17, from noon to 6:00 PM on the distillery grounds. There will be live music, distillery tours, barrel rolling exhibitions and competitions, a corn hole tournament, and other activities. Admission is free. Food and beverages will be available for purchase. You are encouraged to bring your own chairs or blankets.

'White dog' is a colloquial term for spirit right off the still. The barreling of the season's first white dog is analogus to many familiar autumn harvest traditions.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Another Age Statement Falls.

Weller Antique is the latest American straight whiskey to take the age statement off its label and, as usual, the producer (in this case, Buffalo Trace) says the product isn't really changing. An age statement is, after all, just a number. What matters is how the whiskey tastes.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with one of my college deans several years after I graduated. He was a crusty sort anyway and we had butted heads more than once. Now he was talking to me more like a peer and bitching about alums who can't stand to see anything on campus change, anything. I think we're like that about whiskeys sometimes.

And who wouldn't be? Even the young people here know how a generation ago there were so many more distilleries. This is, in many ways, a golden age, but the paucity of different producers is a problem. That's why we hate to lose anything: an age statement, some proof points, anything. Buffalo Trace has done more than any other producer to try create as much variety as possible with the resources they have, but it's no substitute.

Which brings me back to the story about the dean. Are age statements really that important? Or do we just hate change?

Bourbon and Country Ham.

Of course they are perfect together. You can't believe you had to be told, but you did. It was Woodford Reserve Resident Chef Ouita Michel who enlightened you. Pairing food with American whiskey is tricky because the whiskey is so flavorful, it's hard to find foods that can stand up to it. Barbeque with a young rye or rye-recipe bourbon has always seemed the perfect pairing, but Ouita serves a fine, Kentucky country ham that could stand with any jamón serrano and it ideally complements the softer and more elegant bourbon made by her employer.

Goat cheese, fresh or aged, also very nice.

As Kentucky vies to be the Napa Valley of American whiskey, sophisticated locavore cuisine is a natural development. There was nothing like Ouita's food, or the food at Proof on Main, Limestone, or Corbett's, (all in Louisville) when I lived there 20 years ago. Now that's pretty much what fine dining means.

If you have trouble finding good country ham in the big city, Meachams, in Western Kentucky, is a good mail order source. With "ham" in their name, how could they not be?