Interpreting Obama ruling on Cuban rum, cigars

An action announced by the Obama administration last Friday apparently has created confusion in some circles.

While the White House announced the elimination of the $100 limit on the value of Cuban rum and cigars American travelers can bring back from the island, some news outlets have misreported that as meaning retail sales of those two items also were affected.

The change does not mean that Cuban rum and cigars will be available for sale in the U.S.

In actuality, Cuban rum and cigars now are subject to the same duties as alcohol and tobacco from other countries. That means most travelers will be able to bring back as many as 100 cigars and several bottles of rum. High-end Cuban cigars can sell for more than $100 apiece outside the island nation, so every U.S. traveler now may legally bring back many thousands of dollars of Cuban products.

More than 160,000 American travelers visited Cuba last year, a figure sure to increase because of the U.S. lifting most travel restrictions between the U.S. and the Communist dictatorship

This is the opposite of college-era cheap tequila

When I hear people say negative things about tequila, usually citing a bad experience in college or some such period, I cringe. As I usually point out, that probably was because they had been binging rather than drinking, and at that age probably didn't have enough money or common sense to buy anything other than rotgut.

On the whole, tequila is an exquisite spirit, the manufacture of which is tightly controlled, rigorously graded and categorized. It does not have a worm in the bottle -- that has been an occasional gimmick with mezcal, tequila's poor cousin. It is not necessarily inexpensive, with prices of decent stuff ranging from reasonable to very expensive, just as is the case with whiskies and rums.

That said -- and I don't mind paying a premium price for a premium spirit, I find a new release from Casa Noble, a boutique small-production brand with nearly three centuries of history, way overboard. While its portfolio of super premium tequilas is a regular award winner with expressions priced at around $50 a bottle, its new limited-production Alta Belleza carries a retail price of $1,200 a bottle.

Alta Belleza is the first creation in Casa Noble’s new Colección del Fundador, planned as an ongoing series of rare, limited-release, collectible tequilas. It will be available beginning next month at high-end shops in select markets such as New York, Boston, Washington DC, and elsewhere.

Casa Noble says the extra añejo tequila is slowly aged in new French white oak barrels, then finished for six months in Tonnellerie Taransaud French oak barrels previously used to age Robert Mondavi’s prestigious To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon.

Only 563 bottles were produced, so the most Casa Noble will make from it is $675,600, but it probably will reap at least that amount in free publicity. Such as this posting.


'Whisky Bible' names Booker's Rye No. 1

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-2-42-31-pmThe continually increasing popularity of American whiskies on the world market certainly won't be harmed by the release of authority Jim Murray's iconic "Whisky Bible 2017" edition.

It names Booker’s Rye, a 13-year-old, $300-a-bottle spirit from Kentucky, the world's best whisk(e)y. The last time an American spirit was ranked on top was in 2013 when Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye was rated No. 1.

Murray's pronouncement on the Booker's Rye called it “simply a staggering example of a magnificent rye showing exactly what genius in terms of whiskey actually means.”

It should be noted that, while the Booker's brand originated in the U.S. and still is made here, it is owned by Beam Suntory, the Japanese spirits conglomerate that a number of years ago purchased Booker's parent company, Jim Beam Brands. It is not the first "Whiskey Bible" honor for Suntory. In 2015, its Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask was named No. 1.

Booker’s Rye has a huge alcohol content, bottled at 68.1% alcohol by volume (abv), or 136.2 proof. Murray describes the taste as “well-balanced notes of wood and oak from the longer aging process. This uncut rye has a spicy, robust flavor, but it is not overpowering.”


Distiller takes bourbon to a different place

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-1-03-45-pm The ongoing expansion of distilleries across the country has become a catalyst for some imaginative products.

From aging in different types of wood to flavoring additives, the variables are extensive. But, when it comes right down to it, perhaps the most telling part of the creation process is what goes into the grain mash from which all else emerges.

The Corsair distillery in Nashville, TN, is an eye-catcher. Founders/owners Darek Bell and Andrew Webber, who have grown from homemade brewers and distillers and also operate a fulltime brewery, have created a very wide range of products, some of them in regular production, others seasonally or on an experimental basis.

One of particular interest is a pot still-distilled bourbon they call Corsair Grainiac. The product, bottled at 47% abv (94 proof), carries no age statement. Instead of the somewhat standard mash bill composed of corn, rye, wheat and barley, they have added five other grains -- oats, quinoa, spelt, triticale, and buckwheat.

Corn still dominates because, by federal law, bourbon must be made from a mash containing at least 51% corn, but the additional unusual grains were specifically chosen to differentiate this spirit from competitors' products. The partners say they added the grains to achieve more flavor complexity. "The oats and buckwheat add more mouth feel, while the quinoa, spelt and triticale add a nutty and earthy component to the taste."

You can get a look at the entire portfolio on the Corsair website.


Patrón test launching sherry-aged tequila

If you are among the many travelers who like to see what new alcoholic products are available in airport duty free shops, here's one to be on the lookout for.

Patrón Spirits' Cask Collection Sherry Añejo Tequila will be test launched in such venues early in 2017 before a wider international market rollout.

The 40% abv (80 proof) spirit will carry a suggested retail price of $90. It was unveiled this week at the Tax Free World Association (TFWA) exhibition in Cannes, France.

So, what's different about it? Initially, its limited availability. Only 8,000 bottles of the añejo spirit will be available during the test launch in the category known in the trade as GTR, for Global Travel Retail. It has been aged for two years in used Olorosso Sherry oak barrels from Spain.

Rare bottle of Scotch goes for $86K

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-2-10-47-pmTake a look at the accompanying image of an old bottle of Glenfiddich scotch whisky. Chances are it will be the only time you'll see it.

That bottle, from The Glenfiddich Collection 1937, sold this week for an auction record price of $86,634 at Bonhams’ Whisky Sale in Edinburgh, Scotland, nearly double the pre-sale estimate. It is the highest ever paid at auction for a bottle of Glenfiddich and a Scottish auction house record for the sale of a single malt.

The whisky, bought by an unidentified bidder from the Far East, was laid down in Cask No. 843 at The Glenfiddich Distillery in 1937, the year of King George VI’s coronation, and bottled 64 years later in 2001. Experts say it is very unusual for a single malt Scotch whisky of its age to have kept its strength, which is what makes the 60 bottles from Cask No. 843 so special.

It is the oldest and rarest bottling ever undertaken at the distillery.


Update: Jose Cuervo delays stock plan

Cuervo CEO Beckmann (Bill Dowd photo)
UPDATE (10/6/16): Jose Cuervo, the world's biggest tequila producer, has delayed its planned initial public offering (IPO), according to anonymous sources quoited by the Reuters news service, and will wait until after the U.S. presidential election before going ahead. They cited stock market volatility leading up to the election.

(Originally published 9/28/16)

Fans of Jose Cuervo soon may be able to pick up more than a bottle of the iconic tequila. The Mexican alcoholic beverage maker on Tuesday filed a prospectus to conduct its long-expected initial public offering (IPO) of stock after centuries of tight control of its business.

Although the IPO announcement contained scant details, industry analysts have suggested the company, one of the oldest family-owned businesses in the Western Hemisphere, could be seeking to raise between $750 million and $1 billion.

The idea of selling shares in the company is an obvious move to avoid any sort of takeover by another company. There have been such attempts from time to time. One of the most serious was back in 2011, when spirits giant Diageo made such a push. That multinational owns such brands as Johnnie Walker, Guinness, Tanqueray, Smirnoff, Captain Morgan, J&B, Bulleitt and Ketel One.

Cuervo, which officially goes by the name Becle, said it had 2015 sales of nearly $1.02 billion, up from abut $778 million in 2014. In just the first six months of this year, the company said, it has had revenues of more than $625 million. The company said the U.S. and Canada account for about two-thirds of its sales, while Mexico generates just over a fifth of revenue.

It was founded by Jose Antonio de Cuervo in the late 1700s, when Mexico still was controlled by Spain, in the town of Tequila in Jalisco state. It is run by the Beckmann family, who married into the Cuervo family a century ago.

Back in late 2008, I was a guest of Juan-Domingo Beckmann shortly before he succeeded his father as CEO of the company, enjoying a tasting deep in the cellars of Cuervo's LaRojeña distillery in Jalisco. You can access that story and photos here.


Craft distillers nearing OK for fed tax breaks

legislation-smallSometimes changes in governmental regulation spur expansion. The boom in craft distilling, winemaking, and brewing, fueled by removal of many old legal restrictions in New York and elsewhere, shows that. However, sometimes the expansion itself spurs more legislation.

Take the case of a current effort to persuade Congress to pass legislation modernizing a section of the federal tax codes so craft distillers would get the same tax breaks long enjoyed by craft brewers and craft winemakers. It is being spearheaded by an organization called the American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA), the non-profit trade association that is increasingly influential despite being only several years old.

A report from the ACSA released Monday says,"With the addition of U.S. senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, S. 1562, now has a clear majority of senators in support of the legislation with 51 co-sponsors [which is a majority of the Senate]. The groundswell of support in the Senate is echoed by growing support in the House of Representatives, where the number of supporters behind H.R. 2903, the companion to the Senate bill, has now reached 284 co-sponsors [also a majority]."

When the legislation is passed, which appears inevitable, it will go to the White House for the president's signature. If it clears that hurdle, craft spirit distillers will be provided parity by paying a reduced Federal Excise Tax such as craft brewers and craft vintners have long had.

What a change will mean for consumers, however, will depend on the individual distilleries. While some may freeze or reduce prizes on some products as a result of having to pay less tax, others will invest in their facilities or simply pocket the difference.

Says the ACSA, "Taxes on distilled spirits are among the nation’s highest, comprising 54% of the typical spirits product’s purchase price. Craft spirits producers remain disadvantaged compared to our nation’s craft brewers and small wineries who receive a significant reduction in their FET rate. In fact, a craft spirits producer pays 5.4 times more FET than a craft brewer, and 16.4 times more FET than a small winery, for equal quantities of beverage alcohol."

Membership in ACSA is open to anyone, although voting members must be independent licensed distillers who meet several criteria, including having more than a 75% equity stake and/or operational control of a distillery producing fewer than 750,000 proof gallons annually.


One more reason to miss Grand Central Terminal

Donatella Arpaia
I really miss the days when Amtrak ran trains from my Upstate neck of the woods at Albany/Rensselaer down to New York City's iconic Grand Central Terminal.

Besides simply liking trains since I was a kid, I looked forward to arriving there to get yet another look at the magnificent architecture and glamorous hustle-bustle. And, perhaps a bite to eat and something to drink at a quintessentially Manhattan spot.

But, since these days we have to suffer through the soul-sucking sheer ugliness of Penn Station, we're down one on the Small Pleasures List. And now, there's another reason to be jealous of those train riders who still get to use Grand Central: they can have wine-to-go in adult sippy cups.

Well-known restaurateur Donatella Arpaia, who shuttered her restaurant Prova in the Chelsea neighborhood last year, has just opened Prova Pizzabar on the terminal's lower level, offering full-service dining as well as takeout and a full liquor license. Customers can get their pizzas or slices to go with wine, or cocktails, packaged and prepared for commuters.

“We have really cool adult wine sippy cups. We’re really excited about it,” Arpaia said in a New York Post interview. “This is my first foray into upscale quick service. Our pizza chef hasn’t slept in weeks.”

Of course, eat-in or take-out service is not limited to train riders. As is the case with such other eateries in Grand Central as the Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant and Michael Jordan's The Steak House, Prova Pizzabar is open to the general public seven days a week, with 45 seats in the 1,500-square-foot space plus seven seats at the bar. (For the uninitiated, Grand Central is located at 89 East 42nd Street in Manhattan.)


Elijah Craig packaging gets a facelift

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-3-35-36-pmElijah Craig is a historic figure, but even an icon can undergo a freshening up once in a while. So, Heaven Hill Distillery, the maker of Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon, has just announced a major packaging redesign of its flagship spirit.

“At a time when the demand for bourbon is at record levels, we are renewing our commitment to crafting Elijah Craig Small Batch so we can have it more available for the market, rather than on allocation, inaccessibly priced or simply out of stock,” says Max L. Shapira, president of Heaven Hill Distillery.

Elijah Craig Small Batch is made from batches of 200 barrels or less of 8-year-old to 12-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon, with a large percent from the older barrels. While the packaging is new, its mashbill, proprietary yeast, proof, and aging regimen remain the same.

The newly designed bottle is taller and has cleaner lines. Using a custom-designed mold, 1789, the year the Rev. Elijah Craig founded his distillery, is embossed on the glass. In addition, the brand name and Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey directly decorate the bottle. A small textured paper label on the bottom of the bottle’s front includes Craig’s signature, as well as product information. Crowning the bottle is a cork closure stained dark brown.

“We are confident that through our stringent barrel selection process we will maintain the desired taste profile and quality that have made Elijah Craig Small Batch one of the most critically acclaimed Bourbons in the world,” says co-master distiller Denny Potter. “We can do this because barrels, no matter their age, mature at different rates that depend on their location in our natural open rick warehouses. We choose only those barrels that meet our exacting standards for complexity. They are the cream of the crop that annually account for about one-half of one percent of all of our aging stocks.”

Craig's place in American distilling history is mixed. Although many things are known about him -- her was a prominent Baptist preacher, paper mill owner, rope factory owner, founder of Georgetown, KY, school founder, etc.) when it comes to bourbon the opinions are mixed.

A few whiskey historians credit him with being the first to popularize Kentucky corn whiskey aged in charred oak barrels and calling it bourbon. Most, however, say that is apocryphal, and that such a practice was commonplace in the area in which he lived.


In retirement, distiller creating a new winner

Screen shot 2016-09-29 at 3.45.18 PMFrom the mansion to the boondocks. An interesting path for Dave Scheurich, who retired as the master distiller of Woodford Reserve bourbon in 2011 after a 17-year tenure in that position. He now is seeking to put a fledgling brand on the same radar as Woodford -- and doing it for a wine company.

His post-retirement days are spent on a project known as Boondocks American Whiskey, owned by the Royal Wine Corp. of Bayonne, NJ. The family-owned company owns more than 60 wine brands and also is an importer and distributors of spirits.

Scheurich has been overseeing the creation of two different expressions of Boondocks, bottled at 95 and 127 proof, with plans to create a “limited edition” variant in the next few months.

The current expressions are made from a mash of corn, rye and malt, and aged in American white oak barrels in Kentucky. Suggested retail prices: $39.99 for the 95 proof, $59.99 for the 127.

The "lighter" whiskey is doing especially well this year, earning a Gold Medal/91 points in the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition and "Best of Category" in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge.

“Boondocks is an exciting project to be a part of,” Scheurich said in a prepared statement. “With the development of this brand, we wanted to bring a superior product with exceptional taste to the market, but most importantly we wanted a whiskey that delivered an ultra smooth finish -- something easy to enjoy.”

By the way, why the name Boondocks?

"It is said that “out in the boondocks, life is a little simpler. Time-honored traditions are taken seriously. One takes time so that things are done right. And when it comes to whiskey, the results are shown in every bottle.”


World Wine & Spirits: The wine winners

The results have just been released for the 2016 New York World Wine & Spirits Competition. For ease of reading, given the large number of categories, I have split the spirits and wines into two separate postings.

Here are the "Best of" awards in the wines categories, plus Best in Show when indicated (go here for the spirits winners):

Best Pinot Noir -- Babich 2015 Pinot Noir, Babich Wines Ltd.

Best Sauvignon Blanc -- Babich 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Babich Wines Ltd

Best in Show White --  Barton & Guestier 2015 Chemin Blanc, Barton & Guestier Patriarche USA

Best in Show Sparkling Wine -- Celler Barcelona NV Brut, Cordelina Wine Co.

Best Cabernet Sauvignon -- Louis M. Martini 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, E&J Gallo

Best Merlot -- Columbia Winery 2014 Merlot, E&J Gallo

Best Chardonnay -- J Vineyards 2014 Chardonnay, E&J Gallo

Best White Blend -- Easy Drinker 2015 Colombard Sauvignon Blanc, Les Domaines Grassa SAS

Best Vermouth -- Odd Society NV Barrel Aged Bittersweet Vermouth, Odd Society Spirits

Best in Show Red -- Santa Sofia 2011 Amaronedella Valipolicella Classico, Santa Sofia

Best Bordeaux Blend -- V. Sattui Winery 2013 Bordeaux Blend Paradiso, V. Sattui Winery

Best Non-Bordeaux Blend -- V. Sattui Winery 2014 Red Blend Entanglement, V. Sattui Winery

Best Zinfandel -- V. Sattui Winery 2014 Ancient Vine Zinfandel Quagha Vineyard, V. Sattui Winery

Best Shirza -- Taylor Wines 2015 Shiraz Promised Land, Wakefield/Taylors Wines

World Wine & Spirits: The spirits winners

The results have just been released for the 2016 New York World Wine & Spirits Competition. For ease of reading, given the large number of categories, I have split the spirits and wines into two separate postings.

The "Best of" awards in the spirits categories, plus Best in Show when indicated (go here for the top wine winners):

Best Blended Scotch -- Alexander Murray & Company, Kirkland 24 Yr. Old.

Best Single Malt Scotch -- Cask Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky, A.D. Rattray Ltd.

Best American Craft Whiskey -- Cedar Ridge Distillery Single Malt Whiskey

Best Gin and Best in Show Unaged White) -- Conniption Navy Strength Gin, Durham Distillery

Best Extra Aged Rum, Best Rum, Best in Show Aged White -- Ron Cartavio XO Rum, Ekeko Distribution

Best Reposado Tequila -- Familia Camarena Reposado Tequila, E&J Gallo

Best Vodka -- New Amsterdam Vodka, E&J Gallo

Best Small Batch Bourbon, Best Bourbon -- J. Henry & Sons Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Patton Road Reserve

Best in Show Liqueur -- Island Products Crème de Cacao, Island Products

Best Straight Bourbon -- Joseph Magnus Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Jos. A. Magnus & Co.

Best in Show Unaged White -- Long Road Aquavit, Long Road Distillers

Best Rye Whiskey --  OYO Dark Rye Pumpernickle Whiskey, Middle West Spirits

Best Other Single Malt Whiskey, Best in Show Whiskey -- Moylan’s Cask Strength Port Barrel Finish Single Malt Whiskey, Moylan’s Distilling Co.

Best Cachaca -- Cachaca Goga de Ema, SKL Medeiros Ferreirra

Best Blanco Tequila, Best in Show Tequila -- Santera Blanco Tequila, Santera Tequila

Best Dark/Gold Rum -- Acote 3 yr. Old Rum, The Sugarcane Co.

Best Flavored Gin -- Tommyrotter Distillery Cask Strength Bourbon Barrel Gin, Tommyrotter Distilling

Best Cream Liqueur -- St. Michel Caramel Cream au Cognac Liqueur, Vallein Tercinier

Craft distillers not only ones with shiny new stuff

An upgrade project at Grant distillery.

Some beverage journalists may seem to be specializing in reporting on the craft distilling movement, but the little guys aren't the only one installing new equipment as the global demand for hard spirits continues to rise.

As proof, I offer the accompanying photo showing the new sections stacked in front of some of the equipment they'll be replacing at William Grant & Sons, the 129-year-old Scottish distillery operated by the fifth generation of the family. Talk about matters of scale!

If you don't know the Grant company name, you'll undoubtedly recognize some of its non-Grants brands -- Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Hendrick's Gin, Tullamore Dew, The Famous Grouse, The Macallan, Highland Park ...

Jose Cuervo loosens up with stock sales plan

Cuervo CEO Beckmann (Bill Dowd photo)
Fans of Jose Cuervo soon may be able to pick up more than a bottle of the iconic tequila. The Mexican alcoholic beverage maker on Tuesday filed a prospectus to conduct its long-expected initial public offering (IPO) of stock after centuries of tight control of its business.

Although the IPO announcement contained scant details, industry analysts have suggested the company, one of the oldest family-owned businesses in the Western Hemisphere, could be seeking to raise between $750 million and $1 billion.

The idea of selling shares in the company is an obvious move to avoid any sort of takeover by another company. There have been such attempts from time to time. One of the most serious was back in 2011, when spirits giant Diageo made such a push. That multinational owns such brands as Johnnie Walker, Guinness, Tanqueray, Smirnoff, Captain Morgan, J&B, Bulleitt and Ketel One.

Cuervo, which officially goes by the name Becle, said it had 2015 sales of nearly $1.02 billion, up from abut $778 million in 2014. In just the first six months of this year, the company said, it has had revenues of more than $625 million. The company said the U.S. and Canada account for about two-thirds of its sales, while Mexico generates just over a fifth of revenue.

It was founded by Jose Antonio de Cuervo in the late 1700s, when Mexico still was controlled by Spain, in the town of Tequila in Jalisco state. It is run by the Beckmann family, who married into the Cuervo family a century ago.

Back in late 2008, I was a guest of Juan-Domingo Beckmann shortly before he succeeded his father as CEO of the company, enjoying a tasting deep in the cellars of Cuervo's LaRojeña distillery in Jalisco. You can access that story and photos here.


Harvest Fair to showcase local potato vodka

If you're planning to attend the 2nd annual Harvest Fair at Heather Ridge Farm next month, be sure to keep a sharp eye out for the tasting stand for the new Barber's Farm Distillery. That's where you'll be able to sample the Schoharie Valley distiller's new 1857 Potato Vodka.

The year refers to the founding of Barber's Farm, located on Route 30 in Middleburgh, now operated by the sixth generation of a family that has expanded what began as a small homestead farm into a farm market with four satellite truck markets.

While there are numerous craft distilleries throughout the state, Barber's Farm is one of the few making naturally gluten-free vodka from its own potatoes, grown in the valley's rich alluvial bottom land, combined with water from the spring on the property.

The Harvest Fair will be held held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, October 22, at Heather Ridge, located at 989 Broome Center Road in the Rensselaerville hamlet of Preston Hollow. Admission is free.

It will offer local farmers, artisans, musicians, and craftspeople. Hudson Talbott, an author of children's books, will be on hand to autograph his works. Wes Laraway and The Birds of Prey of the New York Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, which has been featured on the National Geographic cable TV channel, will have birds on display. In addition, the farm's Bees Knees Café will be serving food.

Gearing up for the mezcal wars

 From Bloomberg
A Mexican liquor is beginning to win over the hearts of U.S. consumers, and it’s not tequila.

Pernod Ricard SA, the world’s second-largest distiller, is creating a brand to join rival Diageo Plc in the growing market for mezcal, a premium agave-based spirit. The brand, which will hit U.S. shelves in the first half of 2017, is the latest investment in the category by a large beverage company. Sometimes called tequila’s cousin, mezcal is typically distilled by small producers from as many as 30 types of agave, a succulent plant native to Mexico and the southwestern U.S. ...

“Mezcal is something we’ve been looking at for a while,” Pernod Ricard CEO Alexandre Ricard said in an interview. “A team of young recruits at Pernod Ricard Mexico are working on building a small-village brand from scratch, and some of the value will be shared with the local community.”

Global sales of mezcal rose to a record $80 million last year, according to International Wine & Spirits Research. In the U.S., Pernod Ricard and Diageo have benefited from the rising popularity of tequila amid slower vodka sales. From 2010 to 2015, combined sales of tequila and mezcal rose 30% by volume in the U.S., more than any other alcohol category except cognac, according to data from Euromonitor International. By contrast, vodka sales increased 17%. Sprits makers are betting that mezcal will build on the popularity of artisanal products like super-premium tequila, craft beer and small-batch bourbon. ...

In February, London-based Diageo, the world’s largest distiller, signed a distribution agreement with Mezcal Union, a Mexico City brand that’s only five years old. The deal is meant to increase distribution in the U.S.
Go here for the full story.


Walker Red Rye an homage to U.S. whiskies

That Johnnie Walker is a colorful gent. There are the familiar labels for its Black, Red, Blue, Gold and so on. Now, the blended Scotch whisky giant has unveiled Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Red Rye Finish.

The new product is finished in used rye casks for about six months after first aging in first fill American white oak casks. The distiller says it took more than 50 experiments exploring 203 malt and grain whisky samples to come up with what it just put on sale. It was created using a blend of just four whiskies, including Cardhu single malt and a vanilla grain whisky from Port Dundas.

Master blender Jim Beveridge says the new whisky was "inspired by my own fascination with the bold flavors of American whiskies which first developed while I was working with bourbons and ryes in Louisville, KY, in the 1990s. When making blended Scotch whisky, we like to think ‘from the bar back,’ ensuring bartenders and people at home have the perfect liquids at hand to serve neat, on the rocks, or as the foundation of a flawless Scotch-based cocktail.”

He calls Red Rye Finish "smooth, sweet and deliberately light –- to my mind, the complex character of Scotch given an exciting twist inspired by the best traditional American whiskey flavors.”

Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Red Rye Finish is coming to market this month at a suggested retail price of $25.


Major change for Knob Creek 9-year-old

If you're a Knob Creek bourbon drinker, you may see something different about the label in the coming months. The lack of an age statement on the 9-year-old expression.

The noted spirits journalist Chuck Cowdery broke the news on Thursday that the change is in the works. He quoted Knob Creek's master distiller, Fred Noe, as saying, "We have good inventories, but with the growth we’re seeing we are going to take the age statement off so we can keep the taste profile the same."

The development is more than simply a labeling change. Knob Creek actually has an abundance of whiskies more than nine years old that Noe and his crew can mix with younger Knob bourbons with the aim of maintaining the current flavor.

The other Knob Creek whiskies are not affected by the change. The Single Barrel Reserve will continue to have an age statement, and the rye never has had one.

Who will decide -- before it goes to market where consumers ultimately will judge -- whether the flavor profile of the affected whiskey is correct? As Noe told Cowdery, "I will taste every batch. It won’t be Knob Creek unless I say it’s Knob Creek.”

We shall see.

For what it's worth, here are some 'bests'

I'm not a big fan of "best of" lists. Yes, I do post reports on some of them because, well, because a lot of readers seem to enjoy them and they are at least a yardstick of some sort if they are created by specialists in their field.

To my knowledge, the readers of USA Today are not particularly expert as a group on the topic of distilling. Despite that, the newspaper decided to poll them on the question of which distillery produces the "best" whiskey, rum, vodka, gin, tequila and specialty spirits in the U.S. (Note: The tequila companies could be headquartered in the U.S., but their spirits have to be made in certain regions of Mexico to qualify as tequila.)

The methodology for bestowing such an honor fell to USA Today's "10Best" staff. Yes, it actually has a staff devoted to coming up with "best of" lists in all sorts of categories. Why not? Such things draw eyeballs and keystrokes from a public well known for seeking out the latest fads.

In this instance, say the editors, "10Best set out on a mission to find the best craft and small-batch spirits producers -- family-owned distilleries, grain-to-glass operations or distillers using only the best local ingredients in their products.” They asked a lineup of spirits judges, bartenders, writers and others to nominate distilleries in categories -- then asked readers to pick their faves.

None of New York State's craft distillers finished first in any category, but several did make the top 10s:

Craft Whiskey

• 4th, Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery, Gardiner (Ulster County):  New York Corn Whiskey, Baby Bourbon Whiskey, Single Malt Whiskey, Four Grain Bourbon, Manhattan Rye Whiskey and Maple Cask Rye Whiskey

• 9th, Breuckelen Distilling, Brooklyn: New York wheat whiskey, New York rye-corn whiskey.

Specialty Spirits

• 4th, Black Button Distilling, Rochester: Bespoke Bourbon Cream, Fast Ferry Fernet and Apple Pie Moonshine. 


Empire Merchants hits deposed CEO with lawsuit

Screen shot 2016-09-21 at 6.11.57 PMFrom the Shanken News Daily
Exclusive: Empire Merchants, New York’s biggest spirits and wine distributor, has fired CEO Lloyd Sobel and filed suit against co-owner Charlie Merinoff, claiming in federal court that the two men -- and others, including Breakthru Beverage CEO Greg Baird -- defrauded the company through their involvement in an interstate smuggling scheme.

The Brooklyn-based Empire is co-owned by the Merinoff/Drucker family and the Magliocco family. According to the complaint Empire filed in U.S. District Court in New York earlier today, Charlie Merinoff took part in an illegal scheme to smuggle spirits products from Maryland to New York, where they were sold by local retailers. 

With excise taxes on liquor nearly five times higher in New York than Maryland, the complaint contends that Reliable Churchill, the Maryland division of the Charmer-Sunbelt Group that the Merinoff family controlled, and retailers in both New York and Maryland deprived New York of millions of dollars of tax revenue through this illicit activity, which supposedly started in 2008 and continued until recently.

Earlier this year, Republic National Distributing Co. (RNDC), the country’s second-largest spirits and wine distributor, was indicted in federal court in Maryland for what the U.S. attorney there alleges were similar activities. RNDC is frequently mentioned in Empire’s complaint, but not named as a defendant.

Go here for the full story.


CIA hosting HV craft beverage conference

Screen shot 2016-09-20 at 4.26.34 PMRegistration is now open for the 4th annual Hudson Valley Beer, Wine, Spirits & Cider Summit, scheduled for October 4 at the Culinary Institute of America.

The event, intended for those working in the industry, will feature a lineup of discussions related to the craft beverage industry’s current climate, and future opportunities in the Hudson Valley region. Of course, participants will be able to sample a variety of beers, wines, spirits and ciders.
Charles Merinoff, principal founder and co-chairman of Breakthru Beverage Group and a 35-year veteran of the beverage distribution industry, will be the keynote speaker. The conference will begin at noon at the CIA's Marriott Pavilion. Seating is limited and advance registration, available online, is required.

The CIA is located at 1946 Campus Drive, Hyde Park, NY, near Route 9.


Inside Jameson's secretive experimental lab

From Forbes.com
In a far-off corner of the Jameson whiskey facility in Midleton, Ireland, sits a long-dormant warehouse. It’s an old one -- the earliest evidence of the buildings’ existence can be found on a map from 1850 -- once used to store stacks of whiskey barrels three high. But lately, this warehouse has been the site of something else: A sort of innovation lab that the company calls its Micro-Distillery, where the staid whiskey brand experiments and creates new concoctions that may never see the light of day.

Here, distiller Karen Cotter (it should be noted; a woman in one of the world’s most male-dominated professions) plays around with different recipes and distillation techniques in the hopes of stumbling onto something great -- or at least different. Innovation comes slow to the spirit world. Aged spirits such as whiskey can take years to produce, and laws and regulations that strictly define what a “Scotch” or “bourbon” is leaves precious little wiggle room with which to try new things.

And, if a company has been around for a couple of hundred years, the chances are pretty good that their customers are looking forward to their familiarity, and buying into the idea that a bottle produced in 2016 tastes strikingly similar to one produced in 1916. These facts conspire to create a conundrum: How does a spirit brand innovate without alienating?
Go here for the full story.

Tullamore brings 2 more Irish whiskies to U.S.

Screen shot 2016-09-16 at 5.08.26 PMTullamore D.E.W., the second-largest selling Irish whiskey in the world, is making two more single malt expressions available to U.S. consumers.

Tullamore D.E.W. 14-Year -Old and Tullamore D.E.W. 18-Year-Old limited edition bottlings are being released this month at retail prices around $70 and $110, respectively. They join Tullamore's 10- and 12-year-olds that made the brand known to Americans.

The brand, owned by William Grant & Sons, triple distills and triple blends its whiskies from all three types of Irish spirits -- pot still, malt and grain. They also are finished in a mix of used American white oak bourbon, Spanish Oloroso sherry, port and Madeira casks.

“We have a treasure chest of outstanding aged single malt at Tullamore D.E.W.,” said John Quinn, Tullamore’s global brand ambassador, in a prepared statement. “While much of this gets used for our core triple-blended range, the opportunity to release a limited amount for the enjoyment of single malt enthusiasts was too exciting to pass up. The four cask finish adds a rich depth of flavor and perfect balance, while allowing the spirit’s true character to shine through.”


Rum Runners Weekend in Warren County, NY

Bootleggers loading up.
Bootleggers loading up
For those among you who feel a nostalgic tug when it comes to the zaniness of the Prohibition Era, you can dip a toe into such waters without heading for the badlands of New York City or Chicago.

Beginning this Friday, head for Warren County in New York's Adirondack Mountains where little old Chestertown will be hosting the 4th annual "Rum Runners Weekend," a celebration of the Roaring '20s.

The festivities will begin at 5 p.m. Friday when federal agents chase a band of bootleggers through local restaurants, starting at The Hub in Brant Lake then traveling on to the Black Bear in Pottersville, OP Fredericks in Loon Lake, and the Odd Duck and The Bullhouse in Chestertown. At 9 p.m., the bootleggers will move to a basement casino in The Bullhouse that will feature blackjack and roulette for anyone willing to pay a $25 admission, while the nearby Panther Mountain Inn will become a jazz club of the period.

A classic car parade leaving from Pottersville at 11:45 a.m. on Saturday will end at the Chestertown Hall where the American Legion will be putting on a USO show. At 3:30 pm Georgie Wonders Big Band will perform at the Carol Theatre ($20 admission). There will be dinner specials throughout the area all weekend for $19.25, as well as free carriage rides from Circle B Ranch.

A complete rundown of the weekend's events is available here.


New law evens cideries' playing field

Inside the Nine Pin Ciderworks
Inside Nine Pin Ciderworks

"The Greeks and Romans mastered the art of cider making. When Romans invaded England around 55 B.C., they found that cider was already being enjoyed by the locals there. By that time, apple trees had long ago migrated from forests around Kazakhstan and were well established across Europe and Asia. It was in southern England, France, and Spain that the technique of fermenting -- and later distilling -- the fruit was perfected. Evidence of this ancient art can be found in the European countryside today, where large circular apple grinding stones used to crush the fruit are still half buried in the fields."
-- Amy Stewart, "The History of Cider Making"

Although in the early United States cider was a popular everyday beverage, over the years what we call "hard" cider to distinguish it from the non-alcoholic version virtually disappeared. However, in recent years it has made a strong comeback, in New York State helped immeasureably by changes in alcoholic beverage laws and the fact that the state is second only to Washington in apple growing.

But, enticing the public to visit cideries for tasting and purchasing has been a bit difficult. That should change because of a new piece of legislation signed into law on Tuesday by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. It allows farm cideries to serve not only cider but wine, beer and spirits by the glass. Before that move, farm cideries were required to apply for separate farm brewery, winery, or distillery licenses to be able to serve such beverages by the glass. Whereas a cidery could sell beer, wine, and spirits by the bottle for retail, a consumer could not consume by the glass.

The new law was pushed in the state Legislature by Senator George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, and Assembly Member Patricia Fahy, D-Albany.

"As New York's farm beverage industry continues to grow, it's important to do everything we can to encourage further expansion of this important piece of our economy," Amedore said. "Allowing farm cideries to offer other New York State-produced beers, wines, and spirits by the glass encourages cross promotion of all the great products New York State has to offer, and will help strengthen the growing craft beverage industry."

Alejandro Peral, founder and owner of Albany's Nine Pin Ciderworks, the state's first farm cidery, said, “This bill creates parity among the various farm based licensees and supports the growth of the value added products produced by them. We will now be able to serve other New York farm based beverages to our customers in our tasting room just as those farm wineries and breweries are able to serve cider to their customers.”

"As a coalition of craft beverage producers [we] thank Governor Cuomo, Senator Amedore, and Assembly Member Fahy for their leadership to make regulations easier for farm-based producers to promote New York-made beverages. As a distiller and small business owner myself, this continues the state's commitment to building the farm-based craft alcohol sector," said John Curtin of Albany Distilling Company and president of the Capital Craft Beverage Trail Association.

Vermont distiller creates a cacao vodka

Screen shot 2016-09-14 at 12.42.58 PMIt didn't take the SILO Distillery long to get into the unusual. The barely-three-year-old Windsor, VT, distillery has announced the impending debut of Cacao Vodka, created with the aid of an older Vermont company.

SILO obtained winnowed cacao bean shells from Burlington icon Lake Champlain Chocolates -- which makes the Blue Bandana line of sweets -- and steeped them in its local-corn-based vodka to create the new spirit.

The initial batch of shells, from which the nibs used in chocolate making have been removed, is from Madagascar. Future batches may be sourced from other places on the globe. which could create a slightly different taste.

Chris Maggiolo, SILO head distiller, in an interview with the Vermont Fresh Network, said he came across Blue Bandana owner Eric Lampman at an Association for the Study of Food and Society conference at the University of Vermont a few years ago and, in an offsite tasting, "put Blue Bandana on my radar ... I love what they're making and how they're doing it. Chocolate came to mind while thinking of cold weather vodkas, but 'chocolate vodka' has a fabricated, almost fake, connotation. I thought about the chocolate making process and it occurred to me that the cacao shell likely retained a good amount of flavor."

A vodka release party, open to the public, is scheduled for 6 to 8:30 p.m. this Friday at the Hotel Vermont, 41 Cherry Street, in Burlington. It will be be a free public event. Lake Champlain Chocolates and SILO Cacao Vodka in-store tastings are scheduled for 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the candy maker's Factory Store on Pine Street in Burlington.


Jameson revamps its whiskey portfolio

Screen shot 2016-09-13 at 2.07.01 PMFrom Paste Magazine.com

Jameson is one of the classic bar shelf whiskeys, a gateway, “pint and a shot” staple through which many have become acquainted with whiskey in the first place. 

The brand has also dominated the Irish whiskey resurgence of recent years, accounting for slightly more than three-quarters of Irish whiskey sales in the U.S., according to International Wine And Spirits Research.

Yet the larger Jameson family of whiskeys had been something of a tangle, and earlier this summer the brand lineup was overhauled. The old, familiar Jameson Irish Whiskey went untouched, as did Jameson 18 Year Old near the top of the spectrum, but everything else got a shakeup.

Here is what to expect from Jameson’s other, more upscale offerings.

Go here for the full story.

Angostura debuts blend of 15-year-old rums

Screen shot 2016-09-13 at 1.32.29 PMThere aren't many ultra-premium rums around that reached the age of 15 before being offered for sale. The House of Angostura is showing off with a new sipping rum that is a blend of several 15-year-olds.

Angostura 1787 Caribbean Rum was introduced Monday at the popular Ruby Cocktail Bar in Copenhagen, Denmark. I've got a query in to company officials to find out when it will become available in the U.S.. market, and at what price.

The new blend, says the company, commemorates the establishment in 1787 of the first sugar mill on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, at the famous Lapeyrouse sugar plantation, in 1787. It consists of rums chosen from the House of Angostura’s extensive aging warehouses, each of which has been aging for 15 years in charred oak barrels.

No word on exactly how many rums are in the mix, but the result is floridly described as "a rich mahogany in color with hints of bronze, beautifully balanced, with a medium-bodied palate, and a sweet bouquet of banana, dried fruit and oak with top notes of apples. Its taste carries a hint of dried prunes and sweet rounded oak notes entwined with toffee nuances, with a long, crisp finish."

It is bottled at 40% abv (80 proof), presented in a heavy, rounded bottle with a thick glass base, emblazoned with the signature of Dr. J.G.B. Seigert, the founder of Angostura, and packaged in a heavy brown and orange box.


Marrying cider-, beer-making techniques

Kevin and Evan in an artsy image they provided
Kevin and Evan in their artsy image
Politics is all about finding a gimmick to help sell someone or something to the masses. So, a pair of Finger Lakes beverage producers are hoping their partnership in creating a cider called "Make America Grape Again" will find willing consumers.

The name is, of course, a riff on Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan. You know, the same slogan Hillary and Bill Clinton have proclaimed as racist even though in the past they repeatedly used precisely the same phrase to push their political agendas. Yeah, that slogan.

The new New York State cider is the product of a partnership between Kevin Collins of Cider Creek Hard Cider in Canisteo, southeast of Hornell, and Evan Miles of Miles Wine Cellars in Himrod on Seneca Lake. Collins previously teamed up with brewers -- Resurgence Brewing Company of Buffalo, Swiftwater Brewing of Rochester, and Stoneyard Brewing of Brockport -- to produce small batch ciders, but this is his first collaboration with a winery.

It features Lemberger grapes, saison ale yeast, and champagne yeast, resulting in notes of raspberry, blackberry, plum and pepper. Wines made from Lemberger typically have a light tannin level. The saison ale yeast adds citrus notes, and the champagne yeast adds to the effervescence. The yeasts also join to create a light pink hue.

Why the name, "Make America Grape Again"? The two entrepreneurs say Trump's entrepreneurial spirit and support for agriculture make him the best candidate to "help us grow as businessmen, farmers and beverage producers."


Irish whiskey boom promises more expansion

An Irish newcomer
For most of our lifetimes, you could count the number of Irish distilleries on one hand. Maybe two, Now, however, the island seems to be awash in them, with 32 new or proposed distilleries.

Until 2013, just four mainstays, all owned by large international corporations, had distilled under a variety of brand names what most people knew about Irish whiskey -- Kilbeggan in County Westmeath and Cooley in County Louth, both owned by Beam Brands; Bushmills in County Antrim, owned by Diageo, and Midleton in County Cork, owned by Pernod Ricard.

That, however is changing rapidly as Irish whiskies as a category are growing in consumer acceptance thanks to high-quality products and smart marketing campaigns. Exports rose 10% between 2014 and 2015, and the Irish Whiskey Association (IWA) projects a 300% increase in sales domestic and foreign over the next 15 years.

"Having been distilled in Ireland since the 6th Century, Irish whiskey is one of the oldest spirit drinks in Europe," said Miriam Mooney, head of the IWA. "It is a premium product that can only be made on the island of Ireland. The existing players have driven the global renaissance in Irish whiskey, and now it is the fastest growing spirits category in the world."

Not all of the new distilleries will be producing the same old expressions. The Walsh Whiskey Distillery, a $28 million facility that formally opened in Royal Oak, County Carlow, in July, is about to release its first product under the Writers Tears brand created by company founders Bernard and Rosemary Walsh. Their Writers Tears Red Head is a limited-edition, triple distilled whiskey, aged in used Olorosso sherry butts from Spain that give it a ruby hue. Only 12,000 bottles will be released, bottled at 46% abv (92 proof). No retail price has yet been announced.

“We are thrilled with the result of the marriage between our first-ever single malt expression of Writers Tears and these precious Oloroso sherry butts,” Bernard Walsh said in a statement. “The natural interaction and careful aging between the pot still spirit, styled in Writers Tears signature fashion in copper pots as all Irish whiskey was in the golden era of the 1800s, and the Spanish wood contributes to the outstanding quality and distinctive flavors of this sublime single malt.”

Incidentally, if you're not familiar with the barrel term "butt," it has nothing to do with where some unsatisfactory people seem to have stuck their heads. It is roughly half the size of a standard barrel, and the name is derived from botte, a Medieval French and Italian word for boot, an item occasionally inserted in the same place as the aforementioned heads.


'Brunch bill' goes into effect today

Legislation SmallThe timing seemed fitting when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the latest amendment to the state's alcoholic beverage control laws this morning. After all, the package of changes has been nicknamed the "brunch bill."

The change, the latest in a steady stream of modernizations of the laws under Cuomo's administration, immediately allows restaurants and bars to begin serving alcohol at 10 a.m. on Sundays, two hours earlier than previously allowed. In addition, such businesses outside New York City will be able to apply for 12 permits per year to sell alcohol as early as 8 a.m.

Also going into effect because of the signing: permission for the sale of wine in growlers, allowing liquor stores to sell gift wrapping and gift bags, and cutting more red tape for craft alcohol producers and sellers.

“After more than 80 years, it’s about time to bring the rules governing the sale of alcohol in line with the demands of our customers,” Scott Wexler, executive director of the Empire State Restaurant & Tavern Association, said in a statement. “Thanks to the leadership of Governor Cuomo and SLA Chairman (Vincent) Bradley we can now accommodate our guests who want a Bloody Mary or Mimosa with their brunch or a draft beer while watching their favorite football team — European or NFL. This is good news for small businesses all across New York State.”


One time vodka and tequila mix well

One tequila involved
Normally, one might not be wise to mix vodka and tequila. But, in the case of business, it apparently is OK.

The Amber Beverage Group, a subsidiary of SPI Group that makes the iconic Stolichnaya vodka, this week announced it has made a “significant equity stake” in Fabrica de Tequilas Finos.

The tequila maker, a family-owned business established in 2000 in Jalisco, Mexico, has a portfolio of more than 20 brands, including Tonala, KAH, Don Camilo, Agave 99, and Zapopan. Amber's announcement said the deal will allow it to expand distribution in the U.S., Central America, and South America. No dollar amount was revealed.

SPI Group created the Amber entity two years ago as an umbrella for a lineup of distilling, packaging, and distributing companies. It now deals with about 500 spirits and wines in 160 markets.

Mount Gay introduces new 2-style rum package

Screen shot 2016-09-04 at 2.26.31 PM
The new Mount Gay 'twins'
The Remy Cointreau company has just released details of the latest addition to the Origin Series run of expressions of its Mount Gay rum brand.

What it is calling "Volume Two, The Copper Stills Collection" is a small-batch combo release of one iteration that was distilled in a copper pot and another in a copper column still. The pair of 37.5cl bottles (sometimes referred to as half bottles) will be sold beginning late this month as one $95 package for a limited, but unspecified, period.

"We created the Origin Series collections so we could give rum drinkers the unique opportunity to experience rum by tasting the pure essence of the distinct distillation methods and a deeper understanding of how each part of the process can change the taste of rum entirely," says Allen Smith, Mount Gay's master blender.

The first volume featured virgin cask and charred cask versions of Mount Gay rum, part of a gradual phasing out of lower-end versions of the rum brand in the U.S., according to a company statement several weeks ago.

Mount Gay is billed as the world's oldest brand of rum. It dates to 1703 on the Caribbean island of Barbados. As the company history puts it, "Rum, originally called 'Kill-Devil' by the Barbadians who first distilled it, is truly a product of the island. The abundance of molasses combined with the culinary ingenuity of early settlers and, of course, their legendary thirst for alcohol lead to this unique discovery in the production of spirits."



New Jim Beam Double Oak an aged-twice spirit

Being the top-selling bourbon in the world may make for a comfortable perch in the spirits industry, but Jim Beam isn't resting on its laurels.

The Kentucky distiller has just released a new product called Jim Beam Double Oak. Like the basic four-year-old Jim Beam white label, it is aged in charred American white oak barrels as required by federal regulation. However, it then is poured into another freshly charred barrel to mature for a second time, creating a whiskey that is deeper in notes of oak and caramel.

The distiller does not specify how long the second maturation takes place, only that "When the bourbon reaches the right taste profile it is removed and bottled."

Double Oak is finished at 43% alcohol by volume (abv), or 86 proof compared to the white label's 80 proof. It is hitting retailers' shelves this month at a suggested price of $22 for the 750ml bottle.

The rest of the Beam bourbon portfolio includes Jim Beam Original, Single Barrel, Distiller's Masterpiece, Black, Bonded, Devil's Cut, Red Stag Black Cherry, Apple, Honey, Maple, Kentucky Fire, Jacob's Ghost, and Craft Harvest Collection, as well as Jim Beam Rye.

Hillrock releasing first Sauternes-aged rye

Screen shot 2016-09-02 at 1.44.15 PMHillrock Estate Distillery has added a new product to its aged whiskey portfolio -- what it is calling "America’s first Estate Rye Whiskey finished in French Sauternes casks."

The Columbia County facility is New York State’s first field-to-glass distillery -- simply put, it distills from its own grain. Next Saturday, September 10, it will release the 100% rye whiskey that has been resting in rare used Premier Cru Sauternes wine casks.

“Finishing Hillrock Estate Distillery Double Cask Rye in French Sauternes casks merges tradition and [Hudson Valley] terroir, creating a rounded, almost buttery texture with notes of honey and citrus lemon,” said founder Jeff Baker. “With the Pedro Ximenez-finished rye selling out at our open house this past June in just a few hours, we encourage interested customers to reserve a bottle of this very limited distillery release.”

Sauternes wine is made only in the Graves section of Bordeaux, France, with grapes affected by Botrytis fungus – better known as the “noble rot.” Botrytis causes the grapes to become partially raisined, resulting in a concentrated and distinctive flavor. Used Sauternes casks have been otherwise used primarily to age Scotch whiskies.

Barrel No. 1 of the Hillrock product will be released during the fall distillery open house between noon and 5 pm. The public event will offer enthusiasts the opportunity to tour the facility, sample the entire portfolio of spirits, and purchase Hillrock whiskies. No reservations are necessary, although those interested in purchasing the Sauternes Rye are encouraged to reserve their bottles by emailing info@hillrockdistillery.com, or by calling then picking up at the event. The price is $100 plus tax per 750ml bottle.

The facility is located on the Hillrock Estate at 408 Pooles Hill Road near Ancram. Phone: (518) 329-1023.

Special whiskey release marks Jack Daniel's 150th

The commemorative release.
The commemorative product
It's been around for a century and a half, but people still screw up the name.

Jack Daniel's -- the possessive "s" tacked on the name Jack Daniel -- is marking its 150th anniversary with a new limited-edition Tennessee whiskey released from its Lynchburg, TN, distillery.

The distillery was founded in 1866 by Jasper Newton "Jack" Daniel. He got into distilling just after the Civil War as a 16-year-old orphan taken in by Dan Call, a prosperous local farmer and shopkeeper who operated a distillery with the help of his former slave Uncle Nearis Green, as noted in my book "Barrels & Drams: The History of Whisk(e)y in Jiggers and Shots" (Sterling Epicure NYC).

Jack Daniel
Current Master Distiller Jeff Arnett says, “For this 150th anniversary whiskey, our coopers slow-toasted the barrels to bring out the rich flavors and aromas of the wood, creating a contemporary expression of an 1866 barrel char. We wanted to offer a unique whiskey that we think collectors and consumers alike will enjoy for their own celebrations and is as special as the anniversary that it celebrates.”

Arnett says the grain bill is the same as the iconic Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 -- 80% corn, 12% barley, and 8% rye. The spirit was filtered and mellowed through 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal -- known as the "Lincoln County process," before going into specially-crafted new American oak barrels, adhering to the guidelines required of a Tennessee whiskey. The barrels then were placed in the “angel’s roost” of one of the oldest barrel houses at the distillery where whiskey has matured for generations at an elevation and with the exposure to sunlight that creates a specific climate for interaction between the whiskey and barrel.

Jack Daniel’s 150th Anniversary Whiskey was barreled and bottled at 100 proof (50% alcohol abv). It went on sale Thursday at a suggested retail price of $99.99 for a 1-liter bottle.


Whiskey Museum of America project on the clock

Meredith Grelli and the WAM! logo

One of the major decisions George Washington had to make as president of a fledgling nation was how to put down an anti-tax rebellion among whiskey makers in western Pennsylvania.

That region had become a center of distilling by Scots-Irish farmers who had settled in the region after emigrating from their tempestuous homeland in what we now call Northern Ireland.

As I wrote in my book "Barrels & Drams: The History of Whisk(e)y In Jiggers and Shots" (Sterling Epicure, NYC):

"They were not alone in distilling whiskey, but they were among the feistiest and most productive in the New World. ... They quickly pushed their way to the frontier area ... where they found fertile fields for their grain and plenty of takers for the whiskey they produced from some of it. However, when the Continental Congress put a tax on whiskey production -- the fledgling nation's first excise tax -- they refused to pay, thus touching off the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791 to 1794. The dispute was about more than simply being taxed. In the minds of a significant number of frontier settlers in the new United States, the government was under control of the eastern elite, and the tax, suggested by Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury, to service the national debt created by the War of Independence, was a prime example of unfairness."

Eventually, an armed federal force was sent to the area to put down the insurrection during which a 500-man force of farmers attacked the home of a federal tax collector. Then ...

"Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who had become governor of Virginia, cooked up a deal to break up the concentration of resistance. Jefferson offered sixty acres of land as an incentive for moving to the Kentucky region (then part of Virginia), building a permanent structure, and growing corn."

The transplanted farmers eventually began to use their excess corn to make whiskey and eventually bourbon was born. But, what about back in western Pennsylvania? Plenty of farmers-distillers remained there and created licensed distilling operations that built one of the greatest spirits-producing areas in the new U.S. (Coincidentally, Washington went into distilling in a big way on his Mount Vernon, VA, estate and became the biggest single producer of whiskey in the new country.)

Today, there is a move afoot to create the Whiskey of America Museum (WAM!) in Pittsburgh. It's the brainchild of Meredith Grelli, co-founder and co-owner of Wigle Whiskey, founded in December 2011 as Pittsburgh's first legal distillery since Prohibition. She has put together a group of more than 20 local and regional leaders -- designers, museum staffers and spirits experts -- to help develop "WAM! National Whiskey Museum and Regional Alcohol Emporium."

The museum will serve as the trailhead for an "American Rye Whiskey Trail" that would connect distilleries from Pittsburgh to the Mount Vernon Distillery in Virginia via the Great Allegheny Passage and Cumberland Bike Paths.

Grelli has told local media she estimates the museum will cost $1.1 million, and she already has pledged "six figures" herself. However, she also has set a September 19 deadline for raising at least $35,000 via a Kickstarter campaign or the project may be called off. As of today, she has enlisted 126 backers pledging a total of $11,706.


Annual Parker's Heritage due in September

In most instances, the longer a whiskey ages in wood the better it gets. (Exceptions would be those not well made in the first place.) Two or three years is common, eight is premium, and so on. The 10th annual release of Heaven Hill's Parker’s Heritage Collection is an exception -- on the upside.

The bourbon is named to honor Parker Beam, the distillery’s master distiller emeritus who has been suffering from ALS -- Lou Gherig's disease -- for a number of years. The Heritage Collection is used to raise money for research and patient care for the disease.

The 2016 edition is a 24-year-old, bottled-in-bond bourbon. It features two separate versions, expected to be the oldest bottled-in-bond in the world, according to Heaven Hill. It was produced in the fall of 1990 and spring of 1991 at the Bardstown, KY, distillery that burned down in 1996 along with seven rickhouses and more than 90,000 barrels.

The liquid is bottled by season to retain its bottled-in-bond designation. By federal law, to be labeled bottled-in-bond or bonded, the liquor must be the product of one distillation season (January to December) and one distiller at one distillery, then aged in a federally bonded warehouse at 100 proof (50% abv) for at least four years.

This edition, packaged in the same upscale 750ml bottle as the previous editions, will be released in September and carry a suggested retail price of $250, with $15 of each sale going towards the ALS campaign.


Adirondacks distiller in NYS of mind

gristmillDespite the explosion of craft distilling throughout the nation in recent years, the vast bulk of whiskies still are made in Kentucky and Tennessee and aged in barrels made from white oak harvested in Missouri's Ozark Mountains. That's what makes a fledgling operation in New York State's Adirondacks so interesting.

Talk about a true New York production. Keith Van Sise, founder and jack-of-all-trades at Gristmill Distilling in Keene, Essex County, and his team are using grains grown locally by Adirondack Organic Grains of Essex and apples grown locally by Rulf's Orchards in Peru with charred barrels made at U.S. Barrels in Wilmington from oak wood cut in the Catskills.

The products are branded with names very much enmeshed in Adirondack lore. Black Fly bourbon whiskey is named for the pesky seasonal insect that plagues residents and visitors alike; Rusty Piton moonshine is named for the climbing spike used in High Peaks adventures, and 1892 Forever Wild apple brandy is an homage to the date the state Legislature declared the Adirondacks Forest Preserve forever wild.

Gristmill Distilling's products are available at a variety of retail stores, restaurants and bars, and local farmers markets. The full list is available online.


Flyover tours of Scottish, U.S. distilleries

If you never have had the opportunity to tour some of Scotland's iconic distillery complexes, or even those in the U.S., the website called The Whiskey Wash has something that may be of interest.

It's a set of eight videos from drone flyovers of whiskey complexes that offer views you can't get even if you've been there on the ground. As the editors explain:

"There is something to be said for considering the size of the distillery that makes your favorite mainstream Scotch or bourbon. Most craft whiskey makers aside, a good number of whiskey brands are created on the grounds of rather large facilities which are almost impossible to see from the vantage of the visitor’s center. ... Some [of the videos] are notably scenic, while others are more just about seeing how such distilleries just eat up the landscape around them."

The Scottish venues include Bowmore (shown above), Bruichladdich, and one video covering eight other facilities on the island of Islay, plus Macallan and Old Taylor. The U.S. venues include T.W. Samuels, Old Turkey, and Old Willett, all in Kentucky.


NY Wine & Culinary Center in the gin business

NY Wine & Culinary Center (Bill Dowd photo)
NY Wine & Culinary Center (Bill Dowd photo)
If the New York Wine & Culinary Center continues its present inclination, it may have to modify its name.

The NYWCC facility, located on the shore of Canandaigua Lake in the picturesque Finger Lakes city of Canandaigua, opened 10 years ago as a showcase for New York State wines and foods. Since then, it has maintained a busy wine-centric pace while steadily increasing its involvement with tastings and special events involving New York beers and spirits.

Its latest project is a collaboration with Black Button Distilling of Rochester to launch Garden Gin, a collaboration spirit that will be released next Tuesday at the the center's 4th annual "Garden Party," according to an announcement made Tuesday. It is an herbaceous London Dry-style gin with herbs and licorice notes and a strong juniper nose, according to officials.

Proceeds from the sale of Garden Gin will go to NYWCC’s "Culinary Camps for Kids" program and other educational programming.

“We love what the NYWCC does to bring unique New York products and educational programming to the community,” said Jason Barrett, president and head distiller of Black Button. “This collaboration presented us with an opportunity to develop a ... gin with tastes and inspiration from NYWCC’s garden."

The new product will be available at Black Button Distilling, at NYWCC, and at select retailers.


Dulce Vida expands its tequila portfolio

Dulce Vida tequila flanked by new infusions
Dulce Vida tequila flanked by new infusions
"Infusion" is a key word in the world of adult beverages. In this instance, an infusion of cash from a new owner has resulted in a major expansion of Dulce Vida Spirits' tequila portfolio that now includes infused versions.

The Austin, TX, company this week announced the release of five new versions, including lime- and grapefruit-infused 35% abv (70 proof) tequilas utilizing real fruit and "all natural flavors." They join a new lineup of 40% abv (80 proof) blanco, reposado, and añejo versions to complement the original line of seven 100-proof tequilas. The new reposado is aged from 9 to 11 months and the new añejo up to 24 months in used American white oak barrels. All products are made in Mexico.

Dulce Vida Spirits was recently purchased by a new beverage investor company called Milestone Brands, headed by Eric Dopkins who had been CEO of the Deep Eddy Vodka Distillery in Austin.

“Dulce Vida has seen amazing growth since our acquisition, and we’re thrilled with the launch of these naturally-infused flavors,” Dopkins said. “These cocktail-ready category disruptors continue our standards in providing healthier cocktail solutions and handcrafted products.”


Jameson 'Whiskey Makers Series' debuts in U.S.

Screen shot 2016-08-16 at 1.54.06 PMThe Irish distiller Jameson has just released to the U.S. market The Cooper's Croze, the first of three super-premium Irish whiskies from its "Whiskey Makers Series."

No word yet on when, or whether, the others -- The Blender's Dog and The Distiller's Safe -- will debut in the U.S.

The whiskey’s namesake –- the croze -– is a tool used to make the groove where the head of the barrel is positioned to seal the barrel.

The 86-proof whiskey (43% abv) itself was created by Jameson's fifth-generation head cooper, not head distiller, Ger Buckley to showcase the diversity of barrels at its Midleton, County Cork, facility. He used virgin American white oak charred barrels as well as seasoned bourbon barrels and Iberian sherry barrels to age the non-chill filtered spirit and impart fruit flavors as well as floral and spice notes.

Says Buckley, “I’ve created Jameson The Cooper’s Croze to show the versatility and profound influence barrels have on distinct whiskey flavors. Barrel making transcends generations, as I’ve used the same methods and tools passed down from my grandfather, that’s the beauty of the craft.”

The Cooper's Croze carries a suggested retail price of $69.99.