Growing rye back in favor in North America

From Grain News 
North American farmers are turning back to a neglected crop, sowing fields with the largest rye crop in years partly as consumers satisfy a growing thirst for whiskey.

Rye, planted in autumn and harvested in mid-summer, fell out of favor during the past decade as other crops produced bigger profits. But, whiskey demand as well as new varieties of rye that offer greater yields have renewed interest.

 U.S. farmers planted 1.76 million acres for the 2016/17 season, the biggest area since 1989 and a 12% year-over-year increase, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture. In Canada, a major rye exporter along with the European Union and Russia, farmers sowed 405,900 acres, the biggest rye area in seven years, Statistics Canada reported.
Go here for the full story.


From rum experiment to 'best new product'

The award winner Looking for a new and quality spirit? So were the judges in the just-completed "Tales of the Cocktail" event in New Orleans, and they declared Plantation Pineapple Stiggins’ Fancy Rum the “Best New Product” at the 2016 Spirited Awards that are part of the festival.

This is the second time a spirit from producer Maison Ferrand has won the award, the only company to do so. In 2012, its Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac was so honored, and in 2013, its Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao was a finalist for the same award.

“These spirits are my life,” says Alexandre Gabriel, owner and cellar master of Maison Ferrand. “Our intense focus is perhaps what sets Pierre Ferrand, Plantation, and Citadelle Gin apart from other spirits. ... Our mission is to amaze and bring pleasure through spirits of excellence and taste."

Plantation Pineapple Stiggins’ Fancy is a rum that resulted from research Gabriel and his small team undertook along with his friend and frequent collaborator David Wondrich. Their aim was to create a pineapple rum similar to the favorite drink of the Reverend Stiggins character in Charles Dickens’ "Pickwick Papers."

It originally was supposed to be a one-off product, but samples passed around at the 2014 "Tales of the Cocktail" event received strong positive reactions, so they went on to manufacture it as a portfolio line.

"We didn’t expect the overwhelming amount of praise from bartenders and aficionados who began to harass us to produce more," Gabriel said. "So, we decided to make another batch and share it with even more friends and the rest is history.”

Plantation Pineapple won “Best in Class” at the Miami Rum Festival 2015. It is made from Queen Victoria pineapples, which have a short season, thus making the rum available only as an annual limited edition item with delivery in April/May and July/August each year. It is bottled at 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof), and carries a suggested retail price of $34.99 per 750ml bottle.

The Plantation Rum portfolio includes rums from Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Panama, St. Lucia, and Trinidad.


Ezra Brooks unveils new look, new product

It may at first glance still look a bit like a bottle of Jack Daniel's (go here for the story of that whole lookalike problem), but it actually is the new look for Ezra Brooks Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

The brand, owned by importer-marketer Luxco, also has expanded its portfolio with the introduction of Ezra Brooks Bourbon Cream.

Luxco, formerly called the David Sherman Company, is headquartered in St. Louis, MO. It owns no distilleries, so its Ezra Brooks brand is distilled, aged, and bottled in Kentucky under contract with Heaven Hill Distilleries.

The new item is a seasonal spirit to be available in fall and winter months when its notes of caramel, nutmeg, and cinnamon may be most welcome. It will be available in 750ml bottles, at a very mild 12.5% alcohol by volume (25 proof) and a suggested retail price of $12.99 to $14.99.

The new look is a corked bottle with a matte finish closure to give it more of a craft feel. Ezra Brooks whiskies are sold in 750ml bottles and ranging in suggested retail prices from $11.99 to $26.99. They include Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, 90 proof; blended whiskey, 80 proof; Old Ezra seven year Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, 101 proof, and the new Bourbon Cream.


A Basic Guide to Mexican Spirits

Ever hear of sangrita? (No, not sangria.) It's tequila's perfect accompaniment. Go to this archival post for details. (Bill Dowd photo)
This Sunday is National Tequila Day. That will mean many people who never experienced the iconic Mexican spirit will do so for the first time. It also means people who had bad experiences with it while drinking cheap versions as raucous college students will hold their noses and shy away, forgetting that they probably also had bad experiences with beer and vodka back in the day but still drink them.

So, what to do? How about sharing some basic information the tequila-curious might find helpful before setting out to actually enjoy the spirit? Here's a basic guide to all things tequila (and its cousins), with a few pronunciation tips thrown in.

Three foundational requirements under Mexican agricultural law:
1. True tequila must be made 100% from the blue agave plant and distilled only in Mexico’s Jalisco (pronounced hah-LIS-ko) state and certain specified adjoining counties.

2. Tequila 100% Agave: Must be made only with the juice of the blue agave plant and must be bottled at the distillery in Mexico. It may be Blanco, Reposado, or Añejo (ahn-yay-ho).

3.  Tequila: Must be made with at least 51% blue agave juices. It may be exported in bulk to be bottled in other countries following the NOM standard. It may be Blanco, Gold, Reposado, or Añejo. 
NOM, the official Mexican product safety requirements, defines four types of tequila:
1. Blanco, or Silver: The traditional tequila. Clear, transparent, fresh from the still. Must be bottled immediately after distillation process. Traditionally served in a cylindrical two-ounce glass called a caballito (kah-bah-yeeto).

2. Oro, or Gold: Modified by adding colorings and flavorings, caramel the most common. Widely preferred for frozen Margaritas.

3. Reposado, or Rested: Kept in white oak casks or vats called pipones (pip-oh-nace) for two to 11 months. Much mellower than blanco or oro, pale in color, gentle bouquet.

4. Añejo, or Aged: Matured in white oak casks for a year or more. Maximum capacity of the casks should not exceed 159 gallons. Amber color, oak notes. 
Then there is Reserva. Like “Extra Añejo” it is not technically a category, but recognized as an Añejo aged in oak up to eight years.

Here’s a quick rundown on the other Mexican spirits:
• Mezcal: The state of Oaxaca (wah-hawk-ah) in south-central Mexico claims this spirit as its own. It’s the result of the fermentation of the native maguey (mag-way) plant by the indigenous people and the distillation techniques introduced by Spaniard conquerors. The unique topography of Oaxaca — at the confluence of three great valleys at an altitude of 6,500 feet — creates a wide variety of growing micro-climates for numerous varieties of the agave variety known as maguey, from the giant pulque (pull-kay) maguey to the maguey tobala from which one of the rarest mezcals is made.

• Bacanora: This traditional liquor, mentioned by the earliest Spanish explorers as a native drink, is made in the state of Sonora, which lies below Arizona. It was illegal until about 20 years ago when rules for its manufacture were put into place. It is made from a variety of the agave plant that grows exclusively in Sonora’s climate and terrain. One of what I refer to as “border spirits.”

• Sotol: Another “border spirit,” made from a shrub that looks like a bouquet of spiny leaves with fringed tips. It grows in deserts, mountains, and on dry rocky slopes. Its powerful fermented juice is the state drink of Chihuahua state, south of New Mexico. Like tequila and mezcal, it was improved by distilling the original fermentation.

• Raicilla: This liquor (pronounced ray-see-yah), widely known as “Mexican moonshine,” now can be found in somewhat more sophisticated varieties as a result of modernization and commercialization. It usually is distilled from a fermented mash made from the roots of the maguey plant. It’s a harsh liquor, 100 proof or higher. Despite its dicey reputation, the tourist haven of Puerto Vallarta thinks enough of it to hold an annual raicilla festival.

• Destilado de agave: This spirit is quite similar to tequila, but is brewed outside the state of Jalisco which has 98% of all legal tequila production. As with tequila, it may or may not be made with 100% agave.
Armed with this information, may I wish you a happy National Tequila Day.


An upbeat drinking-and-driving connection

Workers at the Casa Orendain distillery in Tequila, Mexico, cut and load blue agave plants into
the cookers prior to distillation.
(Bill Dowd photo)
We all know drinking and driving don't mix well. But, that doesn't rule out some sort of symbiotic relationship.

To explain:

The Ford Motor Company is joining forces with the Mexican distiller Jose Cuervo to explore the use of the tequila giant's agave plant byproduct to help develop more sustainable bioplastics for Ford vehicles. Specifically, Ford is looking into whether the properties of the blue agave plant, the basis for tequila, can be used as a greener alternative to traditional plastics, in particular those currently derived from petrochemicals.

The agave pant's fibers are very durable, and are used in a variety of manufacturing processes beyond tequila making. The heart of the plant is what is roasted then used in a distillation mash. The remaining fibers are used for composting, for specialty papermaking, for woven products, and the like.

Debbie Mielewski, senior technical leader in Ford's sustainability research department, noted that there are about 400 pounds of palstics used in the typical Ford car. "We are developing new technologies to efficiently employ discarded materials and fibers, while potentially reducing the use of petrochemicals and light-weighting our vehicles for desired fuel economy," she told CTV News in Canada.

First Israeli whiskey arrives in America

David Zibell
Dan Friedman of the Jewish-interest publication The Forward reports:

Israeli whiskey has arrived in America.

The Golan Heights Distillery from the mountains on the Syrian border is younger than Tel Aviv’s Milk and Honey -- its domestic rival -- but its finished product arrived in New York on or around Bastille Day (July 14), about a year ahead of the promised competition (whose three-year aged single malt will be, in fairness, a quite different product). That makes it, as far as I can tell, the first Israeli whiskey ever to go on general sale in America. (Please let me know if you know better.)

The River distributing company imported the first shipment of 600 bottles and made sure the Forward was able to taste bottle 577. Which is, at barely over a year old, surprisingly, quite palatable.

If you don’t care to know the details of how distiller David Zibell (pronounced Zee-bell) was born in France, lived in Israel (in Tzfat) for a couple of years as a child, and then finally made Aliyah to Israel from Montreal in 2014 only to find himself living on top of a hill making a variety of liquors, then you can jump to the tasting notes at the bottom. But it’s quite a tale, and I’ll tell it quickly.

Go here for the rest of Dan's tale, and his tasting notes.


Cachaça returns to the popular consciousness

A sampling of Brazil's 4,000 cachaça brands
I had almost forgotten about cachaça.

I was at a summer cookout the other day at a friend's house when I noticed a bottle of it nestled discreetly among the bottles of whiskey, rum, vodka, and so on sitting on his bar. It reminded me that I kind of liked the sugar cane-based distillation two decades ago when I was introduced to it while judging an international rum competition in Florida. But, as is the case when you're exposed to many, many possibilities, sometimes a few fall by the wayside over the years.

That's what happened with cachaça, perhaps best known as the base for the caipirinha cocktail that so enamored tourists to South America in this century that they demanded it when they returned home. That demand was answered over the years in many of the better cocktail lounges and bars throughout the U.S. And now, cachaça is back in the mainstream drinks scene because of the upcoming Olympic Games in Brazil where the vast majority of the spirit is manufactured.

There are as many as 2,000 different names for cachaça (pronounced kah-SHAW-sah) in the vernacular, according to one authoritative Brazilian publication. Many cropped up over the years as illicit distillers sought to call their distilled sugar cane something that would not attract the attention of government tax collectors and regulators back in the days when the spirit was banned, sort of like American moonshine's lineage. But, just as with our moonshine, that led to a lot of plonk -- in other words, garbage spirits, some of them even dangerous to the health of imbibers.

Luckily, in 2000 the U.S. and other countries convinced Brazil to label cachaça "Brazilian rum." That put it into a much more competitive market niche, because cachaça was not specifically recognized by the U.S. before that. (As part of a quid pro quo, in 2012 a U.S.-Brazil agreement pledged the U.S. to recognizing cachaça as a distinctive Brazilian product, and Brazil promised similar recognition for bourbon and Tennessee whiskey, each of which has long been manufactured under specific regulations. Inherent in the agreement is that the Brazilian government will be monitoring the quality of the cachaça its distillers export.)

There are two types of cachaça, unaged (referred to as white) and aged (gold). White usually is bottled right after distillation, although some is aged for several months, and usually matures in wood barrels for at least three years. Unlike most rums, the spirit is distilled from fresh-pressed sugar cane juice; most rums are distilled from molasses, with only a small percentage using cane juice. The legal definition of cachaça requires sugar cane to be the main ingredient, a strength of 38% to 54% alcohol by volume (76 to 108 proof), and a maximum of 6g of sugar per litre.

To understand the scope of cachaça in the Brazilian economy, it helps to know that as recently as 2013 there were only 5,000 legally registered producers of cachaça in Brazil producing 4,000 brands, but the latest Brazilian census shows the number of producers actually could be higher than 40,000. Apparently, Brazilian moonshine lives.

Although most cachaça is consumed in-country, more than $1 billion worth is sold in the U.S. each year, with another $20 million sold in Germany, Portugal, and France.

If you're interested in trying out a variety of cachaças -- sort of your own Olympic Tasting Games event, here are the four leading legitimate Brazilian distillers:

• Companhia Müller de Bebidas, which owns Pirassununga 51 and has 18% of the market share. 

• Pitú has 15% of the market share, with 6% of it coming from the Caninha da Roça brand. 

• Indústrias Reunidas Tatuzinho Três Fazendas, which owns Velho Barreiro has 8% of the market share 

• Ypióca has 2% of the market share

As the say in Brazil, "Saúde" (pronounced "saw-ooh-de).

Jack Daniel's launches birthday barrel hunt

Countdown to barrel hunt
The Pokémon Go craze is getting the bulk of the media attention these days, but the distiller Jack Daniel's has a hide-and-seek game of its own going on to mark its 150th birthday.

From now through September, 150 handcrafted whiskey barrels are being hidden in historic and cultural sites around the globe, with clues on Jack Daniel's Facebook pages to help guide fans find the secret locations. You can get started on the hunt by clicking here.

Other birthday celebratory items from the Lynchburg, TN, distiller include:

• What master distiller Jeff Arnett calls a "special liquid." The anniversary drink will come in a collectible bottle, available at the distillery and select other locations in September.

• A "Sinatra Century" barrel as an homage to the late singer-actor Frank Sinatra,, well known for his love of Jack Daniel's.


Jack Daniel's now No. 1 whiskey in UK

UK's favorite whiskey is an All-American
UK's favorite whiskey an All-American
The United Kingdom has gotten less European as shown by its recent controversial exit vote from the European Union. Judging by its whiskey sales, it actually has gotten more American.

In fact, the highest-selling brand in the UK is America's own Jack Daniel's, a Tennessee sipping whiskey that is sort of bourbon. (It's made about the same way, although with a bit less corn in the mash than the average bourbon, and then is filtered through maplewood charcoal.)  

The Grocer, an influential UK trade magazine, has just reported that sales of Jack Daniel's in the UK have soared 9.3% in the past year, pushing it past The Famous Grouse as the nation’s most popular whiskey (or "whisky" without the "e" as they insist on spelling it there).

Sales of the six leading blended Scotch whiskies have slumped 4.4% in the same period, with sales of The Famous Grouse alone dropping by 14.9%. Jack Daniel's now is the ninth biggest alcohol brand in Britain, with The Famous Grouse dropping to 13th.

The shift is attributed to a number of factors: younger UK drinkers preferring American products in general; importers and distributors paying more attention to American whiskies which offer them a higher profit margin, and a general drop in prices to the consumer for American whiskies for several years.

And then, of course, there is taste.

Jim Murray, the guru of whiskey rankings around the world, did not put any Scotch on his list of the world’s five best whiskies of 2016, the second consecutive year he has made that decision. He has for a number of years extolled the virtues of American bourbon over Scotch blends, declaring, "The best whisky is coming not from Scotland any more, but from Kentucky.”

Back in 2011, I wrote in my book "Barrels & Drams: The History of Whisk(e)y in Jiggers and Shots" (Sterling Epicure, still available from online book sellers):

"In 2010, Jim Murray's Whisky Bible, the UK top-selling such guide, shocked many people inside and outside the industry by naming 18-year-old Sazerac Rye from Kentucky the world's best whisky/whiskey, elevating it beyond even the UK's beloved Scotches. It topped 3,850 other whiskies that were considered, with Ardbeg Supernova from the Hebridean island of Islay as No. 2 after dominating the awards for the three prior years."

Yo, ho, ho, and a bottle of Gunpowder Proof rum

Screen shot 2016-07-13 at 2.25.43 PMFamiliar with overproof rums? Usually, they are rums with an alcohol content of greater than 57.5% alcohol by volume -- 115 proof or more-- usually bottled and labeled as "151."

I mention this because Shaw-Ross International Importers of Miramar, FL, is introducing Pusser’s Gunpowder Proof, a 54.5% abv (109 proof), at the end of the month in July. Rollout to markets in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, California, Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina will come in the ensuing months.

Screen shot 2016-07-13 at 2.33.02 PMPusser’s Gunpowder Proof is a blend of rums from Guyana and Trinidad. It is widely regarded as the last rum issued by the British Royal Navy to its enlistees in 1970. The new entry will retail at a suggested $33 to $35 a bottle.

On July 31, 1970, on what was known as "Black Tot Day," the tradition going back some 300 years ended, with British sailors wearing black armbands and conducting mock funerals to bid farewell to the rations. A small supply from E.D. & F. Man & Co, official rum merchants to the Navy since 1784, was stored in wicker-clad stone vessels and went untouched except for state occasions.

In the British Navy, in a practice copied in the days of sailing warships by some other nations, served rum as part of a drink called "grog." The word originally referred to a drink made with water and rum, which British Vice Admiral Edward Vernon introduced into the naval squadron he commanded in the West Indies on August 21, 1740. Vernon wore a coat of grogram cloth and was nicknamed Old Grogram or Old Grog.

Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, which agrees with this story of the word's origin, states that the word "grog" was first used in this sense in 1770, though other sources cite 1749.

The Gunpowder Proof is produced by Pusser's Rum Ltd., headquartered in Charleston, SC.

Brooklyn inspiration, Pennsylvania history in a bottle

Screen shot 2016-07-11 at 3.43.27 PMPennsylvania's distilling history has always been dominated by rye whiskies. Now, thanks to a visit to a New York distillery, that is changing slightly.

Several years ago, Pennsylvania resident Anthony Brichta paid a visit to the Kings County Distillery in Brooklyn. What he saw encouraged him to get into the world of craft distilling, and he and his uncle, John Rowe, created County Seat Spirits in a former truck assembling plant in Allentown, PA, about 95 miles west of Brooklyn.

Rather than producing a rye whiskey, aged or otherwise, as their first product, they decided to create a wheat-heavy, no-rye whiskey they call Hidden Copper Bourbon. It was distilled from a mash of Pennsylvania corn, Pennsylvania wheat, and malted barley, then was aged for about a year in small, 15-gallon new charred white oak barrels.

The mash containing more than 50% corn, and the barrels being what they are, satisfied the legal requirements for calling the whiskey a bourbon. Even the bottles are made in Pennsylvania. Hidden Copper Bourbon is bottled at 90 proof (45% abv), and priced at $40 for a 750ml bottle.

The name? The distillers say it is in honor of the historic hiding of the Liberty Bell. On September 23 of that year, the Pennsylvania State House Bell -- which we know as the Liberty Bell -- was taken down to prevent it from being melted down by the British for weapons use during the Revolutionary War. It was hidden in the basement of the Zion Reformed Church in Allentown, and returned to Philadelphia the following June.

Appleton rums rebranded under J. Wray labels

Screen shot 2016-07-11 at 2.52.37 PM
The former Appleton rums
Attention fans of Appleton Special Jamaica and Appleton White rums:

Do not panic when you no longer see those labels on the shelves of your favorite spirits shop. The parent Campari America company is in the process of rebranding and relauncing them.

Now under the group’s J. Wray Jamaica Rums brand, Appleton Special Jamaica will be sold as J. Wray Jamaica Rum Gold, and the Appleton White as J. Wray Jamaica Rum Silver. Both of the 80 proof (40% abv) spirits will retain their original recipes and pricing (suggested $17 per 750-ml bottle).

Christine Moll, Campari America category marketing director, told the industry publication Shanken Daily News the change helps ensure that “Appleton Estate is viewed as a premium rum offering within the Campari America portfolio,” with J. Wray being positioned as the “standard rum set.”

Sales of the Appleton brand, whose core lineup ranges in suggested retail prices from $22 to $38, were up 6.8% to 220,000 cases in the U.S. last year, according to Impact Databank.

Buffalo Trace's first estate bourbon in the barrel

Screen shot 2016-07-09 at 4.40.20 PMNot merely satisfied with consumer acceptance of their current portfolio, the powers-that-be at Buffalo Trace wanted to try something a little different.

Taking a page from the wine industry, they had a corn crop planted on a piece of land acquired by the company with an eye toward creating an estate product: i.e., a small-batch bourbon made with ingredients entirely sourced from their own grounds.

Now, according to the Franklin, KY, company, that initial corn from that planting has been used to make a new estate bourbon that recently was put into aging barrels. The distillery says the new bourbon was distilled from a non-GMO heirloom corn strain that dates to 1876, around the time the legendary distiller E.H. Taylor was leaving his mark at Buffalo Trace. The strain, it says, “originated from a White Mastodon variety and, through selection techniques in isolation, it became Boone County White, after a farmer named James Riley coined the name.”

The crop had been monitored by master distiller Harlen Wheatley and his staff until last August, after which it was harvested and dried, then fermented and distilled at the end of May. The output was 117 barrels of the Boone County White Corn variety now aging for several years before being bottled and released. Buffalo Trace also has just planted its second crop, a variety known as Japonica Striped Corn. It originally is from Japan, and dates to the 1890s.

The plan is for a different variety of corn to be planted each year so each estate bourbon will be a unique release.

What kind of glasses do you prefer, and why?

Screen shot 2016-07-09 at 3.06.16 PMI must confess that when I drink any beverage, what I drink it from affects how I feel about the contents, or at least the experience.

Even as a college student I didn't enjoy drinking beer from bottles or cans. While I didn't mind drinking a Coke or Orange Crush (remember that?) from the bottle, for some reason I only liked beer from a mug or a pilsner glass.

With wine, the properly shaped glass is important to me, be it the taller, more slender ones for whites or more bowl-shaped style for reds. For non-alcoholic beverages, I prefer a thinner glass that allows the frostiness to reach my hand, Something refreshing about that.

So, I found a recent post on The Chive website about what sorts of glasses people prefer for their beer, and why good reading. It contains some interesting infographics for both beer and wine glasses, complete with explanations for the shape of each. You can access it by clicking here.

New NY law covers more than brunch cocktails

When the New York State Legislature passed a bill last month changing various aspects of beverage control regulations, most of the news media zeroed in on an amendment to one of the cobweb-covered "Blue Laws" left over from the puritanical days of governance.

That changed Sunday alcohol sales for restaurants from a noon to a 10 a.m. start, promoting some people to refer to it as the "Brunch Bill" since the industry made much about wanting to allow restaurants to serve bloody marys, bellinis, etc., with their breakfast fare.

However, here are a few other pertinent things in the bill that got little notice:

• The sales tax on samples of wine, cider, and spirits will be lifted to make them the same as beer sampling which is not taxed.

• Wineries will be allowed to sell wine in reusable "growlers" to be refilled at the winery.

• Tasting room customers will be allowed to take home partially finished bottles of wine, similar to the way they can from restaurants.

• Fees for a solicitor's permit for craft manufacturers, and of a bond requirement for all manufacturers will be eliminated.

• A new application form will allow combining craft manufacturing licenses (e.g., for wine, beer, cider, and spirits production) rather than requiring separate applications for each one.

So, now you know.

Wandering drinks writer returns

After a very lengthy hiatus to work on several other projects, I'm back at the keyboard to bring you the latest on the adult beverage scene.

My thanks to many of you who inquired about the status of my blog(s), and urged me to return as soon as possible. That sort of support makes all the research and writing worthwhile.

And, speaking of research and writing, my book "Barrels & Drams: The History of Whisk(e)y in Jiggers and Shots" (Sterling Epicure, NYC, 224 pages) still is available through most online booksellers.


First 'Tasting Notes' posted for the new year

Screen shot 2014-01-01 at 6.33.13 PMI just posted reviews of the latest, brilliantly-conceived single malt Scotch from Glenmorangie's Private Edition series and for a bargain-priced Rkatciteli wine from the Republic of Macedoni.

Just click here to go to my DOWD'S TASTING NOTES blog where you will find those reviews and dozens of others on wines and spirits from around the world.

And, please, feel free to comment on reviews of any products you've personally sampled.

Scottish distiller makes big move for attention

Most distilleries roll out new offerings one at a time. The BenRiach Distillery, one of Scotland's internationally lesser known operations, is trying for the spotlight with a four-item rollout to U.S. markets.

The company, founded in 1898, this week announced the marketing move. The BenRiach, meaning “The Hill of the Red Deer” in Scots Gaelic, distillery is located in the foothills of the Grampian mountains in the northeast Speyside region of Scotland. It was acquired in 2004 by Billy Walker, a veteran of the Scotch whisky industry. It has an inventory of casks that date to 1966.

Here are Walker's descriptions of the four expressions, being imported by Anchor Distilling Company of San Francisco:
• The BenRiach Horizons 12 Year Old Triple Distilled (50% ABV, suggested retail price $79.99) -- Distilled three times before it is aged for 12 years. The resulting spirit features a nose of roasted almonds and Brazil nuts, hot freshly buttered scones topped with clotted cream, and sweet heather honey; on the palate, Horizons has huge nutty characteristics balanced by a slice of sweet, creamy oak and honey.

• The BenRiach Solstice 2nd Edition 17 Year Old (50% ABV, SRP $99.99) showcases the distillery’s ability to distill whisky from both styles of malted barley – peated and non-peated. Like the first edition, it has been distilled from heavily peated malted barley before it is matured in ex-bourbon casks and finished in tawny port casks. On the nose, this Solstice features an aroma of stewed strawberries, blackberries and red currants, locked together by a muscular peaty blast, lending traces of fortified wine and grape qualities; on the palate, dry roasted nutty notes give way to heavy peat with subtle hints of dried raisins and candied fruit, culminating in a smooth, long finish.

• The BenRiach Septendecim 17 Year Old Peated Single Malt (46% ABV, SRP $79.99) is the latest addition to the distiller's peated range. It is non chill-filtered and matured in ex-bourbon casks to create a bold and intense expression. On the nose, Septendecim is a robust mix of fresh peaty aromas constructed around a central core of apples and toasted nuts dowsed in wild mountain honey; on the palate, the peaty heart is united with honey-infused raisins, roasted nuts and a luxurious leather impression.

• The BenRiach Authenticus 25 Year Old Peated Single Malt (46% ABV, SRP $249.99) completes the peated range in full-bodied, audacious style. On the nose, Authenticus exhibits elegant aromas of ripe pineapple, fresh mountain herbs and a profusion of sweet peat, producing a pungent blast of peat smoke; on the palate, the fusion of rich peat and smoldering embers are bound together by fresh herbs – oregano, aniseed and chicory – concluding with a rush of sweet, wild honey for a powerful, long-lasting impression.


Proposals aim to change Oregon's liquor sales scene

From the StatesmanJournal.com
Grocery stores could start stocking their shelves with liquor next year or liquor store agents could start earning more more if a set of proposals pushed by Oregon’s Liquor Control Commission gains traction in the February legislative session.

The four-member group voted unanimously Friday in favor of asking lawmakers to either invest in or reform Oregon’s liquor system.

“We didn’t formalize yet what we are going to ask,” OLCC Chairman Rob Patridge said. “We think it’s important that the legislature makes at least one of these items a priority.”

Liquor stores in Oregon are privately owned, but the alcohol on their shelves is owned by the state with retailers getting a percentage of each sale. Most of the state's 248 OLCC stores can only sell distilled spirits, but a decision by the commission in September allowed store owners to apply for licenses to sell wine and beer.

That upset grocery and convenience store owners, and the Northwest Grocery Association floated a ballot measure for 2014 to privatize Oregon liquor sales. The group unsuccessfully pushed for similar privatization legislation during the 2013 session.
Go here for the full story.


Flavored whiskies are picking up steam

The aroma of a spirit can be a real fooler. Take the new Jack Daniel’s Winter Jack Tennessee Cider, for example. Nosing a just-poured sample, I could have sworn it was simply a delicate apple cider that would quietly touch my palate and quickly dissipate.


Go to Dowd's Tasting Notes for my take on this new product.

Meanwhile, here's the latest on the flavored whiskey front. Beam Inc. has released a Red Stag Hardcore Cider. It is infused with natural flavors of apple cider and vanilla to target, says the company, “those who haven’t considered bourbon before.”

Other recent flavored spirits releases include Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon, Paddy Irish Whiskey BeeSting and Devil’s Apple, and Smirnoff Wild Honey and Cinna-Sugar Twist.

The new Hardcore Cider joins the Beam portfolio that includes Red Stag Black Cherry, Spiced Cinnamon and Honey Tea.

 “Since its history-making introduction in 2009, Red Stag has helped fuel rapid growth of flavor innovation in the category,” said Chris Bauder, general manager of whiskies at Beam Inc. ” … [T]he Red Stag line … has seen double-digit growth every year.”

 It is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv) and sells for a suggested retail price of $17.99 for the 750ml bottle.


Distilling icon Lincoln Henderson dies

The late Lincoln Henderson
LOUISVILLE, KY -- Lincoln Henderson, a master distiller who helped create the Woodford Reserve brand, has died.

A statement from Angel's Envy, which Henderson came out of retirement in 2006 to help launch for Brown-Forman, said Henderson had died. It did not mention a cause of death.

A statement from Brown-Forman said Henderson worked for the company nearly 40 years and was a "titan of the Kentucky bourbon industry." It said he tasted more than 430,000 barrels of bourbon to determine whether they were ready for bottling.

Henderson was an inaugural member of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame.


Absolut distributing a wood-aged vodka

Picture 5Absolut, like just about every vodka manufacturer, has a loooong line of flavored spirits to keep up with the incredibly competitive market.

Its latest release, however, is an offbeat one: Absolut Amber, aged in a variety of woods.

The company began limited U.S. distribution in April, but now says it will roll it out across North America by the end of this month.

Absolut Amber is an 80-proof (40% abv) vodka that has been aged for a minimum of six months with a variety of wood, including ex-bourbon barrels, American oak and Swedish oak.

To kick it up even more, a variety of roasted American and French oak chips is added to the aging barrels.

"Absolut Amber will create a whole new category of spirits and has been developed to appeal to vodka, whiskey and rum drinkers,” a company spokesperson told The Spirits Business.

However, it must be noted that this is not the first wood-aged vodka, although the number of distilleries producing it is infinitesimal.

Amber has a suggested retail price of $30 for the litre bottle.

Grand Marnier releasing a raspberry peach version

Grand Marnier is the go-to liqueur for many cocktails, and the House of Marnier Lapostolle is about to add to its arsenal.

The company plans to launch a limited edition Grand Marnier Raspberry Peach nationwide this month.  It is made with the basic Grand Marnier orange-flavored liqueur with natural raspberry and peach flavors infused. 

The maker suggests not only using it in a cocktail, but simply over ice or trying a splash in a sparkling wine.

The new product will be sold in a 750ml bottle at a suggested retail price of  $39.99. It is expected to remain available through the holiday season.

Buffalo Trace's Antique Collection going to market

Some Buffalo Trace products.
Some Buffalo Trace products.
Buffalo Trace Distillery earned a gold medal at the last year's International Wine and Spirits Competition for its 2012 Antique Collection. Late this month, whiskey aficionados will be able to sample its latest candidate when the Frankfort, KY, distiller releases its latest collection.

The Antique Collection was introduced more than a decade ago and has become a favorite among whiskey collectors. The 2013 whiskeys will be available in limited quantities starting in late September or early October at a suggested retail price of $70 each.

Once again, the collection features five limited-release whiskeys of various ages, recipes and proofs. They are:  

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old
The 2013 edition of this bourbon was distilled in the spring of 1993 and has been aging since then 19-year-old white American oak barrels.

George T. Stagg
The 2012 release of this perennial favorite was named the “World’s Best North American Whiskey” at the 2013 World Whiskies Awards. This year's release of uncut, unfiltered bourbon was distilled in the spring of 1997. It is 128.2 proof (64.1% abv), not as strong as some years. It has been stored on lower floors of the aging warehouse, which means cooler temperatures there kept the proof down slightly.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old
Last year’s release was awarded a 95 rating and Liquid Gold Award in Jim Murray’s 2013 Whisky Bible. This 2013 rye whiskey release is considered dry and mellow.

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye
This is an uncut and unfiltered straight rye whiskey. The 2012 edition was named “World Whisky of the Year” in Jim Murray’s 2013 Whisky Bible. This year’s Handy was distilled in the spring of 2007, and comes in at 128.4 proof (64.2% abv).

William Larue Weller
This is the collection’s uncut, unfiltered, wheated recipe bourbon. The previous edition was named the “Second Finest Whisky in the World” in Jim Murray’s 2013 Whisky Bible. The 2013 offering was distilled in the spring of 2001 and registers at 136.2 proof (68.1% abv).

Buffalo Trace Distillery is a family-owned company with a tradition that dates to 1786 and includes such distilling legends as E.H. Taylor, Jr., George T. Stagg, Albert B. Blanton, Orville Schupp, and Elmer T. Lee.


NYC distillers getting innovative in many ways

Picture 10From the New York Daily News

Here’s something New Yorkers can drink to.

Just three years after the city’s first distillery since Prohibition opened, they’re now popping up all over the area and branching out with new batches, partnerships, services and books.

Cacao Prieto, which makes makes high-end chocolate and distills Widow Jane whisky, just partnered with Nat Sherman, a brand that’s been making cigars since the 1930s. A new pop-up shop near Cacao Prieto in Red Hook employs experts to match cigars with whisky.

“Pairing an old-school brand with this new-school whisky, people really didn’t see it coming,” says Michael Herklots, executive director of retail and brand development for Nat Sherman. “But these are both brands from New York City that focus on the product, making sure things are done naturally to a really high standard.”

Tirado Distillery, operated by a doctor from the Bronx, just launched online shipping across the nation. New Jersey Artisan Distilling, based out of Fairfield, started selling their rums this month. And Kings County Distillery, the first to open in New York City since Prohibition, is releasing a book this fall.

“It’s wild and exciting,” says Allen Katz, who co-founded the New York Distilling Company in Williamsburg. “It’s hard to keep up with how many there are in the borough or in New York City. It goes hand in hand with the acceptance and acknowledgment of New York City as one of the great cocktail centers in the country and in the world.”

Go here for the full story and photos.


Craft distilling taking off in NJ

From South Brunswick Patch
Over the past five years, an intense national interest in artisanal spirits has taken moonshine mainstream.

And, as of this summer, New Jersey is no longer regulating its commercial distilling industry according to laws written just after the United States repealed Prohibition.

Encouraged by the recent easing of laws governing wine- and beer-making, several pro-alcohol legislators, with the help of a few loosely affiliated handcrafted liquor enthusiasts, lobbied their peers in Trenton to lower barriers to entering the distilling business.

They succeeded more quickly than observers anticipated. 
Go here for the full story.


Forget the Tom Collins, try a Carlos Danger

Untitled-1There are so many things that come to mind when one hears the name "Anthony Weiner" -- liar, pervert, disgraced (except in his own mind) congressman ... and former college roomate of Jon Stewart, for what that's worth.

During some of his self-exposing sexting, Weiner used the name “Carlos Danger.”

I know, it's pathetic. But, we might as well have more fun with the whole situation than he is having.

A bistro called Buttermilk Channel, located at 524 Court Street in Brooklyn's Carroll Gardens neighborhood, is. It has come up with a new cocktail called, what else?, a Carlos Danger.

“We were messing around with cocktails," manager Richard Murphy told WCBS 880. "We had some mezcal laying around, so we designed a mescal cocktail. It’s fruity, it’s juicy, it’s kind of dangerous. And, the Carlos Danger name stuck.

“People like it. They have a chuckle, and then they try it and realize it’s a really good cocktail. So it’s been going pretty well for us.” he said. (He also said he plans to vote for Weiner in the mayoral election in which it has become increasingly shown that many New Yorkers don't care about a candidate's character.)  


2 ounces mezcal 
½ ounce grapefruit juice 
½ ounce honey syrup 
½ ounce fresh lime juice 

Combine all ingredients but the Campari, shake vigorously in a shaker with fresh ice cubes. Serve with grapefruit juice and a sugared rim, with a small float of Campari for color.


The Bloody Mary can carry a heavy load

A San Francisco Bloody Mary
San Francisco has always had a strong claim to being the center of the cocktail universe, especially if that universe exists between the Pacific Ocean and the Mississippi River.

So, it is no wonder that we keep seeing über imaginative concoctions popping up there all the time.

At the right is the latest wild version of the humble Bloody Mary, this one from Cafe 21.

Count the garnishes:

  • Lobster
  • Lemon
  • Celery
  • Cocktail onion
  • Cherry pepper
  • Red bell pepper ring
  • Mushroom
  • Olive
  • Herb sprig

Most reliable accounts tell us the drink itself was originated in Paris in the 1920s by bartender Fernand Petiot, although it began as just tomato juice with a shot of vodka and called the Red Snapper. After he moved to the U.S., he perfected the drink by adding dashes of both Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces.

Not to be outdone by any West Coast cocktailery, the Edison Hotel in New York City -- located at 228 West 47th Street between 8th and Broadway -- has its own excellent portfolio of imaginative Bloody Marys:
  • The Classic (Polish vodka, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, tomato juice and hot sauce, garnished with a celery stick).
  • The Caesar (like The Classic except this is the Canadian version, so Clamato juice is used instead of tomato juice).
  • Con Sangre (tomato juice, tequila or mezcal, habañero hot sauce, garnished with a pickled carrot).
  • The Andrew Jackson (White Rye whiskey, smoked paprika, tomato juice, garnished with hot salami and olives).
  • The Colonial (tomato juice, gin, sriracha hot chile sauce and basil, garnished with cucumber).
  • The Rum House (tomato juice, white Haitian rum, ginger, allspice and a pickled pepper; garnished with a piece of candied ginger).

    I'd go on, but I'm suddenly very thirsty.

Apparently he's not yet rich enough

Travolta hard at work.
From E! News

Has someone been testing the product?

John Travolta looked in his element Wednesday, gleefully cutting a rug on the Rio de Janeiro set of a commercial he was shooting for a Brazilian rum maker.

Barefoot on the beach and wearing striped lounging pants and a black T-shirt, the smiling Oscar-nominated actor showed off his dance moves for the camera.

And while those moves weren't quite the caliber of the ones that launched his career in "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease," Travolta seemed to be having a ball.

The 59-year-old "Killing Season" star also was photographed  kicking around a soccer ball around with the trio of hunky surfers who costarred with him in the ad's beach scene. The ab-tastic gents appear to get a quick dance lesson from the Hollywood legend in the ad as well.

Travolta was also spotted on a street corner in Rio earlier in the day sharing camera time with a lovely young lady.

So, while this commercial may be specifically for Brazilian television, we can only hope that it makes its way online -- it looks kinda awesome!


Elmer T. Lee, bourbon icon, dead at 93

Picture 3
Elmer T. Lee
Elmer T. Lee, 93, the iconic master distiller whose name graces one of the bourbons made at Buffalo Trace, died Tuesday after a brief illness.

He was a pioneer in making single-barrel bourbons, and brought his first -- Blanton's -- to market in 1984. He retired in 1985, but was convinced to return to work as brand ambassador and master distiller emeritus for Buffalo Trace.

"We have lost a wonderful friend today, and he will be missed terribly," said Mark Brown, president and CEO of Sazerac, parent company of Buffalo Trace.

"In the world of making really fine whiskey, the role of master distiller is pivotal, but Elmer's meaning to those he met, came to know, and worked with closely extended far beyond that of a master distiller," Brown said.

"Elmer defined, in the simplest terms, what it means to be a great American: hard working, self-made, courageous, honest, kind, humble and humorous."

Lee was born in 1919 on a tobacco farm near Peaks Mill, Franklin County, KY. During World War II he served as a radar bombardier on a B-29, flying missions against Japan through 1945. In 1946, he was honorably discharged and returned home to study engineering at the University of Kentucky, where he graduated with honors in 1949.

In September 1949, Lee began working in the engineering department of the George T. Stagg Distillery in Frankfort. By 1966, he became plant superintendent, then plant manager in 1969. In 1984, he introduced Blanton's, the world's first single-barrel bourbon.

Lee was inducted into the Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2001, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Whisky Advocate magazine in 2002, and a Lifetime Achievement Award and Hall of Fame induction from Whisky Magazine in 2012.

RI approves in-store liquor tastings

PROVIDENCE, RI -- Another blue law bites the dust.

Rhode Island on Tuesday became the 11th state since 2009 to legalize spirits tastings at liquor stores, when Governor Lincoln D. Chaffee signed legislation into law. That brings to 38 the number of states allowing such activity.
“States across the country are updating their liquor laws to reflect modern convenience and demand,” said Jay Hibbard, vice president at the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS). “Spirits tastings are a responsible marketing tool that generates revenue for the state by boosting consumer interest in premium products. We applaud Governor Chafee for signing this bill which benefits consumers, small businesses and the State Treasury.”

The joint file bill (Senate Bill 477/House Bill 5795) gives adult consumers the opportunity to sample spirits during a controlled, pre-planned tasting event -- allowing up to two quarter-ounce samples of up to two products at any one tasting event. The bill passed the Senate by a 37-0 vote and the House by 72-0.


Gin, flavored vodka added to Prairie portfolio

Phillips Distilling Company, which has made a very good organic vodka for a number of years, has added two new products to its portfolio.

The Minneapolis company on Monday unveiled a gin and a cucumber-flavored vodka to its Prairie Organic spirits portfolio. The suggested retail price for both new products is $19.99 for a 750-ml bottle.

In 2008, Phillips partnered with a co-op of more than 900 Minnesota farmers, who are all stakeholders in the Prairie Organic brand, to create the line.

“The purpose of our farmer-owned distillery is to utilize sustainable production to handcraft superior organic spirits domestically and support Minnesota’s agricultural economy,” Pedro Caceres, Phillips president and CEO, said in a statement.

Phillips produces more than 70 different brands, including UV Vodka, Revel Stoke Spiced Whisky, and SourPuss Liqueurs. Last fall, Phillips introduced its UV Vodka line of flavored vodkas in Spain, its first venture into Europe. More recently it debuted a candy bar-flavored vodka in its dessert-flavored category.

Sugar-, gluten-free vodka expands lineup

Devotion Vodka, the New Jersey distiller, this week introduced a line of domestic vodkas it claims is the "first full line of sugar-free and gluten-free flavored vodkas."

The four-year-old company already had Blood Orange, Black and Blue and The Perfect Cosmo flavors. On Monday, it unveiled its Wild Cherry and Coconut flavored vodkas.

Devotion teamed up with Allen Flavors, maker of Arizona Iced Tea, to develop a process to eliminate sugars as a flavoring agent in its vodkas.

The expansion of its line of 100% corn-based vodkas is being termed "a major breakthrough for a small company like Devotion, which is battling the marketing muscle of the global brands for shelf space," according to Drew Adelman, Devotion Spirits founder and CEO.

“There continues to be a shift in consumer priorities, and products that maintain gluten-free and sugar-free attributes have become very popular across many categories. Other flavored vodkas are packed with sugars, while our innovative flavoring process was developed with the image-conscious adult in mind.”

The Devotion products carry a suggested retail price of $19.99 for the 750ml bottle. Just ignore any of its posters that feature the simpleton from "Jersey Shore" called "The Situation."

Angel's Envy: First the spirit, then the distillery

Lincoln Henderson at the announcement.
In a bit of reverse engineering, Angel's Share Brands LLC -- which already sells its Angel's Envy bourbon in nearly 30 states -- plans to build its own distillery.

The company, headed by Wes Henderson, on Tuesday announced a $12 million project that would convert a century-old building in downtown Louisville, KY, into a distillery and visitors' center.

"We're going to come up with some really neat stuff as soon as we get the distillery operating," said Lincoln Henderson, the brand's master distiller who came out of retirement four years ago to help his son, Wes, create the brand.

The new distillery is expected to begin production in December 2014, opposite the city's minor league baseball stadium.

Angel's Envy bourbon is aged in white oak barrels, as required by statute, for four to six years, then is finished by aging in used port casks for several months. Its rye whiskey ages for at least six years in oak barrels before finishing in Caribbean rum casks for up to 18 months.

The Angel's Share -- the name comes from the traditional reference to the amount of whiskey that evaporates in the aging process -- project is just the latest in Louisville.

Michter's Distillery, a maker of premium bourbon and rye, is in the process of transforming another historic building into a distillery that will offer tours and tastings. It is targeting a spring 2014 opening.

And, Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc., which makes Evan Williams bourbon, plans to open a small downtown distillery, open to tours and tastings.

Buffalo Trace unveils 'Experimental Collection'

Picture 3

There is much more to a good whiskey than simply its bottled alcohol percentage.

Buffalo Trace Distillery is going beyond the usual debate over whether it is preferable to have a higher entry proof, especially for wheated-recipe bourbons, or use a lower entry proof to produce a mellower finish.

Its latest Experimental Collection, released Tuesday, release is the result of four of the experiments coming off the still at a consistent 130 proof, but put into the barrel for aging using four different entry proofs. All of the barrels then were aged together for 11 years, 7 months and bottled at 90 proof (45% abv). Here are the details, as supplied by Buffalo Trace:  

Wheat 125 – At 125 proof, this was the highest entry proof used, which also resulted in a high evaporation rate of 71% in the 11-plus years it was in the barrel. The high entry proof of this wheat recipe bourbon resulted in a well-rounded flavor with the taste being a balance of cooked berries mingled with sweet honey and slight hints of spicy cloves and pepper.  

Wheat 115 – This wheated recipe bourbon was put into the barrel at 115 proof and lost the highest percentage due to evaporation, at 73%. Tasting notes for this bourbon say it is a well-balanced spirit, which was rated the best tasting by the quality analysis team at Buffalo Trace. The upfront taste is sweet and fruity, with buttery toffee notes that follow. A dry oaky finish completes the taste.  

Wheat 105 – At an entry proof of 105, the angels were particularity generous with their share, taking the lowest amount of all four experiments with a rate of 62%. The 105 entry proof produced a bourbon that is a nice balance of sweet caramel, vanilla, and dry oakiness.  

Wheat 90 – At an entry point of 90, this bourbon had a 64% evaporation rate as it aged alongside the other four experimental wheat barrels in Warehouse K. The result was a bourbon with more wood characters and slight sweet notes. It is mellow with hints of cedar and other wood flavors.

“This was an interesting experiment for us to conduct, and by keeping all of the variables consistent such as the proof off the still, aging time and placement next to each other in the warehouse, we were able to focus just on the entry proof into the barrel and see how it affected taste and evaporation rate,” said Harlen Wheatley, master distiller.

“We were pleased that what we consider the ideal entry proof for a wheated bourbon, at 114 proof, was pretty close in proof to what we evaluated to also taste the best in this experiment – which was the 115 proof experiment. It was gratifying to see that we have been on the right track this whole time with our entry proof for our wheated recipe bourbons. Another point of interest is the higher entry proofs, the higher the evaporation rates, which is something we’ve always suspected but now know for a fact.”

The wheated-recipe barrels are part of the more than 1,500 experimental barrels of whiskey aging in the warehouses of Buffalo Trace Distillery, located in Frankfort, Franklin County, KY.

Some examples of these experiments include unique mash bills, type of wood and barrel toasting levels. To further increase the scope, flexibility and range of the experimental program, an entire microdistillery, named The Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. “OFC” Micro Distillery, complete with cookers, fermenting tanks, and a state-of-the-art micro still has been constructed within the main distillery.

The latest Experimental Collection will be packaged in 375ml bottles, 12 to a case, with three bottles of each entry proof in a case. Each label will include all the pertinent information unique to that barrel of whiskey. These whiskeys will retail for approximately $46.35 each and should be available in the next few weeks.


Woodford Reserve expanding to tune of $35 million

Woodford Reserve distillery (Bill Dowd photo)
Bourbon is such a huge seller in the U.S. that distillers are raking in the cash. But, is the market becoming saturated, given all the craft distilleries that have jumped on the bandwagon?

The folks at Brown-Forman Corp. don’t think so. They announced on Thursday they plan to boost bourbon production at the Woodford Reserve Distillery, where an expansion topping $35 million will add stills, double bottling capacity and increase storage space where the whiskey matures.

The investments at the distillery, located near the village of Versailles in Kentucky’s thoroughbred country, come on the heels of a record 250,000 9-liter cases and a 28% increase in net sales in the fiscal year that ended April 30, according to B-F spokeswoman Elizabeth Conway.

“We believe that strong consumer interest in bourbon will continue, and we’re expanding our production to meet this demand,” she said.

Overall, Kentucky’s bourbon distillers have invested $265 million — the largest expansion since Prohibition ended — in new and expanded production facilities, warehouses where the bourbon ages, visitor centers, bottling lines and other upgrades, according to Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

Kentucky is home to 95% of the world’s bourbon production.

Tapatio tequila portfolio introduced to U.S.

Carlos Camarena  
(Bill Dowd photo)
Another tequila line is being introduced to the U.S. market, this one a venture of La Alteña Distillery and importer Charbay Distillers.

The 75-year-old brand is including its 110-proof Tapatio Blanco, available only in the U.S., in the portfolio of Tapatio-branded spirits.

Since 1937, Tequila Tapatio has been distilled by the Carlos Camarena family from estate-grown blue agaves in the Arandas Highlands of Mexico, using the family's traditional methods and small-batch distillation that date to the 1800s.

Back in 2007, I was invited to take part in a 70th anniversary party at the distillery in Arandas, getting an opportunity to spend some time with Camarena, who also makes the El Tesoro line. His intensity in every phase of the operation showed great care in creating new spirit expressions.

The Tequila Tapatio collection (with suggested retail prices for the one-liter bottles):

• Tequila Tapatio Blanco (aged 6 months in stainless steel), $34.
• Tequila Tapatio Reposado (aged 8 months in aged oak barrels) $38.
• Tequila Tapatio Añejo (aged 18 months in first-fill ex-bourbon casks), $44.
• Tequila Tapatio 110-Proof Blanco (aged 6 months in stainless steel), $48.

The 110-proof Blanco, also called B110, was inspired by Carlos Camarena’s plan to distill a tequila that is very smooth and flavorful, at the same time bottled at the maximum proof allowed by U.S. law.

“Since tequila consists of water, alcohol and flavors, reduce the water and you’ve increased the alcohol and flavors,” explains Marko Karakasevic, Master Distiller of Charbay Distillers. “B110 has huge florals and spicy cinnamon, plus chamomile and rich agave.”

The agaves are selected for ripeness and slow-baked for four days. After being shredded and run through a modified sugar cane mill for de-juicing, the agave "mosto" is fermented in small wooden fermenters using their proprietary 75-year-old yeast culture. The "mosto muerte" (fermented mosto) then is distilled in a stainless alambique still, which produces "ordinario." It then is distilled in copper alambiques pot stills before aging.

By the way, don't be confused about the name Camarena. There is a tequila that bears that name, but Carlos Camarena isn't involved in it. In the Camarena family lineage, three generations ago there were three Camarena brothers, each of whom founded a tequila company of his own -- El Tesoro, Cazadores and Casa Casco Viejo, the latter of which was renamed  Casa Camarena. They are separate business entities.


What was in that drink?

The lowdown on the lovely spirit of cachaça

The iconic Caipirinha cocktail.
The iconic caipirinha cocktail.
Today is International Cachaça Day.

Big deal, you say? Every day is designated as something or other?

Well, true, but cachaça -- pronounced kah / SHAW / sah -- is a very special, and generally under-appreciated, distilled spirit.

I'm especially mindful of it after spending much of yesterday with a delegation of five young Brazilian business people on a month-long visit to New York's Capital Region as part of a Rotary International Group Study Exchange.

One of Brazil's major exports besides beef (Intermission factoid: There are more beef cattle than people in Brazil, according to our visitors) is cachaça. Although often misidentified as rum, it actually is a distinctive spirit distilled from raw sugar cane juice, whereas rum is made from sugar cane byproducts, primarily molasses. Curiously under Brazil-U.S. trade agreement, it nevertheless is labeled "Brazilian rum."

Much of the familar "heat" rum supplies is not present in cachaça, which at least in the higher priced versions is very smooth, with a long finish, and stands up beautifully to all sorts of herbs and fruits in mixed cocktails.

Cachaça is the base for the caipirinha cocktail that has so enamored tourists to South America in recent years that they demanded it when they returned home. That demand has been answered in many of the better cocktail lounges and bars throughout the U.S.

In my view, that means those consumers should be able to know the source of the cachaça is held to certain standards in purity and safety rather than being just anything tossed together and put in a pretty bottle. After judging several cane spirit competitions, I can attest to the fact that the latter has been the case too often and that quality has often been wildly erratic.

There are as many as 2,000 different names for cachaça in the vernacular, according to one authoritative Brazilian publication. Many cropped up over the years as illicit distillers sought to call their distilled sugar cane something that would not attract the attention of government tax collectors and regulators or even back in the days when the spirit was banned.

Now, the matter of quality seems to be addressed by an exchange of trade letters between the two nations meant to increase trade in cachaça -- the bulk of which is made in Brazil -- and bourbon and Tennessee whiskey. Brazil is a potentially huge market for U.S. distillers since it is South America's largest nation (Intermission factoid: If you subtract Alaska from the U.S. land mass, Brazil is larger) and has more than 200 million inhabitants with a booming economy.

Here's a recipe for the iconic, and easy to make, caipirinha:


½ lime, quartered
1 teaspoon white sugar
2½ ounces cachaça
1 cup ice cubes


Squeeze, then drop two slivers of the lime in a large rocks glass.
Add the sugar, crush the lime and sugar and mix with a spoon.
Pour in the cachaça and plenty of ice. Stir well, serve with a lime garnish.

Distiller releasing Connecticut's first aged whiskey

Onyx Moonshine aging in small barrels.
EAST HARTFORD, CT -- Connecticut is getting in on the craft distilling craze.

Onyx Spirits Company has announced plans to release the state's first aged whiskey, although it bears a name similar to many unaged whiskies now on the market.

What they are calling Onyx Moonshine is presently resting in nearly three dozen charred American white oak barrels sealed in organic beeswax, the standard method for aging American bourbons and rye whiskies.

Don't start scrambling for your liquor store if you don't live in the state, however. The distillery says it will limit distribution to stores and restaurants in Connecticut, with only one barrel allowed per location.

The total release is expected to be just under 1,000 bottles, with a suggested retail price of $60.


Glenfiddich releases newest Cask of Dreams

A program that began two years ago culminated today with the launch of Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch Whisky's 2013 Cask of Dreams Limited Edition Bottling, exclusive for the U.S. 

The release is the second, and final, installment of a program that began in 2001 to honor William Grant, who in 1887 declared his dream to create “the best dram in the valley.”

The 2012 Cask of Dreams campaign encouraged Americans to visit the Glenfiddich website and share their ultimate life goals for a chance to win a grant toward making it a reality. In addition to these entries being written on the actual cask, two individuals were selected each month to have their name and dream featured on an exclusive edition of Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams. One grand prize winner was awarded $15,000 as an incentive to get started. This year’s edition brings those stories to the public by having all of the winners featured on the bottle’s packaging. 

Cask of Dreams is a special marriage of Glenfiddich whiskies taken from a selection of American oak barrels holding matured whiskies of a variety of ages, with the youngest at 14. This whisky was decanted by Master Distiller Brian Kinsman into virgin American oak barrels to bring an intense vanilla sweetness.

The blend is limited to 6,660 bottles, with a suggested retail price of $99.

Hillrock Estate releasing two new whiskies

Picture 1
Hillrock Single Malt
ANCRAM, NY -- Hillrock Estate Distillery today announced the release of two new whiskeys, timed for Father's Day shopping.

The fledgling Columbia County operation, which launched its Solera Aged Bourbon last October, has released Hillrock Estate Distillery Single Malt Whiskey, the first sustainable product handcrafted at the distillery, and George Washington’s Rye Whiskey – Estate Edition.

Picture 2
Washington's Rye
The Hillrock team will celebrate the launch of the two new products with an open house event on Saturday, June 15, from noon to 5 p.m. at the distillery. Master Distiller Dave Pickerell will be on hand to discuss whiskeys and sign purchased bottles. Products from local farmers will be available for sampling.

The single malt is a 100% barley golden amber whiskey, sold at 96.4 proof (48.2% ABV) for a suggested retail price of $125 for the 750ml bottle. About half the production has been pre-sold.

The barley was grown on the estate using organic practices, and after harvesting, was malted on site in New York’s first purpose-built malthouse on-premise at a distillery since before Prohibition.

Danielle Eddy, the marketing guru at Hillrock, notes, "Hillrock is the first field-to-glass distillery in New York State since before Prohibition, and is the only distillery malting estate grown grains on-premise. With no peat, this limited edition single malt has no smoke on the nose or palate, but does exhibit the clove and cinnamon notes indicative of the terroir of the estate."

The George Washington's Rye is a pot distilled whiskey produced following Washington’s original recipe at Hillrock Estate Distillery by Pickerell, who also is the master distiller at Mount Vernon, VA, where Washington's distillery was recreated several years ago.

I have had the pleasure of lending a hand during several distilling projects at Mount Vernon, and can attest to Pickerell's knowledge and exacting standards. Add to that the talents of Hillrock Head Distiller Tim Welly and you have a potent team.

Each bottle contains a portion of whiskey made at Mount Vernon. The 86 proof (43% ABV) unaged rye has a suggested retail price of $70 per 375ml bottle. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this whiskey will go to supports the educational programs at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

• If you'd like to get an inside look at Hillrock as it was being created, go to my illustrated report

• And, if you'd like to get an inside look at the Mount Vernon facility, go to another of my reports here.