Bourbon line enters the Castle

Castle Brands Inc., an international marketer of such premium spirits as Boru Vodka, has bought McLain & Kyne Ltd., a Louisville, KY, developer of premium small batch bourbon.

McLain & Kyne's line includes Jefferson's Reserve, Jefferson's and Sam Houston. The company now will be a fully-owned subsidiary of Castle, which is headquartered in New York.

Both the McLains and the Kynes, two sides of the Zoeller family, have roots in the bourbon industry dating to the late 18th and early 19th century.

Castle Brands other labels include Gosling's Rum, Sea Wynde Rum, Knappogue Castle Irish Single Malt Whiskey, Clontarf Irish Whiskey, Celtic Crossing Liqueur, Pallini Limoncello, Raspicello and Peachcello, and Brady's Irish Cream.


Welsh distiller broadens line

Penderyn Distillery, the Welsh whisky maker, is adding vodka and gin to its premium spirits line.

Brecon Special Reserve Gin is packaged in a clear glass bottle. Brecon Five Vodka is intended to look like a block of ice. The company also has redesigned its cream liqueur brand Merlyn. The work is overseen by master distiller Jim Swan and distiller Gillian Howell (seen here).

In the spring of 2005, Penderyn -- then just three years old -- introduced its first single-malt whiskey, created from barley malt and Welsh spring water. As I reported at the time, the privately owned distillery, which operates in the Brecon Beacons National Park, revives a Welsh industry that had provided experienced whiskey makers who were among the founding fathers of the American bourbon industry. In Penderyn, the American link lives on. The whiskey is aged in used bourbon casks shipped from the U.S. before being finished in Wales in rare Madeira barrels.

Brecon Five Vodka is five column distilled, using 100% wheat grain spirit. Brecon "Special Reserve" Gin uses 10 different botanicals married with barley spirit. Both use local water from park springs.

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Ouzo, and others, remain exclusively Greek

The battle over what basic ingredient constitutes "true" vodka is temporarily solved, pending a final vote by the European Union Parliament in March. But Greek producers of the spirts known as ouzo, tsipouro, tsikoudia and Zivania can relax: They remain exclusively Greek.

"Now these drinks have their competitiveness protected, both within the European Union and toward third countries," said a statement from Greece's Agriculture Ministry. "Following particularly difficult negotiations, the designations of origin have been secured."

The spirit Zivania is made on the island of Cyprus. The three other spirits are made in various parts of Greece.

Ouzo, which has a distinctive taste of licorice, is made from the distilled residue of grapes, with anise and herbal flavoring added during production. The drink turns cloudy when water is added, and is similar in strength to vodka at about 80%. Tsipouro and tsikoudia are variants of ouzo, often without anise flavoring. Zivania also is made from grape residue but is stronger than the mainland products. Ouzo is by far the most popular of the four, at home and abroad.

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'Most expensive bottle of liquor' verified

There is something in the world of adult beverages that sours people to try coming up with "the most expensive ..."

Finish that sentence with "cocktail," "bottle," "spirit," "vintage" or whatever strikes your fancy.

The latest official shocker? The $255,000 paid back on July 20 by an unidentified private collector for a bottle of Tequiila Ley .925 was certified on Oct. 26 by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive bottle of liquor ever purchased.

The bottle itself ain't cheap. As seen here, held by Tequila Ley .925 CEO Fernando Altamirano, solid platinum and white gold were used to craft the bottle.

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Vodka: What's in a name?

Vodka can be made only from grain, potatoes or sugar beets.

Unless, of course, you're not beholding to European Union rules. Then any organic matter is fair game.

The EU Agriculture Ministers agreed this week on the severely limited definition of vodka, suggested as a compromise decision by Finland, which holds the rotating EU presidency.

The decision ended some oftimes-testy debating over the definition. According to the resolution, if the beverage is made from other ingredients, including grapes, that will have to be indicated on the label. Of course, all this still has to go to the full European Parliament for debate, and debate and debate, when it reconvenes next March.

Current EU rules, introduced 17 years ago, stipulate only that vodka should be produced using "agricultural products." The definition controversy was part of a more general discussion on new regulations on alcohol and spirits aimed at clarifying the rules on production and appelations.

According to a Vinexpo study, world vodka consumption will rise by 11.4% between 2003 and 2008.

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Smokin' good Virginia whiskey

SPERRYVILLE, VA -- Virginia has been getting more recognition in recent years for its improving and expanding wine sector. But most students of American history will say "whiskey" well before "wine" when it comes to identifying the Commonwealth's

That's a heritage Rick Wasmund of Rappahannock County is trying to uphold with his own single malt whiskey, about which he's quick to tell anyone who wants to listen, "This whiskey doesn't speak for itself, it sings."

Wasmund's Copper Fox Distillery is located opposite his first business, Copper Fox Antiques, here. It is in the small maze of pots and tubes that he now spends much of his time along with his mother, Helen, and friend Sean McCaskey distilling their whiskey a batch at a time.

What makes Wasmund's whiskey unusual is that he has a different way of insitlling it with a special flavor, somewhat in the manner of Scotch whisky distillers who incorporate the aroma and flavor of peat smoke in their drinks.

As he explained it to a reporter for the Culpeper Star Exponent, "Wasmund stumbled upon his innovation seven years ago while burning some rotting cherry wood, on his property at Pelham farms in Middleton, Virginia. 'It was really just one of those "Eureka" type of moments,' said Wasmund. 'I realized how good the smoke smelled when it struck me that I had never heard of a whiskey made with fruit wood." As Wasmund investigated further, he found that fruit wood had indeed not been used to flavor a whiskey."

That led to a trip to a six-week internship to help produce Scotch at the Bowmore Distillery on the island of Islay. And, that, in turn led to the founding of Copper Fox LLC and a business deal with Virginia Lightning, an existing distillery in Culpeper. The first Copper Fox whiskey was produced but the business partners' deal went bad and still is mired in legal action.

Wasmund and Sean McCaskey re-started the whiskey-making project, using a combination of cherry and apple wood, the smoke from which permeates the whiskey. They distilled their first official batch in January, then called Wasmund's Single Malt Whiskey.

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Orange: The basic black of cocktail colors

Someone once said Americans will eat anything if you color it orange. The same can be said about what we drink.

A casual stroll down the appropriate aisle of your favorite fully-stocked liquor store will reveal a variety of beverages accented by the essences -- or their chemical equivalents -- of lemons, limes and kiwis, of strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, of bananas, coconuts and vanilla beans.

But, above all, there is orange.

The exigencies of the competitive world of spirits long ago took drinks out of the boutique age of hand-crafted beverages made by backyard entrepreneurs and clusters of monks. Some do remain, but the majority of the market belongs to the big guys who do things in a big way.

Take Danisco Cultor USA Inc. Not exactly a household name, but the international food chemistry giant that has U.S. installations in New York, Florida, Kansas and Missouri is a powerful force in its competitive niche.

Food Ingredient News, a leading industry publication, recently featured Danisco's new Citrus Sensations line of flavors for the low, mid-proof spirit and malt-based drinks that are growing rapidly in popularity among younger American and European consumers.

The idea of the Citrus Sensations line is to let drink manufacturers react quickly to market preferences -- read that "fads" -- and, thus, maintain a competitive edge.

Manufacturers simply add the appropriate Citrus Sensations flavoring to a prescribed amount of alcohol plus still or carbonated water that is 5% fruit juice. The result: a custom made, fruit-flavored alcoholic drink that can quickly be put on the market. Almost as important, it also can quickly be pulled off the market when the fad passes, thus avoiding a waste of natural ingredients in storage.

Robert Saunders, Danisco's chief flavorist, told Food Ingredient News the flavors were concocted by research teams from the U.S., England, Mexico, Brazil and China.

Most are orange or orange-like, in keeping with the prevailing trend -- blood orange, honey tangerine, tangelo, pomelo -- in addition to sweet Indian lime and citrus spice.

Orange-flavored spirits are nothing new. Even the most casual drinker knows about such old standards as Grand Marnier and Cointreau, and even some brands of orange bitters. They had the orange market largely to themselves for decades. But they are liquers -- fortified, sweetened liquors -- while many of today's pop cocktails are built on basic alcohols such as vodka and gin.

Because your eyes are more easily fooled than your tastebuds, you may not even be aware that drinks made with such exotic items as blue or green Curacao, for example, are in disguise. They're all orange at heart.

Curacao, you see, is the generic term for orange liqueurs of any color produced from the peel of a bitter variety of Seville oranges. Most of the fruit now comes from Tahiti, but originally grew mostly on the West Indian island of Curacao, thus the name.

That seems appropriate since the global marketplace is being supplied with orange essence from the most unexpected places these days.

Take Carmel 777, a three-year-old orange-flavored brandy from Israel (about $23 for a 750ml bottle). It's getting very positive reviews even if Israel doesn't immediately come to mind when you think brandy.

But, that is merely a start. Beer and whiskey come readily to mind when you think of Irish potables, but Ireland's Boru brand vodka is gaining a foothold in the market with its orange-infused version.

Vodka is an obvious niche for such flavors, since the neutral distilled spirit combines so readily with infused flavors of all sorts. But in the world of spirits even the niches have niches. While such popular brands as Grey Goose, Three Olives, Smirnoff, Burnett's and others seem content to tell you they use oranges, others have gotten intensely specific about ingredients.

For example, Domaine Charbay, the Napa Valley, Calif., winery and distillery, has made its flavoring source part of the name of one of its vodkas, offering Charbay Blood Orange.

Van Gogh, the Dutch vodka and gin maker, now offers Vincent Oranje Vodka, using the Dutch spelling as a nod to the artist's origins. The manufacturer makes a point of telling consumers the flavor comes from a combination of Spanish Valencia oranges and Mediterranean blood oranges.

But ready-flavored drinks aren't the whole story. The pros like to use orange juice as at least one element, if not the main ingredient, in handmade drinks.

David Tucker, at the Crowne Plaza hotel's martini bar in Albany, NY, is a good example. He has something he calls the Tootsie Roll martini, using Stoli vodka, dark creme de cacao and orange juice garnished with a chocolate Kiss.

Making drinks at home does not, of course, have to be complicated or necessarily contain hard-to-find ingredients.

The Orange Blossom is a simple, time-honored concoction I remember my grandparents' generation enjoying: 2 ounces each of gin and orange juice, 1 teaspoon of superfine sugar, shake with ice, strain into a glass and garnish with an orange slice.

A simple orange drink I came across last winter on the Caribbean island of Antigua that seemed to appeal to all tastes was the Yellow Bird: 4 ounces of fresh orange juice with a jigger of white rum and a splash of Galliano liquer, over ice.

Tasty, refreshing and just perfect in bathing suit weather.

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Cocktails in cans tested in Florida

Canned cocktails might seem like a waste of good liquor at first glance. But, it's been working elsewhere in the world and Diageo thinks it stands a good chance here as well.

That's why the spirits industry giant is using the Tampa, FL, area to test market its 12-ounce canned ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails that contain the same alcohol content as most beers. Early returns on sales of the vodka-, rum- and whisky-based cocktails are favorable.

The flavors being tested:

• Captain Morgan and Cola
• Smirnoff Vodka and Lemon-Lime Soda
• George Dickel Whisky and Cola
• Seagram's 7 American Whiskey and Lemon-Lime Soda

"They're selling very well and we're pleased," said Bob Gibson, marketing director for the 150-store ABC Fine Wines. He told Advertising Age that Diageo plans to expand the test area and include an additional flavor featuring Crown Royal whiskey.

The drinks are 5 percent alcohol by volume and are packaged in 12-ounce cans, allowing their sale next to beer in convenience stores, gas stations and other retail outlets.

RTD cocktails have been accepted in numerous overseas markets. In Australia, Beam Global Wine & Spirits sells 7 million cases of its Jim Bean Bourbon Whisky and Cola annually. Here, the Diageo test is expected to run until next spring.

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Washington's whiskey hits the big time

If price is a hallmark of whiskey quality, chalk up another first for George Washington.

In addition to being, as the historic phrase goes, "first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen" a bottle of the first George Washington Distillery Straight Rye Whiskey produced at Mount Vernon in 200 years went at auction for $100,000.

That makes it the record for the price of a bottle of American whiskey.

The Spirit of Mount Vernon dinner raised more than $200,000 in table sales, raising the total tally to more than $350,000 raised for Mount Vernon during both the dinner and auction. The auction lot, which included bottle numbers one and two of a limited edition of 24 bottles, was produced in October 2003 by a team of master distillers, then aged in a specially-made oak cask for more than two years on the grounds of Washington's estate in Virginia, then hand-bottled and labeled on Sept. 27 this year.

Marvin Shanken, chairman of M. Shanken Communications, made the high bid of $100,000. Shanken founded lifestyle and business publications for the wine and spirits industry, including Wine Spectator and Impact. Shanken is donating bottle No. 1 to a permanent display in the George Washington Distillery Museum, which will open to the public in April 2007. Bottle No. 2 will stay in his personal collection.

Ivan Menezes, president and CEO of Diageo NA, purchased bottle No. 3 for $25,000. Mark Smith, vice president of Brown Forman Corp., purchased bottle No. 5 for $12,000. Bottle No. 4 was presented to England's Prince Andrew, who cut the ribbon earlier in the day at the official dedication of the newly reconstructed distillery -- a project Mount Vernon began in 2000 with a grant from the Distilled Spirits Council and the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America.

The master distillers who participated in the project were Joseph Dangler of Virginia Gentleman, Chris Morris of Jack Daniel's, Lincoln Henderson of Woodford Reserve, David Pickerell of Maker's Mark (see above offering samples of clear whiskey to Mount Vernon visitors), Jerry Dalton of Jim Beam, Ken Pierce of Very Old Barton, Gerry Webb of I.W. Harper and Geo. A Dickel, James Graf and Raylene Perry of Platte Valley, Jimmy Russell of Wild Turkey, Ron Call of Cruzan Rum, and Willie Ramos of Bacardi.

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