20081030

A celebri-quote (or is it?) Lydia Hearst

• Lydia Hearst, an heir of the famous Hearst Corp. communications empire and a noted model and New York socialite, has been outed as the non-writer of her own Page Six Magazine column. Turns out she was interviewed by a reporter, who put her thoughts into printable form. Here's a comment that appeared under her byline in the column before she was found out.

“I sit down and I write what I’m thinking and what I feel — it happens all at once, I never stop writing.

"Probably when I go home tonight, I’m going to open my computer and just start typing … I always envision myself being a Hemingway type — sitting in a dark corner with my glass of, I guess it would be, my glass of tequila and lime juice — that’s how I do it.”

[Go here for more Celebri-Quotes.]

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World Whiskies Awards 2008 revealed

The result of World Whiskies Awards 2008 are in.

Getting to them requires wading through a huge field of entries, with judging by Whisky Magazine’s independent editorial panel drawn from what the UK magazine's editor Rob Allanson calls "the best journalists and retailers across the world, and also by industry representatives made up of master blenders, distillers and brand ambassadors."

Three rounds of blind tastings were held. Round one was conducted by the editorial panel at their homes. The judges were simply sent sample bottles marked with the ABV and category. Whiskies were split up by regions and styles. The entries, which increased from last year’s competition, then were divided among the judges, who then tasted and marked the spirits out of a high score of 10 down to 0. The highest scoring whiskies in this round gave us the subcategory winners, which then went to the second round of tastings, held in London. Winners in London decided the category champions.

• CATEGORY WINNERS

World’s Best Highland Single Malt Whisky
Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or

World’s Best Speyside Single Malt Whisky
The Glenrothes 1978

World’s Best Irish Single Malt Whiskey
Bushmills 16 Years Old

World’s Best Japanese Single Malt Whisky
Yoichi 20 Years Old

World’s Best Other Single Malt Whisky
Privus 05

World’s Best Island Non Islay Single Malt Whisky
Talisker 30 Years Old

World’s Best Islay Unpeated Single Malt Whisky
Bunnahabhain 25 Years Old

World’s Best Islay Peated Single Malt Whisky
Lagavulin 16 Years Old

World’s Best Island Single Malt Whisky
Talisker 30 Years Old

• SUB-CATEGORY WINNERS

Highland 12 and under
Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or
Highland 13-20
Old Pulteney 17 Years Old
Highland 21 and over
Old Pulteney 21 Years Old
Highland no age
Balblair 1989 Vintage

Speyside 12 and under
The Balvenie 12 Years Old
Speyside 13-20
The Glenlivet 18 Years Old
Speyside 21 and over
The Glenrothes 1978
Speyside no age
The Glenrothes Select Reserve

Irish 12 and under
Tyrconnell Sherry Finish
Irish 13-20
Bushmills 16 Years Old
Irish no age
Connemara Cask Strength

Japanese 12 and under
The final vintage of Hanyu
Japanese 13-20
Yoichi 20 Years Old
Japanese 21 and over
Ichiro 23 Years Old

Other no age
Privus 04
Other no age
Privus 05
Other no age
Penderyn

Island Non Islay 12 and under
Talisker 10 Years Old
Island Non Islay 13-20
Highland Park 16 Years Old
Island Non Islay 21 and over
Talisker 30 Years Old
Island Non Islay no age
The Arran Malt

Islay Unpeated 12 and under
Bruichladdich 12 Years Old
Islay Unpeated 13-20
Bunnahabhain 18 Years Old
Islay Unpeated 21 and over
Bunnahabhain 25 Years Old

Islay Peated 12 and under
Ardbeg 10 Years Old
Islay Peated 13-20
Lagavulin 16 Years Old
Islay Peated 21 and over
Lagavulin 21 Years Old
Islay Peated no age
Lagavulin Distillers Edition

 JUDGING PANEL

Chairman of Judges: Dave Broom

U.S. Judges: William M. Dowd of Dowd On Drinks, Charles Cowdry, Mike Miller of Delilah’s, Tonya LeNell of LeNell's.

European Judges: Rob Allanson of Whisky Magazine, Thierry Benitah of La Maison du Whisky, Robin Laing, Charles MacLean, Martine Nouet, Dominic Roskrow, Keir Sword, Royal Mile Whiskies.

Japanese Judges: Masashi Goto of Main Malt bar, Nobuyuki Nakamura of Campbelltoun Loch bar, Koukichi Kuribayashi, Mejiro Tanakaya, Hideo Yamaoka of Shogakukan Inc.

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Beefeater 24 aiming at air travelers

International travelers have caught on to the wide variety of bargains and choices offered to fans of adult beverages in airport duty free shops.

The latest, at London Heathrow Airport, is Beefeater 24, a new gin from the iconic British distiller.

The gin, distilled in London, is named for its 24-hour steeping process and is presented in a new bottle inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement. Inside is master distiller Desmond Payne's new 12 botanical recipe that includes what he terms "a rare blend of teas at its heart."

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Halloween treats in a glass

As they say around halloween time, I vant to dhrink your ... cocktails.

For those not afraid to try something different, here are a few suggestions I've culled from various sources, including the manufacturers of certain ingredients.

• CANDY CORN MARTINI (seen here)

2 ½ ounces Orzel vodka, chilled
½ ounce pumpkin liqueur
Candy Corn

Place several pieces of candy corns into a chilled martini glass. Combine vodka and pumpkin liqueur in a shaker with ice. Shake well, then strain into the candy-filled glass.

• VAMPIRE'S DELIGHT

8 ounces pineapple juice
8 ounces raspberry liquor
8 ounces Leblon cachaça

Mix all ingredients in large punch bowl with ice and serve.

Note: For a ghoulish effect, the night before fill latex glove with water and red food dye and tie off tightly with elastic. Make sure to hang, fingers down, in your freezer. Before party run water over glove briefly which loosens glove enough to pull glove off of the ice. Float iced hand in punch bowl.

• SEVEN DEADLY SINS

This drink, a cousin to the Long Island Iced Tea, comes from the Monster Bar, a Web site full of all sorts of Halloween drinks, some good, some just plan weird.

½ ounce vodka
½ ounce gin
½ ounce tequila
½ ounce light rum
½ ounce dark rum
½ ounce dry vermouth
½ ounce sweet vermouth
2 tbsp. grenadine
1 tsp. lemon or lime juice
7 maraschino cherries
Cola

Pour all ingredients except cola into a collins glass or other tall glass with several ice cubes. Then add the cola,stir and add seven cherries.

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20081029

Bacardi to unveil special rum

Psst. Bacardi Reserva Limitada.

Never heard of it? You will, when the drinks press latches on to it.

The distiller's newest, and, it says, "most exclusive," rum will be unveiled next week during a special dinner at the first Taste of Cayman Charity Wine Dinner on Grand Cayman.

Joaquin Bacardi III, president and CEO of Bacardi Corp. and great, great grandson of company founder Don Facundo Bacardi, will visit the island to make the presentation.

The "founder's blend" rum has been matured in American oak barrels for 10-16 years -- an average of 12 -- to produce a deep golden hued product. It is individually bottled, numbered and packed by hand,.

Maggie Matías, Bacardi vice president and managing director, told the Cay Compass News that the rum "will be treated as a very exclusive, high–end product, available only at the Bacardi Visitors’ Center in Puerto Rico and in the Caribbean for selected clients and restaurants."

The 80-proof rum will go for a suggested retail price of $55.

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Michigan artisan distillers: We're No. 2!

From the Lansing, MI, State Journal:

A handful of Michigan entrepreneurs are sobering up to the business potential of hard liquor.

From building small-scale distillers that use Michigan agricultural products to exporting and distributing spirits, industry experts and business owners say booze could be a niche industry in areas that need a shot of economic growth.

A recent Michigan law change makes it easier and less expensive for the state's microbreweries, wineries and others to start distilling liquors. So far, there are 11 distilleries in Michigan, including Michigan Brewing Co. in Webberville, Uncle John's Cider Mill in St. Johns and a research distillery run by Michigan State University.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States expects U.S. revenue to spirits makers to reach $19 billion this year. Revenue rose 5.6 percent to $18.2 billion in 2007, the Washington-based group reported earlier this year. ...

Michigan has more artisan distillers than any state but California, which has 22, according to a directory published by the American Distilling Institute, a California-based trade group.

[Go here for the full story.]

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20081028

Dalmore releases 50 year old Scotch

William M. Dowd photo illustration

This is one in an occasional series of postings pointing out unusual spirits or collections.

Talk about aged whiskies. The Dalmore is launching a 50-year-old Scotch whisky expression to the United Kingdom market.

It contains whisky distilled 140 years ago, according to the company which describes it as one of the world's "oldest" whiskies. It is a limited edition release, with just 191 boxed Portugese crystal decanters being released through the travel retail sector.

It is retailing for about US$1,077 per unit.

"I believe we are the only distillery which has the depth of stock to create such a long nurtured whisky as this," Richard Paterson, Dalmore master distiller, said in a statement.

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Beam spells new rye whiskey (rī)1

(rī)1

I'll get back to that typographical nightmare in a moment.

Last year, I wrote a cover story for Whisky magazine titled "The Rye Rebound."

The editors of the UK magazine that is the bible of the global spirits industry were of the opinion that rye whiskey was regaining some measure of popularity among consumers and wanted me to check it out.

Their premise intrigued me. After all, along with many of my generation, I'd cut my teeth on the stuff because it was (1.) readily available, and (2.) cheap yet drinkable.

As I noted at the time, back in the dark ages of my occasionally misspent youth, when the legal drinking age in my home state of New York was 18 and minimum wage was less than a dollar an hour, 30 cents would buy you a nice highball. Really.

Highball. Then a common term for a simple mixed cocktail, now a quaint, anachronistic word. The highball of choice for my untrained young palate was rye and ginger. Four ounces of ginger ale and a shot of whatever rye the bartender poured into it. I wasn't into labels in those days. Even for the ginger ale.

Rye went the way of my youth, for the most part, until the past few years when it has become increasingly bandied about and new versions of it have been released by adventurous distillers.

Sazerac Straight Rye, Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye, Rittenhouse 21 Year Old Single Barrel Rye, Rittenhouse 100 Proof Bottled-in-Bond Rye ... . These have been among the top medal winners as rye began coming out of the shadows.

The rebound, however, wasn't as rapid as the bourbon comeback of a few years ago, or the veritable flood of vodkas that have pushed ginmakers into their labs to come up with a way to mount a comeback of their own among white spirits.

(By statute, rye whiskey is made from a mash of at least 51% rye, a grass that is part of the wheat family. The remainder usually is malted barley and corn. That makes it unique among North American whiskies. Although much Canadian whiskey is labeled “rye,” modern products use very little of the grain.)

Such star bourbon makers as Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Old Overholt and Van Winkle have been cautiously pushing their ryes. Old Potrero, lesser known but a must-have with rye aficionados, has several styles, as does Michter's, arguably the United States’ oldest existing rye name despite a gap in its lineage. Most historians think it supplied George Washington's Continental Army during its bitter winter encampment at Valley Forge, PA, in the midst of the breakaway from England. Although Michter's distillery today is located in Bardstown, KY, then it was in Schaefferstown, PA.

And, speaking of Washington, his own fondness for rye whiskey made on his Mount Vernon, VA, farms was reborn on a sunny April afternoon in 2007 when his distillery, destroyed by a devastating fire nearly two centuries ago and just rebuilt from descriptions in his diaries, was unveiled. It’s a working distillery and has been producing rye.

Every now and then an incredibly delicious example of rye has come along. And, with it, the rebound ratchets up one more notch. One such is Black Maple Hill 23 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey, without doubt the finest rye I’ve ever experienced. It also is in the over-$140 a bottle ultra-premium category.

It is not alone there. Heaven Hill has a limited edition of Rittenhouse Very Rare 21-Year-Old Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey priced at $150 a bottle.

But in the more inclusive $40-$95 slice of the premium-price niche where the mass of discerning people shop, there have not been a large number of new entries in the past 18 months or so. Until now. Beam Global Spirits has just released (rī)1 -- which translates to "rye one."

While it may create nightmares for typesetters and graphics people with such a strained effort at coming up with a name that sets it apart, it does have the Beam cache behind it, something not to be taken lightly.

The ruby-tinted amber spirit weighs in at a suggested retail price of $46-$48 for the 750ml bottle, and 46% (92 proof) alcohol by volume. This is a proprietary blend, which gives Beam plenty of leeway in its creation, although the company says (rī)2 and (rī)3 variants are in the works to create a wider product line.

[Go here for my tasting notes on (rī)1.]

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Letters: How can I sell my Laphroaig 40?

Bill:

Have a bottle of 40 years old Laphroaig for sale. Any suggestions?

-- Chas Lux, Eau Claire WI

Chas:

There may be 40-year-old bottles of various ages of Laphroaig Scotch whisky, but the only 40-year-old Laphroaig Scotch put in bottles is part of a special release from the iconic Islay, Scotland, distiller. Just under 2,400 bottles were released from what Laphroaig says is a "never to be repeated production run" that was aged in European oak casks.

It is the oldest Laphroaig ever produced, and went directly from cask to bottle at a strength of 42.4% alcohl by volume (84.8 proof). The retail price set by the company was £1,000, the equivalent of $1,559.49 at today's currency exchange rate.

How much you could sell it for depends on two things:

(1.) Market demand, which will go up slowly from the original retail price if the bottle remains unopened and protected from extremes of temperature.

(2.) Whether you are licensed to sell spirits. That is quite important if you plan to advertise the availability of the whisky. Otherwise, a private transaction may be permissible. Check with your state's liquor control board for specifics.

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20081027

Single malts may be in an era of vulnerability

William M. Dowd photo

From The Scotsman newspaper:

Glenfiddich, Macallan and Glenmorangie are among the big names that have prospered as single malt Scotch whiskies enjoyed a boom in sales.

But, they could soon be usurped by the growing popularity of imported whiskies as British consumers develop a growing taste for US and Irish blends such as Jack Daniel's, Jameson and Bushmills.

After decades of growth, which has helped breathe new life into the industry, evidence suggests sales of malt may finally have peaked.

[Go here for the full story.]

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Diageo's 'Special Release' lineup revealed

William M. Dowd photo illustration

This is one in an occasional series of postings pointing out unusual spirits or collections.

Only 59 shopping days until Christmas. Don't wait, however, if one of the limited-edition annual single malt whisky releases from Diageo is on your list.

The eighth annual list of rare single malts from the spirits giant was released today. If past performance is any indicator, despite the current shaky worldwide economy the whiskies will sell out quickly.

This year's 10 "Special Releases" include a very wide range of super-premium whiskies selected by Diageo's experts.

• Linkwood: Three different expressions of the 26-year-old were aged identically for their first dozen years, then finished in different woods for 14 more years -- previously filled port, rum and sweet red wine casks, then bottled at natural strength in small 50cl bottles created for this release. Only 1,260 individually numbered bottles will be available.

• Brora: A rare 25-year-old Coastal Highland single malt from a now-closed distillery, available in 3,000 numbered bottles.

• Port Ellen: A 29-year-old from an Islay distillery that has been closed since 19833.

• Talisker: Two Isle of Skye single malts, in 25- and 30-year-old bottlings.

• Caol Ila: Two expressions from here. One is an 8-year-old distilled in the "Highland style" in a batch made once a year from unpeated malt. The other is a 12-year-old Lagavulin vatted from refill American white oak casks.

• Glen Elgin: A 16-year-old from this Speyside distillery was aged in formerly filled European oak casks, in an edition of not quite 10,000 individually numbered bottles.

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The Annals of Vodka keep adding chapters

The phenomenally crowded vodka market doesn't seem to be scaring off any would-be competitors. Barely a week goes by without the introduction of a new or new-to-the-U.S. brand.

The latest is a little something called Orzel Vodka, a re-branded Polish spirit that, at a suggested $35 per 750ml bottle, fits into the super-premium niche.

The product is from Heritage Brands, a Plantation, FL, subsidiary of the Stock Spirits Group which handles 40 different brands of alcohol. Last year, the company unveiled a Polish vodka called Czysta de Luxe, which it describes as "a product of a six-phase distillation process followed by filtration over quartz.'' After a year of good sales in Europe, the company rebranded it as Orzel -- Polish for "eagle," the country's national symbol -- and put it in a more eye-catching decanter style bottle it thinks will go over well with the younger consumers in the U.S.

Its debut was at various cocktail events in Miami's South Beach in April and it has been trickling into hot nightspots in New York and Atlanta since then. Its availability should spread to other major metro areas before the end of the year.

The question, which is asked each time a new vodka expression appears, is whether the market can sustain literally hundreds of choices, particularly in an erratic economy.

According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS), vodka has a strong 28% share of the American spirits market and it's growing annually. In 2007, American consumers spent $1.4 billion on more than 35 million gallons of imported vodka alone.

To fully grasp the growth of the vodka market, I reviewed my notes on the topic. That produced this list of the new or new-to-the-U.S. vodka brands I've written about on my "Dowd's Spirits Notebook" site in just the past 18 months. It does not include literally dozens of others that are flavored versions of older brands:

• DOMESTIC: Permafrost (Alaska), Firefly (South Carolina), Bee (New York), LiV (New York), Ocean (Hawaii), Boyd & Blair (Pennsylvania), Cold River (Maine), Prairie Organic (Minnesota), Sub Rosa (Oregon), St. Julian (Michigan), Cap Rock Organic (Colorado), Beauport (Massachusetts), 360 (Missouri).

• IMPORTED: Sobieski (Poland), Crystal Skull (Canada), Akvinta (Croatia), Intense (Poland), Alexandar (Macedonia), Firestarter (Moldova), Jazz (Poland), Pshenychna (Russia), Debowa (Poland), Han (China), Boomerang (Australia), Pinky (Sweden), Blavod Black (United Kingdom), 02 (United Kingdom), Natt (Turkey), Gorzalka (Turkey), Tyrell’s (United Kingdom), Snow Queen (Kazakhstan), Diamond Standard (Poland), Baojing 168 (China), Sonnema VodkaHerb (Netherlands), Reyka (Iceland), Chinggis Khaan (Mongolia), Saaga 1763 (Estonia), Kai (Vietnam), Shpilka (Kyrgyzstan), Christiania (Norway), X-Rated (France).

American consumers are having a field day. Apparently George W. Bush isn't the only one with a "Bring it on" mindset.

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20081019

A lesson in bar-t (Part 3 of 3)

The final installment of a series of images showing clever food carvings using ingredients familiar to bartenders and mixologists.







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20081017

Mmmmmmm. Bacon (and bourbon)

I have long regarded bourbon as a food group. Likewise with bacon.

Now, thanks to this video courtesy of New York magazine, we have a mixture of the two. Now that is the kind of food pyramid I like to follow.



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How to make throwback cocktails

Trolling You Tube can result in lots of interesting videos. Here's one I particularly like, for several reasons:

(1.) I am a fan of classic cocktails.

(2.) I agree with most of what presenter Rachel Maddow has to say.



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Cocktails as theater

The Enzian Theater in Maitland, FL, near Orlando, is known for its Florida Film Festival events and its status as a non-profit, fulltime cinema for first-run independent and international films, classic revivals, documentaries and select family entertainment.

Now it will be known for unique cocktails as well.

A new outdoor bar and restaurant is scheduled to debut Sunday at the theater. The Eden Bar, with a biblical Garden of Eden theme, is a 2,000-square-foot, 70-seat restaurant and bar that will feature Viennese specialties with original cocktail creations, according to a news release.

Among the drinks: America’s only Mojito served with pre-Cuban embargo rum and a Manhattan prepared with Prohibition-era bourbon.

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20081016

A lesson in bar-t (Part 2 of 3)

As promised earlier, here are some more examples of clever food carvings using ingredients familiar to most bartenders and mixologists.






One more set of images to come. Keep checking back.

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20081015

A celebri-quote: Halle Berry

• She's 42, a new mom and just named Esquire magazine's "Sexiest Woman In the World." Halle Berry, actress and philanthropist, wrote her own first-person essay to go with the photo spread. Here's a bit of what she had to say.

"Sexiness is also about knowing what's sexy to you. To me, spaghetti is sexy, especially when it's served off the tips of a man's fingers. I like that.

"And I think wine is sexy, just before sex. It relaxes me. But if I want to get a serious groove on -- if I want an out-of-body experience -- I'm all about the sloe gin fizz.

[Go here for more Celebri-Quotes.]

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Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka going national

I've reported several times this year (here and here) on the new sensation Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka that was introduced in April.

It had at first been available only in South Carolina, although it is made in Folorida from grapes grown on South Carolina's Wadmalaw Island. It spread quickly to 10 or so states. Now, the Kentucky distillery Buffalo Trace has begun producing the vodka in a joint venture that will allow production to ramp up enough to go nationwide.

The deal with Buffalo Trace does not include Firefly's other vodka, a muscadine wine flavor.

On a sour note, the owners of Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka are being sued by Richard Patrick, a former employee who claims to have invented the flavored drink. He says he entered into a verbal agreement with company officials at the Irvin-House Vineyard and Firefly Distillery on Wadmalaw Island. No public response so far from the company.

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How the other half drinks

What does Arizona offer besides plenty of sun, sand and a pro football team finally showing signs of life after decades of underachievement?

How about the Luxury Martini ($1,000, pictured here), at the Capital Grille in Phoenix? Or, a $3,000 shot of a cognac so rare it would cost $100K a bottle at that rate?

The Arizona Republic newspaper's Website has a rundown on the priciest drinks in the state. It's worth a read. (Thanks to pal Richard Lovrich for pointing this out.)

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20081014

A lesson in b-art (Part 1 of 3)

Most proud bartenders and mixologists like to regard what they do as an art form. But sometimes more conventional artists can outdo their drinks by getting imaginative with the non-alcoholic ingredients.

Confused? Take a look at these images that are floating around the Internet these days. Utterly brilliant.






More to come. Keep checking in.

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Bargain Sobieski continues its climb

Bill Dowd photo

Sobieski Premium Vodka maker Belvedere SA has been experiencing a few financial blips in recent months, but then who hasn't?

Nevertheless, the most recent industry figures show the year-old vodka has quickly grown to be the seventh largest globally-selling premium vodka, an astounding achievement given the ever-increasing glut of vodka products on the world market.

When the brand was launched last summer, it was with what it termed a "Truth In Vodka" marketing campaign. The idea was to spread the word that excellent vodka didn't have to cost a fortune. Relying on inexpensive plastic bottles, as just one element of controlling costs, Sobieski has kept its prices low -- $10.99 for a 750ml bottle, $19.99 for a 1.75-liter bottle. However, I've found it even cheaper in numerous spirits shops.

Last fall, Sobieski was ranked the No. 1 premium vodka by the Beverage Testing Institute (BTI) in a blind tasting of 108 vodkas, the largest review of vodkas in its history, and earned both a gold medal and Best Buy Award. It was also ranked first in a blind tasting of 25 major international vodka brands conducted by La Revue du Vin de France, one of France's top wine and spirits publications.

[Go here for my tasting notes on Sobieski.]

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20081013

Texas distiller looking for an OK

Texans like to say everything in Texas is big. Legal distilleries are anything but.

There are only nine licensed distilleries in the state; the oldest, Tito's Vodka of Austin, is just 11 years old. However, that total will be upped by one if Chip Tate succeeds.

The 33-year-old Waco businessman has applied for state and federal licenses to allow him to produce small-batch whiskey. He owns Tate Technologies in Waco, a technological consultant to higher education agencies.

Although he won't be able to call it Scotch whisky, Tate said his Balcones Distillery would use Scottish techniques and peated malt.

"We're drawing on a lot of old traditions, but this will be a Texas whiskey. We're not apologetic about that," he told the Waco Tribune-Herald. "We're hoping to be the original Texas whiskey. ... I think it will be something that both bourbon and scotch drinkers will like."

Tate, who worked at a distillery in Scotland last summer and is an associate member the International Guild of Brewing and Distilling, said he also plans to sell a liquor called Rumble, similar to rum but contains mission figs, Texas wildflower honey and turbinado sugar.

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20081012

Bee vodka all the buzz in NY

That New York vodka I mentioned the other day now has made its name known.

Bee Vodka, from Montezuma Winery's new Hidden Marsh Distillery, was unveiled to the public yesterday at a special tasting at the Seneca Falls complex in the Finger Lakes.

Bill Martin, 32, co-owner and winemaker at Montezuma, noted that "This vodka is made from 100% honey. It's the only one like it in the U.S."

Hidden Marsh becomes the third licensed farm distillery in New York State. The others are in the Hudson Valley -- Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery in Warwick and Harvest Spirits at Golden Harvest Farms in Valatie.

(A farm distillery must use only ingredients of New York origin, is allowed to conduct on-premises tastings and sell spirits for off-premises consumption, under state law. A fourth farm distillery, called Finger Lakes Distilling, is planned to open next year in Burdett, Schuyler County. While it is under construction, you can keep up with its progress on its blog.)

The 80-proof Bee Vodka is triple-distilled in small batches, each of which takes about two months to make, using a pot still imported from Germany.

Martin released an apple brandy in June and plans to expand the line through the remainder of the year to include a honey brandy and other cordials. The vodka sells for $48.99 for a 750ml bottle, the brandy $28.99 for a 375ml bottle. Martin plans to begin distribution of the vodka next year.

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20081011

Many wee drams in a Burns bottle

Next year will usher in "Homecoming Scotland," a nationwide program of tourism and special events commemorating the 250th anniversary of the birth of the iconic national poet Robert Burns.

Isle of Arran Distillers isn't waiting for the official beginning. The whisky producer is releasing a limited edition bottling of its single malt to commemorate the anniversary, which will take place on January 25.

Robert Burns Malt has an rrp of £49.99 ($85 US), and is targeted at the independent retailer and on-trade. Isle of Arran Distillers also produces the Robert Burns blend and malt.

Fifteen ex-sherry casks were selected from the 1998 distillation by distillery manager James MacTaggart to produce 6,000 bottles of Robert Burns 250th Anniversary Malt, 1,800 of which will be distributed in the UK.

Isle of Arran Distillers was opened on the island off the west coast of Scotland in 1995. It utilizes the traditional methods of distilling, with wooden washbacks and copper stills designed to its own specification.

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Diageo launches new Scotch for UK

If you have friends in the UK, you may want to impose on them to keep your spirits collection updated. It's getting more and more common for major spirits distillers to make new offerings available there before here.

Latest example: The Singleton of Dufftown, released by Diageo Great Britain (GB) to take advantage of the taste for single malt Scotch whiskies there. Sales in the United Kingdom have grown by 11% over the past four years.

The new, 12-year-old expression boasts "longer fermentation, slow distillation and the use of a highly revered water of exceptional quality ... from Highlandman John's Well in Scotland ... so sought-after, legend has it, that in the past the Dufftown distillery has had to field off rivals who have tried to steal it," Diageo says.

The Singleton of Dufftown is in a distinctive blue bottle, shaped like a pebble to represent the smoothing effect that water has in nature. Ut has a suggested retail price of £28.69 ($48.76 US) and is available now.

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20081009

Courvoisier Erté Collection

William M. Dowd photo illustration
This is part of "Gotta Have ...", a series of occasional postings on unusual spirits products.

"Limited edition" is a phrase that can mean a lot of things -- a fancy bottling in a restricted number of bottles, a small supply of a spirit put on the market ...

In this instance, we speak of both, which make up the Courvoisier Erté Collection.

The cognac, owned by Beam Global Spirits & Wine Inc., says this is truly a one-of-a-kind offering blending "two of the greatest pleasures in life -– outstanding cognac and the eternal beauty of art."

The collection consists of seven limited-edition bottles designed by Erté, the Art Deco specialists, illustrating the wine cycle from the grape growing to the end product. Inside is a special blend from Courvoisier that includes cognac dating back to 1892, the year Erté -- a leading artist in the Art Deco movement for more than 70 years -- was born.

Erté was the Russian-born painter Romain de Tirtoff, who called himself Erté after the French pronunciation of his initials. He was known for his fashion and stage designs in the early 20th Century. As his Web site notes, "From the sensational silver lamé costume, complete with pearl wings and ebony-plumed cap, that he wore to a ball in 1914, to his magical and elegant designs for the Broadway musical 'Stardust' in 1988, Erté pursued his chosen career with unflagging zest and creativity for almost 80 years.

"On his death in 1990, he was hailed as the 'prince of the music hall' and 'a mirror of fashion for 75 years'."

Courvoisier's history dates to the Napoleonic era and is the only cognac house to receive the Prestige de la France, France’s highest award for excellence.

The seven bottles were originally released from 1988 to 1994:

• Vigne (Vine), 1988
• Vendanges (Harvest), 1989
• Distillation, 1990
• Vieillissement (Aging), 1991
• Degustation (Tasting), 1992
• L’Esprit du Cognac (The Spirit of Cognac), 1993
• La Part Des Anges (The Angels’ Share), 1994

Fewer than 20 of the seven-piece sets, as well as a limited number of individual bottles remain. Just eight are being released to the U.S. market in November. The 750ml bottles have a suggested retail price of $1,450 individually and $10,000 for the collection.

The collection can be pre-ordered by calling 1-877-774-7487 or going online for delivery in time for the holidays.

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Who you gonna call? Booze hustler

At first I thought Dan Aykroyd was working on a new bit for a guest spot on "Saturday Night Live." Many of us remember when he did a lot of con artist/pitchmen put-ons during his "SNL" heyday, and this seemed much like those skits.

But, no, with either total disregard for veracity or with tongue firmly planted in both cheeks -- or even all four, the actor/singer/entrepreneur is spieling for a new vodka called Crystal Skull and in an online ad delivers a very long, very rambling, very self-impressed monologue about mysterious crystal skulls found in different parts of the world. He also throws in mentions of Roswell, witchcraft, ghosts and other stuff.

He eventually stops talking and lets a colleague describe the Newfoundland vodka -- quadruple distilled, triple filtered at the suggestion of one Mr. Akyroyd through "500-million-year-old crystals known as Herkimer diamonds."

For those unfamiliar with that particular mineral, it's a faux "diamond" found in upstate New York around the Herkimer/Utica/Syracuse area. It's OK for costume jewelry but of no particular value otherwise.

This isn't the Canadian star's first venture into pushing an alcoholic beverage. In june of last year, he announced plans for the $12 million Dan Aykroyd Winery to be built in the Niagara wine area. Part of it will house memorabilia from his film and TV career. The project also includes a line of wines bearing his name.

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Danzka Vodka changes hands, direction

Danzka Vodka, launched in 1989, has primarily been sold on the duty-free market. That may change since owner V&S Group has just sold Danzka to Belvedere.

V&S purchased Danzka in 1999. Under the sales agreement it will continue producing it for Belvedere for the next five years but Belvedere will immediately take over the sales and marketing efforts.

The 80-proof Danish-made vodka is manufactured with a 100% wheat base and de-mineralized water, and comes in aluminum bottles in citrus, currant, grapefruit and cranberry-raz flavors. The retail price varies widely, ranging from $9.99 to $14.99, depending on the commercial venue.

Ketil Eriksen, president for the business areas of V&S Absolut Spirits, said in a statement that "“With the sale of Danzka Vodka we’ve taken yet another step in fulfilling our product portfolio strategy, which is to focus mainly on the premium-priced international brands, Absolut Vodka, Absolut Cut, Level Vodka, Plymouth Gin and Cruzan Rum.”

Belvedere, meanwhile, is continuing to target the travel retail business. Christophe Trylinski, its general director, said in a statement, “In the wake of our acquisition of the Danzka Vodka brand ... we started Belvedere Scandinavia A/S as part of our ambitious international strategy for continued growth. With production of Danzka Vodka continuing in Denmark, the new subsidiary won’t only handle sales, marketing and logistics for Danzka Vodka, it’ll also be responsible for all Belvedere’s brands on the Scandinavian markets.”

Belvedere is listed on the French Stock Exchange and specializes in producing and distributing white spirits, notably vodka. It introduced Sobieski to the global market last fall as a lower-price premium niche product.

[See my Sobieski tasting notes.]

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20081008

Akvinta Vodka taking wings

Croatia isn't the first place you think of when someone says "Mediterranean." However, Akvinta Vodka, a luxury-niche vodka distilled in Croatia, now is being made available on Virgin Atlantic Airways flights. And, it's labelled "the first Mediterranean luxury vodka."

Akvinta is available to passengers in a 70cl bottle wrapped in Virgin Atlantic packaging.

The vodka was launched in Croatia in 2006 and was the first product to be fully developed at the distillery from concept to final production. Akvinta isn't new to the world market. It was introduced in April to the clubhouse at New York's Kennedy International Airport and in June it became a featured vodka on the clubhouse cocktail list for passengers waiting to depart from London Heathrow Airport.

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20081007

World's No. 1 whisky collection moves to Scotland

From the BBC America:

The world's largest collection of whiskies [3,384 bottles] has arrived in Edinburgh this week, brought home from Brazil.

Featuring 3,384 bottles, the record-breaking collection was built up over 35 years by Brazilian whisky enthusiast Claive Vidiz (right).

Vidiz has scoured the world for whiskies to create the collection, which has been bought by Diageo. The whisky manufacturer will be loaning the collection to the Scotch Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile next year. The bottles are currently being stored in a high security location in Scotland, after being shipped 6,500 miles from Sao Paulo on board a container ship. A specially designed vault is being created at the Scotch Whisky Experience (the visitors center next to Edinburgh Castle) to display the collection.

[Go here for the rest of the story.]

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Antique Collection whiskies headed to market

Buffalo Trace Distillery is sending its annual "Antique Collection" of whiskies to market later this month. It consists of five limited-release expressions:

• Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old, two-time winner of the “American Whiskey of the Year” award.
• Eagle Rare 17 Year Old, which was 17 at the time of bottling.
• George T. Stagg, at an astounding 141.8 proof.
• William Larue Weller, an uncut, unfiltered, wheat recipe bourbon at 125.3 proof.
• Thomas H. Handy Sazerac, newest addition to the collection, is an uncut, unfiltered straight rye at 127.5 proof.

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20081006

TRU2, an organic amber gin

TRU Organic Spirits, a division of Modern Spirits Group, has unveiled TRU2 Gin, an addition to its portfolio of sustainable, organic spirits.

The new product doesn't look like the usual gin. It begins with an organic wheat base spirit into which 14 whole botanicals are macerated in layers. Because the gin is not re-distilled after maceration, the combination of the botanicals releases an amber hue to the gin.

“After years of making infused vodkas, we have developed a deep appreciation of the art and chemistry of flavor,” said Melkon Khosrovian, who founded Modern Spirits in 2004 with his wife, Litty Mathew. “We needed every bit of this knowledge to create the world’s first sustainable gin.”

The 84-proof product will be available beginning this month in major markets at a suggested retail price of $34.99.

TRU Organic Spirits has about as impressive a list of steps and procedures in its manufacturing process as any I've ever seen by a company citing its sustainability philosophy. Some examples:

• It plants a tree for every bottle of TRU2 Gin and TRU Vodka sold. The company works directly with such non-profit groups as Sustainable Harvest International to plant new trees in tropical zones where they are cut down in the greatest numbers.

• TRU bottles use 25% less glass than average high-end spirits bottles.

• Labels are printed on tree-free corn fiber, using vegetable-based inks and are biodegradable.

• TRU also incorporates new, more easily recyclable PETG shrink capsules as opposed to more toxic PVC.

• Recyclable synthetic corks provide a tight seal and don’t break if bottles are frozen.

• TRU spirits are USDA certified organic and free of chemicals from field to bottle. Also, its flavors are from whole, organic ingredients, not extracts.

• And, its shipping boxes use 35% post-consumer waste and simply fold in on themselves to eliminate packing tape.

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Crown Royal not so special anymore

The word "special" has been removed from the Crown Royal Special Reserve brand.

However, owner Diageo says the recipe for the top-selling Canadian whisky in the world has not been modified. Only the name and the packaging, as part of a new marketing push.

"While the name and packaging have changed, Crown Royal Reserve is the same rich combination of fine whiskies as the previously named Special Reserve, each individually selected by Master Blender Andrew MacKay," Diageo said in a statement.

Crown Royal Reserve, one of the biggest selling premium whiskies in the US, is made with more than 50 blended and individually aged whiskies in French Cognac barrels, Diageo said. It has a suggested retail price of $45.

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Tullamore Dew fills its own gap

Tullamore Dew is shipping 900 cases of a new Irish whiskey label to the U.S. this winter.

The limited-release blend, Tullamore Dew 10 Years Old Reserve, will fit between the standard and 12-year-old versions. The suggested retail price is $35. The existing Dews each go for $23 and $39 each. The new blend uses a mix of pot-stilled spirits aged in Spanish and American oak casks.

Tullamore Dew dates to 1829, when it was born in west central Ireland, in Tullamore, Count Offaly. The whiskey is now made by Midleton Distillery in County Cork.

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Alaska's 1st distillery has 1st vodka

While Gov. Sarah Palin is drawing public attention to Alaska, Toby Foster, CEO of Glacier Creek Distillery, hopes some publicity also will be generated for his new product.

Permafrost brand vodka, made from locally grown potatoes, is about to be shipped out to distributors and restaurants.

Foster, a commercial pilot, was a home brewer who wanted to segue into vodka making and using Matanuska Valley-grown potatoes, known for their high potassium, vitamin C and B6 content, along with Alaskan glacier water.

His company is the state's first, and only, licensed distillery. Its vodka will be priced at about $50 a bottle to wholesale distributors. The 750-milliliter bottles imported from Italy are made of a heavy glass. Due to the $6 a bottle cost, the company is considering offering a return deposit.

Glacier Creek Distillery also will operate as a green distillery. Ethanol made during the distilling process will be removed to fuel generators that provide electricity to run the plant, and the unused parts of the potato will go into compost for future gardens at the plant site.

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Canadian Club 30 Year Old

William M. Dowd photo illustration

This is part of "Gotta Have ...", a series of occasional postings on unusual spirits products.

Canadian Club, the premier Canadian whisky maker, is celebrating the brand’s 150th anniversary with a new release.

Canadian Club 30 Year Old is a limited edition, 80-proof. At age 30, it is the oldest Canadian whisky on the market and is available in a 750ml bottle at a suggested retail price of $175 to $199.

Although made in Windsor, Ontario, the whisky is being bottled at Beam’s Clermont, KY, plant.

[Go here for my tasting notes on a full range of Canadian Club expressions.]

[Go here for some history on the Canadian Club company and its Windsor hometown.]


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20081004

A celebri-quote: Dave Peacock

• Dave Peacock is vice president for marketing of Anheuser-Busch, recently published by Belgian brewing giant InBev in a controversial deal. He has to market American products from Budweiser but also has to oversee the company's wine and spirits marketing efforts. Advertising Age thinks there's a problem there, and asked Peacock about it specifically.

Q: "You have been dabbling more in spirits, picking up a number of boutique brands. But in (a recent) speech ... you called wine and liquor "the enemy." You said specifically that you could not be "outromanced by wine" or "outfunned by liquor." Those didn't sound like the words of someone who wants to play in that space."

A: "We started looking at liquor and wine a long time ago because of the emerging macro trends [of wine and liquor gaining share from beer]. And we really did believe we owed it to our shareholders to do this [because of consumer trends increasingly favoring spirits].

"We tested some things in liquor. But we started making the decision back in the first quarter of this year that we were probably going to disentangle that. It didn't work really well at the wholesale level. Those brands are marketed very differently than beer. The category is much more fragmented. And, frankly, we see upside in beer. We've seen beer have a little bit of a resurgence."

[Go here for more Celebri-Quotes.]

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NY's 'mystery' vodka to be unveiled

Another New York distillery will unveil its first product -- a vodka whose name will be kept under wraps until then -- on Saturday, October 11.

Montezuma Winery, the Seneca Falls operation off Thruway Exit 41 that makes grape, fruit and honey wines, is expanding with its new honey-based vodka from its Hidden Marsh Distillery.

It will produce liqueurs, brandy and vodka made with honey, apples or other seasonal fruits, uses a 400-liter pot still custom-built in Germany.

The distillery's grand opening is set for 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with the ribbon-cutting at noon. It will feature live music, hors d'œuvres, distillery tours and store specials and a ribbon-cutting ceremony at noon.

Earlier this year, Long Island Spirits, located on the North Fork of Long Island, unveiled LiV -- rhymes with "5," a super-premium vodka ($38) made from Long Island potatoes.

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20081002

1st true Hawaiian vodka debuts

For as long as the underwater mountains that are Hawaii have kept their heads above water, the island have had no native vodka. Suddenly, they have two. Sort of.

Ocean Vodka, which hit the market barely two years ago, was the first, distilled in Idaho from organic grains then shipped to Maui where it is blended with desalinated deep ocean water from the Big Island.

Now, Pau Trading Co. has unveiled Pau Maui Vodka, an 80-proof liquid that uses Maui Gold pineapple juice as its base. Of the two vodkas, it is the only one that undergoes the entire creation process in the state.

The pineapple flavor disappears during the distillation and filtration processes.

Master distiller Mark Nigbur, in an interview with local reporters, insisted “There is no hint of pineapple in the taste. What the pineapple juice does is make a nice, clean mash.”

Paui Maui currently is available only in Hawaii. Paui Maui vodkaion to bottling—exclusively in Hawaii. Nigbur says only lab-grade glass stills are used to ensure purity of the product. “We wanted to make the Rolls Royce of vodka,” says Nigbur.

Currently, Pau Maui Vodka is available in select locations in Hawaii. Further details: 808 / 214-8801.

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20081001

High-cal cocktails by the numbers

We all have heard, ad nauseum, about the caloric impact of various soft drinks. However, most people probably don't pay much attention to cocktail calories.

Here, from Trendhunter magazine, are the top 10 high-calorie concoctions:

1. Piña Colada, 586 calories
2. Long Island Iced Tea, 543 calories
3. Mai Tai, 620 calories
4. Godiva Chocolate Martini, 356 calories
5. Strawberry Daiquiri, 300 calories
6. Mudslide, 556 calories
7. Cosmopolitan, 340 calories
8. Rum and Regular Coke, 356 calories
9. Margarita, 550 calories
10. White Russian, 320 calories

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A celebri-quote: Kenny Chesney

• Country music star Kenny Chesney is joining the run of celebrities putting their names, and sometimes their images, on adult beverages. He's teaming up with Constellation Brands to ready a premium rum for market launch in 2010.

"As an entertainer, my goal is to create an enjoyable experience for people. I'm going to take that same approach in developing a high-quality rum product ... .

"We're looking to create a fun-in-the-sun, vacation-in-a-bottle type experience that people everywhere can enjoy when they kick back and relax."

[Go here for more Celebri-Quotes.]

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Belvedere's new vodka is Intense

International travelers now have one more premium vodka to look for. Belvedere Intense, a 50% abv (100 proof) distillation exclusive to travel retail and World Duty Free, has just been released by Moët Hennessy.

The 1-litre bottle will be sold at international airports such as New York's John F. Kennedy, Paris's Charles deGaulle, London's Heathrow Terminal 5 and in Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore and Warsaw.

Unlike the usual Belvedere frosty white bottle, Intense is in black glass with silver foil tree designs. Intense is double filtered through charcoal, resulting in an increased alcohol content that its makers say "accentuates the notes and texture of the vodka."

Suggested retail price: €45 ($63 U.S.).

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