Alcohol-free spirits are no 'spirits' at all

Arkay also comes in cans.
A year or two ago, I received an inquiry from a woman who said she liked the taste of whiskey, but not the effects of its alcohol. How, she asked, can I find an alcohol-free whiskey?

You can't, I told her. Without alcohol, it's not whiskey. End of subject, or so I thought.

Now, the UK company ArKay is marketing what it calls the world’s first alcohol-free, whisky-flavored drink. It is in the process of being shipped to markets worldwide.

"The world`s first alcohol-free whisky-flavored drink is designed for the socialite to the construction worker," says the company. "The exceptional taste of whisky without the alcohol making a perfect beverage that anyone can consume. The design of ArKay was to allow anyone with medical conditions or with religious beliefs to drink without guilt. ArKay tastes and looks exactly like traditional whisky. It is suitable for drinking straight up, on the rocks, or with soda or your favorite mixers. "

Unlike whiskey, ArKay is made with artificial flavorings and other ingredients, but they are used in accordance with European Economic Community (EEC) regulations and within U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. Both the flavor and ingredients are conformed to Halal guidelines. ArKay researched and tested its beverage for five years before release.

The never-shy Scotch Whisky Association is no fan of the product. In a statement, it said, "Such promotion is taking advantage of the high-quality reputation of the product that is whisky, which is a distilled spirit produced from natural ingredients, when it is in fact just a soft drink with artificial flavorings."

It kind of reminds me of radio the shock-jock Don Imus’s ad-lib when he was speaking of a sponsor -- Buckler, a non-alcoholic beer: "Buckler, it makes you pee just as much as beer."

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Jack Daniel's avoids extra tax bill

LYNCHBURG, TN -- The folks at Jack Daniel's had a lot to be thankful for this week.

The threat of an extra tax on the distiller dissipated on Monday night when the Moore County Council voted 10-5 to reject a vote asking lawmakers to authorize a referendum on the proposal.

Had the proposal passed, it would have taxed Jack Daniel's up to $5 million annually, with the revenue going to local government.

The distillery already pays $1.5 million annually in property taxes. The company had, of course, opposed the proposal, saying Jack Daniel's already pays its fair share.

Charles Rogers, a local resident who led the effort to get more tax revenue, said the issue "is now on life support."

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Jack Daniel's helping soldiers go home for holidays

A scene from the JD website video.
LYNCHBURG, TN -- The Jack Daniel's company is donating more than $100,000 to pay for plane tickets and travel funds to enable soldiers posted at Fort Campbell, KY, to go home during the December holiday season.

The distiller also is asking the public to contribute to the project that would free up soldiers who otherwise could not afford to make such a trip. Fort Campbell is located on the Kentucky-Tennessee border.

Donations can be made to the Operation Ride Home online.

The neediest soldiers eligible for plane ticket vouchers will receive up to $300 for each family member and debit cards up to $100 for each family member for gas and lodging.

Jack Daniel's is starting the fund with a donation of $101,000 in honor of the Fort- Campbell-based 101st Airborne Division, recently returned from deployment to Afghanistan.

Jennifer Powell, senior brand manager for Jack Daniel's, said the company hopes its donation will build awareness of the needs of these soldiers.

"The military does an excellent job of getting folks to the base, but sometimes the soldiers just don't have the means to get from the base to their homes," she said.

Powell said they have already identified 20 families at Fort Campbell who have a legitimate need for the travel funds. They are asking people to donate by Dec. 16.

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'Barrels & Drams' in the spotlight

Dowd during interview. (TU photo by Paul Buckowski)
Dept. of Shameless Self-Promotion: I'm featured in a profile in the Albany (NY) Times Union today. Here's the start of the story.

TROY — It may have been William M. Dowd's destiny to compile this anthology of whiskey, "Barrels & Drams."

His heritage is Irish, with shots of Scottish and Welsh mixed in.

As a boy, he was allowed the occasional sip of moonshine from his grandfather's still in Pennsylvania.

He had his first legal drink on his 18th birthday at a tavern on Long Island. He did a double-take before accepting the offer of a drink -— he chose rye and ginger —- bought by a guy at the end of the bar that happened to be his girlfriend's father.

And today, at 69, the retired newspaperman settles back at happy hour with his go-to cocktail: a Manhattan, made with Jim Beam.

It has to be Jim Beam. Dowd has a deep affinity for the popular Kentucky bourbon.

"I didn't get along much with my stepfather, except over a bourbon. He always poured Jim Beam," Dowd recalled.

There is something deeply emotional about whiskey, which as Dowd explains, is the American and Irish spelling of the spirits they distill in Scotland, Canada, Japan and India and call whisky (without the "e").

Dowd also plumbs the conviviality to be discovered in the bottom of a whiskey glass, which he conveys in a quote from the great Irish novelist James Joyce: "The light music of whiskey falling into a glass -- an agreeable interlude."

Dowd has gathered a bunch of great quotes about spirits, including this from W.C. Fields: "I always carry a bottle of whiskey in case of snakebite. I also carry a small snake."

He's also put together a glossary of terms from the spirit trade, which has a colorful lexicon all its own. Pop quiz: What does "Angels' Share" in the distilling process mean? Answer: "The amount of whiskey lost through evaporation during the aging process."

With a "Drink Responsibly" disclaimer opening, the book's small batches of information and easy-to-read format make it the quintessential bathroom compendium.

But it also belongs in every tavern and home bar, within easy reach of a two-finger pour of Glenlivet. Which, of course, brings up a great quote from American distiller Frederick Booker Noe II: "A respectable amount of bourbon to pour into a glass is about two fingers' worth. Lucky for me, I have big fingers."

Dowd has studded the volume with fascinating trivia and delicious history, from ancient Mesopotamia to the 1791 Whiskey Rebellion in America, which rocked the young republic after the nation's first excise tax was placed on whiskey production.

He's also got a discerning palate when it comes to writerly talent and includes pieces by notable wordsmiths such as Tom Wolfe and Daniel Okrent, as well as whiskey authorities Malachy Magee and Charles K. Cowdery.

[Go here for the full story.]

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Kentucky bourbon tally outnumbers its population

FRANKFORT, KY -- There now are more barrels of bourbon aging in Kentucky warehouses than the state has people.

That is according to the president of the Kentucky Distillers Association, who says bourbon production in the state has increased by more than 50% since 1999.

Eric Gregory told a state legislative panel that in 2010, Kentucky distilleries produced 786,000 barrels of bourbon.

“We have more than five million barrels of bourbon and other whiskies aging right now in Kentucky," he said. "Of that, 4.7 million are bourbon. And the 2011 tax-assessed value of all those barrels is $1.5 billion, which is up $24 million since 2010.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Kentucky is estimated to be 4,314,113.

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Turkey given a pardon -- and a job offer

President pardons 'Liberty' the turkey at the White House.
I'm not sure what the recidivism rate is for turkeys, but the one that received a presidential pardon today has a job all lined up to keep him out of trouble.

President Barrack Obama took part in the long-running White House tradition of sparing a turkey from the Thanksgiving table with an official pardon.

In a twist on the practice, however, Wild Turkey Bourbon has offered it the chance to become the distillery's official "spokesbird."

Says Wild Turkey master distiller Jimmy Russell, "In a manner of direct speaking, we invite the President to give us the bird."

Russell took the opportunity to point out that the company's recent $50 million expansion of its Lawrenceburg, KY, faciity to 134,000 square feet provides sufficient room for the prospective employee to wander around. And, he added, "There would be no threat of future Thanksgiving-related job cuts."

However, Wild Turkey will have to compete for the bird with George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, where it is scheduled to be on display to visitors through January 6, 2012, then retire to a custom-built home on the estate.

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Lawsuit targets SkinnyGirl margarita quality

Skinnygirl Margarita brand is being sued on a charge of false labeling.

A lawsuit filed by Christopher Rapcinsky and Erin Baker claims the product originally created and owned by Bethenny Frenkel of the "Real Housewives of New York" TV show does not contain the premium "100% blue agave tequila" stated on the label of the ready-to-drink (RTD) beverage.

That, say the plaintiffs, results in "a lower quality and purity tequila by-product called mixto -- essentially a mash of tequila and some unknown additives (rarely organic) which may comprise as much as 49% of the final mixed liquor."

Rapcinsky and Baker originally lodged a $10 million suit against Skinnygirl Margarita over the company's use of the term "all natural," saying the producer's claims of having no preservatives are false. The new claim is added to the original suit.

The suit does not name Frankel, acknowledging that she sold the brand to Beam Global. Beam later removed the "100% percent natural" claim from the label, using the phrase "premium Blue Agave tequila" instead.

Beam Global dismisses the case as “frivolous,” and released a statement saying, "Skinnygirl Margarita is made with premium blue agave tequila and meets the highest quality standards. We will defend our case vigorously, and we are fully confident we will prevail."

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SWA's Hewitt picked for top European post

Gavin Hewitt
The European Spirits Organization (CEPS) has picked a seasoned diplomat as its new president.

Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), has been elected president of the organization that represents the spirits industry at the European level. Its membership consists of 30 national associations representing the industry in 26 countries, as well as a group of leading spirits-producing comapnies.

Hewitt, who was elected to a two-year term, is a former British ambassador to Croatia, to Finland and to Belgium.

"I'm delighted to take on this role which will help ensure the European spirits industry, including the Scotch Whisky Association, is well represented in Europe," Hewitt said. "As an industry, we work with the European Union across a whole range of areas, from encouraging trade to showing our commitment to social responsibility. The role ... complements my fulltime position as chief executive of the SWA."

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Insider research: Spirits are kicking beer's butt

Frank Coleman, vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS), passed along this article from Beer Business Daily -- and, given his affiliation, who could blame him?

Spirits Taking Us for a Ride More Than You Think

"Wine and particularly spirits have been kicking our tails. And they have done it by a systematic strategy of increasing its availability in accounts, by investing much more as a percentage of revenue than beer has in its marketing, in growing all of their price segments, in consistently and constantly coming out with new flavors, brands, and packages, and in creating a cocktail culture that appeals to a very broad base.

"That was the intuitive findings of Heineken USA (HUSA) chief Dolf van den Brink at the California Beer and Beverage Distributors annual convention yesterday.

"Dolf had sobering news for beer guys: Through HUSA's proprietary internal research, which he was good enough to share, he showed that we as an industry simply haven't kept up with wine and spirits, particularly when it comes to young Millenials, ethnics, and women. And until we rectify this disparity, it will be difficult to get beer growing no matter what the economy is doing.

"First, Dolf showed that wine and spirits' growth has come almost entirely through getting new drinkers entering the market at the 21-29 age. Over the last seven years, spirits has gained 4.1% of consumer penetration points in the 21-29 age group, coming ominously close to beer's penetration. But the really scary metric is the 2001-2011 percent change in the preferred drink:

"For Millenials, beer is down 14% and spirits is up 13%. In other words, spirits have picked up nearly all of beer's slack. It's a direct trade off.

"Beer lost drinkers in all other age groups to spirits and wine as well, but it was most pronounced in young people. Since in the past young people drink beer and then switch to wine and spirits as they get older, this doesn't bode well, since they are already starting with cocktails. And don't get me started with African Americans. Beer penetration has lost 15 points of penetration while spirits has gained 15%.

"In the general market, beer has lost 8 points while spirits has gained 6. As for gender, beer has lost 13 points for males while spirits has gained 9, and with females spirits has gained 4 points while beer has lost 4 points. This metric, as Dolf said, is very indicative of  "intent to purchase" and so is very distressing to see.

"Across occasions, beer is now only the preferred drink in one occasion: pub/dining with food. In all other occasions, wine or spirits is the preferred drink. What's the world coming to?"

There's a lot more, but you get the idea.

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Kentucky Bourbon Trail big enough for both of them

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Distances and directions here.

FRANKFORT, KY -- An agreement has been reached to solve a trademark dispute in the U.S. spirits industry.

The Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA) and Sazerac Company Inc. on Thursday announced they have reached a confidential settlement to end litigation filed in U.S. District Court in May 2010 by the KDA against Sazerac, which then countersued. They also announced they wouldn't reveal terms of the agreement.

The case was scheduled to be heard in six weeks in U.S. District Court in Louisville. That now has been rendered moot.

The essence of the KDA suit is that Sazerac allegedly violated trademarks by using the phrase "Kentucky Bourbon Trail" and logos when it used similar phrases and designs in promoting its unaffiliated Kentucky distilleries.

Sazerac countered that the KDA had abandoned the trademarks by not seeking to protect them. In the summer of 2009, former KDA member Sazerac applied for a trademark and copyright on the phrase "Buffalo Trace Distillery on the Bourbon Trail" and "Tom Moore Distillery on the Bourbon Trail."

Members of the KDA are Beam Global Spirits & Wine (Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark), Brown-Forman, Diageo North America, Four Roses, Heaven Hill and Wild Turkey. Sazerac had belonged, but resigned in December 2009.

KDA President Eric Gregory said his organization looks forward to "promoting our signature industry's rich history to visitors from around the world."

Sazerac Marketing Service Director Meredith Moody said, "Sazerac's three Kentucky distilleries -- Buffalo Trace, Barton 1792 and The Glenmore -- look forward to continue developing their distillery tours along the bourbon trail."

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DISCUS makes its holiday shopping list

Press release from the leading spirits industry organization.

WASHINGTON, DC -- Many new drinks books have recently hit the market just in time for holiday gift-giving. From distilling heritage to cocktail recipes, this year’s bookstore offers tasteful reading for every spirits enthusiast. The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) recommends the following recently released publications for the spirituous bibliophile on your gift list.

Founding Spirits: George Washington and the Beginnings of the American Whiskey Industry
(Harbour Books, August 22, 2011) by Dennis J. Pogue

Pogue, head of preservation at Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens, presents a detailed portrayal of the origins of the American whiskey industry which includes George Washington’s role as the entrepreneurial owner of one of the largest whiskey distilleries in 18th century America.

Barrels and Drams: The History of Whisk(e)y in Jiggers and Shots
(Sterling Epicure, September 6, 2011) Co-written and edited by William M. Dowd

Follow veteran journalist and spirits authority Bill Dowd down the worldwide whiskey trail with this collection of articles on the intricacies of whiskey making and the heritage of whiskies around the globe. Dowd also profiles some of the most famous figures in the whiskey industry, including Jack Daniel, George Smith and the Beam family.

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
(Scribner, First Edition, May 11, 2010) by Daniel Okrent

The basis for Ken Burns’ PBS series on Prohibition, Okrent’s book gives an enlightening account of the American socio-political landscape that led to the passage of the 18th Amendment, banning the sale of spirituous liquors in the United States. It details the public’s dissatisfaction with the “Noble Experiment,” the rise of organized crime, and the eventual repeal of Prohibition with the passage of the 21st Amendment.

Prohibition in Washington, D.C.: How Dry We Weren't
(The History Press, March 25, 2011) by Garrett Peck

Cocktail historian Garrett Peck chronicles the capital’s own distinct Prohibition history. The federal government intended for D.C. to be the model dry city for Prohibition, but it turned out to be anything but, as 3,000 speakeasies operated across the city. Peck leads readers through Prohibition-era Washington during a time of amateur bootleggers and hypocritical teetotalers. He also includes a walking tour of former speakeasies in the nation’s capital and 11 vintage cocktail recipes.

A collection of over 300 recipes featuring the use of spirits in the food and drink of the South, short essays and amusing tales by Eugene Walter, a pioneering food writer and champion of southern foodways and culture. Assembled and edited by Walter’s literary executor Donald Goodman and food writer Thomas Head, the book is a perfect gift for those interested in today’s booming scene in vintage and artisanal drinks.

Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide: 75th Anniversary Edition
(Wiley Hardcover, November 2011) edited by Jonathan Pogash with Rick Rodgers

Jonathan Pogash, “The Cocktail Guru,” and culinary expert Rick Rodgers have updated the indispensable little red book, Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide, to reflect the modern world of mixology. Pogash kept a collection of the most time-honored classic cocktails and added 200 cutting edge drink recipes from the world’s most well-known bartenders. The Guide includes 1,500 drink recipes as well as tips on mixology techniques and photographs that showcase the beauty of the finished cocktails.

Bloody Mary
(Thornwillow Press, 2011) by Jeffrey Pogash

Spirits industry veteran Jeffrey Pogash delves into the history and lore of the Bloody Mary, one of the world’s best loved and most complex cocktails. In this beautifully printed letterpress edition, Pogash explores some of the mysteries and misconceptions surrounding the famed libation and includes his own recipe for the “Best Bloody Mary in the World.”

These, and other fine spirits-related books, can be found in your local bookstore and by online booksellers.

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A Yamazaki 50 being released for 3rd time

If you blinked twice before, try keeping your eyes open for the third release of Yamazaki 50 Years Old whiskey on December 13.

Of course, looking is all you'll be able to do if you can't come up with the million-yen asking price. That's US$12,970.

The first two times Yamazaki released a 50-year-old whiskey, the limited supply was gone in 48 hours.

The going price makes it Japan's most expensive single malt.

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Limited Macallan 60 going for $20,000

This is an installment of "Gotta Have ...", my ongoing series of occasional postings on unusual spirits products.

If you have a spare $20,000 laying around, get in line for the December 1 release of a very special Scotch whisky.

That's the date for The Macallan 60 Years Old Single Malt, the latest edition of the company’s Lalique Six Pillars Collection program.

Only 400 bottles are available worldwide, and only 72 of them to be available in the U.S.

The Lalique Six Pillars Collection highlights different aspects of the making of Macallan. The current aspects is "Curiously Small Stills," referring to the small copper stills used in some distilleries in Scotland's Speyside region.

The three previous Pillar releases were "Natural Colour," "Finest Cut" and "Exceptional Oak Casks." The remaining Pillars to be produced are "Spiritual Home" and "Peerless Spirit."

The "Curiously Small Stills" expression was created from five Sherry butts. They are casks made from both American and Spanish oak, and have a large capacity of 126 gallons.

The casks were filled on November 9 and 10, 1950, and dumped earlier this year. The whisky of that era was heavily peated, compared to today's Macallan which has virtually none. The whiskey is 53.2% alcohol by volume (106.4 proof). It is packaged in a Lalique crystal decanter, placed in a lacquered presentation box.

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Newest Tennessee whiskey on target for 2012

CHATTANOOGA, TN -- 1816 is a very important date in local history. Of course, you'll have to wait until 2012 to try the whiskey bearing its name.

1816 is the name of the first whiskey produced by the new Chattanooga Whiskey Company, founded by partners Joe Ledbetter and Tim Piersant.

It signifies the year John Ross established a trading post, warehouse and swing ferry on the Tennessee River, the start of what would grow to become Chattanooga,

The whiskey will be available in early 2012 in Chattanooga, Nashville and Knoxville, TN, and in Washington, DC, at local bars, restaurants and spirits stores, Ledbetter said.

Beore Prohibition, there were about 40 distilleries in the Chattanooga area. The partners hope ultimately to be able to distill their whiskey in the city, but that would be illegal under current law. In the meantime, they will continue producing it in nearby Marion or Sequatchie counties.

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Single double gold at NY competition

NEW YORK -- A tough judging panel awarded only one double gold medal at the 2nd annual New York International Spirits Competition.

More than 300 spirits from more than 30 countries were entered, a 65% increase over the inaugural event. The judges were trade only -- buyers, retail store owners, restaurant/bar proprietors, distributors and importers.

Top honors:

Distell of South Africa, winner of the only Double Gold medal for its Oude Meester Souverein 18 Year Reserve ($115) also won Distiller of the Year honors. The Souverein is a blend of rare, long-matured Savalle potstill brandies.

Single Gold medal-winning spirits:

Armagnac -- Marquis de Montesquiou VSOP, $40.

Liqueurs -- Becherovka, price not given.

Mezcal -- Joya Azul Mezcal, $45.99; Real Matlati Mezcal Alma de Espadin, $60.

Tequila -- Don Julio 1942 Anejo, price not given; Dulce Vida Organic Tequila Blanco 100, $30; El Tesoro Platinum Tequila, $50; El Tesoro Reposado Tequila, $54.99.

Vodka -- LIV Vodka, $27; Luksusowa Vodka, $14.99.

Whiskey -- Buchanan 18yr, $76.99; Bulleit Rye, $29.99; Crown Royal $31.99.

The competition was founded by Adam Levy as the first major international spirits competition with trade-only judges. In February, he will unveil the first New York International Beer Competition and in May the 2nd annual New York International Wine Competition.

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Smirnoff gets fluffy with new flavors

Ye gods! Smirnoff Vodka on Wednesday introduced two new flavored vodkas -- Whipped Cream and Fluffed Marshmallow.

The company's public relations mill says the new flavors epitomize "the decadent side of sweets.

The new offerings are created from Smirnoff No. 21, and intended to be used either as sweet shots or in cocktails.

Both Whipped Cream and Fluffed Marshmallow are being made available nationwide at a suggested retail price of $12.99 per 750ml bottle.

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Vegas distiller creates 'Rumskey' combo

LAS VEGAS -- What is distilled here might not stay here -- at least if a new rum-whiskey combo proves successful at local spirits shops.

Something called Rumskey, dreamed up by Las Vegas Distillery owner George Racz, will make its debut in a November 19 tasting at the distillery, 7330 Eastgate Road. Thereafter, it will be sold in local Whole Foods, Total Wine and Lee's stores as well as other selected spots.

“We were fermenting molasses" for rum "and at the same time I was making seven-grain whiskey," Racz told Las Vegas Weekly. "The idea came: Why not marry these two spirits at the beginning? So, we took both products at the mash level and put them together in the pot still and distilled them together."

The product is double distilled and comes out as a cross between moonshine and vodka, according to Racz.

"When making whiskey or rum, you try to preserve as much flavor as you can, from the grains or molasses or whatever," Racz says. "When you are making vodka, the goal is different. You don’t want to preserve the little flavor components, just bring up the alcohol content. In making Rumskey, we wanted something between those two."

If it goes well, who knows?

“This is only a small idea. We hope people will like it."

Las Vegas Distillery produces what it calls "The Las Vegas Collection" -- Nevada brand vodka, gin, moonshine whiskey and bourbon.

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Washington state voters: Quit the liquor biz

The state of Washington is restocking the shelves in its liquor stores even as it has to quickly get out of the business.

That situation came about on election day this week when a ballot initiative to force the change passed with an unofficial 60% of the vote.

Thus, sometime after the first of next year, the state liquor stores, which are currently increasing inventory for holiday sales, will start to draw down their inventory and contract stores operated by individuals under agreements with the state will look for new suppliers or go out of business to meet the June deadline.

Owners of the state’s 163 contract liquor stores, most of whom signed five-year contracts with the state earlier this year, will be eligible to apply for retail licenses for their location.

[Go here for the full story.]

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Woodford Master's Collection becomes a dual effort

Woodford Reserve has put a new twist on its Master's Collection, the sixth of which is scheduled for release any day now.

A pair of ryes -- bottled at 92.4 proof -- constitute the "Rare Rye Selection" in a pair of 375ml bottle. The difference in the two whiskies comes in the manner of maturation.

Although both bottles are 100% rye recipe and both are triple distilled, one has been aged in a new, charred cask, the other in an aged cask.

Says master distiller Chris Morris, "Globally, whiskey is presented in a wide range of flavor profiles. There are two distinct types, or families, of whiskey flavor -- Old World and New World. The 'Rare Rye Selection' afford you an opportunity for a side-by-side comparison."

The process in the Master's Collection is to change up one of five flavor sources -- grain, water, fermentation, distillation and maturation -- each year. Altering even one creates a new flavor profile.

Prior releases were Four Grain, Sonoma-Cutrer Finish, Sweet Mash, Seasoned Oak and Maple Wood Finish.

The new release will be sold at a suggested retail price of $99.99 for the two 375ml bottle set.

[Go to Dowd's Tasting Notes for my evaluation of the two whiskies.]

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Striking gold in Upstate New York

Distiller Tim Welly adjusts a valve on the new still at Hillrock Estates Distillery.

ANCRAM, NY -- The newest distillery in New York State ran off its first batch of whiskey today, a single malt made from grain grown on Hillrock Farms, home of what will become Hillrock Estate Distillery spirits. The event came about two weeks later than planned, delayed until power was restored to this storm-ravaged area.

With master distiller Dave Pickerell guiding the operation, he and Hillrock owner Jeff Baker and distiller Tim Welly tweaked the new Pickerell-designed still to achieve the desired alcohol level that quickly resulted in a run of full-flavored white spirit that will be put into new wood barrels later in the week, thus beginning the maturation process.

As I wandered about, photographing the day's activities, I couldn't help but compare the tableau to one several weeks ago when Pickerell headed up a distilling session I attended at George Washington's rebuilt Mount Vernon, VA, distillery.

As I observed then, in the circa-1799 distillery "The air was a thick stew of humidity, dust motes, cool water, fruit flies and the occasional spark from kindling wood being stoked in the brick ovens below the copper pot stills."

Distillery owner Jeff Baker checks the process.
Here, in a state-of-the-art facility that came to fruition in less than a year from concept to equipment installation, a lonely honeybee was the only intruder.

A cool breeze wafted through the pastel-walled interior, mixing with the sweet familiar smell of fermenting grain; hoses, gaskets and metal fermentation tanks smacking of modern technology; gleaming copper and polished brass shining on the two-story still and the adjacent mash tun made to order at the Vendome Copper & Brass Works in Louisville, KY.

"Jeff told me he wanted the best design he could get," Pickerell explained, "then when it was finished he said 'Now make it pretty.' I think we did."

Despite the modern technological rendering of an age-old process, it still has all the appearances of wizardry and magic when the clear distillate trickles from the still into the receiving container.

"It is a kind of magic, isn't it?" said Pickerell. "I like to tell people I'm a modern alchemist. I turn grain into gold."

Dave Pickerell adds milled grain to the mash tun.
The distillery was the dream of Baker, an executive managing director of Savills LLC, a New York City real estate investment banking firm. In a 25-year career, he completed more than $12 billion in transactions for such clients as Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley and Price Waterhouse.

Baker obviously thinks big in all things.

He purchased this 100-acre Columbia County farm, and a nearby 100-acre plot, a decade ago and has been biding his time as the land rebounded from chemicals used by prior owners.

He now has an eye on having his farm certified organic, part of his support of the farm-to-table movement that has taken hold in the Hudson Valley.

He had a colonial-style house dismantled and transported from Washington County to be reassembled on a hilltop here (see photo below).

Plain now, but the sketch below -- taped to the doorway in photo above -- shows the tasting bar plans.
He is planning to make the distillery visitor-friendly in the foreseeable future, with the ability to host 40-person dinners, as well as offering an outdoor patio, a tasting room, and an interior replete with colonial-style lamps such as those he already has suspended over the new still.

"I'm not sure exactly when we'll open to the public," Baker said, "but we're not too far away from completing the interior rooms."

An adjacent malt house is under construction and should be completed by about year's end. That will allow Hillrock to handle its own grain malting rather than having it done off-premises as is the current arrangement. Once that is done, it will mean a fully on-premises field-to-bottle operation.

Welly, who had been cellar master at Millbrook Winery in Dutchess County before joining Hillrock this year, is head of operations and the distiller now, with Pickerell as the consultant. He's a veteran of the restaurant and wine industry in sales, distribution and as a buyer. As part of the transition to distilling, he has been working under Pickerell and right up to the last minute today was busily making notes on a yellow legal pad seldom far from his reach.

Pickerell, an industry superstar and former Maker's Mark master distiller, has a busy consulting business with craft distilleries around the country, juggling 20 of them right now. The former Army officer and West Point faculty member is the managing member and senior consultant with Oak View Consulting in Mt. Washington, KY.

The transplanted farmhouse (right) and a smaller guesthouse. (Photo from Hillrock Farm)

The only distillery I know of, anywhere, with its own tennis court.

Two fermentation bins. On left is one day's action, on right is two days'.

A closeup of the fermentation process, bubbles and all.
The malt house under construction.
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Whiskey anthology perfect for holiday gifts

Here's a thought for an easy holiday gift. Pick up copies of my new book, "Barrels & Drams: The History of Whisk(e)y In Jiggers and Shots," just released by the New York publisher Sterling Epicure.

The suggested retail price for the hardcover book is $18.95. You can get a copy, often at a discounted price, via such online sites as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart and others.

Bill Dowd
I selected, edited and co-wrote this collection of essays from numerous writers famous in the field, from F. Paul Pacult to David Wondrich, and such multi-field notables as Tom Wolfe to Pulitzer Prize winner Daniel Okrent of The New York Times.

Through them you will discover the spread of whiskey throughout the world and how it helped build countries. Read profiles of some of the most famous giants of the industry as Jack Daniel, George Smith and the Beam family.

Plus, go behind the scenes of Prohibition to check out the legendary gangsters, small-time rumrunners, and a famous NASCAR champion who made his mark as a moonshine runner. And, you'll get insiders' looks at legitimate whiskey-making in such diverse spots as Scotland, Ireland, the U.S., South Africa, India and Japan, as well as how the infamous Whiskey Ring scandal almost brought down a U.S. presidency.


Sobieski adds 3 flavored vodkas

Sobieski Vodka, the low-priced Polish vodka that made big inroads into the U.S. market, today announced the release of three new flavored versions.

Sobieski Espresso, Cynamon and Bizon Grass join other flavors in its porftolio -- Orange, Karamel, Raspberry, Cytron and Vanilia.

Sobieski flavored vodkas begin with iconic Dankowski Rye, as does the base vodka, and is made at the Starogard Gdanski distillery that dates to 1846. 

The newcomers will be sold nationwide at a suggested retail price of $10.99 for the 750ml bottle.

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Beam seals 12 millionth bourbon barrel

Fred Noe III seals the milestone barrel of bourbon.

CLERMONT, KY -- Jim Beam Brands reached a huge milestone on October 17, when it filled its 12 millionth barrel of bourbon since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. The commemorative white oak barrel bearing the new company logo was filled and sealed at Beam’s flagship distillery here, where it will be aged until 2015.

"After more than 216 years, Beam continues to thrive as the No. 1 bourbon producer in the world," said Frederick "Fred" Booker Noe III, Jim Beam’s great-grandson and seventh generation Beam family distiller.

“This milestone comes at a time when bourbon is growing faster than categories like vodka in the U.S., and reflects the popularity of our brands, innovations and the worldwide growth of America’s native spirit.”

Beam is the fourth largest premium spirits company in the world. Its bourbon portfolio include Jim Beam, Jim Beam Black, Red Stag by Jim Beam, Devil’s Cut, Knob Creek, Basil Hayden, Baker’s, Booker’s, Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve, Maker’s Mark and Maker’s 46.

Exactly how much is 12 million barrels of bourbon? Noe looked into that and said the amount would:

• Yield nearly 340 million cases of Jim Beam Bourbon.

• Create more than 500 trillion bourbon cocktails.

• Fill 1,060 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

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Celebri-quote: Tom Brokaw

Tom Brokaw
Former “NBC Nightly News” anchor Tom Brokaw is profiled in New York magazine. Among the questions he answered ...

Q: What’s your drink?

A: We have a Polish audio technician with whom I have worked all over the world for years. He makes a killer home-brew lemon vodka.

We have shared shots with Gorbachev, and toasted the fall of the Berlin Wall, the visit of Pope John Paul to Warsaw, the release of Nelson Mandela, and most of the historic events of the last 30 years.

I want to be buried with a milk bottle of Majik’s lemon vodka.

[Go here for the Celebri-quotes archives.]

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Want a Scotch? Pass the can

If you've been longing for a nice can of Scotch whisky, your wish is about to be granted.

Scottish Spirits, a canned product of Scotland, will be available nationwide at more than 100,000 U.S. liquor stores beginning in December.

Both single-grain and blended 80 proof Scotch whisky are packaged in recyclable aluminum cans. They are distilled and matured in Scotland in oak casks for a minimum of tree years.

Scottish Spirits is using 12-ounce cans -- the equivalent of eight shots -- at a suggested retail price of $5. The company has its own distribution centers in Europe and in the U.S.

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Tennessee gets its sixth distillery

An old moonshiner still is set up for viewing by visitors.
WOODBURY, TN -- Tennessee has its sixth licensed distillery now that a new Cannon County facility has opened east of Mrufreesboro.

Short Mountain Distillery has received its state and federal permits 11 months after supporters changed county law by referendum to allow distilleries.

The company will make a Tennessee sour mash white whiskey from a family recipe used for generations. It will utilize locally-grown corn that is stone milled on site.

Production is expected to begin in January, and the facility will be opened to tourists in March. The distillery is working to become USDA Certified Organic within a year.

Short Mountain Distillery is owned by the Kaufman brothers -- Billy, David and Ben. They are the great-grandchildren of Jesse Shwayder, who 100 years ago founded the iconic American brand Samsonite. Their grandfather, Louis Degen, brought Samsonite to Murfreesboro decades ago.

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