Woodford Reserve expanding to tune of $35 million

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tapatio tequila portfolio introduced to U.S.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What was in that drink?

The lowdown on the lovely spirit of cachaça

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Distiller releasing Connecticut's first aged whiskey

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

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

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

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

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


Glenfiddich releases newest Cask of Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

Hillrock Estate releasing two new whiskies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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