Fun fact: Military loves its Jack Daniel's

screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-9-51-28-pmQuick, what segment of the world's population is the largest consumer of Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Whiskey?

Oh, you read the headline? Well, it's true, according to Jeff Arnett, Jack Daniel’s master distiller. According to Business Insider, the price tag for an entire barrel of this whiskey, approximately 250 bottles, swings from $9,000 to $12,000 since no two whiskey barrels have the same volume. Single Barrel whiskey was first sold in 1997 and was such a success that the distillery created the "By the Barrel" program a year later.

“Over the entire span of when the program has existed, the U.S. military is the largest purchaser. It has been represented by base exchanges, individual units, as well as other on-base military entities like officers’ clubs,” Arnett said in an interview. Go here for the full story.


Celebri-Quotes: Priyanka Chopra

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-3-29-17-pm Priyanka Chopra, the India-born star of TV's "Quantico" series, apparently was a bit confused when people kept handing her shots of tequila before such things as a red carpet celebrity walk and an appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," shots she obviously willing downed. Here's her take on it, excerpted from an interview with InStyle.

Describing her appearance in a white cutout lace dress for her first appearance on the DeGeneres show:
“I was trying really hard to get into that dress, so I hadn’t eaten all day, which little girls should not do. Please eat! I had that tequila shot and I was really wonky after that, just from one, because it was on an empty tummy.”
And, again:
“I really started believing it was a very American thing. I was at the Emmys and it happened again. I was given tequila and I was like, ‘American red carpets have to start with tequila'."
Go here for my archive of Celebri-Quotes on drinking.


NH distillery's local gin a strange brew

Tamworth Apiary Gin Customers who come across Apiary Gin on the shelves of their favorite spirits shop may be excused for thinking they've instead spotted one of those decorative bottles of oil stuffed with fruits, veggies and herbs.

Apiary Gin, from the Tamworth Distilling in New Hampshire, is chock full of a strange brew of botanicals along with a bunch of floating goodies.

The product reflects a lot of the flora of the Tamworth region, incorporating the obligatory juniper berries of gin with elements of red clover blossoms, honey, linden flowers, pine rosin, poplar buds and rosin.

This isn't the only offbeat product from Tamworth. To name just two others, there are Sweet Lips, a colonial-style cherry bounce made from Martha Washington's favorite recipe -- a house-made rye whiskey base, stored in oak with cherries, apple brandy and neutral spirits for infusing, then a touch of Tahitian vanilla and a distillate of smoked cardamom; and, Blueberry Fizz, a fermented offering made from blueberry pomace left over from the distillery's Art in the Age Black Trumpet Blueberry Cordial that combines plump, alcohol-rich berries with fresh-pressed local apple juice, and unaged apple brandy.


Celebri-Quote: Enrique De Colsa

Enrique De Colsa has been the master distiller for the upmarket Don Julio tequila company for a dozen years, and has worked in the industry for more than a quarter-century. He was interviewed by Haute Living at the recent Diageo World Class Global Finals in Miami. Here's a quote from that conversation.
Q: What is your favorite Don Julio variety?

A: My favorite is the añejo, but my baby is Don Julio 70. It was my unique baby because I made it all by myself. Even ([the late] Don Julio didn’t taste it. He was alive when we released it, but it was released in fall 2011 as an LTO [limited time offer, although it later became a permanent offering] and he passed away in March of 2012, so he was not able to drink it at this time.

Although his sickness prevented him from tasting it, he held the bottle in his hands, proud of our team.
Go here for my archive of Celebri-Quotes on drinking.


Celebri-Quote: Mariano Rotelli

• Mariano “Pops” Rotelli, a resident of the Atlanta suburb of Senoia, revealed the secret of his longevity to the Newnan Times-Herald -- at the party marking his 107th birthday.
“I’ve had a shot of whiskey in my coffee every morning for 100 years. I went to the doctor three times in 100 years. He’s dead. I’m still living.”
Asked if he’s particular about the type of whiskey he has each morning, he said he'll drink whatever his son-in-law buys. It’s usually Jim Beam Black.
Go here for my archive of Celebri-Quotes on drinking.


Interpreting Obama ruling on Cuban rum, cigars

An action announced by the Obama administration last Friday apparently has created confusion in some circles.

While the White House announced the elimination of the $100 limit on the value of Cuban rum and cigars American travelers can bring back from the island, some news outlets have misreported that as meaning retail sales of those two items also were affected.

The change does not mean that Cuban rum and cigars will be available for sale in the U.S.

In actuality, Cuban rum and cigars now are subject to the same duties as alcohol and tobacco from other countries. That means most travelers will be able to bring back as many as 100 cigars and several bottles of rum. High-end Cuban cigars can sell for more than $100 apiece outside the island nation, so every U.S. traveler now may legally bring back many thousands of dollars of Cuban products.

More than 160,000 American travelers visited Cuba last year, a figure sure to increase because of the U.S. lifting most travel restrictions between the U.S. and the Communist dictatorship

This is the opposite of college-era cheap tequila

When I hear people say negative things about tequila, usually citing a bad experience in college or some such period, I cringe. As I usually point out, that probably was because they had been binging rather than drinking, and at that age probably didn't have enough money or common sense to buy anything other than rotgut.

On the whole, tequila is an exquisite spirit, the manufacture of which is tightly controlled, rigorously graded and categorized. It does not have a worm in the bottle -- that has been an occasional gimmick with mezcal, tequila's poor cousin. It is not necessarily inexpensive, with prices of decent stuff ranging from reasonable to very expensive, just as is the case with whiskies and rums.

That said -- and I don't mind paying a premium price for a premium spirit, I find a new release from Casa Noble, a boutique small-production brand with nearly three centuries of history, way overboard. While its portfolio of super premium tequilas is a regular award winner with expressions priced at around $50 a bottle, its new limited-production Alta Belleza carries a retail price of $1,200 a bottle.

Alta Belleza is the first creation in Casa Noble’s new Colección del Fundador, planned as an ongoing series of rare, limited-release, collectible tequilas. It will be available beginning next month at high-end shops in select markets such as New York, Boston, Washington DC, and elsewhere.

Casa Noble says the extra añejo tequila is slowly aged in new French white oak barrels, then finished for six months in Tonnellerie Taransaud French oak barrels previously used to age Robert Mondavi’s prestigious To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon.

Only 563 bottles were produced, so the most Casa Noble will make from it is $675,600, but it probably will reap at least that amount in free publicity. Such as this posting.


'Whisky Bible' names Booker's Rye No. 1

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-2-42-31-pmThe continually increasing popularity of American whiskies on the world market certainly won't be harmed by the release of authority Jim Murray's iconic "Whisky Bible 2017" edition.

It names Booker’s Rye, a 13-year-old, $300-a-bottle spirit from Kentucky, the world's best whisk(e)y. The last time an American spirit was ranked on top was in 2013 when Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye was rated No. 1.

Murray's pronouncement on the Booker's Rye called it “simply a staggering example of a magnificent rye showing exactly what genius in terms of whiskey actually means.”

It should be noted that, while the Booker's brand originated in the U.S. and still is made here, it is owned by Beam Suntory, the Japanese spirits conglomerate that a number of years ago purchased Booker's parent company, Jim Beam Brands. It is not the first "Whiskey Bible" honor for Suntory. In 2015, its Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask was named No. 1.

Booker’s Rye has a huge alcohol content, bottled at 68.1% alcohol by volume (abv), or 136.2 proof. Murray describes the taste as “well-balanced notes of wood and oak from the longer aging process. This uncut rye has a spicy, robust flavor, but it is not overpowering.”


Distiller takes bourbon to a different place

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-1-03-45-pm The ongoing expansion of distilleries across the country has become a catalyst for some imaginative products.

From aging in different types of wood to flavoring additives, the variables are extensive. But, when it comes right down to it, perhaps the most telling part of the creation process is what goes into the grain mash from which all else emerges.

The Corsair distillery in Nashville, TN, is an eye-catcher. Founders/owners Darek Bell and Andrew Webber, who have grown from homemade brewers and distillers and also operate a fulltime brewery, have created a very wide range of products, some of them in regular production, others seasonally or on an experimental basis.

One of particular interest is a pot still-distilled bourbon they call Corsair Grainiac. The product, bottled at 47% abv (94 proof), carries no age statement. Instead of the somewhat standard mash bill composed of corn, rye, wheat and barley, they have added five other grains -- oats, quinoa, spelt, triticale, and buckwheat.

Corn still dominates because, by federal law, bourbon must be made from a mash containing at least 51% corn, but the additional unusual grains were specifically chosen to differentiate this spirit from competitors' products. The partners say they added the grains to achieve more flavor complexity. "The oats and buckwheat add more mouth feel, while the quinoa, spelt and triticale add a nutty and earthy component to the taste."

You can get a look at the entire portfolio on the Corsair website.


Patrón test launching sherry-aged tequila

If you are among the many travelers who like to see what new alcoholic products are available in airport duty free shops, here's one to be on the lookout for.

Patrón Spirits' Cask Collection Sherry Añejo Tequila will be test launched in such venues early in 2017 before a wider international market rollout.

The 40% abv (80 proof) spirit will carry a suggested retail price of $90. It was unveiled this week at the Tax Free World Association (TFWA) exhibition in Cannes, France.

So, what's different about it? Initially, its limited availability. Only 8,000 bottles of the añejo spirit will be available during the test launch in the category known in the trade as GTR, for Global Travel Retail. It has been aged for two years in used Olorosso Sherry oak barrels from Spain.

Rare bottle of Scotch goes for $86K

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-2-10-47-pmTake a look at the accompanying image of an old bottle of Glenfiddich scotch whisky. Chances are it will be the only time you'll see it.

That bottle, from The Glenfiddich Collection 1937, sold this week for an auction record price of $86,634 at Bonhams’ Whisky Sale in Edinburgh, Scotland, nearly double the pre-sale estimate. It is the highest ever paid at auction for a bottle of Glenfiddich and a Scottish auction house record for the sale of a single malt.

The whisky, bought by an unidentified bidder from the Far East, was laid down in Cask No. 843 at The Glenfiddich Distillery in 1937, the year of King George VI’s coronation, and bottled 64 years later in 2001. Experts say it is very unusual for a single malt Scotch whisky of its age to have kept its strength, which is what makes the 60 bottles from Cask No. 843 so special.

It is the oldest and rarest bottling ever undertaken at the distillery.


Update: Jose Cuervo delays stock plan

Cuervo CEO Beckmann (Bill Dowd photo)
UPDATE (10/6/16): Jose Cuervo, the world's biggest tequila producer, has delayed its planned initial public offering (IPO), according to anonymous sources quoited by the Reuters news service, and will wait until after the U.S. presidential election before going ahead. They cited stock market volatility leading up to the election.

(Originally published 9/28/16)

Fans of Jose Cuervo soon may be able to pick up more than a bottle of the iconic tequila. The Mexican alcoholic beverage maker on Tuesday filed a prospectus to conduct its long-expected initial public offering (IPO) of stock after centuries of tight control of its business.

Although the IPO announcement contained scant details, industry analysts have suggested the company, one of the oldest family-owned businesses in the Western Hemisphere, could be seeking to raise between $750 million and $1 billion.

The idea of selling shares in the company is an obvious move to avoid any sort of takeover by another company. There have been such attempts from time to time. One of the most serious was back in 2011, when spirits giant Diageo made such a push. That multinational owns such brands as Johnnie Walker, Guinness, Tanqueray, Smirnoff, Captain Morgan, J&B, Bulleitt and Ketel One.

Cuervo, which officially goes by the name Becle, said it had 2015 sales of nearly $1.02 billion, up from abut $778 million in 2014. In just the first six months of this year, the company said, it has had revenues of more than $625 million. The company said the U.S. and Canada account for about two-thirds of its sales, while Mexico generates just over a fifth of revenue.

It was founded by Jose Antonio de Cuervo in the late 1700s, when Mexico still was controlled by Spain, in the town of Tequila in Jalisco state. It is run by the Beckmann family, who married into the Cuervo family a century ago.

Back in late 2008, I was a guest of Juan-Domingo Beckmann shortly before he succeeded his father as CEO of the company, enjoying a tasting deep in the cellars of Cuervo's LaRojeña distillery in Jalisco. You can access that story and photos here.


Craft distillers nearing OK for fed tax breaks

legislation-smallSometimes changes in governmental regulation spur expansion. The boom in craft distilling, winemaking, and brewing, fueled by removal of many old legal restrictions in New York and elsewhere, shows that. However, sometimes the expansion itself spurs more legislation.

Take the case of a current effort to persuade Congress to pass legislation modernizing a section of the federal tax codes so craft distillers would get the same tax breaks long enjoyed by craft brewers and craft winemakers. It is being spearheaded by an organization called the American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA), the non-profit trade association that is increasingly influential despite being only several years old.

A report from the ACSA released Monday says,"With the addition of U.S. senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, S. 1562, now has a clear majority of senators in support of the legislation with 51 co-sponsors [which is a majority of the Senate]. The groundswell of support in the Senate is echoed by growing support in the House of Representatives, where the number of supporters behind H.R. 2903, the companion to the Senate bill, has now reached 284 co-sponsors [also a majority]."

When the legislation is passed, which appears inevitable, it will go to the White House for the president's signature. If it clears that hurdle, craft spirit distillers will be provided parity by paying a reduced Federal Excise Tax such as craft brewers and craft vintners have long had.

What a change will mean for consumers, however, will depend on the individual distilleries. While some may freeze or reduce prizes on some products as a result of having to pay less tax, others will invest in their facilities or simply pocket the difference.

Says the ACSA, "Taxes on distilled spirits are among the nation’s highest, comprising 54% of the typical spirits product’s purchase price. Craft spirits producers remain disadvantaged compared to our nation’s craft brewers and small wineries who receive a significant reduction in their FET rate. In fact, a craft spirits producer pays 5.4 times more FET than a craft brewer, and 16.4 times more FET than a small winery, for equal quantities of beverage alcohol."

Membership in ACSA is open to anyone, although voting members must be independent licensed distillers who meet several criteria, including having more than a 75% equity stake and/or operational control of a distillery producing fewer than 750,000 proof gallons annually.


One more reason to miss Grand Central Terminal

Donatella Arpaia
I really miss the days when Amtrak ran trains from my Upstate neck of the woods at Albany/Rensselaer down to New York City's iconic Grand Central Terminal.

Besides simply liking trains since I was a kid, I looked forward to arriving there to get yet another look at the magnificent architecture and glamorous hustle-bustle. And, perhaps a bite to eat and something to drink at a quintessentially Manhattan spot.

But, since these days we have to suffer through the soul-sucking sheer ugliness of Penn Station, we're down one on the Small Pleasures List. And now, there's another reason to be jealous of those train riders who still get to use Grand Central: they can have wine-to-go in adult sippy cups.

Well-known restaurateur Donatella Arpaia, who shuttered her restaurant Prova in the Chelsea neighborhood last year, has just opened Prova Pizzabar on the terminal's lower level, offering full-service dining as well as takeout and a full liquor license. Customers can get their pizzas or slices to go with wine, or cocktails, packaged and prepared for commuters.

“We have really cool adult wine sippy cups. We’re really excited about it,” Arpaia said in a New York Post interview. “This is my first foray into upscale quick service. Our pizza chef hasn’t slept in weeks.”

Of course, eat-in or take-out service is not limited to train riders. As is the case with such other eateries in Grand Central as the Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant and Michael Jordan's The Steak House, Prova Pizzabar is open to the general public seven days a week, with 45 seats in the 1,500-square-foot space plus seven seats at the bar. (For the uninitiated, Grand Central is located at 89 East 42nd Street in Manhattan.)