VT distiller claims America's 1st single malt

Somewhere in this craft whiskey mad country of ours there is a distiller who will dispute the claim by a Vermont company that it has produced our first legal American single malt. Hopscotch Vermont Single Malt Whiskey is from a cooperative effort by Mad River Distillers and Lawson’s Finest Liquids, a 46% abv (92 proof) whiskey with a 100% barley beer wash as its base; 10% of it was maple smoked with wood sourced from the distillery’s farm.

screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-6-49-45-pmAs is de rigeur for finer spirits, it was aged for a little over a year in new, charred American white oak barrels. It's a very limited edition, with just 200 hand-numbered bottles for sale at the five-year-old distillery and at several retailers in nearby Massachusetts.

“Hopscotch came about from our friendship with Sean Lawson and the idea that we had been interested in doing a single malt whiskey,” said Mad River’s Alex Hilton in a prepared statement. “We worked on a mash bill collectively that we felt would be well suited for a single malt. We distilled it, he added some hops then we barreled it. And then we waited.”

Mad River Distilling is located at 172 Mad River Green, Waitsfield, VT, and has a tasting room at 137 St. Paul Street in Burlington. Phone: 802-489-5501. Lawson's is a microbrewery located in Warren, VT.

Caribbean rum to mature in Maryland

screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-7-25-41-pmCaptain Morgan's ship has sailed Or, it is about to.

Its parent company Diageo has announced it is closing its rum maturation and warehousing operation on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) by the end of 2017.

The spirits giant plans to relocate that part of its USVI operation to Relay, MD, in a bottling plant that has been closed since 2015.

Because Captain Morgan Rum will continue to be produced in the USVI, Diageo says the move will impact neither local employment nor St. Croix's "rum cover-over funds," the term used to refer to the excise tax the USVI receives when rum produced there is sold in the U.S. market.

Diageo sells more than six million cases of Captain Morgan in the U.S. annually.

New Beam Double Oak requires some explaining

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-11-16-24-amFirst things first. The new Jim Beam Double Oak does not taste twice as oaky as the Jim Beam white label many of us know and love.

Yes, it has a darker color. Yes, it's a high-corn recipe (77%, with an almost equal balance of rye and malted barley in the mash). Yes, it tastes different. But, it is not as terribly oaky as the name may imply.

The creation process, in this instance, is not double wood, which would be initial aging in one kind of wood then maturation in another. Here, the spirit is aged as usual in new, charred American white oak. Then, it moves into another new, charred white American oak barrel. The entire process is in the four-year range.

The resulting 43% abv (86 proof) bourbon -- a bit higher than the 80 proof white label -- has notes of the char along with licorice and the signature vanilla, dried fruit notes, and leather of Beam whiskies. The finish is quite a bit dryer and a bit longer than the white label.

The suggested retail price is in the $25 range for a 750ml bottle.


Update: Alcohol distributor denies fraud charge

lawsuit-iconUPDATE (11/18/16): Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits has responded to allegations in a lawsuit that it has been defrauding four Albany bars. Its statement: "We at Southern Glazer’s of Upstate New York are deeply concerned by the inaccurate accusations made in a recent lawsuit filed in Albany. We plan to vigorously defend the lawsuit. The lawsuit arises out of the alleged wrongful conduct of a single employee acting independently in violation of company policy and who has been terminated. We have a long and proud tradition of the highest ethical business practices and our nearly 2,000 employees in New York fulfill our expectations in this regard every day. We take these allegations very seriously and our customers can rest assured that we have rigorous policies, procedures and training in place. We will not have any further comments about the lawsuit but anticipate we will ultimately prevail."  

(Originally published 11/15/16)

These are strange times for major New York State players in the adult-beverage sales industry.

As I reported on Friday, the huge Empire Merchants has filed a lawsuit alleging fraud by an Illinois company that responded by trying to buy out Empire ("Drinks distributor war takes an odd turn"). Today comes word that Southern Glazer's Wine and Spirits is being accused in a $1.25 million lawsuit of defrauding four Albany bars over a period of years by charging for alcohol the businesses never ordered or received.

The suit, according to the Times Union, filed on Tuesday alleges that a salesman for Southern Wine and Spirits, with knowledge of management, repeatedly put through unrequested last-minute orders, known as “will calls,” that the representative signed for under his own name or with forged signatures, sometimes misspelled, of representatives of The Barrel Saloon, The Capital Bistro, Public House 42, and Pearl Street Pub.

The suit, filed on behalf of Pratt and Depoli by attorney James D. Linnan, seeks $500,000 for Pearl Street Pub, the oldest of the four bars, $250,000 apiece for the other three, punitive damages to be determined, court costs and attorney fees, according to the TU.

Go here for the full story.

Review: 'The New Single Malt Whiskey' is superb

THE NEW SINGLE MALT WHISKEY. Cider Mill Press. 624 hardcover pages, illustrated. $35 US, $46 Canada.


In global whiskey parlance, the preferred single malts usually are the older ones. In this new and remarkably detailed book, the title makes it obvious something new is being addressed here.

From the handsome cover, replete with raised lettering, no-nonsense information ("more than 325 bottles from 197 distilleries in over 25 countries"), and an admirable lack of frills, to the image of stately aging barrels more than 600 pages later, this collaborative effort is a must-have for anyone serious about whiskies.

In its promotional material, the Kennebunkport, ME, book publisher Cider Mill Press makes some big claims about this offering that includes writing and photography from a wide range of professionals. Things such as "definitive guide," "the only compendium of its kind," "handsome," collectible," and "perfect for whiskey lovers old and new."

I submit that they are underselling it. "The New Single Malt Whiskey" is a masterpiece.

The well-organized book, which leads readers from country to country, is a delight from the start, which includes a scene-setting editor's note from Carlo DeVito, a veteran of the publishing industry, a writer and editor himself of numerous books on drinks and other fun topics, and owner of the Hudson Chatham Winery in Columbia County, NY.  Says he, "What is The New Single Malt? More than anything there are two things that help define it. Firstly, it is single malt whiskey made anywhere in the world. It does not need to be made in Scotland. That was the first criteria. The craft movement around the world is striving to compete at the top, most epic level. ... Secondly, [it] is about style as well as place."

In addition to the obligatory tours of such whiskey centers as the U.S., Scotland, Japan, Canada and Ireland, we are led label by label, photo by photo, word by word to places most people probably never think of when it comes to creating fine whiskies. Places like Taiwan, Norway, the Czech Republic, Iceland and Finland. The 70 or so contributors, some of them such as DeVito -- who wrote the lion's share of the entries, David Wondrich, Ruben Luyten, Eric Asimov and Elizabeth Emmons familiar to whiskey readers -- span a range of experiences as writers, editors, distillers, bloggers, journalists, etc., as big as the range of stories in the book.

As someone who has conceived, edited and co-written a whiskey anthology ("Barrels & Drams: The History of Whisk(e)y in Jiggers and Shots," Sterling Epicure) I know the difficulty of corralling a wide variety of writing styles and topics-within-the-topic and putting them into a coherent whole. I salute DeVito and company for succeeding in putting what must have been a seemingly overwhelming amount of information into such an attractive, cohesive package that all self-respecting whiskey aficionados, be they on the creating end or the consuming end, need to have on their bookshelves.

Where else, for example, are you liable to find in one tome the mini-histories and product reviews for whiskies of the Swiss Alps, the Hudson Valley, Scottish islands, England's bucolic Cotswolds region, Austrian wine country, the Frisian coastal region of the Netherlands, and the area of Spain better known for its sherries?

"The New Single Malt Whiskey" is not only for those steeped in whiskey knowledge. It includes entries on the various woods used to age the spirits -- and why American use bourbon barrels dominate; the whiskey glasses used to sample them; an old-school cooperage; and, how to taste whiskies. And, of course, it has a section on whiskey cocktails for those readers who want to put all their knowledge, newfound or otherwise, to use.

I have the feeling if you choose this book as a holiday present for someone in your life who enjoys whiskey, it will be the most appreciated of any gift he or she receives this year.


World's largest daiquiri: 95 gallons

They used 80 bottles of Appleton Estate Rum, simple syrup, lime juice and ice at the Porco Lounge & Tiki Room in Cleveland to create what is being billed as the world's largest daiquiri.

Owner Stefan Was created a team of four mixologists and a support group of barbacks to man four 1.5-gallon Vitamixes until the giant tiki mug was filled.
Bottom line: As created six days ago and verified by the announcement on Wednesday, the giant drink weighed in at 95 gallons, setting the record for the largest daiquiri, according to the World Record Academy.


Another major alcohol distributor sued

lawsuit-iconThese are strange times for major New York State players in the adult-beverage sales industry.

As I reported on Friday, the huge Empire Merchants has filed a lawsuit alleging fraud by an Illinois company that responded by trying to buy out Empire ("Drinks distributor war takes an odd turn").

Today comes word that Southern Wine and Spirits is being accused in a $1.25 million lawsuit of defrauding four Albany bars over a period of years by charging for alcohol the businesses never ordered or received.

The suit, according to the Times Union, filed on Tuesday alleges that a salesman for Southern Wine and Spirits, with knowledge of management, repeatedly put through unrequested last-minute orders, known as “will calls,” that the representative signed for under his own name or with forged signatures, sometimes misspelled, of representatives of The Barrel Saloon, The Capital Bistro, Public House 42, and Pearl Street Pub.

The suit, filed on behalf of Pratt and Depoli by attorney James D. Linnan, seeks $500,000 for Pearl Street Pub, the oldest of the four bars, $250,000 apiece for the other three, punitive damages to be determined, court costs and attorney fees, according to the TU.

Go here for the full story.


Plantation debuts multi-blend overproof rum

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-10-42-27-pmThe Plantation Rum portfolio has just been expanded by brand owner Maison Ferrand. Plantation OFTD Overproof Rum is a blend of rums from Guyana, Jamaica and Barbados rums. The OFTD acronym stands for "Old Fashioned Traditional Dark," and the 69% abv newcomer is being delivered to vendors this month.

The blend is anything but an in-house creation. The components were selected by a panel made up of Plantation's Alexandre Gabriel; drinks historian David Wondrich; Jeff Berry, proprietor of Latitude 29 in New Orleans; Martin Cate, proprietor of Smuggler's Cove in San Francisco; Paul McFadyen, proprietor of Trailer Happiness in London; Paul McGee, proprietor of Lost Lake in Chicago, and Scotty Schuder, proprietor of Dirty Dick in Paris.

OFTD is being put on sale at a suggested retail price of $31.99 per 1-liter bottle. The Plantation portfolio also includes Plantation Pineapple Stiggins' Fancy, which was introduced to the U.S. market earlier this year, 3 Stars White, Original Dark, Grande Reserve 5 Year Old, 20th Anniversary XO and a group of single-country vintage dated rums.

The brand is handled in the U.S. by Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits.

Celebri-Quote: Jessica Alba

Apparently alcohol is the key to achieving Jessica Alba’s hair glory. That, at least, is a conclusion we're expected to draw from the latest stupid use of tequila -- the actress appearing on the daytime TV talk show "Ellen" on which host Ellen DeGeneres helps her go through the steps of using products from Alba's hair care line.

“As a mom of two young girls," Alba says during the skit, "sometimes I feel a little tired, so I also spritz my face when I wake up in the morning.

“Here’s a little secret: I keep a shot of tequila on my vanity. And, mommy’s thirsty!”
She chugs a shot, supposedly of tequila, then makes a face and declares, “Ah! It’s real!”

Go here for my archive of Celebri-Quotes on Drinking.

Celebri-Quote: Jeremy Clarkson

jeremy-clarksonBritish media personality Jeremy Clarkson endeared himself to American TV viewers with his antics and wit as one of the hosts of BBC America's zany "Top Gear" automotive series. However, he also became known internationally for his battles with producers and offensive comments and characterizations of various nations and peoples that led to cancellation of the show. In an interview with Britain's popular show biz journal Radio Times, he talks about his troubles over remarks about Mexico.

“Genuinely, if I looked back at the 'Top Gear' Wikipedia section marked ‘controversy,’ then Mexico is the one where we definitely got it wrong.

"Describing Mexicans on 'Top Gear' as feckless, flatulent and lazy was definitely wrong. I went to see the Mexican ambassador and apologized to him. I didn’t have to. The Beeb [BBC] didn’t tell me to, but it was out of order... So we went down and said we were really sorry and got absolutely paralytic on tequila with him. That was a good day.”

Go here for my archive of Celebri-Quotes on Drinking.

Craft spirits following craft brewing arc


From Fortune magazine
The U.S. spirits industry is finally seeing a “craft” movement take hold across bars and retail outlets in a way that could mirror the success craft brewers have had in recent years.
In a broad study backed by the American Craft Spirits Association that is being billed as a first-of-its-kind deep dive into the craft spirits movement, the industry reportedly achieved $2.4 billion in retail sales in 2015, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 27.4% in volume. The market share for craft spirits reached 2.2% in volume last year, up sharply from 0.8% in 2010.

This growth -- bolstered by the 1,315 craft distillers that are active in the U.S. today -- is expected to get continued support from retailers and wholesalers, likely because they’ve seen the success craft brewers have achieved in the beer world. Within beer, craft producers now control about 12% of volume and are posting growth that far exceeds the total category. There are also well over 4,200 craft breweries today, far more than the amount of distilling peers.

Interestingly, much of the craft spirits industry’s growth is concentrated in just a handful of states. The top five states by number of craft distilleries -- California, New York, Washington, Colorado and Texas -- make up almost 36% of the industry’s players.

Go here for the full story.

Beam opens immense new aging facility

Beam's expanded Frankfort, KY, complex.
Beam's expanded Frankfort, KY, complex.
Beam bourbons are the category's top sellers worldwide, and it is obvious the distiller foresees no decline any time soon.

Beam has just opened an immense new rackhouse at its Frankfort, KY, complex. The seven-story aging facility covers more than 275,000 square feet, making it the largest of its kind for Beam in Kentucky, and the first opened by the company since 1968.

Beam now has 122 rackhouses. At full capacity, the new rackhouse has room for more than 59,000 barrels, 17% more than its next-largest warehouse. It is the largest rackhouse that can be built under Kentucky state law. The warehouse is part of a planned $1 billion-plus investment by Beam to to make bourbon in Kentucky over the next five years, including grains, barrels, payroll and capital expenditures, the company said.

“The need for this incredible new rackhouse really underscores the global thirst for bourbon,” said David Hunter, chief supply chain officer for Beam Suntory, in a prepared statement. “I’m so proud of the team here in Frankfort, and all of our operations in Kentucky, who have been working so hard to keep up with the pace of demand for bourbon around the world.”


When is 'bourbon-like' not bourbon? Now!

Hennessy Master Blender’s Selection No. 1H
OK, I officially am confused. Very confused.

The normally reliable Bloomberg news service recently published an online story it headlined "Hennessy Releases a New Bourbon-Like Spirit to Win Over Whiskey Lovers," with a subhead that says, " If you don’t consider yourself a Cognac drinker, consider this."

Bourbon-like? Mixing in a reference to Cognac? WTF! Has Bloomberg been hoodwinked?

Its story begins this way:
"We don't tell Yann what to do. Yann tells us what to do.”

Jordan Bushell, Hennessy’s head of mixology and education, is sitting in a glassed-in conference room at Bloomberg in New York, batting away the suggestion that executives could dictate product development to its seventh-generation master blender, Yann Fillioux.

“We had asked him for different things, and he kind of said, ‘All right, here's the blend of the moment.’ ”
In other words, as Bushnell would have the Bloomberg reporters believe, because a spirits developer has a bunch of ancestors with a track record in the field, some people should be  willing to take anything that person should be accepted as gospel.

Sorry, that is utter drivel. Bourbon did not get to be bourbon by allowing competing spirits to be "bourbon-like." True, bourbon producers cut such whiskeys as Jack Daniel's and other Tennessee sipping whiskies a bit of slack, conceding that they are "bourbonesque" before undergoing filtration through maple charcoal that puts them into their own category. But, that is as far as they will go.

The product in question here is Hennessy Master Blender’s Selection No. 1, a new Cognac expression officially announced on October 24. Professionals who tasted it when it was unveiled at the industry extravaganza called Tales of the Cocktail, held annually in New Orleans, generally judged it a slightly sweet, slightly over-proof, single-batch blend of 80 to 100 eau de vie, aged up to 16 years in two- to four-year-old French Limousin oak.

That said, the very description separates the product from bourbon by a wide margin. So, why is Hennessy pushing it as "bourbon-like" and getting some writer to go along with that label?

Sales potential, people. What else? True bourbons continue to be THE hottest-selling whiskies on the planet, so why not leap on the bandwagon. Even the Bloomberg report notes that the research firm IWSR says "Sales of super-premium bourbon increased 28.8% from 2011 to 2015. Meanwhile, comparable cognac sales increased 9.5%. To put a value on it, Euromonitor Interntional reports that $3.8 billion worth of bourbon was sold retail in the U.S. in 2015 vs. $1.3 billion worth of cognac, a 19.1% vs. 8.5% year-over-year growth, respectively."

So, in essence what we have here is yet another poseur seeking to hitch itself to the bourbon comet. I don't buy it. Stand or fall on your merits, I say. We didn't get to where we are with pure spirits categories by fuzzing the definitions and being sanguine about it.


Whiskey-beer hybrid from Massachusetts co-op

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-2-59-49-pmA pair of Massachusetts alcoholic beverage makers founded nearly a quarter-century apart have found common ground in something that happened in 1775.

Berkshire Mountain Distillers (BMD) and the Boston Beer Company, maker of Samuel Adams beers, on Tuesday announced the release of Two Lanterns American Whiskey, the result of a four-year collaboration. with Samuel Adams.

BMD created the premium whiskey by triple distilling Samuel Adams' flagship Boston Lager at its distillery in Great Barrington, followed by years of barrel aging in vintage bourbon barrels. While BMD is known for aging spirits in used craft beer barrels, Two Lanterns is the first distilled with Boston Lager.

Chris Weld, founder of BMD, said it took nearly 25,000 gallons of Boston Lager to produce the 1,000 gallons of Two Lanterns available for purchase at a suggested retail price of $120 per bottle. Once fully emptied, the American oak barrels used for aging the whiskey will make the trip back to the Boston Brewery, where they will be used for a yet-to-be-named barrel-aged beer.

Various tasting events, with details available online, will be held throughout November to introduce the new beverage. “After anxiously waiting for more than four years, we are excited to finally share the fruits of our teamwork for craft whiskey and beer lovers to enjoy,” he said.

The whiskey’s name was inspired by the two lanterns lit at Old North Church in Boston in 1775 that signaled to the Sons of Liberty that the British were coming by sea to Lexington and Concord to capture Samuel Adams and John Hancock and hang them as traitors.

 Jim Koch brewed the first batch of Samuel Adams Boston Lager in his kitchen in 1984, using his grandfather’s recipe and generally being credited with launching the domestic craft beer movement. His company currently produces 60 styles of beers and ales. BMD was established in 2007, and produces such artisinal spirits including Greylock Gin, Ethereal Gins, Ragged Mountain Rum, Ice Glen Vodka, Berkshire Bourbon and New England Corn Whiskey.

Mount Gay rum marks Barbados independence

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-2-38-53-pmBarbados is a picturesque Caribbean island that until 1966 had been ruled by a number of European colonial powers. Now, it is marking its 50th year of independence and one of its principal companies is celebrating with a limited edition bottling of Mount Gay rum.

The island, inhabited by Kalinago people since the 13th Century and prior to that probably by other Amerindians, first came under European influence when Spanish explorers visited in the late 15th Century and claimed it for the Spanish crown.

The Portuguese visited in 1536, but they left it unclaimed although they did leave behind a herd of hogs that reproduced and made the island known for their meat. In 1625, the English ship Olive Blossom arrived and its crew claimed the island in the name of King James I. In 1627, the first permanent settlers arrived from England, and Barbados became an English and later British colony, obtaining independence within the British Commonwealth.

The French company Rémy Cointreau, owner of the Mount Gay facility, commissioned Mount Gay XO Cask Strength, a blend of spirits matured for eight to 15 years and bottled at 63% abv. The rum, which goes on sale this month, is described as having “notes of ripe banana and toasted almond, followed by vanilla and spice, to create a smooth, unforgettable finish.”

“This is our tribute to the spirit of Barbados, the original birthplace of rum, and the people that make this island so unique,” said Allen Smith, master blender. “To taste XO Cask Strength is to experience everything that fans love about XO, but it gives connoisseurs the special opportunity to enjoy the truest intensity of XO aromas straight from the casks.”

Bottles from the 3,000-bottle lot, priced at $185, come packaged in a wooden box with a booklet on the history of rum’s origin in Barbados. A portion of the sales of every bottle sold will be donated to the Barbados Museum and Historical Society to support its efforts in conserving the history and culture of Barbados.