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.


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.)


Elijah Craig packaging gets a facelift

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-3-35-36-pmElijah Craig is a historic figure, but even an icon can undergo a freshening up once in a while. So, Heaven Hill Distillery, the maker of Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon, has just announced a major packaging redesign of its flagship spirit.

“At a time when the demand for bourbon is at record levels, we are renewing our commitment to crafting Elijah Craig Small Batch so we can have it more available for the market, rather than on allocation, inaccessibly priced or simply out of stock,” says Max L. Shapira, president of Heaven Hill Distillery.

Elijah Craig Small Batch is made from batches of 200 barrels or less of 8-year-old to 12-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon, with a large percent from the older barrels. While the packaging is new, its mashbill, proprietary yeast, proof, and aging regimen remain the same.

The newly designed bottle is taller and has cleaner lines. Using a custom-designed mold, 1789, the year the Rev. Elijah Craig founded his distillery, is embossed on the glass. In addition, the brand name and Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey directly decorate the bottle. A small textured paper label on the bottom of the bottle’s front includes Craig’s signature, as well as product information. Crowning the bottle is a cork closure stained dark brown.

“We are confident that through our stringent barrel selection process we will maintain the desired taste profile and quality that have made Elijah Craig Small Batch one of the most critically acclaimed Bourbons in the world,” says co-master distiller Denny Potter. “We can do this because barrels, no matter their age, mature at different rates that depend on their location in our natural open rick warehouses. We choose only those barrels that meet our exacting standards for complexity. They are the cream of the crop that annually account for about one-half of one percent of all of our aging stocks.”

Craig's place in American distilling history is mixed. Although many things are known about him -- her was a prominent Baptist preacher, paper mill owner, rope factory owner, founder of Georgetown, KY, school founder, etc.) when it comes to bourbon the opinions are mixed.

A few whiskey historians credit him with being the first to popularize Kentucky corn whiskey aged in charred oak barrels and calling it bourbon. Most, however, say that is apocryphal, and that such a practice was commonplace in the area in which he lived.


In retirement, distiller creating a new winner

Screen shot 2016-09-29 at 3.45.18 PMFrom the mansion to the boondocks. An interesting path for Dave Scheurich, who retired as the master distiller of Woodford Reserve bourbon in 2011 after a 17-year tenure in that position. He now is seeking to put a fledgling brand on the same radar as Woodford -- and doing it for a wine company.

His post-retirement days are spent on a project known as Boondocks American Whiskey, owned by the Royal Wine Corp. of Bayonne, NJ. The family-owned company owns more than 60 wine brands and also is an importer and distributors of spirits.

Scheurich has been overseeing the creation of two different expressions of Boondocks, bottled at 95 and 127 proof, with plans to create a “limited edition” variant in the next few months.

The current expressions are made from a mash of corn, rye and malt, and aged in American white oak barrels in Kentucky. Suggested retail prices: $39.99 for the 95 proof, $59.99 for the 127.

The "lighter" whiskey is doing especially well this year, earning a Gold Medal/91 points in the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition and "Best of Category" in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge.

“Boondocks is an exciting project to be a part of,” Scheurich said in a prepared statement. “With the development of this brand, we wanted to bring a superior product with exceptional taste to the market, but most importantly we wanted a whiskey that delivered an ultra smooth finish -- something easy to enjoy.”

By the way, why the name Boondocks?

"It is said that “out in the boondocks, life is a little simpler. Time-honored traditions are taken seriously. One takes time so that things are done right. And when it comes to whiskey, the results are shown in every bottle.”


World Wine & Spirits: The wine winners

The results have just been released for the 2016 New York World Wine & Spirits Competition. For ease of reading, given the large number of categories, I have split the spirits and wines into two separate postings.

Here are the "Best of" awards in the wines categories, plus Best in Show when indicated (go here for the spirits winners):

Best Pinot Noir -- Babich 2015 Pinot Noir, Babich Wines Ltd.

Best Sauvignon Blanc -- Babich 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Babich Wines Ltd

Best in Show White --  Barton & Guestier 2015 Chemin Blanc, Barton & Guestier Patriarche USA

Best in Show Sparkling Wine -- Celler Barcelona NV Brut, Cordelina Wine Co.

Best Cabernet Sauvignon -- Louis M. Martini 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, E&J Gallo

Best Merlot -- Columbia Winery 2014 Merlot, E&J Gallo

Best Chardonnay -- J Vineyards 2014 Chardonnay, E&J Gallo

Best White Blend -- Easy Drinker 2015 Colombard Sauvignon Blanc, Les Domaines Grassa SAS

Best Vermouth -- Odd Society NV Barrel Aged Bittersweet Vermouth, Odd Society Spirits

Best in Show Red -- Santa Sofia 2011 Amaronedella Valipolicella Classico, Santa Sofia

Best Bordeaux Blend -- V. Sattui Winery 2013 Bordeaux Blend Paradiso, V. Sattui Winery

Best Non-Bordeaux Blend -- V. Sattui Winery 2014 Red Blend Entanglement, V. Sattui Winery

Best Zinfandel -- V. Sattui Winery 2014 Ancient Vine Zinfandel Quagha Vineyard, V. Sattui Winery

Best Shirza -- Taylor Wines 2015 Shiraz Promised Land, Wakefield/Taylors Wines

World Wine & Spirits: The spirits winners

The results have just been released for the 2016 New York World Wine & Spirits Competition. For ease of reading, given the large number of categories, I have split the spirits and wines into two separate postings.

The "Best of" awards in the spirits categories, plus Best in Show when indicated (go here for the top wine winners):

Best Blended Scotch -- Alexander Murray & Company, Kirkland 24 Yr. Old.

Best Single Malt Scotch -- Cask Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky, A.D. Rattray Ltd.

Best American Craft Whiskey -- Cedar Ridge Distillery Single Malt Whiskey

Best Gin and Best in Show Unaged White) -- Conniption Navy Strength Gin, Durham Distillery

Best Extra Aged Rum, Best Rum, Best in Show Aged White -- Ron Cartavio XO Rum, Ekeko Distribution

Best Reposado Tequila -- Familia Camarena Reposado Tequila, E&J Gallo

Best Vodka -- New Amsterdam Vodka, E&J Gallo

Best Small Batch Bourbon, Best Bourbon -- J. Henry & Sons Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Patton Road Reserve

Best in Show Liqueur -- Island Products Crème de Cacao, Island Products

Best Straight Bourbon -- Joseph Magnus Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Jos. A. Magnus & Co.

Best in Show Unaged White -- Long Road Aquavit, Long Road Distillers

Best Rye Whiskey --  OYO Dark Rye Pumpernickle Whiskey, Middle West Spirits

Best Other Single Malt Whiskey, Best in Show Whiskey -- Moylan’s Cask Strength Port Barrel Finish Single Malt Whiskey, Moylan’s Distilling Co.

Best Cachaca -- Cachaca Goga de Ema, SKL Medeiros Ferreirra

Best Blanco Tequila, Best in Show Tequila -- Santera Blanco Tequila, Santera Tequila

Best Dark/Gold Rum -- Acote 3 yr. Old Rum, The Sugarcane Co.

Best Flavored Gin -- Tommyrotter Distillery Cask Strength Bourbon Barrel Gin, Tommyrotter Distilling

Best Cream Liqueur -- St. Michel Caramel Cream au Cognac Liqueur, Vallein Tercinier

Craft distillers not only ones with shiny new stuff

An upgrade project at Grant distillery.

Some beverage journalists may seem to be specializing in reporting on the craft distilling movement, but the little guys aren't the only one installing new equipment as the global demand for hard spirits continues to rise.

As proof, I offer the accompanying photo showing the new sections stacked in front of some of the equipment they'll be replacing at William Grant & Sons, the 129-year-old Scottish distillery operated by the fifth generation of the family. Talk about matters of scale!

If you don't know the Grant company name, you'll undoubtedly recognize some of its non-Grants brands -- Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Hendrick's Gin, Tullamore Dew, The Famous Grouse, The Macallan, Highland Park ...

Jose Cuervo loosens up with stock sales plan

Cuervo CEO Beckmann (Bill Dowd photo)
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.


Harvest Fair to showcase local potato vodka

If you're planning to attend the 2nd annual Harvest Fair at Heather Ridge Farm next month, be sure to keep a sharp eye out for the tasting stand for the new Barber's Farm Distillery. That's where you'll be able to sample the Schoharie Valley distiller's new 1857 Potato Vodka.

The year refers to the founding of Barber's Farm, located on Route 30 in Middleburgh, now operated by the sixth generation of a family that has expanded what began as a small homestead farm into a farm market with four satellite truck markets.

While there are numerous craft distilleries throughout the state, Barber's Farm is one of the few making naturally gluten-free vodka from its own potatoes, grown in the valley's rich alluvial bottom land, combined with water from the spring on the property.

The Harvest Fair will be held held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, October 22, at Heather Ridge, located at 989 Broome Center Road in the Rensselaerville hamlet of Preston Hollow. Admission is free.

It will offer local farmers, artisans, musicians, and craftspeople. Hudson Talbott, an author of children's books, will be on hand to autograph his works. Wes Laraway and The Birds of Prey of the New York Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, which has been featured on the National Geographic cable TV channel, will have birds on display. In addition, the farm's Bees Knees Café will be serving food.

Gearing up for the mezcal wars

 From Bloomberg
A Mexican liquor is beginning to win over the hearts of U.S. consumers, and it’s not tequila.

Pernod Ricard SA, the world’s second-largest distiller, is creating a brand to join rival Diageo Plc in the growing market for mezcal, a premium agave-based spirit. The brand, which will hit U.S. shelves in the first half of 2017, is the latest investment in the category by a large beverage company. Sometimes called tequila’s cousin, mezcal is typically distilled by small producers from as many as 30 types of agave, a succulent plant native to Mexico and the southwestern U.S. ...

“Mezcal is something we’ve been looking at for a while,” Pernod Ricard CEO Alexandre Ricard said in an interview. “A team of young recruits at Pernod Ricard Mexico are working on building a small-village brand from scratch, and some of the value will be shared with the local community.”

Global sales of mezcal rose to a record $80 million last year, according to International Wine & Spirits Research. In the U.S., Pernod Ricard and Diageo have benefited from the rising popularity of tequila amid slower vodka sales. From 2010 to 2015, combined sales of tequila and mezcal rose 30% by volume in the U.S., more than any other alcohol category except cognac, according to data from Euromonitor International. By contrast, vodka sales increased 17%. Sprits makers are betting that mezcal will build on the popularity of artisanal products like super-premium tequila, craft beer and small-batch bourbon. ...

In February, London-based Diageo, the world’s largest distiller, signed a distribution agreement with Mezcal Union, a Mexico City brand that’s only five years old. The deal is meant to increase distribution in the U.S.
Go here for the full story.


Walker Red Rye an homage to U.S. whiskies

That Johnnie Walker is a colorful gent. There are the familiar labels for its Black, Red, Blue, Gold and so on. Now, the blended Scotch whisky giant has unveiled Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Red Rye Finish.

The new product is finished in used rye casks for about six months after first aging in first fill American white oak casks. The distiller says it took more than 50 experiments exploring 203 malt and grain whisky samples to come up with what it just put on sale. It was created using a blend of just four whiskies, including Cardhu single malt and a vanilla grain whisky from Port Dundas.

Master blender Jim Beveridge says the new whisky was "inspired by my own fascination with the bold flavors of American whiskies which first developed while I was working with bourbons and ryes in Louisville, KY, in the 1990s. When making blended Scotch whisky, we like to think ‘from the bar back,’ ensuring bartenders and people at home have the perfect liquids at hand to serve neat, on the rocks, or as the foundation of a flawless Scotch-based cocktail.”

He calls Red Rye Finish "smooth, sweet and deliberately light –- to my mind, the complex character of Scotch given an exciting twist inspired by the best traditional American whiskey flavors.”

Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Red Rye Finish is coming to market this month at a suggested retail price of $25.


Major change for Knob Creek 9-year-old

If you're a Knob Creek bourbon drinker, you may see something different about the label in the coming months. The lack of an age statement on the 9-year-old expression.

The noted spirits journalist Chuck Cowdery broke the news on Thursday that the change is in the works. He quoted Knob Creek's master distiller, Fred Noe, as saying, "We have good inventories, but with the growth we’re seeing we are going to take the age statement off so we can keep the taste profile the same."

The development is more than simply a labeling change. Knob Creek actually has an abundance of whiskies more than nine years old that Noe and his crew can mix with younger Knob bourbons with the aim of maintaining the current flavor.

The other Knob Creek whiskies are not affected by the change. The Single Barrel Reserve will continue to have an age statement, and the rye never has had one.

Who will decide -- before it goes to market where consumers ultimately will judge -- whether the flavor profile of the affected whiskey is correct? As Noe told Cowdery, "I will taste every batch. It won’t be Knob Creek unless I say it’s Knob Creek.”

We shall see.

For what it's worth, here are some 'bests'

I'm not a big fan of "best of" lists. Yes, I do post reports on some of them because, well, because a lot of readers seem to enjoy them and they are at least a yardstick of some sort if they are created by specialists in their field.

To my knowledge, the readers of USA Today are not particularly expert as a group on the topic of distilling. Despite that, the newspaper decided to poll them on the question of which distillery produces the "best" whiskey, rum, vodka, gin, tequila and specialty spirits in the U.S. (Note: The tequila companies could be headquartered in the U.S., but their spirits have to be made in certain regions of Mexico to qualify as tequila.)

The methodology for bestowing such an honor fell to USA Today's "10Best" staff. Yes, it actually has a staff devoted to coming up with "best of" lists in all sorts of categories. Why not? Such things draw eyeballs and keystrokes from a public well known for seeking out the latest fads.

In this instance, say the editors, "10Best set out on a mission to find the best craft and small-batch spirits producers -- family-owned distilleries, grain-to-glass operations or distillers using only the best local ingredients in their products.” They asked a lineup of spirits judges, bartenders, writers and others to nominate distilleries in categories -- then asked readers to pick their faves.

None of New York State's craft distillers finished first in any category, but several did make the top 10s:

Craft Whiskey

• 4th, Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery, Gardiner (Ulster County):  New York Corn Whiskey, Baby Bourbon Whiskey, Single Malt Whiskey, Four Grain Bourbon, Manhattan Rye Whiskey and Maple Cask Rye Whiskey

• 9th, Breuckelen Distilling, Brooklyn: New York wheat whiskey, New York rye-corn whiskey.

Specialty Spirits

• 4th, Black Button Distilling, Rochester: Bespoke Bourbon Cream, Fast Ferry Fernet and Apple Pie Moonshine. 


Empire Merchants hits deposed CEO with lawsuit

Screen shot 2016-09-21 at 6.11.57 PMFrom the Shanken News Daily
Exclusive: Empire Merchants, New York’s biggest spirits and wine distributor, has fired CEO Lloyd Sobel and filed suit against co-owner Charlie Merinoff, claiming in federal court that the two men -- and others, including Breakthru Beverage CEO Greg Baird -- defrauded the company through their involvement in an interstate smuggling scheme.

The Brooklyn-based Empire is co-owned by the Merinoff/Drucker family and the Magliocco family. According to the complaint Empire filed in U.S. District Court in New York earlier today, Charlie Merinoff took part in an illegal scheme to smuggle spirits products from Maryland to New York, where they were sold by local retailers. 

With excise taxes on liquor nearly five times higher in New York than Maryland, the complaint contends that Reliable Churchill, the Maryland division of the Charmer-Sunbelt Group that the Merinoff family controlled, and retailers in both New York and Maryland deprived New York of millions of dollars of tax revenue through this illicit activity, which supposedly started in 2008 and continued until recently.

Earlier this year, Republic National Distributing Co. (RNDC), the country’s second-largest spirits and wine distributor, was indicted in federal court in Maryland for what the U.S. attorney there alleges were similar activities. RNDC is frequently mentioned in Empire’s complaint, but not named as a defendant.

Go here for the full story.


CIA hosting HV craft beverage conference

Screen shot 2016-09-20 at 4.26.34 PMRegistration is now open for the 4th annual Hudson Valley Beer, Wine, Spirits & Cider Summit, scheduled for October 4 at the Culinary Institute of America.

The event, intended for those working in the industry, will feature a lineup of discussions related to the craft beverage industry’s current climate, and future opportunities in the Hudson Valley region. Of course, participants will be able to sample a variety of beers, wines, spirits and ciders.
Charles Merinoff, principal founder and co-chairman of Breakthru Beverage Group and a 35-year veteran of the beverage distribution industry, will be the keynote speaker. The conference will begin at noon at the CIA's Marriott Pavilion. Seating is limited and advance registration, available online, is required.

The CIA is located at 1946 Campus Drive, Hyde Park, NY, near Route 9.


Inside Jameson's secretive experimental lab

From Forbes.com
In a far-off corner of the Jameson whiskey facility in Midleton, Ireland, sits a long-dormant warehouse. It’s an old one -- the earliest evidence of the buildings’ existence can be found on a map from 1850 -- once used to store stacks of whiskey barrels three high. But lately, this warehouse has been the site of something else: A sort of innovation lab that the company calls its Micro-Distillery, where the staid whiskey brand experiments and creates new concoctions that may never see the light of day.

Here, distiller Karen Cotter (it should be noted; a woman in one of the world’s most male-dominated professions) plays around with different recipes and distillation techniques in the hopes of stumbling onto something great -- or at least different. Innovation comes slow to the spirit world. Aged spirits such as whiskey can take years to produce, and laws and regulations that strictly define what a “Scotch” or “bourbon” is leaves precious little wiggle room with which to try new things.

And, if a company has been around for a couple of hundred years, the chances are pretty good that their customers are looking forward to their familiarity, and buying into the idea that a bottle produced in 2016 tastes strikingly similar to one produced in 1916. These facts conspire to create a conundrum: How does a spirit brand innovate without alienating?
Go here for the full story.

Tullamore brings 2 more Irish whiskies to U.S.

Screen shot 2016-09-16 at 5.08.26 PMTullamore D.E.W., the second-largest selling Irish whiskey in the world, is making two more single malt expressions available to U.S. consumers.

Tullamore D.E.W. 14-Year -Old and Tullamore D.E.W. 18-Year-Old limited edition bottlings are being released this month at retail prices around $70 and $110, respectively. They join Tullamore's 10- and 12-year-olds that made the brand known to Americans.

The brand, owned by William Grant & Sons, triple distills and triple blends its whiskies from all three types of Irish spirits -- pot still, malt and grain. They also are finished in a mix of used American white oak bourbon, Spanish Oloroso sherry, port and Madeira casks.

“We have a treasure chest of outstanding aged single malt at Tullamore D.E.W.,” said John Quinn, Tullamore’s global brand ambassador, in a prepared statement. “While much of this gets used for our core triple-blended range, the opportunity to release a limited amount for the enjoyment of single malt enthusiasts was too exciting to pass up. The four cask finish adds a rich depth of flavor and perfect balance, while allowing the spirit’s true character to shine through.”


Rum Runners Weekend in Warren County, NY

Bootleggers loading up.
Bootleggers loading up
For those among you who feel a nostalgic tug when it comes to the zaniness of the Prohibition Era, you can dip a toe into such waters without heading for the badlands of New York City or Chicago.

Beginning this Friday, head for Warren County in New York's Adirondack Mountains where little old Chestertown will be hosting the 4th annual "Rum Runners Weekend," a celebration of the Roaring '20s.

The festivities will begin at 5 p.m. Friday when federal agents chase a band of bootleggers through local restaurants, starting at The Hub in Brant Lake then traveling on to the Black Bear in Pottersville, OP Fredericks in Loon Lake, and the Odd Duck and The Bullhouse in Chestertown. At 9 p.m., the bootleggers will move to a basement casino in The Bullhouse that will feature blackjack and roulette for anyone willing to pay a $25 admission, while the nearby Panther Mountain Inn will become a jazz club of the period.

A classic car parade leaving from Pottersville at 11:45 a.m. on Saturday will end at the Chestertown Hall where the American Legion will be putting on a USO show. At 3:30 pm Georgie Wonders Big Band will perform at the Carol Theatre ($20 admission). There will be dinner specials throughout the area all weekend for $19.25, as well as free carriage rides from Circle B Ranch.

A complete rundown of the weekend's events is available here.


New law evens cideries' playing field

Inside the Nine Pin Ciderworks
Inside Nine Pin Ciderworks

"The Greeks and Romans mastered the art of cider making. When Romans invaded England around 55 B.C., they found that cider was already being enjoyed by the locals there. By that time, apple trees had long ago migrated from forests around Kazakhstan and were well established across Europe and Asia. It was in southern England, France, and Spain that the technique of fermenting -- and later distilling -- the fruit was perfected. Evidence of this ancient art can be found in the European countryside today, where large circular apple grinding stones used to crush the fruit are still half buried in the fields."
-- Amy Stewart, "The History of Cider Making"

Although in the early United States cider was a popular everyday beverage, over the years what we call "hard" cider to distinguish it from the non-alcoholic version virtually disappeared. However, in recent years it has made a strong comeback, in New York State helped immeasureably by changes in alcoholic beverage laws and the fact that the state is second only to Washington in apple growing.

But, enticing the public to visit cideries for tasting and purchasing has been a bit difficult. That should change because of a new piece of legislation signed into law on Tuesday by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. It allows farm cideries to serve not only cider but wine, beer and spirits by the glass. Before that move, farm cideries were required to apply for separate farm brewery, winery, or distillery licenses to be able to serve such beverages by the glass. Whereas a cidery could sell beer, wine, and spirits by the bottle for retail, a consumer could not consume by the glass.

The new law was pushed in the state Legislature by Senator George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, and Assembly Member Patricia Fahy, D-Albany.

"As New York's farm beverage industry continues to grow, it's important to do everything we can to encourage further expansion of this important piece of our economy," Amedore said. "Allowing farm cideries to offer other New York State-produced beers, wines, and spirits by the glass encourages cross promotion of all the great products New York State has to offer, and will help strengthen the growing craft beverage industry."

Alejandro Peral, founder and owner of Albany's Nine Pin Ciderworks, the state's first farm cidery, said, “This bill creates parity among the various farm based licensees and supports the growth of the value added products produced by them. We will now be able to serve other New York farm based beverages to our customers in our tasting room just as those farm wineries and breweries are able to serve cider to their customers.”

"As a coalition of craft beverage producers [we] thank Governor Cuomo, Senator Amedore, and Assembly Member Fahy for their leadership to make regulations easier for farm-based producers to promote New York-made beverages. As a distiller and small business owner myself, this continues the state's commitment to building the farm-based craft alcohol sector," said John Curtin of Albany Distilling Company and president of the Capital Craft Beverage Trail Association.