Sunday, October 12, 2014

Have a Peek at the Warehouse X Data Stream

The picture above is a snapshot of the data stream from Warehouse X at Buffalo Trace. You'll notice that the liquid temperature is higher than the outside temperature so the barrel is pulling negative pressure, i.e. liquid is being pulled out of the wood.

Warehouse X is an experimental warehouse. It has five chambers, each of which can create different aging conditions. The center chamber is the Breezeway, which is entirely open to the elements.

As with most whiskey experiments, it will be years before any Warehouse X whiskey is available to taste, but glimpses like this are fun if nothing else.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The New Bourbon Country Reader Is in the Mail

This space has been quiet for the last several days because we've been putting out a new edition of The Bourbon Country Reader. It is a few weeks late, dated October, 2014. For those of you keeping score at home, it is Volume 16, Number 3.

In this issue, we digest a few recent bourbon news items and interpret what they mean for bourbon makers and bourbon drinkers in a story headlined "How the Bourbon Boom Is Transforming the Business."
  • With producers operating at full capacity, and keeping most of that production for their own brands, non-distiller producers (NDPs) are struggling to find whiskey to buy. 
  • A major brand is dipping its toe into the coveted Indian market. 
  • Diageo, the world's largest distiller and quite possibly its largest NDP too, is finally going to make whiskey in Kentucky again. 
  • Rumors are rampant so we get answers from the source.
  • And we try to explain what it all means.
Since virtually all of the whiskey made in Scotland is aged in barrels that formerly held bourbon, we examine how each whiskey type uses American oak to craft a unique whiskey style.

Old Forester launched Brown-Forman in 1870. The brand is still made and widely distributed but it is not a big seller and has not benefited very much from the bourbon boom. We report on some of the ways Brown-Forman hopes to change that. (And, by the way. Old Forester is a terrific bourbon. You should try it.)

subscription to The Bourbon Country Reader is still just $20 per year (six issues) for addresses in the USA, $25 for everyone else. The Bourbon Country Reader is always independent and idiosyncratic and has no distillery affiliation. It is published six times a year, or thereabouts.

Click here to subscribe with PayPal or any major credit card, or for more information. Click here for a free sample issue (in PDF format). Click here to open or download the free PDF document, "The Bourbon Country Reader Issue Contents in Chronological Order." (It's like an index.)

If you prefer to pay by check, make it payable to Made and Bottled in Kentucky, and mail it to Made and Bottled in Kentucky, 3712 N. Broadway, PMB 298, Chicago, IL 60613-4198. Checks drawn on U.S. banks only, please.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Templeton Tale Gets Curiouser and Curiouser

Templeton Rye's current tale of woe is interesting in its own right but also for what it may portend, because Templeton is far from alone in its misleading marketing practices. Products like Tin Cup, Widow Jane, Texas 1835, and many others could be looking at the same kinds of trouble, including lawsuits like the one filed against Templeton and the now two filed against Tito's Vodka.

Vern Underwood is the CEO of Templeton and also Chairman of the Board for Young's Market Company, a big wine and spirits distributor. Yesterday he issued the following public response to the lawsuit.

"As many of you have heard, Templeton Rye Sprits has been sued in Chicago recently alleging deceptive marketing practices.

"The most damaging and patently false statement made in that lawsuit was that stock rye whiskey purchased from MGP is simply poured into bottles and labeled 'Templeton Rye.' That statement is simply not true.

"The fact is Templeton purchases rye whiskey from MGP. Templeton has never hidden that fact from consumers. However, Templeton also purchases a flavoring formula from Clarendon Engineering in Louisville, Kentucky. That proprietary formula was created specifically for Templeton by Clarendon to match the flavor profile of the prohibition-era recipe rye whiskey produced by the ancestors of one of the founders of Templeton. That formula is blended with the rye whiskey distilled by MGP in a small vessel in Templeton, then bottled and labeled in Templeton.

"It is this blending of the whiskey and the formula which results in the production of Templeton Rye Whiskey. Templeton does not purchase 'Templeton Rye' from MGP as alleged in the complaint. Templeton makes (or produces, if you like) Templeton Rye in Iowa using an ingredient supplied by MGP.

"It is the formula created for Templeton that gives Templeton Rye Whiskey its unique flavor and distinctive taste. It is a product unlike any other on the market. The product in a bottle of Templeton Rye is made in Templeton, Iowa. The Company has never said it was distilled in Iowa.

"The Company will vigorously defend itself against these false and misleading allegations and we are confident that we will prevail in the end."

First of all, Templeton absolutely did hide the fact that MGP was its distillery and did so for the first several years of the brand's existence, because I asked Templeton president Scott Bush who distilled it and he refused to tell me. As for this proprietary flavoring, that was never revealed until the Des Moines Register article two months ago.

Can you add flavoring to rye whiskey and still call it rye whiskey? Apparently, yes, but said flavoring may be no more that 2 1/2 percent of the product's volume. More importantly, the added flavoring must be "an essential component part of the particular class or type of distilled spirits to which added" or "customarily employed therein in accordance with established trade usage." Can Templeton meet that standard? It seems like that would be tough since, until a few years ago, only four American distilleries made rye whiskey and they all made straight rye, in which additives are not permitted, so flavoring wasn't "essential" or "customarily employed" in any of those products.

There also seems to be a direct contradiction in their argument. If their flavoring is proprietary, i.e., used only by them, making Templeton Rye "unlike any other on the market," how can it also be "an essential component part" of all rye whiskey, or "customarily employed therein"? You can't have it both ways.

Finally, there is this claim that the flavoring from Clarendon is used to "match the flavor profile of the prohibition-era recipe rye whiskey produced by the ancestors of one of the founders of Templeton." That would be Alphonse Kerkhoff. Back in 2006, when the company was just getting going and filing its first labels with the TTB, one of its COLAs was for something called "Templeton Rye Kerkhoff Recipe." It was classified as a "Specialty Distilled Spirit," TTB's catchall for products that don't qualify for any other classification. The label further stated that the product was to be "bottled in Templeton" (i.e., not distilled there) and would consist of "Spirits Distilled from Cane (90%) and Rye (10%)."

That is a typical moonshine recipe. Real moonshiners*, then and now, ferment table sugar but throw in some grain for flavor. Since no enzymes are used, the grain starch isn't converted into sugar so the grain isn't contributing any alcohol, but it may add a little flavor. It looks like what Templeton planned to do was mix neutral spirit made from cane (i.e., white rum) with a little bit of rye distillate. I don't know if that product was ever produced or what it's relevance might be to this proprietary flavoring, but that's the only "Kerkhoff Recipe" that's on the record.

If you've read this far, you are one of those people who, like me, is way more into this stuff than the average drinker. What is the average drinker and regular buyer of Templeton taking away from all this? Only time -- meaning sales figures -- will tell.

* To learn the true story of moonshine and its makers, read Chasing the White Dog by Max Watman.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Randy Schrick Named VP of Production and Engineering at MGP

MGP, a leading supplier of premium distilled spirits and specialty food ingredients, has appointed Randy Schrick to the newly expanded position of vice president of production and engineering, effective immediately.

In his new role, Schrick will support the company’s long-term growth plans by assuming leadership of all production activities, in addition to his previous engineering leadership responsibilities.

“Randy’s credentials and professional accomplishments are extraordinary,” said MGP President and CEO Gus Griffin. “His leadership qualities, combined with his vast experience and proficiencies in every aspect of our processes, make him ideal for mentoring others in the art and science of producing the highest quality alcohol products and ingredients for our customers.”

Schrick most recently served as Vice President of Engineering since June 2009 and held the position of MGP’s interim co-CEO from December 2013 to July 2014. He also served as president of the company’s Pekin, Ill., joint venture operation, Illinois Corn Processing, LLC, from November 2009 to December 2011. (Pekin makes grain neutral spirit for vodka and other uses.)

Starting as a distillery shift manager in 1973, Schrick worked his way up through the ranks at the company, building on his unique skills and talents, and strengthening his business acumen. He subsequently served as vice president of operations, plant manager, and corporate director of distillery products manufacturing. He has been a master distiller for more than 20 years.

Schrick holds a bachelor of science degree in physics from Washburn University, Topeka, and a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from Kansas State University, Manhattan.

MGP has become very important to whiskey enthusiasts in recent years because the former Seagrams plant MGP operates in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, makes bourbon and rye for assorted producers large and small, some of whom have been in the news lately for misrepresenting the source of their whiskey. MGP can only sell alcoholic beverages to customers who hold the required government licenses but, other than that, MGP has no say in how its customers use those products. 

Although MGP is not the only distillery that sells whiskey to non-distiller producers (NDPs), it is the only one that does so exclusively. It has no brands of its own. Also, and despite the claims of some of its customers, it does not prohibit its customers from revealing MGP as the source. On the contrary, they wish more would, not that MGP needs the advertising. So hot is demand for its products that the distillery today produces more whiskey than it did even in its Seagrams heyday. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

New Content Added to Small Barrels Book, Still Just 99 Cents

This little ebook, created as an experiment almost three years ago, continues to sell and continues to make people angry. They are not entirely wrong.

What I didn't anticipate at the time was that people would take the work as some kind of definitive analysis of the subject and not simply as a report about one very specific experiment.

The original newsletter article upon which the book was based had a longer title. "'Small Barrels Produce Lousy Whiskey,' Says Buffalo Trace." Perhaps I should have left it alone.

As for the ebook itself, it was an experiment to see if it might be worth my time to convert Bourbon, Straight and make it available on Kindle, and perhaps create other original ebook content. It was successful enough and I've been very glad I put my toe in the water with it.

So far it's my only book that's available exclusively as an ebook. The Best Bourbon You'll Never Taste started out as an ebook but generated enough interest to justify a small print run.

Wait, didn't the headline say something about new content? Yes it did. I have added a new chapter to the end of Small Barrels that gives the work better balance, although I'm sure there will still be complaints. The new content is an article I wrote for Whisky Advocate in 2013, in which people other than the Buffalo Trace folks speak about the use of small barrels. In particular, I talked to small distillers who have used small barrels successfully.

If you already have the book, I believe Kindle will update it with the new content automatically. It should show up in the table of contents (as Chapter 6), the introduction, and in the text after Chapter 5. If you don't already have the book you can get it here, and it's still just 99¢.

I have not yet updated the Nook version and I don't know when I will. I'm sorry to say that Nook/Barnes & Noble gives me so little business, they're just not worth the trouble.

Monday, September 29, 2014

See Me at Indy's Whisky & Fine Spirits Expo, Friday, October 10

Are you going to Indy's Whisky & Fine Spirits Expo at Montage? Me too! I'll be teaching an American whiskey master class at 6:40 PM. We'll taste and discuss a standard bourbon, wheated bourbon, high rye bourbon, and straight rye, the four primary styles of American whiskey.

It's next Friday, October 10. VIP admission ($150) opens at 5:00 PM, general admission ($80) opens at 6:45 PM. The event runs to 9:00 PM.

No 'rare and exclusive pours' in my class. Just, I hope, some knowledge.

After the class, starting at about 8:00 PM, I'm be on the main exhibition floor selling and signing copies of my new book, Bourbon, Strange, as well as my other two books, Bourbon, Straight and The Best Bourbon You'll Never Taste. That will go on for about an hour.

Other than that, I'll just be hanging out and sampling the wares. Come say hello.

This is my first time attending, but I hear it's a great event. I'm looking forward to it. Hope to see you there.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Enough of 5.36(d) for Now. Everybody, Meet Section 5.40

Here we are again, with our nose in the book. The Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits, that is, the labeling rule book for the U.S. Treasury Department's Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Today we're looking at Section 5.40, Age and Percentages. Since people seem to prefer TTB's Beverage Alcohol Manual (BAM), it's there in Chapter 8.

Before we started to write about Section 5.36(d), we contacted Tom Hogue. He is TTB's Director of Congressional and Public Affairs. We asked if our interpretation of 5.36(d) was correct and he said yes. We did the same thing with 5.40, which requires an age statement for any whiskey that is less than four years old. In recent years, TTB has allowed statements that read simply, “aged less than 4 years,” or something similar, instead of an actual age statement. We asked about that too.

Here is Mr. Hogue's reply:

"Age statements are required for all domestic or foreign whiskies, including blends, that are less than four years old.  For whiskies over four years old, the age statement is optional. TTB is not approving labels with 'aged less than' statements where an age statement is required."

Here is an example of a label in violation of 5.40:

It's obvious why this sucks. Is it three years, eleven months old? Or one week old? It effectively says, "we're not old enough for no age statement, so we're giving you a fake age statement."

If they're going to violate 5.40, they need not have bothered with the fake. Many micro-distillery products simply omit the age statement altogether, even though one sip tells you the whiskey is not more than four years old. Again, since TTB assumes compliance, a label submitted without an age statement on it is, for legal purposes, an affirmative statement that the whiskey inside is at least four years old. If it's not, you've committed perjury.

Oh yes, you have.

When they get caught with labeling violations, producers always insist they weren't trying to deceive anyone but why else leave off or fudge the required age statement? The rule is simplicity itself. If any whiskey in the mix is less than four years old, the age of the youngest whiskey must be disclosed on the label. There is no ambiguity and there are no exceptions. "It only applies to straight whiskey." Wrong. "It only applies to bourbon." Wrong. "It doesn't apply to blends." Wrong. "It doesn't apply to imports." Wrong.

Have TTB examiners given producers incorrect information about 5.40? There is evidence that they have. That's why we got an official statement from TTB. No excuses now.

TTB even tells you what form to use: "___ years old" or "aged ___ years" are the only options.

So is it not obvious that a person trying to sell you nine-month-old whiskey for $60 a bottle would rather you not know it's only nine-months-old?

If you think a lot of producers have been violating 5.36(d), there are too many to count breaking 5.40. Good luck finding one that is in compliance, and yet they do exist. Here's an example:

This matters because, as consumers, we have a right to know what we're buying, and this particular bit of information -- the true age of a whiskey that is less than four years old -- is required by law. Among other benefits, it levels the playing field, allowing one-year-old whiskeys to compete against other one-year-old whiskeys. Anyone who isn't proud enough of their effort to tell the truth about it probably does not deserve your patronage. The question looms, after all; if they're lying about this, what else are they lying about?