Wednesday, March 4, 2015
The 'brain teaser' goes like this. "A father and his son are in a car accident. The father is killed and the son is seriously injured. The son is taken to the hospital where the surgeon says, 'I cannot operate, because this boy is my son.' How is this possible?" About half of people asked fail to answer the question correctly.
The surgeon is his mother.
Lately, much has been written about women and whiskey. Fred Minnick wrote a fine book about women whiskey-makers, but most of the noise lately has been about women whiskey drinkers.
Statistically, it is true that more women are drinking whiskey than ever before. I've noticed the change myself. Between 2010 and 2013 I taught regular whiskey classes in Chicago. Especially in my Whiskey 101 course, half or more of the students were women. When WhiskeyFest started in Chicago a little more than ten years ago, it was mostly men and the few women there were with a man. Today there are many more women, and many come with female friends.
So, yes, more women are drinking whiskey. That's a fact. People just get stupid when they try to explain why. As with the 'brain teaser' above, the answer is obvious if you don't subscribe to gender stereotypes. For roughly the last century, women in steadily growing numbers have been rejecting gender stereotypes of many kinds and, as a result, they are increasingly participating in various aspects of life in numbers similar to men.
While this is mostly about women rejecting gender roles and stereotypes, it's a little bit about the growing number of men who also reject them.
There are no boy drinks and girl drinks, only prejudices and stereotypes. When those fall away, we see that men and women aren't so different. People are different, individuals like different things. It just doesn't break down as male/female. Sure, gender has consequences, but they don't apply to beverage choices.
Women don't drink whiskey to be 'more like men,' they drink whiskey to be more like themselves.
Saturday, February 28, 2015
|(Photo by John Bramel)|
I'm not taking back anything I wrote here. For 99 percent of bourbon drinkers, there is no bourbon shortage. Nor am I yielding to Fred Minnick's argument. I do, however, agree with a simple comment posted yesterday on Facebook by Heaven Hill Master Distiller Craig Beam: "There is a shortage of aged bourbon!" I also appreciate David Montgomery's resort to basic economic theory here.
Today, there is no lack of good bourbon available for sale to you and me, but that's not true for folks who buy and resell bourbon, who cannot buy what they want and have to take what they can get.
Which brings us back to Yellowstone. The story of how this picture came to be is here. It was a feel-good story so I didn't want to mention there that Luxco's version of Yellowstone has been largely undrinkable. That's not Luxco's fault since they don't make it. It is made by one of the usual suspects and it doesn't matter which one. It stands for the proposition that distillers don't sell their best whiskey to non-distiller producers (NDPs). Bottom shelf whiskey, whether NDP or distiller-owned, is almost always too young but it's often whiskey that more age won't improve much. Even if you can bring a uniformly perfect distillate off the still, it never all ages the same way.
Saying products like Yellowstone, Old Crow, and Ancient Age -- to cite a few other examples -- are undrinkable is, of course, subjective. The products are cheap and, clearly, there are consumers who find them palatable enough for their needs. Probably, most of those drinkers drown them in cola, or something. They have a market.
What has changed is that even bad whiskey is now in short supply. With every major American whiskey distillery operating at or near capacity, NDPs have trouble buying anything for any price. Even NDPs operating with long-term production contracts are suddenly unable to buy more, which they need to take advantage of the boom. Their producer partners have to tell them there's no capacity to spare.
The solution, of course, is to add capacity. The companies that already have a lot of capacity can add more, and are, but we're now seeing something we haven't seen in half a century or more -- new capacity! The major NDPs are either finding new production partners (Luxco) or becoming producers themselves (Michters, Willett).
That's what the picture above represents. Although the whiskey going into the barrel was made on Limestone's current pot still set-up, a small column still has been installed and should be producing soon. Limestone Branch isn't alone, and some of the other new stills are bigger than Limestone's, like the one at Michter's in Louisville. New Riff in Cincinnati has been producing on its column for a while now. Willett now has house-made whiskey from its column still that is three years old. Few Spirits and Finger Lakes have had columns for about a year. Smooth Ambler put one in last week.
What do column stills have to do with it? Basically, you can produce a lot more distillate with a column still than you can with pot stills. Plenty of small distilleries are using pot stills, but even all put together they don't have much impact on industry-wide volume. A few new column stills will.
Time passes quickly. If Templeton had been a real distillery, they would have 8-year-old whiskey by now. Steve Beam's new barrel of Yellowstone will be 4-years-old in 2019. That day will be here before we know it.
Distilleries that make whiskey live and die on their long term projections. Since no one saw the current boom coming, no one really knows anything about how much will be sold in 2019, let alone 2025, when Steve will bottle his first 10-year-old. Will supply catch up with demand? Will price increases achieve balance by suppressing some of that demand?
What does it all mean? More bourbon. A lot more bourbon. Who will dare say that's not a good thing?
Thursday, February 26, 2015
According to the software company ShipCompliant, the Illinois Liquor Control Commission (ILCC) announced at their board meeting last week that they have sent more than 100 cease and desist letters to retailers, wineries, and fulfillment houses. The letters state that the ILCC "has evidence that your business is transferring alcoholic liquor into Illinois from a point outside of Illinois without a license."
Letter recipients have five business days to respond if they believe they received the letter in error or would like to apply for the required license. The ILCC is threatening to notify the common carrier making the shipment about the non-compliance, which will result in a violation of the carrier agreement and potentially put shipments to all states at risk for that seller.
ShipCompliant reports that Iowa and Michigan are taking similar steps to compel compliance with state law regarding direct shipping.
Forty-three states now permit their citizens to receive shipments directly from producers, but only 14 permit direct shipment from out-of-state retailers.
Each state, of course, makes producers and retailers jump through different hoops, and that's why ShipCompliant puts out these reports. They want to attract attention to their product, an integrated software platform that handles all of the legal stuff on a state-by-state basis for producers and anyone else who wants to do booze business across state lines.
At this point direct shipping is mostly about wine, but every kind of beverage alcohol producer faces the same frustrations dealing with 50 very different jurisdictions. Probably the biggest shock for new producers -- whether they make wine, beer, or spirits -- is how much time they are forced to spend on regulatory compliance matters.
All of this regulation, over-regulation to some, is based on the premise that alcoholic beverages are a uniquely dangerous consumer product, evidently the most dangerous consumer product in existence, since it is the most highly regulated one. There is a good case to be made for 'normalizing' alcohol regulation, improving efficiency by making it better fit the need, but the first thing you would need to do is eliminate the 50-states solution, which probably would require a constitutional amendment since it was created by one, the 21st.
In addition to abiding all sorts of vested interests, alcohol regulation is politically charged. That's why virtually nothing has changed since 1933.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Whiskey fans are always glad to see a neglected brand get some love but, as with the Old Grand-Dad reboot, doing it with made-up history dampens our enthusiasm.
George Dickel is a small brand, a mere speck in drink giant Diageo's eye. It's hard to even find on Diageo's brand lists, so buried is it by Goliaths like Smirnoff, Capt. Morgan, and Johnnie Walker.
So here comes the new Whisky Advocate with a bright, shiny, 12-page insert for Dickel inside, with the title "Handmade the Hard Way, the Hard and True Story of George Dickel American Whiskey at Its Best."
Except the story they tell is a long way from true. We're not talking about fluff here, typical advertising exaggeration, though there's plenty of that. We're talking about blatantly false history and other false claims. Some examples:
"For nearly 150 years, our distillery has been faithful to the recipe that founder George A. Dickel created and perfected."
There were actually two distilleries, one that operated from about 1877 until 1910, and the current one that was built in 1958, so the real number is 90 years. Worse than that, George Dickel never "created and perfected" a whiskey recipe. He wouldn't have known where to begin. He was a whiskey merchant, not a distiller.
"Soon, he discovered in nearby Tullahoma, Tenn., what he considered the perfect spot to make whisky: Cascade Hollow."
Tullahoma is about 80 miles from Nashville, where Dickel was based. In his day, that was hardly "nearby." Even today, with the interstates, it's about a 90 minute drive each way. That's a judgment call, this isn't. George Dickel had nothing, nothing, to do with the location of the Cascade Hollow Distillery. The site was chosen and the distillery was built in 1877 by John Brown and F. E. Cunningham. Dickel never did anything but buy whiskey from Cascade. It is unlikely he ever visited the place. He certainly did not build it and he never owned it.
"So well-regarded was this place that when Dickel first bottled whisky there, in 1870, he named it for the hollow."
Maclin Davis, who owned Cascade when it did business with Dickel, named the brand. Dickel had nothing to do with that. It is highly unlikely there was ever a bottle filled at Cascade during Dickel's lifetime or at any time before 1959. Dickel would have bottled it in Nashville. That's what he did. He bought, packaged and sold whiskey. He was what we today call a non-distiller producer (NDP). George Dickel & Co. became the exclusive sellers of Cascade Whiskey in 1888, not 1870.
"[After his death, Dickel's widow and business partner] changed the whisky's name to George Dickel Tennessee Sour Mash Whisky."
No, they did not. The name change happened in 1964, when the first whiskey from the new Tennessee distillery was ready to sell. Schenley, the brand's owner at the time, changed the name to compete more directly with Jack Daniel's. Schenley had just tried, unsuccessfully, to buy Jack Daniel's. Rebuilding Cascade and launching George Dickel was their Plan B.
As with the Old Grand-Dad reboot, not everything about the Dickel insert is bad. Most of it is great. The photography is beautiful and appropriate, and the present day whiskey-making process is thoroughly and accurately explained. George Dickel makes excellent whiskey and because its owners neglected the place for so long, it has never been fully modernized making its "handmade" claim more legit than most.
What Diageo has done with Dickel's history isn't glossing over the real story, or spinning it. This isn't prettying it up, this is making it up. That's not 'cute' or 'fun,' it's offensive. The true story is told in my books but also here, courtesy of the Tennessee Historical Society. It is all very well documented and easy to find. Diageo knows its version is false.
In business and life, a person or company who will lie to you about something will lie to you about anything. Diageo has shown, and not for the first time, that it can't be believed. That's a problem.
Sunday, February 22, 2015
Beam Suntory has given Old Grand-Dad Bonded a bright new look and a fancy new price, $24.99 MSRP. (It has been selling at closer to $20.) But the upgrade is a nice job and Old Grand-Dad bourbon deserves more attention. It's also good that Beam is emphasizing the bond, rather than the other Old Grand-Dad expressions. Historically, Old Grand-Dad Bonded was the #1 bonded bourbon when bottled-in-bond meant something to bourbon drinkers.
The new label emphasizes the brand's high rye mashbill. The label is printed on the glass and the bottle is tall and sleek, for a modern look. It now has a cork topper instead of a screw-cap.
These are all improvements, but they made one screw-up. There is no evidence to support the new claim that Basil Hayden "was known for distilling bourbon with a high rye content." In fact, no one really knows when the current Old Grand-Dad recipe was adopted, as the brand had many different owners before Beam acquired it in 1987. What is known is that Beam continued to use the same recipe the previous owner was using, the same recipe Beam still uses, but that's about as far as it goes.
Of the many bourbon brands Beam acquired when it merged with National Distillers in 1987, the Old Grand-Dad recipe was the only one Beam continued to make the same way. All of the other National brands, such as Old Crow, were simply switched to Jim Beam distillate when the liquid made by National ran out.
Although Beam doesn't officially disclose mashbills, Booker Noe told me many years ago that the Old Grand-Dad recipe is about 30 percent rye, as compared to Jim Beam at about 15 percent. Four Roses also uses more rye than average in both of its mashbills. At the other extreme, some major bourbons contains as little as 8 percent rye.
It is important to challenge this new exaggeration about the origins of the Old Grand-Dad recipe because there is real history here, important history that deserves to be told without brand-hyping distortion.
Here's a little bit of it.
Basil Hayden was one of the leaders of a migration of Catholics from Maryland to Kentucky in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Although they came west in small groups over about a 30-year period, they all came with the intention of settling in what are now Marion, Nelson, and Washington Counties. They wanted to settle close together for mutual support and, specifically, so they could attract a priest.
Maryland, which had been established as a colony for English Catholics, eventually turned on them. After 1692, Maryland established the Church of England by law and forced Catholics to pay heavy taxes to support it. Catholics were cut off from all participation in politics. The Mass, the Sacraments, and Catholic schools were all outlawed.
When the successful conclusion of the Revolution opened up more of the interior for American settlement, many Catholics headed west. The Kentucky Catholics were the first large Catholic enclave west of the mountains.
Most of the migrants were farmers and many of them were distillers. So far as we know, Basil Hayden was a typical farmer-distiller of his era. Nothing has come down to us about his recipe and it is probable that he, like his contemporaries, distilled whatever he had on hand without consideration of niceties like mashbills. Again so far as we know, Basil's son Lewis was a farmer-distiller much like his father.
The Maryland Catholic families stuck together and intermarried. Many of those families are still prominent in those same three Kentucky counties. In 1818 Lewis Hayden married Mary Dant, daughter of another famous distilling family in the Kentucky Holy Lands. They had 14 children, including a son named Raymond.
After the Civil War (1861-1865), whiskey-making left the farm and became industrialized. In about 1882, Raymond Hayden teamed up with a former treasury agent to establish a commercial-scale distillery at Hobbs, Kentucky, a stop on the then-new branch of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. They named the distillery Old Grand-Dad and put a portrait of Raymond's grandfather, Basil, on the label. With the industry growing rapidly, many producers cultivated the image of 'old time' distillers like Raymond's grandfather.
Although Hayden's distillery made both rye whiskey and bourbon, this was common at the time and doesn't prove the bourbon recipe was uniquely high-rye. It was Old Grand-Dad bourbon that became successful nationally and the rye was discontinued.
After Hayden's death, Old Grand-Dad was acquired by members of the Wathen family, who also had been part of that Catholic migration. They continued to sell Old Grand-Dad bourbon as medicinal whiskey during Prohibition and their company, American Medicinal Spirits, became a major component of National Distillers after Repeal.
As for the recipe, it's likely that when National revived the brand after Prohibition, they simply developed a recipe they thought would be appropriate. As rye whiskey and bourbon had been about equally popular before 1920, it is likely that bourbon recipes containing a healthy dose of rye were also common. But after Prohibition, consumers want a softer taste, and rye can taste hot and harsh, especially in a young whiskey. Rye whiskey itself struggled after Repeal and many bourbon makers reduced the percentage of rye in their mashes to produce a milder taste. In addition to softening the taste, rye was (and is) much more expensive than corn, so reducing the rye content also saved money.
Old Grand-Dad was positioned as a premium brand and also as an old, traditional one, so it retained its old, traditional recipe. That's important, even if the recipe isn't 200+ years old. Beam Suntory does a disservice to the brand's authentic heritage by exaggerating it.
Saturday, February 21, 2015
The picture above came to me from Germany. It is the back label of a bottle of Bulleit Bourbon. In English, the phrase indicated means "Contains Caramel." I posted it elsewhere and a lively discussion ensued. Another correspondent in Germany theorized that, because Diageo sells so many scotches, and they contain caramel (which must be disclosed in Germany), the person in charge of their German label compliance must have assumed bourbon contains caramel too. The statement no longer appears on Bulleit Bourbon labels in Germany, so his theory seems sound.
What does Diageo say about it? I asked but they never answered.
The discussion caused some people to refer back to a post here in September, where we discovered that flavoring is permitted in American whiskey in some very limited circumstances. We also noted a seeming conflict between the rules themselves and the TTB's Beverage Alcohol Manual (BAM).
The BAM is a tool created by TTB for the convenience of producers. It is easier to use than the rules but is subordinate to them. If they conflict, the rules rule.
In the comments to that September post, we received some very good input from some very knowledgable people and also, offline, a clarification from TTB itself, which we published as a comment in the same thread.
It's there, in the comments, and has been since September, but in light of yesterday's discussion I now realize it didn't get enough play at the time, so here it is again. This is TTB's statement:
"Bourbon whisky can't have coloring, flavoring, or blending materials because 27 CFR 5.23(a)(2) allows the use of such materials up to 2 ½ percent only if 'customarily employed therein in accordance with established trade usage.' TTB’s interpretation of this is that Bourbon whisky does not customarily include such usage (straight or otherwise).
"The formulation office would not see a formula for Bourbon whiskey as it is not required. The BAM states that harmless coloring, flavoring and blending material (HCFBM) is not allowed to be added to Bourbon whiskey. Caramel color would fit within HCFBM. (I did check the table in the BAM, and it clearly indicates that no HCFBM may be added to Bourbon whisky or Straight Bourbon whisky.)
"So, technically, the BAM is not contradictory to the regulation at 27 CFR 5.23(a)(2) … nor to the standard of identity for the class of whisky and several types in the regulations at 27 CFR 5.22(b). The answer to the question is that you may not add caramel or caramel coloring or flavoring to Bourbon."
This statement from TTB confirms that bourbon may not contain any additives under any circumstances. Through this exercise we learned that rye whiskey (but not straight rye whiskey) may. Rye whiskey may contain 'harmless coloring, flavoring, or blending materials up to 2 ½ percent,' because for that product said additives are 'customarily employed.' This is why Templeton Rye is not labeled as straight rye, according to its makers. It contains some of the permitted additives.
It is unknown at this time whether or not this dispensation exists for any other named types, such as wheat whiskey. Now at least you know that if your rye whiskey isn't labeled 'straight,' it might contain some flavoring or coloring.
Some might ask how this affects so-called flavored whiskeys such as Red Stag by Jim Beam. Short answer is, it doesn't. That's a different issue, discussed at length here.
TTB, just in case you don't know, is the federal regulator of all beverage alcohol products; beer, wine, and distilled spirits. It is part of the Treasury Department. The initials stand for 'Tax and Trade Bureau.' Technically, TTB's rules only apply to products sold in the U.S., but they do apply in Germany and many other countries through treaty agreements.
Friday, February 20, 2015
Readers of this space know I don't have much patience with clickbait "whiskey shortage" claims, but I haven't broken it down like I do in my guest post today on the Whisky Advocate Blog. There you can see how both The Tennessean and The Wall Street Journal managed to get 'shortage' into the headline of a story about something else entirely.
About the nascent Spanish-American War, newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst famously wrote to one of his photographers in 1898, "You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war." Modern journalists have decided they don't need the war, just mention of it in the headline. Since the click is the prize, the story doesn't matter.
Not that fake, bullshit stories about a non-existent whiskey crises really hurt anyone. They're just more fake, bullshit stories in a world full of them. And we're throwing out a little bait ourselves, since next week my good friend Fred Minnick will argue that there is a whiskey shortage.
Whisky Advocate magazine is America’s leading whisky magazine and I'm proud to be in their pages from time to time, as well as guest blogging for them. With bourbon now the fastest growing distilled spirits category worldwide, maybe America's leading whiskey magazine, which is based in America and edited by Americans, should consider spelling 'whiskey' the American way, with an 'e.'