Friday, August 31, 2007

Mount Vernon Follow-Up

Some follow-up to yesterday's post about the distilling done this week at Mount Vernon.

They didn't make much, maybe ten gallons.

Gerry Webb is Diageo's Master Distiller. He oversees their bourbon production as well as Smirnoff and their rums.

Harper is no longer being made at Four Roses, although Bulleit (also Diageo) still is. Bourbon for Harper is being sourced from Barton and Brown-Forman.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Mount Vernon Fires Up Its Stills.

DISCUS (Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S.) likes to have an annual event, about this time of year, at the George Washington Distillery at Mount Vernon in Virginia. This week, whiskey was made for the first time in the reconstructed distillery that officially opened in March. Master Distillers from different DISCUS-member companies made the rye-mash spirit. They were Jimmy Russell of Wild Turkey; Joe Dangler of Virginia Gentleman; Ken Pierce of Very Old Barton; Gerry Webb of I.W. Harper and Dave Pickerell of Maker’s Mark. I know everybody expect Gerry Webb. I'm not sure who he might be. I. W. Harper is a Diageo product, but it's made by Four Roses.

Although the new whiskey has to age for a few years first, Mount Vernon intends to bottle and sell it in the gift shop. This is good news because the whiskey made there in the past (in a makeshift still while the distillery itself was under construction) was sold at high prices for charitable fund-raising, so most whiskey enthusiasts never got close to it.

Michael Jackson RIP

Michael Jackson died last night in his London home. He was 65. Although no official cause of death has been announced yet, he is known to have suffered from Parkinson's Disease for the past decade. Details of his death are still sketchy, but he had been in poor health for years and was doing less and less, especially traveling.

I didn't know Michael personally although our paths crossed a few times. The world knew him as "the other Michael Jackson," if it knew him at all, but he was the Michael Jackson to those of us who care way too much about beer and whiskey. Although he was more famous for his beer activities, he cut an equally wide swath through the whiskey world. His World Guide to Whisky, first published in 1987 and recently updated, was the starting point for me and, probably, many others. He seemed to be the first person to write about it who didn't just parrot what the producers told him, who took that in but found other sources too, synthesized it all, and gave something back to his readers that was more than the sum of the parts.

Michael Jackson was the first person who made me think it might be possible to make a living studying and writing about whiskey.

He was the father of us all.

Monday, August 27, 2007

New Russell's Reserve Rye

Wild Turkey (Pernod Ricard USA) is about to release a new straight rye, under the Russell's Reserve banner. It will be a six-year-old straight rye whiskey. Retail price will be about $24. I don't know the proof yet, but I suspect it will be 90 proof, same as the Russell's Reserve bourbon. I'll know more for sure in a couple of days. It's being bottled now.

Russell's Reserve Rye is scheduled for late September release. Whether or not it will be around during the Kentucky Bourbon Festival (9/10-16) I don't know, but I suspect the Turkey folks will have some, even if it's not in the stores yet.

This product will be positioned slightly above the Wild Turkey rye and is a new expression, not a replacement for WT rye. Presumably, WT rye will continue at 4+ years old and RR Rye will be 6+ years old.

I think this is a great development and I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Elvira Arellano Makes Me Think.

The ongoing story and recent deportation of Elvira Arellano has affected my thinking about immigration.

In case you haven't followed it, Arellano is a Mexican national who has been living in the United States without documents for about ten years. While in this country she gave birth to a son, who is therefore an American citizen. She first made headlines a year ago when, facing deportation, she took sanctuary in a Chicago church. Last weekend she left the church and drove to L.A., where she was swiftly apprehended by immigration officials and returned to Mexico.

The angle of Arellano's specific complaint is that she ought to be allowed to stay in the United States because her eight-year-old son is an American citizen, so forcing her to leave would split their family. That has been enough to get her story heavy exposure; when something happens in the case it leads the news. Her supporters have dubbed her "the Rosa Parks of the immigration rights movement."

It's so easy to poke holes in Arellano's argument that it's not even sporting to do so. Likewise the ridiculous comparison to Rosa Parks. Arellano's side disproved its own central thesis when her son joined her in Mexico the next day. But it made me think, about this case, and others, and the debate itself as it has unfolded and been framed by various parties. My conclusion is that we Americans need to focus on three fundamental questions:

1) Do we, the citizens of the United States, have the right to regulate and restrict entry into our country?

2) If we have that right, are we obliged to exercise it?

3) If we decline to exercise it, is the right diminished or lost?

The first question is familiar. Most people can answer it readily and probably would answer it yes. The second and third questions are ones most people haven't considered and may regard as specious, yet there are many legal precedents for certain rights being diminished or lost because their possessor didn't take timely steps to defend them when they were threatened. Trademark rights are one example.

Arguably, we, the citizens of the United States, are guilty of neglect on immigration. Through our negligence, we have permitted 12 million non-citizens to enter our country and establish lives here. We have allowed it through our failure to prevent it. I have thus far avoided the term "illegal" for a reason. The way "illegal" is used requires a yes answer to my first question and total disregard of the others. The problem is, when you put a widely abused regulatory regime on one side (abused by everyone, including government), and the legitimate expectations that come naturally from a long, settled existence on the other, the "illegal" tag starts to look a little lame.

I also eschew the term "illegal" because it suggests that being undocumented is a criminal offense. It's not. Many people don't understand this. They assume being in the U.S. without permission is a criminal act. In reality, the seriousness of being here without legal status is similar to that of a parking ticket. Under the law, deportation isn't considered a penalty, just a correction of status. Yet in reality it can be devastating.

Although there is attraction in the argument that we shouldn't reward illegal behavior, perhaps "rewarding illegal behavior" is exactly the penalty we U.S. citizens deserve to pay for our long and continuing neglect of the problem.

Consider the following. You live on a large plot of land in a semi-rural area. You notice that someone has started to build a small house on what you believe is your property, near the property line. Instead of investigating it and, if it is on your property, taking timely steps to stop the construction, you forget about it. The house is completed, people move into it, they have a family, the family grows, and they continue to maintain and improve the property.

Twenty years pass. You want to get your affairs in order before you die and one of the things you decide to do is get rid of that house that you now can prove was built on your land without permission. Can you? The short answer is no, you can't. How are the equities in a case like Arellano's any different?

With that in mind, I propose a fairly simple solution to the whole immigration mess. If a long-term undocumented non-citizen resident can prove that he or she has been here for five years or more, lived a good life, been a productive member of society and generally stayed out of trouble, fine, they're a citizen. Easy, low-threshold test, virtually automatic acceptance. Stay under the radar for five years and you're in.

If you don't like that proposal, then do something about catching and deporting the people who don't qualify, and do something about securing the borders.

Why do people take great risks to enter the United States? Because they believe their lives will be much better here. They believe it because it's true. Getting into the United States doesn't guarantee a poor Mexican, Guatemalan, Greek or Pole a better life, but it increases the odds significantly. If that ceases to be the case, if the odds change, and getting-in and staying-in becomes a genuine ordeal and, ultimately, a crap shoot, one with heavy odds in favor of the house, the incentive to come here will be reduced.

Lower the incentive and simultaneously increase the difficulty by tightening the border and increasing detection and deportation efforts, and you're bound to reduce the number of new arrivals. It's fair to be tough about keeping people out, but we also have to be fair to the people who we have allowed, through our neglect, to build a life here.

Here's my other proposed solution. Offer Mexico statehood. Make a sincere offer, with appropriate terms, and see what happens. My prediction is that while there will be many loud objections, the majority of Mexican voters will want to accept. It will be similar to the reunification of Germany; not without problems, but doable. If the rest of Central America wants in too, I don't see the problem.

The fact that you, personally, have had a tough position on immigration all along counts for nothing. I don't care if you're the President of the United States or Joe Windbag down at the corner, neither one of you has fixed the problem. You're on the hook with the rest of us. We let them get in and, more importantly, let them, over time, build up a reasonable expectation that it will all be okay, that the life they've built here won't be suddenly ripped away from them.

This is how you get past the idea that they are not entitled to that life because it was built on a tainted base. To so rule is genuinely unfair, as in unbalanced, as in the penalty not fitting the crime. The current immigration laws are a pathetic travesty. Yes, the law is the law, but when you weigh the fact that no federal, state or local arm of government has addressed illegal immigration in an even remotely realistic or effective way, and weigh that against the substantial investment many undocumented immigrants have made in their American communities, that one arguable transgression counts for very little against their exemplary performance since then as the best kind of Americans. That has to count for something.

Although my proposals probably sound radical and unrealistic to you, think about what happens now. Instead of citizenship being granted after five years, we simply grant it to the next generation, no questions asked.

Which brings me back to Elvira Arellano. Right or wrong, her son will remember how we made life hard for his mother. He's one of us, with exactly the same rights as you or me. He's a fellow American. Don't we owe him something? Won't we build a better future citizen by being fair to his mom now?

Every American citizen shares responsibility for the immigration mess, all of us. Only when we accept that responsibility will we be able to solve the problem once and for all.

(This is what I was working on yesterday when the power went out.)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Worst Thunderstorm Ever!

Wow!

That's the scariest storm I've been through in a long time. Especially here, in my home near Lake Michigan on the north side of Chicago. First time I've ever been scared enough to move to the hallway that runs through the center of the apartment, away from all the windows and outside walls. I even took a chair with me.

This building, built in 1902, is a rock, and I'm on the first floor. I wasn't worried about it blowing down or anything like that. But I could see enough flying debris to worry about something smashing into a window.

There's a tree out back, old, trunk about two feet in diameter.

At least it was there. Now it's on its side, in the driveway, snapped off at its base. When I saw that huge tree go down, that's when I quickly moved away from the window.

The Waterford, a high-rise about two blocks north of here, lost its entire roof. Half of it landed on the smaller building next door. The other half landed on Lake Shore Drive, on top of an unlucky SUV. The woman whose SUV was under the tree in my back yard got lucky. Only the very top of it landed on her car and did no damage.

My building, called The Pattington, has a tile roof, which now has many fewer tiles on it than it did. The grounds around the building are littered with them, also chunks of limestone, brick and tin from about five chimneys that blew off.

All over the neighborhood and no doubt all over the region, lots of trees lost big branches and many trees, big ones like the one behind me, went down completely; some snapped in two, some pulled out by their roots. (The soil here, below a couple inches of top soil, is all sand.) Several buildings lost chunks of roofs.

Park Place, a high-rise across from us on the south side of Irving Park Road, had a temporary "now leasing" sign at the corner of Irving and Pine Grove. The sign was half-inch masonite, about 3' x 5', screwed to three steel poles. The poles are still there but the sign broke in half and sailed about 30 feet, one half staying on the south side of Irving, the other half coming to rest on the north side.

The storm came up fast, in the middle of the afternoon. My desk faces away from the window, but I suddenly could hear the wind and noticed it had gotten almost dark. Then the power went out. It was out for five hours.

I knew I had candles and flashlights, and was proud of myself for being able to quickly locate an old, all-analog, battery-powered radio I have. I probably haven't used it in ten years or more, but it performed perfectly. I knew from the radio that more weather was on its way and, sure enough, about 7:30 PM it started up again, not quite as ferocious, but with almost continuous lightening flashes. The power came back on about 8:15 PM.

It seems to have settled down somewhat, but only temporarily according to the Weather Service. It may, they say, keep going like this, on and off, until Saturday.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

What Came Before.

This is my debut on Blogger, but The Chuck Cowdery Blog has existed on my own site since 2005. Is it better on Blogger? That's what I'm here to find out. From now on, I intend to post to both sites. To see what has gone before, go here.

New York Legalizes Spirits Auctions

Here's good news for all the people who want to know what some liquid treasure they pried from their grandfather's dead hands is really worth.

New York law now permits permits auction houses, such as Christie's, to auction rare distilled spirits.

Christie’s, in fact, immediately announced its plans to hold in December the first liquor auction in New York since Prohibition began in 1920.

"We are currently accepting consignments of vintage cognac, armagnac, Scottish, Irish and American whiskies, bourbon and other traditional spirits," said Richard Brierley, Head of Christie’s Americas Wine Sales.

The Distilled Spirits Council estimates that millions of dollars in exclusive spirits sales have been lost to London, Paris, Glasgow and other auction centers around the globe because spirits auctions have been against the law in New York, costing the state large amounts in lost sales taxes.

The new law also allows spirits tastings at the auctions, just as is already allowed for wine auctions. Nationally, seventeen states permit wine auctions, but New York becomes only the eighth state to authorize spirits auctions.

This will be interesting to follow. Obviously, Christie's won't be handling the type of thing that makes up most of the traffic on eBay, but it will be interesting to see how this develops and what, if anything, made-in-the-USA even gets on the board.

Anyone out there with a big bunker who's ready to cash-in?