Monday, November 23, 2009

Thankful For Bourbon? Visit A Distillery.

Several of Kentucky’s bourbon distilleries will be open during the holiday weekend so you can celebrate the spirit of Thanksgiving with America’s only native spirit.

"Thanksgiving is a perfect time to visit our legendary distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail," said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. “If your family and friends are looking for an adventure this weekend, come savor the spirit of the holidays with us.

"And, as always, we ask everyone to enjoy Kentucky Bourbon responsibly."

All distilleries are closed Thursday, but open the following days (hours are Eastern Standard Time). For directions and more information, please visit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail web site.

  • Buffalo Trace, Frankfort – open Friday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., closed Sunday.
  • Four Roses, Lawrenceburg – open Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., last tour at 3:00 p.m., closed Sunday.
  • Heaven Hill, Bardstown – open Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday noon to 4 p.m.
  • Jim Beam, Clermont – open Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Maker’s Mark, Loretto – open Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Sunday tours 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m.
  • Tom Moore, Bardstown – Closed for tours Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
  • Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg – Tours Friday and Saturday at 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Closed Sunday.
  • Woodford Reserve, Versailles – Tours Friday and Saturday at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 12 p.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Tours on Sunday at 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.  

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Retro Bourbon You Really Must Try: Old Grand-Dad Bonded.

With its bright orange label, there is no chance you will mistake Old Grand-Dad for one of those new, trendy bourbon brands. Old Grand-Dad Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is proudly retro, from its package to the taste of the whiskey inside.

There are several expressions of Old Grand-Dad, but my favorite is Bonded Old Grand-Dad. As a bond, it must by law be 100° proof (50% ABV) and the product of a single distillery during a single distilling season. There can be no mixing of younger and older barrels. It must also be at least four years old.

Old Grand-Dad is a bourbon, but it contains about twice as much rye as most bourbons do. The rest of its unique taste must come from its yeast. It's very flavorful, spicy and earthy like a rye, sweet and satisfying like a bourbon.

Many bourbons today are eight years and older, so wood notes overshadow the grain and yeast. Old Grand-Dad seems to have those three flavor elements more equally apportioned.

Old Grand-Dad is a genuinely old brand too, one of the oldest still on the market. It was created by Raymond Hayden in the late 19th century and dedicated to his grandfather, Basil, a follower of Lord Baltimore who brought the family to Kentucky from England by way of Maryland.

Basil Hayden Bourbon, which is one of those trendy new brands, is Old Grand-Dad bourbon aged eight years and diluted to 80° proof (40% ABV).

Old Grand-Dad itself also comes in 86° proof and 114° proof expressions. Unlike Basil Hayden, none of the Old Grand-Dad expressions bear an age statement, so they are at least four years old and probably less than six. Although bonded bourbons today are a shadow of their former selves, Bonded Old Grand-Dad has long been the most popular bottled-in-bond bourbon. It is a product of Beam Global.

Old Grand-Dad is, I imagine, what many bourbons tasted like back before blended scotches and Canadians spoiled the American palate for real swallow hard and make a face whiskey. It's the other end of the flavor spectrum from something like Weller 12-year-old, which I also favor. It's often overlooked but is an essential part of any whiskey fan's education.
It's also a great value at about $20 for a 750 ml.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Templeton Rye. Hoist On Its Own Petard?

There are some subjects that keep recurring, so often I get tired of writing about them. One is the great spelling controversy--to "e" or not to "e"--another is Jack Daniel's; bourbon or not?

Today it's whiskey producers who call themselves distilleries but whose products are made by somebody else. I wrote about it here and many, many other places, but when I saw this picture I just couldn't resist.

It's a picture, supplied by them, of Templeton Rye barrels. See, it says "Templeton Rye" right there on the head. But look at what else it says, "distilled 10/03."

Leaving open the possibility that "10/03" does not mean October, 2003, one can compare that date with the fact that Templeton Rye was formed and received its alcoholic beverage producers license in 2005. You can figure out the rest.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gifts for Bourbon Lovers.

What should you give to the bourbon lover on your list? Well, it's pretty hard to beat bourbon, but let's say you want to give them something else.

Two great suggestions are, BOURBON STRAIGHT; The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey, and "Made and Bottled in Kentucky," the definitive bourbon documentary on DVD.

Need more? Many of the top American whiskey brands have online stores, where you can pick up T-shirts, hats, flasks and other gifts, helpfully emblazoned with the brand's logo. Here are a few of them.

Woodford Reserve

Jack Daniel's

Jim Beam

Evan Williams

Buffalo Trace

Maker's Mark

Knob Creek

Although you'll probably have to go through the age check, these links should take you directly to the online shops. By the way, not all brands have them. Wild Turkey does not, neither do Four Roses and Bulleit.

That does not, however, mean that just because a brand isn't mentioned here they don't have an online store. Don't hesitate to check the brand's website. A page of links directly to most producer web sites is here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

FDA Orders Manufacturers To Prove Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages Are Safe.

You've seen it a thousand times in movies and TV shows. Someone needs to sober up quickly and starts pounding black coffee, even though science tells us that doesn’t work. Caffeine will not counteract the effects of alcohol, it just makes the drunk more alert.

A decade ago, Red Bull launched the craze for so-called energy drinks, which deliver a big dose of caffeine. Pretty soon, these drinks were being combined with alcohol. No one should have been surprised, therefore, when drinks companies put two and two together and started to sell caffeinated alcoholic beverages.

Almost immediately, these products became easy targets for anti-alcohol crusaders. They dubbed them alcopops and claimed, among other things, that they were being marketed to children. About a year ago, yielding to pressure, the big beer companies dropped their caffeinated products and promised not to make new ones.

But caffeinated alcoholic beverages did not go away, the niche was simply filled by small manufacturers who don’t have big market shares to protect in the mainstream beverage arena. Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered those companies—about 30 of them—to prove their products are safe or risk having them banned.

While it may sound like the FDA is requiring the manufacturers to prove a negative, it’s not quite that bad. Go here to read the FDA’s press release and see what the standard of proof is. The key is something called GRAS—Generally Regarded as Safe—a term-of-art. Caffeine itself is GRAS but that is apparently not good enough.

This order only affects pre-packaged products that contain both alcohol and caffeine. Bars can still serve Jager Bombs (Jagermeister and Red Bull) or any of the other popular energy drink-and-alcohol combinations. Or, for that matter, Jack and Coke or Irish Coffee, two popular caffeinated alcoholic drinks of long standing.

So is this just a political stunt? The FDA in its announcement today cited letters from 18 Attorneys General and one city attorney expressing concerns about caffeinated alcoholic beverages. Illinois AG Lisa Madigan chimed in over the weekend.

It will be interesting to see how the manufacturers respond, especially since the small fry are on their own now without a mega brewer to show them the way. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Latest Research Provides Nuanced Picture Of Alcohol-Releated Problems.

"Alcohol abuse" is defined as use that repeatedly contributes, within a 12-month period, to the risk of bodily harm, relationship troubles, problems in meeting obligations and run-ins with the law. "Alcohol dependence" includes those symptoms, plus the inability to limit or stop drinking; the need for more alcohol to get the same effect; the presence of withdrawal symptoms; and a consumption level that takes increasing amounts of time.

With that as a starting point, everyone who enjoys beverage alcohol should frequently monitor both their own actions and those of the people close to them. The good news in the latest research is that most people can and do address their own alcohol use issues without drastic action, without outside intervention, and often without giving up alcohol.

This is not some kind of self-serving revisionism that denies alcohol abuse is a problem. For some it is a very big problem, a problem for which the only solution is complete abstinence. But not for everyone; not for most people.

To learn more, read Shari Roan's article in today's Chicago Tribune.

Popular beliefs about alcohol always have been driven more by ideology than science, in part because ideology provides unambiguous answers. We also have in this country a virtual industry dedicated to demonizing alcohol and stigmatizing drinkers, with a goal of reviving Prohibition or something like it. The facts are that most adults drink and have little or no trouble related to their alcohol consumption. Now there is science showing that most people who have problems solve them themselves, without a lot of drama. Good to know.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Canadian Whiskey Spills In Kentucky.

Early yesterday morning a tanker carrying 7,000 gallons of Canadian whiskey ran off the road and overturned in Scott County, Kentucky. The accident occurred on US Route 460 near the Craig Lane intersection. US-460 was closed for most of the day. Although the tank was damaged and some of the whiskey escaped, it is not yet known how much of it was lost. Fire is the primary danger in an accident of this sort, which is why the road had to be closed.

Craig Lane was named for Rev. Elijah Craig, who founded Georgetown, Kentucky (the county seat of Scott County), and was an early Kentucky distiller.

The shipment was on its way to the Beam Global bottling facility on US-460 at Forks of the Elkhorn, just east of Frankfort. It was destined to become Canadian Club Canadian Blended Whisky.

No other vehicles were involved and Scott County Emergency Management Agency director Jack Donovan told the Lexington Herald-Leader that the truck driver was not hurt, although another media report said he was taken to an area hospital complaining of leg pain. The driver has not been identified.

Why was Canadian whiskey being shipped to Kentucky for bottling? Beam Global owns the Canadian Club brand but not the Canadian distillery where it is made, which is owned by Pernod. The distillery is in Walkerville, Ontario, just across the river from Detroit. The whiskey is distilled and aged there. When it is ready for sale the barrels are dumped and the whiskey is tankered for bulk shipment to the U.S. for bottling.

The tanker would have entered the country at Detroit and come down Interstate 75 to Georgetown, Kentucky, then to US-460.

Beam Global has substantial bottling lines at Forks of the Elkhorn, which is the former Old Grand-Dad distillery, and also at the Jim Beam Distillery at Clermont in Bullitt County, near Shepherdsville. Canadian Club is bottled at both locations.

Much of the Canadian whisky intended for sale in the U.S. is bottled here, frequently by bourbon producers in Kentucky. This is also true of other international spirits such as rum, tequila and scotch. A substantial amount of California brandy is shipped in bulk to Kentucky to be aged (in used bourbon barrels) and bottled.

By consolidating bottling at as few locations as possible, the producer automatically consolidates its finished goods inventories, which makes distribution more efficient.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Celebrate 76 Years Of Legal Drinking December 5.

Repeal Day is Saturday, December 5, and if you are going to be anywhere near Louisville, Kentucky, you might want to consider the Bourbon Society's Repeal Day Party. Special guests include Chris Morris from Woodford Reserve, Al Young from Four Roses, and Mike Veach from the Filson Historical Society. Somebody (they don't know who yet) is supposed to be there from Wild Turkey too.

Those folks are great and all, but the real attraction is the venue; the fabled Pendennis Club.

Louisville's Pendennis Club is a private club, so you can't just stroll in on a normal day and have a drink at their bar. Back when Louisville was full of whiskey barons, this was their hang out. By legend, the Old Fashioned Cocktail was invented there. On December 5, 1933, you can bet the place was jumping.

It's a jacket-and-tie affair, but tickets are only $30. For more information go to The Bourbon Society web site.

Steve Cole, Whiskey Professor

I had lunch today with Steve Cole, Whiskey Professor.

Cole is quick to admit that "whiskey professor" is a marketing term. He doesn't have a PhD in Whiskey nor is he tenured faculty at Whiskey U. He is an employee of Beam Global and his job is more generically known in the industry as brand ambassador. Beam chose the whiskey professor title, according to Cole, because his job is education, not sales. He teaches consumer and trade audiences about whiskey generally and the Beam Small Batch Bourbons Collection specifically.

The Small Batch Bourbons Collection consists of four brands: Knob Creek, Booker's, Baker's and Basil Hayden. The biggest seller of the group is Knob Creek and most of the time, that's the brand Cole and the other two whiskey professors talk about. He was wearing a Knob Creek fleece pullover when we met.

Steve Cole grew up in Sioux City, Iowa, and went to college at Middle Tennessee State, where he discovered whiskey. His roommates happened to be from Lynchburg and patronized their local brand. Rebelling against that peer pressure, Cole became a Maker's Mark drinker.

In the course of post-graduate job seeking, Cole worked as a bartender and fell in love with that profession. He moved to Chicago and began tending bar at an upscale joint on the North Side that had a good whiskey selection. Fear of appearing unknowledgeable to his patrons fueled his desire to learn all he could about bourbon, scotch and other whiskeys. One day about three years ago, one of those customers happened to be a Beam brand manager and a new career was born.

During the next phase of his whiskey education, Cole was put to work at Beam Global distilleries in Kentucky and Scotland. Suddenly he was working beside one of his idols, Fred Noe, then digging peat on Islay. Heady stuff.

In addition to making presentations at whiskey shows, whiskey professors answer questions submitted to the Knob Creek web site.

As more and more audiences clamor for information about whiskey and other spirits, and the public schedules of people like Fred Noe and other distillers and blenders become overbooked, more and more companies are recruiting people like Steve Cole for the brand ambassador role. Diageo, for example, has its Masters of Whiskey, who perform a similar function.

As the saying goes, nice work if you can get it.

Want To Learn About Distilling? Apply For A Michael Jackson Internship.

Readers of this blog are one of the few audiences that won't immediately associate the name "Michael Jackson" with the recently-departed King of Pop.

Our Michael, also deceased, was a writer, lecturer, thinker, and champion of beverage alcohol. The English-born Jackson made his reputation educating the world about beer, then became the world's leading authority on whiskey too.

The Michael Jackson Education Fund was initially created by the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Wine & Food (AIWF) in the early 1990s. The Fund is now managed by the AIWF Foundation which has partnered with the American Distilling Institute (ADI) to develop an internship program. Applications are being accepted now.

The Michael Jackson Internship is intended to foster scholarship in all aspects of distilled spirits manufacture. Though based in the United States, international applicants and international hosts are welcome. Applications for the internship are reviewed by a committee of distilled spirits professionals drawn from the spirits production, sales and writing communities. Depending on the availability of funds, there will be at least one internship awarded per year. The internship will be awarded at a special dinner in honor of the Michael Jackson Fund in conjunction with the annual ADI meeting.

For more information, contact:
Daniel Farber
Chair of the Michael Jackson Internship Committee
Osocalis Distillery
5579 Old San Jose Rd.
Soquel, CA, 95073

Monday, November 9, 2009

Review: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2009

I finally had a chance to give the 2009 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon a good tasting. I had tasted it, briefly, in a bar when it was unveiled a few months ago. I thought it was okay but I didn't have a strong impression one way or another.

Then all hell broke loose on The very first reviewer wrote, "Odd… must and baby diapers were my first impression as I waved it past my nose." It went downhill from there.

Now that I've had a chance to taste it properly, I can see what some people might not like about it. There is very little of the candy notes that many bourbons, and even typical Old Forester, exhibit. It's slightly bitter with what I characterize as a dry wood note predominating. It's not char and it's not the caramel-vanilla flavor you usually get from wood. It's more like what you expect from an old scotch that has spent a long time in a barrel that was already spent before the whiskey even got there.
It is 12-years-old and in some ways tastes older. It definitely leans toward the herbal side of the bourbon taste wheel.

One thing I enjoy about the Birthday Bourbon series is that it's always different, sometimes very different. That's not what producers usually do. Even Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage strives for continuity from year to year. Old Forester Birthday Bourbon doesn't. What Master Distiller Chris Morris is going for, I think, is more of a "that's interesting" reaction.

I'm not saying the people who dislike it are wrong, it's not for everyone, but I would hate for someone to be scared away from it because it got so many negative reviews.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Please Don't Give Food To Food Banks.

Stay with me on this.

My neighborhood food bank, Lakeview Pantry, is one of my favorite charities. They do great work right here in my neighborhood at very low cost, and they use food as an entry point for assisting their clients with other needs, such as clothing, housing and employment. I donate to them whenever I can.

I encourage everyone to support their local food bank, but please give them money, not food. The reason is simple. Unless you are a food producer yourself (farmer, processor), you probably will buy all the food you plan to donate. Since very few of us are food producers, virtually all food donations start with the donor buying the food at a supermarket.

Why is this a bad idea? In addition to it being a hassle, lugging all that food from place to place, you are cheating the charity out of the full value of your intended donation. You might be the smartest shopper in town but I guarantee that the food bank can make a dollar go much further than you can. Plus, they can't pay the electric bill with macaroni.

Yet this is counterintuitive to most people and when I have tried to make this argument in the past, I have gotten some really angry responses. People just don't get it. Part of the problem is that food producers and retailers heartily support food drives. Why wouldn't they? It's more money for them. The food pantrys don't discourage it, also for obvious reasons. They're afraid that if they tell people, "don't give us food," they won't get anything.

Food drives have their place, especially when children are involved, because it helps them understand the importance of feeding hungry people, but if you are older than about ten you should be able to grasp this simple logic. A check for $25 dollars feeds many more hungry people than the $25 you spend on their behalf at the supermarket. By all means, write that check, but let the food bank do the shopping.

Scotland Moves To Protect Scotch Whisky.

New Scottish regulations aimed at protecting Scotch whisky will come into force later this month. Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy announced the new regulations, which will require single malts to be bottled in Scotland. At the same time, the Scottish government is also considering minimum pricing standards for all alcohol as a way to combat alcohol abuse, on the misguided theory that buyers of cheap alcohol are more prone to abusing it.

How important is scotch to Scotland's economy? It represents fully 20% of all export income.

Under the new rules, all scotch whiskies must carry a category description, such as "blended Scotch whisky." Use of the term "pure malt" will be banned, to prevent this description from being applied to blended whiskies in an attempt to make them appear superior to single malts.

There will also be new protection for the traditional regional names associated with Scotch whisky, and clear rules on statements about the age of the whisky.

The Scots want to get their own house in order before they take on India and other countries that make imitation scotch.
Although Scotland sells five times more of its whiskey to the rest of the world that the U.S. does, the U.S. has done a better job of protecting its product, probably as a result of learning from Scotland's mistakes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Gets New Look, Earlier Ship Date.

The annual release of Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage is coming early this year. It usually doesn't ship until after the holidays. “We have dumped and individually bottled over 700 ‘honey barrels’ for the 1999 vintage," explained Master Distiller Parker Beam, "more than any other prior year, and we feel like we need to switch over to the next vintage a bit earlier than in the past to account for the growing demand.”

The new vintage is shipping now.

Fans of Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage will also notice a new label, intended to better align the Single Barrel's look with the flagship Evan Williams Black Label, the world’s second-leading selling Kentucky Bourbon.

This is year 15 of the series, which is always a 9-year-old, rye-recipe bourbon, named for its distillation year. As in the past, each bottle is marked with the exact entry date and bottling date, as well as the barrel serial number. It is bottled at 86.6° proof (43.3% ABV). Suggested retail price is $25.99 for a 750 ml bottle.

Heaven Hill Distilleries, which produces the Evan Williams brand, makes a lot of whiskey. The Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage series can be viewed as the companys "best foot forward." Every year, they pick the very best whiskey they have available at that age and bottle it. Because it is a single-barrel and a vintage, it varies from bottle to bottle and year to year, but is invariably excellent.

For anyone who is just starting to explore American whiskey, especially the more esoteric bottlings prized by enthusiasts, Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage is an excellent place to start.