Sunday, August 29, 2010

I Teach Bourbon Tomorrow At Rocks.

I'm teaching a Bourbon class tomorrow (Monday, August 30th) at Rocks Lincoln Park (1301 West Schubert). The class starts at 7:00 PM, includes a tasting of four bourbons, and lasts about a hour, although one nice thing about doing it in a bar is that students can continue to 'learn' after the class concludes.

I teach these classes through I Wish Lessons. The mission of I Wish is to make learning fun. How better to make learning fun than by drinking during class?

Either because people have so many other things to do in the summer or because it's too hot to drink whiskey, the classes haven't been selling out lately like they usually do, so there may still be some tickets left. Go here to order tickets for this or any future class.

I Wish also does private lessons for individuals or groups so contact them if you would like me to conduct a private tasting for your group. (For Chicago-area events only. Out-of-town contact me directly.) The standard classes are introductory but for a private event I can go as advanced as you want. I also teach classes about scotch and cognac.

Specific Recommendations For The Bourbon Beginner.

A few weeks ago I posted here some "Advice For The Bourbon Beginner." It attracted many good comments, so be sure to read them if you go back and check it out.

As for the advice itself I see now what was missing; specific suggestions about what to drink. A correction follows. I'll also explain why each recommendation is on the list in terms of what it can teach you.

It's a question I'm often asked, what product do I recommend for the bourbon beginner? I usually suggest Maker's Mark, so let's begin there.

Maker's Mark. A litmus test, really, because if Maker's Mark is too much for you -- "too strong" -- then it is likely bourbon whiskey will never be your drink. Arguably, wheated bourbon is bourbon for people who don't like bourbon, assuming that the characteristic they don't like is the sharpness and heat that is typical of rye-recipe bourbon. It also has the advantage of being in most bars so you don't have to buy a whole bottle to take the test.

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage (any year). I have argued that older bourbons aren't necessarily better than younger ones, just different, but I have to concede that most experienced drinkers prefer the older to the younger style, myself included. While the single barrel and vintage things are fun, the best part of Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage is that it is simply the best whiskey Heaven Hill makes in any given year and Heaven Hill makes a lot of whiskey. For Heaven Hill, at least, the perfect age appears to be nine years, though in fairness barrels for this product are usually pulled from parts of the warehouse that age the whiskey most aggressively.

Jim Beam Black. Similarly, this is the easiest of the Beam company's bourbons to love. It's old enough that the foxy yeast notes of the younger Beams have mellowed and nothing stands in the way of all the caramel and vanilla the spirit has absorbed from the barrel. Booker Noe always said the standard Beam mash bill is 15 percent rye but the company says the mash bill is a secret. (Booker did whisper it in my ear the first time.) Based purely on the taste you would think it contains less. Beam's Knob Creek, for a little more money, has a little more edge but is also easy to like. Try them both to see how different two whiskeys from the same producer that are very similar on paper can taste.

Wild Turkey 101. The idea here is to take it up a notch. Many bourbon drinkers and all loyal Wild Turkey 101 drinkers believe bourbon should burn a little going down. Not a lot, but it's like a scotch drinker who believes scotch has to have at least a little bit of peat. Also, while many bourbon brands talk about making bourbon 'the old-fashioned way,' in terms of its overall style Wild Turkey most nearly does. If 50.5% alcohol is too much for you feel free to add water (to all of the above as well) but stay away from the 40% alcohol (80 proof) bottling.

Old Forester Signature. Although Wild Turkey is made very traditionally, the brand is only 70 years old, has had several owners, and has only been made exclusively at its present distillery for about 40 years. Old Forester, on the other hand, is 140 years old and has had only one owner (Brown-Forman), though it did switch distilleries about 30 years ago. Although Old Forester is a bargain today, it really represents what a finer bourbon tasted like back before today's super-premiums existed. It is simply a very good, solid, reliable, traditional bourbon. Unlike with Turkey, here I don't object if you'd rather try the 43% alcohol expression instead of the 50%.

After the above I suggest you dabble in some extra age, perhaps with Weller 12 or Elijah Craig 12, and try a straight rye like Jim Beam Rye, Wild Turkey Rye, or Rittenhouse Rye. This would be a good time to add a Tennessee whiskey to the collection, Dickel 12 or Jack Daniel's Single Barrel, though if you've never had it you really should try Jack Daniel's No. 7, since it is the most popular whiskey in the world.

That should hold you for now.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

More News About 'Secret' Knob Creek Single Barrel Release.

News continues to dribble out through unofficial channels about the release in 2011 of a single barrel version of Beam's Knob Creek bourbon, leading one to suspect that the leaks are actually deliberate and strategic. Be that as it may, here is the latest.

The product will be called Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve. It will begin to ship in January for retail launch in February. It will still be 9-years-old but will be bottled at a significantly higher proof, 120° (60% alcohol). Of course, the barrels will be individually selected. Suggested retail is $10 above regular Knob, so about $40.

Instead of the paper label of the original the label will be screen-printed ceramic. It will look like this:

Friday, August 20, 2010

Buffalo Trace Enters Wood Wars With Two New Experimentals.



Woodford Reserve had its Master's Collection Seasoned Oak Finish. Then Maker's Mark came out with Maker's 46, a finish supplied by seared French oak panels. Later this year, Woodford Reserve will debut a maple wood finish.

Now come the two new Buffalo Trace experimentals, two 15-year-old whiskeys; one aged in new toasted French oak, the other aged in used charred American oak "seasoned with toasted oak chips."

Since I mentioned the three finishes above, I should make clear that the two Buffalo Trace experimentals are not finishes. Both whiskeys were fully aged -- for 15 years -- with the wood components as described.

The two labels are reproduced above and below. One interesting point is the difference in evaporation. Since they were stored in essentially the same warehouse location, the difference has to be the wood. The used American oak barrel lost 54.2 percent of its contents but the new, toasted French oak barrel lost 69.7 percent. A new barrel will absorb and hold more spirit than a used barrel, but differences between the two oak species may also be responsible.

Both whiskeys started out back in 1995 as Buffalo Trace Rye Bourbon Mash Bill #2, but since neither one was aged in new charred oak they aren't bourbon. I haven't tasted them so I can't say how good they are, but that's quite a pedigree. I can also say that an earlier experiment with French oak was terrific.

This experimental program began, well, more than 15 years ago and there have been several previous releases. They have about 1,500 barrels in the warehouses now that represent experiments of various kinds.

As with previous releases in the Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection, they are packaged in half-bottles (375 ml) with a suggested retail of $46.35. They are being released now and will be hard to get. For more information contact Kris Comstock.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Few Suggestions For Improving The Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

On Tuesday I expressed some opinions about the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival (KBF) in Bardstown, Kentucky. This year's event is September 14-19. (I'll be there.)

Here are a few specific suggestions for improving the KBF. Feel free to add your own via comments. (I will be enforcing a constructive-suggestions-only policy.)
  • Put up some signs. BIG signs. As it is you can drive through the center of little Bardstown in the middle of the festival and not know anything special is going on. Welcome signs but also directional signs.
  • Promote bourbon. The producers are there to promote their brands but the festival needs to promote the enjoyment, understanding, and appreciation of bourbon generally, to both beginners and veteran enthusiasts. Where are the seminars, the guided tastings, the master classes, the presentations on history and craft? How about a whiskey-themed film and video festival?
  • Attract collectors. Get a law passed allowing whiskey collectors (legal age only, of course) to have a legal and above board swap meet. It would be a natural extension of the existing Master Distiller's Auction.
  • Discourage driving. Make it easy and convenient for people to get around without using their cars. Eliminate the parking immediately adjacent to the festival grounds and use those lots for more festival acreage. Have remote parking and connect the parking, festival sites, and area hotels using buses.
  • Think 'big tent.' In the spirit of American whiskey solidarity invite Tennessee distilleries Jack Daniel's and George Dickel to participate in events such as the Spalding Hall lawn booths and the World Championship Bourbon Barrel Relay. Both companies (Brown-Forman and Diageo) are major players in Kentucky too.
  • Think even bigger. Find a role for the new craft distillers that are springing up all over the country and encourage all producers to feature all of their U.S.-made whiskey products, such as straight rye whiskey. There is a lot to be gained by being less literal and more inclusive.
  • Work your brand. Pay for the improvements by working your valuable Kentucky Bourbon Festival brand a lot harder and all year round.
Yes, you can still call it the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. Absolutely. That's the brand. But when you say "Kentucky" think "center of but not sum of" the universe, and when you say "bourbon" think "American whiskey" in all its styles and forms.

To quote architect Daniel Burnham, as I did last year during the KBF when I was inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, "Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

No Short-Cuts To Whiskey Appreciation.

Regular readers of this space may have noticed that while I will review specific whiskeys from time to time I don't score them. I last wrote about this here.

One of the main reasons I hate ratings is because they are a crutch for lazy people looking for a short cut. They are looking for a short cut because they have no base of knowledge and no interest in obtaining one. People who buy-by-the-numbers are people who do everything by the short cut route and who are looking for social validation more than they are a great bottle of whiskey.

As a writer, I hate the idea that these people don't even read the reviews, they just look at the numbers. Ideally, a critic will give you enough information to make up your own mind but you as the reader have to work too. You have to think. You don't need to be a writer to pull a two-digit number out of the air and you don't need to think to turn those numbers into a shopping list.

People who buy-by-the-numbers wouldn't recognize "brine and spice, apple pip, and traces of aniseed"* if it bit them.

I don't blame or condemn the writers, publications, and entities like the Beverage Testing Institute (BTI) that give ratings. They are forced to do it because they depend on advertising revenue or (in the case of BTI) fees to stay in business. The producers would scream bloody murder if any of those entities switched to the type of "good-better-best" ranking system I advocate.

Ridgemont Reserve 1792 is a very good bourbon made by Sazerac at its Tom Moore Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky. Accordiing to BTI, 1792 is a 93, ranking above the brands 1792 considers its competitors: Knob Creek, Woodford Reserve (both 90), and Gentleman Jack (82).

The sad reality is that their 93 will sell more bottles of 1792 than positive reviews by me and every other writer combined. And selling more bottles is what the producers are in business to do.

For the people who give ratings the pointlessness of it doesn't harm their credibility as long as they're running an honest game and so far as I know everyone is. That it is a silly and meaningless game is beside the point as long as people buy-by-the-numbers. The only harm it does is put great bottles of whiskey into the cabinets of people who manifestly do not deserve them.

As long as there are people with money to spend who believe the ratings mean something there will be ratings.


* From Dominic Roskrow's Guest Review of Caol Ila, 25 Year Old on "What Does John Know." He gave it an 88.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Kentucky Bourbon Festival is September 14-19.

The Kentucky Bourbon Festival (KBF) is held in Bardstown, Kentucky, every year in mid-September. This year it's September 14-19. In reality not much happens early in the week nor on Sunday. The activities on the lawn of Spalding Hall, for example, begin Friday at 4:00 PM, so call it a long weekend. The KBF peaks with the big 'gala' on Saturday night.

It began in 1992. I went intermittently that first decade but I've been to every one since about 1999. In 2009 I was proud to be inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, which is done during the festival.

Obviously I like the KBF but I find it hard to write about it without being critical. For one thing, the basic outline hasn't changed in now almost 20 years: the booths on the lawn, live music on the lawn, the spirit garden, a big concert Friday night, the big 'gala' Saturday night. Many of the producers complain that it's just a big party Bardstown throws for itself using the producers' money that doesn't really do much to promote bourbon.

Too many of the events are private or expensive. Tickets for the Saturday night gala are $140 each and formal apparel is required. The Hall of Fame induction is an invitation-only event primarily for industry types and the press.

My big gripe is the paucity of events and activities aimed at you, the bourbon enthusiast. There are so few official enthusiast activities that enthusiasts themselves have organized their own. A commercial example is the Chapeze House, where you can sample a wide range of bourbons. Contrasted with the official spirit garden, it has a better selection, better atmosphere, and attracts actual enthusiasts. Chapeze House is a 19th century distillery owner's home while the spirit garden is an unshaded baseball field.

Most of the other unofficial events are non-commercial and what you might call semi-private. In most cases anyone can go but you have to know about them and they aren't widely publicized. Visit the two big enthusiast web sites, StraightBourbon.com and BourbonEnthusiast.com for more information.

The best, most authentic, and most fun official event is the World Championship Bourbon Barrel Relay (a new, trademarked name for the barrel rolling competition. Is someone trying to horn in on Bardstown's barrel rolling action such that they need a trademarked name?) It's a unique event, one you could only do in Kentucky. The barrels start rolling at 11:00 AM on Saturday morning in the field behind City Hall (300 West Broadway).

Friday, August 13, 2010

Too Hot For Bourbon.

Few things will put me off my bourbon but sustained 90° temperatures is one of them. I look forward to drinking some bourbon perhaps next week.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Canadian Mist Launches Black Diamond.

The front label of new Canadian Mist Black Diamond describes it as "a richer, more robust blended Canadian whisky." That's exactly what it is. I couldn't have said it better myself.

The taste of regular Canadian Mist is so mild as to be almost evanescent. It is easy to imagine they just altered the percentage of flavoring whisky to base whisky in favor of more flavor -- just turned the taste up -- but Master Blender Steve Hughes did more than that to earn his signature on the label. He kicked in more rye whiskey and more sherry too. The result is a richer and more robust blended Canadian whisky, like I said.

Hughes did not, however, give it more wood. Canadian Mist Black Diamond is aged three years, just like the standard expression. Because of its youth, Black Diamond reminds one of some of the young whiskies coming out of American micro-distilleries these days. It also demonstrates why young whiskies tend to show better as blends than as straights.

Although positioned as a 'premium line extension,' Canadian Mist Black Diamond remains solidly in the value segment at a suggested retail of $14.99 for a 750 ml bottle. It is 43% alcohol instead of the usual 40%.

With Noilly Pratt Sweet Vermouth and Fee Brothers Cherry Bitters it makes a richer and more robust manhattan.

Monday, August 9, 2010

See Kentucky.

If you're looking for a good late summer, early fall getaway, may I suggest Kentucky's bourbon country.

If you are a whiskey fan who would love to see where most American whiskey is made, but is married to or otherwise affiliated with one or more individuals who don't share that enthusiasm, this post is for you.

If you have to limit yourself to a couple of distillery tours, Maker's Mark and Woodford Reserve are good choices. Both are attractive facilities in attractive locations, very visitor-friendly, but they also let you see all steps in the process, "from corn to cork."

The Woodford distillery is near Lexington, Kentucky, which is horse country. Many horse farms welcome visitors and there are other horse-related attractions in the area.

Bardstown, Kentucky, is a very quaint town with excellent bed-and-breakfast lodging. The Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History is there as well as the Heaven Hill Visitors Center, which is a whiskey museum in its own right. You can forgo the tour at Heaven Hill and just do the Visitors Center, but do participate in the tasting. You can taste at Maker's and Woodford too.

Depending on the season and how outdoorsy you are there are some fine opportunities for hiking in the Bardstown area. One is Bernheim Forest, a gift to the people from a distiller (I. W. Bernheim, who created I. W. Harper Bourbon), that happens to be right across the road from the Jim Beam Distillery.

Also depending on the season, just driving around the countryside can be very enjoyable, especially in the horse country near Woodford. (Be forewarned that the 2010 World Equestrian Games are in Lexington and will monopolize most of the area's tourism infrastructure for the entire month of October.)

If your lodging and dining tastes are more urban, Louisville is a good place to base your visit. You can easily daytrip from there to any of the distilleries or other major attractions and Louisville has its own attractions, from the Louisville Slugger Museum to the Kentucky Kingdom theme park.

The area has many historical attractions related to Abraham Lincoln, who was born there, and to the period of the late-18th, early-19th centuries when Kentucky was part of America's western frontier.

Kentucky has put a lot of emphasis on whiskey tourism lately but if your party is mixed there is plenty for the non-whiskey members to enjoy too.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Advice For The Bourbon Beginner.

Many people who are new to bourbon don't know where to start. Some turn to books, magazines or web sites like StraightBourbon or BourbonEnthusiast for recommendations. But it can be confusing.

I'm on record, in my book and elsewhere, as not thinking very much of rating systems. Their basic flaw is that they give a sheen of objectivity to something inherently subjective.

I had a long conversation about this with Jim Murray once and his conclusion was, "we owe it to people to give them some kind of guidance."

Point taken.

Here, for example, is a pitfall to avoid. Newcomers do themselves no favor by trying to find a consensus 'best' bourbon or other whiskey as if they can learn all they need to know by tasting 'the best.' Unfortunately, products enthusiasts rave about tend to be atypical and hard to appreciate if you are still learning the basics.

My recommendation for a beginner is to work your way through the leading brands from the major producers -- Jim Beam white, Jack Daniel's No. 7, Evan Williams black, Wild Turkey 101.

Compare them to each other, get to know them.

Taste them the right way. Start your journey by developing your tasting technique. I recommend tasting everything both neat and diluted with room temperature water.

Remember that smelling is a crucial part of tasting.

For the next round, pick the two or three of the first group that you liked best and figure out what that producer's step-up is. If you like Wild Turkey 101, you might want to step up to Russell's Reserve, Rare Breed or Kentucky Spirit. Which one? It doesn't really matter, though budget might play a role as Kentucky Spirit costs twice as much as Russell's Reserve.

After that you should be able to fly solo.

Most of all, resist the lure of short cuts. They're a waste of time because they don't work. You don't become a bourbon connoisseur just because you drank a bottle of Pappy 23. That's probably the hardest thing to get across to young people so I'll repeat it, because they love it when you do that. Short cuts don't work.

Okay, vets. What are your tips for beginners?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Heaven Hill To Add Aging Capacity.

How much does a new whiskey warehouse cost? About $2.1 million, according to an announcement today by Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear. He announced that Heaven Hill will build two new warehouses in Nelson County, a $4.2 million capital investment.

Although 'rickhouse' is a more evocative term, most folks call them warehouses. The new ones are a little more modern but are still just a steel shell surrounding racks that hold the 53 gallon oak barrels in which whiskey is aged. Older designs typically hold about 20,000 barrels each. The new ones at Heaven Hill will be a little bigger than that, holding 22,968 barrels each. (The picture above is of a new warehouse at Jim Beam.)

“Kentucky is pleased to be part of the continued growth of one of our signature industries,” said Beshear.

The footprint of the new Heaven Hill warehouses will be 20,000 square feet each. Construction will begin soon and they expect to enter the first barrels by the end of January, 2011.

“The construction of these new warehouses is just another indication of not only the continued growth of our Evan Williams, Elijah Craig and other Bourbon brands but attests to the vitality of the Bourbon category around the world,” said Max Shapira, president of Heaven Hill Distilleries.

Heaven Hill will receive tax incentives up to $88,200 from the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority, through the Kentucky Enterprise Initiative Act.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

New Heaven Hill Wheater Has Cognac Vibe.

It is in very well-aged wheated bourbons that you can experience why I believe bourbon whiskey evolved more in imitation of cognac than scotch. Without the sharp, grassy notes of rye the new charred barrel reigns supreme and it is almost possible to forget you are drinking whiskey and not brandy.

You can taste this for yourself if you are lucky enough to snag a bottle of Heaven Hill’s upcoming limited edition, cask strength, non-chilled filtered, 10-year-old wheated bourbon. That is this year’s Parker’s Heritage Collection release, which should start to appear in stores next month. But it won't be there long. There will be fewer than 5,000 bottles available. The suggested retail is $79.99.

Here are my tasting notes for the first of what will be two batches. The first one is 63.9 percent alcohol (127.8° proof).

Undiluted I get red raspberry on the nose and very dark molasses on the palate. Diluted I get caramel and vanilla on both, also old oak on the nose and on the palate very light notes of mint, oregano, and teriyaki sauce.

Especially when diluted it is all wheater, with caramel and vanilla dominating, though at times the caramel slips away and pancake syrup sweetness takes over. Undiluted it is very rich and intense. More licorice comes through, especially on the finish.

That’s what I think. Here is what Parker Beam has to say about his latest creation: “I am genuinely excited to introduce a nicely aged, cask-strength wheated bourbon for this next version of my Parker’s Heritage Collection. At this age and barrel-proof is how a wheated bourbon shows best. It has the caramel and smoke notes that only ten years in the top floors of our rickhouses can produce.”

Parker loves those top floors. That’s why this whiskey bears little resemblance to any other 10+ year old wheater you know. This is also some of the oldest wheated bourbon made at the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville since Heaven Hill took it over in 1999. The second batch, in fact, is not quite old enough and won’t be dumped until next month.

Not that $80 is cheap, but this year is more in line with the first Parker’s Heritage Collection releases in 2007. Prices for 2008 and 2009 were $200 and $150 respectively.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Rep. Quigley Got Campaign Cash From Liquor Wholesalers Three Days Before Co-Sponsoring Their Monopoly Protection Bill.

As Dan Eggen reported in yesterday's Washington Post, Chicago-area representative Mike Quigley took a $2,500 campaign contribution from the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) three days before his support of their Alcohol Wholesalers Monopoly Protection Act (HR 5034) was announced.

I took Rep. Quigley to task for supporting this ridiculous legislation more than a month ago here. He has not yet replied to my letter.

Quigley isn't alone. The NBWA handed out more than $300,000 in contributions this year and virtually everyone who got some is a co-sponsor of the bill. Michigan Representative John Conyers, who chairs the committee considering HR 5034, got the biggest payday: $45,000. Everyone, of course, says the timing is a coincidence.

Timing isn't even the point. It just makes it easier to put the picture into focus.

I've also posted about this legislation here, here, and here.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Woodford Masters Collection Future Releases Revealed Exclusively To WHISKY Magazine (And Me).

The Woodford Reserve Masters Collection is an annual experimental whiskey release that began in 2005. Each release is different.

They are, of course, planned years ahead but Woodford has never revealed what it has in the pipeline until now, exclusively to me for WHISKY Magazine, Issue 89, available now.

Only the Maple Finish has been scheduled, for 2010, out this fall. The rest will roll out between 2011 and 2018 depending on what is ready in any given year. Get the current WHISKY Magazine for the full story.
  • Maple Finish (2010). Mature Woodford Reserve bourbon finished in toasted sugar maple casks.
  • Wine Finish. Mature Woodford Reserve bourbon finished in used wine casks (wine type to be announced).
  • Tequila Finish. Mature Woodford Reserve bourbon finished in used Herradura Tequila casks.
  • Rum Finish. Mature Woodford Reserve bourbon finished in used rum casks.
  • Straight Rye Whiskey, Low BEP (Barrel Entry Proof). Whiskey made from a 100 percent rye mash with an 86° BEP (43% alcohol), aged in new charred barrels.
  • Straight Rye Whiskey, Historic BEP. Whiskey made from a 100 percent rye mash with a 99.8° BEP (49.9% alcohol), aged in new charred barrels.
  • Rye Mash Whiskey, Low BEP. Whiskey made from a 100 percent rye mash with an 86° BEP (43% alcohol), aged in used barrels.
  • Rye Mash Whiskey, Historic BEP. Whiskey made from a 100 percent rye mash with a 99.8° BEP (49.9% alcohol), aged in used barrels.
  • Straight Malt Whiskey. Whiskey made from a 100 percent barley malt mash with a 124.8° BEP (62.4% alcohol), aged in new charred barrels.
  • Malt Mash Whiskey. Whiskey made from a 100 percent barley malt mash with an 86.6° BEP (43.3% alcohol), aged in used barrels.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Shutdown Season.

The whiskey distilleries in Kentucky and Tennessee typically shut down during the hottest summer months. Historically this had a practical purpose as it can be very hard to control fermentation, which produces heat as one of its byproducts, when atmospheric heat and humidity are already high.

With today's modern chiller systems and other process controls it is possible for distilleries to run year round and they more-or-less do, although most still have a shutdown of at least two weeks in August.

The shutdown is a chance to do deferred maintenance and repairs, install new equipment, make changes, and do any other work that can't be done while the distillery is in operation. For some companies shutdown is a good way to handle employee vacations.

It's unfortunate that shutdown typically occurs in August, the busiest season for visitors. As tourism becomes more important to revenue streams, they may change that scheduling. Although in some ways, if you're touring a distillery in August you should be glad it's not operating. It gets hot in there.

Shutdown is also a good way to adjust the distillery's output for the year. If you are a bit overstocked with new make, you can correct that quickly by extending your shutdown by a few days or weeks.

Like most manufacturing enterprises, whiskey makers have gotten good at managing just-in-time supply chains, but that means many other pieces of the supply chain are forced to shut down when the distilleries do.

Cooperages, for example. It's hard to imagine the volume of barrels Independent Stave and Brown-Forman produce. Jack Daniel's, the largest single distillery, fills more than 10,000 barrels (at 53 gallons each) a week. Neither the cooperages nor the distilleries have space for storing thousands of empty barrels. At the distilleries, the cooperage trucks pull up and unload new barrels directly into the filling area. By the time one truck is emptied they're ready for the next one.

So when distilleries stop filling barrels cooperages have to stop making them. Presumably it's like that all the way back to the forest. When the distilleries stop distilling the lumberjacks stop cutting.