Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Collector Or Hoarder? How Many Bottles Are Too Many?

Remember when your liquor cabinet (i.e., the cupboard above the fridge) never had more than two bottles in it? Since you've become a fine spirits aficionado, those days are long gone.

But have you also become a whiskey collector, or possibly a whiskey hoarder?

It's bound to come, the show where they find someone buried beneath 500 1.75 L bottles of Old Grand-Dad from the National Distillers distillery in Frankfort, circa 1985. (That's the sort of thing whiskey hoarders hoard.)

For a guide to safe and sane whiskey collecting, check out the new issue of The Bourbon Country Reader, which dropped yesterday.

You really should subscribe. The February, 2012 issue of The Bourbon Country Reader is Volume 14, Number 3. In it, we also tell the story of Wild Turkey bringing its bottling back to Kentucky and how producers are now consolidating U.S. bottling at their whiskey-making facilities in Kentucky, to the great benefit of Kentucky's economy. We also review the new Knob Creek Rye that will be in stores soon.

The Bourbon Country Reader is produced and delivered the old-fashioned way; ink on paper, in an envelope, delivered personally to your home or office by a uniformed representative of the United States government.

Subscriptions to The Bourbon Country Reader are $20/year for U.S. addresses, $24.50 for Canada, and $28.50 for everybody else. It is published six times a year. Well, maybe not, but your subscription always includes six issues.

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

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Tempest In A Tumbler: The Old Fashioned Debate.

It's not much as controversies go, but a kerfuffle erupted earlier this week about the correct way to make an Old Fashioned, a classic cocktail, perhaps the classic whiskey cocktail.

It began when cocktails enthusiast Martin Doudoroff launched an elegant web site called Old Fashioned 101. At the end, he cites in a general way Dale DeGroff, Ted 'Dr. Cocktail' Haigh, Gaz Regan, Robert Hess, and David Wondrich.

Robert Simonson lit the powder keg with a favorable piece in the New York Times, exception to which was taken by Kevin Kosar.

Kosar challenges Doudoroff's claim that his recipe is the original. He points out that DeGroff offers a different recipe, as does Regan. They, with backgrounds as working bartenders, make the version most people expect, where a sugar cube is muddled with bitters and water, and the drink is garnished with an orange slice and maraschino cherry.

In his critique, Kosar correctly observes that 'original' does not automatically mean 'best.' He calls conflating the two "historical culinary sophistry."

The Old Fashioned comes with an appealing mythology, which itself goes back at least 80 years. Supposedly, the drink was invented more than a century ago by a bartender at Louisville's Pendennis Club, which boasted as members all of the local whiskey barons. It was subsequently introduced to the world by one of them, James E. Pepper, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel's bar in New York.

Doudoroff, however, convincingly argues that 'old-fashioned' was just a way for bar patrons to order a whiskey cocktail made the 'old-fashioned' way, with whiskey, simple syrup (i.e., sugar), bitters, water, and a twist of lemon. It would be ironic indeed if the original meaning of 'old-fashioned' had evolved into something new-fashioned.

Drinking whiskey with a little sugar is a tradition almost as old as granulated sugar itself, which became wildly popular in Europe and the Americas in the 18th century. As barrel aging became common and whiskey became naturally sweetened with wood sugar, adding cane or beet sugar became less common, but the custom could certainly be called old-fashioned.

The commonly accepted recipe Doudoroff eschews does incorporate superfluous showmanship with the ceremonial dissolving of the sugar cube, which becomes in the drink exactly what you get Doudoroff's way.

Then there's the garnish, which is very much out of fashion here in Chicago if used strictly for decorative purposes. Yet, and this is Haigh and Wondrich territory, the cocktail as it evolved from punch was always five ingredients: spirit, water, sugar, spice, and fruit. Doudoroff's lemon twist is in keeping with modern practice since it flavors the drink with lemon oil.

Although Kosar seems a little cranky about it, this is the kind of argument everyone should have with a smile on their face and a drink in their hand.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Wild Turkey Bottling Returns Home.

They could have saved a lot of money if they had just stayed put.

Wild Turkey owner Gruppo Campari announced yesterday that it will build a massive new bottling plant at the Wild Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. The facility will cost more than $40 million, of which Kentucky taxpayers will kick in about $2.35 million in incentives. It will open in late 2013.

With whiskey, bottling is usually done where the aging warehouses are. There are so many practical reasons for this that it never made sense for previous-owner Pernod to close Wild Turkey's bottling operation in 2006, moving that responsibility first to LDI in Lawrenceburg, Indiana (about 100 miles away), then to its Hiram Walker cordials plant in Fort Smith, Arkansas (about 700 miles away).

Jimmy Russell, Wild Turkey Master Distiller and one of the deans of Kentucky whiskey-making, just hated it. He felt that trucking aged whiskey 700 miles in a tanker was not good for it. "I couldn't be more delighted," says Russell about the move.

In announcing the Commonwealth's contribution, Governor Steve Beshear pointed out that distilling directly contributes about $2 billion to Kentucky's economy.

Campari will also bottle its biggest U.S. brand, Skyy Vodka, at Turkey. Skyy has never had its own bottling facility, being contract bottled wherever the company could get a good deal at any given time. Its distinctive blue bottle has been spotted on the line at Brown-Forman's bottling facility at its Louisville headquarters.

How long will it be before Campari USA (formally Skyy Spirits) moves its headquarters from San Francisco to Louisville? Louisville may be 55 miles from the distillery, but moving people from cosmopolitan San Francisco to tiny Lawrenceburg would surely kill many of them.

Now Kentucky needs a major bottle maker, maybe somewhere between Louisville and Lexington, like Waddy Peytona. (Two places, actually, but what a great exit name.) There's probably not enough sand there.

A bottling plant means a finished goods warehouse, from which everything will be distributed. Bottling and finished goods distribution are the most labor-intensive parts of booze-making, so this will mean many new jobs for the Lawrenceburg area.

The only drawback to building a large bottling and finished goods facility on Wild Turkey's 800 acre campus is the road between there and US-127. While the governor is spending taxpayer money, he really should improve that part of Versailles Road before the trucks start to roll. This will significantly increase traffic on a seven-mile stretch of not-very-good two-lane road. For those who don't know, that road (aka Woodford Street) goes right through downtown Lawrenceburg, such as it is. A direct by-pass from the distillery to US-127 would be even better but seems unlikely due to cost.

US-127 is four-lanes and limited access, so it's good, and from there it's a quick shot to either I-64 or the Martha Layne Collins Expressway, which will get you anywhere. Rail isn't an option. Neither is the Kentucky River, on which Turkey Hill borders.

But why not? Imagine it, fork lifts loading pallets stacked with Wild Turkey Bourbon and Skyy Vodka onto riverboats at the distillery's own wharf. They could have an on-board bar and let Wild Turkey enthusiasts ride along. The cargo could either be transferred to rail at Louisville or continue down the Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans, making stops at Memphis and other ports along the way.

Why not indeed?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Eagle Rare Presents 2012 Rare Life Award To Founder of Wildlife Center.

Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey has named Edward E. Clark, Jr. of Waynesboro, Virginia, as grand prize winner of the 2012 Rare Life Award. Eagle Rare will donate $20,000 to the Wildlife Center of Virginia, where Clark is president and co-founder.

The Wildlife Center of Virginia was founded in an empty barn in 1982 to care for local wildlife. It has grown into one of the world’s leading teaching and research hospitals for wildlife and conservation medicine.

Over the years, the Center has cared for more than 60,000 injured or orphaned animals, reached millions of people with its educational programs, and trained students and professionals from veterinary schools in the United States, Canada, and more than 40 other countries.

During the Gulf oil spill, Clark was part of an interdisciplinary damage assessment team assembled by the Humane Society of the United States that was asked to view the area affected by the spill and make recommendations. Additionally, Clark and his team have spent more than seven years developing and deploying a sophisticated online database, called WILD-ONe, which links care centers across North America and helps them collect, compile, and analyze patient records to detect and report wildlife health issues as they emerge.

Sponsored by Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, the Rare Life Award is an annual recognition program that honors individuals who exhibit courage, leadership, survival, devotion, character and heroism.

Eagle Rare will also donate $2,000 each to the charities chosen by the six runners up. Stories and photos of all the winners can be found at www.eaglerarelife.com.

Eagle Rare Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey is a product of the Buffalo Trace Distillery, a family-owned company based in Frankfort, Kentucky.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Enough With The 'Legal Moonshine' Already.

Tennessee's Short Mountain Distillery announced today that it has signed agreements with "three living legends of moonshine making."

This is not a cause for celebration.

The young micro-distillery movement is exciting for everyone who enjoys quality distilled spirits with an artisan's touch, but for this new, small distillery (and others) it appears to be all about the perpetuation and exploitation of myths, stereotypes, and misrepresentations.

Short Mountain presents a confusion of moonshining, bootlegging, and Tennessee whiskey that does a disservice to everyone in this industry who is trying to produce an honest, quality product and sell it in an honest, sincere and straightforward way.

Just a couple of specific points.

Since moonshine is any distilled spirit produced illegally, and not a distilled spirit type, there can be no such thing as 'legal moonshine.'

Bootleggers are people who sell alcohol illegally, although the alcohol they sell may be either legally or illegally produced, and most actual bootleggers today sell legal alcohol illegally.

In the local news story about them, one of the participating moonshiners talks about hauling "sugar and corn meal" back to the still site. Unless the sugar was for his coffee, that means he wasn't making whiskey.

Most moonshine is made from cane sugar and is not, therefore, whiskey, which must be made from grain. The proper name for it is 'sugarjack.' The official name for it is rum.

Tennessee whiskey is, according to the Federal government, "straight bourbon whiskey produced in Tennessee." Nothing in this project involves Tennessee whiskey so their headline about writing "a new chapter in Tennessee whiskey history" is a misrepresentation on its face.

Short Mountain will probably counter that they are just having some fun for the tourists, but illegal alcohol production and illegal alcohol sales are serious crimes that do a lot of harm, both to people and to the reputations of respectable alcohol makers and sellers.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Beam A "Very Scarce Asset," Say Key Investor.

I've written before about the newly pure-play Beam Inc. as a potential acquisition target. My skepticism came from looking at it from the industry side, and sizing-up the potential buyers such as Pernod and Diageo.

But another way of looking at it is from the perspective of Beam Inc.’s largest shareholder, Pershing Square Capital Management, which is led by activist investor Bill Ackman. Shanken reported today that Pershing Square held 20.8 million shares of Beam Inc., worth about $1.13 billion, at the close of 2011. That's roughly one-eighth of Beam’s current market capitalization.

In his third quarter letter to Pershing investors last November, Ackman wrote, “Beam now has many strategic alternatives available, including a sale of the business, a merger with another spirits company, and the acquisition of other brands. We believe the spirits industry will see significant consolidation over the next several years, and Beam’s leading global positions in Bourbon and Tequila could entice several bidders or merger partners in the future.”

Ackman added that Beam is now “the world’s only pure-play, publicly traded global spirits company that is not family controlled or influenced—in other words, it is a very scarce asset.” Beam has said repeatedly that it intends to be an acquirer and not a seller, which is how I see them going as well but, obviously, Ackman has a lot more skin in the game than I do.

The company’s comparable net sales rose 8% to $2.3 billion in 2011, led by a 7% increase for Jim Beam, as well as double-digit growth for Maker’s Mark, Courvoisier and Teacher’s and an exponential jump for its Skinnygirl cocktail brand.

Though burdened for many years as part of an old-fashioned diversified conglomerate, Beam's biggest growth spurts came by acquisition. In 1987, Beam was essentially a single-brand company (Jim Beam bourbon). That year it acquired struggling National Distillers, primarily to get the DeKuyper liqueurs brand, but it picked up a broad portfolio in the process, including several more whiskeys (e.g., Old Crow, Old Grand-Dad, Old Overholt).

Then, in 2005, Beam teamed up with Pernod to divide up the assets of Allied Domecq. That brought into Beam's stable many of the brand's that are now contributing to Beam's success, including Sauza Tequila, Maker's Mark Bourbon, Courvoisier Cognac, and Teacher's Scotch.

Ackman is probably right about more industry consolidation, as the business becomes fully globalized.  If, for example, the Beckmann family were to deprive Diageo of Jose Cuervo in the current contract negotiations, Beam would be able to plug two of the biggest holes in Diageo's portfolio, American whiskey and tequila. That might prove irresistible to both Diageo and Mr. Ackman.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Forty-Two Years Ago, It Was Illegal For Women To Tend Bar In Chicago.

First of all, do you know there is a branch of the National Archives in Chicago? There is, at 7358 S Pulaski (Pulaski and W. 75th Place). This story is featured in the current (February 2012) edition of their newsletter.

In 1951, the City of Chicago enacted what was called the 'barmaid ordinance.' It prohibited women from "pouring, mixing, or drawing intoxicating liquors" unless they owned the tavern or were related as wife, sister, or mother to the owner. Chicago wasn't unique. The article mentions a similar law in Michigan.

Women could waitress. The first Playboy Club opened in Chicago in 1960. But they couldn't make the drinks. A woman couldn't even draw a beer.

Enforcement of the barmaid ordinance didn't begin until 1961. Dozens of women were arrested and hundreds lost their jobs. Early attempts to sue the city on behalf of female bartenders were unsuccessful. It was only in 1968, in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, that a federal lawsuit began to gain traction.

Many of the affected women were unionized but their unions, dominated by men, supported the ordinance. At trial, a business representative for the Bartender’s Union Local 278 questioned whether a woman could handle the job, "physically and emotionally." Could she tap a keg or "maintain an orderly house," he wondered.

Lawyers representing the city claimed that female bartenders would cause morality problems. "It is the city’s position that there is a danger to the public health, safety and welfare and that morals are in fact going to be endangered." They argued that female bartenders would "hypnotize" and "mesmerize" their male patrons, causing them to drink too much and cause trouble.

How many times has that happened to you?

In March, 1970, Judge James Parsons ruled that "sex is not a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the business of tending bar in the City of Chicago." The barmaid ordinance was dead, but it had stood for nearly 20 years.

So, yes, it is ridiculous that women in Saudi Arabia aren't allowed to drive a car, but don't feel too superior. Forty-two years ago, in Chicago, they weren't even allowed to draw a beer.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"Perhaps What The Bar In Heaven Looks Like."


The picture above, taken from their web site, doesn't do it justice. The bar at the Berghoff, at 17 W. Adams in downtown Chicago, has been described as "perhaps what the bar in heaven looks like."

Heaven could do a lot worse.

The Berghoff is famous for receiving Chicago's first retail liquor license immediately after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. It was also a popular, family-owned German restaurant that began in 1898.

In 2005, the Berghoff family announced that the restaurant would close in 2006 and so -- after much memorializing and tributization -- it did.

Sort of.

Happily, they never really closed. They simply compressed what had been a very large restaurant and bar into the bar space. The bar was always separate, with a few tables and booths in addition to the bar itself. Today it is open Monday through Friday from 11:00 AM until 9:00 PM. On Saturdays it opens a half-hour later, at 11:30 AM. Closed Sunday.

That may seem awfully early for a proper bar to close, but that part of downtown mostly draws a lunch and after-work crowd, with some pre-theater business in the evening. Think of it as you would a London pub. They typically close by nine or ten, if not earlier.

In the old days, the bar served a typical bar lunch -- sandwiches, soups, salads, some munchies. At lunch they had a carving station. The 'new' Berghoff has a very substantial menu, essentially the same as the old restaurant, with all of the expected German specialties. At lunch time, a very similar menu is served at the Berghoff CafĂ© downstairs, a space created originally to absorb overflow when the restaurant was full. It is all still owned and run by the Berghoff family. They also have a catering business.

The Berghoff Bar was always famous for having its own Berghoff-brand beer and bourbon, which they sourced with care. Both were outstanding. The beer became popular enough to be sold in stores. The bourbon was for many years wheated bourbon made at Stitzel-Weller in Louisville. After the Van Winkle family sold the distillery, the Berghoff continued to buy its house bourbon first from Julian Van Winkle Junior, then from his son, Julian Van Winkle III.

Bars and restaurants should get back to having a house bourbon, just like they do a house wine.

Before the Van Winkle brands took off, the Van Winkle's post Stitzel-Weller business was mostly private label bottling. The Berghoff was their biggest customer.

If you've never been, you really should visit the Berghoff if you ever have a chance. That way, when you get to heaven, you'll know what to expect.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Where To Get Used Whiskey Barrels.

Several micro-brewers make bourbon barrel stout or employ used bourbon barrels in other ways. Bourbon Barrel Foods, in Louisville, ages soy sauce and other products in them. A cigar company in Kentucky ages its tobacco in them.

Let's say you need used bourbon barrels for something, how can you get them?

The obvious place to go is the big bourbon distilleries. They empty hundreds of barrels daily, for which they have no further use. They just want them gone.

But because they need to get rid of so many, they can't really deal with somebody who just needs one, or a dozen, or even a hundred of them. They need to deal with somebody who will take all of them.

The companies that make new barrels are called cooperages but so are the companies that deal in used barrels. The two main makers of new barrels are Brown-Forman Cooperage and Independent Stave Company (ISC). ISC does not deal in used barrels, but Brown-Forman does.

For more about the ways used barrels are re-used, go here.

There are other, much smaller companies in Kentucky that also call themselves cooperages. They may make a few new barrels, or resell new barrels acquired from ISC, but mostly they deal in used barrels that they buy in large quantities from the distilleries.

One such company is Kelvin Cooperage, They’re located on the far south side of Louisville. Kentucky Barrels and Bardstown Bourbon Barrels are two similar companies. There used to be many of these little companies that bought used barrels from the distilleries, broke them down, and sold them to Scotland and elsewhere. Or they cut them up and sold them as planters. There don't seem to be as many of them as there used to be.

What used barrels are best? It depends on what you want the barrel to do for you. A lot of breweries use Pappy Van Winkle barrels because that’s such a highly-regarded bourbon, but it’s also very old – 15 to 23 years. Whiskey takes things out of the wood, it doesn’t leave much behind.

If you want wood extractives, then you want barrels used for very young bourbon. Several distilleries (Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Heaven Hill) sell a lot of 2-year-old bourbon to Australia, for use in bourbon-and-cola and bourbon-and-ginger-ale pre-mixes, which are very popular there. Those barrels still have lots of the original sugars, tannins and other substances in them.

If, on the other hand, you want barrels whose extractives have mostly been depleted, then you want barrels from very well-aged bourbons, like Pappy, Elijah Craig 18, or the BT Antiques.

Happily, since all used barrels have the name of the distillery and when they were filled written on the barrel head, you always know what you’re getting with used barrels.

Non-distiller producers (NDPs) typically receive the whiskey they buy in barrels, which they dump at their facility. Just like a distillery, an NDP has no further use for those barrels. Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD) and Bardstown Barrel Selections are two such companies. Both are in Bardstown.

Another source is micro-distilleries. They tend to use small barrels – 5, 10, 15, and 30 gallon – rather than the 53 gallon barrels the big guys all use. There are micro-distilleries all over the country now. Only a few make bourbon or rye whiskey, but those that do usually  need to dispose of used barrels. They don’t have long-term relationships established with resellers, so they sell catch as catch can. They also tend to make young whiskey, so their used barrels still have lots of goodies left in them.

Some micro-distilleries sell their used barrels in their gift shop.

The prices for used barrels fluctuate due to changing demand. Demand has been good lately. To the distilleries, a used 53 gallon barrel brings about $85. You can expect to pay a lot more unless you're buying thousands of them.

A couple of decades ago, when demand was low, distilleries were giving used barrels away, even one at a time, to anyone who showed up with a truck. Not any more.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

New Single Oak Release Compares Warehouse Type.

They don't have chimps running these distilleries.

No, Sir. For example, the big brains at Buffalo Trace must have figured out that interest in their remarkable Single Oak Project might wane by around release number four, which has just rolled out, so they saved one of the more interesting comparisons for now.

That variable is warehouse type.

This release contains bourbon aged in Warehouse L and Warehouse K. As with all of the Single Oak Project releases, there are two bottles in the 12-bottle set in which warehouse is the only variable. That's potentially very interesting.

As Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley puts it, "aging barrels in different environments affects the taste of the whiskey. There has always been much discussion about warehouse placement, even among ourselves, so we're anxious to hear how others rate these bourbons."

Warehouse K is a concrete warehouse with wooden floors, with barrels racked three high on each floor. Warehouse L is all-concrete, with barrels racked six high on each floor. L is considered to be better insulated, so it ages more slowly than K.

The other variables in this release are bourbon recipe (rye or wheat) and grain size. By 'grain size' they don't mean the size of the cereal grains used in the mash, they mean the density of the barrel's wood grain. For this variable there are three possibilities: fine, average, and coarse.

The announcement of each new release usually brings out the people who don't think much of this project. The people who like it mostly keep to themselves, but somebody is buying all of the whiskey. Because it's so limited, some stores will only sell the full cases, not individual bottles. Binny's, here in Chicago, is one of them.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Day Beer Became Legal In St. Louis.

Sunday’s Budweiser commercial about the end of Prohibition reminded me of my dad’s stories about the day legal beer arrived in his neighborhood. This is especially pertinent since he grew up in Budweiser’s hometown of St. Louis, at 5622 Roosevelt Place, a neighborhood called Wells-Goodfellow today. Dad was 13 when Prohibition ended in December, 1933.

The commercial actually cheats history slightly, because legally-made and sold Budweiser actually arrived in St. Louis taverns shortly after Franklin Roosevelt took office in March, 1933, as dad explains below. The term ‘legal beer’ is used here because beer itself never left the neighborhood. Here’s how dad remembered it:

"Gelhausen was the local bootlegger who also had a saloon down on Clara Avenue. There was a wire leading from their house out to the garage. In the center of the yard there was a light bulb hanging from the wire. Sometimes at night, we would see the light flashing on and off -- like Morse Code. Sometimes this was followed by a car in the alley, pulling up to the garage. We never went to investigate.

"The Meyers family lived up near Goodfellow Blvd. Mr. Meyers was the acknowledged best home brew maker in the neighborhood, if not the civilized world. He undoubtedly applied the same skill and attention to detail as he did in his job as a tool and die maker. His stuff was far superior to the stuff that we occasionally made in our basement.

"It was no more illegal for kids to drink heingemake (homebrew) than for adults, so we were allowed to join in the responsible and moderate use of the quaff. At the Meyers' house, as was common, the beer was bottled in one-fifth gallon bottles and served in an aluminum bucket, from which all partook.

"Frank Meyers' system was a seven day process that he would tend to right after work. He would come in the back door, put his lunch bucket on the sink, kiss his wife, then go to the basement for that day's part in the process. After FDR took office, an executive order was issued proclaiming that 3.2% beer was not intoxicating, therefore it did not fall under the restrictions in the 18th amendment. A date was set when this would take effect.

"The building at the corner of Clara and Roosevelt (named for Teddy, I might add) was owned by Anheuser-Busch and had been a tavern. It was now Wesling's grocery. Gelhausen's Saloon across the street had never closed. Perhaps they served iced tea and soda pop during the great drought. The lease for Busch's building had a clause that if beer ever became legal again the lease could be terminated.

"An agreement was reached and an addition was built onto the rear of the grocery and made into a tavern. You may note that I refer to one establishment as a tavern and the other as a saloon. This is not accidental. Gelhausen's was a dark, bad place with men sitting around. I do not know why, when beer was again legal, that Grandma always had me go to Gelhausen's when she wanted a pitcher of beer. There was a side door at the rear and a separate tap for take-out. It cost a whole dime for a big pitcher of beer.

"When 'B' day was drawing near, Mr. Meyers finished up the current batch and started to dismantle and pack away his equipment. When the fateful day arrived (as I remember it, it was April 12, 1933), most of the men in the neighborhood congregated at Wesling's Tavern. The house was packed and everyone was having a riotous good time. When Frank Meyers walked in a hush fell over the place and the crowd around the bar parted like the Red Sea to make room for the greatest. He walked up to the bar, Mr. Wesling drew a glass and set it in front of him. He took a sip, then another sip, then pushed the glass away and turned and walked out. It was not the same after that, it was quiet and half the customers left. Obviously, I was not there but my Uncle Russ was and told me about it.

"Mr. Meyers went straight home, straight to the basement, unpacked his equipment and started a new batch. Mrs. Meyers kidded later that it was the first time in their forty years of marriage that he had come into the house and started working without kissing her first.

"In fairness to Anheuser-Busch, I should add that they were limited to 3.2% alcohol while the Meyers brew ran close to the theoretical maximum for the fermentation process, around 12%."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"Bourbon Is Job Creator," Says Congressman.

Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth, founder of the Congressional Bourbon Caucus, praised the economic contributions of Kentucky’s bourbon industry yesterday, after a new study revealed that the signature industry is in the midst of a worldwide resurgence that is centered in the Commonwealth.

The distilled spirits industry in Kentucky – which produces 95 percent of the world’s bourbon – has expanded more during the past three years than at any time since Prohibition, according to the University of Louisville study. Bourbon contributes $1.8 billion a year to the state’s economy and employs nearly 9,000 people, directly and indirectly, with a total annual payroll of $413 million, the study revealed.

The industry has also created 4 percent new job growth since 2008.

"I’ve always been proud to support the bourbon industry, and this reaffirms the vital role that bourbon plays in our state," Yarmuth said. "Far more than a drink of choice for those with discerning taste, bourbon is an economic driver and job-creator.”

The study focused on the bourbon industry’s broader economic impact across the Commonwealth, which is home to 19 major distilleries and numerous craft distilleries. Kentucky distilleries export bourbon to 126 countries, and there are more barrels of bourbon aging in Kentucky (4.7 million) right now than residents (4.3 million).

The bourbon industry’s renaissance has also led to a surge in Kentucky tourism. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail program, which offers tours of some of the Commonwealth’s most scenic and iconic distilleries, has become one of the state’s top tourism destinations. Since August 2007, more than 25,000 people have completed the tour, resulting in a total economic impact of $18.4 million. More than 80 percent of Bourbon Trail visitors came from out of state.

Read the full study here.

Yarmuth formed the Congressional Bourbon Caucus in 2009. The bipartisan group is dedicated to maintaining and strengthening the bourbon industry in the United States and educating other Members on the legislative and regulatory issues affecting the industry.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Bourbon And Tennessee Now Number One In U.S. Sales.

The whiskey business changes slowly and it doesn't change very much, but it does change.

Here's an example.

According to Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS) data, the Bourbon & Tennessee segment is now number one in U.S. whiskey sales, passing Canadian whiskey for the first time in, well, a long time.

There is some apples-to-oranges here because of the way DISCUS segments the marketplace. If you compare all U.S.-made whiskey to all Canadian-made whiskey (15.7 million cases sold in 2011), the U.S. wins by a wide margin, but DISCUS reports U.S. Straights (16 million) and U.S. Blends (5.3 million) separately.

Still, the fact that American whiskey drinkers have put American Straight Whiskey on top in the U.S. is reassuring for lovers of our national spirit.

The whole whiskey category is up, but only modestly, so there are some winners and losers. In 2010, Irish Whiskey slipped past Single Malt Scotch (SMS) and widened its lead in 2011.

SMS is doing very well in the United States, thank you, growing 9.5 percent in 2011 and reaching 1.4 million cases in annual sales.

But U.S. sales of Irish Whiskey went through the roof, growing 24 percent and selling 1.7 million cases, widening the lead over SMS that it eked out last year.

This is apples-to-oranges too, since the Irish figures include both blends and singles. Compare scotch to Irish, including everything, and there is no contest.

But the point is, it's significant when the rankings change.

Despite hard financial times, the losers in 2011 were all of the value segments, especially blended scotch, which declined by 2.6 percent. American blends and Canadians also lost volume. 

That doesn't necessarily mean everybody is buying the most expensive whiskeys they can find.

What seems to have developed in a 'sweet spot.' Let's call it entry-level super-premium. Jameson, which is leading the Irish explosion, is an import and perceived as a 'better' product, but it's hardly a budget-buster. In the U.S. Straights segment, Maker's Mark is a good example as, for that matter, is perennial champ Jack Daniel's.

Another oddity; while the tables seem to say blended whiskey is in decline across the board, the booming Irish segment is mostly blends, including Jameson, and it's glaringly bucking the trend.

The answer is branding. Jameson is a strong brand and its owner, Pernod, has put a lot of marketing muscle behind it. This proves again that people don't buy types, they buy brands.