Monday, May 28, 2012

Singer Joan Osborne And Bluegrass Legend Bobby Osborne To Perform At Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Buffalo Trace does a great job of thinking outside the box when it comes to making the most of their very limited advertising and promotion budget. One way is to take full advantage of their prime location in Frankfort, Kentucky's capital.

The outdoor concert scheduled for June 23 is a taping of Michael Johnathon's WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour, which normally tapes on Monday nights at the Kentucky Theater in Lexington.

Two shows will be recorded at the June 23rd event. The first will feature Bobby Osborne, who with his brother Sonny formed the Osborne Brothers in the 1950s. They popularized the classic "Rocky Top," which became official state song of Tennessee.

Although Joan Osborne and Bobby Osborne are not related, both are Kentucky-born. Joan gained fame in 1995 with the hit, "One of Us." Her WoodSongs performance will celebrate the release of her seventh album, "Bring It On Home."

Tickets, which include both shows, are $25 and available at the Buffalo Trace Distillery Visitor Center, area Liquor Barn locations, and online. Parking is free. Bring chairs and blankets for seating. Coolers are not allowed. Gates open at 4:30 PM and the audience must be seated by 5:45 PM.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Reports Of The Death Of Elijah Craig 18-Year-Old May Have Been Exaggerated.

A. H. Hirsch Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey, the subject of my new ebook, was released at ages ranging from 15- to 20-years-old. The Van Winkle range is 10- to 23-years-old. Several of the Buffalo Trace Antiques are in the 15- to 18-year-old range. Many of the limited edition offerings from various producers have been north of 12-years-old. Through all of that, for the last decade or so, Heaven Hill's Elijah Craig 18-year-old has been the most readily-available very old bourbon on the market.

So it was sad for many when they learned of its demise. Now it seems the mourning may have been premature.

The official word from Heaven Hill is that they have "temporarily suspended bottling of the 18-year-old Elijah Craig Single Barrel." Special, limited (and expensive) bottlings of even older bourbon will fill the gap.

For instance, just 1,300 750ml bottles of a new 20-year-old (label pictured above) are being released, at a suggested retail of $130 per. Last year, an even more limited release derived from one barrel of the same juice was named Whiskey Advocate's "American Whiskey of the Year." Editor and Publisher John Hansell called it, "seamless, richly textured, and impeccably balanced." This new release represents the rest of that batch, about 80 barrels. The small yield is because 20 years of evaporation leaves most barrels less than half full.

They should be shipping now, so check with your whiskey monger right away if you're interested.

In lieu of the regular 18-year-old, Heaven Hill will offer various "extra-aged single barrel limited editions."

“With literally thousands of aging barrels over 10-years-old, we have a huge and one-of-a-kind resource to tap into,” noted Heaven Hill’s 7th generation Master Distiller Craig Beam. “We’ve carefully identified several hundred that are at middle to high storage in our best rickhouses, and these will be the source for these very special future Elijah Craig Single Barrel editions. These are some of the best older barrels of traditional rye-based Bourbon we have in our inventory.”

No one is predicting how long "temporarily" will in this case be. As with the recently suspended Wild Turkey 101 Rye, it seems likely that if and when the standard expression returns, it will bear a significantly higher price.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Whiskey and Cupcakes, You Say?

I teach several different whiskey classes here in Chicago for I Wish Lessons, but the most popular one is "Whiskey & Cupcakes."

I taught it last night.

It speaks to the modern application of synergy in new product development. Take two unrelated things that trend hot, push them together, and see what you can do with it.

I was in the room when this idea came up and it wasn't much more sophisticated than that. They have some other coaches who, I'm told, teach it differently. I take my "Whiskey 101" class and add to it some discussion of food pairing and critical tasting.

"Whiskey 101" is an interesting class because it's unusual to taste across types. We typically taste a blended Irish, blended scotch, bourbon, and rye (American, not Canadian).

For "Whiskey & Cupcakes" we also have four cupcakes. There is a recommended pairing but I also explain the principles and let the students decide.

In addition to "Whiskey & Cupcakes" and "Whiskey 101," I teach "Introduction to Bourbon" and "Introduction to Single Malt Scotch," but only in Chicago. (I Wish is in several other cities.) All of the classes, which are held in bars, are informal and fun. Don't let words like "class" and "teach" put you off. We are, after all, drinking and, last night, also eating cupcakes.

Part of the idea, for the bars as well as the students, is to introduce people to bars they may not know about. Maeve, at Wrightwood and Wayne, where we were last night, is a very nice neighborhood bar which I wouldn't have known about otherwise.

I love neighborhood bars. Civilization is having good bars within walking distance. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Louisville's Once And Future Whiskey Row.

Two different parts of Louisville have been called "Whiskey Row." The first one, along Main Street downtown, is coming back, not just with restoration of the historic buildings and revitalization of the neighborhood's businesses, but also with whiskey history and even whiskey making.

The other Whiskey Row is in the suburb of Shively, along Seventh Street Road and Dixie Highway. Most of the big whiskey producers whose offices and sales rooms were along Main Street's Whiskey Row had their distilleries, aging warehouses, bottling plants, and finished goods warehouses along Shively's Whiskey Row.

Mixed in among the distilleries were major tobacco concerns. The neighborhood was also notorious for its bars, brothels, and other adult entertainment emporia. Some of that flavor remains. The tobacco barns are gone. Most of the distilleries have been re-purposed, demolished, or sit there in ruins. Even the flesh trade isn't what it used to be.

Brown-Forman has the only operating distillery in the area. It is a bit removed from Whiskey Row proper, in a residential neighborhood. Stitzel-Weller, too, is in the general area but a little removed. No distilling has been done there for 20 years but it is still an active maturation facility. The owner, Diageo, has teased us for years about opening it up to the public as a showplace for their Bulleit brand.

Shively's Whiskey Row died during bourbon's decline in the 1970s and 80s. Downtown's Whiskey Row has long been part of the downtown scene, with many attractions for locals and visitors alike. Heaven Hill has had it local sales office at 528 W. Main for decades. That's where the new Evan Williams Experience will be housed. An attraction predicted to draw 100,000 visitors a year, it will include a working micro-distillery.

Michter's has also announced plans to build a visitor center and micro-distillery on Main, and other folks have hinted that they will too. Brown-Forman, which is headquartered in Lousiville, has some of its offices in a restored Main Street building and it seems likely they will devote some of it to a visitor attraction before too long.

There are already some excellent bars and restaurants there, such as Proof on Main and the Bristol Bar & Grill, and non-whiskey attractions such as the Louisville Slugger Museum.

When it comes to generating business from tourism, there are always two ways to go: (1) create a destination attraction that people will gladly travel to (think Lynchburg, TN) or (2) put an attraction where people already are (think Smoky Mountains National Park). Whiskey tourism until now has been limited to the former but the latter has a lot of potential too.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sixth Circuit Sez I Win.

Just kidding, of course. I know only the parts that go into deciding the case count, but I'm still basking in the glow of the Sixth Circuit's citation to my work and wanted to point out that Judge Martin sided with me on two contested points of Bourbon history.

First, he agrees with me (and others) that Kentucky whiskey probably was first distilled at Fort Harrod, the first permanent European settlement in what is now Kentucky, in 1774, and not by Jacob Spears, Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, or any of the other claimants.

Second, he agrees with my explanation for why bourbon is called bourbon and doesn't give the competing theories even a mention. Ha!

You can always count on your family to help you keep things in perspective. As my sister wrote, "I sure hope all that stuff you wrote in your book was true now that they're using it to decide court cases."

The case is getting a lot of notice, primarily because of the bourbon primer that starts it off.  The New York Times editorialized about it, mistakenly placing the Sixth Circuit in Kentucky.

On The Michigan Lawyer, a blog from Michigan Lawyers Weekly, Ed Wesolowski observes that Judge Martin "used the case as an opportunity to do some extended research on 'bourbon’s unique place in American culture and commerce.'”

As is characteristic of courts of appeal, the case was heard and decided by a three judge panel but the decision was written by one of them, Judge Boyce F. Martin, Jr., who lives in Louisville but works two hours up the road in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the Sixth Circuit sits.

There's a good public speaking warm up exercise for you. "Cincinnati where the Sixth Circuit sits." Say that five times fast. Go ahead. It's fun.

Judge Martin is, at age 76, the most senior active judge on the Sixth Circuit, to which he was appointed in 1979 by Jimmy Carter. He was Chief Judge from 1996 to 2003 and has written more than 1,100 opinions. Before that he helped reform Kentucky's antiquated courts system and became the first Chief Judge of its new Court of Appeals.

In other cases he has quoted Homer Simpson, so I'm in good company.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

You Don't Need A Kindle Or Nook To Read An Ebook.

Although the idea of ebooks, and a kind of reality, has been around for a decade or more, the recent introduction of ereaders like Kindle and Nook, and tablets like the iPad, has caused them to really take off. For a writer and small publisher like me, ebooks have many advantages in terms of cost and logistics. There is still a place for prints books and probably always will be, but equally there are situations when ebooks are better. I've talked to people who say they love being able to carry just their ereader when they go on vacation, rather than a suitcase full of books.

These ebook thoughts are, of course, inspired by the recent release of my latest ebook, The Best Bourbon You'll Never Taste. The True Story Of A. H. Hirsch Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey, now available in either the Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook format.

You can't read Kindle books on Nook, nor Nook books on Kindle, but both are compatible with most other platforms, including all Apple and Android devices. You can also read them on any internet-connected computer. Personally, I have neither a Kindle nor a Nook but I do have a small netbook computer that I travel with and I can (and do) read ebooks on it. Both Kindle and Nook have an app for that (it's free) but you can also just use your browser. I recommend the apps, though, for their better functionality.

A couple of writer friends of mine have self-published ebooks that were subsequently picked up by a publisher for a print edition. Print is neither dead nor even dying, but the publishing world is changing rapidly. Self-publishing, once just the refuge of the unpublishable, is not only respectable but a good (as in, more profitable) alternative for many.

The business model is different, of course. Conventional publishers give their books a big push when they come out and will support them for about six months thereafter. Unless the book is a big hit, it's over at that point. The publisher remainders it. Because they send out so many review copies and other comps, the second-hand books pipeline fills up fast. The book remains available, but without any money going to the writer or publisher.

By contrast, my BOURBON, STRAIGHT was published in 2004, several lifetimes ago in conventional publishing terms. It continues to sell very steadily in both print and electronic formats. Here's a point other small publishers will find interesting. The release of an electronic edition did not have a negative effect on print sales.

So, if you haven't tried an ebook yet, here in the perfect opportunity. Click on one of the links that follows to buy The Best Bourbon You'll Never Taste. The True Story Of A. H. Hirsch Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey, available in either the Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook format, and you can be reading it within minutes.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

It's Time To Promote The Hirsch Book Again.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, large numbers of Germans and German-Swiss migrated to William Penn’s American colony known as Pennsylvania. Most were fleeing religious persecution. Many were members of Anabaptist sects such as the Amish and Mennonites.

One large group settled in the area around modern Lancaster and came to be known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. Among them was the Shenk family, Swiss Mennonites who farmed in what is now Lebanon County’s Heidelberg Township. In 1753, Johann Shenk built a small distillery on his farm. Like most early American farmer-distillers, he distilled his own surplus grain and that of his neighbors, keeping about five percent as his fee.

Shenk and his descendants continued and expanded their whiskey-making business. Pacifists themselves, they supplied whiskey to American troops during the Revolutionary War. The business was successful and remained in the family until Prohibition closed it, and every other American distillery, in 1920.

Subsequent, non-family owners revived the distillery after Prohibition ended. It remained at its original location, near Schaefferstown, and had several owners, including Schenley, the world’s largest distilled spirits company at the time. It primarily made whiskey, both bourbon and rye.

From 1950 until 1972, the distillery’s chief distiller was Charles Everett Beam, one of the seven distiller sons of Joseph L. Beam. He brought with him his famous family’s whiskey recipes. Shortly after he arrived, he asked his brothers to ship him some of the family’s yeast.

Even though it was once part of a large company, the distillery itself was small. When sales of American whiskey began their steep decline in the late 1960s, the distillery struggled to survive. It was devastated by Hurricane Agnes in 1972. To infuse some much needed cash into the company, a wealthy whiskey broker and former owner gave it a contract to make 20,000 gallons of bourbon whiskey. He had no immediate use for the whiskey so he paid the annual storage charges and left it there, aging in 400 oak barrels, until he was forced to remove it by the company’s final collapse 15 years later.

That broker’s name was Adolph Hirsch and his bourbon, bottled between 1989 and 2003, became famous as A. H. Hirsch Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Almost impossible to find today, A. H. Hirsch has become one of the most revered American whiskeys in history.

The complete story is told in my new book, The Best Bourbon You’ll Never Taste. The True Story Of A. H. Hirsch Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Distilled In The Spring of 1974. It is currently available as an ebook in the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook formats. A print edition may follow.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Weird But Cool Career Milestone.


Although I generally don't practice, I am a lawyer, so it is both weird and cool for me to be cited in a Federal Appellate Court opinion, the Sixth Circuit's ruling in Maker's Mark v Diageo, a trademarks case.

It begins with Justice Hugo Black's famous statement (written in dissent) that, “I was brought up to believe that Scotch whisky would need a tax preference to survive in competition with Kentucky bourbon.” Justice Black grew up in Alabama.

After that there are several pages of American whiskey history, which is where I come in. It's easy to read, not at all legalistic, and very accurate. The legal point of it is that issues of brand identity and product integrity are of unique importance to whiskey producers due to events in the industry's history, and past Federal involvement going back more than 100 years to the Pure Food and Drug Act and subsequent Taft Decision.

The rest of this decision, where they get into the fine points of trademarks law and some of the specific claims and counterclaims of the case, gets pretty dense. It's hard slogging for a lawyer let alone a layperson. If, however, you are tempted to spout off about how "ridiculous" the decision is, force yourself to actually read and understand the opinion before you do. Trademarks law can be very complicated precisely because the courts go to great lengths to provide appropriate protection to intellectual property owners without overreaching.

The case involved the Maker's Mark red wax drip and a Diageo Jose Cuervo brand tequila that Maker's felt infringed. The trial court found for Maker's and the appellate court affirmed that decision.

For me, this represents a cool but weird milestone in my career. I'm cited five times by name, both to Bourbon Straight and to The Bourbon Country Reader, more than that if you count all the ids, op cits, and supras.

Appellate courts mostly cite to themselves and each other, so it's nice to get a word in edgewise. 

The United States courts of appeals (or circuit courts) are the intermediate appellate courts in the United States federal court system. There are 13 of them. The Sixth Circuit covers Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, and Tennessee. It is located in Cincinnati.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Little LDI News.

For my own selfish purposes, I prefer it when whiskey producers are public companies, because they routinely report information of interest. For example, this is from MGPI's First Quarter Results Statement, released yesterday. MGPI is the new owner of Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI), the distillery responsible for Templeton Rye, Bulleit Rye, Redemption Rye, and others.

"Also in the current quarter, the Company recorded initial sales, including premium bourbon and whiskeys, from its recently-acquired distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ind. Operational improvements are underway at the facility under new leadership, complemented by a stronger sales and marketing team."

I wish they would phrase it as "premium bourbon and other whiskeys," but they'll figure that out eventually. It's also interesting that while whiskey enthusiasts know the distillery primarily for its rye, and none of its bourbons are particularly well-known or well-regarded, the word they choose to highlight in a publication aimed primarily at current and prospective investors is bourbon. It's likely the folks in MGPI's investor relations department don't even know that knowledgeable whiskey people look to LDI primarily for its ryes with their unique 95% rye mash bill, developed there for Seagram's by retired Master Distiller Larry Ebersol.

MGPI doesn't have any whiskey brands of its own so its customers were naturally concerned about the direction MGPI would take at LDI after the acquisition. MGPI is a big grain neutral spirits producer (GNS, i.e., vodka), but has not previously been a player in whiskey. A strong commitment to whiskey, and improvements in operations and leadership, are all good signs. It's not a lot -- I didn't say these public reports are brimming with information -- but it is exactly what LDI's customers and fans wanted to hear.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ten Suggestions For Bourbon Beginners.

You don't have to start with Jack and Jim if you don't want to, and you shouldn't start with George T. Stagg or Pappy 23, even if you can. Here are ten bourbons, each from a different distillery or recipe, that should give you a good introduction to the bourbon landscape. (They are in no particular order.)

1.  Maker's Mark. (Beam Inc.) The brand that made the others possible by showing that you can successfully position bourbon as a quality product on par with any of the world's great distilled spirits. Wheat rather than rye in the mash makes it sweeter and milder than a typical bourbon but it has enough depth and richness to satisfy sophisticated sippers.

2.  Knob Creek. (Beam Inc.) Launched more than 20 years ago and the leader in its segment, Knob is Jim Beam juice aged for nine years and bottled at 50% ABV. It has a thick, smoky flavor with touches of anise, clove, and bitter lemon, and finishes surprisingly clean.

3. Woodford Reserve (Brown-Forman) The picturesque distillery in Versailles, Kentucky, uses Scottish-made pot stills but your bottle contains both bourbon made there and at the company's conventional distillery near Louisville. Rich, warm vanilla fudge with plum and white pepper.

4.  Eagle Rare Single Barrel (Sazerac) It's ten-years-old, 45% ABV, and single barrel, all packed into a beautiful bottle. The whiskey has a huge mouth feel, lots of caramel and vanilla, with a hint of licorice.

5.  Bulleit. (Diageo) It's a family name, pronounced like the projectile. It's bourbon, so mostly corn, but not shy about its rye, containing about twice as much of that spicy and flavorful grain as any other bourbon, giving it an earthy sharpness on top of a silky corn base. No age statement, 45% ABV.

6.  Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage. (Heaven Hill) If you want to taste the best whiskey Parker and Craig Beam made in any given year, this is the place to find it. It varies from year-to-year and barrel-to-barrel, but always has a hearty flavor with plenty of tobacco and dark fruit, with a hint of mint. Nine-years-old, 43.2% ABV.

7.  Russell's Reserve Bourbon. (Campari America) Named in honor of veteran Master Distiller Jimmy Russell, this bourbon is 10-years-old and 45% ABV. It offers rich, buttery caramel overlaid with earthy pipe tobacco, cumin, lemon, and black pepper, and is probably the best introduction to the Wild Turkey family.

8.  Ridgemont Reserve 1792. (Sazerac) Made at the only distillery within the city limits of Bardstown, the self-proclaimed Bourbon Capital of the Known Universe, it is eight-years-old, 46.85% ABV, with a full, round, sumptuous body and slightly nutty flavor that comes from the high percentage of malt in the mash.

9.  Four Roses. (Kirin) Known as yellow label to distinguish it from the single barrel and small batch expressions, it is full beneficiary of the distillery's unique practice of making and mixing together ten different bourbon recipes. No age statement, 40% ABV.

10.  Weller 12-Year-Old. (Sazerac) Often in short supply, and with good reason, it substitutes wheat for rye like Maker's and Old Fitzgerald, but with a lot more wood time. Good thing, because the wood tannins balance a sweetness that might be too much without them. Bottled at 45% ABV.

If you've already had all these, congratulations. You're no longer a beginner.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Why The Bourbon Country Reader Is Not Available Electronically.

I often receive inquiries about making my American whiskey newsletter, The Bourbon Country Reader, available electronically.

Although Kindle's system for e-publishing periodicals is a bit over my head, I really can't plead technical difficulty. It would be easy enough to distribute is as a PDF, since that's how I deliver it to the printer.

The truth is, I'm reluctant to put them into circulation electronically. People are just too caviler about the way they share intellectual property. Tell you what; just because it's you, if you will click on the newsletter icon to the right (or here), I will give you one free sample issue.

But, really, I get it. I have two alternative solutions. You are reading one of them. Obviously, the blog is free, and although I may cover some of the same subjects in both, there is virtually no overlap between the newsletter and blog. This is your free taste. If you want more, pony up for one or more of the choices on the right.

Please note that I'm not sponsored by any distilled spirits company. Similarly, The Bourbon Country Reader accepts no advertising. My magazine writing is strictly freelance, piecework, I don't have a staff gig at any publication or, for that matter, anywhere. I have been self-employed for close to 30 years. You know how you like to go to the farmer's market and buy carrots directly from the farmer? Well, that's me. I'm the farmer.

I don't use Google Ads or any other advertising here on the blog. The only advertising I subject you to is for my products, the stuff over there on the right, all of which I personally endorse.

The Hirsch book is an example of the other alternative solution to distributing The Reader electronically, which is to take stories from past issues, perhaps (as I did with Hirsch) enlarge them a bit, and then release them as ebooks.

I also sell back issues of the newsletter but those are on that pesky paper too. If you would like to influence my future ebook output, look at The Bourbon Country Reader Issue Contents in Chronological Order, which is the back issues index, and suggest stories you would like to read. Click on my profile, to the right, for my email address.

If you want to do that, that would be great.

While we're on the subject of The Bourbon Country Reader, I have a message for current subscribers. Yes, the current issue is overdue. I'll get it out shortly, I promise.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

If You Have A Hirsch, Drink It.

I'm already receiving enthusiastic feedback on the new A. H. Hirsch ebook.

Naturally, many people tell me their personal Hirsch stories. Some say they have a bottle or two, but are reluctant to open them due to their rarity and value. Allow me to give you permission to treat yourself. I say this for the following reasons.

1. The pure principle that whiskey is for drinking, not for looking at. The fullest way to appreciate what you have is to experience it. If you've never tasted the A. H. Hirsch bourbon and you can, what are you waiting for? A special occasion? Opening a bottle of A. H. Hirsch Special Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a special occasion. Experience is always worth more than expectation.

2. Don't pay too much attention to the 'soaring prices' you may hear about for A. H. Hirsch and products like it. They can be misleading. Legal restrictions on the resale of alcohol generally keep people from selling even very valuable bottles, so your supposed profit might be hard to realize. Likewise, when you see high retail prices, you might consider that it's not selling at that price and that's why the store still has it.

Have fun with it. Tell yourself and whoever you invite to share it with you that you are opening a $1,000 bottle of whiskey. How many chances will you have to do that?

A few people have reminded me that some stores didn't do very well with the Hirsch and eventually blew it out at bargain prices, such as $25 for the 16-year-old and $40 for the 20-year-old. One control state did a close-out of them so my correspondent visited as many state stores as he could, cleaning each out in turn. He still has a few bottles in reserve.

Remember this fun fact. All of the A. H. Hirsch bourbon was distilled in the spring of 1974. It first entered commerce in 1989. It was readily available in many retail outlets at sub-$100 prices for the next 20 years. It was only after Preiss did the $1,500 'farewell' decanter that people began to realize they had missed something.

I've also been reminded that it is not universally admired. I love the stuff, but that's just me.

I recently saw a spectacular whiskey collection that includes about 20 bottles of A. H. Hirsch, in every iteration except the 15-year-old.

If you are dying to taste it but don't have a bottle and don't know how to get one, keep your ear to the ground and ask around. Just remember that selling alcohol without a license, under any circumstances, is bootlegging and very illegal. Most of the people who have bottles they would like to sell would like to do so legally. Maybe someone cleverer than me can figure out a way to make that happen.

All of this is what makes it such a fascinating story.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The New A. H. Hirsch Ebook Is Now Available.

A. H. Hirsch Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a legendary spirit whose rise paralleled the revival of the American whiskey industry itself after nearly 30 years of flat sales and discouraged marketers. It's also the story of a small distillery in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, whose fame dates back to the 1750s, and whose final collapse prefaced its famous product's reign.

If you're a whiskey fan and you've had it, you know. If you're a whiskey fan and you haven't, you should.

Too bad, it's all gone.

Or is it?

Seemingly the story of a single product, The Best Bourbon You'll Never Taste touches numerous strands of American history and includes a colorful cast of characters, from the whiskey-making Beams, to the giants of the post-Prohibition distilled spirits business, to the mysterious Mr. Hirsch himself. A great product needs a great story, and A. H. Hirsch Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey had that in abundance.

It was only around for about 20 years and is now largely out of distribution but if you really want to taste it, that just might be possible.

Long a subject of rumor and speculation, the true story can now be told. 

The Best Bourbon You'll Never Taste. The True Story Of A. H. Hirsch Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Distilled In The Spring Of 1974, is now available as an ebook in the Kindle or Nook format. You don't need a Kindle or Nook to read an ebook. You can download a free reader for PCs and smart phones, or you can just read it using your web browser. Kindle seems to be compatible with every platform except Nook and Nook seems to be compatible with every platform except Kindle.

Click here to see it on Kindle (Amazon).

Click here to see it on Nook (Barnes & Noble).

Friday, May 4, 2012

The GMO In The Julep.

I talked to a reporter yesterday and she was nice enough to send me a link to the published piece. Here it is.

The headline is certainly a grabber: "Derby Shocker: Does Your Mint Julep Contain GMOs? Most Kentucky bourbon is made with genetically modified corn. We’ll tell you what to buy instead."

Despite the provocative headline, the short article itself is very well done and she accurately reports the issue as the industry sees it. A good business person tries to satisfy his or her customers. If customers want bourbon made from non-GMO corn, the producers will try to give it to them. That doesn't mean anyone in the business believes there is anything wrong with bourbon made from genetically-modified corn. It just means we are, as Paul Simon sang, "trying to keep the customers satisfied."

Obviously, if the GMO issue begins to hurt our non-U.S. sales that will be a big problem, as export has been a key driver in the revival of American whiskey.

How big an issue is it, really? My guess is I'll catch more flack for my description of the proper way to drink a mint julep.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Limestone Branch Distillery, Lebanon, Kentucky.


This past Friday I visited Limestone Branch, a new micro-distillery in Lebanon, Kentucky. Its proprietors are brothers Steve and Paul Beam, who are descended from both the Beams (Minor Case Beam via Guy Beam) and the Dants (Joseph Washington Dant via William Washington Dant).

I had a very pleasant time visiting with Steve Beam, seeing the place, and tasting the products.

Limestone Branch is in a handsome, purpose-built structure on about 25 acres just outside of Lebanon. They have two lakes on the property, which has a lot of potential for walking paths and other uses. Conveniently, Steve is a landscape architect by training.

The brothers Beam make everything themselves with help from their father, who worked at Cummins-Collins in Athertonville, among other distilleries. They grew some of their own corn on the distillery grounds. They make a very clean spirit, with good flavor, and little harshness or burn. They're double-distilling. Their doubler is a 150-gallon handmade copper Hoga.

Everything they are selling now is unaged but they do have some product, including a bourbon, in barrels.

In addition to the distillery itself there is a comfortable tasting room (including some seating outside), a gift shop, and a small museum. Lebanon has only recently shown up on my radar. It's a lovely little town with a nice historic core. The big attraction for bourbon fans is Kentucky Cooperage, the Kentucky branch of Independent Stave, which makes most of the barrels for the bourbon industry. Lebanon is the seat of Marion County, which as the name suggests was founded by and still has a large Catholic population.

I also recommend the Cedarwood Restaurant, which is just west of the cooperage, for authentic country cooking and ambiance.

Limestone Branch's brand is T. J. Pottinger, which was one of the brands, along with Old Trump, made by Minor Case Beam at his distillery in Nelson County, which merged with Dant's Yellowstone and operated there until Prohibition. Pottinger was a prominent distiller, miller, and landowner. He founded the town of New Haven, which is still home to many members of the Beam and related families.

Limestone Branch is one of the micro-distillery members of the Kentucky Distillers Association. Kentucky was somewhat late to the micro-distillery game, but it's a natural place for them and guys like Steve Beam are making up for lost time.

In light of yesterday's post, it may seem hypocritical of me to write positively about a distillery that is selling a corn whiskey labeled as moonshine and a half-corn, half-sugar spirit called sugar shine. It may be a fine distinction, but they aren't romanticizing crime or criminality, it's about the products themselves. T. J. Pottinger was not a moonshiner. Sugar shine is an authentic recipe and representative of what at least some moonshine used to be. Most of it today is 100 percent sugar. I would be happier if they dropped the 'moonshine' name from the corn whiskey and just called it what it is.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Clyde May's Whiskey Tries The “Les Mis” Defense.

The hero in “Les Mis” is a good man hounded by a mad policeman for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family.

Something like that.

The “Les Mis” defense is tricky as a literary device, let alone a legal defense, since you have to turn a criminal into a hero. As Victor Hugo proved, to get there you have to really stack the deck.

Although not accepted by any courts, the “Les Mis” defense has popular appeal. That's why Spirits Acquisitions Inc. is using it to re-launch the whiskey formerly known as Conecuh Ridge.

Here’s the angle (from the company's press release):

“Clyde May’s Whiskey is an American spirit that captures the spirit of a real American.

"Clyde May, a World War II veteran, returned home to Alabama to farm his land and raise his family. Though Clyde reared eight children, his farming endeavors were not as successful. He turned to the illegal trade of whiskey-making…to help supplement his income.”

In other words, if you’re a veteran, and better at making babies than earning money, it’s okay -- even noble -- to turn to crime. When you romanticize criminal activity to commercialize it, this is where you go.

Patrick McGeeney, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Spirit Acquisitions Inc., didn’t do anything to soften the metaphor, he doubled down on it. “We are proud to relaunch this legendary brand. Clyde May was a true American hero who risked the law in order to provide for his family. He had a reputation for honesty, integrity and producing the finest whiskey in the area. We intend to stay true to Mr. May’s values and bring his whiskey back to life.”

Clyde May was an American hero who just did what he had to do to feed his family. You know, like Al Capone.

Spirit Acquisitions doesn’t mention that the first attempt to market this product, beginning about ten years ago, blew up when the president of the predecessor company, Clyde May’s son Kenny, got caught by Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control illegally selling whiskey from the trunk of his car.

Way to stay true to Clyde’s values, Kenny.

An august group like the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) should tell McGeeney that there is no place for a product like this in the American alcoholic beverages industry. Associating its products with crime and criminals is just about the stupidest thing an industry constantly under siege by neo-Prohibitionists could do.

Naturally, the WSWA gave Clyde May’s Whiskey a Gold Medal instead.