Sunday, February 10, 2019

Finally, the New Reader Is Here



Where has the time gone? It has taken me five months to get this issue of The Bourbon Country Reader out. Sorry about that.

I hope the wait will be worth it. I'm doing something different with this issue, devoting the entire thing to a single subject: whiskey maturation.

In my many years of writing about American whiskey, it has struck me that maturation is often short-changed. Perhaps that's because so much of what is going on is invisible and quiet, with no moving parts. Fermentation and distillation are much more dramatic, with myriad sights, sounds, and smells. In contrast, a bunch of wooden barrels sitting in a nondescript building is a snooze.

But you only have to compare 'white dog' to well-aged bourbon to know something akin to magic is going on inside those white oak cocoons.

Current Reader subscribers should receive their copies in the next few days. New subscribers can get on the bandwagon by clicking here.

Founded in 1994, The Bourbon Country Reader is the oldest publication devoted entirely to American whiskey. It is a charming mix of news, history, analysis, and product reviews. Do you worry that advertising spending influences coverage in other publications? No chance of that here since The Bourbon Country Reader is 100 percent reader-supported. It accepts no advertising.

To experience The Bourbon Country Reader for yourself, you need to subscribe. Honoring history, The Bourbon Country Reader still comes to you exclusively on paper, in an envelope, via the USPS.

A subscription to The Bourbon Country Reader is still just $20 per year for addresses in the USA, $25 for everyone else. The Bourbon Country Reader is published six times a year, more-or-less, but your subscription always includes six issues no matter how long it takes. For those of you keeping track, this new one is Volume 19, Number 2.

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

If you want to catch up on what you've missed, bound back issue volumes are available for $20 each, or three for $50. That's here too.

If you prefer to pay by check, make it payable to Made and Bottled in Kentucky, and mail it to Made and Bottled in Kentucky, 3712 N. Broadway, PMB 298, Chicago, IL 60613-4198. Checks drawn on U.S. banks only, please.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Conor O’Driscoll Joins Heaven Hill Distillery as Seventh Master Distiller



What follows is a press release, but it seems to do the job just fine. I deleted the most self-serving corporate claptrap.

I've met O’Driscoll and he's a good guy, with a great mix of experience. He replaces Denny Potter, who is now at Maker's Mark. Potter replaced Greg Davis, who was promoted to Director of Distillation at the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont. Young distillers building a career, which was practically impossible two decades ago, are another sign of industry health.

Heaven Hill has confirmed that their press release was in error. O'Driscoll is actually the seventh master distiller in Heaven Hill's 84-year history. They are Joseph L. Beam, Harry Beam (father and son), Earl Beam (cousin), Parker and Craig (Earl's son and grandson), and Denny Potter. I have taken the liberty of correcting both the headline above and the text that follows.
___________________

Heaven Hill Distillery is proud to announce Conor O’Driscoll as the seventh Master Distiller in its 84-year history. O’Driscoll’s wealth of experience in the industry and technical expertise gives him the ability to focus on quality, authenticity and innovation, all hallmarks of the Heaven Hill distilling legacy.

“Conor is among the finest young distillers in our business and we could not be more thrilled to have him at the forefront of distilling for our historic portfolio,” said Max L. Shapira, President, Heaven Hill Brands. “In his 15 years in the industry, he’s played a key role in growing production and innovation, with an expectation of quality and a respect for craftsmanship. In that regard, he is a perfect fit for us.”

In 2004, O’Driscoll started his journey in whiskey as Operations Manager for the Brown-Forman Distillery in Shively. After five years, Conor moved to oversee operations at the Woodford Reserve Distillery. Shortly thereafter, he added warehousing and processing responsibilities beginning a robust warehouse expansion program. In 2017, O’Driscoll left Woodford Reserve to lead the operations efforts at Angel’s Envy Distillery in Louisville.

“I’m very proud to be a part of Heaven Hill’s storied whiskey legacy,” said O’Driscoll. “The trust of the Shapira family is humbling. And I am excited and honored to carry on the traditions of the Master Distillers that helped establish Heaven Hill’s place in the industry.  I am especially honored to carry on the legacy of Parker Beam, whose expectations for quality and consistency live on today.”

O’Driscoll will immediately begin leading the distilling and warehousing teams at the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville.  Recent renovations at that facility, including a new still, earned it the designation of the largest single-site Bourbon distillery.

A native of Dublin, Ireland, O’Driscoll moved to the United States in 1989 after completing his degree in Chemical Engineering at University College Dublin. His early experiences with Pfizer and Aker Kvaerner paved the way for his move to whiskey distilling where he’s pursued his passion ever since. He resides in Louisville with his wife and family.

Friday, December 7, 2018

My Dad's Pearl Harbor Story


Dad and his boys (and new Buick convertible), 1957. (Photo by Mom.)
On this day in 1941, J. K. 'Ken' Cowdery (my father) was in the Army stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. This is his account of that morning. He wrote it in 1991, for the 50th anniversary, for our local newspaper the Mansfield News Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). It was later published in the AARP magazine. Dad died in September, 2010, age 90.

This is just one of his stories from that fateful day. I heard them all about 100 times but it never got old. He had an amazing memory. How he got to Hawaii is quite a story too, as is what happened next, but I'll leave it at this for now.
_______________

Sunday, December 7, 1941, dawned bright and clear at Schofield Barracks, Territory of Hawaii. At least I assume that it did because it was bright and clear when I got up at about 7:45.

To get breakfast I had to be in the chow line out behind the barracks before 8:00. I made it.

Someone noticed a column of smoke coming from the vicinity of Wheeler Field, the fighter field, south of our location. There were comments and conjecture that the fly boys must be having some kind of exercise and that one of them had cracked up.

At about the same time we noticed a line of planes coming over Kole Kole Pass, which was about three miles northwest of us and in full view because there was nothing in the way. Our barracks was the furthest northwest barracks on the post. As the first plane in the line passed overhead I could not only see the red circle markings on the plane but could see the pilot's face, he came in so low that he cleared the two story barracks by about 5 or 6 feet.

At that point he also started his guns. We never did figure out why he didn't start strafing a few seconds sooner and try to get some of the 30 or 40 guys in the chow line. I have no idea what the second plane in the line did, by the time he got there I was long gone.

We all made for cover, I went into the building via the back door to the kitchen. The kitchen was about 20 feet wide by about 30 feet long. Just inside the back door, to the right, was the walk-in cooler. I hit the floor at the far end of the cooler, putting the cooler between me and the line of fire.

There must have been several planes in the line as the firing kept up for quite a long time--at least it seemed like a long time. After the firing stopped everything was completely silent, there was not a sound. I wondered if I was the only one still alive.

There was a line of preparation tables down the center of the room, with equipment and utensil storage drawers below, and ranges along the far wall at the other end of the room. Looking around I could not see another human being, everyone was obviously hugging the floor. Then I saw a hand rise up, pick up a spatula, turn over two eggs frying on the range, then replace the spatula and again disappear.

Regardless of the circumstances, duty comes first.

I might add at this point that this was the 90th Field Artillery Battalion of the 25th Infantry Division, a Regular Army outfit.

When it seemed that the attack was over and people started stirring again I grabbed a plate, claimed the eggs, and sat down to eat my breakfast.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Today Is Repeal Day. It's Time to Finish the Job



The 21st Amendment to the Constitution became effective 85 years ago today, ending National Prohibition. It also set in place the outline of the system of alcohol regulation that is still with us today. In what may be the longest hangover in history, many vestiges of Prohibition remain in America's alcohol regulation system and they haven't aged well.

Conveniently, the R Street Institute has published a booklet detailing some of the more absurd laws that remain on the books. Most were passed in the immediate aftermath of Repeal and have not been much examined since. 'America's Dumbest Drinks Laws' was released today, in honor of Repeal Day. You can download the PDF here.

The R Street Institute is a nonproft, nonpartisan, public-policy research organization (“think tank”). Their mission is to engage in policy research and outreach to promote free markets and limited, effective government.

As the booklet notes in its introduction, "although the 21st amendment repealed Prohibition, it still allowed state and local governments broad control over hooch."

My favorite dumb liquor law has always been Indiana's ban on cold beer (#3). Specifically, although Indiana law allows beer to be sold in drug stores, supermarkets and convenience stores, only liquor stores may sell beer cold. Efforts have been made to change this law but the liquor store lobby has managed to block it. 

The pain of this prohibition was lessened somewhat earlier this year when Indiana allowed liquor stores to operate on Sunday. At least it is now possible to buy cold beer seven days a week.

One dumb law I did not know about is the federal prohibition against distilleries on Native American lands, which has been in force since 1834. As authors Jarrett Dieterle and Daniel DiLoreto note, "While many of the laws on this list deserve our ire, this one stands alone for its general odiousness in treating people differently based on nothing more than their heritage and race."

As states rush to end the prohibition on marijuana, this might also be a good time to finish the work of December 5, 1933 and bring some common sense to the regulation of alcohol.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Diageo's Loss Is Sazerac's Gain


Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes
Many years ago, when I was working at a marketing services company, one of our executives issued an edict that our company would, in the future, not accept any clients that billed less than $100,000 a year. It was one of his many pronouncements that seemed, to me, to make little sense. Although I was young, I knew enough about business to know the size of an account doesn’t determine how much money you can make from it. I was pretty sure that a small but profitable piece of business was preferable to a large but unprofitable one.

This memory came to me yesterday when Diageo announced that it had ‘disposed’ of 19 brands by selling them to Sazerac. The portfolio includes several Seagrams-branded Canadian whiskies, some rums, some vodkas, and a bunch of liqueurs. Some are names you may know, such as Seagram’s VO, Goldschlager, Scoresby, Booth’s, and Myers’s. All are ‘cats and dogs,’ an industry term for small, low-margin brands with little growth potential.

In the official statement, Ivan Menezes, Chief Executive of Diageo, said: "The disposal of these brands enables us to have even greater focus on the faster growing premium and above brands in the US spirits portfolio."

In other words, the world’s largest drinks company can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. It can’t advance its most profitable segments while also making a healthy profit from the rest.

Is that fair? Sazerac paid about $550 million for the lot. That was not an act of charity. Sazerac believes it will make money where Diageo could not. Sazerac has a massive portfolio of brands, probably the largest in the distilled spirits industry.

Different companies and the managers who run them have different strategies. That doesn’t make one right or the other wrong. Unlike Diageo, Sazerac is privately-owned, so they don’t have to justify in public everything they do. Investors seemed to like Diageo’s move.

Brown-Forman has long had a firm ‘no cats and dogs’ policy. Not long ago it sold Southern Comfort, a household name, because it wasn’t performing up to expectations. Beam Suntory and Pernod also unload brands they consider unpromising. Heaven Hill has always had a lot of cats and dogs, and still does, but it has not been acquiring more of them.

Sazerac is not alone, but it dominates the segment. Most of its competitors are regional; Sazerac is everywhere.

It is a tough business because margins are so tight, but especially when you are as big as Sazerac it tends to be less volatile than high-flying brand marketing, which is more like the movie business in needing blockbuster hits to offset inevitable big budget disasters.

Sazerac doesn't shoot for the moon, although it hits it from time to time anyway, e.g., Fireball.

This week’s news is one more strange coda to the Seagram’s story. Once the world’s largest distilled spirits purveyor, Seagram’s ceased to exist as a company 20 years ago. As a brand name it lives on at several different places. Diageo still has Seagram’s Crown Royal (Canadian whisky) and Seagram’s Seven Crown (American blended whiskey). Pernod has Seagram’s Gin. Sazerac now has Seagram’s VO, Seagram's 83, and Seagram's Five Star (all Canadian whisky). Coca-Cola owns the Seagram’s mixers (ginger ale, tonic water, etc.).

Meanwhile, thousands of new brands are created every year, many by new, tiny companies. Thank you, distilled spirits industry, for keeping it interesting.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Where Was the Frankfort Distillery?



The Frankfort Distillery, when it was in Frankfort.
It's a trick question.

If you guessed Frankfort, Kentucky, you are only half right. After Prohibition, the Frankfort Distillery relocated to Shively (a suburb of Louisville), but it kept the Frankfort name.

Confusing? Welcome to the world of American whiskey history. The story of the Frankfort Distillery is a perfect metaphor for the complications that arise when you try to understand the origins of America's whiskey industry.

For the whole story, check out the new, September issue (Volume 19, Number 1) of The Bourbon Country Reader, available now.

In this issue, we also look into the distilling history of Kentucky's Henry County, northeast of Louisville, where Angel's Envy has plans to build warehouses and, eventually, a second distillery.

And we review two beautiful books and one beautiful whiskey. (We're all about the beauty.)

The illustration, by the way, is of the pre-Prohibition Frankfort Distillery at Forks of Elkhorn, about three miles east of Frankfort. That site today looks completely different. It hosts a bottling and distribution facility for Beam Suntory.

Current Reader subscribers should receive their copies of the new issue in the next few days. New subscribers can get on the bandwagon by clicking here.

Founded in 1994, The Bourbon Country Reader is the oldest publication devoted entirely to American whiskey. It is a charming mix of news, history, analysis, and product reviews. Do you worry that advertising spending influences coverage in other publications? No chance of that here since The Bourbon Country Reader is 100 percent reader-supported. It accepts no advertising.

To experience The Bourbon Country Reader for yourself, you need to subscribe. Honoring tradition, The Bourbon Country Reader still comes to you exclusively on paper, in an envelope, via the USPS.

A subscription to The Bourbon Country Reader is still just $20 per year for addresses in the USA, $25 for everyone else. The Bourbon Country Reader is published six times a year, more-or-less, but your subscription always includes six issues (no matter how long it takes).

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

If you want to catch up on what you've missed, bound back issue volumes are available for $20 each, or three for $50. Each volume contains six issues. That's here too. Volume 18 is now available.

If you prefer to pay by check, make it payable to Made and Bottled in Kentucky, and mail it to Made and Bottled in Kentucky, 3712 N. Broadway, PMB 298, Chicago, IL 60613-4198. Checks drawn on U.S. banks only, please.

NOTE: Turns out, the picture above is not the pre-pro Frankfort Distillery. It is the Kenner Taylor Distillery built after Prohibition at the same site. The photo below is of the real pre-pro Frankfort.


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Denny Potter Leaving Heaven Hill for Maker's Mark


Denny Potter needs a new vest.
Maker's Mark has announced that Denny Potter is departing Heaven Hill to join the Beam Suntory subsidiary as Master Distiller and General Manager. Potter has been Master Distiller at Heaven Hill since joining the company in 2013. He became Vice President of Operations last year.

Before Heaven Hill, Potter worked at Maker's Mark for ten years.

"(We are) happy for Denny," says Heaven Hill spokesperson Josh Hafer. "We will have a transition period before he heads over to Maker’s Mark. But our distilling, warehouse and whiskey innovation teams are exceptional and all remain in place. Many of them with decades of experience. Moving forward, we will look for someone who can maintain the traditions of our previous Master Distillers including a commitment to heritage, quality, authenticity and transparency," said Hafer.

Potter replaces Greg Davis, who has been Master Distiller at Maker's Mark since 2010. Davis has been promoted to Director of Distillation at the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, where he will be responsible for that plant as well as the Booker Noe Distillery at Boston, Kentucky.

Also moving to Clermont is Victoria MacRae-Samuels, currently Vice President of Operations and Plant Manager at Maker’s Mark. She is relocating to the Global Innovation Center in Clermont as Senior Director, Global Quality for Beam Suntory.

Jane Bowie has been promoted from Distillery Maturation Specialist at Maker's Mark to Director of the Private Select and Diplomat Program.