Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Carnivore Carnival 2009

A friend of mine in Houston has a party about this time every year called Carnivore Carnival. Here is what typically is on the board.

Two 40-pound hogs
200 hand made chicken/pork/beef enchilladas with homemade sauces
Smoked leg of lamb
Red Deer tenderloins (grilled)
Pasta salad
Smoked chickens
Smoked rib eye roasts

Beer, wine, whiskey

How did pasta salad get in there?

Celebrate White Dog Days at Buffalo Trace.

You are invited to celebrate “White Dog Days” at Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, Kentucky, October 15-17.

White Dog Days is a new annual event (last year was the first) at the Frankfort home of such iconic bourbons as Blanton's, Eagle Rare, W.L. Weller, Van Winkle, Ancient Age, and Old Charter, as well as Sazerac Rye.

Last week I wrote about how Buffalo Trace keeps coming up with new ways to entertain and entice fans of American whiskey. Here is another example, although this one is directed at their Frankfort neighbors as much as it is at whiskey enthusiasts.

White Dog Days celebrates the Trace’s first white dog of the fall distilling season. By Federal law there are two whiskey distilling seasons. January through June is spring, June through December is fall. Most distilleries take some kind of break in the summer and resume distilling according to their own production planning needs. For Buffalo Trace, the fall season begins the second week of October.

This will be the 236th distilling season at the plant now known as Buffalo Trace.

For more information, direct from the source, go here.

The main public event is Saturday, October 17, from noon to 6:00 PM on the distillery grounds. There will be live music, distillery tours, barrel rolling exhibitions and competitions, a corn hole tournament, and other activities. Admission is free. Food and beverages will be available for purchase. You are encouraged to bring your own chairs or blankets.

'White dog' is a colloquial term for spirit right off the still. The barreling of the season's first white dog is analogus to many familiar autumn harvest traditions.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Another Age Statement Falls.

Weller Antique is the latest American straight whiskey to take the age statement off its label and, as usual, the producer (in this case, Buffalo Trace) says the product isn't really changing. An age statement is, after all, just a number. What matters is how the whiskey tastes.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with one of my college deans several years after I graduated. He was a crusty sort anyway and we had butted heads more than once. Now he was talking to me more like a peer and bitching about alums who can't stand to see anything on campus change, anything. I think we're like that about whiskeys sometimes.

And who wouldn't be? Even the young people here know how a generation ago there were so many more distilleries. This is, in many ways, a golden age, but the paucity of different producers is a problem. That's why we hate to lose anything: an age statement, some proof points, anything. Buffalo Trace has done more than any other producer to try create as much variety as possible with the resources they have, but it's no substitute.

Which brings me back to the story about the dean. Are age statements really that important? Or do we just hate change?

Bourbon and Country Ham.

Of course they are perfect together. You can't believe you had to be told, but you did. It was Woodford Reserve Resident Chef Ouita Michel who enlightened you. Pairing food with American whiskey is tricky because the whiskey is so flavorful, it's hard to find foods that can stand up to it. Barbeque with a young rye or rye-recipe bourbon has always seemed the perfect pairing, but Ouita serves a fine, Kentucky country ham that could stand with any jamón serrano and it ideally complements the softer and more elegant bourbon made by her employer.

Goat cheese, fresh or aged, also very nice.

As Kentucky vies to be the Napa Valley of American whiskey, sophisticated locavore cuisine is a natural development. There was nothing like Ouita's food, or the food at Proof on Main, Limestone, or Corbett's, (all in Louisville) when I lived there 20 years ago. Now that's pretty much what fine dining means.

If you have trouble finding good country ham in the big city, Meachams, in Western Kentucky, is a good mail order source. With "ham" in their name, how could they not be?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Distilleries and Women.

You know those women who know exactly how to drive you crazy; the good way, bad way, or both? That's what Buffalo Trace is like for lovers of American whiskey. You want variety? They produce 25 different American straight whiskey brands, several with multiple expressions. They make a straight rye and three different bourbon recipes. They sell everything from white dog to 18-year-olds. They experiment with different kinds of wood, different grains, whatever they can think of. They do tons of limited editions, annual releases and single-barrel bottlings. They have production facilities in three of Kentucky's four whiskey-making regions, plus Virginia. They defy conventional wisdom. They do this thing where they bite your lower lip just as they ...

So far, unlike some women, Buffalo Trace has shown little down side. You wish they would disclose sales figures. They don't because they don't have to. They're a private company and keeping that stuff private gives them a small edge over the people who can't. It's just the only evidence you have their plan is working is that they're still running it.

Sometimes Buffalo Trace seems like a big playground for whiskey nuts. Other distilleries have tasting rooms, Buffalo Trace has a big, wooden bar. They have the biggest distillery in Kentucky and have built one of the smallest inside it. They have web cams all over the operation. Stampedes start when people see certain bottles hit the line in the single barrel hall.

There are so few whiskey distilleries in the United States, you can't afford to hate any of them, but you don't have to love them all. Buffalo Trace does everything it can to make you love them and you do, you can't help it, you just do. Sometimes it seems too good to be true as you wait, expectently, for each new day.

Monday, September 21, 2009

If You're In Northcentral Ohio, Come See Me This Thursday.

This Thursday, September 24, I'll be doing a tasting in Mansfield, Ohio; at Martinis on Main, 108 North Main Street, to benefit the Mansfield Art Center. The cost is $20 for the flight of five whiskies, or individual tastes for $5 each.

We're not going to taste anything unusual. It's mostly an American whiskey orientation tasting. The original list I submitted included JTS Brown BIB, Old Grand-Dad BIB, George Dickel No. 12, Maker's Mark, Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve Rye, and Woodford Reserve. I'm not sure what made the final cut. The idea was to taste as much variety in producers and styles as possible in five or six drinks, keeping in mind the limited selection available through the Ohio Division of Liquor Control.

(Mansfield, Ohio, is where I was born and raised, and learned to drink.)

Advance tickets are available, or guests can pay at the door. To register, call 419-756-1700.

You can read all about it in the Mansfield News Journal, here. (Be sure to read the comments!)

What Is Dusty Hunting?

Dusty hunting is when you comb liquor stores looking for old bottles of whiskey. The reason dusty hunting makes sense is because whiskey doesn't spoil, so many liquor stores don't worry about rotating old stock. Believe it or not, you can find bottles that have been sitting on the shelf for 30 years, hence "dusty."

The point of dusty hunting is that you can find really great stuff, from distilleries that are no longer producing, usually pretty cheap since just like they don't rotate old stock, they also often don't reprice it either.

If you want to know more, check out Greg Gilbert's blog, Bourbon Dork. He has posted a three-part series on the fine art of dusty hunting. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here. While you're there, check out some of his other posts. He has a lot of good stuff. He explains the weirdness that is Four Roses pretty well here.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Correct Location of Pre-Prohibition Beam Distillery Identified.


This is a correction to a story in the most recent issue of my American whiskey newsletter, The Bourbon Country Reader.

In that story, "25 Stops That Should Be On The Kentucky Bourbon Trail," I identified a cluster of warehouses owned by Heaven Hill and located where the railroad tracks cross Bloomfield Road northeast of Bardstown as the location of Beam and Hart, the pre-prohibition distillery operated by Jim Beam, his brother, Park, and their brother-in-law, Albert Hart. I was mistaken.

The cluster of warehouses owned by Heaven Hill (pictured above) that is the pre-prohibition location of the Beam and Hart Old Tub Distillery is on Old Nazareth Road, also near railroad tracks, due north of Bardstown near the religious community of Nazareth. The Beams sold it during Prohibition and purchased the old Murphy, Barber & Co. Distillery, where they quarried gravel during the drought. That's the Beam plant known as Clermont today.

The Bloomfield Road site was previously a Schenley plant known as the Fairfield Distillery (even though it's several miles from Fairfield). They made Pride of Nelson and Old Jim Gore Bourbon there.

There are several similar sites around Bardstown and other Kentucky whiskey-making centers. They are the remnants of old distilleries, now owned by current producers who use the whiskey aging warehouses and occasionally some other buildings, but the distillery part and most other structures were demolished a long time ago. There is nothing much to see at any of these places and what there is you can see from the road, so please no trespassing.

Hall of Famer to Bourbon Industry: "Make No Little Plans."



Yesterday, it was my honor to be inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. The Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame was created in 2001 by the Kentucky Distiller’s Association and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, "to recognize individuals and organizations that have made a significant impact on bourbon’s stature, growth and awareness. It is the highest honor given by Kentucky’s legendary bourbon industry."

The induction ceremony was held at historic Wickland mansion in Bardstown.

Pictured are Fred Noe, accepting on behalf of his great-great-grandfather, David M. Beam; Frank M. “Chip” Dailey III, accepting on behalf of his father, Frank M. Dailey; Tom Bulleit; Mary Jane Dickerson; me; and Edward Monohan IV, accepting on behalf of his father, Edward S. Monohan III. (Not pictured: Chris Morris accepting on behalf of John Henry “Jack” Beam.)

David M. Beam was sponsored by Beam Global while Jack Beam was sponsored by Brown-Forman, so no one mentioned they were brothers. So much for the myth of friendly competitors in the bourbon business.

All of the inductees, or the people accepting on their behalf, get to make brief remarks. Here is what I said, more or less.

“I live in Chicago. We have a motto there that originated with one of the architects who rebuilt Chicago after the great fire of 1871: ‘Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood.’

“I’ve been knocking around the bourbon industry for about 30 years. I saw y’all at your most timid back then, engaged in a race to the bottom. The quickest way to get shut down in a marketing meeting was to suggest that bourbon could be sold on quality. Everyone insisted that bourbon was a commodity, sold on price. If I mentioned Marker’s Mark as an example, I was told that was just two rich guys messing around, not a real brand.

“It has been my pleasure to watch the industry come back, bigger and better than ever. So that is my message to you, ‘make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood.’

“The potential for American whiskey is unlimited. Don’t think in terms of twenty percent increases or forty percent increases. Think about growing two times, three times, five times, ten times bigger. There is no reason you can’t do it.

“Make no little plans.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Where Is The Craft In Craft Distilling? Part Whatever.

There is no whiskey-making tradition in the world in which the whiskey-maker uses beer made by someone else, yet that is one of the precepts of Bill Owens, President and High Priest of the American Distilling Institute (ADI).

I kid Bill with the High Priest thing because he and ADI could do all of their fine work without ever making the outrageous suggestion that micro-distillers should make whiskey using wash supplied by a brewer. Instead he has not only made the suggestion, he has elevated it to an article of faith.

"We already have 1,500 micro breweries in this country making wort/wash from barley," says Bill at every opportunity. "Why reinvent the wheel?"

No one denies that there are many places where one can obtain a barley malt wash and in the most technical and literal sense, a person who runs something through a still is a distiller, but I maintain that such a person is, at best, half a craft whiskey-maker. "Half" is probably too generous, because all of the flavor that will be in the final distillate is created in the fermenters. All the still does is concentrate flavors that are already there. How can you say you are the creator of a whiskey if you didn't create any of those flavors?

Since all whiskey except corn whiskey must be aged, the oak barrel is the other source of flavor, but you didn't make that either, did you? So where exactly is the craft in what you are doing? I won't say there is none, but since every major whiskey-maker makes its own beer, how can you claim to be more craft than they?

There are many micro-distillers in America who do not follow Bill's guidance on this matter. I do not want to suggest that all micro-distillers buy wash. They don't. Many are grain-to-bottle producers and I salute them.

An inevitable corollary to Bill's "buy beer" precept is "make malt whiskey," since what most brewers use to make beer is barley malt. Malt whiskey is what they make in Scotland, Ireland and Japan, but rarely in the USA. That means a fledgling American micro-distiller who follows Bill's advice is going against the grain in two critical ways. By not using the primary and uniquely-American ingredient in American whiskey: corn. And by not making the beer, which is contrary to every whiskey-making tradition in the world.

ADI does not mention this, an oversight I hope I have just rectified.

Patti Takes Manhattan.

What a great picture, from the Chicago Tribune. Aren't they the perfect reality-TV couple?

In case you don't know, that's ex-governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich and his wife, Patti, in Manhattan to promote Rod's new book. Both Rod and Patti are the creations of long-time Chicago Alderman Dick Mell, who made Rod politically and made Patti the old-fashioned way (she's his daughter). Rod's downfall began when he crossed his father-in-law.

Because they are so made-for-TV, I wonder if their act is actually selling? Do people believe them or, like me, just enjoy the show?

Popular Kentucky Bourbon Trail Honors Army Pilot.

A Fort Campbell pilot, on a motorcycle tour with his family before he deploys for Afghanistan, is the 1,000th person to complete the world-famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail in the last 100 days.

Since June 1, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association has received 1,052 souvenir Passports from visitors who toured all eight distilleries. That easily surpasses the entire number of travelers – 718 -- who completed the Bourbon Trail Passport program last year.

The 1,000th person is First Lieutenant Clint Hooker, 26, from Grapevine, Texas. A graduate of The Citadel, he is stationed at Ft. Campbell, Ky., and is a reconnaissance helicopter pilot with the 2nd Squadron of the 17th Cavalry Regiment in support of the 101st Airborne Division.

“We are deeply honored that Clint and his family chose the Kentucky Bourbon Trail as a getaway before he deploys,” said KDA President Eric Gregory. “He deserves not only our congratulations, but our sincere thanks and gratitude for his service to our country.”

Gov. Steve Beshear said, “It’s fitting that this milestone comes during September, which is Bourbon Heritage Month in the Commonwealth. And it’s great that this honor goes to a member of our courageous armed forces who work so hard to keep our country safe.

“Congratulations to LT Hooker and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail on this outstanding achievement.”

LT Hooker and his family toured the Bourbon Trail from Aug. 11 through the 13th. His parents, Mike and Debbie, organized the trip as a surprise – an unforgettable, scenic ride on their Harley-Davidson motorcycles before their son leaves early next year for Operation Enduring Freedom.

“Each distillery was unique and I had a great time at every stop,” LT Hooker said. “It’s definitely one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. I’m already spreading the word in my unit – do yourself a favor and hit the Bourbon Trail.”

Mike Hooker said, “It was a perfect trip. Just ended way too soon.”

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail links eight legendary distilleries nestled among the rolling Bluegrass countryside: Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Tom Moore, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve.

As part of his recognition, the KDA is sending LT Hooker a special gift package from Kentucky’s signature distilleries. And the association is contributing $1,000 in LT Hooker’s name to the Wounded Warriors Project and the Alpha Troop 2-17 Alumni Association.

The New Bourbon Country Reader Is Here.

Volume 12, Number 2 went into the mail last week, so all subscribers should have it by now.

In its unlikely 16th year of publication, The Bourbon Country Reader is still the only periodical devoted entirely to American whiskey.

We are always independent and idiosyncratic. We have no distillery affiliation and accept no advertising.

To join the party, you have to subscribe. Yes, it's old tree-based media. Indulge in the nostalgia.

The main story in this new issue is "25 Stops That Should Be On The Kentucky Bourbon Trail," which I think is self-explanatory. We also say goodby to Jimmy Bedford and sample some of the newly released limited edition American whiskeys.

For a FREE download digest of the contents of all past Reader issuses, click here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Dr. Jonathan Cowdery and the Heroes Of Tripoli


Dr. Jonathan Cowdery is the second most famous Cowdery in history. No, I'm not #1. That honor belongs to Oliver Cowdery, the Second Elder of the Mormon Church, Mormon founder Joseph Smith's right hand man during the church's earliest days.

Oliver and Jonathan were first cousins from a large family. Another of the first cousins was Jacob Cowdery Junior, my great great great great grandfather.

On September 5, 1804, the bodies of 13 men of the USS Intrepid washed ashore and were buried at Tripoli, Libya. (September 5 also happens to be my birthday.)

The U.S. Navy was there to fight pirates.

The unmarked graves of the 13 officers and sailors are 720 feet south-southeast of the Red Castle's walls, a few feet below Green Square. The officers were identified by Jonathan, who was ship’s surgeon for the Philadelphia, whose Captain Bainbridge and his 300-man crew were being held in the castle dungeon. Jonathan and a party of prisoners from the Philadelphia buried the men together, marking the graves one cable’s length south from the castle walls.

According to sailing manuals of the day, one cable length is listed as 720 feet.

Jonathan and the other prisoners were eventually released. The story of the Heroes of Tripoli is largely known through the journal Jonathan kept and published upon his return.

Oliver's most famous work is also a book, The Book of Mormon, for which he was the principal scribe.

As a writer, I have a lot to live up to.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The 2009 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon Debuts.

The fall releases of limited edition whiskeys keep coming. (Some of the others are here, here and here.)

Latest is the 2009 edition of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, unveiled at a press event last night at The Violet Hour in Chicago. Old Forester master distiller Chris Morris walked the guests through a tasting of all three Old Forester expressions, including the new Birthday Bourbon.

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon celebrates the birth of Brown-Forman founder George Garvin Brown on September 2, 1846. It is a special selection of Old Forester barrels chosen by Morris to highlight some aspect of the bourbon palate.

“This year’s vintage release of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is crafted from a 98 barrel batch,” said Morris. “These barrels were stored in the small warehouse B and larger warehouse J, on their 5th and 8th floors respectively. These upper floor locations exposed the barrels to a great degree of heat during the summer months which resulted in a rich, complex maturation profile.”

Unlike the standard Old Forester, which is a blend of whisky from several different years, Birthday Bourbon is a vintage-dated bourbon, hand-selected by Morris from one specific day of production. The result is a one-of-a-kind character and flavor that will never be replicated again. Its unique decanter style glass bottle is a throwback to the late 1800’s when Old Forester was first produced.

Morris selected these barrels because he thinks they show that a 12+ year-old bourbon can have a lot of flavor and barrel character without hitting you over the head with it. He considers this a softer example of what a long-aged bourbon can be.

One nice thing about Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, in this season of special editions that are priced at $90 to $150 or more per bottle, is that the suggested retail price is a mere $39.99.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Coming soon, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection.

Here are the aging and proof specifications for the 2009 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, which should be in stores by the end of October. Quantities are limited so if you’re interested, talk to your whiskey monger now.

  • Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old. This 90° proof straight rye whiskey was aged on the first floor of Warehouse K.
  • Eagle Rare 17 Year Old. This 90° proof rye-recipe bourbon whiskey was distilled in the spring of 1992 and aged on the third floor of Warehouse K.
  • George T. Stagg. This uncut and unfiltered rye-recipe bourbon whiskey was aged on the first and third floors of Warehouses I and K. It was distilled in the winter of 1992. The proof is 141.4°.
  • William Larue Weller. This uncut and unfiltered wheated bourbon was distilled in the fall of 1998 and aged on the fifth floor of Warehouses N and O. The proof is 134.8°.
  • Thomas H. Handy Sazerac. This uncut and unfiltered straight rye whiskey was distilled in the spring of 2002 and aged on the third floor of Warehouse K. It is 129 proof.

The Antique Collection was introduced nearly a decade ago and continues to grow in popularity. For more information visit http://www.greatbourbon.com/

So You Want To Be A Distiller? Read This:

The American Distilling Institute (ADI) is the largest association of micro-distillers in the United States. Among its services for present and aspiring micro-distillers is its hands-on distilling workshops.

The next one on the schedule is at Stillwater Distillery in Petaluma, California, December 6 – 11, 2009. The $3,500 tuition includes lodging and meals. Also included are tours of St. George Spirits/Hangar One Distillery in Alameda, Anchor Distillery in San Francisco, and Cahill Winery in Sebastopol (where they distill a pomace brandy).

Then in the Spring, ADI will return to Huber Starlight Distillery in Borden, Indiana, for the ADI Whiskey & Moonshine Distilling Conference, May 2 – 5, 2010. Attendees will stay in nearby Louisville and tours of Vendome Copper & Brass Works, Kelvin Cooperage, Buffalo Trace Distillery and Woodford Reserve Distillery are included. Costs have not yet been announced.

For more information go to http://www.distilling.com/.