Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Finger Lakes Bourbon To Be Released Saturday.

Finger Lakes Distilling will release its first bourbon on Kentucky Derby Day, this Saturday, May 1. Finger Lakes, on the shore of Seneca Lake near Watkins Glen, New York, is run by Brian McKenzie, President; and Thomas Earl McKenzie, Distiller; and although they aren't releated they didn't have any trouble agreeing that McKenzie would be a great brand name for their rye whiskey, released last year, and now for their bourbon.

As a New York State Farm Distillery, Finger Lakes uses local fruit and grains in all of its products. The corn for McKenzie Bourbon, which makes up about 70 percent of the mash bill, is an organic, open-pollinated variety grown near Penn Yan, N.Y.

McKenzie Bourbon is aged a total of 18 months. It starts out in new, charred 10-gallon oak barrels then is finished in local chardonnay casks. It will sell for $45 for a 750 ml bottle and initially will only be available at the distillery.

Maker of Old Potrero Whiskey Is Sold.

The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that Fritz Maytag has sold Anchor Brewing and Anchor Distilling to Keith Greggor, 55, and Tony Foglio, 64. Foglio will be chairman while Greggor will run the operation. Founder Fritz Maytag will remain as Chairman Emeritus.

Through their Griffin Group investment company, Greggor and Foglio have also acquired Preiss Imports. Preiss will be best known to readers here as the current owners of the legendary A. H. Hirsch Bourbon. They are also the U.S. distributors of Springbank Single Malt Scotch Whiskey.

Maytag, 72, pioneered the micro-brewery movement when he acquired Anchor Brewing in 1969. He pioneered the micro-distillery movement when he founded Anchor Distilling in 1993 and began to make Old Potrero Rye Whiskey. He was recently named chairman of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. Craft Distillers Advisory Council.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

WhistlePig and Other Tastes of WhiskeyFest Chicago.

Funny as I sit down and start to think about last Friday's WhiskeyFest Chicago, I recall more about the people I saw and the conversations we had that had nothing to do with whiskey. Blogs being already too self-indulgent, I'll refrain, although I did have a good time dishing like schoolgirls with Fred Noe.

The whiskey highlight may have been Dave Pickerell's WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey. Pickerell is the former Master Distiller for Maker's Mark. His current project is a found whiskey whose source is being kept secret (naturally) but we know it's Canadian and since the mash is 100 percent unmalted rye the list of possible suspects is short.

Canadian straight ryes are very rarely sold that way. They are made as flavoring whiskeys, to be just one component of a blend. Since the typical Canandian blend is mostly nearly-neutral blending whiskey, the flavoring whiskeys have to be potent and this one is. Pickerell does a little trick where he names some of the characteristic rye flavors while you're tasting and they jump out at you as he does.

People do this at guided tastings all the time. It doesn't always work, but it works like a dream with WhistlePig. Clove? check. Spearmint? check. Anise? check. Wintergreen? check.

As straight ryes go, this is in some sub-category all alone. It's not a typical straight rye, but it is good.

There also isn't very much of it so only Chicago, New York and L.A. will get WhistlePig, which is 100° proof (50% ABV) and 10 years old. It should be on shelves in a month or two and will sell for about $70 a bottle. At that price I hate to say this, but you really do need to get some.

There were more micro-distilleries at this WhiskeyFest Chicago than ever before. Jess Graber (Stranahan's), Scott Bush (Templeton), David Perkins (High West), and Robert and Sonat Birnecker (Koval) were all there, to name a few. With the exception of Stranahan's, they all featured either found whiskey or white whiskey. Props to Perkins, who put his oat distillate into barrels for exactly five minutes so he can legally call it whiskey.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hey Mint Julep, Your One Day a Year Is Saturday.

If ever there was a special occasion drink, it is the mint julep, so closely is it associated with the Kentucky Derby. (Which is this coming Saturday, May 1.)

You'll see julep recipes everywhere, but how you make it isn't as important as how you drink it.

A mint julep should be made quickly, served immediately and consumed promptly, before the ice starts to melt and make the drink too watery.

The julep is at its peak of flavor the instant it is completed and every moment that passes thereafter diminishes its quality. There should be just enough liquid in the glass for one or two good swallows.

It's hot. You're thirsty. Drink, drink.

Taken appropriately in a suitable context the mint julep can be delightful. Its sensuality can be nearly overpowering.

As for a recipe, here is the simplest one I know that is authentic, tasty and easy. First, muddle some fresh mint leaves with one tablespoon of powdered sugar and a like amount of water. There are some specialized tools for doing this, but a spoon works fine.

“Muddle” just means work everything together until the mint leaves have been crushed and the sugar is dissolved. Fill the glass with crushed ice, then with bourbon. Stir. Garnish with more fresh mint leaves. Serve and drink.

To make multiple juleps at the same time, have your ice and bourbon ready. Then in a bowl make enough muddle (the mint, sugar, water mixture) for one round. Place some of the muddle mixture into the bottom of each glass. Fill each glass with ice and bourbon and stir. Add mint leaf garnish and serve.

The ability to make a round of juleps quickly but with style is a practiced and prized art in Kentucky.

Yes, Another Templeton Rye Post.

I write about Templeton Rye frequently. Whenever I do, someone asks me why I pick on them. I don't, but I write about them frequently because their president, Scott Bush, does such a good job of working his brand. Every time I see a promotion he's done or a story he's placed I'm prompted to write something.

Today it's a travel story, of all things, about the tiny Western Iowa town that Templeton Rye has claimed as its Lynchburg. I saw it in the Tribune.

The hook for Templeton is a local legend that the town was a major producer of illegal spirit during Prohibition. Writer Josh Noel went looking for Templeton's whiskey, legal and illegal, past and present. Here is what he found.

In recent years, Bush has talked more openly about who makes the only Templeton Rye you can buy in stores, as he did with me last Friday at WhiskeyFest. As Noel reports, "The stuff in bottles is contracted out to Lawrenceburg Distillers in southeast Indiana, which at 28 million gallons of spirits produced per year is anything but the quaint Iowa image the Templeton brand is meant to evoke. The whiskey is trucked to Templeton, offloaded at the plant and bottled there. A staff of gray-haired locals does the rest: hand-writing the labels, affixing them to bottles and sealing the bottles shut. At least in that way the operation is very quaint, very small town and very Iowa."

I asked Bush if he has been able to do business with Lawrenceburg recently. Its parent company, CL Financial of Trinidad and Tobago, was hit hard by the financial industry meltdown and its U.S. operations, like Lawrenceburg, have been reeling. Bush admitted it has been hard to get their attention lately and he is having some supply problems. Some of that is attributable to the brand's success, but Bush knows no businessperson can afford to disappoint customers who are ready to buy.
 
Templeton is only available in Iowa and Illinois, which is another reason I write about it. In Chicago, I see it everywhere.
 
Bush is a busy guy. In addition to running Templeton he is on the new Distilled Spirits Council of the United States Craft Distiller Advisory Council, which has its first big round of Washington meetings starting tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

PAMA Mint Julep

This sounds good, though I'm sure it's very sweet. I haven't tried it, but when PAMA first came out, I tried it in a Manhattan a few times and liked it. It's a very good substitute for the sweet vermouth.

The Kentucky Derby is May 1 and I'll probably make a few more julep-related posts before then. If you have any julep-related questions, you can post them here as comments.

If I made this drink, I might try it with more Manhattan-like proportions, like 3:1 in favor of the bourbon.

PAMA pomegranate liqueur is a Heaven Hill product, hence the Evan Williams bourbon recommendation in the recipe below.

Other than adding a liqueur where none has been before, I give them credit for not mucking-up the classic julep too much.

PAMA Mint Julep
2 oz. PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur
2 oz. Evan Williams Bourbon
2 Sprigs of Fresh Mint
2 Sugar Cubes

In a mixing glass, muddle mint and sugar with Bourbon and PAMA. Shake ingredients vigorously over ice and strain into a rocks glass over crushed ice. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint and serve.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Early Times Kentucky Whisky Releases Commemorative 150th Anniversary Bottling.


The Early Times Distillery was established in 1860 in Early Times Station, Kentucky, by Jack Beam, Jim Beam's uncle. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the brand, Early Times Kentucky Whisky will release a one-time, limited release expression in a commemorative 375ml bottle.

Beam named his distillery Early Times because he believed the industry was turning too modern, too quickly, and he wanted a brand name that captured the 'good old days.' The name was selected to remind consumers of the old-fashioned methods of making whisky - mashing grain in small tubs and boiling the beer and whisky in copper stills over open fires.

Closed by Prohibition, the distillery, brand and barrel inventory was acquired by Brown-Forman Distillers in 1923. Brown-Forman was one of a small number of distilleries that received a medicinal whiskey permit and thus was able to remain open during Prohibition. Brown-Forman moved the production of Early Times to Louisville, Kentucky, in 1935 where it has thrived to this day. Every drop is distilled there under the late 1800’s permit number DSP–354.

"This commemorative bottle celebrates the rich history of Early Times’ role as the second oldest continually produced whisky brand in America,” said Joe Murray, brand manager for Early Times. “While Early Times is now made with modern methods, its name still invokes images of the good old days and still provides a welcome reward at the end of a hard day’s work. As one of America’s top selling Kentucky Whiskies for the last 60 years it still lives up to its reputation as 'The Whisky that made Kentucky Whiskies Famous.'"

The Early Times 150th anniversary edition will come in a unique 375ml bottle at 100 proof and carry an Early Times retro 1920’s label. The distillery will produce only 3,000 cases which will be available in 20 US states at a suggested retail price of $11.99 per bottle.

"Early Times 150 is crafted to emulate the flavor profile the brand would have possessed in 1923 when it was acquired by Brown-Forman,” said Chris Morris, Brown-Forman Master Distiller. “Most whisky aficionados who have been treated to a prohibition-era medicinal whisky taste a late bottling. These contain whisky that was aged up to three times longer than the distiller planned. In 1923 Brown-Forman began bottling 5-6 year old Early Times as medicine. This bottling, with its light honey color, mellow oak, brown sugar, vanilla aroma and simple sweet corn, vanilla and faint butterscotch taste bring back the best of a by-gone time - an Early Times to remember."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Brandied Fruit Phase.

He said he was throwing out some pineapple that had fermented 'accidentally.' Among the people I know, nothing ferments accidentally but giving him the benefit of the doubt, I thought about the time my Mom made what she called brandied fruit. It went something like this.

As you can see, the starter recipe makes two cups, but you only need one for the sauce. The usual thing is to give the other cup to a friend. That's how my Mom got it.

Mom was not into cooking. She went for efficiency and, with six kids, volume. The woman who gave her the starter had served it at some gathering and Mom liked the taste. It appealed to her because it was easy and involved alcohol.

The sauce takes a week to work so there was a lot of build up at the house. We were all kids, adolescents on down. Mom explained to us about fermentation and how the sauce had a tiny amount of alcohol in it. We had tasted cider that had 'accidentally' fermented, so we knew that flavor.

When the time finally came to try it, the sauce was a big success. I'm sure someone didn't like it, but I did. It was a good topping for ice cream or pound cake and the zing got a little zingier as time went by.

When the sauce gets down to a certain point, or after two weeks whichever comes first, you have to refresh it by adding more fruit and sugar. If you don't it will quickly rot away into garbage. If you keep it going, more sauce will be ready in another week, so it's a three week cycle.

At first we were finishing it well before the two weeks were up, but after eating it with what seemed like every meal, it began to not taste so good and we were no longer excited about having it.

The recipe says don't refrigerate, but Mom figured out you could slow it down by refrigerating it. you could slow it down, but you could not stop it.

Finally, we petitioned for relief, the experiment was discontinued, and we never ate brandied fruit again.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Legend of Maker's Mark.

Press releases typically end with a capsule description of the product or company. These short paragraphs are rarely printed with the release. They are there as background for the reporter or editor. They're usually pretty dry, but Maker's Mark being Maker's Mark, theirs get the tone right as well as the facts.

What you might call the Maker's Mark foundation myth has evolved over the years. Here is the current version, taken from the press release about the Cuervo lawsuit.

"In 1954, at a small Victorian distillery in Loretto, Ky., Bill Samuels, Sr., made the first 19 barrels of whisky, which six years later would herald the modern era of Bourbon. Using limestone water from the distillery’s spring-fed lake and a mash consisting of corn, barley and soft, red, gentle winter wheat, Mr. Samuels created a Bourbon that brought 'good taste' and 'taste-good' together for the first time. Today, Maker’s Mark continues to handcraft its bourbon exactly the same way, in small batches by passionate individuals who are committed to craft, heritage and tradition. Maker’s Mark Bourbon whisky is 45% alc./vol., and is distilled, aged and bottled by the Maker's Mark Distillery, Inc., in Loretto, Ky."

Fortune Brands Bests Diageo In Trademarks Battle.

Maker's Mark, a product of Fortune Brands, has won a judgment against rival spirits giant Diageo confirming that its distinctive and famous free-form red wax seal coating is a well-known and valid trademark. (In case you can't tell them apart, that's Maker's Mark on the right.)

The April 2, 2010, opinion by Federal Judge John G. Heyburn II, of the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, prohibits Jose Cuervo International, Inc., its affiliates and Cuervo's United States distributor Diageo North America, from the use of a dripping red wax seal on any Cuervo tequila product.

"We’re very pleased that a Federal court has ruled that our unique trade dress and bottle design are proprietary to Maker's Mark and off-limits to our competitors," said Bill Samuels, president, Maker's Mark.

"Maker's Mark is unique in many ways, starting first and foremost with our recipe and ending with our iconic red neck coating. We hand dip and personalize every Maker’s Mark bottle - this has been our signature trademark since my mom dipped our very first bottle and always will be. We were confident this would be the outcome, and the formal result is very gratifying."

In issuing an injunction against future use of any infringing trade dress by Cuervo or its distributor Diageo, Judge Heyburn found that consumers and others might be confused about the origin of Cuervo products bearing a device similar to the iconic red wax seal of Maker's Mark – even though the Cuervo product in question is tequila, while Maker's Mark is bourbon whisky – given that the red wax seal is an "extremely strong mark" associated with Maker's Mark Bourbon.

Coming To A Binny's Near You; Brett Pontoni's Whiskey Roadshow.


I guess if you have 24 stores, as Binny's now does, it's a big deal when the chain's whiskey buyer comes out to visit one of them.

His name is Brett Pontoni and you've talked to him if you've ever called Binny's Whiskey Hotline (888-817-5898). Pontoni's job is to talk whiskey, sample whiskey, buy whiskey, write about whiskey, and select exclusive barrels of whiskey. He knows his stuff.

The Brett Pontoni personal appearances tour is called the Whiskey Roadshow. It begins this Friday at Binny's South Loop and continues Saturday at the Naperville store. He'll be pouring his personal favorites during these events. Reservations are suggested.

For a complete schedule go to the events page on Binny's web site.

Whiskey Week Chicago Is April 19-23.

WhiskeyFest is a one-evening, by-ticket-only event, a type of trade show at which producers have booths where they pour samples of their products for eager fans. The event also includes presentations by producer-supplied authorities. It is sponsored by Malt Advocate Magazine, a publication for which I write.

Scheduled for April 23, this is the 10th annual WhiskeyFest in Chicago, which began a year or two after the first WhiskeyFest was held in New York.

As WhiskeyFest in Chicago has grown, producers and local retailers have taken the opportunity to put on other events in proximity to it, during what has come to be called Whiskey Week, despite the lack of an official proclamation from City Hall. Malt Advocate has even begun to publicize these ancillary events. You can find that schedule here.

As they usually do, tickets for WhiskeyFest itself have sold out, but even without one you can still enjoy some of the other Whiskey Week activities.

What Is A Martini?

Whenever questions about 'what is bourbon?' arise, it's helpful that bourbon whiskey is defined by Federal law. There might be disagreements about application and interpretation, but at least there's a reference point.

The martini gets no such help. Consequently, people feel free to call anything served in the iconic martini glass a martini, regardless of the ingredients.

I would like to propose the following rules.

A martini is a drink containing gin or vodka, and dry vermouth. I think I'm being very liberal in allowing vodka, but it stops there.

I know people today want to be creative with their cocktails and like to invent variations on their favorite cocktail recipes. Although the martini has only two ingredients, it permits a wide range of variation. The permissible variations are:
  • You may use any gin or any vodka, including flavored vodka.
  • You may use both gin and vodka.
  • You may use any dry vermouth.
  • You may use any ratio of gin/vodka to vermouth. 
  • You may garnish with olives or onions, stuffed or not, or no garnish.
  • You may add a small amount of olive brine.
I'm also a bit of a rebel in not requiring that the ingredients be stirred with ice and strained into a glass. Not only do I permit shaking, I prefer it, though I know I'm in the minority on that one.

You are welcome to make and enjoy any drink you like, you may even serve it in a martini glass, you may even (and I'm being hugely generous on this one) call it a something-tini, just not a martini.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Blogger Problems.

Blogger is acting up today. I'm posting this mainly because some comments I've received in the past 24 hours aren't posted yet. They have, in fact, been moderated, but some glitch is preventing them from appearing on the site.

I have also heard from several people wanting to know if, in fact, straightbourbon.com is down. It is, and has been for nearly 48 hours. I don't know why. I can tell you that the web site of the company owned by the proprietors of straightbourbon.com is also down.

In the meantime, you might want to try bourbonenthusiast.com or bourbondrinker.com.

The Truth About Water and Ice.

The other day, I wrote about two of the most persistent controversies in the world of whiskey: the whiskey/whisky spelling issue and the "Jack Daniel's isn't bourbon, or is it?" issue. They are similar in that there is much less to both than many people think, and they are both information usually obtained very early in a whiskey drinker's education.

Here's another one. Whiskey is only to be drunk neat; no ice, no water, no soda. Whiskey in a glass, period. Room temperature water is tolerated, but just barely; a drop or two to open up the spirit.

The reality is a little different. If you prefer your whiskey neat then by all means drink it that way. I prefer my whiskey neat. If I am enjoying an alcoholic beverage, at least nine times out of ten it will be whiskey in a glass, period.

But that's not everybody.

The reason ice and cold water are frowned upon is that the lower temperature of the beverage makes your taste and smell receptors less receptive. You can still taste the whiskey, of course, but you can taste less of it, fewer of the subtleties. You don't always have to be tasting, sometimes you can just be drinking, but tasting is more rewarding if the drink is at room temperature.

It is not disrespectful of the whiskey, it is not blasphemy, it is not a waste of good whiskey, it is one thing and one thing only. If your purpose is to taste everything that's in your glass, cold is counter to that purpose. That's what you need to know.

So if you're tasting, stay at room temperature. If you're drinking, do whatever you like. If someone looks askance at it, remember they are the ignorant ones.

As for diluting the whiskey by more than a drop or two, that's okay too, even for serious tasting. Some people find alcohol overpowering, even at forty percent. If you want to, you can cut the spirit by as much as 1:1 and still taste it thoroughly.

Don't go directly to 1:1. Start with a little and add a little more. A good technique is to begin with equal measures of water and whiskey. That way you can't add too much.

The water should be as neutral as possible, though distilled water is unnecessary, and at room temperature, of course.

Again, if you're tasting, keep the water at room temperature. If you're drinking, do whatever you like. Whiskey diluted even four or five parts to one with cold water can be a refreshing drink with meals or in hot weather.

The idea that fine whiskey should never be used in cocktails is absurd as well. Again, that's not the way to study the whiskey's complexity, but every chef will tell you that great dishes require great ingredients. There is, however, a common sense dimension to this. Top shelf whiskey should only be used in drinks where the whiskey is the star, where it is allowed to shine. That's true of all fine spirits, not just whiskey. If the base spirit isn't going to be the star in the drink, use vodka. That's what it's for.

Whiskey exists to be enjoyed. Careful tasting is one way to enjoy it, in a cocktail at a party when other matters have most of your attention is another way. People who tell you that's wrong are themselves wrong and you can tell them I said so.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What If It's Really, Really Good.

Because Maker's Mark is Maker's Mark, everything they do generates push-back. I'd like to modify the plane of the discussion a little bit. Assume for the sake of argument that the new Maker's Mark 46 is really, really good. Maybe one of the best things you've ever tasted. Then how would you feel about it?

Finally, Something New From Maker's Mark.

We've been asking for something like this for a long time.

Who's Brad?