Tuesday, June 29, 2010

New Rye Has 200+ Year Pedigree.

America's newest rye whiskey has a famous name on the label, George Washington.

Yes, that George Washington.

After his presidency, George Washington's Mount Vernon estate included among its many enterprises a distillery, which made whiskey and other spirits from the farm's grains and other produce.

This Thursday, July 1, for the first time since Washington's distillery burned down in 1814, the public will be able buy rye whiskey made there.

And, thanks to a new law in Virginia, they can taste it before they buy it at this special public event.

The extremely limited edition whiskey (550 bottles) was produced in the reconstructed distillery in 2009 according to the General's own recipe discovered by historians in the mansion's extensive records.

Starting at noon, the public will be able to sample small amounts before purchasing one of the unique 375 ml bottles for $85. Proceeds will benefit Mount Vernon's education programs.

The distillery and gristmill are located at 5514 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway (SR 235), about three miles south of the Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens main entrance.

Go here for more information about George Washington's distillery.

The restoration of George Washington's distillery has long been a pet project of the Distilled Spirits Council.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Privilege They Had Not Enjoyed At Any Earlier Time.

I have been wanting to write something about H.R. 5034, a pernicious piece of legislation drafted by and for the benefit of America's beer, wine, and spirits wholesalers. When I saw that a local Chicago-area congressman, Mike Quigley, is one of the sponsors I decided to write it in the form of a letter to him.

Dear Representative Quigley:

As a Chicago resident who has admired much about your political career, I was disappointed to learn of your co-sponsorship of H.R. 5034, which despite its official title is more correctly characterized as the Alcohol Wholesalers Monopoly Protection Act.

The desire of alcohol wholesalers to protect their legal monopoly on the distribution of beverage alcohol products is understandable, as their very profitable businesses face little competitive risk thanks to protections that already exist in the 21st amendment to the U.S. Constitution as well as approximately 4,000 alcohol-related state laws.

Yet in their passion to protect their lucrative entitlement even further, the alcohol wholesalers have drafted reckless legislation that provides no benefit to the American public while risking many negative consequences.

In your April, 2010, statement of support for H.R. 5034, you wrote that “the 21st amendment was intended to allow states to regulate alcoholic beverages free from federal involvement.” That is incorrect. While the 21st amendment was intended to give states broad leeway with regard to alcoholic beverage regulation, much more than they have with other consumer products, it is misleading to characterize that as complete freedom from federal involvement.

It is H.R. 5034 that is “intended to allow states to regulate alcoholic beverages free from federal involvement.” That was never the intent of the 21st amendment.

For more than 20 years I have researched the American whiskey industry, an industry that has been regulated by the federal government since passage of the first federal excise tax in 1791.

Though a revenue measure, that 1791 law provided for federal licensing and oversight of distilleries, the better to ensure collection of the tax.

In the 77 years since the 21st amendment was ratified, alcoholic beverages have been regulated by a mix of local, state and federal laws. Little evidence has been presented to show that this regime has suddenly become ineffective at “the promotion of temperance, the establishment or maintenance of orderly alcoholic beverage markets, the collection of alcoholic beverage taxes, the structure of the state alcoholic beverage distribution system, or the restriction of access to alcoholic beverages by those under the legal drinking age,” its purposes as characterized by H.R. 5034.

Among its many harmful effects, enactment of H.R. 5034 would threaten the Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits (27 CFR Part 5), which provide uniform definitions for distilled spirits products including bourbon whiskey, an American icon whose export value alone is approximately $1 billion a year. Bourbon whiskey is economically and historically important to the United States. H.R. 5034 would allow the 50 states to write their own standards for bourbon whiskey, destroying its integrity and threatening its present high status in both domestic and foreign markets.

The three-tier system of which America’s beverage alcohol wholesalers are so fond casts distributors as relatively small, in-state entities, and therefore easily reachable by state courts and state regulators, which might have more difficulty getting the attention of a giant multinational corporate producer. In recent years, however, many wholesalers have undermined this purpose by using various corporate organizational schemes to become large, multi-state operations themselves. Although they comply with the letter of the law, most now operate across state lines. Some are large and powerful national businesses. They also have found clever ways around the laws intended to prevent them from owning alcoholic beverage producers and vice versa.

Despite their advantaged position, wholesalers feel threatened by the desire of adult consumers to legally acquire beverage alcohol products that monopolist wholesalers refuse to make reasonably available to them in their states.

The goal of H.R. 5034 is to neuter the Supreme Court’s ruling in Granholm v. Heald (2005), which merely said that the 21st amendment does not give states the right to discriminate in favor of in-state producers in violation of the Commerce Clause. That decision has not “opened the floodgates” of underage drinking and tax avoidance that was predicted by the president of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America at the time. But since the wholesalers still fear their monopoly is at risk, they have turned to Congress and proposed this reckless and unnecessary legislation.

As the Court held in Granholm: “The aim of the Twenty-first Amendment was to allow States to maintain an effective and uniform system for controlling liquor by regulating its transportation, importation, and use. The Amendment did not give States the authority to pass nonuniform laws in order to discriminate against out-of-state goods, a privilege they had not enjoyed at any earlier time.”

H.R. 5034 does not restore the intent of the 21st amendment. Rather it creates for wholesalers “a privilege they had not enjoyed at any earlier time.”

Therefore, I urge you to reconsider your endorsement and co-sponsorship of this unfortunate legislative proposal.

sincerely,
Charles K. Cowdery

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Internal Alcohol Industry Battle Heats Up.

"It's an inter-tier dogfight," says Frank Coleman, Senior Vice President of the Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS).

Today the distilled spirits producers, beer brewers, and wine makers of America formed a united front through their respective trade groups to oppose HR 5034, which they characterize as the Wholesaler Monopoly Protection Act. HR 5034 is supported by the wine and beer wholesaler organizations.

Most Americans probably don't know how beverage alcohol regulation works in this country, but it's not like other types of nationally-distributed consumer products. A great deal of authority is retained by the states. The constitutional amendment that ended Prohibition in 1933 set it up this way, in part to ensure ratification. Although HR 5034 is one of those laws that is so broadly written it's hard to predict exactly what its effect would be, many believe it will be discriminatory and anti-competitive.

I oppose HR 5034 not because the producers do but because it's bad for consumers. If you can't get bourbons that are sold in the rest of the country that's usually not the producer's fault, it's the wholesaler or wholesalers that control your state, which in 18 cases is the state.

HR 5034 doesn't benefit anyone except the wholesalers, who have a sweet monopoly going and want to protect it. It will do nothing good for you, the consumer.

Here is the letter sent by the producer groups to every member of Congress:

We, the undersigned beer, wine and spirits associations representing virtually all alcohol beverages produced in the 50 states respectfully request you to preserve the effectiveness of the existing state-based alcohol regulatory system – and support the constitutional principles that protect the marketplace against discriminatory and anti-competitive state laws – by rejecting H.R. 5034.

The current system of alcohol beverage regulation in the U.S. provides a proven and effective balance between states and the federal government that allows for local flexibility while providing necessary consistency and fairness on a national basis. This allows producers, distributors and retailers to conduct business in an efficient and effective manner that best serves the interests of the American public.

The National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) and the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) seek to dramatically alter the current system of alcohol regulation. With H.R. 5034, NBWA and WSWA want to put brewers, wineries, distillers and retailers at a competitive disadvantage; allow states to unfairly and arbitrarily enact protectionist laws against out-of-state beer, wine and spirits producers; and effectively eliminate federal oversight of alcohol. Specifically, H.R. 5034 would allow states to pass laws that violate the dormant Commerce Clause, federal antitrust laws and any other Act of Congress.

We fully support existing state alcohol regulatory systems and believe they provide an effective and efficient balance of control that serves the interests of consumers, producers and the marketplace as a whole. We strongly oppose H.R. 5034 and respectfully ask that you refrain from supporting this unnecessary legislation.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Case For Better American Blends.

On Saturday I wrote about the difference between American blended whiskey and blended whiskey as it is produced in Scotland, Ireland, Canada and most other places where whiskey is made. I recently wrote about this in WHISKY Magazine (Issue No. 87) as well.

I keep thinking that American producers should look seriously into all-whiskey blends, mixing straight whiskey with light whiskey, for example.

The idea is to create an American whiskey product with a lighter taste that's also a good value relative to straight whiskey, one that provides a better drinking experience than current American blended whiskeys which are typically 4/5 vodka.

But please, producers, don't promote it as a type. Create an attractive brand identity and promote that. People buy brands, not types.

Jack Daniel's and Early Times (both Brown-Forman products) have proved that consumers are perfectly happy with "whiskey" as the type. "Kentucky whisky" and "Tennessee whiskey" are terms that appear nowhere in the Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits. Legally, they're both just "whiskey."

Similarly, Seagram's Seven (a Diageo product) doesn't seem to suffer from the term "blended whiskey" that must appear on its label. To most people, Seagram's Seven is whiskey, period, despite the fact that it is 3/4 vodka.

The only type of whiskey that requires a modifier is blended whiskey. Maybe that's wrong. Maybe blended whiskey that is 100% whiskey (no NGS) deserves to just be "whiskey," without a modifier.

Why not?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Celebrate July 4th With America’s Native Spirit.

Several of Kentucky’s signature Bourbon distilleries will be open on Sunday, July 4th so you can celebrate the birth of our nation with America’s official native spirit.

“The rich tradition of Kentucky Bourbon is intertwined with our nation’s storied past,” said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. “It’s fueled the economy of Kentucky and played a vital role in the culture, heritage and history of America.”

In fact, George Washington had the largest whiskey distillery in the 18th century, Gregory said.

Here is the Kentucky Bourbon Trail schedule for Saturday, July 3, through Monday, July 5. All hours are Eastern Standard Time. For directions and more information, please visit www.kybourbontrail.com.

Four Roses, Lawrenceburg – Open Saturday, July 3, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (last tour at 3 p.m.) Closed Sunday, July 4. Open Monday, July 5, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (last tour at 3 p.m.)

Heaven Hill, Bardstown – Open Saturday, July 3, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last full tour at 3:30 p.m.) Open Sunday, July 4, noon to 4 p.m. (last tour begins at 3 p.m.) Closed Monday, July 5.

Jim Beam, Clermont – Open Saturday, July 3, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Open Sunday, July 4, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Open Monday, July 5, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Maker’s Mark, Loretto – Open Saturday, July 3, 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Open Sunday, July 4, 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Open Monday, July 5, 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg – Tours Saturday, July 3, at 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Gift shop will be open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Closed Sunday, July 4. Open Monday, July 5, with tours at 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Gift shop will be open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Woodford Reserve, Versailles – Tours Saturday, July 3, at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Gift shop will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Sunday, July 4, and Monday, July 5.

Friday, June 18, 2010

What's The Difference Between Scotch And Bourbon?

The question I am probably asked more than any other is, "what's the difference between scotch and bourbon?"

Sometimes I start by explaining the difference between blended and single-malt scotch and then draw a parallel to American whiskey. Scotland has blended whiskey and so does the United States. Scottish blends are like American blends and single malt scotch is like bourbon, right?

Not exactly.

You might think everybody at least knows what whiskey is, but there are points of contention there too. Europeans declare that grain spirit aged for less than three years is not whiskey. Indians declare that any spirit that resembles whiskey in appearance and taste is whiskey, even if it’s not made from grain.

What is the real difference between scotch and bourbon? They taste nothing alike, that’s the real difference. Why do they taste nothing alike? The legal regimes under which they operate have a little bit to do with it. But the traditions and aspirations of producers, and the preferences of consumers, are most of it.

Take the difference between Scottish and American blends, for example.

Everybody knows what vodka is and nobody considers it whiskey, even though most vodka is made from grain. It isn’t whiskey because it is distilled to neutrality (generally considered to be 95% alcohol) and not aged.

But, in effect, the United States says vodka is whiskey if you replace at least 1/5 of it with straight whiskey. Then it is blended whiskey (20% straight whiskey, 80% vodka).

Canadians and Europeans get to just about the same place by a different and slightly less magical route. Instead of 95% alcohol they distill their beer to 94.5% alcohol and put it in wood for three years. They call that whiskey and it is found in virtually all of their blends.

So on paper, at least, Scottish, Irish, Canadian, and American blends are almost the same, yet anyone who has tasted both would vehemently disagree. The difference isn’t the 1/2 of 1% neutrality difference, or even those precious three years in wood. It’s that the Scots (and the Irish and Canadians) produce cheap blends but also very fine and expensive blends, and everything in between, while the U.S. produces cheap blends only.

That has nothing to do with rules and regs.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What Is Blended Light Whiskey?


In the typically obscure way of whiskey enthusiasts we were talking about light whiskey, a bad idea from the late 1960s. Someone produced a bottle of Four Roses labeled "light whiskey-a blend." I off-handedly opined that it probably was light whiskey blended with GNS (vodka).

It was not.

The reg says, "If 'light whisky' is mixed with less than 20 percent of straight whisky on a proof gallon basis, the mixture shall be designated 'blended light whisky' (light whisky—a blend)."

No GNS.

So I stood corrected, but it reminded me of something else that was pointed out to me recently. You can search Canadian liquor store shelves long and hard, and unless it has been imported from an American bottler you will not find a blended Canadian whisky. Up there they simply call it Canadian whisky.

The U.S. reg says "if such product is a mixture of whiskies, such mixture is 'blended Canadian whisky' (Canadian whisky--a blend)."

Canadian whisky is considered a blend even though it contains no GNS because it contains whiskeys of different types; i.e., corn whiskey, wheat whiskey, malt whiskey, rye whiskey, etc. It's all whiskey, by our definition and theirs, but of different types.

Likewise, blended light whiskey is a mixture of whiskeys, straight whiskey and light whiskey, no GNS. The "less that 20%" is because if it were more than 20% it would simply be "blended whiskey." Blended whiskey is straight whiskey (20% or more) mixed with whiskey (any kind) and/or neutral spirits.

Today, virtually all blends contain the minimum amount of straight whiskey and the rest is GNS, which is the cheapest combination possible under the rules.

Arguably, since it can't contain GNS and must contain some straight whiskey, blended light whiskey would be a more desirable product than either light whiskey or blended whiskey, at least on paper, but perhaps the difference wouldn't be great enough to win many converts.

I keep thinking that if sustained strong demand makes cheap straight 4-year-old bourbon a thing of the past, there might be room at that price point for products that bridge the gap. Stretching a little straight whiskey with light whiskey wouldn't be quite as cheap as a little more straight whiskey cut with GNS, but it would be close and a lot better tasting, at least in theory. It's just theory because nobody makes such a product.

And that's what makes this meditation so obscure.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Malt Advocate Joins M. Shanken, Inc.

It may just be a coincidence, but on Friday I guest-blogged for John Hansell on "What Does John Know" and today he announced that his Malt Advocate Inc. has joined M. Shanken, Inc., publishers of the Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado, Market Watch, Food Arts, and Impact. In addition to publishing Malt Advocate magazine, Malt Advocate Inc. produces annual WhiskeyFest events in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Both companies have interests in publishing and events, and both cater to the beverage alcohol industry.

I am a regular contributor to Malt Advocate magazine.

John Hansell will remain Malt Advocate magazine’s Publisher & Editor, and Amy Westlake will continue as Director of WhiskyFest events. Malt Advocate, Inc. operations will remain at their current office in Emmaus, PA.

Congratulations John and Amy, and bravo!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Guest Blogging Today At "What Does John Know?"

Perhaps today John Hansell's blog should be called "What Does Chuck Know," or maybe, "What Does Chuck Do A Convincining Job Of Pretending He Knows."

Either way, if you want to read my guest blog post about some of the laws that govern bourbon labeling, click here.

For those of you who may not know him, John Hansell is Publisher and Editor of Malt Advocate Magazine, for which I am a regular contributor.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

More Information About New Jim Beam Signature.

I spoke to Adam Graber today, who is on Beam's innovation team, and I have quite a bit more information about Jim Beam Signature Six Grains. As I reported yesterday the six grains are corn, rye, malt, wheat, brown rice, and triticale.

The folks at Beam were nice enough to get me a bottle too so, first, tasting notes.

At six to seven years old, this should be similar to Jim Beam Black, which it just so happens I was drinking liberally last night during the hockey match. It isn't. It is very different. It reminds me a little of Bernheim wheat. It has a nuttiness to it, brazil nut, hazelnut, that sort of thing. I'm also reminded of granola. It has a big mouth feel and is a little drier than most bourbons. I'm getting, of all things, intense notes of root beer on the nose.

It's quite good, well-balanced. It's not just interesting, it's good.

Now, the backstory. Every year in the fall, before they start up again for the winter season, they have a few days when then can try some things, a week to ten days typically. R&D always comes in with a 'wish list' of experiments they want to try.

They have been doing this for years. This particular project started under Jerry Dalton, when he was Master Distiller, with Fred Noe and the other distillers participating. (Dalton retired in 2007.) As Graber put it, "with Jerry being scientifically-minded, he was always interested in trying different small grains, more for basic learning than with the idea of developing new products." They carefully document the conversion rates and yields of the different combinations.

They experiment with different mash bills, yeasts, distillation proofs, entry proofs, woods, everything.

They do use the regular set up at Clermont to make these, not a pilot distillery, although they do have one. "We're not set up for really small scale production but we can do it," said Graber. A typical experimental batch is about 40 barrels.

The Six Grains product is actually a combination of several different whiskeys, melded together, some of which were seven years old. Everything is bourbon but with a very high percentage of small grains, about 30%, so about twice the usual amount.

They never made a six grain mash. They made a bourbon mash using wheat instead of rye. Then another one using brown rice instead of rye, that sort of thing. Graber said the brown rice white dog especially had an unusual flavor.

They all used the standard Jim Beam yeast.

It came to about 4,000 cases.

So that's why Travel Retail. "If we went into domestic distribution," said Graber, "we'd sell all of it just in Kentucky. We thought travel retail would be a good showcase for it."

My friend Lief in Sweden, who called it to my attention, caught it quick as it only just started to ship. They're putting about 2,000 cases into Europe, the rest will go to Australia and other markets, all in Duty Free/Travel Retail. The rest of the roll-out is still a few months away.

Most of the experiments they do never become products. After they have researched them for all of the learning they can gain, they're just blended away into other products. But there are a lot of these experiments in the pipeline, though that's all they would tell me.

They hinted, however, that the next thing to hit the market will be for the Knob Creek brand.

I applaud Jim Beam for doing this and for being so open in talking about it. I wish they had made it more available for enthusiasts here in the USA, but the strategy for limited distribution products is always tricky.

Despite the inconvenience, I have no doubt that many clever enthusiasts will find a way to get their hands on a bottle.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Beam Listens, Responds, Creates New Products.

Back in October I gave it to Beam Global for their lack of new enthusiast products. I was not alone. Since then we have had Old Crow Reserve, a small step but one in the right direction. In a few weeks we will have Maker's Mark 46, a very much bigger deal.

But the flagship product of Beam Global Spirits & Wine continues to be Jim Beam Bourbon, the world's number one bourbon, which does lots of nice commemorative bottles but hasn't had a new product targeted at whiskey enthusiasts in a very long time. Note the caveat. Whatever you may think of Red Stag by Jim Beam, you have to agree it was not created for whiskey enthusiasts.

Then rumors reached me about a new Jim Beam product spotted in Europe, in Travel Retail (what used to be called Duty Free) outlets. It was called Jim Beam Signature. Normally a Travel Retail bottling is nothing special, maybe an age or proof not normally available, usually in a fancy package with a fancy price to match. This one was six years old and 89° proof (44.5% ABV).

But the label included two very provocative words: "six grains." That's not a claim you can easily brush away as fluff. That's specific. It also means true "small batch" production. Normally what's "small" about small batch bourbons is the bottling batch, a small number of (one hopes) exceptional barrels specially selected. That's true of virtually every small batch whiskey on the market, not just those from Beam.

But to make a special mash bill in an ordinary distillery takes a commitment. More often that sort of thing is piloted first, in a smaller distillery. Not every producer has one. It figures that Beam would, but I've never seen it nor heard anybody talk about it. I'm still looking for details but Beam does have such a distillery and that is where this product was made.

So, what are the six grains?

First, of course, is corn (maize), which is more than 51% of the mash. It is a bourbon.

Second and Third, as you would expect, it contains the other two standard Jim Beam Bourbon grains, rye and malted barley.

Fourth, the other obvious choice: wheat.

Fifth and Sixth, now it gets interesting. Number 5 is triticale, a hybrid of wheat and rye created about a century ago. Number 6 is brown rice.

Fred Noe is credited with the product's creation and it is the first in a series.

I expect to have more information shortly, including perhaps a sample to taste, but couldn't wait to share what I've already learned. This is exciting.

It does strike me that this sort of thing, more than being a response to me and other critics, is a response to the growing craft distilling movement. You can be cynical about that, I suppose, but count me as someone who wants to taste what the distillers at Jim Beam can do when they get a chance to cut loose.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Tuthilltown's Hudson Whiskey Is Not Whiskey In Europe.

Now that William Grant & Sons has decided to take Hudson Whiskeys worldwide, perhaps someone will address the elephant in the room. None of Tuthilltown Distillery's Hudson Whiskey products may be legally sold as 'whiskey' in the European Union (EU) or many other parts of the world that have modeled their own rules on Europe's.

That's because, unlike the United States, the European Union defines 'whiskey' as "a spirit drink produced by the distillation of a mash of cereals...matured for at least three years in wooden casks." The Hudson line's flagship, Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey, is three months old, 33 months shy of the minimum.

What is whiskey? Depending on where you sit, there is more than one correct answer. Hudson Baby Bourbon, whiskey in the United States, is not whiskey in Europe.

There was a show on Discovery Channel last night called "How Whiskey Made America." As far-fetched as their stories were, they were only fetched at all if you consider 'whiskey' and 'alcohol' synonyms.

They most emphatically are not.

After the Civil War, the growth of railroads and introduction of the column still transformed distilling from an extension of agriculture into a fully commercialized industry. Trains gave distillers a national market, which allowed them to grow big. At the same time, the new technology of the column still made it possible for the first time to produce a colorless, odorless, and tasteless distillate, which they called 'grain alcohol,' that was virtually pure ethanol.

Terminology was pretty simple then. If it was made from grain it was whiskey, just like it was rum if made from molasses and brandy if made from grapes.

People who took the newly-available grain alcohol (what we call vodka) and flavored it with tea, prune juice, tobacco, and other ingredients to make it resemble aged whiskey felt entitled to call their product whiskey too, since it was made from grain.

But the people who carefully crafted a rich, low-proof spirit and flavored it with nothing but oak felt they had the sole right to use the word. The grain alcohol flavorers, known as "rectifiers," were by far the larger block. The forces for "pure whiskey" were concentrated in Kentucky and Tennessee.

The battle between these two groups raged until 1909 and the Taft Decision, which represented a victory for the Taylors, Browns, Motlows, Samuels, Beams, Dants, Wathens, Medleys and other whiskey-making families.

The Taft Decision codified the definitions of "whiskey," "straight whiskey," and "blended whiskey" as we know them today. Since then it has been the case that although "storage in oak containers" is required, no minimum aging duration has ever been specified.

As recently as 1968 a group of producers argued for the adoption of a three- or four-year minimum, but the U.S. Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division (predecessor of today's Tax and Trade Bureau) rejected the proposal. The agency concluded that "it is preferable to permit the consumer an adequate basis for the selection of whiskies (even immature ones) than to limit his choice by banning them from the market. The mere desire to conform American regulations to those applicable in foreign countries is not sufficient justification for imposing the proposed limitation." (Industry Circular 68-03)

Therefore, on behalf of producers such as Tuthilltown, the American trade representative should argue that the United States is a major whiskey-producing country, has been for hundreds of years, and has a whiskey-making heritage that developed independently of other whiskey-making traditions. Current American rules are consistent with that tradition.

It is not in the spirit of fair trade to expect American producers to change their authentic and long-held practices in favor of European ones. Nor is it in the interest of European consumers, who want access to authentic American products, not proxies reformulated to pass muster with regulators in Brussels.

However, American producers need to be very careful about seeming to support changing the U.S. rules to eliminate the aging requirement altogether (the 'white whiskey' debate) while simultaneously arguing that the EU should recognize American rules that require aging but conspicuously do not require a minimum aging duration. It would, however, be appropriate to argue that corn whiskey should be exempt from any aging requirement.

It is absurd that while the EU recognizes "Bourbon Whiskey" as a distinctive product of the United States, it doesn't accept the American definition of Bourbon Whiskey.

An acceptable compromise would be to allow that, in the EU, any product to be labeled "whiskey/whisky" only, with no modifier, must be at least three years old, but products labeled "American Whiskey," "American Blended Whiskey," "Bourbon Whiskey," "Rye Whiskey," "Corn Whiskey," etc., would only have to meet the requirements for use of those terms in the United States.

William Grant & Sons bought a brand called "Hudson Whiskey." It's hard to see how that brand is worth very much if the word "whiskey" can't be used anywhere except the U.S.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Maker's Mark 46 Likely To Ship On Schedule.

The glass has arrived!

The bottles for Maker's Mark 46 have arrived at the distillery and bottling of the new product is underway. Maker's Mark 46 should begin to arrive in stores around July 1. I'm anxious to hear what you think of it.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Maker's Mark Reverses Policy, Readies New Line Extension.

In September, 2009, Malt Advocate publisher John Hansell hosted a webcast at the Maker’s Mark Distillery with Master Distiller Kevin Smith and John Campbell, Distillery Manager at Laphroaig. (Beam Global owns both distilleries and sponsored the event.)

Because Campbell brought three different Laphroaigs, Hansell asked Smith if there would ever be another Maker’s. Smith gave his usual answer. Maker's is a small distillery and struggles to make enough Maker's Mark without trying to make something else too.

When he said that, he knew it was about to change.

Next month, Maker's Mark will release its first new product (a few bottles at different proofs notwithstanding) since the distillery was founded more than 50 years ago.

The new expression, Maker's Mark 46, is a finish, meaning it is the standard product with an extra twist. Whiskey finishes typically take a fully-aged whiskey and transfer it to another kind of barrel for a few additional months. The prototypical example is a single malt scotch finished in sherry casks.

In Maker's case, heavily seared French oak pieces are placed in just-emptied Maker's Mark barrels, which are then refilled and returned to the warehouses. The result is an increase in several spice notes without the tannic bitterness that usually accompanies them.

It totally works.

The complete story is in the new issue of The Bourbon Country Reader, Volume 12, Number 6.

Subscriptions to The Bourbon Country Reader are $20/year for U.S. addresses. $24.50 for Canada, and $28.50 for everybody else. It is published six times a year. Well, maybe not, but your subscription always includes six issues. Click here to subscribe with PayPal or any major credit card.

Maker's Mark 46 is expected to be in stores after July 1.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Rye Revival Is a Mirage.

Every publication this side of "Highlights for Children" has done a story about the rye whiskey revival. I've written a couple of them myself.

But for all the buzz, sales of straight rye whiskey are still tiny. At best they have grown a little, but from a very small base.

Last December in The Bourbon Country Reader, I wrote that I've talked to the distilleries and if they were making rye three days a year, it is now four, but that's all the more it has grown after several years of good press.

Now I've gotten some sales numbers. The person who gave them to me explained that the numbers for Heaven Hill's and Sazerac's products are low because they don't report their sales figures. As private companeis, they don't have to. What numbers we have for them come from what they sell to control states, which is reported by the states.

Still, this will give you some idea. It represents a running year, so May 2009 through April 2010 in this case.

Jim Beam Rye is far and away the leader at 42,365 cases. To give you a frame of reference, the big bourbon and Tennessee whiskey brands -- Jim, Jack and Evan -- each sell millions of cases a year. Wild Turkey 101 and Maker's Mark are each a bit shy of breaking the million-case threshold. A brand like Knob Creek or Woodford Reserve will sell more than 100,000 cases a year.

So if the number one rye is 42,365 cases, that means it's a very small category.

Second after Jim Beam Rye is Old Overholt Rye, which Beam makes. It clocks in at 18,804 cases. Third is Beam's Ri 1, at 3,746 cases. The three Beam ryes are 87 percent of the category (as reported).

Next, astonishingly, is Templeton Rye at 3,351 cases, followed by Wild Turkey Rye at 2,750 cases. Sazerac Rye ("Baby Saz") is next at 1,158 cases, Rittenhouse BIB and 86 have reported just 254 and 183 cases respectively.

Why gather these numbers if we know they're not accurate? We know some (Beam's) are accurate. We know the others aren't high, we know they''re low, we just don't know how low.

Even though they don't report, if Heaven Hill's or Sazerac's ryes were outselling Beam's, they'd figure out a way to get that information out there. Heaven Hill, for example, provides enough information about the sales of Evan Williams black label to support their claim that it ranks third after Jack and Jim.

That Templeton Rye, sold in two states, is outselling Wild Turkey Rye, which is sold in 50, is fascinating too. High West sold over 1,000 cases, most of it Rendezvous Rye. Russell's Reserve Rye sold 787 cases.

So I guess this is another "curb your enthusiasm" post. The rye-ality is that the rye revival is a mirage.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sale of Hudson Whiskey Brand Gives Craft Distillers New Credibility.

In at least one key respect, the craft distilling movement came of age today with news that Tuthilltown Spirits has formed a partnership with William Grant & Sons for production and worldwide distribution of Tuthilltown’s Hudson Whiskey brand. William Grant & Sons--makers of Glenfiddich, The Balvenie, and Grant’s--will own the Hudson Whiskey line and distribute it world wide. Tuthilltown will make the whiskeys.

The Tuthilltown distillery itself and its non-whiskey brands will continue to be owned by Brian Lee and Ralph Erenzo.

Established in 1887, UK-based William Grant & Sons is an independent, family-owned distiller, now on its fifth generation of Grant family ownership. Lee and Erenzo opened Tuthilltown in 2003 and launched the first whiskeys in the Hudson range in 2006. The distillery is located in Gardiner, New York.

In addition to its scotch whiskey, William Grant & Sons is behind Hendrick’s Gin, Milagro Tequila, Sailor Jerry Rum, Frangelico Hazelnut Liqueur, and Stolichnaya vodka.

This deal is the most tangible evidence yet that America’s small but hardy band of micro distillers is making an impression on the international distilled spirits industry. Tuthilltown has been a leader in the young movement. It was instrumental in passage of New York’s Farm Distillery Act, which permits farm-based distilleries to give tours, hold tastings, and sell their products at the distillery. Last month, Tuthilltown was named Artisan Distillery Of The Year by the American Distilling Institute.