Monday, June 30, 2014

It's Not 'Monk' or 'Mork,' It's Old Mock


Old Mock is a whiskey produced before Prohibition and sold as medicinal whiskey during Prohibition by A. Ph. Stitzel and the Wathen family's American Medicinal Spirits Company, both of Louisville . People know about it because Mike Miller, the owner of Delilah's in Chicago, acquired a supply some years ago and sells it for about $50 a drink at the bar.

Because of the odd name and the odd typeface used on the bottle, some people think the name is 'Old Monk.' There is, in fact, a brand of rum called 'Old Monk,' but that is something else entirely. Others think it's called 'Old Mork,' which would be funny but it's not true.

No, the name is Old Mock, but no one has ever explained its origins.

Many products, of course, are named after people, and that appears to be the case here. In Athertonville, in Kentucky's LaRue County, there were several distilleries beginning as early as 1800. Thomas Lincolon, Abe's father, reportedly worked in one of them. The final chapter in Athertonville's story was a distillery called Cummins-Collins that was last owned by Seagram's. It closed for good in 1987. In 1933, the company's officers included Arthur Cummins, of course, but the secretary and treasurer was E. J. Mock.

The Mock family has been in Kentucky since the earliest days. According to a family publication called "The Mock Family Historian," William Randolph Mock came to Kentucky in 1796 and settled near Danville on a farm of 550 acres. He established a distillery there in 1842, which was continued by the family until about 1899. It was never very big, mashing at most 50 bushels a day. Old Mock was their brand. Someone, possibly E. J. Mock of Athertonville, kept the brand alive after 1899, until it came to rest with Stitzel after 1920.

Cecil says Old Mock was merely bottled by Stitzel using whiskey obtained from a variety of sources but he didn't know what those sources were. The Mock family has located a full-size bottle apparently produced by Stitzel-Weller after Prohibition, but its run was clearly short.

Miller still has a Prohibition pint on his back bar in Chicago.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

It's Time to Call Out the New Drys and Their Junk Science


The U. S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) seems to have a tickler file that tells them to release some scary anti-alcohol study right before the Independence Day holiday, so everyone who enjoys a cold one will feel at least a little bit guilty about it. Last year at about this time they were hawking junk science in opposition to liquor privatization in Pennsylvania, earning them a rebuke from a former chairman of the American Medical Association.

This year, it's this eye-grabber: "Drinking behind 1 in 10 deaths of working-age adults." What editor can resist a headline like that? The CDC is so credible, no one even thinks to challenge them.

They should.

The person behind all this New Dry blather at CDC is Bob Brewer, who runs the CDC's anti-alcohol section. How ironic that a prominent New Dry is named 'Brewer.' It's like if the president of PETA was named "Beef." One example of CDC's recent excess is its 'Community Guide' to preventing excessive alcohol consumption.

As the Distilled Spirits Council puts it: "What's really shocking and disappointing is Dr. Brewer's failure to use this opportunity to emphasize evidence-based strategies including screening and intervention, which the CDC promoted earlier this year as a proven, effective approach."

Instead, CDC proposes typical New Dry solutions like higher taxes, banning advertising, and limiting hours of sale. In control states, CDC opposes privatization. In license states, they want to reduce the number and density of licensed outlets.  

CDC predicted that privatization in Washington State would lead to a 44 percent median increase in per capita alcohol sales. Washington State's data showed a per capita alcohol sales increase of less than one percent.

As for using higher taxes as a deterrent, studies including research by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism have shown that alcohol abusers are affected little by price. It is moderate, responsible consumers who are most sensitive to prices and are the ones who cut back the most when prices rise.

Not only is that supported by research, it makes sense. That's what addicts do. Tobacco addicts now pay more than $12 a pack for cigarettes in Chicago. Everyone agrees that alcohol abuse is bad, but we don't need CDC lying in the public interest.

Last week the scare headline was "What underage drinkers drink when they binge drink." The Washington Post bit on that one, as did many others. The New Dry behind it is David H. Jernigan, who directs the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

The Distilled Spirits Council called him out like this: "David Jernigan and his agenda-driven surveys continue to make a mockery of true and honest scientific inquiry. According to government research, the vast majority of underage drinkers -- 91.3% -- do not purchase their own alcohol, but rather obtain it from parents and other legal-age adults. This fundamental fact makes this survey meaningless and a complete waste of $2,242,826 in taxpayer money." If they're drinking Bud Light, it's because that's what's in Dad's beer fridge, not because they have a brand preference due to advertising (although Daddy might).

Even the Washington Post reporter finds it odd that little Johnny is drinking Jack Daniel's since "it is significantly more expensive than other lower shelf whiskeys." But instead of reaching the obvious conclusion (he didn't buy it himself), the Post's guy jumps to Jernigan's absurd conclusion: it's because Jack Daniel's spends so much on marketing.

Perhaps Jernigan fears his job is in jeopardy because binge drinking and underage drinking rates among high school students have reached all-time lows.

It seems that in America, there is always somebody who wants to revive some failed idea of the past, such as prohibition. Brewer and Jernigan are spending my money on this junk and they should knock it off.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Tennessee Whiskey Trail Puts Everything in One Place


As Kentucky has the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Tennessee has one now too. It's unofficial and self-funded, says Joe Barnes, one of the principals. That's unlike Kentucky's, which is owned by the Kentucky Distillers' Association (KDA).

Also unlike the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which only promotes dues-paying members of the KDA, the Tennessee Whiskey Trail promotes everybody. This is both good and bad, because they clearly care little about quality control.

The Tennessee Whiskey Trail is basically a web site and a map. They make money selling T-shirts and advertising, but not much. Barnes calls it "a labor of love." The site describes it as "your source for location, information, vacation, distillation, gyration, and visitation to each of Tennessee’s distilleries. This site hopes to encourage locals and foreigners (I’m looking at you Kentucky) to take time to visit and enjoy this quintessentially Tennessean sipping beverage."

Unfortunately, only a few of the Tennessee Whiskey Trail distilleries make whiskey of any kind and even fewer make actual Tennessee whiskey according to Tennessee law. Most sell a 'legal moonshine' product that in many cases is just industrial vodka in a mason jar with a clever name and label. Some of them aren't even distilleries. But, all in all, it's a nice snapshot of where Tennessee is right now, especially with microdistilleries.

There are some real micros in Tennessee doing interesting things, like Prichard's, Corsair, Nelson's Greenbrier, and Collier & McKeel. Jack Daniel's and George Dickel aren't too shabby either. Then there are the tourist traps like Ole Smokey, Gatlinburg Barrel House, Popcorn Sutton's, and Full Throttle. Depending on what you're into, any of the above might be entertaining to visit.

It's unclear whether or not their one banner ad, for a Nashville company that sells Tennessee Whiskey Trail Tours, is just them or a separate entity. They appear to be one and the same. The tour company's tours only cover Jack Daniel's, George Dickel, and Prichard's. If you want to see any of the other places you're on your own, but the Trail's website provides an interactive Google Maps tool that allows you to put together an itinerary pretty easily. They also tell you which distilleries offer tours, and provide links to the distillery web sites.

If you're interested in visiting some distilleries in Tennessee, this is the place you need to go, just be aware that many of the listed 'distilleries' are a lot less than they seem. Many of them are just tourist attractions with a little bit of attraction and a lot of stuff to sell.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Another Big Fuss About a Small Distillery



About a month ago, the biggest drinks company in the world announced its plan to build a new distillery in Kentucky, capable of producing a maximum of 750,000 cases of bourbon a year. The brand it's supposed to make there, Bulleit Bourbon, already sells about 650,000 cases a year and is growing fast, so obviously they're going to make only some of it at the new place.

On Thursday, a group calling itself the Bardstown Bourbon Company (BBC) announced its intention to build a jazzy new distillery (architect's rendering above) in an industrial park overlooking the Martha Layne Collins Bluegrass Parkway. It will be capable, they say, of producing up to 450,000 cases a year. They also introduced their master distiller, Steve Nally, formerly of Wyoming Whiskey and before that, Maker's Mark, a well-known and respected figure in Kentucky whiskey circles. He intends to make a wheated bourbon at BBC, as he did in Wyoming and Loretto.

Although this new place will be much bigger than the one in Wyoming, it's about half the size of Maker's, which is in the middle of a long-delayed expansion.

To put all this into perspective, that little distillery down in Lynchburg will produce about 13 million cases this year.

While we're looking at numbers, how come it's going to cost Diageo $115M to build a 750,000-case distillery, when BBC says it can build a 450,000-case distillery for $25M? I know Diageo is a foreign company, but that's one hell of a locals discount.

It's not just those two outfits. Wild Turkey never did explain how they are going to double production in their new facility using the same size beer still as the old place.

More often than not nothing goes according to plan, but even if this new distillery starts producing next fall it won't have anything worth drinking before 2020 at the soonest.

It's great that new distilleries are going up and it's great that Kentucky and the respective cities and counties are supporting it. Kentucky and Tennessee are to whiskey what Wisconsin is to cheese, they should make the most of it. But please, someone, wake me when the whiskey is ready.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Seagram's Explains the Multiple-Chamber Charge Still



During WWII, Joseph E. Seagram and Sons, Inc. operated 14 distilleries in Kentucky, one in Indiana, and several more in Canada. They needed a lot of distillers to run all of those distilleries and were famous for the high quality of their distiller training program.

Continuing our conversation about chambered stills, Thomas McKenzie, Master Distiller at Finger Lakes Distillery in New York, and his assistant, Jerry McCall, submitted the diagram above and the description of it that follows, both taken from the Seagram's text book, Fundamentals of Distillery Practice, by Herman Willkie and Joseph A. Prochaska (1943).

After reading this and the rest of the series, I think what we have in the chambered still is a transitional technology, bridging the gap between simple alembics and continuous stills. That's why they disappeared after a short run and why they never caught on in some places, like Kentucky. My question is this: is there any way in which the continuous still is not superior to these chambered stills?

The description is as follows:


Charge Still. A charge still usually consists of three or four large chambers superimposed one above another. Heat is supplied at the base of the column, either directly in the form of steam or indirectly by means of an external tubular heater and causes the vapor to rise from chamber to chamber, whereas in a continuous column, liquid does not flow from section to section. At the beginning of the operation, the chambers are filled partially with the liquid to be distilled. After the liquid in the bottom chamber has been freed of alcohol by distillation, the chamber is emptied. The contents of each of the other sections are transferred to the next chamber below. The top section is refilled with fresh feed along with some distillate of low alcohol content which is obtained toward the end of each operational cycle when the liquid in the bottom chamber nears exhaustion.

Although there is a high consumption of steam and a pronounced thermal decomposition of beer, a charge still may be used for distilling material containing a large quantity of suspended solids.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Whiskey Shortage? Not at Wild Turkey


In the famous fable, Henny Penny, aka Chicken Little, cries "the sky is falling!" Another famous fowl, Wild Turkey Bourbon, says that's all there is to this so-called 'whiskey shortage,' at least for them.

Today, Wild Turkey released a statement from Andrew Floor, the senior marketing director, dark spirits at Campari America. He explains how both Wild Turkey and Russell’s Reserve are weathering the storm.


While demand for quality American whiskey is at an all-time high, Wild Turkey is not affected by the 'whiskey shortage' that has been widely publicized by other distillers in the industry. In fact, Wild Turkey is bucking the 'shortage' trend and is set to meet the dramatic growing demand of its products, not only domestically but overseas as well.

For many years, the Wild Turkey bourbon brand has implemented a sophisticated long-term forecasting process that guides production. More importantly, the Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, Wild Turkey Distillery has two of the ultimate forecasters in father/son distilling duo Jimmy and Eddie Russell. With 93 years of combined experience, these whiskey prognosticators know how to stack the deck in Wild Turkey’s favor to ensure enough aged whiskey is available for the public.

As a reminder, Wild Turkey’s parent company, Gruppo Campari, has invested more than $100 million in the brand since its purchase in 2009, including doubling the plant's production capabilities, constructing a new packaging facility and building multiple barrel warehouses.

We are confident consumers’ enjoyment of Wild Turkey and Russell’s Reserve won’t be interrupted any time soon.



Jim Beam made a similar announcement about a week ago. For Jack Daniel's, it goes without saying. This is the other side of the coin. The biggest brands have plenty of stock and a million ways to move inventory around to avoid even brief spot shortages. Beam has issues with Maker's Mark, of course, but not with the Jim Beam family itself. Wild Turkey, though much smaller, is the same way. The point is, they saw it coming. 

I might quibble with Floor's contention that other distillers are publicizing the shortage. The Buffalo Trace announcement may have prompted some of it, but "the sky is falling!" stuff mostly seems to come from the media itself. They find 'whiskey shortage' makes for an eye-catching headline.

So do I.

Monday, June 23, 2014

"Running on the Log," with J. W. Dant



Herein I will tie together our ongoing discussion about Maryland Rye and wooden stills with Saturday's post about Gethsemane Distillery.

One of the early distilleries at the Gethsemane site was founded by Joseph Bernard (J. B.) Dant. He was the eldest son of Joseph Washington (J. W.) Dant, who came to Kentucky with Captain Sam Pottinger and established several distilleries in Marion County.

J. B.'s main brand was Yellowstone. The family's Marion County place made J. W. Dant Bourbon, both before and after Prohibition. After 1947, both plants produced bourbon for the J. W. Dant brand.

As J. W. Dant was a major brand, it had marketing and advertising, and therefore it had an origin myth. "Myth" doesn't mean it isn't true, but all we have is the marketer's version of the story, which goes something like this.


Joseph Washington Dant was one of our pioneering bourbon production giants. Little is known of his early life other than that he was reared on a farm and received an early education. Records indicate his first occupation as that of a blacksmith. Joseph would eventually turn his love to distilling and by 1836 started his own still and commenced in whiskey (bourbon) making.

He would eventually become famous & revered for being the first bourbon production giant to utilize the log still method. This was an old-time method back from the days of the pioneers when they could not afford, nor had the money for copper stills. This method is where a hollowed out tree trunk would have copper piping run through it in which the hollowed trunk would be filled with fermented mash & then steam would be fed through the piping to start distillation.

Joseph was the only log stiller known that distilled a bourbon good enough to ensure that his name would survive for ages to come.

Joseph grew his own grains and handpicked the choicest grain for his bourbon and then made his cooperage. In the year of 1860, Joseph owned more than 196 acres of distilling land. It was believed that sometime during the 1880's, J.W. Dant retired from his business. He died on February 19, 1902, age 82, and is buried in the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Cemetery at St. Francis in Marion County.


Here is a little bit more from Gary Regan and Mardee Hardin Regan's The Book of Bourbon. 

Although pot stills were used by most of the legitimate distillers, some poorer folk were still “running it on the log.” This was a backwoods method of distillation that seems rather convoluted--but it worked. The process is partially described by Gerald Carson in The Social History of Bourbon, and although we have added the description of the lid, the still must have looked something like this:

A distiller would take a log, split it lengthwise, hollow out each half, and bind it back together. The log was then stood upright and filled from the top with fermented mash. A lid of sorts must then have been fitted onto the top of the log. It was probably similar in shape to a Hershey’s Kiss, with the 'top knot' narrowing into becoming a pipe that would carry the vapors to a vessel where they would condense. Somewhere, close to the top of the log or in the lid itself, must have been a hole fitted with the copper pipe that carried live steam into the still from a nearby kettle. The steam would, in time, heat the mash and vaporize the alcohol.

Carson does mention, however, that the log stills were used only for a primary distillation, and the spirit would then be redistilled in a pot still. The final product was called 'log and copper whiskey.' Joseph Dant, whose family would later be responsible for giving Yellowstone and J. W. Dant bourbons to the world, was using the 'log' method in 1836 to make his first Kentucky whiskey.

(The Regans appear to have merged the two Joseph Dants. J. W. was the old-time log distiller and originator of J. W. Dant Bourbon, while his son J. B. Dant was the maker of Yellowstone.)


Another, even more crude example of 'running on the log' was where the hollow log functioned as the pot and a thick blanket functioned as the lid and condenser. When the blanket became saturated it would be wrung out into a container and returned to the pot. This would be repeated until all of the alcohol was extracted. Ideally, the result would then be filtered through cheesecloth. The objective was not a high proof spirit, but simply to raise the alcohol level enough to keep the beer from going bad.

Chris Middleton on the History of Wood Distillation in America



These posts on early American distilling may be a little quixotic, but I see them as a critical and fascinating part of America’s whiskey development. David Wondrich has momentarily put a spotlight on a distinctly American piece of distillation technology that has held my interest too. (Thanks David, Chuck, John, Sam and others for your contributions.) I would like to keep this alive a little longer to see if more information and comments can be elicited on this important topic from learned contributors.

In an abstract I wrote some years back on proto-bourbon made in the east coast states during the 18th century (in product not name), I did quite a bit of back research into distilling technologies, patents, milling, bacio-fermentation, coopering, hybridization, consumption behavior, and even the influences of metallurgy in America and Europe.

It’s through a metallurgy lens that I can provide the best explanation for why America uniquely employed wood in still designs - from the primitive log stills, wooden tub stills, box-of-rock heating systems (also popular in Canada) to steam stills, and the triple chamber stills to name the most popular wood distillation formats. Forgive me if I leapfrog through this history, I will try and leave enough of a trail for readers to follow and see the role wood played in American distilling and whiskey’s development, before the spirit meets the cask.

When whiskey distilling emerged as new small industry in mid-18th century America, displacing rum after the Revolutionary War, the cost of copper was a major barrier to many American farmer-distillers. There were 127 commercial rum distilleries in New England in 1770, whereas in the country from New Jersey to the Carolinas you mostly saw small homestead stills, making fruit distillate, until the expansion in grain cultivation heralded a shift to whiskey from the mid-18th century onward.

By 1791, whiskey had grown to about a third of distilled spirits volume (3 million gallons), dominated by domestic rum and fruit brandy distilling from 2,162 registered stills. In 1801, domestically made spirits leapt to 10 million and by 1810, 14,181 registered stills produced 25.7 million gallons of which only 5 million was rum. Rye whiskey had replaced rum and ‘western corn whisky,’ soon to be called bourbon, was beginning to challenge rye.

The major issue for the nascent distilling industry in America was the British monopoly on the world trade in smelting, refining, and milling copper, which was centred in England and Wales. Copper was universally regarded as the best distilling material superseding glass, porcelain, earthenware, other metals and alloys. No one knew about the chemistry of copper and sulphate, but they knew the spirit tasted better and copper was the most friendly and durable metal to work with in distillation.

In 1790, there were only 81 coppersmiths across the east coast cities and towns. Imported copper cost at least 7 shillings a pound and a 30 gallon pot still and worm cost the equivalent of a 200-acre farm. The first copper refinery in America did not appear until 1814 in Baltimore, and the first mills were another decade away. These dates help explain why wood became the medium of necessity if a farmer or miller wanted to distil surplus grain, or even fruit. A copper still was either too expensive or impossible to secure for many.

By 1816, there were 37,880 registered stills of which 90 percent were common stills, another 650 had boilers. The American distilling landscape was rapidly changing. How many common stills were made from all copper is not known. Many probably included log still adaptions or hybrids. Even large distilleries using copper had a significant capital outlay e.g. Hope Distillery in Kentucky back in 1816 imported copper stills from England (1,200 gallon wash & 750 gallon spirit still, weighing 10 tons of copper equipment), which cost investors $100,000. Intriguingly they attempted to use corn cobs to sparge the wash to create wort for distilling.

Copper was uniquely an American problem. No historical evidence indicates wood stills were ever used in Britain or Ireland. However, new design advances and technologies allowed American distillers to side-step much of the copper shortage. Wood may not have made the best or cleanest spirit, but they were not that discerning back then.

From 1785 when the first steam still was patented, the next 50 years saw an explosion of new distillation practices and patents in Europe and America. Continental Europe was focused on grape-based (brandy), barley/bere (malt spirits gin & whisky), then beet distillation EG Chaptal (early continuous 1761), Adam (1801, retorts), Sulimani (1801 steam jacket), Cellier Blumental (1810 vertical column), Baglioni (1813, stripping column with plates), Pistorious (1817 rectifying plates), Corty (1818 compound still), then Stein in Scotland (1820) and Coffey in Ireland (1830) when continuous distillation came of age, to name but a few.

America between 1791 and 1834 generated about 200 patents for distillation including Gillespie’s perpetual log still of 1818, of which he proudly wrote from Baltimore to inform Jefferson.

In America, distillers were dealing with a distinctly different grain mash compared to Europe – rye and corn  – and evolved new methodologies to distil this American mash. By 1790, the American doubler design came into use and by the late 1790s, the first triple-chambered wood still had been invented. Anderson of Baltimore patented America’s first steam still. Triple-chambered stills came into use first in Baltimore and Philadelphia before the turn of the century.

Looking backwards in time, the first whiskey distillery in Baltimore was probably Purviane’s in 1761, using copper pot distillation. One of the major reasons these chambered steam stills were invented was to minimize sticky rye burning in the first charge. Wood- or coal-fired furnaces created hot spots, scalding and contaminating the low wines. The empyreumatic effects were avoided; bacterial contamination became a greater risk in the wood grain.

The 1808 steam still image above could be an example of this early three-chambered still. It is from the 1808 Barmum & Brooks steam still patent application. By 1834, the government recognised four types of still: common still (i.e. pot/alembic design), flat still (Lowland Scottish flat-bottom still), steam still, and wood still.

In the frontier hinterlands and for those who could not afford copper they were ‘running the log.’ This method was first reported in the 1780s. A tree trunk was cut, split and hollowed out, then hooped back together with saplings. The beer was poured in and distilled. Whether many had copper contact as the vapour left for condensation is debatable. Probably not a critical prerequisite as the purpose was grain preservation as ardent spirit. Mixed with botanicals and flavorings it served as the primary source of medication and pick-me-up, and as a potable beverage for psychoactive relaxation.

These ‘modern’ practices and technologies had become so pervasive we even see some of the old distillers repudiating them by returning to traditional pot distillation methods. In 1850, Jack Beam created Early Times whiskey, a name pregnant with nostalgic meaning, harkening back to the traditional pot still and direct fire method in use only a generation or two earlier. Jack Daniel started his Old Time Distillery in 1884, believing the old methods made a superior whiskey.

The three chambered charging still soon went west and even headed north into Canada, where Hoffman Ahler Design (Cincinnati coppersmiths) installed one at the Hiram Walker Distillery circa 1870. Rivaling the triple-chambered stills were the more efficient column stills, which were also going through adaptations in the second part of the 19th century. I have assumed as Prohibition closed in those still using the old triple chamber did so out of tradition (habit, 'if it aint broke') and to minimise the expense of new and expensive plant as the temperance movement relentlessly lobbied the legislatures.

My observation is that along with grain, especially corn, and American white oak for maturation, it was the innovations in distillation design and fermentation practices that permitted American whiskey to develop along a new path from the latter part of the 18th century. Hence why I think this has become a forgotten or unrecognized subject that deserves more attention.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The End of an Era. Gethsemane Distillery, 1872-1961



This picture was taken in 1961, the same year this distillery closed for good. Thanks to Stephen Beam of Limestone Branch Distillery for finding it in the University of Louisville Digital Collections.

At the time of its demise it was called Gethsemane Distillery. It was owned by Schenley, one of the largest drinks companies in the world. What you can see here is practically the prototype of a small, rural distillery of that period, roughly 1945-1965. From this angle you can clearly see the last addition to the plant, built by Schenley in 1953. It is a long, Quonset hut-type building that housed the bottling line and finished goods warehouse.

The Quonset hut was a cheap, lightweight, all-purpose steel building distinctive for its semi-circular shape. Quonset is the name of the village in Rhode Island where they were originally manufactured, first for the military in WWII, then for general industrial and commercial use.

The Quonset hut building is just about all that is left of the plant today, which is near the Abbey of Gethsemani in Nelson County, Kentucky. If you want to check it out, either in person or on Google Maps, the address is 225 Dee Head Road, New Haven, KY 40051. On Google Maps you can clearly see the foundation pads for the fermenters in the ruins of the still house.


The first distillery on that site was built by Thomas Jefferson 'Jeff' Pottinger, whose father laid out and named the town of New Haven. Jeff's son, Samuel Forrest Pottinger, self-appointed family historian, made this map. The distillery was located at the place identified on the map as Gethsemane (bottom left), which was also called Gethsemane Station because the train stopped there. Francis Head and Minor Case Beam acquired the T. J. Pottinger Distillery in 1888.

You just knew there had to be a Beam in this story. Minor is an ancestor of the Limestone Branch Beams. He began his distilling career working for his uncle, Jack, at Early Times. At Pottinger, renamed Beam & Head, he trained his younger brother, Joseph L. 'Joe' Beam, along with Will McGill, who later became master distiller at Stitzel-Weller. Joe Beam worked at many different distilleries, including one in Juarez, Mexico, and he founded Heaven Hill.

Steve and Paul Beam of Limestone Branch are descended from Minor's son, Guy, who was also a master distiller at several places. Steve and Paul are Beams on their father's side, Dants on their mother's. Their ancestor J. W. Dant had several sons who owned distilleries. Steve and Paul are descended from William, who ran the family's distillery at Dant's Station in Marion County. William's older brother, Joseph, started his own distillery near Pottinger's station. He eventually bought out their other ancestor and merged Beam & Head with his Taylor & Williams plant next door. That distillery made the popular Yellowstone Bourbon until Prohibition.

After repeal, Joseph Dant and his sons built a new Yellowstone Distillery in Shively. Another Dant and another Head acquired the old place near New Haven, which was built back up into the plant you see in the picture above. It had several different owners thereafter, including Occidental Petroleum's Armand Hammer, who sold it to Schenley in 1953 for $6.1 million.

Sam Cecil, author of Evolution of the Bourbon Whiskey Industry in Kentucky, was in charge of quality control there in the Hammer and Schenley eras, so the account in his book of its history during that period is detailed and first-person.

Eight years later, Schenley was finished with the place. The aerial photographs (there are six) may have been part of a sales presentation, which apparently failed because the distillery closed that same year. It sat vacant for a time. The warehouses were demolished to salvage their lumber. Then it became a sawmill. Today it is a company called Affordable Truss, that makes and sells wooden roof trusses.

Locals refer to the place as Dant, or J. B. Dant, or Gethsemane, or Dant Gethsamne. I have been in a house in New Haven built of the salvaged lumber. Some members of the Beam family call it Old Trump, after one of Minor's brands.

Similar stories occurred across Kentucky. Small, rural distilleries like this one were bought by the big companies, used up, then abandoned, often because company operations were consolidated at a larger and more modern plant in Louisville or Frankfort. The bottling line and other equipment was removed first, as was any copper. Later the rackhouses were taken apart to salvage the lumber.

With nothing left of value, the places were left to rot. In several cases, some other business that could use the buildings moved in. Seagram's Cummins-Collins Distillery in Athertonville also became a sawmill and is now a small cooperage. Many sites where the rackhouses were not dismantled were acquired by one of the remaining distilleries. Diageo, Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, Wild Turkey, Sazerac, and Maker's Mark all own rackhouses at the sites of defunct distilleries.

Friday, June 20, 2014

David Wondrich Explains Three-Chamber Wooden Stills



David Wondrich's fine Whisky Advocate article has inspired most of the posts this week, so it seems appropriate to give him the last word. He even provided a helpful picture.


I'd like to jump in to say thanks, Chuck, for providing such an informative forum and such an excellent place for discussion. I'd also like to add some more detail on the wooden three-chamber still. This was a very different affair from the earlier hollow-log makeshift pot stills used by some small distillers up until the 1880s, more or less. By 1898, when the Bureau of Internal Revenue began its study of whiskey aging, it was still the dominant design used for rye distilling. Nine of the 16 ryes the bureau analyzed came from wooden three-chamber stills. (Another four were made in copper versions of the same.) The capacities of the stills indicate that these were major brands: still capacities, where indicated, range from a low of less than 2,000 gallons to over 15,000. 

In its standard form, the three-chambered wooden still as used from about 1850 until Prohibition was a tall, open-topped cylinder, tapered towards the top, made of wooden staves bound with iron hoops. Inside were two or three horizontal wooden or copper plates, dividing it into more-or-less equal-sized chambers. A steam pipe went into the bottom chamber and a copper outflow pipe rose through the open-topped top chamber, which was filled with fresh wash that would be warmed by the hot pipe. The middle chamber (or chambers, depending on whether there were two dividers or three) had a sort of copper manifold coming up from the chamber below to feed the steam in without letting liquid fall back down. Each chamber also had a valve to let wash fall down into the chamber below or, in the case of the bottom one, drain off spent wash. The exit pipe on top led to a copper doubler or thumper keg, like the ones used in Kentucky today, and then the usual copper-coil condenser.

I agree heartily that the only way to see what kind of whiskey comes out of such a device is to build one and test it. Illustrations are available; the problem is finding the cooper.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Chris Middleton on the 'Myth' of Pre-Prohibition Rye Prominence


In every field of endeavor there is received wisdom. Since it is what just about everyone in the field believes and has been taught for generations, it's usually true, but now and then it's not. From my first days in the whiskey business I was told that rye dominated before Prohibition and was replaced by bourbon after repeal. Discussions about this subject usually center on why that was the case, not on whether or not it was true.

So it was with great interest that I read in David Wondrich's recent Whisky Advocate article his statement, "It's a modern myth that rye was more popular than bourbon before Prohibition." Since I had mentioned the contrary received wisdom in my post, commenter Florin wondered, "who is right?"

Chris Middleton provides the answer:


On the post about rye volumes, bourbon superseded rye after the Civil War. Only in 1908, when rye production reached a 48.5 percent share of whiskey distilling, did it look like it was rivaling bourbon’s dominance. For the last 150 years, bourbon in name and its corn hegemony has led as America’s favorite whiskey.

The U.S. Government’s collection of distilling data was not great from 1790. After excise taxes were struck down no surveillance occurred and no production was reported. Between 1790 and 1810, rye’s volume share was bouncing around 60 – 85 percent. What data was collected before the Civil War indicates rye remained the leading whiskey style made. After the War, in 1867, the IRS began capturing distilling data as total ‘grain.’ It was not until 1878 that it was broken out as rye and bourbon, with rye holding a 38 percent share. Whiskey production had shifted out west with population and grain cultivation to Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and surrounding grain-producing states.

The other major issue that clouds accurate quantification of this whiskey split is being able to distinguish between straight, corn and blended whiskey (rectified, compounded). When the Trust was at its height in the late 1880s and producing an alleged 95 percent of neutral spirit, most of which ended up becoming 'whiskey,' the grain was almost exclusively corn. So terms such as true rye and bourbon become somewhat meaningless in aggregate.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Chris Middleton Weighs In On Maryland-Style Rye


Last Sunday's post about Leopold Bros Maryland-Style Rye Whiskey drew a big response from a small number of readers whose lengthy comments appear below the post. Chris Middleton, my whiskey guru down under, whose commentaries appear here from time to time, tried unsuccessfully to post his thoughts in the comments section, so he sent them to me via email. They follow, in two parts. I'll post the rest tomorrow.


The Maryland and Monongahela rye issue is a subject I did extensive research into some years back. In general terms there were differences in supply and product that can be broadly attributed to these two rye whiskeys having different flavor vectors. Another part of this evidence can also be found in adulteration recipes advising rectifiers how to make whiskey that resembles Maryland, Monongahela, Virginia and other distinctive whiskey profiles from the late 18th century.

Maryland rye was rectified in Baltimore (and Philadelphia produced the same style of rye), where large growing populations could be served and shipping exports to east coast markets made this industry viable. Maryland (& Philadelphia) whiskeys were regarded as a slightly lighter rye style. How much rye was in each primary distiller’s mash is debateable, but on the whole it was rye-flavored and that was how whiskey was marketed back then; as in India and Thailand today where the criterion is it merely has to taste like whiskey even though made from molasses. The coastal city rectifiers bought common whiskey (usually double distilled, but hard to verify) from numerous rural distillers and rectified it to a higher proof for compounding. Their grain bills had a greater proportion of corn, malted barley, wheat and even other grains than the rural Pennsylvania distillers used, being predominantly rye mash. The Maryland rectifiers would have used a softer base distillate. This, most likely, was the leading factor in differentiating Maryland style whiskey from other regional whiskeys.

The rectifiers were also adding prune juice to the nearly-neutral spirit. Prune Wine, as it was marketed, had been a universally-popular adulterant for whiskey since the late 1850s. Sourced from Ireland, it flavored and colored young spirit to resemble aged whiskey, ‘neutralise the acrid, fiery and impure properties, as well as give the appearance and the quality of age.’ Previously, the rectifiers had an arsenal of other compounds to adulterate spirit. The rectifying industry only began to be established in the early 1800s in coastal cities, especially where they had access to primary spirit producers, those numerous small distillers who had no markets or distribution capabilities to sell their output. The rectifiers were a relatively secure line of sale.

Monongahela rye in modern parlance is a product of south western Pennsylvania GI (geographic index or origin). It has been described as a meaty and bold style of whiskey. I would speculate this was the rye imprint making its distinctive presence felt. This was because many of the distillers were either exclusively using rye in the mash, or it was the dominant grain. This was principally due to regional factors such as cultivation and economics. As much of this rye did not pass into the hands of rectifiers due to the remoteness of the small distillers, its passage to market in cask wood was of a longer duration giving this rye its famed redness and mellower character. And cask charring was being practiced on the east coast since the 18th century, so it added to Monongahela’s flavour profile and ruddy hue. There is some conjecture about differing still designs playing a part in regional developments in the 19th century. I could explain and speculate on the role different and emergent technologies played in still design and process during this period; however, this is too complex an issue to detail here.

Suffice it to say the American wood still was a substitution for copper (cost and access for small farmer-distillers, usually 40 gallon capacity cucurbit, common cask size) using steam boilers to heat the mash in a wooden tub; probably also the same mashing and fermentation tub used by some farmer-distillers. Had heated stones been used by some poor souls it would have been the most primitive and least effective method to heat the mash. When it comes to making alcohol, nothing surprises me. The head and lyne arm was usually copper, so some wood stills had some sulphate conversation, more likely a whisper. These were rustic pieces of homestead-made plant and not used by serious distillers as they were for many farmers who could not afford nor get access to a copper pot still. EG 1800 in western Pennsylvania only one in thirty farmers could afford a 30 – 40 gallon still at $25. It’s the mother-of-invention from necessity. As you may imagine this spirit would have been of the poorest quality.

The Guyana EHP wood still at Demerara Distillers mentioned in one of the responses was originally made for the Enmore Distillery by Coffey’s company in London (around 1880). It is the only wood still in commercial use, made from Australian kauri wood. Few wood stills were manufactured by Coffey. To my knowledge none were ever built or used in America as the different mash method required distilling on the grain. It’s suitable for barley-based wort and molasses wash only.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Progress At Michter's, Not Much At Angel's Envy



When Diageo announced its decision to build a new distillery in Kentucky, near the hamlet of Bagdad, many were surprised by the relatively small scale of the proposed plant; a maximum annual capacity of about 1.8 million gallons, the equivalent of about 750,000 cases.

That's roughly the size of Medley, in Owensboro, recently acquired by Terrasentia, and scheduled to re-open in the next year or so. By contrast, the biggest distilleries in Kentucky and Tennessee produce ten times that much. Does that make Diageo's new facility a big micro or small macro?

Two Kentucky-based micro-producers, Michter's and Louisville Distilling (better known as Angel's Envy), have distilleries in the works that will produce up to a million gallons per year each, so about half the projected capacity of Bagdad.

Construction is well underway at Michter's in Shively. Foundations for the fermenters and other heavy tanks are about to be poured (picture above). The mills should be delivered next week and the fermenters go in mid-July. The rest of the tanks arrive in August and the column still should be ready by mid-September. Distilling should begin in the spring of 2015.

At Angel's Envy, not much has happened on the ground since the downtown Louisville Whiskey Row site was announced a year ago. Much continues to happen behind the scenes. The Hendersons prefer 'moving slowly' to 'stalled.'

Meanwhile, and on only a slightly smaller scale, New Riff Distillery in Northern Kentucky has begun production and Willett's, in Bardstown, has been up and running for two-and-a-half years. Few know about the distillery under construction in Hickman, Kentucky, that could go on line any day. It is about the size of New Riff and Willett's.

Much has been made recently of a 'whiskey shortage.' It's true that some producers have trouble keeping up with demand for certain products. Several of the majors, such as Beam Suntory, Wild Turkey, and Heaven Hill, finished their capacity expansions years ago, so supplies are increasing every month, even if they still lag behind demand. Although it will be years before all of this new production capacity affects supply, the building boom is unprecedented.

Rest assured, more whiskey is on the way.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Leopold Bros Maryland-Style Rye Seeks To Capture History in a Bottle.



Maryland Rye, also known as Baltimore Rye, is a style you will often see mentioned but rarely explained. According to John Lipman, it was a marketing ploy first, a distinctive regional style later. Apparently the product called 'Philadelphia Rye,' and hailing from that city, wasn't much different. That 'Maryland Rye' became recognized as a style can be demonstrated by the fact that distilleries in New York and as far west as Cincinnati and St. Louis made products identified as 'Maryland Rye.'

But what was distinctive about it, especially in comparison to other American ryes? David Wondrich, in the Summer 2014 issue of Whisky Advocate, cites the use of steam distillation in a three-chamber still made of wood, not metal. The grains were rye and barley malt, no corn. They were sweet mash fermented, not sour mash like most bourbons. He cites an 1828 study that "found significantly greater average quantities of everything they tested for--alcohol, acids, dissolved solids, fusel oils, and the all-important flavor-bearing esters and aldehydes" in Maryland Rye, compared to bourbon of the same age.

"In other words," writes Wondrich, "these were huge whiskeys, dark, rich, and chewy, and these are what Prohibition killed." (Emphasis his.)

Colorado's Leopold Bros Distillery has attempted to recreate the Maryland style as they imagine it. It isn't much like what Wondrich describes. Red, White & Bourbon, a Colorado-based whiskey blog, in a review of the Leopold's effort, writes that compared to Monongahela Rye, Maryland Rye had a "softer profile" due to a lower rye content. In those days before the Standards of Identity, Maryland distillers added "dark fruit juices to contribute a certain level of depth."

It's impossible to know if Leopold Bros hits the mark. The tiny amounts of actual Maryland Rye that remain are very late pre-Prohibition or post-Prohibition, when the style was likely corrupted by the dominant Monongahela and Kentucky styles. But what is nice about a recreated whiskey is that the maker can combine the historical clues that survive with his own imagination and skill to create a spirit that honors its antecedents while also being a distinctive and enjoyable drink in its own right.

In a 2012 post on straightbourbon.com, Todd Leopold described it like this: "It's (around) 65% rye, 15% corn, and 20% malted barley. The cocoa you picked up is actually chocolate malt (I was a brewer for 15+ years), quite literally a handful of it. The fruit you are tasting comes from acetic acid bacteria. We allow for a secondary bacterial fermentation in our cypress open fermenters which leads to esterification in the barrel. More clearly, the acetic acid that is put into the distillate by the bacteria mixes with the oxygen coming into the barrel to create fruit flavors and aromas. So those strawberry notes are from bacteria, not from yeast. The floral note is from the rye. To me, it tastes and smells very much like lavender."

Upon tasting, it is easy to imagine drinkers becoming accustomed to this style of rye whiskey and preferring it. Compared to mainstream ryes it seems thin, due to its low corn content, and has some qualities of a young malt whiskey. It's slightly hot, but in a way that grows on you. Carmel and vanilla from the oak barrel complement nicely the chocolate malt. Although it probably is fairly young, it tastes mature for what it is. You wouldn't want it to have very much more wood. As it is, it is well-balanced, appealing, and distinctively different.

If you like rye whiskey, you should give Leopold Bros Maryland-Style Rye Whiskey a try. You won't confuse it with your current favorite but you'll discover that there are other ways for rye to taste.

Friday, June 13, 2014

If They Didn't Make Products Like These There Wouldn't Be a Whiskey Shortage



Kidding, of course. The whole 'Whiskey Shortage' thing is way overblown and consumer product companies are in the business of making and selling products consumers want. That what they want these days is bourbon whiskey and products made with bourbon whiskey is a good thing for bourbon lovers, even those who wouldn't touch this with a ten foot straw. Plus this doesn't, at 12.5% ABV, contain very much bourbon anyway.

In a way, this is how it used to be. People made lots of different concoctions for parties and the alcohol those drinks contained was usually bourbon, simply because bourbon was what most people drank and what they had in the house. If somebody secretly spiked the punch, they spiked it with bourbon. I'm talking about 50 - 60 years ago, before America discovered vodka and rum, not to mention tequila.

Lots of old party punch recipes called for brandy, for which bourbon is easily substituted. After vodka and white rum became common, it simply was easier to suggest them for punch-type recipes because they are fairly neutral as far as flavor contributed by the alcohol. Drinks made with vodka or white rum taste like the other ingredients. The alcohol is just there for the alcohol, not for flavor.

But use bourbon or rye instead and you have something different. In some recipes it might just be wrong, but in most cases it adds a depth and richness most people enjoy. That's why products like this aren't just a gimmick. The whiskey's contribution to the taste makes a lot of sense.

Evan Williams Kentucky Slush and other products like it are a type of pre-mixed cocktail, similar to the canned and bottled highballs so popular in Japan right now, or the bourbon-and-dry enjoyed in Australia ('dry' = ginger ale). As you can see from the label, the official classification is "bourbon whiskey with natural flavors and caramel color." Specifically, it is Evan Williams Bourbon combined with "the natural taste of Lemonade, Orange Juice, and Sweet Tea for a slushy, cool-down cocktail that is a breeze to make."

How easy? Either freeze it in cups for about four hours, or freeze the whole bottle for about eight hours. Because the alcohol won't freeze, it will never freeze solid. Instead it makes a slushy! The bottle is plastic so after it is as frozen as it will get, you just pull out the pourer and squeeze the sweet slush into glasses.

It will only be sold in June, July, and August, and this year only in Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

Next year, the world.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Tennessee's Alcoholic Beverage Commission Won't Punish Diageo After All


Three months ago, Tennessee's Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) cited Diageo for shipping whiskey made in Tennessee to Kentucky for aging, contrary to Tennessee law. One week later, Diageo sued the TABC, challenging the law as unconstitutional. A trial in federal court commenced.

The law, passed in 1937 when Tennessee finally ended prohibition in the state, says all whiskey made in Tennessee must be aged in the county where it was made. Last year the law was amended to permit storage in adjacent counties. When cited, Diageo admitted that it made whiskey at George Dickel and shipped it to Stitzel-Weller in Louisville for aging, but none of it was whiskey intended for George Dickel Tennessee Whisky. That whiskey was being aged according to the law, in Tennessee. (There's more here.)

On Tuesday night the trial came to an abrupt halt after Dickel master distiller John Lunn testified that the liquor stored in Kentucky would be blended with other Diageo spirits, and that George Dickel Tennessee Whisky had been made and stored at the distillery all along. He further testified that in 2009, Dickel's warehouses were effectively full, so they started to ship newly-made bourbon and wheat whiskey to Louisville, in the meantime making plans to build new warehouses in Tennessee. The alternative would have been to shutter the distillery until new warehouses could be built. Sixteen-thousand barrels of whiskey (about 850,000 gallons) were sent to Kentucky.

When Lunn finished testifying, Assistant Attorney General Kyle Hixson announced that the state would not pursue penalties against Diageo, though he declined to say why. "Then that's it," said Senior District Judge John T. Nixon, and adjourned the hearing.

A new warehouse at Tullahoma was completed in April, and another one is planned, so the cited activity has ended for now. Diageo attorney Bobby Burchfield said he will seek an agreement with the state to not seek penalties against Diageo if it has to send whiskey out of state again.

Diageo continues to be secretive about exactly how it is using the bourbon and wheat whiskey it made in Tennessee, some of which has reached its fifth birthday. It cannot be used in any product that says 'Kentucky' on the label. One candidate is Barrell Bourbon, which has been spotted in the New York City area. Barrell claims in its advertising that it is five years old, distilled in Tennessee, and aged in Kentucky. (None of that, however, is on the label.) That is pretty strong evidence. If Barrell is Diageo, it is hiding behind a Potemkin craft distillery called Barrell Craft Spirits.

Can the biggest whiskey makers also be craft? That's a proposition all of them are testing right now in one way or another.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

That's Colonel Cowdery, Thank You Very Much



The letter came addressed to "Col. Charles K. Cowdery." It was an invitation to attend the 2014 Kentucky Colonels' Day at Churchill Downs on November 8. Each $65 ticket gets you track admission, parking, a seat on 'Millionaires Row,' a Churchill Downs race program, the Chef's Table buffet lunch, plus some 'mementos.' The official hotel for the event (unnamed) has rooms for $91 per night.

How did I achieve this exalted rank? I was commissioned by Kentucky Governor Paul Patton in the 206th year of Kentucky statehood (1996). I know all this because it is written on the lovely certificate proudly displayed on my office wall. More specifically, I was nominated by Col. Jeffrey S. Homel, then Heaven Hill's Director of Sales. That's all it takes, nomination by a colonel in good standing, but colonels are supposed to be people who have served Kentucky in some way.

KFC's Colonel Sanders was a Kentucky Colonel just like me.

The first colonels were commissioned by the first governor, Issac Shelby, who served from 1792 until 1796 and again from 1812 to 1816. (He was a whiskey-maker, by the way.) They were an official but informal group. When Gov. Shelby raised a regiment to fight the British in the War of 1812, he made every member a colonel. In later administrations, the colonels were the governor's bodyguards, his posse, and were part of his entourage at official functions. They were authorized to carry weapons and expected to be addressed as Colonel. (I'm rather lax about both matters myself.)

Eventually, the colonels were reconstituted as the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, a charity that makes grants to worthy causes in Kentucky, mostly related to health and education. Your commission is permanent but you have to make regular contributions to the good works fund to get invited to things like the Churchill Downs event above.

My college and law school degrees are in boxes somewhere, but my commission is framed and on my wall. I'm proud to be a Kentucky Colonel and strive everyday to be worthy of it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I'm a Son of Kentucky After All


I am a Kentucky Colonel, lived in Kentucky for nine years, and have long thought of myself as an honorary son of the Bluegrass. It turns out I'm slightly more than that.

In 1808, several families of Cowderys came west from Connecticut to the newly opened Northwest Territory and settled in what is now Olive Township, Meigs County, Ohio. One of them was my great-great-great-great-grandfather, Jacob Cowdery Jr.

One of Jacob's grandsons was Josiah Simpson Cowdery. Josiah was born and raised in Olive Township but in 1865 or 1866, he and Sarah (his wife) lived briefly in Vanceburg, Kentucky. Their first son, Homer, my great-grandfather, was born there. By the birth of their second son, Heman, they were back in Olive Township.

Homer left Olive Township as a teenager and never went back. He worked on the riverboats for a time, then settled in St. Louis. My father spent most of his childhood in his grandparent's home on Roosevelt Place. Homer built the house himself with lumber salvaged from the 1904 World's Fair. After service in WWII, my father finished college and was sent by his employer to live in Mansfield, Ohio, where I was born and raised.

Although Homer wasn't there long, I can now truly say that I have Kentucky in my blood, and know I am better for it.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Few Spirits Is Everything It Ought to Be


I live close to Few Spirits and know Paul Hletko, the proprietor, but I had never seen the distillery. I went up there yesterday and while I know the neighborhood (it's near the Windmill Walgreens), I didn't know Few's exact location. It's good I had the address. Having seen no sign on my drive-by, I parked and followed the numbers in descending order. As I stepped into an alley, I noticed that the number on the next door was too low, so I glanced down the alley.

There it is!

That part of Chicago Avenue in Evanston is right up against the L tracks. There hardly seems room enough for one building between the street and the track, but here was a second one; one-story, white-washed brick, a very utilitarian 19th-century structure, probably a carriage garage or even a small factory originally, tucked away, out of sight, with the constant rumble of the Evanston Express a few feet away.

"Perfect," I thought.

Evanston, the first suburb north of Chicago, was founded in the 1850s, simultaneous with the founding of Northwestern University. Both were the work of Methodists, so alcohol was prohibited. Frances Willard, president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), lived in Evanston, where her home is preserved as a monument to abstinence. Evanston was officially dry until 1972 and laws still on the books had to be changed before Few could make, sample, and sell distilled spirits there.

The distillery isn't big. Other than the bar area, it's just one room. They have a mash cooker, two fermenters, a little hybrid still (pot bottom/column top) just for gin, and a large one for everything else. The newest addition is a small column still. The size of a column still is determined by its diameter, they're all about the same height. You usually have to cut a hole in the roof and build a little cupola around the top, as Few has done.

The column is just for stripping water from fermented beer. It doesn't have a rectification section. Everything that starts in the column is finished in the large hybrid. Now that he has a column, of course, Hletko wants more fermenter capacity.

Few makes both aged and unaged spirits, and barrels of aging spirit can fill a space fast. Most of Few's aging barrels have been moved to another location nearby. A handful were left behind for atmosphere. Bottling is at the other location too. Most urban distilleries find it challenging to expand. Moving some operations to another location is usually a good solution.

Hletko's office is stuffed into one crowded nook. A few bags of milled grain are waiting for the next cook. A fork lift is parked in the open garage doorway. Most of the clutter is trackside. The rest of the space is pretty open.

Few is doing it right. They've cultivated a loyal, local following and stuck to a tight core of products. Their rye is justly considered one of the best micro-distillery whiskeys in the country. Hletko has a good presence in the local drinks community.

Pat Foley, the TV play-by-play announcer for the Chicago Blackhawks, peppers his delivery with tips, "for you young hockey players out there." Well, you young micro-distillers out there might want to study Few Spirits.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Heartland Is Not Indiana's First Distillery Since Prohibition


Terlato Wines, which is based in Lake Bluff, Illinois, announced today that it will jointly produce and market a collection of luxury American craft spirits with Indiana-based Heartland Distillers. The new offerings, it says, will join Terlato’s growing Artisan Spirits portfolio.

The first product from the Terlato and Heartland partnership will be Prohibition Gin, expected to launch late this year at around $30 a bottle. A bourbon and another whiskey of some un-named type, under the Spring Mill brand (around $40), are slated to follow in 2015.

Terlato's press release claims that Heartland, founded in Indianapolis in 2008, is "Indiana’s first distillery since Prohibition ended in 1933."

It most certainly is not.

The Indiana distillery now known as MGP of Indiana operated before, during, and after Prohibition and is still operating today. It's a big plant and although it is pretty close to the Ohio River, it is definitely on the Indiana side.

Two other distilleries in the Greendale-Lawrenceburg area merged and came back after Prohibition as the Old Quaker Distillery (Schenley), which closed in the 1980s, and at least one completely new distillery opened there as well post-Prohibition.

The Krogman Distillery in Tell City, Indiana, came back after Prohibition, was acquired by Park and Tilford in 1941, and operated until at least the 1960s. Several different members of the Beam family were distillers there.

The Heartland website says "first new distillery," ostensibly to take the above-mentioned out of the running, but all of the distilleries that came back after Prohibition were new, as little remained from 1917, the last year in which distillation of spirits was legal. At least one of the Greendale-Lawrenceburg plants, the James Walsh & Company Distillery, was 100 percent new. The distillery that bore that name before Prohibition came back as Seagram's, but the previous owners used the proceeds of that sale to build a new distillery under the Walsh name.

The Heartland website doesn't appear to have been touched since about 2012. Since then, co-founder Matt Golglazier has departed. It's all Stuart Hobson now, who says in the Terlato release that he looks "forward to collaborating with the Terlato family and their team to produce products that speak to the terroir and history of Indiana distillation."

Let's hope he doesn't mean the fake history they're leading with.