Monday, June 29, 2020

Diageo Says New Kentucky Distillery Will Be Carbon Neutral

(DIAGEO PRESS RELEASE) Diageo announced today that its new Kentucky whiskey distillery, which will distill Bulleit Bourbon and other brands, will be carbon neutral – one of the largest in North America, and a first for Diageo. Reinforcing Diageo’s global commitment to reducing its carbon emissions and addressing climate change, the site will be powered by 100 percent renewable electricity, with a capacity to produce up to 10 million proof gallons per year.

The new distillery, currently under construction in Lebanon, Kentucky, reflects Diageo’s commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions and moves the company closer to its goal of sourcing 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Employing electrode boilers, the site will utilize a mix of renewable electricity sources to power a 72,000 square-foot distillery, dry house, and warehousing facilities. As previously announced “The Diageo Lebanon Distillery” will have the capability to distill a variety of bourbon and American whiskey brands. Bulleit will be the first and lead brand produced at the new distillery – supplementing existing production at The Bulleit Distilling Co. in Shelbyville, Kentucky. This move will further strengthen the brand’s commitment to a more sustainable future.

“As a company we know that our long-term sustainable growth depends on reducing our reliance on fossil fuels that contribute to climate change,” said Perry Jones, President, North America Supply for Diageo. “This groundbreaking undertaking to electrify our operations and then power them with renewable electricity will result in one of the largest carbon neutral distilleries in North America. This is a significant step to strengthen our commitment to minimizing our carbon emissions and will result in an important reduction of Diageo’s environmental impact on a global level.”

“For Bulleit, our passion for sustainability began when we built the Bulleit Distilling Co. in Shelbyville, where we focus on reducing carbon emissions, water conservation and waste management during production. Then, when we opened our Visitor Experience there, we chose to implement practices like eliminating single use plastics from our bar and sourcing locally-grown organic cocktail garnishes from our onsite garden,” said Sophie Kelly, SVP Whiskies, Diageo NA. “Our commitment to the environment evolves with the Lebanon distillery, where no fossil fuels will be consumed for the production of Bulleit. This allows us to really begin to double down on our ambition to reinvent category standards.”

To achieve carbon neutrality at the site, Diageo plans to incorporate a variety of features that will avoid annual carbon emissions by more than 117,000 metric tons. This is the equivalent of taking more than 25,000 cars off the road for a year.

These features include:

Electrification of operations:

Electrode boilers avoid the direct carbon emissions that would normally be generated by the use of fossil-fuel fired boilers. Electrode boilers also offer benefits that include reduced noise pollution and reduction of other air contaminants. All vehicles operated onsite, including trucks and forklifts, will be electric, and charged onsite by renewable energy. One-hundred percent of the steam used onsite – for the cooking, distillation and drying process – will be generated by the electrode boilers.

Energy efficiency embedded into facility design: 

Energy efficiency will be optimized in the new electric boilers. Exterior lighting will be solar powered. All onsite interior lighting will be light-emitting diode (LED). Warehouse interior lighting will only activate during loading or unloading activities. Lowered roofs will minimize heating and cooling requirements.

Sourcing renewable electricity:

Long term contracts with the local utility will allow for the purchase of zero greenhouse gas emission electricity from certified renewable sources. Renewable electricity will be supplied by Inter-County Energy and East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC).

Water savings design:

The site is designed to be industry-leading in efficiency and minimize water usage.

Zero waste to landfill:

Once operational, the site will minimize use of materials and waste through reuse and recycling, and any residual waste will not be sent to landfill.

A New Future

“I welcome Diageo’s commitment to carbon neutrality and using renewable electricity at its Bulleit distillery in Lebanon. This is a notable example of a historic Kentucky industry embracing a new future,” said Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear. “To continue the commonwealth’s economic recovery, attract business investment and create jobs for Kentuckians across all counties, it’s important we and our economic development partners provide a cost-competitive energy mix. Energy diversity is something more industries are considering when they choose where to locate, and offering the right mix will help us provide a brighter future for generations to come.”

“We want to extend a warm welcome as Diageo makes this valuable investment in Lebanon-Marion County,” said Jerry Carter, President and CEO of Inter-County Energy, which will provide electric service to the Lebanon distillery. “Inter-County Energy is proud to work in partnership with Diageo and East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC) to understand the energy needs of this facility and to develop innovative ways to meet the sustainability goals of one of the largest renewable energy consumers in Kentucky.”

A Commitment to Sustainability

Committed to decarbonization with approved science-based targets, Diageo is part of a pioneering group of organizations that are championing a green recovery and supporting Sustainable Development Goals, through membership of the United Nations Global Compact, We Mean Business Coalition and other key global advocacy organizations. Also, as mentioned above, as a signatory to RE100, Diageo aims to source 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. In addition, Diageo has signed onto the global Race to Zero campaign, a commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The company recently joined over 150 multinationals to reaffirm our commitment to Science Based Targets and urge governments around the world to align their COVID-19 recovery efforts with the latest climate science.

Bulleit has a long-standing commitment to sustainability at their current distillery in Shelbyville, KY, which was recently honored with the title of ‘Highly Commended’ for Sustainable Distillery of the Year at Whisky Magazine’s 2020 Icons of Whisky American Awards. The Shelbyville site includes the first ever industrial solar array in Shelby County, and a focus on reducing their carbon footprint by sourcing local ingredients from local farmers.  In addition, Bulleit implemented thoughtful practices at the Visitor Experience, such as a partnership with the non-profit Oceanic Global to ensure its tasting experience and cocktail bar aligns with The Oceanic Standard (TOS), a badge and certification for venues that have adopted sustainable operating practices and are committed to eliminating single-use plastics.

Investing in Kentucky

Bulleit continues a strong trajectory of growth, with the brand continuing to gain share, and global volume up more than six percent year over year. Diageo broke ground on the $130 million distillery in July of 2019, and the site is expected to be fully operational in 2021. Once fully operational, the facility will employ 30 full-time team members. Since 2014, Diageo has invested more than $500 million in Kentucky. This facility will supplement the company’s other Kentucky operations: Stitzel-Weller in Louisville, and The Bulleit Distilling Company and Visitor Experience in Shelbyville.


Carbon neutrality of Diageo’s new Lebanon, Kentucky distillery for all Scope 1 and 2 emissions from site operations will be achieved by Diageo in accordance with PAS 2060 for the period commencing with the first grain delivery to completion of distilling operations, certified by Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. View the PAS 2060 Qualifying Explanatory Statement. Through sourcing for renewable electricity and the electrification of operations, the site will only require residual amounts of carbon offsets to be purchased, associated with operational elements

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

New Reader Sets Its Sights Further South Than Usual

Fermenter being filled at Cascade Hollow Distillery, Tullahoma, TN
Whiskey history is weird, especially Tennessee whiskey history.

Tennessee whiskey is a modern creation with ancient roots and it's a whiskey many drinkers still struggle to understand.

For much of its history, "Jack Daniel's" and "Tennessee whiskey" have been synonymous. It didn't start out that way and with how things are going, it won't be that way much longer.

All of that is a tease for the new issue of The Bourbon Country Reader, which is out now.

I haven't published since February. Blame the pandemic. Anyway, it's back, and taking a deep dive into Tennessee whiskey.

Current Reader subscribers should receive their copies in a week or so. New subscribers can get on the bandwagon by clicking here.

Founded in 1993, The Bourbon Country Reader is the oldest publication devoted entirely to American whiskey. It is a charming mix of news, history, analysis, and product reviews. Do you worry that advertising spending influences coverage in other publications? No chance of that here since The Bourbon Country Reader is 100 percent reader-supported. It accepts no advertising.

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

A subscription to The Bourbon Country Reader is still a mere $20 per year for addresses in the USA, $25 for everyone else. The Bourbon Country Reader is published six times a year, more-or-less, but your subscription always includes six issues no matter how long it takes. For those of you keeping track, this new one is Volume 20, Number 1.

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

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

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

Friday, May 15, 2020

How to Write a Business Book in 7 Easy Steps


In case you want to use your quarantine to write a business book, here is a primer.

1.  Give every idea a name. A new name makes an old idea new and by naming it, you make it yours. You can steal anything as long as you give it a new name.

2. Use lots of numbered lists. The top 3 this, the 4 worst that, the 8 biggest whatevers. The lists should be short, never more than ten items, but the number of different lists you can have is unlimited.

3. Repeat your central thesis constantly. Say it the same way and say it different ways, but say it again and again. (If you don't have a central thesis yet, see point number 1 above.)

4. Say everything important in the first 20 pages, because most readers won't get any further, and more importantly no reviewer will get any further. Then restate everything as often as necessary until you reach the contracted page count.

5. Give lots of supporting examples. They are good for filling space. Feel free to make them up.

6. Set up a lot of strawmen. Knock them down with vigor.

7. Seduce the reader. The most important person your book describes should be the person reading it. The world revolves around them. They are indispensable. Know your reader. Stroke your reader.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Some Disturbing News in the Rush to Produce Sanitizer Products

ERC Midwest delivering 110 gallons of Koval's hand sanitizer to Metropolitan Family Services in Chicago.
One of the upbeat, people-helping-people stories of the coronavirus crisis is the many distilleries, large and small, that have been making hand sanitizer and other sanitizing products, typically donating them to first responders and other needy groups. Koval, a Chicago craft distillery in my neighborhood, is one of them.

Koval makes whiskey but it also makes neutral spirits, i.e., vodka, so they are using their own distillate to make sanitizer. This most recent batch was distilled from 15,000 gallons of beer donated by local craft breweries such as Metropolitan and Begyle. Most craft distilleries aren't equipped to distill out at a high enough proof so they are making sanitizer from ethanol they have acquired from industrial ethanol producers. I wrote about this here a couple weeks ago.

Some problems are emerging. On April 15, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued limits on certain chemicals permitted in alcohol-based sanitizer, updating a temporary guidance it adopted last month as the health crisis deepened and more manufacturers registered to produce sanitizing products. The FDA has notified several ethanol companies that their product does not meet safety standards, forcing them to halt production and cancel supply agreements. In one case, the FDA said it found significant levels of the carcinogen acetaldehyde in ethanol supplied by a company for use in hand sanitizer.

The problem appears to be with producers who have switched from making ethanol for fuel, which is going begging, to making it for sanitizer. It may not be food grade, which is what distilleries typically buy. As FDA says in its guidance, "because of the potential for the presence of potentially harmful impurities due to the processing approach, fuel or technical grade ethanol should only be used if it meets USP or FCC grade requirements and the ethanol has been screened for any other potentially harmful impurities not specified in the USP or FCC requirements."

As the producer, it is up to you to do the due diligence. Don't trust the manufacturer's word. A midwestern craft distiller I know (not Koval) told me this:

"We get a dozen calls/emails a day from ethanol plants and dealers trying to sell us tankers at a great price. Not a single one has provided a COA (Certificate of Analysis) or SDS (Safety Data Sheet) that shows their levels of methanol and acetaldehyde are within the allowable amounts. Stop falling for it, folks. Follow the guidelines from the FDA and use beverage grade and USP-certified stuff before you hurt someone or give us all a bad name."

The American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA) and the Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS) both have great resources available on this topic, and both recommend getting independent certification before you use. If you can’t certify, don’t use.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Grandma Schwartz's Kuchen Recipe

A strawberry kuchen, made today by my cousin John.
Lots of people are baking during the quarantine. Sourdough bread is popular. Here is something a bit different: fruit kuchen.

"Kuchen" is simply the German word for "cake," but it usually refers to a coffee cake. In my family, kuchen was the specialty of my great grandma Schwartz.

About Grandma Schwartz:

Celia Chrysenthia (Kinkelaar) Schwartz was my maternal great-grandmother, born in 1883 in Cleveland. I grew up with her and was well into adulthood when she passed at 101 in 1984. (We drank Wild Turkey 101 in her honor at the wake.)

She was, as you can imagine, a tough old bird. She was a big fan of the Cleveland Indians and was older than the franchise. She preferred to listen to games on the radio rather than watch them on television, only in part because of her failing eyesight. She just liked it better. Being frugal, she would often listen in the dark, sitting very close to the radio because her hearing wasn't that great either. When we went to visit her, we often had to peer through the windows to see if she was home because she couldn't hear the doorbell. I would look for the little red light on the radio.

In 1967 she was 84 and the last member of the family still living in Cleveland. Her closest living relation was her eldest daughter, Edna, my grandmother. She and her rather large family, which included me, lived in Mansfield, which is about 60 miles south of Cleveland. That year, we moved Grandma Schwartz from Cleveland to Mansfield. Literally, about 20 of us (including we kids who were old enough) drove up there, loaded a truck and several cars, and brought her and her belongings down to Mansfield.

There she had her own apartment close enough to church for her to walk there, which she did daily for mass. She also volunteered in the school cafeteria. Her family all chipped in to pay her rent and other expenses. In return, she baked.

She insisted on doing it, and one did not argue with Grandma Schwartz.

For years, she kept each family well supplied with her kuchen and occasionally cookies. Some of the kuchen was conventional cinnamon coffee cake, but she also made fruit kuchen, which was baked in a pie pan and custard-like. It was unique. I never had anything quite like it before or since. Her other specialty was hot German potato salad.

About this recipe:

This is not grandma's recipe. It was inspired by my memory of her kuchens. It is based on a recipe for plum clafouti. I tried it because I had some plums to use and was surprised by how much it resembled Grandma’s fruit kuchen. Just about any baking fruit will work. Grandma usually used apples and occasionally cherries. She used pitted cherries but doing some research I learned that there is a cherry clafouti tradition in France that leaves the pits in, which I prefer. You just have to eat carefully. Apples should be peeled and sliced thin. Plums cut into quarters or eighths, depending on size. Likewise strawberries.

We always had it for breakfast but it is also suitable for dessert. You can dust the finished kuchen with powdered sugar if you’d like, but Grandma Schwartz did not.


Fruit (e.g., applies, cherries, plums, blueberries, etc.), enough for one layer
5 tbsp sugar
4 eggs
½ cup milk
Pinch salt
Pinch cinnamon
¼ tsp vanilla
½ cup flour


Pre-heat the oven to 375°. Grease a pie pan and sprinkle 1 tbsp sugar on the bottom. Add the fruit, spreading evenly. Sprinkle 1 tbsp sugar on the fruit. In a bowl, combine the remaining sugar, eggs, milk, salt, cinnamon, vanilla, and flour. Beat well and pour into the pan. The batter should not quite cover the fruit. Bake 50 to 60 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool to room temperature before serving.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Infinity Bottles, from Order to Anarchy

The so called "infinity bottle" started out as a way to consolidate the last little bit of multiple open bottles into a single container, to reduce the number of open bottles in your collection. The idea was that you would then put that bottle into your rotation, drink from it from time to time, and add to it whenever you again had a bottle with just a little bit left. That's how it started, but what has it become?

In his January 2017 "Punch" article, Aaron Goldfarb called the infinity bottle "a phenomenon among whiskey nerds." He traced its formal origins to a Ralfy Mitchell video from 2012, although Mitchell used the term 'solera bottle,' a reference to the way sherry is produced. Already the dichotomy was set. A solera is a very deliberate system, a form of fractional blending that results in a product made up of liquids that have spent different amounts of time in wood. An infinity bottle may be made that way, or it may be a random thing, essentially a housekeeping exercise, a product created entirely by chance.

People can do whatever they want, of course, but if you want to call it an infinity bottle, it probably should have something infinite about it. it's not an infinity bottle unless you are constantly drinking from and adding to it. Which means it's constantly changing.

Then the question becomes, do you try to control those changes, or just let them happen? For some people, order simply comes in the form of logging the additions, so you know what the bottle contains. This can be especially useful if the bottle seems to go south on you suddenly, you'll want to know what was the last thing you added.

Some people religiously add the last few ounces of every bottle they finish. Still others contribute the first few ounces of every bottle they open. Others just let it happen and don't fuss about it too much.

As with Ralfy's solera bottle, you can also try your hand at blending, using the same techniques professional blenders use. That's a house blend, not an infinity bottle, but people are going to use terms they like to describe the things they want to do, and 'infinity bottle' seems to be a popular term right now even if it is being used to describe projects that vary widely.

Do I have an infinity bottle? Sort of. My travel flask is a kind of infinity bottle. If I don't finish it on a trip, the next time I go somewhere I top it off with something I have open. It is what it is. For the most part, if everything you put in is something you like, then the mixture probably will be likable too. I haven't been disappointed.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Why Are We So Dumb About Alcohol and Sex?

It's hard to say exactly when the bourbon boom began, but the year 2000 is as good a marker as any. The revival that began in Japan and other overseas markets had reached America and the sales needle, moribund for more than two decades, began to move in a solidly positive direction.

With the growth in bourbon sales came a growth in interest in the subject itself. People wanted to learn more about bourbon. I published my first book, Bourbon, Straight, in 2004. A few people, like Gary Regan, preceded me. A whole bunch of people followed. Although there are a few clunkers, most of the books are pretty good. Publications such as Whisky Advocate, Whisky Magazine, Bourbon Plus, Bourbon Review, Imbibe, and others, also provide generally reliable information. Suffice it to say that today anyone seeking bourbon knowledge does not want for resources.

Yet misinformation persists. You don't need to spend much time on any bourbon-centric social media site to see it on display. People ask basic questions they could easily answer with a Google search. Instead they ask their community, which responds with cascades of wrongness. It's not every time or everywhere, but there is an awful lot of it. And this is among people who identify as bourbon enthusiasts.

It is so widespread I often think I have accomplished nothing in my 30 years of writing and speaking about this subject. Why has so little of it sunk in? I have concluded that some of it is inherent in the subject matter, as I wrote in the introduction to Bourbon, Straight. (Which is still available, by the way, either here or from Amazon.)

"Like sex, alcohol is one of those subjects where much of what people think they know is wrong. The similarities do not end there. Both subjects are laden with taboos, not least of which is their unsuitability for children. Perhaps that is the reason for such wide-spread ignorance about both. We don’t learn much about them as children and as adults, we don’t learn anything very well.

"What we do learn about both subjects growing up often is contradictory. Our parents and teachers tell us one thing, our peers tell us something else. Sex education, fortunately, has improved a lot in recent decades. Alcohol education not so much."

Now I would sum it up more succinctly. Sex and alcohol are subjects we mostly learn about informally, on the street, not in school. And most of what we think we know about both subjects is wrong.

So the fact that so many people believe so many wrong things about American whiskey, and alcoholic beverages in general, used to frustrate me. Then I realized that there continue to be people who seek the knowledge, who will buy the books, who want to learn, and I can contribute to that. If the overall state of knowledge continues to be poor, we're doing all we can. Focus on the people who seek the knowledge, not those who don't. (hint, hint.)

I can also say, with confidence, that the more you know, the more fun it is, with alcohol and sex.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

What Does 'Making' Mean When It Comes to Sanitizer?

Sanitizer product made at the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, Kentucky.
All across America, distilleries large and small are making hand sanitizer and other sanitizing products that use alcohol to kill germs. But as with the beverages these companies normally produce, 'make' doesn't necessarily mean what you think it does.

There is nothing underhanded here. What the liquor companies are doing is commendable. Most are giving away their sanitizer products to medical institutions and first responders, such as police and fire/EMS. Many are supporting the Covid-19 fight in other ways too. Brown-Forman, for example, has repurposed the kitchens of its corporate cafeteria to make meals they're donating. Most companies also are participating in efforts to assist hospitality industry workers sidelined by the pandemic.

To be effective at killing germs, sanitizer products have to be at least 60% alcohol, or what in the beverage world would be 120° proof. Some are higher. The Beam product shown above is 80%.

This means these products start with grain neutral spirit (GNS), the nearest thing you can get to 'pure' ethanol at 95% alcohol by volume (ABV). That's 190° proof. If you ever made 'jungle juice' in college, you probably started with Everclear or another equivalent 190° proof brand. That's what we're talking about here. By contrast, vodka is a neutral spirit but typically is 80° proof, which is 40% ABV. That won't kill anything except, perhaps, brain cells.

Virtually all of the big liquor companies, and many of the small ones, sell vodka, gin, blended whiskey, and other products that start with a neutral spirit base. Very few actually make, as in distill from scratch, the neutral spirit they use. They buy it in tanker quantities from companies that specialize in that, then they filter, dilute and bottle it. In addition to vodka and gin, most liqueurs have a GNS base. Your typical American blended whiskey is 80% GNS and just 20% whiskey. The big liquor companies buy and use a lot of GNS.

You might think the big guys would be more likely to make their own GNS than the small guys, but it's just the opposite. Hardly any of the big guys do. Some of the little guys do, some don't. Some who say they distill actually just redistill GNS they buy. They do this more for marketing purposes than anything else.

Even a company as big as Beam Suntory doesn't distill its own neutral spirit. It's just not practical. So when they 'make' sanitizer, they're using neutral spirit they bought from someone else. They mix in the other ingredients, which they also don't make, and bottle it. In a way, that makes what they're doing even more commendable, since all the ingredients are an out-of-pocket expense.

Why don't they make it themselves? After all, they have stills and all the other necessary equipment, such as grain mills, mash cookers and fermenters, but American whiskey stills typically produce a spirit that is no more than 80% ABV. They can be modified to produce neutral spirit, but it's not as simple as flicking a switch. Basically, you can't make neutral spirit in a whiskey still.

A few of the big distilleries have the necessary equipment to make neutral spirit from scratch. One of them is Sazerac, which has made vodka at Buffalo Trace using a repurposed light whiskey still. Light whiskey is just a point or two below neutrality, so that's an easy modification. Barton 1792 also has a light whiskey still but I don't know if they have fired it up since they stopped making light whiskey a few years back.

Sazerac won't say if they're distilling the neutral spirit they're using for sanitizer, or using neutral spirit they would normally use for their vodka, etc. It doesn't matter, but it's curious that they won't say.

Grain whiskey distilleries in Scotland and Ireland, as well as all Canadian whiskey distilleries, make a nearly-neutral spirit so they may be using house-made spirit for sanitizer, but most U.S. distilleries are not.

So who does make GNS? There is one big company that makes both GNS and whiskey. That's MGP. They make some GNS at their distillery in Indiana, where they also make whiskey. They make most of it at their facilities in Kansas. Some of the other big GNS makers are ADM (Peoria, Illinois) and GPC (Muscatine, Iowa). Most GNS is made from corn so the big GNS distilleries are where the corn is. The same companies make ethanol for fuel and other non-beverage uses. It's all the same stuff.

So why am I telling you this? Because it struck me as interesting, that's all. It's hard to know what to write about in these crazy times.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

TTB Waives Rule, Permits All Distilleries to Make Hand Sanitizer

Several distilleries have made posts recently, indicating that they are not legally permitted to make hand sanitizer. That was true until today. The Treasury Department's Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has just announced that, "any existing DSP therefore can immediately commence production of hand sanitizer or distilled spirits (ethanol) for use in hand sanitizer, as described below, without having to obtain authorization first." The details are here.

However, not every distillery is able, because of the technology it uses, to make the necessary 190° proof (95% ABV) ethanol, and they also may not have access to the other materials needed. But for those that do, this is a way for them to both 'pitch in' during the current crisis, and keep their businesses going. Although alcoholic beverages can still be sold, many small distilleries depend on visitors and purchases made at the distillery, and that will be severely impacted by the crisis.

3/20/2020: New guidance, provided today, is here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Happy Birthday, Bottled-in-Bond Act

One-hundred-twenty-three years ago today, Congress passed the Bottled-in-Bond Act. Once considered the epitome of 'the good stuff' in American whiskey, the 'bonded' or 'bottled-in-bond' (BIB) designation fell into disuse. Old Grand-Dad Bonded, the best-selling bond for many years, was one of the few nationally-distributed bonded whiskeys that remained. Heaven Hill had a stable of inexpensive bonds (Heaven Hill, J.T.S. Brown, J.W. Dant, T. W. Samuels) sold primarily in Kentucky. Sazerac's Very Old Barton, another mostly-in-Kentucky brand, had a bonded expression. Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond (the green label) was also available here and there.

But bottled-in-bond has come back in a big way. Beam Suntory, which makes OGD Bonded, now has Jim Beam and Old Overholt BIB expressions. Brown-Forman has bonded versions of Old Forester and Early Times. (Which is funny since company founder George Garvin Brown opposed bonds.) Heaven Hill has a super premium bond in Henry McKenna and their #1 bourbon, Evan Williams, now comes in a bonded expression. They also make Mellow Corn, the only bonded corn whiskey, and Rittenhouse, the top-selling bonded rye. Sazerac also has a premium bond, named for the father of the Bottled-in-Bond Act, Col. E. H. Taylor Jr.

Recently, several micro-distilleries have introduced bonds as a way to proclaim, "Look! We actually have whiskey that is more than four years old." They include Kings County, Laws Whiskey House, New Riff, FEW Spirits, Dad's Hat, One Eight, and Tom’s Foolery.

What does 'bottled-in-bond' mean? The 1897 Federal law was America's first 'truth in labeling' legislation. In return for allowing the Federal Government to monitor their operations and adhering to a strict set of rules, producers could label their products 'bottled-in-bond,' which the government considered a guarantee of whiskey authenticity. Though guaranteeing quality per se was never the intention, it became that de facto.

The most obvious characteristic of a BIB is its proof, 100°, which means one-hundred degrees of proof, also known as 'full proof,' which is 50 percent alcohol, 50 percent water. Though essentially arbitrary, this was long believed to be the ideal alcohol concentration for a whiskey. Modern tastes seem to prefer a milder 40/60 mix, but bonds must be 50/50, no more, no less.

A bond must also be at least four years old but it can be older. The Henry McKenna Bond, for example, is 10-years-old. George Dickel Bottled-in-Bond in 13-years-old.

The lesser known but more interesting characteristic of bonds is their singularity. A bond must be the product of a single distillery and a single distiller during a single distilling season. A 'distilling season' is a six-month period, either January-June (Spring) or July-December (Fall).

Think of bonds as 'single batch' whiskeys. The singularity rule means producers can't 'correct' a bottling batch by mixing in older or younger whiskey, or whiskey from another distillery. This makes barrel selection critical. If you really want to experience a distillery's house character, drink one of their bonds.

Although bottled-in-bond whiskeys were made and sold pre-Prohibition, it was mostly after the drought that they came into their own. Prohibition, the Great Depression, and World War II all kept the American whiskey industry from building up a solid stock of fully aged whiskeys for more than 25 years. In a market chock full of immature spirits, the words 'bottled-in-bond' became a Holy Grail in the late 40s and 50s, and into the early 60s. Then the whole American whiskey market crashed. Instead of being desirable, bonds came to be considered old-fashioned. One after another, major producers discontinued their bonds in favor of 80° proof expressions.

In today's crowded whiskey marketplace, new products are the easiest and surest way to grab attention. The long whiskey aging process makes it hard to develop products that are from-scratch new. For large producers especially, bonds are a way to create a new product from existing inventory. Bonds appeal to newbies and veterans alike. Bonds are back.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Is There Gluten in Bourbon?

With concerns about gluten allergy (i.e., Celiac Disease), people often ask "is there gluten in bourbon." The short and correct answer is no, but with an explanation.

Gluten is a group of proteins found in many but not all cereal grains. Wheat and rye contain gluten, corn and rice do not.

Because there is no reliable way to test for the presence of gluten in consumer products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says no product may legally be labeled 'gluten free' unless none of its ingredients contain gluten. The U.S. Treasury Department's Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which controls alcoholic beverage labeling, echos the FDA's direction.

Since a whiskey made from 100 percent corn can be labeled as bourbon if the other requirements are met, a bourbon made from 100 percent corn may be labeled gluten free. Most vodka is made from 100 percent corn and can also be labeled gluten free. Most bourbons, however, contain rye or wheat and those grains contain gluten. Therefore, those whiskeys may not be labeled 'gluten free.'

But are they, in fact, gluten free? Is there gluten in any straight spirits? Almost certainly the answer is no. Proteins such as gluten shouldn't be able to survive the heat of the distillation process. The slight hedging is because (1) I'm not a chemist and (2) the aforementioned inability to reliably test for gluten in the final product.

So if 'highly unlikely' is good enough for you, then you shouldn't worry about gluten in bourbon.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

"Is This Worth $40?"

AUTHOR’S NOTE (3/2/20): The folks at Lonely Oak Distillery are angry about this article. Their ire is misplaced. This article is not about Lonely Oak’s Steeple Ridge Bourbon. It is about what you can do when you see a picture like this and want to find out about the product and what’s in the bottle. That answer may seem disingenuous but let me continue. The article is very clear about the steps one goes through and, in the end, it does not reach a conclusion. Because the picture only shows the front label, I also scoured the distillery’s website. I did not search for the COLA, which would have shown me the back label, because most consumers don’t know how to do that. Also, COLAs can be unreliable because labels can change after label approval. Apparently, this product is 100 percent house-made, and less than four years old, but some of my other questions (actual age?) remain unanswered. Finally, the adage, “there is no such thing as bad publicity,” applies here. ‘Bad’ publicity creates an opportunity to generate good publicity if you’re smart about how you handle it.

The original article begins now.

A person posted this picture online with the question, "Worth $40? What is it? Has anyone tried it??"

My answer: "When I see something unfamiliar, I ask myself 'what is it?' If I can't figure it out from the label, I try the web site. If I still get a bunch of vague puffery but no useful information, I conclude it is not worth consideration, let alone $40."

If you spend time on bourbon sites, you see this sort of thing all the time. That new label someone saw in the store sparks their interest. Maybe someone on the site has an answer, but probably not. They're probably in the same boat. The unfamiliar label catches your eye and you wonder, have I just stumbled upon an unknown gem?

Almost surely not.

Here is a tip for bourbon shoppers. That bourbon you just saw in the store that is unknown to you just might be perfectly okay but it is almost certainly nothing special and most likely an undistinguished, overpriced, sourced whiskey in an enticing bottle. The chance that you have discovered some overlooked gem from some mysteriously unknown distillery is virtually zero.

This is especially tragic if the person is someone new to bourbon. There are so many good to great bourbons and ryes out there at decent prices, from reliable producers who make it clear what's in the bottle, that you really should spend your time getting to know them. But I get it. Strange has its own appeal.

More likely than not, that unfamiliar label is the product of a marketing company that has created a concept and acquired some bulk whiskey for the project. It might be a brand created by a retail chain or distributor, again using bulk whiskey. This is a little less true now than it used to be because the new, smaller distilleries that launched a decade or so ago have come of age and are making good whiskey. But even new distilleries often create a brand using sourced liquid to generate cash flow while they get their distillery off the ground.

But it might still be great whiskey, right?

Anything is possible, but here is why that is unlikely. First, you need to know that whiskey's probable source. The number of distilleries in the U.S. that make whiskey is still fairly small and the number that make enough whiskey to sell some of it in bulk remains tiny. All of them keep their best whiskey for their own brands. What they sell is perfectly good in most cases, but probably nothing special and maybe not worth the price you're asked to pay.

It may not even be unfamiliar. You may have already had that exact same whiskey under a different label.

Almost all of the majors sell some bulk liquid from time to time. These days, aged bourbon is so valuable that if you have more than you need of a certain age or type, it makes sense to sell it rather than leave it in the warehouse.

There are a few companies, most famously MGP, who sell most of their output in bulk, but business is so good these days they struggle to maintain stocks that are more than a standard five or six years old. They're selling most of it much younger even than that.

Consequently, if you're in the market for bulk whiskey so you can create a brand, you will have a pretty easy time finding new make (spirit straight from the still), but the pickings get slimmer and the cost gets higher the older you go. If the source has something in the range of 12-years available, there's a good chance it's over-oaked, which doesn't mean someone won't sell it anyway.

If you're really interested in a new brand and don't have $40 (or more) to throw away, start by asking the retailer if that brand is available to taste. If not, maybe you can find it in a bar and taste it that way. Otherwise, the next step is to do some research.

Back to the bottle in the picture, "Steeple Ridge Bourbon Whiskey." What does the label tell you? There is no age statement visible and it's not labeled 'straight bourbon,' so that's a bad sign. 'Straight' is a pretty low threshold. It just means the whiskey is at least two years old. In the U.S., an age statement is required if the whiskey is less than four years old. After that, the age statement is voluntary. You can't see an age statement in the photograph above so does that mean it's at least four years old? Not necessarily. The absence of 'straight' suggests the whiskey is less than two years old. If the age statement is there it probably is hidden on a back or side label, in very small type. I've seen them printed sideways to be even less noticeable.

But say you're in the store, have examined the bottle carefully, and found no age statement. Does that mean it's at least four years old? Not necessarily. People have been known to violate that rule.

The other thing to look for on the label, which this one doesn't show, is some kind of 'distilled by' statement. Although that's not required, if it doesn't say 'distilled by' and says something like 'produced and bottled by' followed by the name of the distillery, or it says nothing, it almost certainly is sourced whiskey. Again, perfectly good whiskey but not an undiscovered gem.

The next step is to search the web. The good news is that this producer, Lonely Oak Distillery, appears to be a real distillery in rural western Iowa. There are pictures of their stills. There are pictures of the owners standing next to their stills. Their distillery is not huge but it is substantial. You can make whiskey with that rig. They are farm-based so they talk a lot about their grain, but not at all about mashbills, aging, and other details.

A little more online digging reveals that Lonely Oak Distillery has been in business only since the summer of 2017. That means that, at best, anything made there is barely two years old. No whiskey that young is worth $40 a bottle, though I concede that's an opinion others may not share.

The information now at our disposal suggests that this is probably a 'something to get us started' bottling of sourced whiskey. This is bolstered by the fact that they are also selling a single barrel, cask strength bourbon. It's still possible both are very young house-made liquids, but sourced seems more likely.

If it is sourced and was distilled outside of Iowa the label is supposed to disclose the state where it was made, but that rule too is often disregarded or, like the age statement, hidden as much as possible. One famous offender was their neighbor in Templeton, Iowa. There aren't very many distilleries in Iowa in a position to sell their whiskey in bulk, but it's possible. A source like MGP in Indiana is more likely. Again, we don't really have answers and although Lonely Oak has a well-designed web site loaded with stuff, none of those questions are answered there.

So we know more than we did but we still don't have a good idea of what is in that bottle, who made it, or how mature it is. Is what we do know worth $40?

It's nice to support someone just getting started, so you could look at your purchase that way, as part whiskey, part Kickstarter contribution.

I'll leave the final decision up to you.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Kentucky Bourbon Festival Names New President and Chairman

International Barrel Rolling Championship at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.
The Kentucky Bourbon Festival (KBF) is an annual event in Bardstown, Kentucky. If I'm counting right, this will be its 29th year. The dates are September 16-20.

I have been critical of the festival in the past. The gist of my complaint has been that it always felt like a party the locals threw for themselves, but they got the bourbon industry to pay for it. It seemed to neglect what should have been its core audience, out-of-town bourbon enthusiasts. Not a few of the bourbon producers expressed the same criticism.

The festival has steadily gotten better in that regard and it looks like they've just taken a major step in a positive direction. First, they have hired a professional to run the thing. He is Randy Prasse, the new president and COO. Prior to joining the KBF, Prasse was Senior Director of Operations at Churchill Downs in Louisville, directing all operations functions of the 2016-2019 Kentucky Derbys. He has also held positions at WESS Event Services – Garda, Gettysburg Fest, Tri-County Economic Development Alliance (Elizabeth, IL), and the Wisconsin State Fair Park, and has volunteered for numerous festival, travel, and visitors bureau non-profit organizations in Wisconsin. Randy was named Top 100 People to Know in Milwaukee (2008) by and Forty Under 40 (2006) by the Milwaukee Business Journal.

Equally as important is the appointment of David Mandell as the new Chairman of the festival's Board of Directors. Mandell is the Co-Founder and former President and CEO of The Bardstown Bourbon Company, where he created, launched and managed the company’s Napa Valley-esque bourbon distillery destination experience in Bardstown, Kentucky.

In addition to Mandell, the Kentucky Bourbon Festival Board of Directors includes:

Vice Chair – Melissa Horton, Corporate Events Manager at Heaven Hill Brands
Treasurer – Donald Blincoe, President/Professional Engineer at Buzick Construction
Secretary – Rachel Miller, Owner of The Harrison-Smith House
Board Member – Jennifer Cissell, Trade and Hospitality Manager at Beam Suntory
Board Member – Tony Kramer, Distillery Operations Manager at Lux Row Distillery
Board Member – Andrew Wiehebring, Director of Spirit Research and Innovation at Independent Stave Company

In addition to Mandell, three board members come from bourbon producers. Independent Stave is the largest maker of bourbon barrels. Buzick Construction builds the warehouses where those barrels, full of bourbon, are stored. Harrison-Smith House is a fine dining restaurant in downtown Bardstown.

Nothing against the city mothers and fathers who got the festival going, but a board of accomplished professionals directly connected to bourbon production and hospitality has to be an improvement in terms of helping make the festival the international, bourbon-centric event it always should have been.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Van Winkle Phenomenon and How It Got That Way

There is nothing else quite like it in the world of distilled spirits, a product (six products, actually) in such demand that they rarely hit the retail shelf and mostly sell (licitly or illicitly) for several multiples above their suggested retail price. If you can acquire a bottle of Pappy 23-year-old for its $299.99 SRP, it is because you won a lottery.

You probably know that Julian P. 'Pappy' Van Winkle owned Louisville's Stitzel-Weller Distillery, which was famous for wheated bourbon. You probably know that the brand is managed today by his grandson and great-grandson, in conjunction with Sazerac, and produced at Buffalo Trace Distillery.

But you may not know the whole story of the man, the whiskey, the brand, and the international phenomenon it has become.

But you can, because the new issue of The Bourbon Country Reader is all about Van Winkle, plus a few suggestions of whiskeys you might enjoy instead.

Current Reader subscribers should receive their copies in a week or so. New subscribers can get on the bandwagon by clicking here.

Founded in 1993, The Bourbon Country Reader is the oldest publication devoted entirely to American whiskey. It is a charming mix of news, history, analysis, and product reviews. Do you worry that advertising spending influences coverage in other publications? No chance of that here since The Bourbon Country Reader is 100 percent reader-supported. It accepts no advertising.

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

A subscription to The Bourbon Country Reader is still a mere $20 per year for addresses in the USA, $25 for everyone else. The Bourbon Country Reader is published six times a year, more-or-less, but your subscription always includes six issues no matter how long it takes. For those of you keeping track, this new one is Volume 19, Number 6. (And, yes, it's a bit overdue.)

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

If you want to catch up on what you've missed, bound back issue volumes are available for $20 each, or three for $50. The release of Volume 19, Number 6 means Volume 19 is now available. That's here too.

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

Monday, February 17, 2020

Happy Birthday to Our Booziest Presidents

Today is Presidents' Day. Technically, it's the day (the third Monday in February) when we celebrate Washington's birthday (which is really February 22), but most of the ads for mattresses and used cars will feature Washington and Lincoln, our booziest presidents.

Not that they were heavy drinkers, neither man was, but both were in the whiskey business.

For Washington, it was a coda to his public career. Washington the businessman was always looking for ways to make his Virginia estate more profitable. His manager, a Scot, suggested they convert some of the rye, corn and barley grown there into something much more valuable: whiskey. Although it operated for only a few years, the distillery was one of Washington's most successful enterprises.

Today, you can visit Washington's restored gristmill and reconstructed distillery, and even buy some of the whiskey distilled there (recently, not way back when).

For Lincoln, booze was something he got involved with at the very beginning of his adult life, and it dogged him throughout his political career. As a teenager, he briefly worked on flatboats that hauled whiskey from Kentucky to points south. For several years early in his 20s, Lincoln was in the retail liquor business, first as a hired clerk, then as a store owner in New Salem, Illinois. His stores all failed and left him burdened with debt.

Lincoln’s partisans tried to downplay or obscure the fact that he sold whiskey, just as his enemies exaggerated it. Most accounts of Lincoln’s early life describe his stores as 'groceries,' a term that sounds innocent enough to us now, but which at the time was a euphemism for a makeshift rural saloon.

Lincoln's stores sold lard, bacon, firearms, beeswax, honey and other necessities, but mainly whiskey. In tiny New Salem, Lincoln's male customers would hang out and visit with Lincoln, his business partner, and each other while consuming some of the whiskey they had just purchased. This socializing helped Lincoln develop the skills and reputation that carried over into his political career. What's more, it was considered all very normal and respectable at the time.

Years later, Lincoln had to deal with a growing Temperance Movement. His message was, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” He praised the good work of the good folks in the local Temperance society and advocated voluntary abstinence. He practiced it too, according to all accounts.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Joe Biden and the Little Creeps of Silicon Valley

(WARNING: NO BOURBON CONTENT.) This bombshell story erupted all over tech media yesterday. It was virtually the same headline and story in every instance. Many people on my Facebook feed posted it in one of its many forms. Many comments, mostly hostile to Biden, followed.

A simple Google search showed that reporting of this bombshell was pretty much limited to the tech media, though that is a very large universe in its own right. Biden made the statement during his meeting with the New York Times editorial board on December 16. The interview transcript was not released publically until this past Sunday night as part of the Times announcement of its endorsements for the Democratic presidential nomination. (Biden was not endorsed.)

Nothing prevented the Times from reporting Biden's statement back in December when he made it. If candidates make news during these interviews, the Times and other media outlets typically report that news right away, even if they don't intend to publish the full interview until later. Apparently, the Times didn't find it newsworthy. They still don't. No freestanding story about Biden's "little creeps" comment has appeared in the Times.

Because I became aware of the story from social media and couldn't find any mention of it in mass media, I was suspicious. A search for "Joe Biden calls game developers little creeps" returned dozens of nearly identical stories but did not return the original source. Therefore, it had the feel of something a Russian troll would push, an extremely negative story about a candidate aimed at a very specific audience.

It may still be that, which is the interesting part of this story. Misinformation doesn't have to be completely fake. In fact, what works best is a story that has what Stephen Colbert called 'truthiness;' "the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true."

We all know that, in social media, a large percentage of participants read and react to headlines without ever reading the underlying story, effectively accepting the story as true and the headline writer's spin as the true gist of the story. They rarely do any additional research.

In fact, Joe Biden did not "call game developers 'little creeps.'" He referred to one specific (unnamed) game developer as a "little creep," in the context of a comment about violent video games. It was the sort of unguarded frankness for which Joe Biden is famous, if not always admired.

If there is a lesson here, it is that we all need to up our skepticism game, especially in this election year. Hesitate before you comment. People who follow me know I'm reminding myself to do this as much as anyone else. This is one of the ways we participate in our participatory democracy. Let's try to do it well.

Also, it is not necessary to like or agree with the New York Times to appreciate it when they provide the unedited voice of the candidate. (Albeit behind a paywall.) They and the other mainstream media (including entities such as Fox News, which is 'mainstream' in this regard) provide direct reporting by reporters. That's different from media outlets that simply take stories reported by others and re-report them with their own spin. Think of them as second-hand news.

It isn't difficult to tell the difference. Ultimately, it has nothing to do with ideology. The Daily Kos is second-hand news just as much as Breitbart is. We  are better off when we get our news as nearly first hand as we can and make up our own minds about what it means.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

The Whiskey Secondary Market Doesn't Matter

I have no objection to the bourbon secondary market except for the awkward fact that it is largely an illegal enterprise. What consenting adults do with their adult beverages should be up to them. Some people are way into it, the whole buying and selling thing. They are passionate about it. More power to them. Have fun with it. You'll hear no complaints from me.

I do have one issue, however, one source of irritation. Many of the people involved in that pastime have a very inflated idea of its importance. They believe the secondary market affects the overall bourbon or broader whiskey/whisky marketplace, for better or worse.

They're wrong. It doesn't. The broader industry pays very little attention to the secondary market. The vast majority of whiskey consumers don't even know it exists.

The secondary market matters, but only to itself. It has virtually no impact on the wider whiskey/whisky industry. It doesn't affect pricing or availability except on a very small number of brands that amount to a drop in the bucket of overall industry volume. In many cases, the complaints one hears are nostalgia for a past that never was.

True, as the chart above shows, you can almost never go into a store and find a Van Winkle product on the shelf at the official suggested retail price. Because people have figured out that Weller is the same recipe from the same distillery, the Weller products have been hard to find and are often marked up. But if you actually just like drinking a well-made wheated bourbon, Larceny isn't hard to find nor, for that matter, is Maker's Mark, and they are very similar to the Weller/Van Winkle products.

Of course, the secondary market isn't about finding something good to drink. I don't play so sometimes I'm not quite sure what it's about, but it is its own thing. That's great, it's fine, have fun with it, but it's not important except to itself.

To people who argue solemnly that the secondary market accounts for the higher prices we pay for whiskey today, consider this. A bottle of Rittenhouse Rye BIB cost $11 a decade ago. It's about $25 now, a 130% increase, but Rittenhouse Rye BIB never has been a player in the secondary. It's just a product that is very good, so people bought it, and demand outstripped supply, so the producer thought the market could bear a higher price. At $25, it's still a very good value.

So if you're into the whole secondary market thing, great, have fun. It's now legal in a couple of places, including Kentucky, which should help normalize things, and take away some of the mystery. Maybe I just don't get it. Maybe part of the fun of the secondary market is complaining about the secondary market, in which case the market is thriving.